John Carlin’s Outdoors: Diving deep in Puerto Rico

I recently went on vacation here in Puerto Rico. And for me, it’s not a vacation unless you do something outdoors. So I want to take you along on an adventure that goes just a little beyond the typical tourist thing.

This was a snorkeling trip with a wicked bumpy and thrilling twist.

We would get to drive our own boats. In this case, 10-foot-long inflatables equipped with 40 horsepower outboards that would just plain fly.

We booked this excursion back during the cold winter months, and it turned out to be good planning because the trips are all booked this time of year.

I talked with Nani Atiles, one of the guides for Kayak Puerto Rico.

“Especially for summer, It’s fully booked, morning and afternoon,” Nani said.

My son, Ben, his wife, Alyce, and I left Pourto Chico Marina in Fajardo. In our little boats cruising past larger boats resting in their slips.

Once out in open water, it was downright rough

Waves running 3-5 feet made the boating more of an adventure, with the inflatables bouncing off the waves instead of cutting through them like a boat with a standard hull.

There were handholds for the passengers, and while Ben drove, Alyce and I white-knuckled it, trying not to be bounced out of our seats.

As difficult as it was, the unpredictability was an improvement over the previous day’s excursion.

We had hiked to a beautiful river in the rainforest, where we slid down a modest waterfall into a crystal clear pool of water. We later jumped from a small cliff, then dropped in from a rope swing. It made for great pictures and had we been on our own it might have felt more, well, adventurous.

But it felt soooo pre-programmed walking in a line of tourists wearing life vests and helmets. Doing what the guides said, when they said.

Yes, it was fun.

But this, with the unknown both on top of and under the water… was better.

Underwater, I saw sea fans, gorgonians and massive brain corals, while fish skittered in every direction.

Our guide had also issued a warning that we might see sharks or barracudas. He also pointed out fire coral, which can cause a burn if you touch it.

I’ve done enough snorkeling to recognize most of the fish and coral species I saw. And I took it all in until it was time to kick back to the little boats to head to our second stop of the day — Icacos Cay, a remote island.

We walked around and learned about the history and wildlife.

But the water was calling. We snorkeled a bit off the beach, but it was like looking at an underwater desert. With no rocks or corals to provide places for fish to hang out, there was nothing to see.

But Ben and Alyce discovered the underwater wreckage of some old machinery from the island’s industrial past. An old wheel – apparently a pulley of some kind, was home to lots of fish. We circled it for about 15 minutes and discovered a large puffer fish trying to hide beneath a large piece of rusted metal.

Ashley Martin of Los Angeles had been set up in the boat next to ours. She had never been snorkeling before.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “Beau-Tee-Ful,” she sounded out for emphasis. “I wish I could get back on and do it again.”

She had taken a GoPro with her, and never turned it on.

“Seeing it for real, and seeing it on camera, doesn’t do it justice,” Ashley said. She wanted to remember the version that came from her own eyes.

Soon, the snorkeling was over, but the boating back was still in front of us. As we started out, a wave almost bounced me into the water. While I was driving.

The unexpected bump sent one leg over the side of the inflatable while my arm flailed, looking for something to hold onto. It wasn’t easy since the inflatable had no hard edges where I could get a grip.

Though it was a bit of a struggle, I finally returned to my seat while Ben and Alyce looked back at me from the front of the boat. I’m sure Ben wishes he was back in the driver’s seat.

As for me – I’m with Ashley. I wish I could go back and do it again.

About the Author

John Carlin co-anchors the 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts on WSLS 10.

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