Hiking through the large Yunque forest, bathing in the impressive La Mina waterfall, kayaking at night in the bioluminescent bay, touring through the Old San Juan (a replica of 17th century colonial Spain), visiting the Bacardi rum factory in San Juan, and bartering for goods in a farmer’s market in Rio Piedras were the highlights of this year’s Coastal Bend College Summer Program in Puerto Rico, reports CBC Spanish Instructor Dr. Emmanuel Alvarado, who led and supervised the group along with Kelly Rea, CBC Sociology instructor.
The group included 16 Coastal Bend College students from the South Texas area, predominantly from Beeville, Alice and Kingsville. Students traveled to Puerto Rico for two weeks in July and took Spanish and/or Sociology college courses during their stay. The CBC group attended classes daily at the Institute for Second Language Acquisition (ISLA) and participated in cultural excursions during the afternoons. Each stayed with local Puerto Rican host families, arranged by ISLA, where they enjoyed home-cooked meals and opportunities to practice and improve Spanish language skills.
The group spent afternoons and evenings visiting places of interest on the “Island of Enchantment” as Puerto Rico is normally referred to in Spanish. They toured the Puerto Rican Museum of History, Anthropology and Art where they encountered pre-Hispanic artifacts used by indigenous tribes prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus and modern art depicting various facets of Puerto Rican history.
CBC students interviewed local students at the University of Puerto Rico to compare student life there with their own experience in higher education in South Texas. As part of a course assignment, the CBC group also conducted ethnographic interviews at the Plaza de las Americas, the largest commercial center in the Caribbean, asking local shoppers about their working, civic and family lives in Puerto Rico.
Ecotourism was one of the highlights of the summer trip. Students hiked through El Yunque National Rainforest where they learned about local vegetation, flora and the coqui, a frog unique to Puerto Rico, whose sounds can be heard all over the island at night. The students ended their hike from the Yunque hills at La Mina Falls where they bathed in the still pools filled with chilled mountain water stemming from the 35-foot waterfall. The CBC group kayaked on the Biobay in the Fajardo province where a microorganism that inhabits the bay water emits a blue florescent light as it is activated with movement. During the evening, the students took in the beauty of the fluorescent light of the bay as they rowed the kayaks or as they moved the water with their hands.
“It was magical” said CBC student Raymon Avelar who proposed marriage to his girlfriend Ana-Alyse Olivares, also a CBC student, as they kayaked through the bay.
During one of the last evenings in Puerto Rico, the group went to Latin Roots, a local salsa club in San Juan, where students were given a crash course on salsa dancing and observed the acclaimed salsa competition organized by the club every Thursday.
Coastal Bend College students said goodbye to their Puerto Rican families and boarded the bus for the airport Sunday morning to return to Texas. All agreed that they had learned a great deal about Puerto Rico’s history and culture, acquired more Spanish and made many new friends. Alvarado and Rea at Coastal Bend College have already begun preparations for next summer’s program in San Juan, Puerto Rico.