The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow, Amelia Laursen.

November 11, 2022

Isabela, Puerto Rico

When I was preparing to move to Isabela (a small surf town on the north shore of Puerto Rico), I facetimed my mentor, McCarty, hoping for some validation and advice on this huge decision. McCarty is a fellow gapper who also lived and worked at Horses of Hope, my new home and a small therapeutic riding center and horse rescue nonprofit.

I asked her what memory, above all, was her very favorite from living in Puerto Rico. A trip to a waterfall with new friends! A hike to the top of the world in the El Yunque Rainforest! An all-nighter spent bar hopping through Mayaguez! A boat trip to Desecheo! All these or some variation of them is what I expected, or hoped, I would hear. My brain was bursting with narratives that I was desperate to push onto her.

She thought for a second and smiled slightly.

“You know,” she said, “This may sound boring and anticlimactic but, one day John took me snorkeling at this new place that I had never seen before. It was magical. After that we went home, and then we all three went out to eat for dinner. It was the best day ever.”

I felt a bit taken aback, like cold water had been dashed on my face. Part of me was disappointed. Where was the adventure? Where was the excitement? Where was the narrow escape from death that most gappers usually have to tell about when they get home?

I didn’t know then, what I know now. I didn’t know that yes, bar hopping and dancing and skinnydipping at night with friends is fun, and yes exploring waterfalls and hiking to secret beaches and freediving out in the middle of the ocean is a grand adventure, but those aren’t the moments that make my body and soul feel alive and full of energy. Those aren’t the moments that I really live for.

McCarty didn’t mention, or perhaps didn’t want to spoil the mystery and magic of with mere words, the calm and quiet moments in the field with the herd. The feeling of cold rain on your skin after a long hot day of work. The after-dinner long and giddy and marvelous conversations with people you love. Waking up to the cooing of doves and the blowing of horses practically outside your window. The people you meet, one day in the grocery store, another day on your morning run, that you may never see again but who you will keep with you and think of forever. The unrestrained laughter of a usually stoic six-year old client when Boo takes off at a trot. The colorful and eccentric conversations with the most devoted Horses of Hope volunteer, a 28 year old man on the spectrum, who has become one of my favorite new friends. The sweetness of horse breath. The peace and oneness that comes with sharing that breath. The nightly hugs and morning cup of coffee.

McCarty didn’t mention the feeling of happy astonishment when one day you wake up and find that unbeknownst to you, the golden days having slipped by as quietly and easily as pearls slipping off a string, you are home.

And home isn’t the grand adventure, the crazy nights, the wild rides up and down mountains or over waves. Home isn’t even the views that make my heart stop or the pictures of beautiful places I’ve posted on instagram.

Home is a bowl of pesto pasta and cup of tea on a rainy evening. A get well card written on a napkin. The woosh of a horse’s breath, sweet with grass smell, on my face. Naps in the old crochet hammock on the porch. Crowing roosters that never shut up. The sound of rain hitting the mango tree leaves and trickling down the eaves. The rumble of the mid afternoon thunder shower. The smell of the dusty sun baked earth. The scrape of chairs pulled up to a miniscule dinner table, the contented murmurs of hard working people finally sat down to enjoy a meal together. Buen Provecho. The pad of feet across a concrete floor in the early mornings. The cold shower of hose water and the squish of mud under my feet. All the day’s triumphs and pitfalls wash away like dried sweat. The click of a camera shutter. The light touch of dewy, feathery grass against my legs. The cluster of overstuffed leather chairs around a TV and fake christmas tree.

Home is the thud of twenty hooves against the hard ground waking me up from a mid morning nap. Home is Jibaron’s eyes lighting up when I come to bring him in from the field. Home is Junque’s big head resting against my chest and Boo’s mane tangled in my fingers. Home is Elaine’s spontaneous laughter and John’s spontaneous hugs. Home is the happy shouts and sounds of riotous hilarity coming from inside the dive shop. It is dancing and singing to our favorite songs late at night when we’re too wired from a good day to go to bed. Home is the roar of the ocean away to the north on still nights. Home is the passionate and sweet singing of the coquis lulling me to sleep. It is sitting on the red steps and watching the lightning crackle over the cliff. Home is the rush of water over the waterfalls in the tide pools, and the nibbles of little fish on my toes. Home is the hot sun on the back of my neck. Home is the clang of the metal gate. Home is a tiny farm, undulating hills and palm trees, five horses, three dogs, and my chosen family.

These are the quiet moments that I live for, that I wake up for every day, excited to experience again and again and again. These are the memories that will stay painted as vividly in my mind as they were the day I lived them.

McCarty was wise in not trying to explain these moments to me. I wouldn’t have understood them if she did. And written down on paper, they do seem rather flat and inadequate. Such a feeble attempt to recreate a dynamic, changeful, and multi-faceted life feels like a desecration. But I don’t mind if no one else will ever fully understand that these quiet moments with people, places, horses and myself are the real adventure.

It is enough for me to know that I lived them well, and loved them.