As Zoom Vacations co-founder and Chief Travel Officer I travel the world in search of the next “it” destination and to create memorable experiences for our guests. But sometimes, my travels take me to a place like Puerto Rico for a not so fun, but necessary reason; to take care of family in need.
Immediately following landfall by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico on September 20 I was contacted by lots of Zoom alums, family and friends genuinely concerned for my parents’ welfare. Even CNN contacted me to ask if they could accompany me to Puerto Rico while I delivered supplies to my family that FEMA had not.
So, last month I wrote about my first day in Puerto Rico, first impressions as I flew over the island with hurricane relief supplies; the ordeal of renting a car (or almost not being able to); the extended six hour drive to my parents’ house; and gut-wrenching sight of finding my parents huddled around a single wax candle flickering in the dark. I fell asleep immediately upon arrival from exhaustion.
Well, day two of my personal Hurricane Maria relief journey to Puerto Rico started out like every other time I have been in Puerto Rico visiting my parents. Waking up to the sounds of them putzing in the kitchen making freshly brewed coffee, the old fashion Puerto Rican way. First you grind coffee; then you boil it in water; then you filter it through a cloth coffee strainer mesh with wood handle. It tastes great! So, I went downstairs for coffee and as expected found my parents had been awake since early morning. Usually, under normal circumstances, by now they would have prepared a large hot breakfast. But today’s breakfast was different. The best they could do under the circumstances was cold cereal and room temperature milk. Fresh food is hard to keep when there is no electricity to run a refrigerator. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary fix because the larger electrical grid is so outdated this could happen again at any time. Whether the electrical grid gets a much needed overhaul to bring it up to the 21st century is really a mystery.
Such is the plight of an island that has been a US territory for over 100 years and where everyone born in Puerto Rico, like myself, is a US Citizen. Unfortunately, as a US colony Puerto Rico has no representation in the US Congress and there is no one to advocate on its behalf. To add confusion to the Puerto Rican situation even further is the misconceived notion that Puerto Ricans on the island want to maintain the status quo or that they control the process of where they are going. The reality is that as a US territory, whether Puerto Rico becomes the 51st State of the Union or a free country is 100% in the hands of the 100 US Senators. Most US Senators have no incentive, motivation, interest, and bare no consequence for the plight of Puerto Ricans on the island. Puerto Ricans on the island do not vote for US Senators yet those same US Senators from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii are the only people that can change their lives. It’s the law that the US applies to its territories. It’s the classic Cinderella story. Nevertheless, Puerto Rican’s most endearing and strong quality is their positive attitude. That is what keeps up their spirit. It is at once the best and worst of attributes.
When I arrived in Puerto Rico at first things did not seem as bad as I expected. But it only took a minute to realize that all is not as it seems. When I arrived it was if a bomb had hit the island and knocked out all the electrical, wifi, water and telephone. It has been very frustrating for everyone with whom I spoke because they feel their life is very unproductive and that is one of the most frustrating things about the situation.
I was in Puerto Rico for about 36 hours before I was to leave with my parents. The day I was there I set out to distribute the batteries, solar power lights and other provisions that I had brought with me. Everyone was so grateful for the gifts. I delivered solar power lights and lamps to my aunt and the one thing I will remember is my aunt telling me is “You have brought me the gift of light”. She was not trying to be poetic.
As someone who grew up in Puerto Rico, it was sad to come back there and see it in this condition, and to see my relatives living with these hardships. If this were anywhere else in the United States, no one would have allowed this to happen.