A local boy scout troop traded pitching tents and coaxing campfires in Connecticut for Puerto Rican paradise during a recent excursion to the island. The trip, which although designed as a “fun, spring break” adventure, provided many of the scouts with a new understanding of the island and a different way of life.
“None of the kids had been on the trip before. Most had never gone to Puerto Rico,” Frank Alvarado Jr., an assistant scout master, said. “We were able to introduce them to a different culture, a a different way of life. Many didn’t know it was even part of the U.S., it was a great experience for them, they came back with respect for another culture.”
The trip was reserved for the junior leadership members (patrol leaders and senior patrol leaders) of Hamden Troop 608. Nineteen boy scouts between the ages of 12 and 18, along with five adults, mostly from Hamden and North Haven made the trip.
The predominantly White and Latino scouts and their leaders arrived in San Juan, where they toured and, according to Alvarado, quickly discovered empanadillas – a meat filled patty – which they loved and quickly became a staple at all meals. He said he was most surprised about how much the troop enjoyed the local food during the trip.
The troop then left for the less traveled part of the island, Añasco, on the west coast. Alvarado recounted the highlights of the trip, which led him and troop members to picturesque beaches and rainforests.
The scouts swam and snorkeled at Domes Beach and Steps Beach in Rincon. They took a boat to Guilligan’s Island and swam in the bioluminescent bay in La Parguera by night. A hike in El Yunque National Rainforest lead them to the La Mina Falls waterfalls. Their adventure finally ended with a tour of El Rio Camuy Cave Park and a final day of swimming at Guajataca Beach and Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla.
“To them, the excitement kept them busy the whole time,” Alvarado said. “A lot of people spoke English, but we also took them to a couple of local places.”
“None of the kids left there saying that they missed out on something. . . It was something different for them to experience.”
The troop had visited Puerto Rico about six years ago, Alvarado said. However, none of the boys on this year’s trip had been a part of it, so he decided to bring the idea back.
To afford the travel expenses, the scouts held several fundraisers for their cause. They sold candy, organized a plant sale and held a car wash to help off-set the costs.
Alvarado said the boys’ experience was so positive and educational that he’d like to incorporate the trip as a regular troop event. He said he hopes they can return every other year, so younger scouts can visit Puerto Rico more than once during their time with the troop.
Now that they have returned home, hiking and camping in the Connecticut wilderness will have to suffice. But for Troop 608, if they close their eyes, they may be able to feel like they are back in El Yunque, even if it’s just for a moment.