Bioluminescent Bay

Oh my gosh, where to begin? This trip has had so many great times. From our rocky start to our slippery finish, I have to say that this is by far my favorite class that I have ever taken! We have accomplished so much here in Puerto Rico from tours, to excursions, to lectures, and more, so to narrow it down to my single favorite, I’ll just pick the most recent. This being the bioluminescent bay.

Coming off feeling like death itself, the bay made my heart leap, and boggled my mind with its beauty. In the daylight, the bay casts the shimmering light of the sun on the pearly white sailboats in the harbor, and feels warm from the long day. We reached the bay a while before our scheduled departure so we could get dinner and search for some more souvenirs if we so desired. We dispersed and regrouped in about an hour by the bus to drop off the things, and made our way to the glass bottomed kayak stand for our reservation.

Shortly after we arrived, the last tour made their way to the shore and we underwent a relatively short instructional briefing. We were told all the safety measures and commands that they would use should we lose control of our kayaks, and were equipped with our life jackets. We then paired up and got in line for our respective kayaks. The guides brought the Kayaks one by one to the shallow water to help us get in properly, gave us our paddles, and sent us off to start the adventure.

The moon, thoroughly risen, shone above illuminating the bay, helping us maneuver around the anchored ships and toward the mangroves. The canopy of the mangroves formed a tunnel that blocked out the moonlight leaving our group in a state of pitch black wonder. We navigated the channel as best we could with the guides, only having a few minor catches with as little shouting as can be expected. We were not the only ones in the channel though, there were several other tours, some in kayaks, others in the boring safety of larger tour boats. We crossed paths, and the guides exchanged friendly banter, while keeping all of their customers safe and happy. The journey probably took twenty minutes from the shore to the actual bioluminescent bay.

As we emerged from the canopy of the mangroves, the light of the moon stung my eyes with how bright it was, while also striking me with its beauty. Making myself look away, I dipped my hand into the water to see if the water would glow. At first, I saw only sparkles in the water that I assumed were just the refracted light of the moon. Later I realize that the few sparkles were actually the microorganisms lighting up.

Once everyone had emptied from the mouth of the channel, we were again given a short briefing on what our purpose was, and were asked if we saw the bioluminescence on the way in, and were told that the best way to stir up the organisms was to put our arm into the water up to our elbow and then move our hands. It was amazing! As we paddled around the bay, the bow of the kayaks stirred up the organisms enough that they would shine as we passed over the water. Because of this, we could see the lights through the glass bottom of the kayak. They almost looked like stars.

After what seemed like a half an hour, we grouped back up and headed down the channel in a single file row again. The guides took our pictures for their Facebook page Glassbottompr, and led us out safely to shore where we disembarked, partook in a few refreshments, and watched them pack away their kayaks. All in all, I would highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone who wants to see a beautiful awe inspiring natural wonder.

The entire group on the tour, including the guides

Emma and Matthew Rocking the Kayak and Paddles

Water Tax

Water. It is what keeps the world going. It especially keeps the agricultural world running. Weather it is the water going into our food, or the water we need to cross to get our food, either way, it directly impacts the price of food around the world. Its availability and quality directly impacts the price of every product down the line. So, now that we have determined that water plays the key role in determining the price of food, we can look at how water affects Puerto Rico’s food prices.

First off, unlike Illinois, Puerto Rico has many different climates for its relative size. It has the relatively tropical north, the rainy, mountainous interior, and the dry south. All of which have their own agriculture, but each has its own needs regarding water. The north and interior are actually the best off only really requiring drainage, while the south desperately needs all the water it can get. Funny as it is, a fair amount of Puerto Rico’s agriculture takes place in this dry flat land, but how? That was answered when we visited the reservoir, dam, and water channel.

To catch the runoff from the mountains, some dams were built by natural basins in Puerto Rico. They hold water for distribution for nearby farms, and when they become too full, they either turn turbines to generate electricity, or just overflow on their way to the next reservoir downstream. The distribution system was interesting. The dam we visited, had a siphon that used the pressure of the water in the reservoir’s own weight to push the water up a hill in a pipe to a channel that was open to the air. The water then traveled down the channel to be distributed to farms. Each farm would then pay for access to the channel. The access points to the channel were effectively a gate that had to be wound open. The water would then flood from the channel to the field.

This system is extremely different to what we have in Illinois. Usually, our agriculture gets all of its water from precipitation, but if it is supplemented by an outside source, it probably comes from a tank or a hose.

Next is the quality of the water. In Puerto Rico, many of these channels, especially in the north become contaminated. When the seasonal rains come, everything floods. This includes the sewers. Evidentially, this sewage water finds its way into the channels. The same channels that lead to reservoirs that hold water for the farms to use. This contaminated water then is used for crops, or it gets treated to be used for drinking water.

Unfortunately, because this flawed system is in place, it leads to some of the high prices in Puerto Rico. This problem, while great, is greatly overshadowed by the fact that most of Puerto Rico’s food is imported. Approximately eighty-five percent of all of the food in Puerto Rican stores does not come from Puerto Rico. This is a major problem because it costs insane amounts of money to ship all that food from wherever it was made across the Caribbean.

Over all, it was amazing that the prices of food in Puerto Rico were not completely outrageous. They were a bit high, but nothing compared to what it could be. The best way to encourage lower prices of food would be to continue to encourage the purchase of domestic products. Hopefully, that would make amount of imported food go down. Regardless of what happens though, Puerto Rico has a very long way to come if it wants to do that.

This is an example of the many channels that cross all over the countryside of Puerto Rico

From the top of the dam, you can see how much water flows on its way to the next reservoir

“Drain the Swamp?!”

