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2019 Westgate Puerto Rico Service Adventure

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Final Blog for Families

Written by Antonio Moreno – Program Leader
Family, how I called you since the first day in Puerto Rico. I want to tell you some words from this awesome experience and all from the deepest of my heart. I’m going to start with some moments that I lived with all of you individually and that are going to be in my mind for the rest of my life. Let’s start.

Micah- Dad, how the family calls you. Mr. President, how I called you. Thank you for being a good teacher for these students. I saw that they love you a lot and I think is because they have one of the best teachers in this world. Loved when you told me that you miss your daughters a lot. Not all fathers are like you, I don’t know if you are one, but for me, you are the best dad ever. Thank you so much for being very flexible during this trip and for being in good communication with me. I will miss my roommate. Micah, thanks a lot for all dad.  

Jase- Thank you for showing me the satellite in the sky during the night and how it works. You are a participant student, not the only who learn during a trip, like me, the program leaders too. You are the best playing hide and seek, yes you are, the last one to find. Thanks for all brother, and also thanks for giving me one cent on the last night. 

Callie- my sister from another mom, from the Moreno’s family. I think you are ready now to work with the News in New York Times after filming me in CAMBU. Sorry, I know that I was very difficult to interview. I’m very excited to see the video in YouTube. Hope you like the candies from the restaurant. Thanks again sister. 

Aleda – Nana, thank you so much for cleaning the dishes during meals, maybe I need to keep you around because I don’t like to much cleaning dishes. How you said, your generation has difficulty requesting help from others. I will never forget when you were in the rain and still working with the dog in John’s house. Thank you for the suggestions you told me sometimes about the connections between communities that you want to happen. That’s very good and I appreciate it. Also, thank you for the hopes you told me when we talked during the first days. Thank you Nana.

Jason- I’m going to be direct with you but at the same time to all the group. Please brother, don’t feel like all the Americans forgot my island, your island, not all, you are here making a difference and if you are here, we are not forgotten. I’m never going to forget your laughter. You are the best dancer in Bomba music, you killed the floor in Old San Juan when you started to dance, I like that; best dancer forever. Oh, sorry for not going to surf, but is good, because now you need to come back to the island and do it. Thank you for all brother. 

Joseph- see what happens when you kid with others to much? You kidded with me the last day when you told me if I wanted a chocolate beverage and I told you yes, but you offered to me chocolate water from the river. I told you that you owe me a chocolate beverage, but I know that I can’t drink milk and what happen, you bought me a Yahoo beverage thinking that I will drink it, but I was kidding with you too. Regardless, thank you for buying it. Good to know that you learned some words in Spanish, like “chicle”. Well, thank you brother. 

Danila- I want to beat you in Chess, I was very close to beating you during my first game in my entire life. Let’s see if I beat you later. Good to know too that you learned something new when you were helping John in Las Marias. Oh, I am never going to forget when you cooked the “tostones de pana”, wow! you graduated cooking it and without oil. Thank you brother for those moments. 

Tou- In hide and seek, definitively you are the best choosing the coolest spot, man, you saw inside the trash can was awesome and very funny; hope you took a shower that night. You theft me the six words story, but is ok, I will write it anyway. And yes, we are the best team in pool. I will never forget the boy who started with the “Bebida de Limón”. I hope you’ve seen the manatee without having your glasses. Thanks for all! 

Peyton- Wow Peyton, sorry for this but you fell in the cabins just to catch one lizard and won an ice cream, but wow, you did it. On the other hand, you need to open a  dog rescue center, you love too much the dogs and that’s good, open one, you can do it!  Also, you can speak more Spanish, you leave Puerto Rico knowing some words in Spanish, like “Bebida de Limón”. I owe you an ice cream. Thank you for your laughter and for everything and thank you for telling me that a dog is better than me. 

Carlene- I will never forget you because you were the most quiet person during the trip. Thank you for wanting to clean the dishes too, with Nana, I appreciate that. Thanks too for helping and cleaning the kitchen, and for all you did there in our community.

