Mosquito Bay

Mosquito Bay

This story actually happened two nights ago, but it’s taken us awhile to write it out; also, we don’t have a proper photo for it, so I’m using this map of the bay instead. Mosquito Bay is on the south side of the island of Vieques. It’s a really long story, too, but I hope it’s interesting.

In any case, 7:45 Monday night found Katy and I sitting on kayaks in the middle of Mosquito Bay under a cloud-dappled night sky, splashing our hands through warm waters which glowed brightly through our fingers. This bay is one of a handful around the world which are home to permanent colonies of phosphorescent dynoflagellates, microorganisms which bioluminesce when agitated; Mosquito Bay is said to have the largest concentration in the world, creating swirling maelstroms of pale blue light around any disturbance in the water, and we were taking an organized night tour of the bay. Our paddle strokes flashed and sparked, and at one point a fish skimmed past our kayak, leaving a fizzing contrail of light behind it. Later, when our tour group was anchored to a buoy, Katy even joined the rest of the tour in plunging into the bay, becoming instantly enveloped in a shimmering cloud, her slightest motion transcribed in light.

Needless to say, it was an extraordinarily memorable, sublime experience, but I don’t believe it would be an exaggeration to say that it pales to insignificance beside the story of the magnificently sketchy process which brought us to the middle of that bay. The evening began innocently enough, when we asked our hostess at the hotel, a truly wonderful woman with wild white hair and a distracted disposition, how we would go about touring the bioluminescent bay. She graciously leapt to our assistance and made the arrangements for our tour by phone, all while repeatedly trying and failing to pour herself a cup of coffee from an empty carafe.

She told us we’d be picked up by the tour operator, Anastasio, at six pm, and indeed, at 6:20 on the dot, a dilapidated blue van rumbled to a stop in front of the hotel. The girl in the passenger seat was unable to slide the side door open from the inside, however, and directed Katy to help by prying at the far edge of the door while she pushed from her side. When this also failed to work she got out of the car and tried again, unsuccessfully, to open the door. At this point the driver, a teenage girl whom Anastasio would later fondly refer to as his son, came around the van and, deftly placing a hand in either side of the door, expertly levered it open.

Made nervous by the awkward delay, Katy and I quickly climbed into the van, and so it was not until we were fully inside that we paused to take stock of its contents. As our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw two bucket seats, each of which had originally graced the interiors of entirely different vehicles, arranged in a kind of loose curve facing toward the sliding door, their yellow foam bulging proudly through threadbare upholstery. These were followed closely behind by a small red bench seat at the back of the van, whose springs would later prove to have long since lost their buoyancy. This relatively conventional seating was augmented by an upturned plastic crate squeezed behind the driver’s seat and a rusty spare tire with a cushion on it which sat on the floor by the door.

As for the rest of the interior, the van looked more or less as though someone had rubbed a steak over the walls, then locked a bear inside. The console against the right wall was entirely destroyed, with only a few pieces of particleboard and vinyl remaining as a grisly reminder. The walls had at some point been covered with a light brown fabric the texture of burlap, which was now stained and tattered; entire portions were supported solely by strips of lathe screwed into the sheet metal. Similar strips were used to hold up the distended brown ceiling fabric, which had separated entirely from the ceiling and now hung in voluptuous folds across the width of the car, rubbing our heads affectionately.

We took our seats at the back as the engine roared to life, filling the van with the overwhelming smell of exhaust fumes, and we bounced across the length Vieques to the upscale end of the island. The van stopped beside a small knot of spandexed tourists and we were finally introduced to Anastasio, who exuberantly flung open the door and greeted us warmly; behind him the tourists’ bored expressions were turning to horrified disbelief.

Anastasio quickly ushered most of the group into the van, filling it to its improvised capacity of 8 (the cushioned tire accommodated two), and we continued on. Introductions were hastily made all around, and we all laughed nervously about the van’s decrepit condition, joking, when we turned down a narrow, densely wooded dirt track, about this being one of those movies where no one comes back alive. There was a thoughtful pause at this, followed by an uneasy silence while our young driver maneuvered around the enormous craters and gullies which comprised the roadbed.

We finally arrived at one of several small docks jutting through the mangroves into the bay, and were soon rejoined by Anastasio with a trailer of kayaks. He and his assistants launched us into the bay, then told us to wait there while more of our group arrived. This gave us ample time to observe the other tours which were already departing from the neighboring docks, and which seemed somewhat better organized. One group, for example, had evidently each been assigned numbers beforehand, and their guide called them together by this number before they left, his strong, clear voice carrying confidently across the water. This was comforting while it lasted, but soon the groups were all gone and we were left drifting silently beside the shadowy mangroves.

Eventually we were joined by our guide, Javier, a man we’d not met before getting in the water and who turned out to not speak any English. Luckily one of our group was able to translate his announcement that he would keep us together by periodically calling out "ding ding", to which we should all reply, as a group, "ding ding". So we finally set off across the bay, its dark water shimmering in our wake, surounded by a hoarse, echoing chorus of "ding ding".

When we reached a buoy near the middle of the bay, Javier tied our boats together and announced, through his volunteer translator, that this was a bioluminescent bay, and that the light came from microorganisms. When it became apparent that this was all he had to say on the subject, the translator offered some additional information of her own, and other members of the group submitted what facts they’d read beforehand. Then Javier said it was time for swimming, which is where we began our story.

After the kayaking we were ushered back into the van and driven back toward our hotel without further excitement, although the first pair to be dropped off were unable to slide the van’s stubborn side door closed, so Anastasio’s daughter suggested they just leave it open to help us get more fresh air. It did help clear the exhaust fumes, not to mention letting us more quickly leap out when we reached the foot of our hotel’s hill, assuring them that this was close enough before hurrying up the hill to safety.

So, that’s the story of our transcendent experience in Mosquito Bay, and the much more worldly adventure which surrounded it.

Posted by ladykaty24 on 2011-02-24 01:35:00

Tagged: , puertophone

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