travelers to the Caribbean merely want the illusion of a deserted island
- pristine beaches, swaying coco trees, and bathwater bays. But that's
where they want the illusion to end because most of them also want a
modem jack, cranked up A/C, and a fully stocked mini-bar.
Vieques is not for most travelers. This 21 mile long
deserted-island-in-the-flesh is still pretty rough around the edges.
Cell phones and fancy threads have no place here. McDonald's has yet to
set up shop in this corner of the Spanish Virgin Islands, so the fastest
food available is s l o w. Roosters, wild horses and hefty white bulls
graze alongside surprisingly well-paved roads. Other than scuba diving,
the only attraction that qualifies as "tourist" is the
Bioluminescent Bay. Teeming with tiny luminous creatures called
dino-flagellates, this beautiful bay is criminally under-advertised. They
should post signs all over the island announcing that no visitor is
allowed to leave without experiencing this 100% natural acid trip -
without the acid.
Our trip started when we climbed onto a second-hand school bus with
twenty-five other adventurers. Giggling and jabbering like little kids,
we were carted through thick palm-lined sand trails. Despite the stars
shining above like the most spectacular planetarium show, it was very
dark, and our anticipation grew with the density of the palm groves. The
bus came to a halt three feet from the edge of Mosquito Bay. A makeshift
electric boat (fossil fuel is the greatest predator of dino-flagellates)
waited to take us to a protected cove. As we shuffled slowly across te
bay, we got a lesson in local ecology. Mangroves and all kinds of sea
creatures exist here in very delicate balance. This is one of the few
remaining bioluminescent bodies of water in the world. Most others have
succumbed to careless human pollution.
The boat cut silently through the glassy, black water. Suddenly, as
if performing some kind of native rain dance, our group of guides
stomped on the bottom of the boat. Fish darted below the surface,
looking suspiciously like globs of glow-in-the-dark putty. Any movement
sparks the dino-flagellates to give off a microscopic light show. There's
a cast of 720,000 dinos per gallon, so it's quite a performance. But the
real show came when, one by one, each of us bay-trippers jumped into the
water. Twenty-five pairs of arms and legs produced a flurry of bright
waves. A few people strapped on a mask and snorkel to get the maximum
effect from below.
The guide assured us that the only remotely dangerous creatures in
the bay were jellyfish. So, I shook the opening scene of JAWS from my
mind, swam away from the crowd, and kept very still. Thousands of dinos
clung to my skin like glittery fairy dust. Letting my life-vest do its
job, I just floated there for a moment, spellbound by these seldom-seen
creatures. When I reluctantly emerged from the bay, the little guys were
still on my suit, glowing faintly with each slight move I made.
Everyone was very quiet on the way home. We had been struck dumb by a
little piece of magic we didn't know existed in real life. The high from
the Bioluminescent Bay lingered well after my trip (pun intended) to
Vieques was over.