I’ve been told that the wonder of holding a newborn child makes you forget all the horror it took to bring it into the world. Kayaking into a bioluminescent bay at night is like that; the cancelled rainforest excursion no longer seems quite so depressing.
As we walked through Old San Juan to get to our tour meetup spot, we noticed an unusual amount of large white people amassing on sidewalks and taking up space in restaurants. Since yesterday had felt refreshingly tourist-free, we were confused. Then we walked by the piers and saw three massive cruise ships docked for the day. Apparently San Juan is invaded on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays by day-long tourists fresh from the ocean.
Someday I think I’d like to take a cruise, more to confirm my disinterest than anything else. I wouldn’t like to jump in and out of a city for a few hours at a time, though I guess the short schedule is offset by the ability to visit several places in one trip. Still, I’m glad Michal and I have had Old San Juan largely to our tourist-selves, free to wander the streets and pretend we belong here.
The Kayaking Puerto Rico van pulled up on time, and we joined six other people in an hour and a half long drive to Laguna Bay. Once there, we joined ten other participants in getting outfitted in lifejackets and listening to kayaking safety instructions.
It was 5:45 when we got in the water. Michal, being from water-loving Austin, sat in the back and captained our two-man kayak. Although we developed a pretty good rhythm and avoided getting stuck in any trees, I couldn’t help but notice that if this were the Fellowship traveling down the Anduin, I was a hobbit and Michal was a boss Aragorn.
That was not the last of our nerdy Lord of the Rings references. The whole experience felt decidedly epic, cutting through the water as we made our way across the docking bay to a break in the trees. There we passed into a natural waterway maybe twenty feet wide. The trees arched over us, creating a tunnel of branches and leaves for us to pass through. Some kind of lizard perched in the trees above us, confirming Michal’s worry that they could drop on our head. None did, mostly because I side-eyed them pretty hard.
It took thirty minutes to paddle to Laguna Bay where the small space suddenly opened up around us. Our lead guide gathered us together in the dimming light to educate us on bioluminescence and the baby plankton that were soon to astound us. Darkness fell, and he told us to hold our fists in the water and open and close our hands rapidly. I slipped my hand into the water, and after a few awkward seconds, a faint glow appeared in my palm. I HAD MAGIC POWERS.
Another guide had paddled to the opposite side of the bay, and he flashed a light to summon us to him. Apparently the plankton were more bioluminescent over there. Michal and I made our way toward him, and I focused on my rowing form until Michal cried, “Tricia! Look at your paddle!” I glanced to the right as my paddle cut into the water, leaving a blue streak behind it.
We coasted to a stop and dipped our hands into the water. Every time we moved, the water glowed, pooling in our palms and trailing out like we were conjuring blue fire. Someone in a kayak next to us suggested, “Fling it on your legs!” so we unthinkingly began splashing ourselves, gawking at the blue sparkles glinting against the dark night.
“I like the fat plankton,” Michal said.
“Put your hand in, see? Some are bigger than others.” Sure enough, the normal blue haze had gotten more intense, and amongst the magical cloud were sparks of brighter color.
“What do you think a psalmist would say if they could see this?” Michal wondered aloud.
“’Praise the Lord, O ye plankton. Shine bright and…” I composed.
“Shine bright like the stars!” Michal added.
“Shine bright like a diamond!” I corrected.
Michal laughed. “Who knew Rihanna was actually talking about bioluminescence? But seriously, God is so cool to have created this place. There’s no reason for it to exist except for our enjoyment.”
“That’s true,” I agreed. “Krill eat other kinds of plankton in other places. There’s no need for them to be sparkly. How fun that God just made this random pocket of beauty that’s waiting for people to come and be in awe of it.”
“I want to see everything in the world that God has made.”
“We can check for Groupon deals when we get back to the hotel.”
The beauty of the water was matched by the beauty of the sky as the clouds parted above us in an ever-widening circle, revealing an enormous amount of stars. Michal mentioned their similarity.
“Regina Spektor has a song where she says, ‘The sea is just a wetter version of the skies,’” I said. “She’s right. Everything is just so beautiful. I’m happy. Really, really happy.”
“Thank God this wasn’t cancelled.”
Full dark had fallen when our guides ushered us out of the bio bay and back into the corridor of trees. It was pitch black inside, and it would have been impossible to navigate if our kayaks hadn’t had small lights attached to the backs so we could see the boats in front of us floating single file, bobbing in the darkness.
“It looks like we’re sailing into death,” Michal said.
I gasped loudly. “We’re going to Valinor! We’re sailing into the Undying Lands like Frodo!”
“THIS IS THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD,” Michal cried.
It was eerie and beautiful, riding the current in the darkness, paddling only to cut around corners and avoid bumping into the trees that suddenly loomed into our limited field of vision. Too soon we pushed into the docking bay where lights from the land poured onto us and we had to get out of our kayaks. On solid land, Michal and I stared at each other. Then we broke into grins and jumped up and down, clutching each other’s arms.
“This was amazing!!”
“A once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Life is so fantastic!”