Jordan- First of all, thank you so much for being very flexible during meals, I was worried of you, but you were the best in this sense and thanks for that and understand that it is not bad, it was only different. I will miss when you asked me for things in Spanish. Like Danila, you know now how to do “tostones de pana” and you can make it in your home. I loved when you told me that the food here is better than other places, that’s good to know, and I know that is true. Here, you aren’t going to eat only fish and chips. I can tell you many things but to be more short, I’m going to finish this saying thank you for everything brother. 

Some words to all…

Family- thank you for being patient with me and my English during this trip. It is not easy to speak two languages and less easy when the country where you live speaks another language and you are not practicing a lot, but I think, I did it, and you did it too. Your constant effort to understand me during this trip made a trip to never forget. Thank you for expressing yourself during reflections, I think those were ones of the best things in this trip. I enjoyed a lot playing Speed and Spoons games with you all. I loved watching you cooking green bananas and “tostones de pana”. Hope that all of you can drink a Bebida de Limón before take the flight for your home. About our community. Thank you so much because maybe you think that you help a little, but you help a lot. When you bought things in Las Marias supermarket, you were helping the community. When you paid for this trip, you helped Puerto Rico tourism and people who still here living hard all days, working a lot…

PS: I told you many things during our final dinner that aren’t here because I didn’t have time to finish this but you know so much. Remember that the most privilege that we have, is the life. With all the heart, your brother from Puerto Rico say to you that is not a goodbye, is a see you later. Thanks for all family. ¡Un abrazo!

Last Full Day

Written by Jason Diblasi
Is the last full day, as fatigue starts to set in we find ourselves waking up in San Juan. Most of us had struggled to fall asleep the previous night do to the excitement of going home and the nerves as we realize we are graduating soon. The first thing on our agenda is breakfast it’s the same as the first few. After breakfast we head to a cove not far from the hostel where there we will be paddle boarding. We start off slow with an introduction of the people who are new to this then midway into the intro the more advanced paddle boarders are allowed to go. Once everyone was ready, we went in a large loop around the lagoon and called it good. Next, we headed to lunch for a great time at a small hole in the wall restaurant. Shortly after we headed to the beach for the last activity of the day which was us just messing around before we headed back to the hostel.

Six Word Stories

Antonio- In summary, amazing group from Westgate. AND ¿Quiere usted tomar bebida de limón?

Tou- So you’re finally awake, huh Tou?

Peyton- One last adventure as a team. 

Joseph- This trip is great, muy bueno. 

Callie- I am going to miss PR. 

Jordan- Remember, your greatest gift is life. 

Danila- There’s no reason not to return. 

Jason Burds- Beach, Snorkeling, Paddleboarding, jungle, service, pizza AND A fantastic adventure with new family. 

Jason Diblasi- Some of the best pizza ever. 

Las Marias

Written by Callie Moreno

We are now in Las Marias doing service work. We are staying in some cabins and they are very different than what would be in Colorado. They are very cool, we also have beautiful rainforest all around us that we all love to explore together. For the service work we got to choose what group we wanted to work in. One group can garden, another can go to houses and build water collecting systems, and my group does the recording of all the other groups for a YouTube video of our projects and how far we have gone. All of the people are so amazing here in Puerto Rico, especially in Las Marias. They let us be creative with our work and trust us enough to not question our ideas, they just let us do the work. Every afternoon and evening here in Las Marias there is a homemade lunch and dinner made just for us. The food is so good, and definitely very filling for us to finish our work. Here in Puerto Rico, they really love their bananas and plantains. It is always a surprise to see what they made for us each day. 

Team Work

Written by Peyton Meredith

Today was our first real day of work. Yesterday we just got a feel for the place and the people. We were put into groups or teams so we could just get to work the next day right away. This morning Antonio, our program leader, cooked us breakfast. The breakfast was basically a lunch sandwich with scrambled eggs in it. Then we headed out for the worksite. As soon as we arrived we got straight to work. There were three teams. Filming, gardening, and rain barrels. After a few minutes in I realized that the team I was on was not meant for me. I was on the film team and I was just not feeling it. So I moved to the garden group. Something that I knew more about as I have done it in the past for our school’s NGO. It felt like just a normal Friday afternoon with my class. Something that our class loves. While there I was helping clear some land of rocks and plants to make a garden. We got it all down before lunch pretty much. Then lunch time roles around and we have an amazing lunch of chicken, rice and some other things. Every day the food their team provides us is amazing and blows us away. After lunch our project was pretty much done. We were at a point that we were waiting on some key components to continue moving forward, so I headed out with the rain barrel group to see what they were doing and how that project worked. It was pretty interesting to see how they are set up and work. How something so simple can be so helpful. 

