Coordinates: Yauco 18°02′11″N 66°50′58″O & Maricao 18°10′56″N 66°58′47″O
Only three days and two nights were enough for me to realize that life in rural Puerto Rico was much more than what I thought. We departed towards Yauco on a Sunday, Xaimara, Alejandro, and I; to work on agri-ecological farms in Yauco and Maricao. Without fully knowing or understanding the meaning of “agri-ecological”, we ventured ourselves to be part of a voluntary group.
I never thought that the fact of growing up near the beach would make this a completely life-changing experience for me, even so, it was. I grew up surrounded by nature, but my environment was a marine one. Maybe that’s the reason why this agri-ecological adventure was such a transcendental one. This is why I was completely open to learning anything and everything that I could out of this experience.
Arriving from the Metropolitan San Juan to the very remote rural mountains of Yauco took us around two hours. We passed big mountains and little houses, quite the opposite to what one is used to see in the metropolitan area or the marine scenery of the beach in Manatí. Around five thirty in the afternoon we arrived to the agri-ecological farm Don Luis.
DON LUIS AGRI-ECOLOGICAL FARM
There, the owner of this green environment, Carlos Giovanetti, who also spoke to us about what it means the term “agri-ecological”, welcomed us. According to Carlos, this term refers to the different ways of sowing used as foundation for conventional agriculture, just like our “jíbaros”did it back in the day. Everything that is developed in an agri-ecological farm must be developed naturally, without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Nothing is harmful to the environment, or the human being.
WHERE'S THE BATHROOM?
After meeting and bearing a part in with the other volunteers, I dared to ask the great question that was spinning around my thoughts since I arrived: Where is the bathroom? The answer made me understand that the next two days would be exceedingly interesting. There was a little shower with extremely cold water, this is where we took our baths... not very far from there was a five gallon bucket with a bit of soil, there we had to do our needs. After being exposed to nature for one year, these residues would be used as compost. In other words, part of what I’d leave in Yauco would be fertilizer for the crops. First life-changing moment!
Before dark we had already prepared the “bedrooms”. We shared our camping tent with Jonathan and Kiara, our first friends in this agro-ecological adventure. With a sky free of light pollution, we dined beneath the stars. Seeing the sky illuminated made me transport to my childhood, when I laid down in my backyard to count those dots of light. After that, we went to sleep; it was important to rest, given that the next day we would start to work on the soil.
The five of us woke up at four-thirty in the morning, as we were instructed. When the sun rose up, the beautiful sight of mountains on the horizon astonished us. Between the mountains we could see the town of Guayanilla. From above, rural places are very different as seen from the beach; "coquíes" and crickets manifest freely, the temperature is considerably lower. In contrast, from my house, one can appreciate the sway of the waves when they clash with the rocks.
Necessary, the coffee
We began the morning with a good cup of coffee, or as we like to call it “café del país” (coffee of the country), considering that the work ahead would not be easy. Before beginning our tasks, Carlos explained to us about different trees that he uses in the farm to naturally control the amount of sun that the different crops receive. We also learned about aromatic plants that are planted beside the crops, because they serve as natural repellents against plagues that could affect the harvests.
Walking inward through the farm we arrived at the area where we would be working. We were divided into two groups, a few of us with the owner of the farm and others with Erick Schoenbohm, who also had his own farm; the one we would be visiting the next day. The ones that had never worked on the soil were teamed up with others, who had experience in the field of agriculture, this way being as efficient as possible. Erick’s group was in charge of replanting the plantains; this is how I learned to differentiate a plantain and a banana palm tree. Some of the volunteers tasted plantain water; something I didn’t think was done.
The ones of us with Carlos, were preparing the "yautías" (tropical root) to be replanted. This consists of cutting the top of the root so that they can grow. We also planted a few "yautía" seeds, which one had to peel first in order to plant them. Gabriela Medina, graduated agronomist from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, thought us how to do this process. We learned the difference between a "yautía" and "malanga" leafs, very different plants. The leaf of the "yautía" resembles the letter “Y” while the "malanga" leaf looks like a heart or the letter “M”.
A place for sowing
Yauco is a town that characterizes itself for having coffee “all over the place” and Carlos’ farm was not the exception, they taught us how to harvest the plant. While we worked, Carlos told us his future plans for the farm and showed us a creek that passed through his terrain. We learned how to plant and replant; this last activity consists of pulling out plants that grew without the farmers planning it and planting them again in a spot where they grow in a more efficient manner. They also taught us how to make seed-banks and how to knock down a tree without using any type of pesticide or cutting it down. This is accomplished by cutting the tree bark, making a circle around the tree to stop it from absorbing nutrients; this way making space for another type of plant.
A Neccesary Dip
After long hours of working under the sun we went to Río Prieto, a river near the farm, there we freshened up in Las Casimbas. Near the pond-like section of the river there was a little underwater pit where some of the members of the group went down to the bottom and brought stones as proof. In addition, the place had a natural slide in the rocks, this was an integral part of the entertainment. Unlike a beach, the water in the rivers is extremely cold and the body of water tends to be smaller given the space. The best feeling after so much heat and work is freshening up in fresh water.
Gabriela and Erik cooked up a delicious pizza made from scratch. After the dinner I decided to take a nap, from which I woke up the next day! According to what my friends told me, they made a bonfire and sat down around it to talk a bit more about what agri-ecology meant to each of the participants of this friendly debate. To Carlos, for example, this practice consists in using only natural elements and components for his harvests. Emilio, another volunteer, understands that he can use some man-made things, like trimmers, to ease the maintenance of the farm.
The agri-ecologic farm Pico Montoso, in Maricao, was our next destination. Contrary to the first farm, in this one there was a little house where they had bathroom, internet and other commodities for the ones of us who missed them. In this farm we learned that the worm humus is made up of food residue, where they throw in earthworms to accelerate the decomposition process of these scraps. The molasses of the sugar cane and the worm humus are completely natural fertilizers because of their high content of nutrients. In this farm we created seed banks again for the "yautía", we learned to harvest yams and their seeds to replant them. Digging and suddenly finding a yam filled me with excitement, because it was the first time that I harvested a tubercle. We also found snakes; these make up part of an agri-ecological farm.
When we finished working on the Pico Montoso farm, we visited Salto Curet. We walked for half an hour, but the destination made the walk worthwhile. The place was extremely beautiful, with a waterfall of room temperature water. Curiously, the natural pool had cold water.
The Stone Tower
Since our trip was only for three days, our experience finished here. We said farewell with great sadness because our adventure was almost at an end, but very grateful for the acquired knowledge. On our way back, before reaching the highway that would take us home, we stopped at "La Torre de Piedra” in Maricao. We decided to climb the stairs on the inside of the tower; once on the top we couldn’t avoid being quiet while contemplating the scenery and the saying goodbye to such a magnificent experience.
Conscious Travel Practices:
1. Learning about the process of agri-ecological harvesting.
2. Study thoroughly the natural surroundings and appreciate it to the maximum.
3. Enjoy the resource of water without contaminating it.
4. Sharing the acquired knowledge to create ecological consciousness.
5. Appreciate the environment without light pollution.
Don Luis agri-ecological farm
Pico Montoso agri-ecological farm
Las Casimbas pond
Torre de piedra