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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The East Coast Adventure, Part III

Written 8/22/08

I hate jellyfish. I mean, I really fucking hate fucking jellyfish. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Death to cnidarians. Just say no to nematocytes.

Also, I have discovered my first allergy.

As I was finishing my last post, my arms had started to itch. The tiny dots that remained from my jellyfish stings, all but vanished since an hour after the incident, had started to puff back up again. I tried to go to sleep, but I was too itchy. First my wrists, then neck, shoulder blades, and forarms, started to puff back up and get itchy. And yes, I scratched them. A lot. I know the standard advice is not to, but I figured I would do what I usually do with mosquito bites: scratch them until they bleed and the itching turns into a mild stinging, which I don't mind nearly so much. Itching is up there right behind nausea for me for unpleasant sensations. Later the next day, we used John's iPhone to look up jellyfish allergies (that's what John figured it was), and the descriptions we found sounded just like what I had: some hours or days later, the marks come back and are "intensely itchy."

So, I hardly slept. The next day, though, we had the Bio Bay tour (bioluminescent bay), including (during the day, while there was nothing to really see in the Bio Bay) kayaking through mangroves and picnicking on the beach. It sounded lovely. But boy, I was tired and itchy and icky feeling. After some time vacillating on whether I was up to it, I figured I didn't know when I was going to get back here, and it sounded too cool to miss.

Written 8/24/08, 4:45pm, east coast time

I headed down there in just street clothes, without a bathing suit, thinking I'd do the kayak part of the tour and just look at the glowy water. When we got there, Karen gave me a hard time and said I'd miss the best parts of the tour if I didn't get in the water. I had to admit it was actually pretty irrational, since I wasn't really likely to get stung by jellyfish again, so that meant I needed a bathing suit. On Karen's recommendation, John and I ran down to a shop down the street called "Diva's Closet". They only had three one-piece bathing suits left, only two of which were my size. I wound up getting something I normally wouldn't have given a second look to, and paid more than I normally would for a bathing suit, but, you know, it didn't take long to decide that I did like it after all.

And, good thing I did get it, because the first activity turned out to be not kayaking, but snorkeling. Great place for it, too - there must have been tens of thousands of fish under that pier, big schools of 2- to 6-inch silver ones (sardines, maybe?). Besides the big groups, there were anemones with tiny glowing blue shrimp, weird spindly crabs like daddy longlegs spiders, tubeworms, and a few brightly colored tropical fish. It was almost as good as the dive on the whole, and better for sheer number and variety of fish.

After that, we piled into vehicles and bounced on the dirt road over to the bioluminescent bay, which looked like just another bay during the day time, and had the decidedly off-putting name of "Mosquito Bay". We got into the kayaks and headed toward the far side of the bay. I wasn't sure where we were going, but sure enough, our trusty guide (he even referred to himself as a little brown guy) knew where there was a gap in the dense mangrove growth we could get through. It wasn't so much paddling as grabbing roots and branches along the sides to push yourself along. Little crabs lived on the roots of the mangroves, which, we were told, climbed down when the tide was low and cleaned the lower parts of the roots, keeping them functioning well. We came to several clearings, getting deeper and deeper into the patch, and into ever shallower water. At the furthest point, the water got so shallow that even our shallow-draft kayaks ran aground in a few places. Since the water didn't move much here, it heated and evaporated even further - it must have been over 100 degrees, like warm bath water. I didn't quite bring myself to taste it, for the bottom of the waterways was all deep in mangrove leaf sludge, a soft red goo we were told was highly nutrient rich, and provided an excellent environment for nesting birds and fish eggs. Once again I was impressed with how neatly things dovetail in the wild, and how easy it is to throw these carefully balanced systems off by what initially may seem like harmless actions. Mangroves are an important part of their local ecosystems.

After we got back out to the main part of the bay, we crossed again to head toward the inlet, where water from the sea came in, but not out (the importance of which would be explained later). We paddled over some rough-ish water to get out to a beach, where we played in the water for a bit, then had a "picnic" lunch of sandwiches and chips (Karen said the dinner was usually a bigger production, but since there were only 4 of us on the tour in the low season on a week day, we didn't get the usual barbecue). After watching most of the sunset, we paddled back through the surf, with the still surprisingly warm water splashing up on us, and back over to the bay, where it was getting dark enough we could begin to see the magical glowing.

