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June 10, 2020
Puerto Rico has been through a lot in the past few years. Personally, I had always wanted to visit the Caribbean island for one reason: it’s where my grandmother is from. So back in 2017 when I was planning my big 30th birthday trip, it was at the top of my list. Then Hurricane Maria hit. I was devastated by the news since growing up in Florida, I knew just how much damage hurricanes could do. But my experience with hurricanes was nothing compared to the demolition that happened to Puerto Rico. We all know how horrendous the aftermath of Maria was, and I even saw it first hand when I did finally make it to Puerto Rico for the first time last year.
But what stood out to me most beyond all the damage from Maria was how it brought the people together. I remember talking to our guide at Carabalí about his neighborhood. They were without power for months. Some people had generators, others didn’t. But every Puerto Rican had one thing in common: open doors. The community came together to support anyone in need of anything. Neighbors became family and regardless if there was power or not, the warmth and love of the locals brought light to a devastating situation.
Now, as I was planning my trip to Puerto Rico with some friends, yet another natural disaster hit the island: hundreds of earthquakes. Earthquakes are not a common occurrence in Puerto Rico, so recovery has been rough. People were so afraid to sleep in their homes for fear of yet another earthquake that they brought mattresses to their front yards and slept outside. Buildings crumbled, millions of people were without power again. And help was nowhere to be found. Luckily, most of the island regained power after a few long days and I was shocked to learn that San Juan was open for business less than a week after the big quake. So in an effort to support the local economy and see the aftermath for ourselves, my friends and I decided to go ahead with the trip. And I’m so glad we did.
If there was ever any doubt, let it be known: Puerto Ricans are resilient. There is nothing that can take away from the true spirit of the island. The people are strong, caring, and happy to warmly welcome visitors with open arms. And they need those visitors. Tourism is a major part of Puerto Rico’s economy, accounting for about 10% of the GDP. This has a direct impact on the millions of people who work in the tourism industry in Puerto Rico. From hotel employees to restaurant staff, boat tour companies, and more, a large part of the population is affected when tourism slows.
I’m glad to say that Puerto Rico is, in fact, up and running. But the truth is there is still a lot of damage in the south part of the island, where tourism isn’t as big. I saw crumbled buildings as we drove through Ponce and headed west along the southern coast. I’m glad we went ahead with our visit and contributed to the local economy through tourism. And whether or not these natural disasters slow down, I know the people of Puerto Rico will not.
Have you ever experienced the spirit of Puerto Rico?
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Photos by Ryan Carpenter.