Vieques, the biggest of the Spanish Virgin islands lying 8 miles east of Puerto Rico with a land area of 52 square miles, is today a popular cruising destination with many little harbors on the south Caribbean side just a short distance from one another. The most attractive one is Sun Bay with a long sandy beach and a row of palm trees offering tourists and locals a perfect spot to chill and enjoy the tropical sun and water.
We park Fata Morgana close to the beach on the far east corner for a couple of days and do just that: chill. The kids: Maya, Viktor and his two best friends Nick and Pete (with us on the boat for two weeks), have a blast playing in the water with all sorts of inflatables and going on ice cream missions walking all the way to the other corner of the beach where the ice cream place is.
Not far from Sun Bay is Mosquito Bay, a natural landmark where bioluminescence can be observed at night. The luminescence is caused by a micro-organism which glows when the water is disturbed creating a trail of neon blue. The first Spanish colonists exploring the area thought that the bioluminescence was the work of the devil. Today the bay is national park with no admission fee, and a major tourist attraction with organized tours in the middle of the night for $45 per person. We decide to check it out.
Thus, around 10 p.m. our group of seven grab various inflatables and small boogey boards and hike on a dirt road in a forested area for about half an hour, in the dark, braving hungry night bugs, all the way from Sun Bay to Mosquito Bay only to be greeted by two police officers guarding the area, extremely impolite, who inform us that we are not allowed to go in the bioluminescent bay if we haven’t pay for an organized tour, otherwise we will have to pay a fine of $500 per person.
Soon a huge group of tourists arrive by school bus, with a trailer full of kayaks behind. They all have paid for the tour and are looking at us as if we are some sort of criminals trying to sneak in for free. We can’t believe this! Is this place a private property, we ask. No, but there are strict rules and regulations and if you break them you will be punished, the police woman tells us very aggravated. We just hang around for a little while watching the tourists getting ready for the bioluminescent tour. Evo has a green headlight and the police woman tells him No green light is permitted; he switches it to red and she tells him, No red light is permitted, and he jokes asking if purple light is permitted. If you say one more word I will arrest you, she screams at him and everyone is looking at us.
We walk back to our beach and back to the boat disappointed not only because we didn’t see the famous bioluminescent bay (we have seen intense bioluminescence in Sand Key Florida and near Havana Cuba last year, so for us it’s not such a huge deal), but because of the attitude towards us and towards Nature. In some countries the limits on freedom and the free are unbearable and even the littlest site of natural beauty, a forest, a waterfall, a bay, has been transformed into a money-making tool in this case for private gain through organized-tours-only.
How To Visit The Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques For Free
There is a way to visit the Bioluminescent Bay legally and for free as it is not a private property but a national site with free admission. You can bring your own kayak but you have to have a lifejacket, a whistle, and a glowing stick and you are good to go and explore it without getting a violation ticket. You can bring your kayak either by carrying it or transporting it overland all the way from Sun Bay, or you can anchor your boat outside Mosquito Bay and kayak across the shallow channel in the bay (don’t forget the lifejacket, whistle, and glow stick). Best time to do it would be after midnight when the groups are gone and most probably the police too.
We consider doing this the next evening but we are already turned off the whole thing.
The next day, we sail to an anchorage at the east end of Vieques where we are in for another surprise. The place is completely deserted. No settlement on land, no boats in the anchorage. We like this. In Puerto Rico all nice spots are usually crowded. The guys decide to go spearfishing but return shortly only to announce we are surrounded by bombs.
In 1941, during the Second World War, the United States Navy bought two thirds of Vieques in order to provide a safe haven for the British fleet should Britain fall to Nazi Germany, which never happened. After the war, the US Navy continued to use the island for military exercises, and as a firing range and testing ground for bombs, missiles, and other weapons. After the war, the locals protested the United States Navy presence angry at the expropriation of their land and the environmental impact of weapons testing and target practices which continued for many decades. In May 2003 the US Navy finally withdrew from Vieques, and much of the island was designated a National Wildlife Refuge under the control of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
But we don’t know all that. We don’t know that the quiet anchorage we are in was until not so long ago a site for weapon testing and is filled with all sorts of bombs and missiles, some unexploded. Thousands of them, some huge sticking out of the sand, piled on the bottom of the sea in 10-20 feet of water.
Evo checks the anchor. No bombs near it. On the beach there is a sign: DANGER! Restricted Area. Unexploded Ordinance. What do we do? We decide we are not going snorkeling and fishing anymore today and we are getting the hell out of this place first thing in the morning (if we are still in one piece).Share