In this jungle community, self-sustaining homes are built from trash and can withstand the deadliest storms.
When Noemi and Carlos Chaparro peered outside on September 21, 2017, they gasped at the destruction. Hurricane Maria, which had made landfall the previous day, had uprooted the gracious old palm and bamboo groves that once stood on their family farm in northwest Puerto Rico. The wind had torn the roof off the bedroom their two sons shared. The electricity was down. To get water, Carlos and Noemi had to carry buckets from a nearby river. To feed their three kids, they captured a pigeon and cracked open coconuts. The family couldn’t reach a working phone until early October. “It was traumatic,” Noemi told me. “Apocalyptic.”
For the Chaparros and millions of other Puerto Ricans, the hurricane served as a bitter reminder that this vestige of forgotten American empire still relies on a federal government that can’t be trusted to provide for even its most basic needs. After Maria, the Trump administration responded, but with delays. Convinced the funds would only go to paying off Puerto Rico’s debts, President Donald Trump tried to divert aid to the battered coasts of Texas and Florida. Poor communication, ruined infrastructure, and shoddy transportation left crucial aid stranded in Puerto Rico’s ports for weeks. Nearly 3,000 people died. Five months after the storm, a fifth of the island’s population still lacked electricity. No American community has suffered through a longer blackout.
This incredible island is home to some incredible tastes
Without fail, when I mentioned to friends and family my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, everyone’s reaction was pretty much the same. Mostly a combination of confused looks and concerned comments about the state of the island. I guess it’s understandable since most people on the mainland still have images fresh in their memory of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Even though the small Caribbean US territory had suffered terrible losses due to the storm, Puerto Rico and its resilient people today are all about restoring and rebuilding to be better than ever, while moving towards becoming a more sustainable and self-sufficient island. In fact, the saying I heard time and time again from locals is their excitement for the island’s “new beginnings,” symbolizing a rebirth after losing almost everything to the storm.
On our first day in Puerto Rico and after a blissful night’s rest at Hyatt House San Juan, we embarked on a three hour Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour by strolling through the cobblestone streets and popping into cafés to sample local, sustainably-sourced eats.
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, SAINT THOMAS, USVI. It’s been just about a year since two witches smashed their way through the Virgin Islands. You know their names – hurricanes Maria and Irma. As you know, the thrashing was particularly bad this time with various houses, businesses and lives completely destroyed.
When you think of St. Thomas, you might have a nice resort, beach and lounge chair reserved for yourself in your head. Yes, resorts (and jewelry) have been the main business here of late. In terms of resorts, whichever type you may like, they had it pre-hurricanes. Post-hurricanes – as you can imagine – the well-known ones are not the same anymore. But the blessing is, there are some new and old ones with new facelifts:
The Ritz Carlton took a helluva knock. After one year there are still renovations in place, although, some rooms are available. The beach and wonderful pool are still there, if that’s all you’re after – by all means book in.
Bolongo Beach Resort (you might know Iggy’s as a party spot at this resort) is almost in full operation, and all the rooms that are operational are fully booked! That’s a good sign if you take that as an indication of popularity.
Frenchman’s Cove, a timeshare location, seems to be back in full swing. Seems, because the various buildings on the property don’t show any sign of injury. The pool is fabulous, the shop, bar and restaurant in working order and they have many guest activities and live music to liven up your visit to the island. What’s more, one can take a sunset cruise from here with The VI Cat (thevicat.com) and enjoy a dinner and cocktails on the luxury catamaran. Day cruises are also available.
Things are on the up and up too at the brand new Margaritaville Resort on the other side of the island. It looks nearly as good as new, post-hurricanes.
The Marriott Hotel at the Frenchman’s Reef is completely closed as it suffered severe damage.
Lindbergh Bay Hotel and Villas are operational again too with restaurant Oceanside Bistro in full swing. They host theme parties there, this month it’s the Halloween Costume Party on 27 October 2018, sure to be fun! Their pool is being fixed as I type this blog. This is a very convenient location for tourists, as it is walking distance from the St. Thomas airport.
