Monday, May 7, 2018

No Habla Espanol--My trip to Puerto Rico

Ola!  I’m baaack and refreshed from my trip to Puerto Rico!  When George and I decided to treat ourselves to a special trip in celebration of our 49 years of marriage and George’s upcoming 70th birthday in a few days, we chose Puerto Rico for economic reasons.  We reasoned that if we were going to spend money, we should spend it in a place that needs a boost to their economy.  That’s the problem with we mentally deranged liberals, we’re always trying to do good.

THE RESEARCH we did for our trip assured us that not speaking Spanish would not be a problem.  That’s true, only if you don’t want to talk to people.  And I always want to talk!  We played a lot of charades combined with our elementary Spanish and used our cell phone translator app.  Yes, we managed.  However, I returned from Puerto Rico with very few of my burning questions answered, especially the big one—how is the recovery progressing? 

I LEARNED a few things.  San Juan appears to be in good shape.  We stayed in the Condado area, a touristy section known for its restaurants, hotels, beach, and casinos.  We had no power problems except for ten seconds of complete blackness in the casino.  My heart dropped to my stomach and all I heard was a massive groan from the crowd.  It was a daily sight to see power workers in this area.  It is my understanding if you venture out of San Juan to the mountains and rural areas, there are still vast areas still without power.  In fact, one lady told me she lives five miles from the Condado area on a university compound for professors.  She said her power was restored only one month ago. 

WHILE ON the surface Puerto Rico seems to be slowly bounding back, I think the damage is much deeper and threatens the soul of the island.  As we rode past the Capitol building in Old San Juan, there was a massive gathering and armed guards standing shoulder-to-shoulder guarding the front door.  Our driver told us it was a protest over the closing of 283 public schools in August.  After hurricane Maria, the school system lost nearly 40,000 students when tens of thousands of families fled to the states.  School closings are the least of their problems.  They are buried in debt.  A few months prior to Maria, Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy on $73 billion dollars.  In 1976, the U.S. Government granted huge tax breaks to corporations to set up shop there to boost the economy.  It worked and Puerto Rico boomed.  Prior to then, Puerto Rico was supported by their agriculture industry which disappeared.  In 1996, the U.S. Government repealed the tax cuts, phasing them totally out by 2006.  The companies and their jobs left, and so did the young people.  Now Puerto Rico is left with an older population and those dependent on Medicare, Medicaid, and no jobs for those young people who remain. 

WITH THE dream of ever becoming the State of Puerto Rico nearly dead in the water, so-to-speak, Puerto Rico residents fear they are losing their beautiful Island.  With housing values plummeting, investors have already started swooping in to buy beach-front properties for cents on the dollar.  They are awaiting to find out if the new land owners will possibly be Chinese, Japanese, or Wall Street.  The thought occurred to me that the condo where we stayed would be a perfect location for another Trump Tower.

WE STAYED in our first AirBnB and couldn’t ask for a better experience.  It was located as close to the beach as one could get—only steps away from our front door.  The breeze and the crashing waves never stopped.  Sometimes I craved silence.  I know all AirBnB host/hostesses are not created equal, but ours surpassed all my expectations.  I did not expect her to take us on a driving tour of all the beaches and areas of San Juan, and I did not expect her to take us to the airport. 

WE OPTED not to rent a car, although we regret not seeing the entire island.   Most places we wanted to go was in walking distance, but I couldn’t walk.  The week prior to our leaving for Puerto Rico, my grandbaby was hospitalized for six days at Navicent in Macon.  The grueling walk every day from the parking lot to the Children’s Hospital inflamed my knees.  Uber saved our vacation!  It was cheap and most arrived within three minutes of our summons.  Uber drivers are plentiful there because it is a new way for younger people to make a living.  We used the Uber app linked to Paypal so we wouldn’t have to flash our bank card around.  Then, all we did was step in and step out.  Easy Pezy! 

AND, WHAT do they think of Trump in Puerto Rico?  My favorite response was from a man whose home was flooded, but salvageable, and whose three best friends and neighbors’ homes were completely washed away by water rushing down from the mountains some days after the storm.  I asked how much help they got from FEMA.  He showed me the sign for “zero” with his fingers.  I asked him what he thought of Trump.  He made the motion of tossing a role of paper towels while making the sound of an exploding bomb.  That’s the universal language of Trump.

I STRONGLY urge you to visit Puerto Rico while it is still in its current state.  I could feel the winds of change blowing in soon.  It is very affordable.  Airfare deals can be found quite often.  Food is no more expensive in Puerto Rico than here. I recommend dining at Lote 23, a festive outdoor experience with your choice of many food trucks run by some of the best Chefs in Puerto Rico.  It's a great place to mix and mingle with locals.  Airbnb is an alternative to pricey hotels.  I would also suggest only rent a car for a couple of days; the rest of time, use Uber.  Now that I know what to expect, I will be returning rapido!  See you there!

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