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Sandy Spring Puerto Rico 2016

March 12, 2016

Our journey began  at the Sandy Spring parking lot at 3:45 A.M. (!) before heading to BWI airport, where we flew to Philly for our connecting flight. After a 3 hour layover and a 3.5 hour flight, we finally reached San Juan, Puerto Rico at 3 in the afternoon. We had a couple of close calls with the whole group making it to flights on time, but we somehow made it to San Juan as a complete group. We met our tour guides, Ari and Scott, at the airport and headed over to the “Big Yellow House” in Cerro Gordo.

The vegetation and greenery on the drive was absolutely gorgeous and we tested some of our Spanish skills on interpreting the road signs and billboards. With the Big Yellow House right on the coastline, we spent our free time in the afternoon on the beach. Much to our liking, we were the only ones on the whole beach.

After our long day, we were treated to a wonderful home-cooked meal of Mango marinated chicken, hamburgers and hotdogs from our in country guides Ari and Scott. We concluded the day by individually sharing our “roses and thorns” for the day, and getting a good nights rest before the first full day of our exciting week to come.  Although tired, we are all very excited to be here!


March 13, 2016

Today began at 8:30 AM when we ate a breakfast of fruits, yogurt and cereal on the second floor deck overlooking the pastel houses on the horizon at the “Big Yellow House”.  Once it stopped pouring, we piled into our “wa-was” (vans in Puerto Rican Spanish) to go to Old San Juan. The clouds cleared up along our car ride so we could get our first clear view of Puerto Rico.  It was gorgeous.

Arriving in Old San Juan, we were immediately struck by the detailed windows, narrow cobblestone streets, and bright colored buildings. We were allotted one hour to explore the streets in groups of three. Many of us bought souvenirs as well as snapped photos of the gorgeous color schemes.

At 12:00 PM we met back up at the central fountain and met our tour guide, Alvin, for the first time. Having not eaten since 8:30, we were all starving.  Alvin took us to lunch at a local Puerto Rican restaurant, “Jarritos”. The food was absolutely delicious, especially the Mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish made from mashed plantains).

After lunch we gathered outside of the restaurant, reapplied our sunscreen, and began our tour of San Juan Viejo. We started our tour by exploring the oldest and most popular tourist fort in the western hemisphere, the huge fort called “El Morro”. We got a beautiful view of the Coast as well as the City. After we left the fort, we continued on our site-seeing tour around San Juan.  A few of our favorite places were the “Governor’s Mansion” and “San Jose Catholic Church”.  “San Jose Catholic Church” featured the remains of Ponce de Leon!

We left San Jose around 4:00 and came home to a newly rained on beach. The sun came out and we all put on our bathing suits and went into the warm water.  We then came back to the house and enjoyed a nice pasta dinner.  To close the evening we introduced our leaders to a meeting for worship and thought about gratitude.  It is currently 8:02 PM and pouring rain in Cerro Gordo, Puerto Rico but we are all absolutely happy here.

-Olivia and Jessica

March 14, 2016

We started our day with breakfast at 7:30am. Today was a quicker turn around, and we left the house at 8:30am. We arrived at Villa del Rio and began our first day of service.  We were struck with houses on high hilltops and farm animals wandering the narrow village streets. Another important piece of today was being introduced to the family we would be helping and toured through their home. Their home had a leaky roof, which was causing the family to get sick from the mold.  For service today we got all of our materials prepared for mixing concrete to pour a new roof for them tomorrow.  This experience gave us a lot of perspective about how fortunate we are. It felt good to be able to know that we were able to make such an impact on their lives.

After finishing the service, we ate lunch at the local playground. It had two pairs of swings, a rusty seesaw, and a slide. The meal was prepared by Johnny’s uncle, who is the coordinator for Global Works in Villa del Rio. After our meal, we headed to our first excursion: the volcanic black sand beach.

The beach was beautiful, and looked like a scene out of the show Lost. At the beach we walked up and down the shore sinking into the dense black sand. While at the beach our Puerto Rican guide, Alvin, taught us about the history of the beach and also about the different types of beaches Puerto Rico has. After this, we began our cave excursion.  We hopped and climbed through narrow crevices. Alvin taught us about some of the history of the caves and the natives’ use of them. Almost all of us took the once in a lifetime opportunity to climb back up to the top of the cave by scaling the walls of the cave through a narrow crack and using foot holds and gaps in the rocks to pull ourselves through.

