For my birthday, I wanted to do something special. We don’t do a whole lot of gifts, but I do like to have special experiences. Desecheo was top of my list of explorations since moving to Puerto Rico.
Desecheo is a small deserted island about 12-13 miles west of Rincón. It had once been a bombing range, like many of the uninhabitated islands that comprise Puerto Rico, but has since become a nature reserve. The Spanish verb “desechar” means to cast or throw out, so I imagine Desecheo as “Castaway Island.”
We have always been curious about Desecheo since it is the only landmass looking west from Rincón that one can see. The sun always sets near it to the left or right and it seemed to call to us to explore it. So we figured my birthday would be the best occasion to go out there and see it in a snorkeling adventure.
We booked our snorkeling tour with Taino Divers. There is no actual docking marina for boats in Rincón and so one person had to swim to the boat and bring it up to the beach where all of us tourists had to help load the boat with the dive materials. The boat ride was fairly slow but fun. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the island.
Once we arrived we noticed two police boats and a helicopter chopping around the sky over the island. We learned that there were Dominican refugees on the island trying to illegally immigrate to Puerto Rico, but had only gotten as far as Desecheo. And while technically it is Puerto Rico, Desecheo is completely uninhabited and has no fresh water sources or even coconuts to survive on!
Talk about castaway! They were stranded there and stuck in a survival situation. The police were just waiting them out until they were ready to give up and be deported. It was quite interesting and sad to think of the risk these people were in, searching for a better life. No yola had arrived for them to crash upon the beaches of Rincón. They were stranded and we were right in the middle of it, snorkeling the troubled waters. The guys at Taino said that they had seen it before with Haitians or Domincans on the island. All they wanted was water. They tried to help, but were prohibited from doing much. Many of the runs for the border turn into rescue missions.
Once it had been determined that the situation was stable, we were given the ok to go ahead and jump out and snorkel, but we were warned not to go onto dry land.
The snorkeling was fantastic! The visibility was about 40-50 feet down, though our little disposable water camera didn’t capture it very well. There were a couple of SCUBA divers as well and they said it was world-class. I swam with a sea turtle dashiing right between my fingers. Britton said I was down holding my breath so long that he was beginning to worry, but I was so caught up and mesmerized with the turtle. Fortunately, I have always been able to hold my breath about 2 minutes and so I was fine.
We also saw some very healthy coral reefs and tons of fish. Crumbling some potato chips into the water brought up a lot of fish like these yellow fin snappers.
Even though we got a little sea sick (me more than Britton), we had a great time on this day trip. If there is any criticism about it, I would say it was a bit expensive especially because they add a $20 per person “tax” to visit the island that is not included on their website. They also cut the trip shorter than advertised. We were supposed to return around 2pm, but we were done and driving home by 1pm. They also had no set “lunch” time and so very few people ate any of the pasta salad lunch that was included in the fee.
But overall the snorkeling was fantastic, the crew was knowledgeable and friendly and the Dominican situation added a striking reminder of our geo-political place in the world.