Today, I decided to look into the debate over the Lajas valley. To give some background on this one agricultural problem, of Puerto Rico’s many, we need to look at its history, its present, and what may end up happening one day. For most of Puerto Rico’s history, the Lajas Valley was a sort of seasonal wetland that could not be used for agriculture. It pretty much just sat and took up space. In the late 1950’s the Puerto Rican government drained the swamp and made the area available for agricultural use. There have been some salty shenanigans along the way.

Unfortunately, because this land in Lajas was submerged in water during the seasonal rains, it would flood so much that it would connect with the ocean, leading to soil and water tables with high concentrations of salt. This is incidentally bad for most forms of agriculture in that it induces wilting and poor growth of pants resulting in poor yields. The farmers tried to alleviate the problem by drawing water from wells in the area, but because the wetland had been connecting the land to the sea there for a long time, the water tables contain high levels of salt as well. This only hurt the farm land more. This cycle of self-deprecation has led to two main possible solutions. One, to return the Lajas valley to its origins as a seasonal wetland, and use it to generate revenue via tourism. The other, to use rice patties to flush the salty soil so that in a few years the Lajas valley could be used for any type of agriculture.

The first option to use tourism is technically viable, but I personally would not recommend it because tourism is such a fickle business. Not to mention that the Lajas valley is quite a distance from any other area that already has tourists. This means that if people wanted to see the wetlands they would need to make a special trip, and find a place to stay. Currently, there is just not the infrastructure in the area for that to be possible. It is admirable to hope that people would want to see the wetlands, but they are, as previously stated, a seasonal oddity. This means that even if the tourist base is there to see the area, the wetlands would not be present for viewing for large portions of the year.

I personally would go for the agricultural route involving rice. This route would not only produce food that does not need to be imported, but also heal the soil. In my opinion, this is a win-win situation with almost guaranteed benefits for all parties involved. Of course, some people are skeptical of taking the agricultural route because it has not lived up to expectations in the past fifty or so years. The rice however, has not been attempted thus far, and it seems to be living up to its predicted results. In the near future, the fields could be viable for more diverse and productive crops. The Lajas valley must only go through this mildly productive period to attain its full potential as a fertile area free of its salty nemesis.

Obviously, I favor the current use of the land that has an assured outcome with small profits over regressing in hopes that tourism will spike and enrich the economy when the “solution” is seasonal. Not to mention that this would mean that if flooding the valley does not work it would effectively ensure that that land could not be used again unless someone wants to invest heavily to drain it again. I just personally see small progress as a better option than the risk of losing the ability to use the land entirely.

This shows how well the rice flourishes even in the salty soil, showing that it is a viable crop even in these harsh conditions

This shows how well the rice flourishes even in the salty soil, showing that it is a viable crop even in these harsh conditions

This image shows just how much land would be affected if the wetlands were flooded again

This image shows just how much land would be affected if the wetlands were flooded again

“Island Time”


As a new adult, I may not always have my life together, but if I ever desperately need something from the store, I know that there is a conveniently placed Walmart, CVS, or gas station around the corner that is open twenty-four seven with all the necessities I could ever need. It has always been this way for me. Whether I was in Illinois, Maine, Washington, or New Mexico, there was always at least one store open late to provide me with what I needed. In Puerto Rico however, the stores open late and close early, and when they say they are closing at six, they mean it! Here on the island, everyone follows their own clock, or as I have heard it called “Island Time.”

I personally did not notice it as much in Old San Juan as I do in Boquerón. I suppose this is because there is an enormous flow of tourists from the cruise ships at the docks in Old San Juan compared to the few outsiders that travel all the way to Boquerón on the other side of the island. The pictures above are to show the streets of Old San Juan at different times during the day. The first, illustrates how dead the city seemed in the mornings. I mean, it was not ungodly early, but it was about 9:30 in the morning, and the only cars on the street were those of the people who worked the local shops. The second picture, shows the streets the day we arrived. We were in that horrendous mess of traffic at two in the afternoon. It was ridiculous! Both days while we were in Old San Juan, the streets were flooded in the late afternoon with a rush of people on the one way cobblestone roads. Bumper-to-bumper traffic with honking and blaring music, and the streets were not just flooded with cars. There were people all over the roads and sidewalks weaving in and out of the traffic taking their merry sweet time in the warm evening air. This traffic however, always cleared out by dinner, when rush hour usually starts in the states. All in all, even though the hours when the city was busy seemed a bit off to me, it ended up in our favor, because when we wanted to do things as a group, the city had usually calmed down, but the shops and restaurants were still open.

In Boquerón on the other hand, the shops close extremely early by American standards. The convenience store down the street from our apartment, for example, closes at six every day, except Sunday when it closes at one in the afternoon. The owner even closed and locked the door in our face at 6:05. They refused paying customers! I just cannot comprehend that. How can someone justify turning away the opportunity to make easy money? We all would have gone in, got what we needed, and left. We would have even rushed if they told us that they were staying open past closing for us. Apparently they just do not care. A few lost customers is nothing for them, because they know that no other store in their town is going to be open either. They know that we would have to wait and come back when they opened the next day.

Altogether, if I am being honest, being in Puerto Rico for this little while will, if anything, make me more aware of how lucky I am to have stores that cater to my schedule to best fit my needs. I now realize that not everyone has the time, money, or effort to always please me. This world does not revolve around me, and I should not expect it to. It will not kill me to go without my groceries for a few hours, and adapting to this “island time” may end up helping me relax a little in my semesters to come.