Our last adventure for the day was the beach. At first, we were disappointed with the weather because the rain would not stop. However, this ended up being one of the most fun parts of the day. We excitedly jumped out of the van into the pouring rain, and ran into the natural pool. We played in the water and climbed onto rocks as the waves crashed around (and sometimes on) us. Even with the rain, the beach became the highlight of everyone’s day.

After our long day, we came home and cleaned up from our adventurous day. Shortly after our return, we enjoyed a Burrito Monday at the Big Yellow House. The dinner was so delicious that many of us ate so much that are stomachs hurt and this became the only low in our day. We finished the night with our new found nightly tradition of a brief meeting for worship followed by individual highs and lows from our day.

-Talia and Gabrielle

March 15, 2016

Our last morning in Cerro Gordo, was identical to the day before. We ate breakfast at 7:30 AM and left for work at 8:30 am. We parked the vans over by the basketball court, up the hill, and walked through the town to the work place.  We began mixing the cement and gravel into concrete. Then, we lined up buckets and formed a “fire line”- a line of people to pass down the cement buckets- to ease the burden of transportation. The fire line led straight to the ladder, which gave us access to the roof.  On the roof, two workers were laying down the concrete to create the new leak proof roof.  It was an efficient system. This process took much longer than expected but everyone maintained a positive attitude. Overall, the group did an amazing job. Ultimately, despite whatever obstacles we faced, we were able to complete the roof and still have time to head down to the beach in the afternoon.

We finished the evening playing cards and preparing a community barbecue. Members of the village we worked in joined us for a feast prepared by Ari and Scott. Most of the village didn’t speak English, but throughout dinner we quickly overcame the language barriers; soon we were all laughing at the same jokes and telling stories.  People made friends with the little kids. They loved meeting us.  The group finished off the night by reflecting on what they’d learned about Puerto Rico.  It was a great day to culminate our stay in Cerro Gordo.
-Jessica and Jack

March 16, 2016

With the service done, and the morning to ourselves, the group had a relaxed morning, with a late breakfast and a long stay at the beach. Everyone spent his or her last beach day differently. Some adventured over to the rocky shores past Cerro Gordo, while some relaxed on the beach and listened to DJ Scott’s Beach Bangerz.  11 AM rolled around, and it was time to return home.  We feasted on a mixture of breakfast, dinner and snack food, and packed up for our ascent into the Puerto Rican Highlands.

By 1 PM, we were ready to leave, barring the sporadic sock, swimsuit or water bottle left behind. Before we left, I immersed my senses in the setting around me. The palm fronds and grasses rustled in the wind. Iguanas scampered around the volleyball pit, while one sunned on the chain-link fence bordering the property. The freshness of the air mixed with the scent of the laundry detergent. The warm, tropical sun warmed my skin. Then, we were on our way.

Our drive took us back along the northern coast, past conical hills formed by quick-cooling lava, the sprawl of coastal urban life, and hundreds of campaign posters containing inspirational quotes such as “Ahora, con mas fuerza.”  The human effect on the environment gradually dwindled as our elevation rose, and the sights of disgruntled drivers being cut off were replaced with dense tropical canopy.

Two gas stations and 20 minutes of tumultuous road later, we arrived at Tropical Ventures. Three energetic dogs scampered around our vans, welcoming us to our temporary home. We were then greeted by their owner whose name is 3T – she was just as happy to see us. We made our way through a lush garden to our cabins, where we dropped off our bags. We then rendezvoused back at the mess hall for a tour of the homestead, an area with character, best described as a mix of spontaneous aesthetics and carefully calculated environmental stewardship. We were led through the music hall; with a postcard view of the southern coast, through the wood shop, littered with planks of deep red Mahogany, and the wastewater garden, which was filled with vivid and diverse flora.

We were then advised to explore the land, and recommended by 3T to walk the chain loop through the woods past the homestead. But, a few wrong turns later, we found ourselves deep in the tropical canopy, the sun setting, and a muddy, slippery trail beckoning. We decided to turn back, and returned an hour and a half late. We were muddy and tired but content with all that we had witnessed.  Dinner was well received, a delicious pasta, meatballs, salad and tostones (fried plantains) feast. Bellies full, we made our way over to the Music Hall, where  3T gave a presentation about where we were staying, Tropical Ventures.  We sat in a circle after, coquí frogs creating a free jungle symphony, and pondered the day. Tomorrow holds plenty of promise, and the group can only guess as to what adventures it will hold.


