Come Christmas time the residents of Culebra repaint their homes a vibrant color, foregoing the lights that are common elsewhere.
Culebra Island is east of the main island. I leave San Juan pretty early to make it to the Ferry station in Fajardo on time. This is my second time here.
As with my first trip, I book with a tour company. It's sometimes difficult to secure a ferry ticket as there aren't enough ferries, especially during the weekend. A tour company, however, will always have a ticket for each reservation. The ride itself is nothing extraordinary.
Blue all around. I'm OK with napping through this part.
Kayaks and snorkeling fins
On the island, the tour company arranges a ride from the ferry station to the little cove we'll be doing our excursions on.
We get our snorkeling goggles on making sure to smear the inside lenses with shampoo to keep the condensation off. When we have our life jackets on and our oars ready in hand we paddle to where the water's deeper and the coral thrives.
It takes about half an hour of paddling, maybe less, to get to where we need to be. At this spot we throw ourselves overboard. It's a very clumsy motion and I'm sure the tour guides get a kick out of watching people leave the kayaks every time.
Most of the sea floor looks pretty barren here. If it's not sand, it's a thin layer of sea grass. There are a few large rocks covered in coral though and we do see some scuba divers from a local university taking notes underwater near a patch of metal cages. They're running experiments to encourage coral growth on them.
Our guides are quick to point out and sometimes fetch for us marine life. We see starfish, urchins, sponges, and even jellyfish, which a guide prods towards me for a photograph.
I forego touching the jellyfish, but I try holding in my palms everything else. Starfish feel the strangest, its underside feels like ribbed plastic coated with goo. Hold it for a few seconds longer and it starts to cling tighter like palming the end of a small vacuum hose.
I guess not all jellyfish sting.
Guided by turtles
A few months before my first trip I started swimming at the Cleveland State rec center, which to my surprise has an Olympic size pool. I'm not a good swimmer by any means—my form is all wrong and I'm really slow. But one thing I got good at was holding my breath to see if I could swim the 50m length of the pool without surfacing for air. I could, eventually.
We spot several green sea turtles nearby. A few are relaxed enough around humans that they'll stick around even as you get up close and personal. I give my guide the heads up that I want to dive after them, throw my life jacket off, and caught up with my new reptilian friend. I guess there's some use to being able to hold your breath for a minute.
The snorkeling portion of our excursion complete, we take up our oars again and paddle back to shore. Our tour company has lunch waiting for us. It consists of bags of chips, apples, and ham and cheese sandwiches. This simple lunch is oddly satisfying after what could be one of the best swims of my life.
Once we've finished lunch the shuttle takes us to our next stop, Flamenco Beach.
It's white powdery sand is a pleasure to look at and lounge on. It's not quite as fine as the sand on Luquillo, but it's just enough so that it sticks everywhere. Good thing there's a spigot near the parking lot to wash.
Most of the time I sit near the palms. My skin is burning already from the snorkeling excursion and it makes sense to stay put under the shade. But the few minutes I spend wading in the water are delightful. Maybe it's because of how calm and shallow the waters are, but there isn't a surfer in site.
Did I mention? There are chickens playing by the palm forest!
Stars above, stars underwater
Back on Fajardo where the ferry station on the main island is, I look for directions to my evening excursion, a tour to the Bioluminescent Bay near Fajardo.
It was too dark to snap anything, so I don't have any pictures, but imagine:
It's sunset. A company of canoes rows down a narrow river covered mostly by canopy overhead. After a lot of vigorous paddling the canoes launch out into a large bay, filing to one side so another company from behind can come up.
We wait for it to become completely dark, when there's not much to see but the stars overhead and what we soon see underwater. The dinoflagellates beneath our canoes light up when agitated. Each of us dip our hands to stir, then thrash, the water by us. Before long, a universal realization overcomes us all that our oars would be much more efficient.
The peace of the Bay is broken and for a few minutes, all I can hear are the vigorous splashing of oars. The calm leaves and the bay glows brighter.
It reminds me of my childhood baths testing the physics of water to the vexation of my parents who have to mop up my mess. Thanks mom and dad.