Mighty Life List
Jul 16 2009

Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton in Puerto Rico? Check.

We hop into a pickup bed filled with sandy, damp life jackets, and they bump against our shins on the dirt road to the beach.

Melissa and I are headed to Mosquito Bay in Vieques, one of most dense bioluminescent bays in the world. It’s teeming with microscopic organisms that light up when they’re disturbed. There are only eleven “biobays” in the world, nine of which are in Puerto Rico.

Ricky, one of the guides, is riding in back with us. He says his job never gets old.

He tells us about raindrops that seem to spark as they hit the water, how schools of fish leave light streams in their wake. I imagine a giant, glowing shark silhouette swimming toward our tiny kayak. Hmm.

We arrive at the beach, and don our gritty life jackets.

The air is suddenly spiky. “What is that?” I ask Melissa. She points to a tiny grain of sand on my forearm. It bites me. We’re covered in vicious, biting mites. Does the guide have any insect repllant? He does, but we can’t use it if we want to swim, it kills the plankton. Baby oil is fine though, and it works great! Does he have any of that? No.

We wade into the water to escape while our guides ready the kayaks.

I’ve adventurously stuffed all my camera equipment into plastic trash bags inside my backpack. Climbing into the open-top kayak, I decide not to think about what might happen if we tip over, because we aren’t going to tip over. Right, Melissa? Melissa, has never been in a kayak before, but we’ll be fine. I’m certain we’ll be fine. Right, Melissa? Melissa avoids eye contact.

We paddle out to the bay and tie the kayaks together to wait for nightfall. Our guide tells us about the dinoflagellates we’ve come to see, single-cell organisms that have the ability to photosynthesize. They’re technically neither plant nor animal. Cool.

I ask the guide if he’ll take our photos when we get in the water, maybe a little video. He warns me that it’s nearly impossible to capture the glow on film. Now he tells me.

We climb out of the boat, and gradually a soft glow gathers around our limbs as we tread water. A few moments later there are sparks and glowing bubbles flying from our fingertips. It looks exactly as you’d imagine pixie dust would look if you were to encounter Tinkerbell in the wild. “I can fly!” I say. I can’t stop laughing. Melissa sweeps her arms through the water and whispers, “I’m a priiiiincess!” We make light saber sounds, hum dramatic overtures as we conduct under water. I lift my hands above the surface, and loose-diamonds tumble down my arms.

As it turns out, our guide was right about the photos. I lightened one so you could get an idea of what the glow looks like. I’m going to blow this up to wall-mural size and hang it above my bed:

I want so much to show you what it was like, but you have to see for yourself. It is amazing. Here’s a little video of us riding back in the truck:

If you can, you have to do this. Go find your swimsuit. Get in the truck.

(Our tour was through Vieques Tours. They were nice, and one of the guides bought the two of us popsicles while we waited for the cars to arrive. Aww. 787.447.4104)

Many thanks to the folks at Intel. They’re making my site more interesting by sponsoring my Mighty Life List over the next few months. They paid for this trip of a lifetime, and I can’t thank them enough.

Jul 15 2009

Home

Puerto Rico was warm, and fun, and happy. It’s not tough to make Melissa laugh, and I’m an easy audience myself, so the sensation of coughing up aspirated Coca-Cola will forever remind me of Old San Juan.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about swimming with the glowing plankton (amazing), but for now I’m cuddling my kid and marveling at how much extra weight you can pack on in a single week of cheese fries for breakfast. Who knew?

In other news, Melissa’s luggage was lost againon the way home. Bwah? Melissa refuses to own more than ten items of clothing at once, so the universe is trying to shove her headfirst at the nearest Old Navy. The universe obviously doesn’t know Melissa’s will, or how particular she is about her T-shirts. She’s wearing wool in July while she waits. Melissa, our thoughts are with you.

Intel is making my site more interesting by sponsoring my Mighty Life List over the next few months. They paid for my trip to Puerto Rico, which was just as good as it sounds. Thanks, Intel.