This past spring break, I led an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Fajardo, Puerto Rico, the same place I went for spring break last year. 11 of us from UVA went, and the week was so enjoyable! I absolutely love the Caribbean. It’s such a special place to me, and it was amazing seeing some of the same people we worked with last year again. As always, I learned so much about the island, bonded with so many new friends, and enjoyed the weather & natural beauty!
We flew in to San Juan and were greeted by our volunteer coordinator there, Hector! It was Hector’s birthday that day, too! From there, we drove to Las Cabezas de San Juan nature reserve in Fajardo, where we stayed for the week in the lighthouse.
The service we did over the week was mostly on the reserve. The first day, we had an orientation of the reserve and the island, and did shoreline cleanup on one of the beaches. When we first saw the beach, it didn’t seem like there was very much to pick up, but after combing the shores, we collected over 200 lbs of trash, mostly plastic and styrofoam. We even found a rusting boat, which we lugged over 1/2 a mile down the beach. The next few days we worked in the plant nursery on the reserve, where they raise local species of plants to replant around the reserve in place of invasive species. We got to work with many endangered species of trees, mixing soil, and planting the little seedlings in bags. I got to work with Lola, who runs the plant nursery, and whom I had chatted with last year. We also helped to clear the several trails around the reserve, which had lots of cool scenery. One of them was through a palm forest, which I thought was so amazing. There were tons of enormous palm trees and coconuts everywhere, and I felt like I was part of movie. Another day, we volunteered at a local school for deaf children in Luquillo. In the morning we did assorted tasks like power-washing, painting, and gardening. By gardening, I mean we were given pick axes and machetes and told to uproot a small forest, which turned out to back-breaking work in the tropical sun, but was a hilarious experience. In the afternoon, we played games with the kids and attended their music lesson. None of us had had much experience working with deaf kids before, so we all learned a lot from the day, especially in just how hard communicating can be.
In our free time, we went to the beaches around the reserve, did some exploring on our own on the trails, finding amazing views and hidden places, ate yummy homemade Puerto Rican food, did group reflections at night, and played lots of entertaining games. One night, a few of us decided to sleep on the “roof” of the lighthouse, and although the night itself was pretty miserable because of the strong winds, the stars were incredibly bright and the sunrise view was amazing. Another night, the guys on the reserve took us to the mangrove boardwalk to see the bioluminescent bay at night, which cool but had slightly creepy vibes with the complete darkness. We were inspired that night to create our own horror movie, which was pretty entertaining. The last night there, we went kayaking at night through the mangrove channel into the bioluminescent bay.
We also spent a day in Old San Juan, where we visited Castillo San Cristobal & El Morro. We also wandered through the old city, appreciating the colonial architecture & history and bright colored buildings, eating a yummy lunch, and searching out ice cream and coffee. Another day, we went to El Yunque rainforest and hiked to La Mina waterfall. We had a really talkative guide, who explained a lot of things about the rainforest to us. We also got to swim in the waterfall, which was cool. We ate guava juice and stuffed plantains at a little kiosk place and went up an observation tower to see a view of the rainforest. I loved being able to see different sides of the island throughout the week, from the natural beauty to the colonial history.
All in all, it was an amazing week with some awesome people. As always, Puerto Rico was full of spirit, laid-back charm, adventure, and music. #despacito