Culebra And Vieques

Next day in Isabella we took surfing lessons. I had wanted to do this for as long as I can remember, and it finally happened. Long story short – 90$ for two people got us about an hour and a half lesson, and we were both standing up on the board by the end of the lesson. Here are two pictures to prove it:

PR Surfing 1PR Surfing 2

Thats me on the left, and Crystal on the right. Unfortunately some of our pictures of this part of the trip got lost. Otherwise, I could show you a few better pictures of it. Also, the camerapersons didnt know how to use zoom, so I had to blow the pictures up a bit. Anyway, it was fun, so who cares about pictures!

As soon as we hung up our boards we hopped in the car, still dripping, to make a lightning trip across the island to catch the ferry in Fajardo to the island of Culebra.  We got there on the ferry that night, (at $2.25 apiece its the first affordable thing Id seen on the island!), but of course the ferry took about an hour and a half, so we got there well after dark; unfortunately, the people who were supposed to meet us and take us to a rental house had heard that the ferry wasnt coming, so they didnt bother to meet it.

But strangely enough, we asked one of the ferry workers where there was a place we could stay, and he had a friend who had an apartment he rented out (for $75 a night!) with air conditioning and hot water. We looked at each other and said “this cant end well”, but at 10pm on an island where they roll up the streets at six you cant be too choosy. So we went there, and it wasnt too bad. It was certainly better than sleeping in the ferry station!

Now, about Culebra: if you took away all the drunk ex-pats, the incredibly bad streets (and I say this with Mexico and Ecuador under my belt, so when I say “incredibly bad”, keep that in mind!), the general and unnecessary clutter and dirtiness and the overpriced housing it would be a nice place. It does have nice beaches, and it is possible to get away from the people. But it wasnt the paradise it was advertised to be. But then, what place is ever as good as its advertised to be by the local tourism commission?

Playa Flamenco is touted as one of the top ten beaches in the world – and it IS nice. But it has that “developed by US National Park System” feel about it now, which kinda ruins it for me. You know, brown signs everywhere saying what you cant do, run down bathrooms on site, camping, dirty concession stands, roped off paths, etc.

So we took a left at the Flamenco parking lot and walked across the hilltop for a trip of 12-15 “Lonely Planet” minutes (which was 30 minutes in the real world) to Playa Carlos Rosario, which is a very nice beach – almost as nice as Flamenco, I think – but completely undeveloped and only a few tiny signs of civilization. And had some of the best snorkeling Ive seen so far, in my admittedly limited snorkeling career.

Carlos Rosario 1Carlos Rosario 2Carlos Rosario 3Carlos Rosario 4Carlos Rosario 5

Next day I went Scuba diving to Culebrita, a little island a mile offshore from Culebra. It was a typical scuba trip. But rather a disappointment, for visibility was low, fish were scarce, and the coral looked kinda dilapidated. From what someone told me, their coral reefs have some sort of a disease and theyre dying off. I gather its being kept hush-hush though for tourisms sake. Personally, I got much  better views while snorkeling during the surface interval than I did diving, this one for instance:

PR Culebrita

On the upside though, I did get to test my 33-foot-waterproof camera at 35 feet deep so I know for a fact that it functions as per specs. At least, in that area.

I was the only other diver there with the divemaster from Aquatic Adventures, and I was disappointed in him too. He didnt seem to care whether I could keep up or not. I later learned he was trying to find an anchor hed lost at the same time he was supposed to be taking me on a dive, so he was much more interested in covering ground than showing me the reef. It took me three times to get him to stop and slow down so I could keep up (and Im not a slow swimmer!), and then finally I had to tell him I wanted to surface (because my ankle was killing me), so he signaled “ok – go back to the boat, Ill stay here”. So that left me finding my way back to the boat by myself (something divers are never supposed to do!), with my ankle cramping from trying to swim fast enough to keep up with him. Needless to say, that was annoying.

At any rate, I was pretty well tired of Culebra already and Puerto Rico in general, and had determined that unless something incredibly unusual came up in the future, I was never coming back. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure I hit all the “oh, you were in Puerto Rico? Did you see.” I was going to run into later. That meant a trip to the Bioluminescent bay in Vieques, the El Yunque cloud forest, and the El Morro fort in Old San Juan. So we made a quick trip to Vieques next.

