Puerto Rico, where the distance markers are in kilometers, the speed is in miles and the gas is sold by the liter. I have been fairly confused. A lot of signs are in English, but most people speak Spanish.

I landed in San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico, on Tuesday afternoon. Here I was, a small, english speaking gringa, desperately clutching a beloved can of cheese pringles for sustenance while on the phone. I soon realized how ridiculous I looked juggling my main backpack, a smaller day pack, my phone, and most awkwardly – my round can of pringles. My mind was on how I was going to get from the airport to where I was staying. I attempted to catch a bus, miserably failed, and was overcome with relief when I finally sat down in a taxi. The driver was from Delaware and deeply sympathetic to my obvious lack of bearings and confusion.

Driving in Puerto Rico is like playing Frogger. You get frustrated, close your eyes and pray for the best.

I have extreme car anxiety in my tiny hometown of Rocky Point, but a few trips around San Juan sans seat belt has cured me.

While in San Juan, I went with friends and explored out to the middle of the island to a place called Manati. There’s a small beach that you can walk through the woods to find. After about a five minute walk, there is this overlook.

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There are steps to walk down and a rock wall you can climb across to reach the beach. The beach is called La Poza de las Mujeres.

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After a few days of exploring San Juan, I began the journey to my first farm to WWOOF. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It provides willing volunteers a chance to live and learn on an organic farm. In exchange for work, volunteers receive food and accommodation.

I called eleven different numbers to arrange for a publicio to take me from Miramar, San Juan, to Barceloneta. I kept getting a voice mail and couldn’t understand what was being said. The second I asked one of my friends what the voice mail message was, someone answered! An hour later, a large blue van picked me up in front of where I was staying. Publicios, or public cars, are vans that run throughout Puerto Rico. They can be tricky to figure out and are mainly used by locals. With a lot of patience and time, they can be a budget savvy way to travel the island.

I met the farm supervisor in Barceloneta and rode with them back to the farm in Utuado. I usually work from eight to twelve, chopping down vines in the overgrown reaches of the land. It is a ten minute hike up to the middle of the farm where the farm supervisor and I go each morning to chop vines and clear the overgrown land. There are a cornucopia of coffee trees scattered through the brush so our job is to remove the vines from the trees. We use machetes and sickles when we work. The work is hot and hard. Being on the side of a mountain, it is common to start sliding down. It scared me a lot at first, but it’s kind of fun as long as you throw your machete a safe distance away from you.

A coffee tree near the beginning of the farm

A coffee tree near the beginning of the farm

These are coffee beans. The green ones aren’t ready to be picked and roasted, but the red ones are.

These are coffee beans. The green ones aren’t ready to be picked and roasted, but the red ones are.

Some days we switch up the pace and work in the gardens. Yesterday we planted Okra and cleared vines from around the eggplants and leafy greens.

Using the shovel to break up the ground before planting Okra

Using the shovel to break up the ground before planting Okra

I have a large room mostly to myself that is attached to the house. The first night, the large cockroach eating spiders terrified me. They still freak me out, but there are two that stay here. There is a centipede who stays by the door and a scorpion who likes the wall by the other bed. I respect their space and they respect mine. I sleep with a flip flop by my side in case they ever cross my boundaries.

My room

My room

One of the spiders

One of the spiders

My handy dandy flip flop

My handy dandy flip flop

The scorpion (we got rid of this guy)

The scorpion (we got rid of this guy)

Today I harvested some tiny tomato plants and got to see this huge avocado!

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Two fruits I have found interesting are noni are starfruit. Noni is called vomit fruit by the unfortunate who must smell it and worse, eat it. It smells like gut wrenching stomach acid you can’t get out of your nose after throwing up and has a similar taste. The taste isn’t quite as bad as the smell, but leaves a poignant aftertaste. It is said to cure a plethora of ailments. Starfruit is a sugary fruit. It is juicy and tastes like a starburst flavored orange with a fleshier texture.

Noni (aka vomit fruit)

Noni (aka vomit fruit)

Starfruit

Starfruit

Time moves slowly here. No one is in a rush to do anything (other than weave through traffic). In coming to Puerto Rico, I agonized over having enough time. Life was banging and clanging and running and rushing. I felt like a chicken with its head cut off. Even in San Juan, I couldn’t seem to shake that hurried confusion. At the farm, I am still. I no longer make a to-do list when I wake up and am focused on things other than the monotonous, high speed drone I have felt so comfortable in my entire life. I have way more room for my own thoughts in my head and it feels fantastic.

The view from the deck of the house

The view from the deck of the house

The post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Lauren Jurgensen.