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From mid-September to early October of 2017, Puerto Rico suffered from a category 5 hurricane that left the country devastated. Since then, the community has had to band together to restore the damage caused by the relentless hurricane Maria. Despite being a United States Territory, Puerto Rico received very minimal support from the US government in the restoration process. Donations from overseas have spearheaded the reconstruction of the beautiful country.
Five months later, my sister and I were home from college at the same time for spring break. Our family decided to jump on the opportunity to take a spontaneous trip somewhere and take advantage of our time all together. We brainstormed the possibilities: my mom and sister wanted to go somewhere warm, my dad wanted to go somewhere new to us, and I wanted to go somewhere with a unique culture. Eventually, we narrowed our choices down and selected San Juan, Puerto Rico. We managed to book last minute plane tickets and an AirBnB right on the beach. We packed up our belongings and headed to the airport.
In our search for a place to stay, we noticed that many of the apartments’ were listed in the title as “WE HAVE ELECTRICITY AND RUNNING WATER.” This was apparently a commodity that was not yet available nationwide at the time. I was shocked that after five months, there were still places in the city that were still undergoing restoration.
When we finally made it to San Juan, we took a cab to our apartment. On the drive, we saw the doings of Maria’s wrath. Buildings were collapsed, palm trees were knocked down, cables were broken, and windows were shattered.
Upon arrival at our Airbnb, we met our hostess, Ana. She was so friendly and was very excited to see tourists back in the area. She explained to us that she owns several apartments in San Juan that she rents out through Airbnb. Unfortunately, one of those apartments suffered a ton of water damage and she is still working through repairs. She was extremely grateful that we selected her services; she even gifted us a bottle of wine!
After we unpacked, we adventured down to the beach behind the apartment building. The first thing we noticed was the amount of detritus floating around in the waves and on the shoreline. Presumably, the vast amounts of trash and seaweed were a result of Maria. However, the trash was not about to stop us from swimming. We found a cleaner spot and settled down. I immediately found a beautiful conch shell that I showed off to my family.
Later, we roamed around town to try to find somewhere to grab a drink (legal drinking age is 18 in PR... yay for me!!!). We stopped into this cute little bar and ordered our margaritas. My mom made some small talk with the waiter and asked if they have been busy since they reopened after the hurricane. He replied with a simple, “Not really.”
The small businesses in San Juan rely heavily on tourism for the majority of their income. However, due to the stigma surrounding Maria, there has been a severe decline in visitors. Because of what they see in the media, many people believe that the entire country is in shambles. However, what the media does not show is how the community has come together to help one another in their time of need. While many areas are still struggling, there are cities that are almost fully functioning.
Throughout our trip, I gained a whole new respect for the Puerto Rican people. Despite what they have been through, they all have such optimism and hope for the future. They are so grateful for their blessings and have such a beautiful outlook on life. It is truly heartwarming and inspiring.
For anyone still contemplating a trip to Puerto Rico, I would not hesitate. It is without a doubt one of the most special, unique, and exciting places I’ve been. Please continue supporting and helping those who are still suffering from Maria. There are many sources to donate to and I strongly suggest giving what you can to help these amazing people.