Wednesday, May 01, 2013

El Yunque and Dino Angel

Greetings All,
We are back in Florida and returning home tomorrow.  We did get to hike in El Yunque National Forest, a cool, mountainous, sub-tropical rainforest on the northeastern end of Puerto Rico.  The Luquillo Mountains are the first land mass encountered by the moisture-laden trade winds formed off the coast of Africa. Our first hike took us to the 3543-foot summit of El Yunque Peak.  We hiked up on a good trail through Mountain Sierra Palm forest with ferns and bromeliads.  The view from the top was somewhat obscured by clouds but we did get glimpses of the surrounding mountains and coastline below.  

On the way back down we took a spur trail to the observation tower on 3088-foot Mt. Britton.  

This tower and others in the National Forest were constructed between 1933 and 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the CCC as part of the New Deal Initiative, a program to help end the Great Depression. 

The next day we hiked along the Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls.  This is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.  Many people were clambering over boulders to get to the pool at the base of the Falls.

We could hear birds in the forest but they were difficult to see.  We did not see the rare Puerto Rico Parrot (there are only 85 left in the wild) but did get a good look at a Scaly-naped Pigeon which is found throughout the Caribbean.

Other than bats there are no native mammals in Puerto Rico.  We did get a glimpse of an introduced Indian Mongoose crossing the road.  These animals have become pests and are the largest carrier of rabies.  There were land snails along the trail and one posed nicely on a brightly flowered Heliconia.

After our hike we headed to the Marina Puerto del Rey for the start of our second Bio-bay tour. This Bio-bay is located on the island of Vieques so we had to take a 45-minute catamaran ride to get there.  We were joined by 22 others including a group of 4 young women dressed in fancy dresses, jewelry and sandals for the tour.  Did they get a different email than us?  They looked like they were going on a fancy dinner/booze cruise rather than going on a Bio-bay tour.  We were served rum punch, piña coladas and the popular rum and diet coke on the boat ride over so it was sort of a booze cruise.  Once on the island we were served dinner before going on the actual tour at 8:30.  We boarded a pontoon boat powered by electric motors and you could immediately see the bio-luminance caused by the wake of the boat.

Our tour guide asked if anyone wanted to stick a foot into the water and a young woman eagerly answered "yes!". She just happened to be wearing a bathing suit so she was able to go completely into the water.  Swimming in the Bio-bays has been banned since 2007 but this tour gets around it by allowing 2-3 "swimmers" per tour as long as you have two points of contact on the ladder.  I wanted to go swimming with the dinoflagellates too but I didn't have a bathing suit.  Oh, what the heck, I didn't know these people and would never see them again.  I volunteered next and stripped down to my underwear to swim with the Dinos!   It's not as crude as it sounds.  I had a jog bra on and it was too dark to see anything.  I climbed down the ladder and held on with one hand and a foot.  I swirled the free arm and leg through the water letting the Dinos do their magic.  It's an entirely different experience when you're actually in the water with them.  The tour guide told me to hook both my feet through the ladder and create a "Dino angel" with both my arms!

After I got back in the boat our tour guide, Ricky, told us that although swimming in the Bio-bays was banned in 2007, it wasn't enforced until 2011 after a woman was attacked by a shark!  Now, he tells me though it wouldn't have kept me from going into the water.

All too soon it was time to return to shore.  We had another surprise in store for us.  A man flagged our bus down and asked if we wanted to see a nesting sea turtle.  "Heck yes" was the overwhelming response.  We followed the man to a nest where a rare Hawksbill turtle was just finishing up covering her eggs.  

She had just laid 160 of them and will nest up to 5 times this season.  Three species of sea turtles, Leatherback, Green and Hawksbill nest on Vieques.   The Hawksbill Turtle is critically endangered due to human fishing practices and the collection of their shells for jewelry and other decorative items.

What a magical evening!  We are looking forward to returning to Vermont where spring wildflowers and biking await.  We'll see many of you soon.
Peggy and Marc

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