There’s a wonderful peace to kayaking at night, but our mission to Laguna Grande in the north-eastern corner of Puerto Rico has something more to it than mere tranquillity.
As the paddle hits the water, a patch of white glows around the blade, as if a fluorescent lamp is stitched inside it. But the light is coming from the water, not the blade. These brackish fringes of the island are home to billions of tiny microorganisms called Pyrodinium Bahamense. If it gives any indication of how pathetic and insignificant they are, krill eat them. But they inhabit these waters in such numbers that they create quite the spectacle. As they are disturbed, they get agitated and glow. A paddle stroke doesn’t kill them – it just sends them dormant for a few hours.
According to our guides, there are very few spots in the world where these light shows are possible and Laguna Grande – where we’re heading – is the best. They would say that, obviously, but the nickname of Bioluminescent Bay has been bestowed for good reason.
We emerge from our mangrove funnel into open water, then switch the lights at the front of the kayaks off. Now, starlight is our guide, and the silhouetted shoreline of the bay provides a comforting embrace. There’s a lighthouse in the distance, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
I’m too busy looking at the water, though. Flashes of light dance across it, like shooting stars across a night sky. It takes a few seconds to realise why, and then it clicks. It’s fish, some skirting just under the surface, some leaping out, causing microorganism-level chaos as they go.
I start to get playful, thrashing the paddle along the water in order to create as big a splash as possible. The rippling flash of light shoots across like an x-rayed version of a boat’s wake.
I put my hand in and it suddenly sparkles into life. The specks dance across my fingers, then fade, one by one until only darkness remains. It feels like the death of a computer-generated projection after the plug is pulled, slowly flickering out until one final pixel is sucked into the black hole.
We head back through the mangroves to a world of electric light, but the group is like a bunch of kids let loose in the sandpit by now. No one can resist thrashing at the water, slopping it all over themselves or sending blade-propelled streaks across to the nosy iguanas perched on the spooky white branches. But it’s all done in complete silence. No one wants to speak and break this soggy fairy dust’s spell.