Just as this tour began, it ends with a full day of sunny waves, soft sand, good food and—wait for it—overnight travel.
For many of us, this morning was bittersweet as we said goodbye to our wonderful host families before leaving for the day. Their welcome and hospitality for us throughout the week simply could not have been beat.
We began our day by heading to Isla Verde, a scarcely shaded beach in Carolina. We spent the morning surrounded by beautiful blue-green waves and the softest sand I’ve ever felt. Many of us fell asleep and, despite reapplying sunscreen often, layered our healing skin from last week with fresh, new sunburns. We swam out to play in the small waves, successfully searched for starfish, and of course, napped on beds made only of sand and shade. Before the sun was at its highest peak, we left the beach and headed to our next destination: ice cream.
A bit of background: each time we left a location, we counted off from one to fifty-five to make sure everyone was present. As a motivation technique, Marcia promised us ice cream (or as she so endearingly pronounces it, “ice CREAM”) if we could speed up our count off. We earned our ice cream throughout the week and were each able to get a small treat from Coldstone Creamery, courtesy of Marcia.
After ice cream, we headed to take showers and get dressed for dinner. For a few of us, this was the last time we saw our host families. After tearful goodbyes, we headed back to La Cumbre with luggage in hand.
After returning to the church and dropping off luggage, we headed to our dinner destination, Raíces, a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant. We all dressed up in our nicest outfits and everyone looked quite beautiful. We had a special seating area and a special menu that consisted of corn sticks, fried vegetable sticks, mofongo, fried green plantains, flan, guava shells with cheese, and much more.
We spent time socializing, and many of us marveled in the events of the week and how much we had all experienced with each other. Little did we know, had a surprise in store for us. Tuna UPR, an ensemble of 12 students entered our seating pavilion and played guitars, mandolins, a violin, and showed a grand display of traditional Puerto Rican music, dancing, and tambourine playing. We learned about the history of the ensemble, the ranks, and heard many wonderful tunes.
After this humbling experience, Marcia said we owed them a performance in return and we all agreed. We sang one of our favorite selections, Sililiza, which required percussion instruments. With Bek Zehr playing a chair as a drum, Mary Schmauss using an ibuprofen bottle as a shaker, and Ainslee Zou using a mug and a fork as a makeshift agogo bell, we huddled in our little pavilion and performed together for the last time on the island. After Sililiza and some announcements and thank you’s, we headed back to La Cumbre for the last time.
We gathered for devotionals, lead by Olivia Smucker, in which she led us in centering and reflecting on our time on the island. She spoke words of reflection and validation, reminding us: when we are down, to “lift our eyes to the sun that sends [us] radiant warmth” and to “be trusting, be curious, be passionate, be gentle.” Megan Graber led us in a short devotional tune, and afterwards we all spread out to do homework, sleep, or otherwise pass the time before heading to the airport.
After the flight, we returned to Goshen. After a week in Puerto Rico, many of us have had new and humbling experiences from Old San Juan, El Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal, to Ponce, Aibonito, El Yunque. From good food (mofongo!) to cherished host families and many other people we have encountered on the island. Our week was a week full of song, sunburns, service, sightseeing, and many laughs and unforgettable memories. The isla del encanto has truly enchanted us in our week here.
At last, fifty five Voices returned home with peace in their hearts, knowing that the sun that shines in snowy Goshen is the same sun shining in beautiful Puerto Rico.
Our tour would not have been possible without the following people:
- Liza Rivera and Raúl Rosado, organizers of the tour and hosts
- President Rebecca Stoltzfus and Kevin Miller
- Adriana Ortiz, admissions counselor for Puerto Rico
- Noixa Méndez, host of La Cumbre Missionary Alliance Church
- Noralma and Manuel Rivera, hosts
- Marilú Montalvo, host
- Juan Ro and Cuchy Méndez, hosts
- Liannette and Abdiel Cruz, hosts
- Glorimar and Rolando Flores, hosts
- Mamá Cathy Cirino, host
- Magda and Luis Del Toro, hosts
- Astrid Torres, host
- Decio and Elba De Carvahlo, hosts
- Dania and Juan Carlos Hurtado, hosts
- Menno Travel and Geof Landis