A year and a half of bake sales, bottle drives, trade shows, barbecues and, of course, Girl Guide cookie sales finally paid off in July for 28 Yorkton Guides, nine leaders and one lifeguard with a trip to Puerto Rico.
It was not the original plan, but the girls really enjoyed it. “We were supposed to go on a cruise, but that didn’t work out so we went to Puerto Rico to do adventure and nature things that we couldn’t do here,” said Hannah Shivak, 15.
The adventure actually started before they even left Canada.
“We had lots of kids, it was their first time on a plane trip,” explained leader Carrie Morrison. “It was their first time out of the country, their first time away from their parents, first time taking a subway, first time sleeping in an airport; for a lot of us it was a first time sleeping in an airport.”
They arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in the evening, but the flight to Puerto Rico was not leaving until the next morning so they decided to check out Toronto. They found a little unexpected help.
“We had a crazy layover in Toronto,” explained Sydney Morrison, 12. “We met a Girl Guide leader from Toronto on the bus and she helped us out.”
They visited the CN Tower, toured around downtown and had a picnic supper sitting on the floor at Union Station before heading back to the airport and a long wait for their flight.
“Sleeping in the airport, not very many people actually got sleep, but it was a very entertaining evening,” said leader Barb Speary.
Different girls liked different parts of the trip best.
“I really enjoyed zip-lining and we got to hike almost every day and see everything,” Shivak said. “There’s a lot of different things there like different plants and different animals, it’s pretty cool.”
It also inspired her to spend more time outdoors.
“Before, I liked inside better, but going there we went outside the whole time,” she said. “Now, it’s cool.”
For Sydney Morrison, it was the people.
“My favourite part of the trip was probably the culture there because it was so different, like the person who supplied us with food said he had a machete,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who owns a machete, but that’s a normal thing there.”
She added being exposed to Spanish and seeing crabs and lizards on her list highlights.
The leaders had their own favourite activities.
“Kayaking in the bioluminescent bay was awesome,” Carrie Morrison said. We kayaked in in the evening under a canopy of mangroves; it was picturesque. When we got in it was getting dark and when you disturbed the water, it glowed.”
The glowing is triggered by a delicate and exceptionally environmentally sensitive type of oceanic plankton called dinoflagellates. The light is a response to changes in the environment created by energy collected from sunlight being converted into a chemical reaction. Plankton, of course, is the very base of the global food chain.
Leader Karen Litke said environmental education was another important aspect of the trip.
“We did a cleanup project with the Ambassadors of the Environment [an educational program of Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society],” she said “We went with nets and picked up bottles and bags and stuff in among the coral reef, which was really cool. They also got some education on the reef life and how it connects to the wider ecosystem.
“You can’t get much further away from an ocean than [Saskatchewan], so bringing that to the girls, that this ocean that you’re in, that these fish, these coral reefs, this is where it all originates and this is what we need to protect, it might not seem like Yorkton is connected to this reef, but it is.”
Speary added the benefits of the travel experience for education.
“There’s no way to better learn that than to be in an environment where you understand that this is actually where water comes from and to see it first hand and to understand how it works as opposed to reading it in a book, to get a true appreciation for what it actually is and how the world actually works,” she said.
Not only was the trip fun and educational, but the group represented the Girl Guides and Yorkton well.
“It was easy,” Litke said. “[The girls] made it easy. They were all extremely well-behaved, they were all very independent, they were very organized, they followed the instructions, they stayed with our group, they had excellent attitudes, excellent manners, they were there to have a good time and looked out for each other, so it was fantastic.”
That, of course, is what one might expect from a group of Guides.
“I hope that we can say that we played a role in fostering that kind of attitude and that kind of independence and that spirit of adventure and looking out for each other,” Litke said.
Carrie Morrison added some credit to the careful planning.
“We also had a very dedicated group of leaders who put a lot of time into organizing it, so we tried not leave to much to chance, we had it all pretty well regimented,” she said.
Finally, they came back with not just good memories, but a sense of satisfaction.
“I personally like the fundraising too, because you get to work towards it,” Sydney Morrison said. “It’s not like it’s just handed to you on a silver platter you actually work for it and then when you get to where you’re going, it all pays off and it’s all worth it.”
Speary said they are very grateful to the community for all the support they garnered and that they would be giving Yorkton a bit of a breather before starting up the next campaign for another trip to a yet-to-be determined destination in three years time.