During the summer before my junior year, I travelled to Puerto Rico through Apogee Adventures, a company that offers summer camp programs that allow students to provide community service outside the country. The trip I went on was called the Caribbean Service Adventure. It started in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, and from there we travelled to the town of Utuado, high in the rainforested peaks. The house we stayed in was called Hacienda Verde (we painted the mural below), which had walls that stopped halfway, outdoor showers and a dining table both outside and below the house. The place was so in-tune with nature that it was not uncommon for a frog to fall on your head during a shower or for you to hear mice crawling within the walls. Still, Hacienda Verde was in a beautiful location, and the peaks of all the nearby mountains were visible from the outside dining tables. Only two houses were that high up: Hacienda Verde and that of our neighbor’s, who is a plantain farmer.
While at Hacienda Verde, we helped this plantain farmer dig out irrigation ditches to help the water to reach his crops. This was not easy work, as the soil was thick and clay-like and fought to remain in the ground. Also, as a person who is afraid of bugs, I shuddered every time a six-inch centipede would crawl out of the ground, making the task that much more difficult.
About noon one day, we took a break and sat down on the dirt road with a few granola bars, as we admired the untouched mountains around us. Granola bars and fruits were staple snacks for us during this trip, which was why, by the end of the trip, no one wanted to see another granola bar again. As we rested, we enjoyed the beautiful view of the lush green trees.
After working with the farmer for a few days, we did a tour of nearby rat caves. We put on helmets, held flashlights and crawled through many narrow tunnels until, at last, we reached an opening at the end of the cave. The end of the cave had a large hole where the bats fly out when they’re hunting, and it was an amazing view. Because we were high up, we got a full view of the mountains and a nearby river.
Because this was an environmental service trip, we also travelled to Cabo Rajo National Park, where we helped pull weeds out of native potted plants that were to be reforested in a nearby area. We also gained some knowledge about which plants and species were invasive, and we helped to get rid of those. After half a day with our hands in dirt, we spent the afternoon taking a surfing lesson in Rincon. The beach in Rincon was beautiful. With water so clear, we could see our feet and the flowers next to the cliffs clearly. After surfing, we went to look at some cliffs near a lighthouse.
We then took a ferry to Vieques Island, where we worked with teens who were involved in a community organization that gave them scholarships in return for their work. We helped them clean a museum of history of the island and even ended up saying some phrases in Spanish on the Vieques Island radio (the station was inside the museum, for some odd reason).
After an exhaustive two weeks, we hopped on a ferry to get on shore, and drove back to San Juan. We spent our last night out in San Juan dining and shopping, soaking in the last bits of Puerto Rico.
All I’m saying is, I would gladly pick this trip over studying for finals any day.
Contact Emilia Malachowski at [email protected].