Pride, Resilience and Community in Puerto Rico

An aeriel view of San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan from the air/ Photo credit: Puerto Rico Tourism
Published Jan 25, 2020

By Carolyn Ray

I am drifting off to sleep in Ponce, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, when the nightstand starts shaking in the darkness. In my jumbled, half-asleep mind, I associate this disturbance with my daughter stumbling into our hotel furniture in the darkness, or a vibration from a truck on the cobbled street below. But that isn't the case. My iphone alerts me that I am experiencing a 4.8 magnitude earthquake, and it's close – only 26 km southwest of Ponce. I leap out of bed, and rush to the window, and to my relief see no evidence of damage.

In the morning, the tremor is the talk of the town. I sense a different vibe in the central plaza. Residents are noticeably animated, having anxious conversations, congregating at banks to withdraw emergency cash. I assumed that was the end of it. However, four days later, a major 6.4 magnitude earthquake dominates world news headlines. It affects Ponce, Guanica, Yauco, and Guayanilla, all areas I had been to only a few days prior. Damage is extensive in Ponce, affecting many historical buildings, combined with sporadic power outages island-wide. According to news reports, thousands of people are homeless or simply seeking safe havens outside their homes.

After exploring Puerto Rico for three weeks, I am astounded by the prevalence and impact of natural disasters. I know that Hurricane Maria brought the people of this island together and strengthened their resolve to persevere. As such, Puerto Ricans universally exhibit a set of characteristics short in evidence and envied by most: resilience and optimism. From my conversations with people across the country, I witnessed so much generosity, compassion and empathy.

"There was an outpouring of support after the last earthquake,"said Paulina Salach, Co-Owner of Spoon, a culinary tour company in San Juan. "People didn't wait – they got into their cars and took supplies to Ponce to help each other. After Maria, we came together as a community and became stronger."

Our Ponce tour guide, Melina Aguilar Colón,, owner of Isla Caribe Tours in Ponce, who experienced the earthquake in her home town, said: "Despite so many political, natural, and directed attacks to its culture and traditions, Puerto Ricans sometimes even without understanding why, are the biggest promoters and warriors for their culture and identity."

From San Juan to Vieques to Ponce, I saw signs of pride, resilience and community. An emerging farm-to-table movement. Craft cocktails and beer with native juices like guava and papaya. Stunning, untouched beaches, rocky cliffs and bioluminescent bays. Entrepreneurs working non-stop to build businesses. Vibrant restaurants and bars, rebuilt by friends and family after Maria. And generous, warm people, humbled by nature but more resilient and determined than ever before.

Read more about my three-week journey through Puerto Rico here:

Tourism in Puerto Rico

According to Brad Dean, CEO, Discover Puerto Rico, the tourism industry accounts for 6.5% of the economy's GDP accounts and close to 80,000 jobs across 17 different sectors. In 2019, there were over 4 million visitors (source: Caribbean Journal, January 2020)

New Developments:

  • District Live! or El Distrito, a new entertainment complex featuring a Marriott Aloft hotel, theaters, offices and a zipline, next to the Puerto Rico Convention Centre
  • A $1.5 billion destination resort anchored by a new Hyatt Regency in the Coco Beach area has replaced the M#&233;lia Coco Beach
  • Wyndham has opened the Candelero Beach Resort in Humacao
  • Puerto Rico hosts the PGA Tournament, Ironman 2020 and World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit (WTTC)
  • The biggest festival in Puerto Rico is the San Sebastian Street Festival or Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, held in the third week of January, since 1970

For more event listings visit www.discoverpuertorico.com

Please note: This was not a sponsored trip; it was my annual family holiday with my daughter, who is in university, and my partner. I spent months researching and planning this trip, and it was important for us to give back while we were there. Discover Puerto Rico did, however, recommend women-owned businesses to connect with along the way.

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