New Adventure in the Caribbean
Our family has been on a new adventure which began in July of 2016, after buying a boat in St. Thomas, USVI. When we started our adventure, we decided to live cheaply, save up money and move to Mexico for our final home purchase. The plan was to have a home base there while we traveled the world.
Our journey really started when we set sail from St. Thomas, making our way towards Cancun Mexico. From there, we would go inland to Merida, and we would moor the boat in Cancun. However, on the way there, right before we got to the east coast of Puerto Rico, our alternator broke a belt and we needed to stop in Fajardo for repairs. This was in November 2016. This is when we discovered the wonders and grace of Puerto Rico.
Exploring Puerto Rico
We first decided to find a short term rental for a month in order to explore the island and get to know Puerto Rico. We found our gateway to the island in Vega Baja, on the north coast in a cute little gated community called Chalets De La Playa. It was amazing. We learned quickly that the island is very friendly and warm. The Puerto Rican culture is very celebratory. Holidays are taken seriously, and celebrations happen often here. This is how we started to meet people in Puerto Rico as well; many Christmas parties and block parties broke out in our first month in Puerto Rico.
Gringo’s learning Spanish
Our biggest concern was not being able to speak Spanish. We felt awkward at first, because we did not have a basic grasp of the Spanish language, or of Latin culture. A lot of people speak only Spanish in Puerto Rico, especially in the smaller towns. However, to our surprise and relief, many people are bilingual in Puerto Rico. Strangers were very helpful in getting the fundamental elements of Spanish down. Tasks such as ordering food, and asking for directions were learned very quickly thanks to the help of very kind Puerto Rican locals. It wasn’t long before we found a small but tight nitched homeschool group that accepted us quickly and embraced our children.
All of these good experiences, combined with the Latin culture that we had dreamed of living in, all in a US territory was exactly what convinced us that we need to give Puerto Rico a try. Nearly a year later we settled down in a small mountain town of Juncos which started in July 2017, and we had meant this to be our homebase. Our neighbors were also our landlord, who were an elderly couple and both pastors of a Pentacoastl church. They and the rest of the neighborhood were so kind and generous to us when we first moved in, bringing hot meals when we did not have a stove or cooking option. The next door neighbors all brought food as well. For the two months that we lived there our Spanish comprehension and pronunciation improved a lot, and Puerto Rico really started feeling like home.
Storm after Storm
Then we had storm after storm hit us in September, first Irma and then Maria. First with Irma we had only minor damages, nothing too close to home except that we went without power and water for nearly two weeks. Then Maria hit while we were still recovering from hurricane Irma. Maria destroyed not just our neighborhood, but the entire island and the infastructure from our power grid, our water supply and our communications. It was devestating, but I think that the worst loss was that the fauna, all of the fruit bearing trees and bushes were wiped out almost completely. The natural life sustaining resources that our island has had all of the history of this island was wiped out over night.
We found our blessings
However as this was a destructive and terrifying event, it was also a blessing in disguise for our family. Although we lost everything, including our boat, our brand new furniture, our electronics, etc we did not lose our health or any of our family. After 10 days of trying to sustain our home, we found that we could no longer live there. Food was scarce, even at the grocery stores that had 5-8 hour waits and rationing on food and fuel to ensure that everyone got supplies. Compiled with the fact that the roof blew off the top floor of our rental home and ever time a new rain storm came in, our house got flooded. There were other idiosyncracies such as our toilet was broken from falling debry during the storm, and insects started taking over our house and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the bugs out. So our solution was to find refuge at a community shelter. We tried in our home town of Juncos where we spoke with several entities including the local municipality and the red cross representative. While they gave us their word they would come back with help the next day, a week passed by where we heard from no one. Further attempts to contact the local assistance providers in our town failed, as no one was around when we would walk into town (to save on fuel) to contact the same people that we had spoke to before as they were out of the office and did not return our requests for help by coming to our house. At this point we made a decision to abandon our home and hitch-hike to San Juan to find more help. This turned out to be a run around as well, as we were directed to mutliple agencies in multiple locations all over the area. I walked for hours to find the Red Cross office, and then back and forth to the FEMA help center at the Convention Center in San Juan. I wasted three days hitch-hiking back and forth to San Juan to finally find the shelter. When I found the shelter I came back to Juncos and gathered my family, we abandoned everything I worked for all of my life, to go to the refugee shelter. We had friends that sent us money as I campaigned for help one friend from gradeschool setup a gofundme campaign. In three days we acquired plane tickets and a few thousand dollars to travel with, however the plane tickets were for later in the month and we had to prepare to wait in the refugee shelter for three weeks, because the plane tickets were bought with airline miles that our friend had with a particular airline that had flights that they could afford later in the month.
The Refugee Shelter
The refugee shelter was so much better than I thought it was going to be. We had heard stories and it caused us a lot of anxiety about the conditions of the shelter. But when we entered the shelter it was not terrible. In fact, we were greeted very warmly with good food, a bed, and hygiene supplies. The people that volunteered that the shelter were very kind and empathetic and the accomodations while not by any means comfortable was at least under a dry roof with a private cot to sleep on and semi-decent food to eat.
We were amazed that the FEMA people and the Red Cross people were no where to be found and that the shelter had no accomodations for communcation for the people staying there. Many people had no phones or internet access, so we decided to setup a wireless hotspot, unfortunately the router that I retreived from our home had been soaked, and didn’t work, and even though my phone was not working well and at first wouldn’t charge, we were able to fix it and it was able to broadcast a hotspot. Since we had two phones, we used one for an internet hotspot and the other we lent out to people to be able to call for services, help and family.
People were very grateful as some had not had any access to communications since the day of the storm. Other people shared their food and there resources. We are currently at the shelter still awaiting our flights. In the time that we have been here, there have been many activities for the children such as a talent show a music concert and the first lady (the Governors wife) came to serve pizza to everyone, one group even came and brought our children toys and dolls.
Community in Puerto Rico
The community in Puerto Rico is one of a kind, the culture is so unique. Even though Puerto Rico is part of the USA, it seems like a whole different world here. Its a world were children respect their elders, neighbors treat each other with respect and as family in so many ways, as our neighbors demonstrated when we moved to our latest neighborhood in Juncos and when there is a need, the community naturally comes together to solve problems.
It’s like living in 1950’s USA, sort of uptopistic. I mean certainly there is problems mostly when it comes to government and politics. Where the government controls things like electricity and other utilitiles there is a great disconnection in efficiency and a lot of rumors of corruption. However, the people themselves are so blessed to be in this island paradise with kind and hard working countrymen.
Our playlist of what we have experienced post-hurricane is here (partially)
There is no doubt that we have been very blessed. Thank you to all of our friends around the world that helped us leave Puerto Rico while we regroup.
It was difficult to leave, but even more difficult to stay. We love Puerto Rico! Please keep Puerto Rico in your thoughts and prayers!