A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I were in Puerto Rico for my cousin’s wedding. And everyone has been asking me the same questions I was asking her, prior to our going.
Is PR still there?
Can they still have a wedding?
Can they still have a wedding?
How is the island doing?
Hearing reports on the news is not the same as going there and talking to the people to hear their stories. We were in Puerto Rico for 4 nights. We talked to every cab and Uber driver, and every person we met along the way. And let me start by saying that everyone was incredibly nice, generous, strong, resilient, and hopeful. All qualities that I can’t imagine I would have in the same situation as them. They were all inspiring.
Flying in, you can see tons of homes covered in blue FEMA tarps where the roofs are very damaged. So you start to see the effects of the hurricanes before you even land.
As of Jan 11th, 30-40% of the island still didn’t have power. But what the news doesn’t say, is that even the parts that have power, don’t have it consistently. The power grids become overloaded very quickly as they are repairing them. So people would get power for a few days, then off a few days, or hours, etc. So they couldn’t depend on it.
Evidently, the US government approved the rebuilding of the original infrastructure, but not improvements. So instead of making a more stable power grid, or burying the power lines, they can only put them back up the way they were, which seems counter-intuitive for the future.
The rain forest is still not open for tourism. But the wedding was in the rain forest (and yes, we got rained out of having the ceremony outdoors) and driving through the hills, you see that all the houses have no power, and all the power lines are falling down. I was actually shocked that we, in large busses, were allowed to drive through at all. The place where the wedding was, Hacienda Siesta Alegre was running on a generator. It’s a beautiful place, high upon the hill. I don’t know what it was like before the hurricanes, but the roof was so damaged (not enough for a FEMA blue tarp though) that shelter from the rain was challenging, since it was still raining on us inside.
Tourism is still up and flourishing. The cruise ships never stopped coming, which was a big blessing to PR. However, the increase in the number of ships has been a challenge for the tiny island, already crowded in the Old San Juan area. We were told that normally, there are always 3 cruise ships there. The max was 6. And the week after we left, Marti Gras there, they were expecting 12. We could not MOVE in our Uber in the area, so I can’t imagine there being 9 more ships there at once. But they’re very grateful for the business, because it’s the only thing keeping them going. One driver said that right after the hurricane, drivers would sit at the airport for sometimes 12 hours just hoping to get even one ride during the day.
Driving around the island was definitely a challenge. Almost all of the stop lights were out. So cars have to use the honor system to merge and turn. Very slow process, but they’re certainly used to it after 4 months. I will say, Uber is not welcomed there by cab drivers (understandable) and since the hotels have agreements with the cab companies, you can’t call an Uber at the hotel. You have to walk a few blocks away. And if you’re too close, the cab drivers start screaming at you. Our Uber got EGGED by a cab driver. And our driver didn’t even flinch. And, how’s this for synchronicity, when we called an Uber home maybe 6 hours later…we had the same driver.
We had a discussion with people about Puerto Rico becoming a state. They said it might have been more likely before the hurricanes. But with most of the natural resources being destroyed, it wouldn’t be financially beneficial to mainland USA for PR to be accepted as a state. So their chances lessened, just when they needed it the most. A huge percentage of pharmaceuticals and IV drips are produced in PR. And now that the plants have been damaged, the US is running extremely low on necessary supplies. Ask any hospital. And yet, our government doesn’t seem to understand the value, or basic decency of helping our territory. They think they’re doing a great job of getting things back to normal. But there will never be a return to normal. Only a new normal. And think about how YOU would feel without phone, TV, a computer, internet, or a refrigerator for 4 months or more. I don’t think anyone could work fast enough.
My hats and heart go out to you Puerto Rico. Thank you for letting me visit.