Are You A Bioluminescent Babe?

By Sharon Spence Lieb

Usually I’m the first landlubber to hop off the ship, soon as it docks.  But, on this particular afternoon, I watch 300 Holland America passengers trudge into Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Me? I’m headin’ straight to the cool blue pool for a mojito and a nap. Ahhh, the joy of doing nothing.

Three mojitos later, Jennifer pinches my ankle. Even my best friend can be annoying sometimes.

“Hey sloth,” she says, plopping onto the chaise lounge next to me, “Wanna kayak with me tonight?”

“Kayak in the dark?” I mumble. “Why? Where?”

“To see green glowy creatures. At Laguana Grande Bay. Off the island’s east coast.”

“Do they drink mojitos?” I reply.

At sunset, we take a bus with the other passengers, and then scramble into orange sit-on-top kayaks. “Follow me,” calls Carlos. He’s one of those too good-looking guides you see around Puerto Rico, a young George Clooney type. We’ll follow him anywhere, so next thing we know we’re inside this tangled jungle tunnel of mangroves, bouncing our kayaks off monstrous tree roots. I’m thinking “If a snake falls off a tree onto my neck, I will kill myself and then Carlos, or vice versa.”

But no snakes, so we keep on following Carlos, whom we can barely see, except his ponytail.  We emerge into the lagoon and wow, it’s the Fourth of July in here.

Green sparks from our paddles are flying everywhere, even into our frizzy hair. It’s raining, we’re soaked, who cares? The magical green glowy creatures are having a party and we’re Special Guests. Even the frogs are happy; they’re so loud we can barely hear Carlos’ nature lesson.

“Ladies and gents, welcome to tonight’s dinoflagellate party,” Carlos whispers.

“The freaky green lights you’re seeing are single celled algae. These cool creatures start their lives as one cell, and then divide into four cells. All by themselves, without sex. In five days. Now that’s immaculate conception!”

“See Sharon?” Jen hisses at me. “We don’t need no stinking men,”  All I can see are her day glo teeth.

“So what, you’re wondering, is their purpose?” Carlos continues. “Dinoflagellates are food for all the baby fish, sharks, and rays in the lagoon. When a dinoflagellate is touched,  he or she emits a light called bioluminescence. “

“Are they thrilled or annoyed?” I mutter to no one in particular.

“Well miss, why don’t you ask them?” asks Carlos.

“I’m going for a Dino Swim,” Jennifer informs me. “I promise not to turn the kayak over,” she says, sliding out. “If you turn it over, I’ll leave you here to die,” I threaten. I wouldn’t leave her but I have to maintain  control, you know?

Jen has always looked good in green, but tonight, the woman is Golden Grammy Emerald.

Zillons of dinoflagellates hug Jen, applauding her courage and free spirit. Wish I had the courage to swim in a dark bioluminescent bay. But I’m wussy safe in my orange kayak.

“Jen,” I yell, “I crown you Bioluminescent Babe.”

“Call me BB for short,” she retorts, her hair crowned with green sparkles.

Paddling silently back to shore, we’re stunned by what we’ve experienced.  Imagine if all the stars in our Galaxy fell to Earth, then floated like diamonds on the Caribbean Sea. Magnificent.

Google “Sharon Spence Lieb” to read 300 published travel features, and her profile, published by The Wall Street Journal.  Or, visit the travel page at


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