Adrenaline Junkie... Not!


I’m not much for adventure — call me a chicken, wimp, or scaredy cat, I don’t care! I subscribe to the “better safe than sorry” rule and as a diehard city girl, I find that riding the subway in the city late at night provides enough thrills! But I do mind missing out on family fun, so I sometimes allow myself to be cajoled into venturing out of my comfort zone. I’m not talking about rappelling, bungee jumping, parasailing or scuba diving. For that class of activity I immediately respond with an emphatic NO!

Don’t get me wrong... I am not a couch potato and have amazed myself at times. I’ve seen elephants right up close to our car window in Kruger Park and suffered the obligatory snake path climb up Masada. I once flew in a small plane that landed atop a glacier in New Zealand and even snorkeled on our Caribbean honeymoon. While accomplishing those feats I envisioned getting mauled, falling off a cliff, dropping into an icy crevice and of course, the dreaded shark attacks.

While in Puerto Rico last week my cousins wanted to show us the unique points of their island and proposed a kayak adventure in a nature preserve. We have paddled locally in Island Park and further east in Sag Harbor; both were refreshing and fun on a hot day but not exotic. This time, my cousin drove about ninety minutes out of San Juan’s late afternoon traffic to the furthest northeastern point in Puerto Rico to a fishing town called Fajardo.

I nervously laughed as I lowered myself down into the front spot of a two person kayak. After hearing some basic instructions we set out at dusk and began paddling against the tide towards a single lane opening in a mangrove forest.

It didn’t help that my cousin kidded me about crocodiles and made those menacing sounds from Jaws. As we began rowing, I employed my Spanish and asked the guide lots of questions to allay my fears. How deep is the water? From a couple of feet to about ten. Which wild animals live in the mangroves? None, since there’s not much to eat in these non fruit bearing trees and extremely salty water. Will there be mosquitos? Probably not, due to the cool breeze that evening. I began to relax slightly and got into the exercise and our group’s excited voices fell quiet. As we entered the dark narrow tunnel formed by the mangrove trees we concentrated on following the tiny blue tail light of the boat in front and not grounding the kayaks onto the mangrove roots.

After a long while we came into Laguna Grande. The twenty kayaks in our group gathered around the guide’s and we held on to it and to each other’s kayaks in order to hear him explain the ecosystem surrounding us. Four types of mangroves form a protective barrier from the sea which is so close we could hear, though not see its waves. The red mangroves are the innermost layer, closest to our kayaks as we glided through the tunnel of trees. Their roots are tall stalks standing in this water which is saltier than the sea.

There are only about a handful of spots in the world with the unique conditions needed for Pyrodinium bahamense, a specific dinoflagellate, to live year round, and Puerto Rico has three of them. The bioluminescent dinoflagellate is a one celled plankton which emits a burst of light one hundred times bigger than itself. It lights up from pressure against its cell wall.

There are various possible reasons for this unearthly shade of green. It may enable species recognition for mating, attracts prey and diverts predators, or lights the way for the next predator up in the food chain to come find and eat them.

As my hand swished back and forth through the water leaving a path of light in its wake, I was fascinated by G-d’s creation below. Swimming is forbidden here because sunscreens and other unnatural additives would destroy this pure environment.

I tuned my gaze upward and was startled by the countless pinpoints of light so easily visible in this place. I commented about how rare it is to see much of that in our New York night sky so the guide pointed to a circle of light in the distance, explaining that was the light pollution from San Juan about forty miles away, so imagine the glare above our own giant metropolis.

We glided back through the now pitch-black tunnel, this time effortlessly since we were moving with the tide.

I quickly got to work and we were soon back where we began this adventure. As I waited for my family I watched everyone’s glowing faces as they alighted from their boats, relishing this interesting bit of nature.

I’m no scientist, but I gleaned so much that evening about a miniature creature’s role in this world. I also learned something about human nature that I’m amazed to be absorbing at this stage... that it may be worthwhile to succumb to a little healthy peer pressure and challenge myself to try something different. I left the famliar comfort of sitting at the beach for the more active and possibly scary night time kayaking experience. Despite my trepidation I actually enjoyed it and am grateful and ready for the next gentle adventure.

Miriam Bradman Abrahams is Cuban born, Brooklyn bred and lives in Woodmere.