Moonlit Bubbles, Spooky Mangroves and Sleeping Iguanas
A Magical Evening in Puerto Rico
We were extremely late because our destination didn’t exist on our maps. Also because Puerto Rico doesn’t seem interested in street signs, our rental-car GPS knew less than we did, and our directions included, “Turn left at Burger King.” If you’ve ever been to Puerto Rico, you know how many corners have a Burger King (hint: most).
One of the staff finally got on the phone and guided us, turn by turn, through the last few miles and set up “VIP Parking” and we pulled in, got a Cliff Notes of kayak safety, and stepped into the warm waters of the Carribean.
How many surprises do we have in our lives? I try to keep the ones I can hold onto.
I purposely hadn’t read the brochure as I like surprises, but someone had leaked something about the moon and a coral reef. I had visions of the Northern Lights, but underwater. That’s all I knew and more than I wanted to know. How many surprises do we really have in our lives? They’re quite easy to “unsuprisify.” I’ll keep the ones I can hold onto.
Our late group had to catch up to the others, so we were alone for the first leg of the journey. We paddled along the coast of a bay and followed only the silhouettes of our guide and the others in the moonlight. He also had small red lights attached to his life vest. We had tiny yellow lights on the front and back of our kayaks.
We approached what looked like land in that it was dark. The moon was out and playing hide and seek behind the clouds but we kept heading towards the darkness. We dutifully followed our guide into the looming abyss and as our eyes adjusted, we saw we were entering a forest of mangrove. Within a few strokes of the paddles, we were covered with a canopy of snarling vines, leaves and thigh-thick roots coming out of the water.
“Ben je bang?” I whispered to my 6-year old. [Are you scared?]
“Een beetje,” he replied, but in way that said he could handle the fear. [A little.]
The guide slowed to show us a tree that was almost 250-years old. He said the name in Spanish and said it meant, “Old tree.” At certain points he said there were partially dry forests on the left and the wet mangrove forest on the right. We paddled along and he shone his flashlight into branches of the mangrove and pointed out a sleeping iguana. It was precariously balanced on an extremely thin twig, but I wasn’t as worried about his falling and disturbing his iquana beauty sleep as I was him falling into our kayak. He held on just fine even with the light winds rocking him a jungle lullaby.
As we paddled along through the watery jungle I couldn’t help dream of The Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland. The crickets, frogs, and geckos were out in full force and chirping up a symphony of clatter and chatter. If you listened closely, you could hear the occasional “Crack!” of a twig and only wonder what broke it. Our soft yellow lights were the fireflies of the evening and all that was missing was the dog next to the jail cell with the key ring in its mouth. I made a mental note to do a semi-scientific study on the relationship to our memories of childhood and what we deemed charming, magical or enchanting in our adult lives.
It wasn’t lost on me that you don’t often get to paddle with your friends and family through such a raw and wild scene of our planet. I talked to my son and somehow tried to cement the memory in his mind as well as mine by pointing out what I saw, heard, and felt.
“Dit is een van de mooiste plekken die ik ooit heb gezien in mijn hele leven,” I said, [This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my whole life.] adding “in my whole life” as I joke that my son says that quite often and he’s only six.
He shot back at me as if he were ready for my comment, “De mooiste plek is in je hart.” [The most beautiful place is in your heart.]
Well, that shut me up. I had no response to that. There is no response to that. I don’t understand how kids can do that, just whip out something so profound at the drop of a hat without a second thought and floor me like a sucker punch to my gut. Boom. I had nothing to say because there was nothing to say. I smiled in my Disney adventure ride and would have scrambled for my pen and paper if I had anything on me other than my bathing suit and life vest.
Where do kids get this stuff?
This is why I travel. Travel brings out conversations that you just won’t have if you follow the same routine and day-in-day-out of regular life at home. Did the mangrove forest and the sleeping iguanas bring this out in my little boy? Was it the moonlight through the branches? The slow paddling through the spooky waters? You can’t make this stuff up. There is no better fiction than non-fiction.
The two-and-a-half hour nightmare drive through eastern (or maybe it was western … ) Puerto Rico was already worth it. I didn’t care if the moon lit up great white sharks and sunken pirate ships under our kayaks. In fact, I didn’t care about a thing other than the moment. I find this frustratingly difficult to do, but it does happen and when it does, I try to, sorry, seize it.
None of this would have happened had we not stepped out the door.
We’re back to the first step, that baby step, just putting on the shoes to get out and make something different happen. I can’t seem to get away from it–but I don’t want to. It’s what makes it all happen, it’s what makes my world go around.
We finally found the exit of the mangrove forest and were in what seemed to be a bay, but surrounded on all sides (which would probably make it a lake). But don’t ask me, I was still looking for the dog and the key ring.
We paddled out to the center of the bay and held onto the kayak next to you. Because the moon was out, we needed to put a tarp over all of us to see the lights better. With the tarp over our heads, we splashed our hands in the water and little sparklies of light danced under the surface. If you cupped some of it and poured it over your leg, the little lights scattered away like electrically-charged particles. Maybe the Disney influence was embedded deep in my tonight, but the closest description I could come up with was: fairy dust. I got an approval-heavy, “Cool!” out of the boys and we all started to paddle back to base.
The trip home took as long as the trip there even though the GPS knew where to take us. Parking-lot style traffic on a freeway and too many sleepy villages to count and our evening finally came to a close. I weighed the time, the traffic, the white-knuckle driving, the cost, the stressed family hoping you arrive in time, and everything else in the column labeled, well, it’s labeled, hmm, is it: Everything But Adventure. Or is it? Is adventure then only the kayaking? Or is it all part of it, the “bad” and the “good.” It’s all together, mixed up like pixie dust and you get to let it fall and watch it shimmer. You just need to step out the door.