Follow the glow sticks!
It is pitch black and we are kayaking through red mangroves, trying to dodge the roots, on our way to the Bioluminescent Bay Laguana Grande at Las Croabas, Fajardo in Puerto Rico—one of three on the island, I learn from our guide Joel from GSI Adventures.
The bay is home to a large colony—more than a million—of dinoflagellates that light up and produce the glowing waters that make the water glow when we paddle. We let water slide through our hands and it glows. Crazy!
The glow sticks, in case you’re wondering, are looped onto each kayak and the back of the life jackets should anyone fall in the water—as one man did, laughing as he was pulled out.
“So cool!” says my kayak partner Kate Boyce, who is here from Syracuse, NY to celebrate her mom’s 60th Birthday and her sister’s 30th. “Girl’s trip,” Kate said happily, adding they wouldn’t let their dad come.
We also meet two moms—one from Philadelphia and one from Seattle— who have been friends for years and indulge in an annual girl’s getaway. They got a great deal on Hotwire, they tell us.
I’m here with two old friends for a girlfriends’ getaway too and we decide Puerto Rico is a good bet—easy to reach, no passports required and plenty to do (even a big outlet mall, if you are so inclined.)
Of course many people we meet at El Conquistador, the gargantuan resort where we are staying, don’t even leave—not with four pools, (three more at Las Casitas villas where they are staying) the water park with its lazy river and water slides, and the resort’s private Palamino Island –100 acres a few miles off shore with snorkeling, kayaking, windsurfing, jet skiing, mini golf, beach volley ball and basketball.
Did I mention the 26,000 square foot Golden Door Spa (sign on for moonlight yoga), golf and tennis, complete with junior clinics and the Coqui kids club, should parents want to get a break. You won’t get bored eating here either—not with seven restaurants ranging from Teppanyaki and sushi to pizza, Italian, seafood and steaks.
But I insist we explore. The thing about Puerto Rico is that there is so much more than beach and pools. Earlier, we’d toured El Yunque Rain Forest, the only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System and a World Biosphere Reserve.
Imagine more than a billion gallons of annual rainfall! Our guide, Wilfredo O’Neill tells us the 28,000 acres attracts more than a million visitors a year—locals as well as tourists who come for the chance to swim under a waterfall, picnic as well as hike miles of trails. El Yunque, he says, means Anvil in English and when the Luquillo Mountain range is clear, one peak looks like an Anvil. We don’t see it because it is cloudy and overcast.
There are something like 1,000 species of plants and animals (no poisonous snakes, we’re glad to hear) and lots of the Coqui, the tiny tree frogs with voices as large as opera singers where you hear them, especially at night and when it rains. Trivia for the kids: they don’t drink water but soak it up through their skin. Eleven of the 16 species unique to Puerto Rico can be found in this rain forest along with 1,000 year old trees, plants with rainbow colored flowers, tropical birds including the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. (Take the Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls!)
After our Kayak, we are soaked and chilled but it was an adventure, though not for everyone. One of my friends opined she got bored and it lasted too long. We return to the hotel—right near where the kayak ended (The resort which is so big—700 rooms—that it can arrange all variety of activities right from here) for a quick shower. Then we end our day at a Puerto Rican restaurant Pasion por el Fogon which is well known for stellar local food.
We eat Asopaito de Camarones – delicious delicate soup with rice, vegetables, cilantro and shrimp, fresh conch salad Puerto Rican “caviar” which is fried plantain stuffed with Moreillas –blood sausage fresh snapper and Mofango which is green plantains fried and mashed, molded in a bowl and then stuffed with whatever you like- chicken, fish, seafood, in a tomato based sauce. Delicious!
We drink their Sangria and toast old friends in new places. I’m asleep as soon as I’m in bed.