The struggle of waking up at 5 in the morning while on vacation was all too real, but we didn’t want to take any chances with traffic while driving from San Juan to Fajardo. We had to take the ferry to the island of Culebra, just 17 miles east of Puerto Rico. We found an all-day parking garage for only $5 just a short walk from the harbor. It was total chaos. There were people running about trying to locate their tour guides, cars and vans dropping passengers off to join the long line to buy tickets, snow cone vendors vying for our attention by making sounds not unlike the ones farmers use to call chickens.
Hildon and I stood at the side of the road and people watched until Neca from Caribbean Kayak Company showed up with our tickets. She introduced us to our guides. One of them looked 15 and it turned out he was 16. It was his summer job. I immediately became jealous of a teenager. Our tour group was put in a separate area just at the entrance of the terminal. We waited and waited, made fun of a young Asian couple who couldn’t keep their hands off of each other — Hildon joked that it must be a new relationship and we both cackled at how different things would be for them in a few years — and waited some more. Finally it was time to board. The ferry pulled into Culebra more than an hour later and it was more chaos as cab drivers shouted their destinations and fees at us as we disembarked. We were quickly ushered pass them and into a van to the breathtaking Flamenco Beach.
But we soon understood why so many people on the ferry were toting folding chairs and beach umbrellas. It was either carry your own or find some shade in this blazing hot sun. One family even brought a tent. We were lucky enough to get a spot under a palm tree. We hung our clothes and towels on its branches and neatly piled our slippers and snorkel gear at the base.
The water was teeming with seaweed. I grew paranoid whenever a piece brushed up against my legs. That’s what I get for watching “Shark Week” before going to bed. We put on our snorkels but I was only able to spot one fish. I squealed with excitement as Hildon scrambled to see it. He was too late. A man bathing nearby laughed at us. Probably thinking, “Turistas.” But I didn’t care. Damn it, I was a tourist and proud. We made our way to the refreshment area and bought some empanadillas — none of which I have pictures because I inhaled them — from one of the kiosks for a quick snack before heading to Tamarindo Beach.
Our guides introduced us to Jonathan, who gave us our life jackets, flippers, and snorkels, and briefed us on what we were going to do. I saw Hildon tense up at the sight of the kayaks lined up by the water. They might as well have been coffins with the way he looked at them. I told him everything would be fine and he shook his head. He didn’t believe me. Shit, I barely believed me. I said a silent prayer: “Dear God, please don’t let us fall off our kayak. We’re the only black people on this tour and we have to represent. Amen.”
“Are there sharks out there?” One guy just had to ask.
“Technically, yes,” responded Jonathan with a nervous grin.
He pointed literally two miles to our left like there was a frigging invisible barrier preventing the sharks from swimming toward us or some shit.
“We wouldn’t bring you out here if your lives were in any danger,” he said.
Okay, Jonathan <__< We got into our kayaks and headed out.
Listen, if you want to test your relationship, go kayaking with your significant other. We pretty much argued the whole time.
“Shevonne, you’re not putting the whole paddle in the water. That’s why we keep getting off track.”
“Hildon, I’m doing the best I can. Just make sure we’re paddling one side at a time.”
“Shevonne, we’re drifting because you’re putting more power on your left side.”
“Hildon, don’t yell at me. You’re making me nervous.”
“I’m not yelling,” he yelled.
I started to turn around to say something smart when I felt the kayak tilt to the right. Shit! I snapped my head back, and we both sat still, afraid to breathe. When the kayak stopped rocking we started paddling again. I figured the only way we’d be able to stay on beat is if I sang cadence. Yes, I took it back to my military roots.
“Left, right, left, right…”
Fear makes people do strange things.
I looked ahead and saw that we had a way to go to catch up with the group. The Asian couple was having trouble too, but eventually they made it and we pulled up behind them shortly after. I was sore. Kayaking is quite the workout. Jonathan tied the kayaks together and we all jumped into the clear water. We followed him as he led us even further out. He dove to the bottom every now and then and presented us with something he found on the ocean’s floor: a sea urchin, a dead lobster, a sea cucumber. Each treasure more disgusting than the last. Hildon was off to the side of the group too busy recording and taking photos of anything that moved with his GoPro to pay attention to Jonathan, although he managed to get some great shots of the expert in action.
Soon it was time to head back. That’s when I learned that one does not merely hop into a kayak when floating in the sea. One guy hopped up on one side, slid across the kayak, and fell right back into water. It took everything in me not to laugh. But it was definitely a struggle. No judgment. Going back wasn’t as bad because the wind pushed us toward shore. But we almost crashed into two women who were just chilling near the water’s edge until I started screaming for them to get out of the way. Hildon was out of the kayak before it came to a full stop. We both agreed to never go kayaking again, but we were proud of ourselves for trying something new. And it was fun so no regrets.
We were provided a light snack of apples with juice and water and headed back out, without the kayaks, thankfully, to snorkel with sea turtles. I was in heaven. I just floated and stared at them in awe as they went about their business feeding on sea grass and occasionally swimming to the surface for air. All my worries about encountering sharks melted away in their presence. I didn’t even get nervous when I saw one of them was missing a flipper. I mean, he could have lost it any number of ways. Right? *gulp*
Even Hildon seemed at ease as he chased the turtles in order to get some decent footage.
We were out there for about an hour before reluctantly heading back to the ferry terminal. My hair was almost completely dried by the time the ferry pulled up. Then we had to wait until 500 people, including one dead body in a casket, got off while everyone in line were being terrorized my bees.
We slept most of the way back. When we got our car out of the garage we figured since we were already in Fajardo that we should stick around until sunset and drive 3 miles to the bio-luminescent bay in Laguna Grande to see the water light up at night. But when we found out that we had to get into another kayak and go out to the pitch black lagoon to see the microorganisms glow when disturbed, we were like “fuck that!” We were a little disappointed, but the thought of us falling out of a kayak at night made me shudder.
We hit up KFC before heading back to San Juan, because if you read this previous post you would know that I have to try a country’s KFC to see if it compares to Trinidad’s. PR’s isn’t bad. It is well seasoned, and they have fries instead of wedges just like Trinidad’s, but it still doesn’t rival my homeland’s take on the Colonel’s recipe. In other words: they don’t have spicy.
I had the Big Crunch sandwich. Yummy!
And Hildon enjoyed their original, crispy, AND grilled recipes.
By the time we got back to the hotel it was minutes to 10. Thank God we already ate, because I just wanted to shower and go to bed. We were finally going to sleep in. Yay!