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So let's start in paradise

I actually wish I had anything but these light-filled images to show you of Puerto Rico. Quite possibly the most magical night of my life was kayaking in bioluminescent waters under only the light of a full moon. Arriving at our destination was quite a harrowing journey. We were late - very, very late in driving out to the bay. The roads of San Juan were slick and the rain was still going strong. Sam was a speed demon howling down the highway against the railing of the sleet. She simultaneously negotiated with the guide over the phone and cut cars weaving through lanes while Adam Levine screeched over it all. I wasn't optimistic about making it. As we neared unseen shores, we became lost. Of course we got lost! And naturally, we got lost in unlit narrow backstreets with no names. Only after circling the same area several times did we somehow end up in an unpaved neighborhood populated with outdoor eateries, kiosks selling trinkets, and a string of booths advertising kayaking adventures. The night teemed with strangers talking, laughing, and dancing to music that seemed to emit from nowhere and everywhere at once. It was like crossing into another world from the frightening few minutes before. We made our way onto the grass bordering the dark waters that lay beyond. Nothing reflected off of the lapping waves; not even dark shapes were distinguishable in the distance. It didn't look safe. I was afraid. The people on land continued to chat excitedly and put on life jackets. No one seemed concerned. I stepped back from the edge.

We eventually settled on a tour group called "Kayaking Puerto Rico." The guide we originally booked had already sailed out. Our new guy was Vinny. He was sandy-haired and upbeat. He spoke perfect English with just a hint of a Puerto Rican accent. Apparently, Vinny was American; he splits his time between San Juan and Brooklyn. We brought up the tail end of the last group to sail that night. Each person was helped into a kayak by a guide and a quick lesson in kayaking ensued. I felt more confident in the darkness and roiling waters. The boisterousness of our group dispelled the notion of potential danger.

Words cannot fully capture the feeling of kayaking in complete darkness. It was terrifying, exhilarating, and magical all at once. The only things that we could see were the dark features of whoever might be pulling up alongside, the muted shapes of the boats, and the dim gleam of the moonlight upon the water. The only sounds that existed on the open sea were the excited laughs and hollers of the kayakers and the soft waves created by our paddles. We first traveled through a mangrove of some kind. Roots and trunks and leaves rose up on either side and animal noises emitted from within. I could not even tell if they were mammal or amphibian. Once we reached the clearing on the other side, no shores could be seen in the vast night. We held onto each other's boats and formed a line. The guides on either end threw a tarp over us and we stirred up the water beneath with our hands and feet. Bioluminescence wasn't what I expected; there was no discernible glow. Instead, innumerable tiny sparks erupted and faded away all within a moment, moment after moment. I wanted to stay in that flat, infinite darkness forever.

Afterwards, we head back to shore through the mangrove. My kayaking skills were, well, nonexistent. I kept crashing into trees on either side. My friend and I were the last ones to dock. Honestly though, I never came back on land that night.

Not everything was enchanting during our trip. Above is Isla Verde. It was our second night. We figured after sightseeing the old fortress during the day to swim...well, splash about in the Caribbean Sea before dinner and dancing. Sounds like a perfect evening, right? Yeah, right. Let me tell you what actually happened! We parked the rental car on the street leading unto the beach, stripped down to our swimsuits, held onto our keys and my iPhone and threw everything else in the backseat. We kicked off our shoes and waded into the cold sea. Yes, there was frolicking, Yes, there was laughing. There was the setting sun and the crashing waves. As dusk fell, we emerged out of the water eager for our hotel room and hot showers all around. Sam reached into the top of her one-piece and COULD NOT FIND THE CAR KEYS. We searched futilely along the beach but we knew the keys were lost to sea. At least we had my phone. Sam called the rental car place and the man on the other end refused to ride out to meet us. Monisha was livid. I just wanted a towel. Oh, did I mention we didn't have towels? Yep.

We ended up walking across downtown San Juan on a Saturday night in our clingy, dripping wet bathing suits and nothing else. It was fully dark by then. I don't know which was worse: walking through dimly lit alleys towards populated streets whilst strangers lurked a little ways behind or walking through said populated streets past crowds and under the glare of streetlights. Never had a walk of shame been so shameful.

The second best thing I did in Puerto Rico was walking down the side of a waterfall. Rocaliza Tours picked us up at the hotel early morning and we drove an hour out of the city and up into the Carite Rainforest. It was a steep, zigzagging climb and we soon found out why. The forest was mountainous. We parked outside of some colorful houses in the middle of the Carite and put on helmets and harnesses. We then proceeded to climb. At first, we walked up a simply paved road. Then, the wilderness met us. The road dropped off abruptly into a base pool fed by a series of small waterfalls flowing down from the top of the rainforest. Our respective shoes, sandals, and socks were immediately soaked as we stepped into the shallow waters. Some segments of the stream we could manage hands over feet, with but a few butt plants. Some required the use of a rope. Of course, people stopped every so often, terrain permitting, for pictures. As we ascended, it literally started to rain only in the forest. The skies beyond were clear. It was quite a different world within. We saw no fauna, but our surroundings were like a Condé Nast dream. It was exactly as an adventure should be.

The peak of our journey was the rappel. We stood on the precipice of a 70 foot waterfall with only its cascading edge visible. The world below was obscured by cliff and shooting waters. The sound was deafening. We knew nothing beyond what we were about to do. Our guides gave us instructions on how to rappel off of the waterfall. It was a decidedly more comprehensive lesson than kayaking! We were to keep our legs perpendicular to our torsos and walk down one step at a time, feet wide apart, and release a short length of rope between each step. Needless to say, it was harder than it sounds. More than one person slipped and crashed into the cliff face, myself included. I went in the middle of the pack. Once I descended past the first few feet, I could see the distance below. It was...well, 70 feet looks higher than it is dangling off of a rope. Once my feet could no longer reach the walls of the waterfall, I just hung and fed rope through. It was easier, actually. For the last third of the rappel, I had to turn around in the middle of the air and walk down the other side of the falls. A group of strangers cheered as I landed and disengaged myself from the safety rope. I waded across the pool to join the survivors.

Our way back down was a series of 5 zip lines. Did I mention it was my first time zip lining?  

Veronica Zhang