Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Organic Puerto Rican Summer

I'm back in the hostel, the same hostel that welcomed me to Puerto Rico. It's been about two and a half months since I last slept under this roof but it doesn't feel like it; physically, the environment looks different but the essence hasn't changed. I am sitting by balcony, typing on this laptop of course, and watching rain fall from the beautifully gloomy sky. The wind is wrestling with humidity and judging by the gentle coolness caressing my back, the former is winning.

San Juan International Hostel

As I said in this post, I had no major expectations about the trip but nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for how drastically my life was going of change. I began the trip in this hostel on Calle America, a street with a very latin flavor. I met a guy from New Zealand who was embarking on a year-long journey across the globe and we did some exploring together.

San Juan. This was put up by the political party that wants independence/self-determination for Puerto Rico. In case you didn't know Puerto Rico is a colony, um I mean territory of the USA.

San Juan is a beautiful city, it really is but I won't recommend staying there for more than a week; the best of Puerto Rico is definitely NOT in the big cities. After the fourth day, I hopped on the metro to the city Bayamon to catch my ride to the Central Western mountains of Utuado. Why Utuado? to volunteer on an organic farming. www.living-organic.net defines organic farming as "...the process of producing food naturally. This method avoids the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and genetically modified organisms to influence the growth of crops. The main idea behind organic farming is ‘zero impact’ on the environment. The motto of the organic farmer is to protect the earth’s resources and produce safe, healthy food." Sounds easy and practical right? it actually isn't. With the ever looming presence of gigantic food co-operations, with the sole goal of making profit regardless of health effects, the job of the organic farmer is an extraordinarily difficult one. I will talk about more this in another poster dedicated to this subject. Back to Utuado. I stayed in Utuado for over a month, in my humble little tent next to the vegetable garden.


The irony is I didn't learn a lot about organic farming while there. The organisation I was volunteering with had a natural building project in the city of Arecibo so I had to help with that. I spent three weeks helping on the project and my feelings about the experience are mixed. Can I just say that I have gained a new found respect for construction workers? the next time to see a construction worker, please stop him or her and shake his or her hand. Construction is tough work; very tough and it entails a lot of science. People look down on construction workers but they are certainly more skilled and educated than most of us.

The natural building project in Arecibo

What made the project even more special was that it was natural building. Natural building is basically a range of building systems emphasizing sustainability. The goal is to use recycled materials, renewable resources and other minimally processed materials to build durable and eco-friendly buildings. Working on this project made me to start thinking about self-sustainability.

The building's exterior

Why do I need to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a house when I can build a more durable one myself which is not only better for the environment but it's also more comfortable (natural buildings have better indoor air quality). While I was learning a lot, I came to Puerto Rico for organic farming and not construction.


So I didn't learn very much about organic farming in Utuado but I learned other valuable things, I learned to appreciate nature, see her in her purest form, respect her, adore her and apologize, on behalf of mankind, for all the insanely maddening things we are doing to her. I know, I know, I am starting to sound like a keep-peace-alive hippie but you do get a different perspective when you live in nature, completely detached from technology and her distractions.


What I am most grateful for about my time in Utuado are all the friends I made, Katie in particular. She studies horticulture and was also volunteering on the farm. Katie is heaps cool and we had an amazing time together. In between the natural building project at Arecibo and Utuado, we squeezed in time for some sight seeing and other unexpected adventures.


When the opportunity came for me to volunteer with thirty-something couple from the city of Camuy. I did not hesitate to grab it. I had met them on couple of occasions before while in Utuado and I knew they were good people. I was willing to volunteer with them because I knew they were both agronomists and I was guaranteed a learn something sizable about organic farming with them. As usual, I had very little expectations. In fact, I was only planning to spend a week or two with them and return to Utuado. After my first day with them, I knew I wasn't going back. They taught me everything I wanted to know about organic farming and more.

Me. Hard at work.

They have a little farm behind their house and I learned heaps from working on it. Not only are these guys remarkable organic farmers, they are remarkable people. They welcomed me into their lives with honesty and open arms and for that, I will forever be grateful. I am going to do a more detailed post sometime later about this amazing couple and my experience on their farm and also about volunteering abroad on organic farms.


The next time you see an organic farmer, please shake his or her hand. It's tough work. It's tough because they work in an industry dominated by food co-operations with pesticides and factory farms and high fructose corn syrup and most importantly low prices (as a result of mass production and government subsidies). I mean how do they compete with that? Isn't it ironic that the people who supply healthy food have been marginalised not only by their governments but the consumers too?


During my time in Camuy, we were able to squeeze in some adventures too like an electrifying Damian Marley concert in San Juan ( his back-up singers/dancers were FIRE!!!! those girls literally SHUT IT DOWN), the waterfalls in San Sebastian, indian cave in Arecibo etc etc and sometime in between all of this, I had two tattoos and became a vegetarian.


Sunrise. Utuado.

Salsa in the salon.

Working hard at a vegetarian workshop.

Planting beans in Camuy. This was taken about a week or less after planting.

And back to this hostel. It has stopped raining and humidity is stealthily creeping in. Backpackers are returning from the day's adventure and the fans are whirring louder than before. I catch a plane out of Puerto Rico tomorrow and it's back to school. I'm not excited about that of course but I have a year left to complete my Masters degree so I'll try to make the best of it. Preparations for my December/January travel plans are already on the way and it is going to be major. I am beyond excited but you know I won't spill any details, at least for now.

I'm done, finally. Now! how was your summer????


  1. Not half as interesting as yours. You're living my dream. Lovely pictures, by the way.

  2. You hard at work has to be the most amusing photo in the bunch :) (I'm just kidding) Lovely pictures.

  3. I love the way you live your life, your joie de vivre, If all I did was incorporate a lil bit of your spirit, I know I'll be so much better for it. Love all your trips and stories.

  4. I have been looking for way to reconnect with my heritage....and my community....being as my grandmother was from utuado (earlier this year was the tenth anniversary of her death)...I would truly be interested in how you came across the little organic farm and if there is potential for their being space for me to follow in your footsteps. I keenly await hearing from you.
    Thank You

  5. Thanks for the kind comments guys :-)

    @ Bethany
    I just replied to your email. All the best.

  6. thank you for all the nice comments! It is always a treat to see your photos of your travels!

  7. Fantastic. I enjoyed reading this very much.

  8. Hi - just came across your post as I was doing a search for "organic Puerto Rico". My family and I are headed to Puerto Rico in December and would like to meet up with organic farmers while we are there. If it's not too much trouble, I would really appreciate the contact information of the couple in Camuy and/or other info/sources you might have about organic in Puerto Rico. Thanks for considering! My email address is linda (at) the-beehive (dot) com Linda

  9. i think what you do is amazing and inspiring.. I hope to someday be able to give back the way you do.