During a visit to Puerto Rico, AFAR cofounder Greg Sullivan witnesses the generosity and the resilience of the island's people.
I just got back from Puerto Rico, where I got a firsthand look at the island’s inspiring recovery from Hurricane Maria last September. Power has been almost completely restored, most of the roads are drivable, more than 12,000 hotel rooms are ready for guests, and most people are back at work and in their homes. I experienced much of what makes Puerto Rico one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean: beautiful beaches, bioluminescent bays, great music, delicious food. But what made my trip so enriching was talking with people about how the storm had affected them.
I stayed at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, which never closed during the storm or its aftermath, where I met Jose Gonzalez-Espinosa, the general manager. “One of the first things we did was open an internet café for locals,” he told me. “We offered free sandwiches, water, and connectivity. The internet was by far the most appreciated. People queued up and were so grateful for the chance to contact family and tell them they were OK.”
Patricio Schames is a co-owner of Cocina Abierta in San Juan, one of the few restaurants that had working generators right after the storm. Patricio gathered his management team and asked, “What should we do?” They extended their hours to offer three meals a day and dropped their prices significantly. Patricio told me he is earning less but that he has never felt so good, worked so hard, or slept so well. “You find out what is important in life,” he said. “We don’t want to completely go back to what we were before. We are more focused than ever on local ingredients and sustainable practices. The storm changed all of us, and we need to acknowledge and embrace that.”
Puerto Rico is an ideal destination right now for experiential travelers. We have the opportunity to support the people with our travel dollars, to enjoy much of what the island traditionally offers, and perhaps most important, to come away with stories of how people’s lives were transformed.