After the storm: How to make the most of post-Maria Puerto Rico

How to make the most of post-Maria Puerto Rico
#selevanta
I first visited San Juan just short of two months after Maria had hit. The destruction created by this hurricane was a devastating thing to witness especially for people who had been there before. For me though, I had nothing to compare it to. Some parts of San Juan have been there since the 16th Century, others are more modern, either way, it was interesting to see what had survived and what hadn’t, what could weather a storm like that one and what could not. While a lot of tourists are steering clear of Puerto Rico until it gets back on its feet (well, some because the hotels they booked are still closed), I really enjoyed visiting this place for all of the character it possesses right now. While there is devastation around every other street corner, there is so much life everywhere in between and the juxtaposition of both was very real and strangely up-lifting.  


Should you choose to go right now, here are some of the things I loved most about it:


Things to do in post-Maria San Juan:

1. Explore the Old Town

There are two Forts, Castillo San Felipe Del Morro (which they started building 479 years ago) and Castillo de San Cristobal. Much of the old town is enclosed in some impressive ramparts built to survive the years and all sorts of external threats. While some buildings seem to be a little damaged, others seem hardly affected at all. - And they’re pretty! Wondering the cobble stone streets is an experience on its own. 

#selevanta #puertoricoselevanta
Castillo San Felipe Del Morro
Castillo de San Cristobal
Castillo de San Cristobal
Best reasons to visit Puerto Rico
Ramparts

Door to San Juan
The “Puerta” of Puerto Rico

Visiting Puerto Rico after the hurricane
Inside the Old Town: Don’t wear heals


2.  Shop at the Street Market (Paseo de la Princesa)

…and then eat an Empanada at the Street Market (I even ordered mine in Spanish - Go me!)

…and then salsa with an old person at the street market (when you’re done eating your empanada).


Paseo de la princessa market

Actually, by the time I was done eating my empanada they were doing a merengue version of the electric slide (I think South Africa calls it “the Bus Stop”) and that felt way too much like what I do at work. - I just merengued straight by (It’s like walking). 


3. Pose with some statues

A lot of trees and buildings didn’t survive Maria, but for some reason, these statues did. 


Posing like statues

San Juan, Puerto Rico
Forced perspective unicorn horn

Roaming gnome flamingo


San Juan, Puerto Rico - after Maria
Forced perspective kiss

Fountain - San Juan, Puerto Rico
Fuente Raices has a new goddess ...and a flamingo

Or you could just join these kids playing in a fountain:


Reasons to visit Puerto Rico after the hurricane

...I didn't but I wanted to.


4. Fly a kite

Just outside Castillo San Felipe Del Morro is a huge open space where the locals come with their families to fly kites. Our ship used to dock there mostly on Sundays and it just seems like such a perfect thing to do on a beautiful weekend afternoon. 


Puerto Rico after Maria

Kite flying in Puerto Rico

…that, and frolic! 


San Juan Puerto Rico after the hurricane
The hills are alive with the sound of m-...salsa!


5. Take a swim among the debris

One day instead of going to the old town, I went to Punta Escambron where there is a park and a beach front. At the far end, I discovered a number of boarded up, shut down hotels and beaches. It might be depressing to some, but I felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic dystopia movie and I want to be in a post-apocalyptic dystopia movie! It was quite surreal. 

Just to the west, I discovered a beach that was actually being enjoyed by tourists, despite the very evident hurricane damage and some less-than-ideal weather. 


Why visit San Juan after Maria

top reasons to visit Puerto Rico

Best reasons to visit San Juan after hurricane maria


6. Ride your bike through an observatory (Luis Muñoz Rivera Park)

Across the road from the beach is a large park (I didn’t see enough of it) where all the trees look like they have bedhead and even the solid cemented and tiled water features are damaged and lie drained.  


hurricane damaged trees, San Juan, Puerto Rico

In the middle was this observatory building. Somehow it survived the hurricane despite its flimsy-looking structure. The building is completely vacant except for a lot of pigeons (I’m not sure how they survived either) and occasionally some kids riding their bikes. 





7. Explore the graveyard

Between Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, which survived the hurricane, and an area called ‘La Perla’, that was almost completely destroyed by it, on the north coast is this graveyard. It is possibly the most ornate and elaborate one I have ever seen (with its life-size statues and tomb stones) and it remains mostly intact. 

Reasons to visit Puerto Rico after Maria
Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery
 Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, San Juan

Those people are life size
...and creepy. 
Please no one leave me there after dark!

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, Puerto Rico

Post Maria Puerto Rico


If it wasn’t for the doors of the shrine / tomb /church thing in the middle completely blown in, you could be forgiven for thinking that Maria may have taken a detour around this place. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico




I also think Maria may have stolen these peoples arms:

Elaborate tombstone - Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery



8. Stroke a cat

There are so many cats in the old town and they seem to own the place. They all seem pretty well-fed and taken care of. Some are a little skittish while others approach you for a scratch behind the ear. 

Cats after the hurricane
“I can’t hug every cat, but I want to!”

Reasons to visit San Juan after hurricane
Guarding the ramparts

Cat graffiti 


9. Feed the pigeons

In the old town is a park: “Parque Las Palomas” or “Pigeon Park”. Here, you can buy some bird seed and feed the pigeons - Apparently, it’s good luck. (I know, so Mary Poppins!) I didn't buy any birdseed and the next time I went downtown I got pooped on, which was really gross but apparently also good luck, right? I guess the pigeons are determined to give you good luck so you should probably just spend the money on the birdseed instead of making your Chinese friend (that you just happened to run into) clean the disgusting green goop out of your hair with the only tissue you had on you and some sparkly pink hand sanitiser (unlucky for her).

