Puerto Rico a 'wild, busy, unforgettable' trip

Puerto Rico study abroad trip 2019 | Photo courtesy Alli Dickey
Puerto Rico study abroad trip 2019 | Photo courtesy Alli Dickey

By Alli Dickey, for the School of Natural Resources

So, you’re thinking about going on the Puerto Rico: Tropical Ecosystems trip with the School of Natural Resources. You’ve read about it online, attended the meeting, and heard that Dennis Ferraro, in-house herpetologist, is a pretty cool dude. Still hesitating to push the button? Take it from me, someone fresh off the sandy beaches and lush forests ― it's worth it.

I was just a fisheries and wildlife and journalism double major looking for a new ecosystem to write about when I stumbled upon the study abroad trip. A tropical rainforest, snorkeling, and an island overrun with iguanas? Sign me up. What I didn’t expect ― and this is the cheesy part ― was to fall back in love with field work, science, and exploring.

I’ve recently been struggling with anxiety that tells me to stay put and stay safe. I’ve had amazing adventures and opportunities over the past year, but I’ve also had doubt. This brought me to the week before the trip slightly dreading it.

But when we finally got off the airplane and had a wild ride at 4 a.m. dodging cows and cockroaches, I actually started to relax. Maybe it was the refreshing humidity or the sound of Coqui frogs putting me to sleep, but I was ready for the week.

What followed was the wackiest, but most fun, adventure of my senior year. It started with a weekend in the tropical rainforest El Yunque where we did transects to identify plants, snails, anoles, and Coquis. We also looked for shrimp in beautiful streams complete with waterfalls and hiked to the top of the cloud forest.

Next, we traveled to the west coast of the island for snorkeling, the bioluminescent bay, and some much-needed rest and relaxation in an adorable beach motel. We saw the salt flats, looked for marine invertebrates in tidal pools, and got a little too close to the edge on the cliffs of Cabo Rojo.

Finally, we went to the middle of the island to explore the Karst Region, which consists of many sinkholes and caves. This led to some great hiking. We sat quietly with researchers at one cave and listened to hundreds of bats leave for the night.

It was a wild and busy week but one I will never forget. I grew close to the awesome people on the trip as well as the beautiful locations we visited. Along the way we searched and identified every creature we could find. We took pictures of breathtaking views and tiny blue beetles. I went from scaling rocks one day to swinging in a hammock the next. I watched others gain their footing and their voice and found mine too. Plus, the food was just really good.

If you are looking for culture, science, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, animals or an adventure, you can find it in Puerto Rico. Don’t hesitate to sign up ― you won’t regret it.