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The Travel Detective

Puerto Rico: A Special Report

Locations in this article:  San Juan, Puerto Rico
In 2017, Hurricane Maria swept in from the Southeast and made landfall over Puerto Rico as a category 4 storm. And shortly thereafter, it became the worst hurricane to hit this island in 80 years. Within hours, it had ripped off the roofs of hundreds of buildings, downed telephone poles, destroyed the cell and electrical grid, and quite literally left 3.4 million people in the dark. Sustained winds of 150 miles per hour battered the island for eight hours, causing upwards of $90 billion in damage– crippling Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. Heavy rain, flash flooding and storm surge filled homes and streets with water and raw sewage, making homes uninhabitable and ruining businesses. And the official fatality figure, which stood at 64 for almost a year after the storm–has recently been revised to almost 50 times that number–nearly 3,000 storm-related deaths. And now, nearly a year later, the tragedy has also developed into a remarkable story of resilience, community and recovery. And in some cases, Puerto Rico is coming back even better than before.

There are five bioluminescent bays in the world, and three of those are in Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria, experts feared that the introduction of fresh water into the salt water system would cause irreparable harm to the dinoflagellates responsible for the glow in the bays. While the waters were dark for weeks after the storm, they have slowly regained their luminescence. And in some cases, there are times of the day when the bays glow even brighter than before.
About 30 miles outside of San Juan, you’ll find Hacienda Carabali. It was damaged badly during the hurricane, but now it’s back. And the cool thing about this place is that it’s 600 acres at the foothills of El Yunque National Forest—that’s how you get in. And you can either go by horseback,  go-kart or ATV. The property also contains the Rainforest Inn, a bed and breakfast, severely damaged in the hurricane and is currently undergoing repairs.
Adjacent to the Hacienda is the El Yunque National Forest—America’s only tropical rainforest. The 28,000-acre park did suffer a fair amount of damage from the hurricane, but a number of recreational sites, roads and trails have reopened on a limited basis.
At nearly 1,600 feet above sea level, the Yokahu Tower has been reopened and gives you some of the best views of the whole forest. In fact on some days, you can see all the way to Calebra and Vieques. The Puerto Rican flag on the tower is a gift from the forest service to the people of Puerto Rico to thank them for their rebuilding efforts in getting this area reopened.
Despite their own personal struggles, the people of Puerto Rico came together to help one another and to help repair the damaged infrastructure in an effort to try to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives in the midst of the crisis around them.