Puerto Rico Before the Pandemic – Part I

As I am getting ready to pack my luggage to go to Puerto Rico and visit my husband’s family after six long years of not visiting, I am thinking about all the major events that have taken place there and how much the island has changed in the last six years.

Beach view of Rincón, Puerto Rico.

Within those six years, Puerto Rico has been through a lot and so has my husband’s family. My husband lost two important men in his family in the last six years. First, his father passed away in late 2015. We were still grieving his passing when one of the worst hurricanes in the recent history of the Caribbean, made landfall in the island. After the passage of Hurricane Maria through Puerto Rico, the island was devastated. This natural disaster also brought a significant increase in the political instability in the island, which eventually led to an uprising of Puerto Ricans against the government and ultimately forced the then governor of Puerto Rico to step down and leave the island. And just when people began to slowly rebuild their lives after Hurricane Maria and the political crisis, COVID-19 took everyone by surprise and made conditions in the already fragile environment even worse.

On September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico and left 91.61 billion (2017 USD) in damages. Photo credit: CBS News.

Last Christmas we also lost my husband’s grandfather, whom he was very close to. He was advanced in age and lived a good life, but we weren’t expecting his passing so soon; especially not on Christmas Eve. We had plans to go see him this year and spend time with him. Instead, like many people who lost family members during the pandemic over the last two years, were forced to hold small, private funerals in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We paid our respects in a virtual funeral held live from Puerto Rico.

All of these events, which were beyond our control, prevented us from going back to Puerto Rico to visit family and friends over the last six years. It is not until this year, that things seem to have settled down enough, in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new available vaccines have given us more confidence in traveling once more to Puerto Rico.

I know when we go back to Puerto Rico things won’t look or be the same. Many people are still grieving their island and their loved ones and many tourist attractions have not fully recovered from the one-two punch of Hurricane Maria and the COVID pandemic.

Hurricane Maria took a big toll on the island. On September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island and left 91.61 billion (2017 USD) in damages. It is considered the third-costliest tropical cyclone on record and the costliest in Puerto Rican history. Then the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 brought more challenges to an already fragile economy of this island.

As I am getting mentally and physically ready to visit Puerto Rico, I am wondering how different it will look and feel to be there again after everything that happened. Family members who used to welcome us in Puerto Rico will not be there to greet us this time.

Puerto Rico had very strict restrictions all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in line with the recent changes from the CDC, the Governor of Puerto Rico announced on Monday, March 7, 2022 that he is ending a requirement for mask use indoors for the second time since the pandemic began as the number of cases and hospitalizations eased. I’m hoping the numbers stay low as we prepare to travel there.

I have been visiting Puerto Rico back and forth since 2005. In that time, I have grown fond of this beautiful island. I have created good memories in all of my numerous trips there and have learned so much about its history and culture that I was inspired to write this blog to share some of the things I’ve learned about Puerto Rico.

The stories and pictures I share here are from my trips to Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria and the pandemic took place. I’m also planning to share another blog post with stories and pictures after my trip to Puerto Rico.

The following pictures are from a trip we made in 2013. My family and I visited several places including Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana in Utuado, located in the mountainous region in Puerto Rico, near the center of the island. Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana is one of the best places I’ve visited in Puerto Rico so far; perhaps because I am very fond of Native American history and cultures. I created an entire blog post dedicated to Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana, check out my blog post “Our Visit to the Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park” to see more pictures and read about our journey there.

Overlooking San Felipe del Morro Castle in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Beach in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tótem Telúrico found at Plaza del Quinto Centenario.

Puerto Rico’s flora is very diverse.

Other worthwhile places to visit in Puerto Rico are the haciendas de café or coffee plantations. Puerto Rico is known for producing some of the best quality coffee around. During one of our trips there we had the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation called Café Gran Batey located in Utuado in close proximity to Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana.

The story of how we found this coffee plantation became a favorite family anecdote. We weren’t planning to do a lot of exploring that day, we only had planned to go visit Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana and then find a restaurant and grab something to eat afterwards. After we visited Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana we found a small restaurant within walking distance from the ceremonial park. While we were eating, we overheard a conversation between the owner of the restaurant and a visitor. They were talking about coffee. Being the coffee lovers that my husband and I are, we decided to inquire more about coffee and it turns out that the visitor talking to the owner of the restaurant was the owner of a coffee plantation that was close by. We struck a conversation with him and he invited us to his coffee plantation for a tour. The coffee plantation is called Café Gran Batey and they specialize in artisanal coffee.

Coffee Plantation Café Gran Batey.

The coffee was delicious and the family who owned the coffee plantation was so friendly and hospitable. We stayed for a tour of the facility and for a conversation over coffee. When we left Café Gran Batey we agreed to keep in touch, buy more coffee online, and visit them in the near future.

Café Gran Batey specializes in artisanal coffee.

I love traveling and exploring new places and for me that was one of the most unforgettable days. It is usually in the most unexpected and unplanned moments that one can stumble upon the best adventures when vacationing. For me, this was one of the best adventures I’ve had while vacationing with my family.

Rincón, Puerto Rico. One of the best beaches in Puerto Rico.

I will continue Part II of Puerto Rico Before the Pandemic on my next blog post!

Have you traveled to Puerto Rico before? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

© Lizzeth Montejano and Aculturame, 2012-2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lizzeth Montejano and Aculturame with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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There are 7 comments

  1. leightontravels

    It was great to read this post about a country that I don’t know much about. Sounds like this visit is going to be a very emotional one for you both. I certainly understand how difficult living away from your family can be and being apart during some important family events. As a coffee lover myself, I would’ve been as excited about discovering an amazing new coffee place as you were. Looking forward to your next piece about Puerto Rico.

    1. La Potosina

      Thank you for reading my blog and commenting! You’re right, visiting Puerto Rico will be very emotional and I can’t wait to see our extended family. I’m glad to hear you like coffee, I highly recommend you try Puerto Rican coffee, you won’t be disappointed 😊

  2. Bama

    It was actually Ricky Martin who piqued my curiosity toward Puerto Rico. It’s an island so far away from where I live and little was reported on the Indonesian media about this territory. But then suddenly there’s this singer whose song for the 1998 FIFA World Cup was played on a daily basis on TV. Then as I read more about Puerto Rico, I become more and more interested in its history and culture. I read about the devastation Hurricane Maria brought upon this island, and it sounded really bad. Then Covid happened. I hope the recent developments regarding to the pandemic are indeed that light at the end of the tunnel we have been hoping to see for the past two years. I’m looking forward to Part II as well as how Puerto Rico looks now!

    1. La Potosina

      Thanks Bama! Ricky Martin is an important figure from Puerto Rico and advocate who supported the victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017. I admire the work he’s done for his island. I am amazed at how Puerto Ricans have been able to recuperate from these hardships. I love this island and hope to learn more about how to be resilient during times of hardship.

    1. La Potosina

      How are subscribing to my blog? Through the Reader section on WordPress or directly from my website? Can you try to go to my website http://www.aculturame.com and subscribe from there? Try this first and let me know. Sometimes the Reader section on WordPress has technical problems when you try to subscribe from there.

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