By Kim Flannigan
Please visit Kim at soulowonderer.com
After the 2017 Hurricane Season, Tourism In Puerto Rico Is Ready And In Need
Hurricane Season 2017
The Not So Calm Before the Storm
From the Florida Keys to all of Tampa Bay, everyone was being advised to evacuate. Emergency news broadcasts interrupted every program, the grocery stores -jam-packed with hordes of panicky survival types, and the shelves of home improvement stores looked as though lumber had never been part of their inventory. The scene was apocalyptic, and the rest of world watched from their safely distant homes, as the media attempted to calm them with clips of safe havens, and shelters serving shrimp, providing cots, and medical assistance for the sick and elderly. Still, to this day, I wonder where they got that footage.
What I was seeing, and experiencing was nothing like that. No shrimp, no safe havens, just panic. Instead, families were being turned away from shelters claiming to be full. Folks without of county identification cards were advised to go to their hometown for help. Here, I am a resident of the State of Florida, which was completely under a state of emergency, with Category 4 Hurricane Irma trailing on my ass, and a nowhere safe to go, because my fiancé had an out of county ID. If you had no identification or were homeless, forget about it, you’d wait until the rain was pelting you in the face, and the winds were robust enough to knock down a child, then maybe they’d let you in. I was in shock to witness people being denied shelter over such trivial shit. If you did make it in the pearly gate of a shelter, you were expected to bring your own food, toiletries, and sleeping accommodations. We weren’t left with many choices that kept us together and safe.
My family and partner forced me to evacuate. So, I hurried to my storage locker to get what I could and headed North. As I raided my unit, and frantically crammed my most valuable possessions into my car, I bawled tears of extreme sorrow and feared I would not make it out of Florida in time to escape the storm, only hours behind me. Everything I owned and worked so hard for was about to be lost forever. For the first time in my life, I fully grasped the saying “my life flashed before my eyes”.
Rummaging through the contents of my existence, each possession invoked my senses as if I were swirling through a vortex of my memories. My pictures of deceased loved ones, the 18-year-old stuffed Simba my daughter named Bear, and my 10 canvas paintings from my time as an artist; I was so conflicted. I had no idea what I needed and most desperately wanted. I grabbed what I could, shut the storage door and fell to my knees crying hysterically, I knew what was next and by far the worst experience.
I had to leave my fiancé James behind, who I had not spent much time without in 7 years and drive solo, North to my family. This was going to be the longest, most terrifying, and gut-wrenching solo journey of my life. Leaving him behind was emotionally intolerable, spirit breaking, and I had no choice. His family needed him here to help after the storm, and it wasn’t safe or worth the risk for me to stay. As he put me in my car, I punched and shook the hell out of my steering wheel cursing mother nature, and simultaneously praying for forgiveness.
I began the drive North and headed to the safety of my family home in Ohio.
Traffic Heading North in Tampa Florida-Provided by Pixbay
I Couldn’t Believe What I Was Seeing
Initially, Irma made landfall in Cayo Romano, Cuba, on September 9 with winds of 165 mph making her the second Category 5 hurricane to strike Cuba since 1924. Floridians were terrified, and many of us foolishly waited until last minute to head for the hills.
I can only describe what I was seeing as a vast ocean of automobiles, leaving me with a feeling of extreme melancholy. Seeing the terrified faces of children in backseats, as the car they road in barely accelerated, inching up the apocalyptic highway heading anywhere North.
The distress on every driver’s face was recognizable; I too saw my anxiety-ridden reflection as I incessantly scanned my rear-view mirror, expecting to see the storm clouds inching its way towards us. Not a moment free of emotional turmoil. One minute, worrying about my friends and family forced to weather the storm, the next, anticipating the losses upon my return, and every other thought consumed with making it to safety. It was emotionally draining.
What would have normally taken me 7 hours, instead, extended to a 13-hour crawl just to make it to Atlanta, and I was heading to Ohio. Every offramp was lined with vehicles having to gas up, only to be turned away by the dried-up stations. The refueling trucks too were caught in the sluggishness of last minute evacuees. Vehicles over packed with family members were parked on the roadside; some waiting out the traffic, others unfortunately out of gas.
That was Irma’s doing, a category 5 – 150 MPH wind hurling hurricane, expected to flood Tampa Bay like no other, taking Florida for yet another rough ride.
Hurricane Clouds building up the Bay -Provided my Pixbay.
