Sunshine, Sea, and Service: Spring Break Puerto Rico

¡Wepa! 32 Indian Creek students, six faculty members, and one alumna enjoyed the experience of a lifetime, getting to know the history, ecology, and culture of Puerto Rico over Spring Break 2019! This week-long adventure was the first visit to Puerto Rico for most of the sixth through eighth grade students and teachers, but all say it won’t be their last.

Led by Upper School Spanish teacher Maruca Garcia, who exudes passion about her home island, the ICS group experienced a vivid immersion into Puerto Rico. The trip, guided by the amazing Vámanos Tours, began on Saturday, March 16, straight from the airport with a mural and graffiti art tour of Calle Cerra, and a delicious first meal of traditional Puerto Rican arroz con pollo at Patio di Solé. From here, the students planned to make a quick stop at Casa de Niños, a boys’ orphanage, to make a donation of $2,500 that the students had raised prior to their trip. However, this visit turned into a highlight of the trip, as the Indian Creek students and Casa de Niños children introduced themselves and started several pick-up basketball games and conversations with each other. The students enjoyed an evening walking tour of Old San Juan before travelling to the town of Ponce at the other end of the island to spend their first night.

Day two was full of adventure, as the group took a thrilling drive up the mountains of central Puerto Rico to the town of Utuado. Here, the Creekers enjoyed a rugged hike – including a trip over a long Indiana Jones-style suspended bridge - through many indigenous Taíno landmarks and were rewarded with time at a gorgeous swimming hole in the forest. During this afternoon of fun, small groups of students and teachers kayaked through a hidden cave in complete darkness, and then took a zip-line tour over the forest canopy. The group finished the day with a cooking class where they learned to make the traditional dish mofongo and enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant.

On Monday, the students hit the ground dancing as they began the day with salsa lessons at the famous and prestigious Academia de Baille with Julie Mayoral. They wound down with some shopping and lunch in Ponce, and then gathered at the La Guancha Boardwalk to plan their next service project (and feed some pelicans up close!) The afternoon was dedicated to giving back to Puerto Rico, as the group worked hard to refurbish La Escuela de la Communidad Jamie L. Drew, a school in an underprivileged area outside of Ponce. Groups of students refurbished the outdoor basketball court, painting lines and cleaning up the area. Other students created a ‘traffic’ map on paths surrounding the Kindergarten area, while others stripped and repainted an outdoor stairwell and decorated the steps. The rest of the group turned the paved schoolyard into an imaginative playground oasis, painting foursquare, a maze, outdoor twister, solar system hopscotch, and ‘Empeiza,’ a movement game for the children to enjoy. These projects were completed with supplies purchased by funds the students raised at ICS. Before heading to their next destination for the night, the group enjoyed an interactive folkloric dance show, which portrayed the history of Puerto Rico through dance.

The group was rewarded for their hard work, as they were treated to a gorgeous hike on the cliffs of Cabo Rojo and enjoyed a day at the beautiful “Playa Sucia.” “This is a dream come true for me,” shared Lillie ’23, echoing the sentiments of many on the trip as they swam in the clear water with breathtaking views. After some down-time, the children boarded an Eco-Boat where they travelled to La Parguera’s mangrove cays, where they got in the water and were treated to a local fisherman’s show. Then after watching the sunset from the water, the students took a swim in the bioluminescent bay, where billions of tiny dinoflagellates lit up and sparkled around the students as they swam. This experience was truly magical and won’t be forgotten by the Creekers on the trip.

Day 5 brought another opportunity for service, as the students volunteered alongside the National Parks Service in the El Yunque rainforest. The ICS group were given access to one of the two-thirds of the rainforest that has not yet reopened since hurricane Maria, in order to help prepare the area for upcoming International Day of the Forest festivities. Also on Wednesday, the group enjoyed a visit to the colorful, hilly town of Yauco.
The last full day of Spring Break 2019 truly memorable, as the group spent the day relaxing on a catamaran docked off of a private island. The Creekers snorkeled over a Caribbean coral reef, swam, laughed, and soaked up the sunshine and the island vibe.

On Friday, the group squeezed in a tour of the majestic Fort San Felipe del Morro before heading to the airport. On their way, the group also delivered 450 pounds of school supplies they had collected and brought with them to the Centro San Francisco school in Ponce, a school where last year’s ICS students had volunteered on their service trip, and where funds raised by ICS were recently used to build a new roof.

Whether it was admiring the beautiful sights, enjoying the local cuisine, learning about the rich history, or meeting the welcoming people, the ICS Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico was an incredible experience for everyone. As the students reflected on the way home, “Memories were made, laughs were shared, and lives were changed this week.” Thank you to Senora Garcia for sharing her island with our Creekers.

Click here to view a full gallery of Puerto Rico 2019 photos!