Pride, Resilience and Community
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.
Known as the ‘Spanish Virgin Islands’, Vieques is located about eight miles (13 km) east of the Puerto Rican mainland, and is 20 miles (32 km) long by 4.5 miles (7 km) wide. It’s not hard to tell a tourist from one of the 9,000 locals, who share the dusty streets with horses, golf carts, trucks, scooters and Jeeps.
As JourneyWomen, we have an opportunity to create a positive impact in the world when we travel. Being in Puerto Rico post-Maria gave me the chance to do just that.
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)
- 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 Melia 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
Getting to and Around Puerto Rico
- Many airlines fly to Puerto Rico from Canada and the US. From Toronto: Air Canada and WestJet fly direct Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
- Cruises: 3-5 ships a week arrive in San Juan, or 60,000 people a week
- Uber is new but not available everywhere; I found taxis more expensive than Uber
- US Car rental agencies are located at the international airport and throughout PR
- The entire island takes about 5 or 6 hours to drive around
- 10 regional airports in San Juan offer low-cost flights around the country, including Vieques Air Link, Seaborne Airlines, Air Flamenco