As the day was coming to an end we started to wrap up the projects for the day and get them to a stopping point.  During our time working there we met some cool locals. One of them was really cool and got us some coconuts and some other fruit. They also taught us how to do it as well. On the way back we stoped and got ice cream and saw the mayor. We then walked over to his house which was not far and got a picture with him. Something which shocked all of us as we don’t even know the mayor in our city!  So meeting a mayor was new to all of us. After that we headed back to the cabins and got cleaned up and had dinner. During dinner we were able to connect with the people we are helping out more and interact with them outside of working. Despite the language barrier we are able to interact with each other and get the general idea of what we are trying to communicate to each other. We are learning from each other the languages, different foods, and so much more. Every day is a new learning experience and has a new adventure with the team we are slowly building. Especially with Antonio being very understanding of how we work and interact with each other. He is open to learning with us and trying new things as we explore his home. 

Service Work Has Begun

Written by Tou Lee
Today, we finally began the purpose of this trip: the service. We took a 30 minute bus ride to the community, Bucarabones, where our leader from the community, Omar, debriefed us on the mission. After lunch, we separated into groups with different projects that we proposed we work on in the next few days. I liked that we were able to propose our own projects and just work with them. I’m sure it was encouraging to see that we actually have something to contribute to the community rather than just doing busy work as tourists. We knew what they didn’t have, and what we could do for them. It was very interesting as well as heartbreaking to see what Hurricane María has done and the affects of it. What hit me the most was how little the government was helping especially in this time of need. Seeing how the people of the community have banded together has been extremely uplifting and encouraging. The government may not be helping as much as they can, but the community will work around it. They are strong together and I have no doubt they will continue to grow, expand, and develop. Being here has opened my eyes to what the media refuses to show us. To be able to help is very up lifting. It makes me more confident that I can give something and spread the word about the unspoken side of Hurricane María. Let’s see how much we can give and how much we can help.

Goodbye San Juan

Written by Joseph Jones

I don’t really know what I’m doing for this blog thing. I volunteered myself because I thought it would be a good way to remember what we’ve done on this trip. Today we had to say goodbye to San Juan and the hostel. It wasn’t until I was repacking to move up to the mountains that I realized how little prepared I was to say goodbye to a home that is not mine, but I’m a part of.  We have spent the past 4 days in San Juan and I had become adjusted to the city and its noise and light. Now that we’re off to the mountains I’m excited for a new environment.  We will get to make our own breakfast which I’m pleased with as the past few days we went to the Supermax for breakfast, however today we got to go to a very close local restaurant called Bebo’s Cafe. We have gone there before but never for breakfast. Then we started the trek to a little town called Las Marias, after a stop in a farm in Manatí city, with our bus driver Damaris. At the farm we spent the first half hour petting goats and sheep and then we took a tour of their gardening setup and tasted different plants they had grown. They had this really interesting one called lemon drop that would make the whole of your mouth tingle like tv static. Then we got to play with baby geese and milk goats. Once we made it, we went to a super market and grabbed all the supplies we need for breakfast the next day. I found it funny how the total was $108 for everything. When we arrived at the cabins, I was astounded by how we were just surround by a lush rainforest. I could hear the tree frogs and bugs. It was raining when we arrived and we all decided to go for a walk and when we went to the lunch area we had found a baby boa constrictor. We turned back.  Late in the evening, after dinner we just sat and talked. The people we are working with came over to the cabins. They had arroz blanco y pollo and there was a green salad. Later tonight, I get the fun job of trying to cook a steak sandwich for breakfast!