10 Days Later
Now, imagine the terror that the 3.3 million people of Puerto Rico were facing. They had already lost electricity on one side of the Island from Irma and were witnesses to the devastation of their sister Caribbean Islands. 95% of the devastated Caribbean Islands were structurally destroyed. It was like they were getting a glimpse into their very near future, Hurricane Maria was on a catastrophic collision course with Puerto Rico.
As an Island of only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, they were preparing for a massive Category 5 Hurricane, which would undoubtedly change the lives of millions. What had happened just ten days earlier to others was about to inevitably happen to them. To no avail, they tried to secure their homes and businesses, and stock up on supplies. Meanwhile, I’m crying over my plants and shitty artwork. I know, poor me right. As I sat in the safety of my family’s home and watched with sheer horror as this colossal storm, demolished Puerto Rico with the force of an enraged God, all I could do was sob, and pray.
Puerto Rican National Flag -Provided By Pixbay.
So Much Devastation and Still Puerto Rico Strong
Nevertheless, the spirit of this great community will not be broken. As they continue to rebuild, it is easy to see that this tiny Island and the hearts of its people far outweigh the strength of Hurricane Maria. PR has relentlessly come together to reconstruct their petite tropical oasis and refuses to give in to the debauchery caused by this mother of a storm. It is absolutely amazing how the people of PR are uniting as one, helping each other regain stability as a community.
Then What’s The Problem
As economic instability plagues PR, they can only do so much without the financial support they so desperately depend on, obtained through tourism. Let’s face it, PR is a renowned tourist destination. As a US Territory it is quite convenient, requiring no passport to visit, and where tropical paradise vacations are concerned, PR offers an inexpensive alternative in comparison to their sister Islands.
The problem is PR has been swept under rug per the media, and what is being broadcasted is more negative than positive. When people see nothing but devastation, they are deterred from visiting. We need to use our media outlets to promote the improvements that have been made and find more encouraging topics, rather than using their ruins as endorsements of defeat.
I want to show travelers and people alike that PR is safe, accommodating, and ready to receive visitors.Yes, there is still much to be done, but developments are underway, and they have completed many strides already. With your help, the renovations can continue, and they just may stand a chance to relieve themselves from their economic hardship and continue to sustain a healthy economy. Let’s give PR get the positive attention they deserve and start planning a trip.
Here are the facts, all airports are open and operational, according to the Puerto Rican government, the majority of the hotels in tourist areas are open, or at least accepting reservations for later dates. That is not to say there is still no damage. Much of the Islands inland and rural areas are still trying to recover and have a long way to go. Many homes continue to be uninhabitable, there are whole neighborhoods full of blue tarped homes, and many people are out of work, money, and health supplies. They are, by no means in perfect shape.
We as visitors can change this little by little. So, when making trip plans, it is still important to make reservations, and speak to hotel representatives to see if there any limitation, or even what you can do to help conserve resources. There may be limitations on water use, and don’t be surprised if there is an hour-long electrical outage, it is being worked on. However, this all depends on where you stay. Some of the larger hotels have no issues whatsoever.
Work being done towards restoring electricity.
Every Little Bit Helps
If you are really looking to make a difference but still want to enjoy your tropical vacation, you can always look into Voluntourism programs. In their recovery effort, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company is working with hotels and tour operators to offer package deals at discounted rates to allow guests to combine vacation days with volunteer days. Volunteering is an excellent way to give back. Below I will provide you with resource links.
While visiting is doing so much on its own, more can be accomplished while on your trip. You may still see stores or restaurants that seem closed or out of business, don’t be so sure. Local businesses do not always have government aid or the financial ability to recover as quickly the larger commercial businesses. Go in or ask a local, your business might just be what they need to purchase that new sign or fix the board covered window. Uber is another great way to support locals. Plus they may have the insider on some great places.
When booking tours, again search for the local smaller companies. You may end up sights seeing off the beaten path, walking down a secluded beach, or eating the freshest foods from family owned eateries, not to mention a better price to compete with the big dogs. You can also opt for an Airbnb accommodation by a locally owned individual.
I hope I have encouraged you to plan or at least look into visiting Puerto Rico. I will be planning a trip myself in early 2019. After my visit, I will most certainly update you on activities, and current situations happening on the Island. If you have any questions, or tales from your recent visit to PR, please feel free to comment below.