Tulane Alternative Breaks (a.k.a. TAB) March 10-17: My freshman year, I went on an alternative spring break trip to Miami and loved it so much I decided to lead my very own trip this year! I learned a lot about being a team leader and how important it is to be organized. I had a great group of 11 participants and it was just about as good of a spring break as I could have imagined! I packed in our days with lots of service and everybody was completely exhausted by the end of the trip. This was our schedule:
Saturday: Left Tulane at 4:00 a.m.! Drove straight through, stopping for gas and to eat at Subway. We arrived at our campground around 9:30
Sunday: I woke up early and went grocery shopping to feed our big group of 12. I bought about half of the total food we would need to be able to gauge how much we were going through. Turns out... it's pretty hard to figure out what everyone would want for the week, but I think it worked pretty well. After everyone got ready, we headed out to Miami Beach and stopped at the Bagel Emporium (upon Yoni's request). With bagel filled bellies, we staked out a spot on the beach and just spent the day walking around, playing in the sand and swimming. Pollo Tropical was the place of choice for dinner and everything turned out great. I wish we had Pollo Tropicals in NY or NOLA... it's fast food, but it's actually good!
Monday: At around 8 a.m. we headed to the NIKE Missile Base in the Everglades. We did not know what we were getting into then... but we quickly learned that poison ivy has a relative named poisonwood. Little did we know, that would be our job for the day- clearing it! The whole project's initiative was really cool. Basically, a National Park Service intern was given the task to refurbish the base to its original condition. We were able to tour the whole base and learn all of the background information on it and how the military trained there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After we were done for the day, we immediately stripped from our poisonwood clothes and did laundry at the campsite. Although we only made a slight dent in the overgrown brush surrounding the area, I think it gave our group the attitude that we could do anything after that :p . Before leaving the park completely, we went around their two alligator trails and we in fact saw tons of gators lounging around. On the way back, we spent about an hour at Robert is Here, a really popular place to get milkshakes and fresh fruit. We discovered about 2 days later that one of us did in fact get poisonwood (sorry Jordan!) The day was ended with our first cabin cooked meal- chicken quesadillas.
Tuesday: A day of destroying syngonium: an invasive species taking over the Everglades. We arrived right on time at the Tamiami Ranger Station - the volunteer coordinators were impressed because I guess usually volunteers miss the road. Our whole day was spent clearing tons and tons of syngonium from the ranger stations "back yard." Overall we stuffed over 85 garbage bags full of the plants and the rangers were all surprised at how much we got done- setting "high standards" for groups that will come back to the site. Kelly drove our big van back while I sat in the passenger seat. I looked back after a little bit and every single person was asleep! It was too funny, I just had to take a picture. At the cabins, we had a Tanzanian food night and I taught some of my participants how to make chapati :) we ended up having an Israeli salad, beans, ugali, and chapati. We wrapped the day up with a campfire and of course, fireside stories and entertainment provided by Yoni.
Wednesday: I didn't know what quite to expect as we began our drive to the Chapman Partnership Homeless Shelter, but was pleasantly surprised when we arrived. It took me a while to find a homeless shelter that wasn't somehow "booked" for volunteers during the high time of spring break (I don't know how a shelter could have a max capacity of volunteers). I was really glad to hear back from Chapman with a "oh yeah! We could use help all the time!" She said the kids at the shelter always could use some extra attention and would be happy to have us do some activities. I bought some supplies for crafts/activities for the day and was glad we had some set things to do. The boys were the only ones that had closed-toe shoes on so they were sent to help in the kitchen and all the girls set up our activities. First, we did a competition: who could build the highest tower out of marshmallows and spaghetti. I had tried this out with my A's and Aces kids and they had a lot of fun, so I figured why not! I ended up giving the kids a lot more time then planned because they all got into building the towers. Tall, marshmallowey? and sticky- every tower was different. Then, it was time for lunch and I had my first shelter meal. It was actually really good, salad bar and all! After that, we went back into the classroom and made a St. Patrick's day poster, introduced the concept of non-newtonian fluids (cornstarch and water) and played tag outside. It was definitely a rewarding day, especially when one of the newest kids at the shelter turned to me and said "Thanks for coming today" out of the blue. My group decided we wanted to return to Miami beach since we finisAhed around 2:00 p.m. on a request to see the famous Fountain Bleau Hotel. We ate dinner at Shemtov's a Russian Jewish restaurant that ended up being really good.
Thursday: So... it was my mission being a trip leader to make sure my group was on time to all of our activities, since I'm usually not the greatest about being on time. We arrived at 7:45 a.m. and were all sun-screened and ready to go at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center of Biscayne Bay by 8:00 a.m. It was a beautiful day, a blue sky and all. We headed out on two boats for an island called Elliott Key. All was well until big black clouds approached the islands. About twenty minutes in, we received a cold rain shower that made everyone start to shiver. We continued our work, bagging all of the "goodies" we found on the beach. I thought it was really funny when Amanda, our ranger, said she never worried about bringing a bucket for glass- there was always a couple lying around somewhere (she was right)! Looking at the sky again, it was clear we were doomed for the day. We immediately packed everything up and headed to a bigger island to wait out some of the storm. When our boats got back to the dock, we all clambered to get dry and warm up. Back at our campground, we had a full Asian meal cooked to perfection by Shuang and Wendy!
Friday: Our last day of work, again at 8:00 a.m., was truly a perfect day to volunteer on the islands in Biscayne. It was sunny and warm the entire time as we bagged more and more trash that was scattered across the bay. It really is hard to imagine how much trash collects on these areas until you see it. Apparently, if the sea turtles come up to lay eggs and find too much plastic as they're scuttling up they just turn back around without laying anything! After a hard day's work, we left our final day proud of what we'd accomplished this week. The night was spent eating as much food as possible (we had quite the arrangement of left overs), playing volleyball and hot tubbing!
Saturday: A lonnnggg drive back to New Orleans... luckily we gained an hour going back west, but it was a a long trip back. Stuck in traffic for about 2 hours made for an arrival time of 1:30 a.m. back at Tulane!