Friday, March 23 – It wasn’t easy, but the group was up before the rooster’s crow this morning. We were all feeling a little “Mal anochados” as the Puerto Ricans say (“rough-nighted”), but there was much work to be done. We had coffee and checked our supply packs before loading up: sun block, check; mosquito repellent, check; water, check; first aid kit, check! And as we pulled away, we heard that first rooster’s cry. Sorry to wake you, friend!

It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Ciales in the center of the island, where our day’s work would be. We met our contact, Ana with Para la Naturaleza, the preeminent natural conservation group in Puerto Rico. She and her team led us up the mountain, into the dense forest. Another 30 minutes found us overlooking the entire north coast of PR!

There, our nature interpreter, Ricardo gave us an orientation:

He began by thanking us, reminding us that the first sentence of human history is that we are here to take care of the Earth and to take care of each other. Before Hurricane Maria, Para la Naturaleza was dedicated to the protection of natural beauty and biodiversity. After the hurricane, they have shifted to the reforestation of the island. You see, with her, Hurricane Maria took 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s vegetation. In response, Para la Naturaleza challenged themselves to replant 750,000 native and endemic trees.

In the last six months, they have replanted 2,000 already. Today, our task was to plant the next 100 – that’s 5 percent of the 6-month total already!

Eagerly, we grabbed shovels and set in, and it wasn’t long before a collection of 19 individuals became a cohesive team, working as one. You pickaxe the dirt loose, I will shovel the hole clear. You make sure I’ve got enough protection from the sun and mosquitoes, I will make sure you stay hydrated. We surprised each other a bit, and we certainly seemed to surprise Ana and her team with our energy and efficiency. And before long, we had planted our 100 trees, a collection of native and endemic species.

We even got to enjoy some typical Puerto Rican cuisine – mofongo!

Goodnight!r has been great! No rain, a little humid, but not too hot. This island is so beautiful, and her people are so warm and welcoming. Tomorrow, we’ll be planting in the same part of the island, but this time, at an 18th century sugar plantation. But for now, we’re wiped out! Goodnight!