To get there, we took an island hopper – a converted 4 seater plane retrofitted to seat 9, including pilot. From the back seat, to anyone who was prone to claustrophobia, it could have been construed as a flying coffin, but I didnt mind it. After all, how upset can you get on a flight that never exceeds 600 above sea level, and where the entire flight (including takeoff and landing!) takes less than NINE minutes? And the pilot kept making jokes about the inflight meal and inflight movie the whole way :)

One fact that would have made me decide in Vieques favor earlier on (over going to Culebra), had I realized it, was that both islands were administered by the US Navy for a long time. But the Navy, after a certain amount of protesting, pulled out of Culebra in 1975. It didnt leave Vieques until 2001. That meant, I realized after the fact, that Culebra had had 35 years to fill up with misfits and to be generally messed up by civilians, whereas Vieques was still largely pristine – half the island was STILL off limits because of the risk of unexploded ordinance (the Navy had used it for a live-fire testing range for war games).

Because of that, I liked Vieques better, even though I only spent right at 24 hours there. It seemed less I dont know, dirty. This will no doubt offend any Culebrans that read this, but I cant help it, thats just how it was to me. The beaches on Culebra were nice, but nothing else was. The beaches on Vieques are also nice – perhaps equally nice – and the rest of it was nicer. More upscale, but no more expensive. No doubt it will look the same as Culebra after 30 years of civilian occupation and touristation but for now, its the only place in Puerto Rico I MIGHT go back to – if I had to.

But enough rambling. The reason we went to Vieques was to see the bioluminescent bay. This bay literally glows in the dark. Apparently these dyno-flaggelates (which I think is Greek for underwater power-bugs or something like that maybe) are tiny microscopic lifeforms which, for some reason as yet unknown to science make the water literally glow whenever it is disturbed – by an oar, a fish, or what-have-you. Of the few dozen bays in the world that have this phenomenon, this is by far the brightest.

We got to the south side of Vieques, to the town of Esperanza, just before dark – in time to take some pictures like this:

PR Esperanza 1

But we hadnt been able to get ahold of any tour operators to take us to the bay yet. So we werent sure we were going to get to do it at all. However, through a bit of luck and some phone calls we managed to find someone who I think was just starting in the business, so we actually got it $5 pp cheaper than anyone else had it – making it $25 for about an hour and a half trip. Of course, only about 45 minutes of that was on the bay, but that was long enough.

Unfortunately, for some reason I dont understand, the light that the organisms give off, while bright, doesnt register on most cameras, even on low-light settings. I tried taking videos and pictures in a dozen different settings, and they all show the same thing – blackness. So we had to be content just to enjoy it and remember it. Each time the paddle dipped it showed a very pale blue-white (more white than blue) froth behind it – each time you dip your hand in the water is greeted by a flash of light. The high point of the evening came when we jumped off the kayaks into the pitch black water – only to see it turn brilliant blue-white as we splashed in. I jumped in with my eyes open, and watched the water glow as I crashed into it – no doubt disturbing billions of tiny entities from their otherwise peaceful existence.

But I think even cooler was that as we paddled across this shallow bay in absolute darkness (well, almost absolute), the fish that were scared by the noise of our paddles scattered in every direction underwater – as they did so leaving behind a luminous trail, punctuated by brighter spots where they turned and pushed harder against the water.

Anyway, thats thus far the first thing that Puerto Rico offered that I felt actually lived up to its advertising. And it was neat, I cant deny that. And it was actually worth the price to see it. Of course, the downside was that the other name for the bioluminescent bay was “mosquito bay” you can imagine what that meant :)

2 Responses

  1. national rent a car used cars | Bookmarks URL Says:

    [] Culebra And Vieques As soon as we hung up our boards we hopped in the car, still dripping, to make a lightning trip across the island to catch the ferry in Fajardo to the island of Culebra. We got there on the ferry that night, (at $2.25 apiece it’s the []

  2. Flamenco Dancing Guitar and Cajon Spanish Music » Blog Archive » Culebra And Vieques Says:

    [] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHeres a quick excerptSo we took a left at the Flamenco parking lot and walked across the hilltop for a trip of 12-15 “Lonely Planet” minutes (which was 30 minutes in the real world) to Playa Carlos Rosario, which is a very nice beach – almost as nice as Read the rest of this great post here Posted in Uncategorized on October 27th, 2008 | []

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