Friday, December 20, 2013

The Hike to End All Hikes and the Bioluminescient Bay

Sometimes, it's just hard to admit defeat, especially on vacation. One of the things we wanted to do on our hike Tuesday was to see the mangroves, but having already hiked an hour and a half, we only made it a half hour along the trail before needing to turn around and head back for lunch. So, on Thursday we thought we'd give it another shot.

We arrived at the beach car park at the Parque Estatal de Guanica around 10:30m and began our trek to the mangroves. We knew it was 3.5km but other than that, the trail map was pretty basic. By the end, we would wish for a pedometer to know for sure.

The hike travels mostly along the beach and cliffs, so it is a hike with a view. The sun reflecting along the water, the spray of the waves on shore, the butterflies and birds flittering all around, and the various cacti and bushes dotting the view--these all made for a beautiful hike. The trail was mostly straight and no fuss until after an hour.

It was at this point that we found ourselves navigating a barely clear trail through brush, beach grass, rocks and cliffs. I began to seriously wonder if we would ever find our way out, and I kept mentally making guide markers--this funny bush, that cairn, the cactus in the path, etc. The trail had no markers, so we had no idea where we were on our trek. The cairn on the cliff was the only small marker. We then found ourselves on a wide path that seemed like a road. It made its way downhill, and I had a good feeling that we were almost there. After 20 minutes of going uphill several times, we looked at our watches and the blazing sun overhead. We looked up the trail, which was once again heading uphill, and decided we had to turn back. It had been 1hr 40 min and we had no idea what else lay ahead.

So with reluctance, we turned around and began the long trek back. By this time, the heat was in full force, and my body was getting more and more tired. I luckily had a long sleeve hiking shirt and hiking pants on, so most of my pale skin was protected from the brunt of the sun. Only my hands ended up a little burnt. We made our way along the cliffs, through the mysterious parts of the trail, and back on to the main trail along the coast. With Janvier walking ahead of me, she was my touchstone of movement. Every 20 min or so, we'd find a spot of shade, and I'd sit and try to cool off. It took all my willpower to get up and keep going. I concocted all sorts of worst case scenarios in my head, which mostly involved the park rangers coming to rescue us. I began to feel like Frodo walking half blindly through Mordor, barely putting one foot in front of the other.

But, then we were at the half hour turning point from Tuesday, and then there were people on a beach, and then there was a garbage can, and then, finally the car. I've not been so grateful after a hike in a long time that a garbage can seemed like the relieving sign of civilization and survival! 10:30-2pm. What a hike.

You can imagine the flopping down on couches and beds that occurred when we made it home. It took me awhile to eat my avocado sandwich for lunch. I napped and took ibuprofen for the small leg cramp that creeped in. After a nap, all began to feel better. So it was time for a low key adventure.

The bioluminescent bay in nearby La Parguera was on our must-see list, so off we drove to be there for the 7:30 boat. Unfortunately, we couldn't escape the fact that this was a full moon cycle and the bio bay would be diluted by the moonlight. The first tour was sold out, so we walked around the little town, which had the feel of a seaside carnival, buying cheesy souvenirs and buying food from a simple food stand. Beans and rice and some unfortunately dry plantains for me, and a chicken empanada for Janvier.

The 45min boat tour was run by Johnny, a man who looked like a man of the sea and sun. The boat was full of Puerto Rican families, except for us, and we were able to understand most of what he said. He navigated us without lights through the dark bay, until we were in the middle of a mangrove forest (alas we could only see their sillouhettes!) and then his assistant, a guy in his early 20s jumped in the water. His job was to swim around the boat to show us the organisms lighting up. We put our hands into the water alongside the boat. It was like sparklers in the water, quick bursts of lights and then they'd disappear. Anyone who wanted to swim was invited in, so a few kids took the plunge in their swimsuits.

It was impossible to get photos, but it was a fun Experience on a gorgeous night. It was over too soon as the moon came up in its waning full moon glory. We all stared at the moon and the star filled sky on our cruise back to shore. It's reflection lighting up everything around us.

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