Packed 3rd Day in Puerto Rico

Written by Jordan Dinsmore
Today we started off our day with some breakfast at SuperMax and then got on the shuttle to El Yunque. Our 45 minute ride in the rainforest was narrated by our driver and guide, Ricardo. He educated us about the 100’s of species of plants and the amazing biodiversity. After Hurricane Maria in 2017 the forest had to make a major recovery, and by the time we had got there, it had almost fully restored itself. At the bottom of the trail there was a swimming hole, hole, home to many friendly fish and the occasional eel. Swimming in the river felt like ages, but as soon as we had to leave it felt like minutes. It felt like home. After cooling off in the water, we headed deeper towards the watch tower. From the top you can see the face of the god that helped the indigenous people of the island defend against the Spaniards. You can feel the weight here and with the breathtaking view, its a lot to take in. Tired and hungry, we crawled back in the shuttle and headed down the mountain for lunch. We ended up at a row of vendors along the beach. We laughed and ate tostones while the restaurant blasted salsa music! After recovering at the hostel, we headed to the beach for snorkeling. As soon as we saw the water, we had to jump in. “I see you’re already getting warmed up!”, our guide gave us our snorkeling gear and demonstrated how to let your body float and remember to breathe through your mouth. We went far into the water and saw amazing, giant elk horn corals. We also got to see dangerous black sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and little starfish. Then we drank some fresh cocos frios and headed back to the hostel for the night. After a big dinner at Bebos Cafe, we were all really full and ready to go into food coma till the next day! Buenas noches!

A Day in Old San Juan

Written By Jason Burds

Today started out with breakfast at the supermarket deli, followed by a bus ride to Old San Juan. When we arrived, we were greeted by our tour guide, Andy. Andy is an architect who expresses a serious passion for Puerto Rican history, art, and architecture. So this was right up my alley. Along his tour, we learned how several invasions from various countries helped to shape the history here. He started from below-ground and worked all the way up to explain Old San Juan’s infrastructure. We learned about the cisterns that were built in the courtyards of homes, and that many of them have been used again to help provide water to victims of hurricane Maria. Something I found particularly interesting was that the houses in Old San Juan were built with several doors and no windows, because the larger openings create better ventilation. These doors had no balconies at first, and were later installed for the obvious safety purposes. Along the streets, the buildings all have 2-3 doors, and have a 2,2,3,3 sequence. This, along with several other architectural patterns are strictly enforced to preserve the culture and history of Old San Juan.

We finished our tour at Convento Y Casa de Salud de Las Siervas de Maria, overlooking the ocean. Andy finished the tour by reminding us that we are all Americans, and Puerto Rico is our home. He invited us back out and encouraged us to reach out to him in the future. I gave him a hug and shook his hand, and knew I had a friend to visit again one day.

Written By Danila Romanov

In the second half of the day, we went on a scavenger hunt to take pictures of certain specific points around the city. I was content with just wandering around aimlessly and maybe stumbling across some of the landmarks on the way, but one thing on the checklist caught my eye. We had to find a cat somewhere in the city, which we hadn’t seen any of since getting there, but as soon as I heard that there was a chance of seeing one, I had to try. I had to spend a bit of time convincing everyone else to follow along with me, but once we got away from the more tourist-y areas, we started finding cats everywhere and saw some really cool places along with them. We walked along a narrow road by some houses that weren’t, for once, being used as storefronts for gift shops, and up a beautiful scenic path past the Casa La Rosa, eventually ending up at the final meeting spot despite not really knowing where we were going.

First Day in Puerto Rico

Written by Antonio Lee Moreno – Walking Tree Program Leader
This is the first day of the trip, and it has been a good one. The crazy part is, I saw the group in Denver International Airport even though they  didn’t see me. I decided to hide from them and make it a surprise at the end of the flight, so during the flight I could hear many students behind me getting excited for the trip, and I even heard my name a few times! Turned out they figure out I was there before we landed. Well, we all had a good flight and we began our time in Puerto Rico very relaxed, eating dinner in a local restaurant and having time at the beach, which the group enjoyed a lot! For now, I can say that we are going to have a good trip, just like we always do here in Puerto Rico. These students, in just a few hours, have already won my heart. More to come soon!