Post-Hurricane Maria Travel to Puerto Rico: How You Can Help

By now, many of you are aware that 2017 brought one of the worst Hurricane Seasons of history, ravaging through South Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. If you follow me on social media, you’ve very likely seen my posts on updates throughout the season, mainly because I live in Texas, have close family in Florida and in Puerto Rico. The natural disasters have all affected me very deeply. During Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico the hardest, I was able to maintain communication with my mother, my in-laws and some friends who would send my husband and me constant updates while we heard the howling winds in the background. We’d receive live feed of the rains and destructive winds in real time, and all we could do was pray for the safety of our loved ones. I even had a missed call and a voicemail from my best friend (which didn’t come through until 7 days later) that she, her husband and her dogs were waiting on the second floor balcony of a neighbor’s home, to be rescued by the Army National Guard because the dam had been opened without warning, flooding multiple subdivisions of her community. The day after the Hurricane, which lasted over 8 hours, we lost all communication with our loved ones. There was no way to call, text or reach via inbox for weeks. 3.6 million people were completely cutoff from the world. The level of anxiety that the Diaspora like myself experience was excruciating! Even writing this piece brings up so many feelings of pain and desperation, but as the tears roll down and cloud my vision, it is crucial that I share this with you all. 
I am happy to report that my family, friends and all my my loved ones are safe, with minimal to none when it comes to damage, but not everyone on the island was as fortunate. Four months after Hurricane Irma and Maria, my Parents-in-law still don’t have power, like millions of others on the island. I shared the post-Maria stats in a recent post, after Thanksgiving, which included several organizations you can support remotely. 

Here are the current stats:
114 days after Maria reports:
*81% power generation
*55% of island has electricity 
*97% of the island has water (boil advisory remains)
Right after the Holidays, we went to visit the Island for a family wedding. The bride was determined to celebrate her union and have her family and closest friends be present. I applauded her tremendously, while dreading the trip. One, I feared that I would be overcome with emotion by seeing the island in such a dreadful condition as it’s been presented by the media, and, two, I didn’t want to be posting how much I could enjoy myself while there were still so many people suffering, without homes and struggling due to lack of services. For the last 4 months, I’d been very active raising money for local organizations in Puerto Rico, volunteering in several collection centers, sorting canned goods, clothing and basic necessities to send back to the island, but this felt different. Being there, in person and seeing it firsthand felt like it would be too painful to watch. We pushed through and made it to the island. I teared up just a tad when we landed after seeing from the plane how so many trees were leveled and buildings destroyed, but I took a deep breathe and thought to myself, “this trip will be good”. I decided then and there, that we would make the best out of it, and so we did. Our trip was short, so there was no room for us to do any volunteer work, which I thought I might do for a few hours in some spare time, but between family/friend visits and the wedding on the opposite side of the island, it just was not possible. So, I did the next best thing. I supported local businesses only. Supporting tourism and the local economy will be what helps the island get back to normal and even thrive. Here’s how you can do it, too!

  1. Skip the Starbucks

Yes, I know that your Venti Caramel Machiatto is absolutely necessary, but Puerto Rico’s locally grown coffee is imported Globally and is probably one of the best coffees in the world. Check out the local coffee shops and Panaderías for amazing coffee and breakfasts for a fraction of the price of these national companies. And you support the local business owners that are trying to keep afloat amidst the chaos. 

2. Choose AirBNB or Locally Owned Bed & Breakfasts

Big named, International hotels are great with all of the amenities, and give jobs to locals, yes this is true. But when you choose to stay at a locally owned Bed & Breakfast your money stays in Puerto Rico. Again, you’re supporting the local economy and the people who have invested time and money into these homes or condos. They probably are renting out the property on AirBNB for income they might not be receiving otherwise, due to lack of jobs. Many businesses have shut down operations after Maria and people are in a very tight financial situation. P.S. Our accommodations in Cabo Rojo were a find on AirBNB and were spectacular!
Green Bowls, Acai Bowl

3. Eat Local

We chose to only eat from local restaurants. Puertorican cuisine is world renowned thanks to Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmer and Adam Richman on the Travel Channel, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss certain restaurants I grew up dining in. We had the best seafood, rice & beans, Mofongo (even though Plantains were extremely scarce), the freshest fruit and even gourmet Latin Fusion. You won’t find better food on the island than in a hole in a wall restaurant! I guarantee it! Here are some of the restaurants we supported this time around:
  • JC’s Bar & Grill in Guaynabo serves the most amazing mushroom risotto, grilled chicken with guava sauce and my husband’s favorite, the skirt steak with mushroom sauce and rice & beans with sweet plantain. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
  • Doña Ana’s in the Bayamon Market is filled with history and serves up your rice & beans in tiny cast iron pots. Cute and delicious!
  • Pizza e Birra in Miramar, San Juan is located right in the heart of the Financial district. A gem that serves, that’s right, Pizza & Beer. They have a fantastic beer selection and fresh pizza topping with veggie friendly options! Great place to hangout with your friends!
  • Cafe Lab by Latte que Latte in Guaynabo is a little off the beaten path, this hidden coffee spot really hit the spot with a semi industrial and bohemian feel. The coffee was delicious and I loved their hummus panini on Puertorican sweet bread (Pan Sobao). They also have poetry slams and open mic nights. What a cool place!
  • Green Bowls in Cabo Rojo for your healthy options. We loved this place so much we went twice for breakfast while we stayed in Cabo Rojo! Their Acai Bowl was so delicious! My family had some of their organic egg dishes like the veggie scrambles and omelets and they loved it! They have mostly organic ingredients, all locally farm fresh and are vegetarian/vegan friendly. Their Chai Latte with organic Almond Milk made me too happy!
  • Cuesta Blanca in Cabo Rojo is a Santiago family tradition. I started dating my husband 13 years ago, and I’ve been going to this restaurant on New Year’s Day for about 12 years. They know us by now! The name translates to White Hill because it’s literally up a hill and you definitely need a GPS to find it, but once you do, it’s like reaching heaven! The food and the family feeling is unparalleled. I can’t visit the island without going there!
Café Lab by Latte que Latte serves their signature Cinnamon Cookie with every coffee.
So, if you plan on visiting Puerto Rico, do it! Don’t feel bad about enjoying your stay. Puertoricans are extremely resilient and happy people. They are still partying, eating and celebrating life in the Caribbean. Some scenes are definitely hard to watch, but the best you can do to help the island get back to it’s splendor and rising above these incredible feats, is by supporting tourism, the local economy and it’s people. If you have an opportunity to volunteer and help, that’s wonderful. But if you’re on a tight schedule like I was, you can still help. Every little bit helps. 
Man playing accordion in Old San Juan. Photo taken by me on iPhone 7 Plus

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