Emerald Beach Resort is great as it’s right on the beach. This is one of our favorite swimming spots and the ocean truly has an emerald color here (especially through some good Polaroid sunglasses!) Great views from every room and many resort activities (like karaoke) at the beach bar and water sports: including jet ski’s, kayaking and SUP-ing with Jetskivi.com. This beach is also very suitable for sunset wedding ceremonies with beach goers respecting the space. Chances are high that these blissful unions have been organized by Heart And Soul Unions.
Sometimes a big natural disaster also brings new life to a town. Although, many people have suffered severe loss emotionally, financially, morally and physically, other people’s lives are now better than it was before that fateful September of 2017:
Downtown St. Thomas has seen a few businesses closed down, but there is a new high-end supermarket called Moe’s (also one in Red Hook) next to FirstBank in Charlotte Amalie.
Café Amalia is still where it has been for many years in Palm Passage. Food is still lovely, the people friendly and a nice cool breeze sweeps through the plants and other businesses located in the well-designed, old Danish building that has stood the test of hurricanes for hundreds of years. This is a good restaurant to stop by if you’re shopping downtown, sometimes the heat can be a drain on your energy, especially in summer time in the Caribbean. www.amaliacafe.com
Barefoot Buddha, at Havensight Mall, is a cool oasis to visit for great healthy food (real fruit smoothies, love their veggie wraps and organic cuppa Joe) and to try on the latest fashion at their boutique. Lots of yoga mama’s hang here because right next door, at Breathe, there are now yoga classes offered for free – donations welcome. barefootbuddhavi.com
Tap & Still – discovered this bar and grille at two locations on the island. One is located at Havensight Mall and the other in Red Hook. It’s a burger and beer joint with a modern flair and you can watch the latest sports events on big screens all around the bar. Love the open plan design and fresh breezes cooling the place through no windows, in true old Caribbean style.
As you can see, a lot of good times are still to be had on this island, so don’t wait too long to book your next vacation here. There are so many resorts and restaurants to choose from, not to mention beaches, scuba, snorkeling and sailing trips to explore.
“I hear from clients all the time, today, who think the entire region is decimated, no power, nothing open, no flights,” said one of the thousands of luxury travel advisors attending the annual Virtuoso conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago told me, shaking his head in disbelief.
Totally not true.
In fact, most islands were unscathed by last year’s horrific hurricane season, and even those hit hard are nearly back to the hotel, villa, restaurant and flight levels they enjoyed before the storm. But what may surprise many high-end travelers is the silver lining – because so many hotels rebuilt partially or completely, taking advantage of the opportunity to expand, improve or update, many of the Caribbean’s top resorts are better than ever. Another surprise – occupancy for the coming peak holiday, winter and spring break season is nearly back to normal levels, so don’t expect bargain, and if you are waiting to see what happens and book last minute, you will likely get shut out. For the most part this winter the Caribbean will see business as usual – only better.
Anguilla is a perfect example. One of the most traditionally luxurious islands in the Caribbean, it is home to five top tier luxury resorts and countless deluxe villas, a favorite way to stay on the island. Even after Anguilla was ravaged by storms last summer, owners managed to get 70% of the villas reopened before last Christmas season. Most of the rest of the work was done in the first quarter of this year, and currently the vast majority of the villas, 95% of the island’s restaurants, and three of the five top hotels are already open. The remaining two resorts, the Belmond Cap Juluca and Auberge Resorts’ Malliouhana, are both reopening in time for the holidays. These are two of the best luxury properties in the entire Caribbean and they will essentially be brand new.
The Nature Conservancy is launching a revolution to save our coral reefs throughout the Caribbean and beyond. Joining forces with the world’s best scientists, we are developing and deploying groundbreaking techniques to grow new corals and bring dying reefs back to life.
Learn more about how we’re fighting to save these unique and essential ecosystems before our oceans are irreversibly damaged. The Year of the Reef! Keep up with The Nature Conservancy’s latest efforts to protect nature and preserve life on Twitter (twitter) and Facebook (facebook) Text NATURE to 97779 to join The Nature Conservancy on text.