As we reentered Mosquito Bay, we weren't sure what to look at: the faint glimmers of dinoflagellates as our paddles disturbed them, or the thunder cloud glowing over the town of Esperanza in the distance. The cloud was rather striking - it looked like a lion's head, and sometimes the lightning would come down in a way that it looked like it was breathing fire. I've seen some good lightning shows in Tucson, but that one was in a distinctive setting that really stays in the mind.

But, lighting aside, there was still this odd glow following the paddles. The dinoflagellates are like single-celled fireflies; they use the same chemicals to glow. They only emit light when they sense compression in the water, an effort to scare away predators; hence the glow not in the water in general, but only where our paddles had disturbed it. Water in the open ocean has 30-40 of these per gallon; here, where the water from the sea flowed in and not out (so these tiny things could not escape from the bay) and the water was so rich in nutrients from the surrounding mangroves, there were one half to three quarters of a million per gallon. This was supposed to be either the highest or second highest concentration in the world.

Next, we jumped in the water. This is probably the closest anybody gets to Harry Potter style magic - whenever you moved your hands (or anything else), streams of glow followed you. Splash, squirt, trickle it from your hands, squirt it from your mouth, kick it with your fins... it never got old. The best, I think, was just to pick up a handful and watch it run down your arm: you could clearly see the tiny sparks going off all over your hand and arm, like camera flashes in a dark stadium, tiny, blue, instantaneous, but bright and many of them.

On the way out, we paddled back past the mangrove, and our guide said to try hitting the bottom of the kayak with our feet. When we did, we could see a dozen fish dashing forward, outlined in glowing blue. That also didn't get old.

After getting out and getting back home, we were exhausted, but again I didn't get much sleep due to the itching, and we decided it was high time to get back to civilization. Connie left that day, Tuesday, and our original plan had been to spend a day in San Juan and go back to the mainland Wednesday. After probably 45 minutes on the phone with the airlines, we found a route that might have gotten us back that day, but we still needed to catch a flight to the main island. Karen called Vieques Air Link, and was told we got put on the list for the 12:40 flight to San Juan, which we hadn't seen in the schedule, but we thought they added more flights as the ones they had got full, and figured this was just a later addition.

My idea was just to get to the mainland as quickly as possible, but Karen wanted to take me to the local doctor to see if he could get me anything stronger. I was skeptical since we'd already gone to the pharmacy Monday morning, and the stuff they'd given me hadn't made any noticeable difference. But, after explaining my situation about half a dozen times to different aids and nurses who spoke varying degrees of English, the doctor finally came by (just minutes before we had to leave for the airport to catch our supposed 12:40 flight), and said I'd get just what the pages on jellyfish allergies we'd seen recommended: shots of benedryl (antihistamine) and prednisone (steroid). The shots were a bit sore, but, several hours later, the itching was finally going away. In the meantime, the benedryl knocked me out pretty good, and I was once again glad I had John there to handle things.

When we got to the airport, we found that the person Karen had talked to had been looking at flights from San Juan to Vieques, the opposite of the direction we needed, and the next flight out at 1:30 had been canceled because they didn't have fuel for the plane. That was pretty much a killer for the earlier flights we'd been going to take, so John got back on the phone to make sure our flights for Wednesday hadn't been canceled.

So, after a bunch of runaround, we still wound up taking all our original flights, but most of our stay in San Juan wasn't seeing attractions, it was eating and sleeping. On Karen's recommendation, we stayed at the Marriott, which was just lovely, if a bit spendy. By then, I didn't care too much, and was happy for the nice room in a nice hotel. The only other noteworthy part of that stay was the taxi ride over. My god, I am never going to drive in San Juan. The taxi cab, a minivan, barely fit in the roads, and had to do a bit of wiggling to get around some turns. In the densely packed traffic, everybody just pushed their way through, room or not, through roads I would not have tried to fit two cars past each other on. At least I wasn't driving and it wasn't my vehicle. But, we did arrive without incident, rather to my amazement.

The next day, we wandered around San Juan a bit, then headed off to the airport to catch our flight to New Jersey.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Shauna said...

Oh, the suspense! Waiting anxiously for installments from New Jersey. :) Would write more, but currently logged in from an inet cafe, where it's a bit spendy. Hopefully blogposts from our own adventures to come soon, when we reach a hotel with a (cheaper) connection.

Thanks for keeping us so updated, it's always delicious reading your posts!

Om nom,

Hugs all around,

Shauna (and Nik and Steve and Bert)

8/27/2008 12:23 PM  

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