Pigeons - After the hurricane

Pigeons of San Juan, Puerto Rico


...This might also explain why there are so many cats.


10. Go on a sight-seeing (or sound-hearing) tour of the backroads

No matter where I am I always like to take detours down quiet backroads. (Yes, don’t tell my mom.)

As you wander the main roads of the Old Town, almost every restaurant, bar, hotel, souvenir shop and even supermarket is playing Salsa. (I found it very hard not to break into dance while stocking up on granola bars.) Since we would dock mostly on Sundays, the churches were the exception. I would often stop to enjoy the singing coming from the church buildings sprinkled throughout. Other than that, every now and then, someone would ride past with a speaker on their bicycle pumping bachata or merengue, and maybe once a day you would hear some Reggaeton from a passing taxi, but for the most part, all you hear is Salsa. (It’s interesting that in Miami, where most people are of Cuban decent, is all you hear is Reggaeton - which has its roots in Puerto Rico. And in San Juan, all you hear is Salsa which has Cuban origins.)

One day, as I was walking down a particularly quiet street (I had the whole place to myself), I heard the most beautiful classical piano coming from one of the buildings. - I tried to look in the window as I walked by but all I could see was a cellist waiting his turn. A few buildings down, as I passed an open doorway, a man was lying on the floor leaning against a beanbag playing a hand drum while a french bulldog looked at me like I was crazy. It all felt very surreal.

It’s also really pretty if you just want to take pictures: 

Back streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico


I definitely exceeded my step count on the streets of old San Juan (-as my phone kept reminding me - How do you turn that off?) and walked my flip-flops flat. (To be fair they cost 99 cents.) As you walk around you see sights like this:

San Juan

And this:
Post Maria San Juan, Puerto Rico

And these:

Puerto Rico - After Maria

Hurricane damage - San Juan, Puerto Rico

And even this:

Building ruins after Maria in Puerto Rico

And then you walk around the corner and pass Puerto Rican Spiderman (Or “Hombre Araña”):

Top reasons to visit San Juan
I’m not sure where he’s going but I hope it’s not Orlando

…And in a way, it puts everything in perspective. No matter what life throws at you and no matter how completely devastated it may leave you, it’s amazing that it doesn’t take long for the human spirit to revive itself. Despite yourself and everything that’s wrong with your situation, somehow people pick themselves up and go fly kites, ride bikes through observatories and salsa dance in the streets 
…or just go for a Sunday stroll 
…in a Spiderman costume in January, as one does.  

There is a saying/hashtag that you see on a lot of t-shirts: “Puerto Rico, Se Levanta”, it means “Puerto Rico, start again”. In spite of all the destruction around them, they are starting over and there is something so special and beautiful about new beginnings. If you can handle a little bit of inconvenience, now might just be the best time to visit San Juan. 

And if you can’t, just listen to Despacito one more time: I’m sure the royalties are helping.
(Is that insensitive? It might be insensitive.)


In other news:


I’m so much more latin now

Our ship had been scheduled to go to Puerto Rico long before Maria. She changed a lot of things. A lot of the guests who were from mainland USA where unable to cruise as planned because their flights and hotels were cancelled. The cruise fares dropped, the Puerto Ricans needed an escape and the entire demographic changed. They may have had no electricity but they had each other and matching T-shirts and they arrived in droves! None of the cruise staff were Spanish speakers at first, but we learnt fast. 

Even before we got to Puerto Rico I had started learning Rosetta Stone Spanish. I just completed  Level one! 

“Acqi esta latulyo, papi”

I even learnt how to explain bingo packages and origami in Spanish:
“Doblar adentro”
“Doblar afuera"
“Assi"

And my Latin-ness extends beyond my Spanish-speaking abilities: At one of our big dance parties last cruise, some Puerto Ricans were copying my dance moves to Despacito and I don’t even think they were mocking me!


Christmas
Christmas was fun. We did the usual Christmas ship stuff. We had a gingerbread town in the atrium, we carolled and we put on a crew Christmas show. For the crew, we also had a Christmas lunch and pictures with Santa! I also did a secret Santa at a private Latina Mafia Christmas cabin party. 


The Latin Mafia

New Years Eve
Everyone knows that New Years is one of my favourite things to celebrate and I try to make as many references to Poseidon as possible without getting complaints. This year I was stationed in the atrium. The show band played and at midnight (or a couple of awkward moments after midnight) they did a balloon drop - It was especially Poseidonny!

New Years Eve - cruise ship

Pool deck party - midnight


24 cruises down, 0 more to go (I’m coming home!) 
Balloons inflated for New Year's Eve: 2563 (That's just a guesstimate)


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About the Sharonicles

The Sharonicles is a travel humour blog about an ex-cruise ship crew member who is trying to adjust to life on land with itchy feet. Sharon is currently taking a break from her seafaring adventures to explore some more landlocked locations from her home base in Johannesburg, South Africa. She likes to photograph a plastic lawn flamingo 'Rodrigo' on her travels because it seemed like a good idea ten years ago and 53 countries later, it’s probably too late to turn back now.

 Sharon greatly dislikes reading 'travel blogs' by people who are just rephrasing press releases or composing lists like '15 ways to travel the world for cheap', specifically formulated for SEO, with absolutely no evidence that the writers have ever left their bedrooms. (This is not one of those blogs.) Sharon also dislikes bigotry and referring to herself in first person, apparently.

To find out more about Sharon and Rodrigo’s travel aspirations read this.

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