Caribbean countries must transform their energy systems by creating new, greener sources of power.
Puerto Rico lost electricity again on April 18th, seven months after Hurricane Maria first knocked out the island’s power grid. For people in some remote rural areas, the blackout was more of the same. Their power had yet to be restored.
The dangerous fragility of Puerto Rico’s energy systems has put other Caribbean countries on high alert. Across the region, electric grids are dated, ailing, and overburdened—making it easy work for a powerful passing storm.
Now that task seems far more urgent. To move beyond fossil fuels, Caribbean countries must transform their energy systems by building in new, greener sources of power. That will also make electric grids more resilient to weather extremes because they will be decentralized—pulling from a diverse array of power sources.
I’m visiting Guadeloupe currently and loving the views! Guadeloupe, if you didn’t know, is a French territory island in the Caribbean. It is shaped like a butterfly on the map, surrounded by a few other islands under its government: Marie Galante, Les Saintes, Petite Terre and Désirades. The mainland is divided in two islands that are connected with a natural bridge: Grande Terre and Basse Terre.
So far we’ve explored Grande Terre from St Francois to the furthermost eastern point of the island to the north at Le Moule and west past St Anne and Le Gosier to Pointe-á-Pitre where the international airport is located.
Here is some proof of the beauty of this place. Enjoy!
Since our blog titled, “Elon Musk Willing to Power Puerto Rico” of 6 October, a few hundred Powerwall battery packs for solar power energy arrived in Puerto Rico.
According to *Frederic Lambert of Electrek.co, “The new shipment arrived not long after Musk spoke with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello last week to talk about ways for Tesla Energy to help rebuild the power grid destroyed by the two hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean.”
That’s not all. Elon Musk is now putting extra effort into bringing power back to Puerto Rico AND other affected areas by unveiling his new Tesla Semi truck earlier than planned:
Tesla, the automaker, is changing the planned revealing date of its electric truck, the Tesla Semi, from October 26 to *November 16 (according to Electrek.co) as it focuses on Model 3 production and aiding “power-less” Puerto Rico.
Tesla Semi, Model 3 truck image from trucks.com
Currently, less than 20% of the island has power and some areas may experience months without electricity. That is why Tesla plans to first focus on helping hospitals and medical centers to get stable power.
That is, if given the green light to go ahead. Elon Musk has helped many smaller islands, like Ta’u Island in Samoa, with his solar power devices and tweeted this yesterday:
“The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.”
Above is a video about the SolarCity created with Tesla’s Microgrid Solar Power in Samoa.
In response to this, Puerto Rico Governor Ricky Rossello showed interest, tweeting “Let’s talk” to Musk, saying “PR could be that flagship project.”
Musk has already done his part for Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria left the island’s power grid in tatters, so Tesla reportedly sent hundreds of Powerwalls — battery systems designed to store energy — along with employees to install them in an effort to restore power.
Powerwall batteries can be paired with solar panels to help restore the grid. According to Fortune.com “the Powerwall, which was first introduced in April 2015, is a battery designed for homes that store the energy generated by solar panels.”
Musk also donated $250,000 of his own money to the relief effort.
In the meantime, President Donald Trump said on Fox News in an interview with Geraldo Rivera, “the island’s debt will have to be wiped out.” Puerto Rico owes over $70 billion to creditors while the total storm cost is between $45 and 90 billion dollars.
It is with sadness and awe that one watches The Weather Channel today after hurricane Maria struck the Virgin Islands and also Puerto Rico.
According to the mayor of San Juan, PR, Maria’s power surge on the island will take 4 to 6 months to repair as electricity outages are recorded on the whole island. Yes, no electricity in Puerto Rico except for those who had their own generators.
Although the worst of the hurricane has passed the island, the storm is not over yet. Storm surges are still dangerous and record flooding of the river Rio de la Plata, south-west of San Juan, is a big problem for people in the region. FEMA rescue teams are being deployed to the island today.