March 17, 2016

A few personal accounts from the busy day are written below.  The group’s day included an amazing breakfast, doing a full morning of service work (pruning the forest and pouring a concrete floor), lunch, a trip to a near by waterfall and swimming hole, ending with a salsa dance lesson, our best dinner of the trip and a camp fire!

A few accounts:

I woke up this morning to a bright room. Rohan (my bunk buddy) was giggling below me. As soon as I walked outside I smelled cinnamon. I walked up to the dining area and there were cinnamon pancakes and eggs and fruit. Breakfast was fire (very good). After breakfast we met another Alex, and Ricardo, who helped us with mixing even more cement—for the foundations of an addition to a storage shop. The work was not nearly as fast paced as the day before. The work seemed to go by quickly; Alex and Ricardo were very nice.  After the work was finished I was pretty sweaty. I moseyed on down to lunch and sat down to a pasta dish with tuna and some quinoa. After lunch my comrades and I hopped into the van and went to a nearby waterfall. The water was cold, but there were little fish that tried to eat people’s dead skin.  I dove in– it was shockingly cold.  After the waterfall I hopped back in the van and came back to the camp.  Next up was a salsa lesson.  The head chef Maga’s, daughter, Yara, was our instructor. The salsa dancing seemed intimidating at first but after we walked through the steps it wasn’t so bad. I eventually sort of got the hang of it, even though I can’t move my hips as well as Alex R. We danced for a while, the instructor was very pretty, I got nervous when I danced with her and made many mistakes. After the dancing lesson I was a little sweaty, tired and very hungry. Dinner was amazing!  It was a chicken and rice and bean dish. We then had a very moving “Meetingful Worship”. Ari then gave me the computer and told me to write a recap of what happened today. She said, “do you”. Then I gave the computer to Claire.


I woke up pretty early this morning, which was surprising because I’m usually the last to get out of bed. I went over to El Teatro (which is the name of a hang out spot where they have drums and guitars and an amazing view), and found Alex (hanging out with Negralora- the dog), Debbie and Olivia (doing yoga), and Nathan (who had slept there in a hammock the night before). Breakfast was amazing, and I was part of the clean up crew with Alex and Harrison. Then we went to do service work, which was a combination of creating more cement, weeding all of the plants next to El Teatro, and felling a bunch of bamboo trees that were in the way of the view of the far off ocean. Then we had lunch and went to a waterfall, where there were these cool fish that ate the dead skin off of you (but only if you stayed still for a long time). Afterwards, we had a salsa-dancing lesson, and the instructor was really pretty, which was distracting to some people. Dinner was amazing, and then we had a really good MFW around a campfire. We got to buy some stuff made from nice wood.  All in all an amazing day!


March 18, 2016

Our day was so full that no one had the energy to write the blog in the evening!  Our trip went out with a bang as we packed as many adventures as we could in our last full day together. Morning started with another delicious pancake breakfast at Tropic Ventures as we packed up the vans and said our goodbyes to our jungle family.  Our first stop of the day was El Yunque rainforest – the only subtropical rainforest in the US.  We took a long walk to a beautiful but very crowded waterfall.  Our group found a way to get away from the throngs of people by crawling over some rocks to find a series of picturesque private pools created by the falls.

By this time everyone was starving for lunch and we headed to a strip of restaurants along the beach called “los Kioskos”.  We snarffed down more pizzas than the waiter thought we would be able to and headed to the postcard-looking beach out back.  The water was turquoise blue with palm trees along the coast.  Everyone got a good dose of sun and waves.

We went to check into our hostel for the evening – a really cool spot with writing all over the walls from former guests.  Several of us left our own notes behind.  We quickly showered and headed to our final dinner and bio bay tour.  Dinner was delicious – with steak, chicken and mofongo options at an elegant restaurant.  At 8pm we loaded into our kayaks and paddled through the dark mangroves to a bioluminescent bay.  It was a beautiful night paddle with the moon peering through the trees and creating spooky shadows.  When we got the bay we had to put a tarp over the boats to see the bioluminescents because the moon was so bright.  Upon return to the hostel, it was so late and we were almost like walking zombies.  Although no one was too tired to say no to a late night ice-cream bar before hitting the bed!

It was a last day to remember in Puerto Rico!