I was not a member of Alpha
Zeta in college so my first real experience with AZ and its members wasn’t
until I had the opportunity to participate in two service trips. I was lucky
enough to go on the Service Leadership Experience to Puerto
Rico this January with two student members from the Nevada Chapter
and an alumni and Board member from Cal Eta. For six days, we participated in
two service projects, toured several farms, went on hikes, explored some caves,
swam at a beautiful beach and a river with a waterfall, and tasted some
excellent food! We had a small group but got along great, learned a lot about
ag in another culture and had a fantastic time.
I left St. Louis just as the Midwest
was getting smacked with a small blizzard. Needless to say, my flight got
delayed. Once finally arriving in Puerto Rico,
I immediately took off my fleece jacket, rolled up my long-sleeve shirt and wished
I had shorts and sandals on instead of jeans and tennis shoes. At the airport I
was greeted by two of the guys from the Puerto Rico Chapter, Oscar and
Abner. They would be our tour guides for
the week, so to speak.
Our first service project was
a beach cleanup at Guánica
Bay called El Malecón. There is a large problem in this area with
people and restaurants dumping their trash into the water. It all ends up along
the coast and beach
of El Malecón. We were
told that a big clean up like the one we were doing has to be done once every
three months. Nine of us spent the morning picking up trash and loading up enough
bags to overflow the bed of a pickup truck! That afternoon, we went for a hike
in the Guánica Dry
Forest and explored the Guánica Bat Cave
and another nearby cave.
The next morning we drove to
a Nature Reserve in Cabo Rojo that was the property of the US Fish and Wildlife
where we did a reforestation project by planting around 75 native trees. After
lunch we drove to the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and one of the three best beaches in
Puerto Rico called "Playuela
Beach." We spent the
afternoon floating and playing in the water and laying on the white, sandy
beaches. Couldn’t ask for much more!
Each day we
spent in Puerto Rico, Oscar
made sure we got to sample all kinds of local food. Sunday morning he took us
to a local bakery to try some fresh pastries for breakfast. Several of us tried
"quesitos" that were stuffed with cheese. They were delicious! I was
never disappointed with any of the food we tried. Can’t go wrong with anything that is
fried! After breakfast we visited a Starchy
Crops Farms at the Coloso
Valley. The farmer’s son,
Freddie, took us around to different parts of the farm, showing us different
starchy crops including some gigantic yams. We also tasted some pigeon peas and
got to see and learn how plantains are grown. On the way back, we stopped by
Freddie’s Uncle’s greenhouse where he grows high-quality cilantro. The
irrigation method he was using was fascinating and not like anything I’d seen
before. After a late lunch we drove to San
Sebastián to swim in the El Guamá waterfall. It took a
steep, muddy hike to get there, but was well worth the trip! The fresh water
flowing over the waterfall was very cold but we had an amazing time swimming in
the river and waterfall.
On our last full day in Puerto Rico, we drove
to Adjuntas, PR for a hike in the mountains. Oscar led the way on our hike in
Forest." It was
quite an uphill climb but after almost a mile everyone made it to the top --
what a view!! We could see for miles and miles without much else being higher
than we were. It was as if we were on to of the world!
On the way to our next
destination we stopped to explore one more cave. The "Ventana Cave"
was pitch black! We weren’t prepared and didn’t have any flashlights, so it
took an exercise in teamwork to get everyone through the cave. Oscar put his
camera flash to good use and slowly guided us back through the cave as we all
held hands in a long line and felt our way through the rocky cave as a group.
As we got closer to the end of the cave, there was a large opening that looked
out over the land below. What an incredible view!! It was as if someone blasted
a hole in the side of this mountain and there we were looking out.
Next, we headed to the Arecibo
Observatory and the World's largest radio telescope. The telescope is visually
distinctive and has been used in the filming of notable movies and TV shows
including the James Bond movie GoldenEye, Contact, and even
an episode of the The X-Files.
On our last morning in Puerto
Rico we sadly packed our bags and headed back to San Juan to catch our flights home. I’ll
never forget all that I learned about the agriculture n Puerto
Rico, not to mention all the amazing food and places we got to
visit. Oscar and Abner did a fantastic job of mixing service projects and agriculture
experiences with fun, culture and amazing food. I know we all had an amazing
time and owe a big thanks to the Puerto Rico Alpha Zetas that showed us around.
This trip would not have been possible and nearly as amazing without them!
For pictures of the trip, visit the Alpha Zeta facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/AlphaZeta