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Beyond the cliffs, the pines of Sardinera • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

Galápagos in Puerto Rico? Part Six

Marooned in paradise

Note: This is one of a series of photo-memoirs about a 1964 expedition to Isla de Mona, an uninhabited island in the Caribbean. All photos were copied from contact sheets as the negatives and prints were lost.

Monday, January 6, 1964

After days of near-perfect (if perfectly hot) weather, we awoke to an overcast day. We spent the morning at the cabin in Sardinera making notes about the trees, plants, shells and birds for our report on our expedition. After lunch, we went shelling along the nearby beach and collected specimens until the rains began. When the sun finally reappeared, I took photos of some of the unusual vegetation under the Australian pines and tried unsuccessfully to photograph birds.

Early in the evening, we visited our neighbors, two hunters who had killed a 50-pound goat with a bow and arrow and were cleaning their catch with a penknife. They told us the pine trees were planted in 1937; prior to that, Sardinera was a grassy plain. The project, which included building a pier, took three months and involved some 90 government workers, they said.

We turned in early. If the weather cleared, we planned to follow the coast to Pájaros beach.

Dead coral bridge enroute to Playa Pájaros • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

Tuesday, January 7, 1964

Sunshine! We walked in line gathering shells, sponges, coral and some beautiful purple sea fans that washed up on the beach. The sand ended beyond the anchorage, where grey, jagged coral began.

Ready for my close-up • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964
Nests with a view • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

A brown booby perched noisily on her coral castle and posed for a picture. We saw — and Mike identified — an osprey, bananaquits, egrets, sooty terns and sandpipers. The boobies laid their eggs out in the open. Mike said the male and female alternate on the nest and usually have just one or two chicks.

Mike goes for the goat • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

We heard a loud thrashing in the brush and found a three-foot iguana. Mike and Carl tried (hilariously and unsuccessfully) to lasso it. I managed to grab two shots before it escaped. (Unfortunately, those photos were lost).

We then followed a goat herd to the top of the cliff. The entire plain from the cliffs to the pines of Sardinera lay before us. The calm Caribbean and the turbulent Atlantic shimmered in the brilliant sunlight.

Hard at work! • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

We continued toward Uveros stopping for a swim in one of the pools among the coral. Mike called them “the baths.” The sand was pure white, the clear, calm water blue-green, the sides black coral, and a colorful coral reef framed the sea. Schools of fish swam along with us.

A worker’s shack? • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

We spent the afternoon exploring artifacts of the past: rails for a tram that once ran from the beach to the lighthouse, guano pits, a wooden structure in a cave. We followed the cliffs back to Doña Geña’s where we saw a lemon and a tamarind tree — remnants of her life there?

We ran into the hunter and his companion (Mona is a small island!) on the road back to Sardinera. The passing police patrol gave us all a lift to our camp — and the officers told us the startling news that the launch that was to take us back to Cabo Rojo was “permanently out of service.”

In effect, we learned we were really marooned on Mona Island!

Bird on black coral • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

In case you missed any of my Galápagos in Puerto Rico stories,
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