Thursday, March 8, 2012

El Yunque/Fajardo

Puerto Rico is small enough to reasonably go on a day trip to just about anywhere within its borders, at least on the main island. We decided to rent a van and visit El Yunque and Fajardo, a popular day trip route from San Juan.

El Yunque National Forest
Located in the northeastern part of the island, El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. With only a few hours to explore the area before continuing east to Fajardo, we weren't able to see too much, but we did go on a nice hike to a pretty impressive waterfall. The water, which originates in the Sierra de Luquillo mountains, was numbingly cold; naturally, we had to jump in.

Reminded me of my friend Scott's backyard
La cascada
Taking the plunge

After drying off, we packed back into the car and continued to Fajardo, a port town located in the northeastern corner of the island. Most of the tourists here seemed to have come for one of two reasons: either to catch the ferry to Culebra and other small nearby islands or to check out the bioluminescent bay. We were there for the latter, which can only be seen when dark, so we waited for the sun to set before heading out on our guided kayak tour.

One of the many natural harbors in the area
Tomoki gazing out to sea

After it got dark, we got into our two-man kayaks and paddled through a mangrove forest to reach the bay. Getting through the mangroves was actually an experience in itself—the guides would try to call out ahead of time when there were low-hanging branches, but the steady murmur of paddles dipping into the water was regularly punctuated by curses from people getting poked and scraped by branches. This is a very American thing for me to say, but I couldn't help but think that the dark passage—your eyes can only adjust so much to the darkness—was basically a lawsuit waiting to happen...

Half an hour of huffing and puffing later, we entered the famous bay filled with bioluminescent plankton that light up when disturbed, such as by waving your hand through the water. Quick tip: Try to make it here when the moon is relatively new—the full moon made the bioluminescence more difficult to see and less dramatic than we had hoped. Nonetheless, the science behind the biological phenomenon is pretty neat and definitely merits a visit.