Puerto Rico: Finding the calm after the storm by Nicole Hammond for Hike it Baby

The winds during Hurricane Maria peeled off bark and paint, knocked over trees and power lines, and ripped off roofs and walls. Maria left behind a flooded, tangled mess. Most of Puerto Rico outside of San Juan is still without power and water.

I write this post about my new home, La Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico, from a hotel room in Florida where my two children, two dogs and I have been evacuated to with about 350 other active duty dependents/families. Our active duty spouses remain to help the island after Hurricane Maria slammed through it as a Category 5.

Today, I got to see photos of my husband, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, drop food to previously unreached communities in Puerto Rico and I cried. I cried because I’m proud of what he does. And I cried to see someone standing in their kitchen with no walls or roof waiting for aid.

La Isla del Encanto, the island of enchantment, is truly the best way to describe Puerto Rico. Despite crippling debt and massive infrastructure problems, this little island has won the hearts and souls of those lucky enough to live there. After being there a short time, I understood why people from Puerto Rico, Boriquas, are so proud of their island. The natural beauty is astounding – mountains, the El Yunque rainforest, and amazing beaches like I’ve never seen.

There are so much wildlife there, I could barely contain myself. I was told a wooden stand near our house was used to better watch humpback whales migrate past. You can imagine my shrieks of glee. Then as a huge sea turtle fan, I learned which beaches were best for snorkeling (and seeing green sea turtles). And I learned which beaches were better for surfing, paddle boarding, playing with kids, etc. My kids are ages 3 and 5.5 and they absolutely love their new home. Every week we would walk down a nearby trail to Hermit Crab Beach to check out the water and creatures. One of our favorite spots was a huge tide pool that always had cool stuff like an octopus, blue tangs (or Dory if you prefer) and stunning coral.

After Hurricane Irma hit, we breathed a sigh of relief, picked up downed palm branches, and went a few days without electricity. Then we saw photos from our sister islands and Puerto Rico immediately blew me away with their generosity. I saw people who live at the poverty line (if they’re lucky) send bottled water, canned goods and diapers on their own little fishing boats to the affected islands like Tortola and Dominica.

Then about a week later came Maria, and I’m sure you’ve seen the news. It obliterated huge parts of the island. whole communities have been unreachable for weeks because entire highways are gone. Of any trees that still stand, bark and leaves are gone. It’s unbelievable; but still, we are all so excited to go home. We hope every day that power and water will return – almost 100% of the island is still without both. FEMA aid outside of the capital of San Juan has only just been arriving the last couple of days.

Through this, nature is our medicine. We’re blessed to live in a safe haven next to a little pond where we see ducks, herons and lizards. There are amazing nature centers to explore in this area. While my son misses home, he was able to realize a life goal and hold a rescued baby alligator. And I am so thankful for groups like Hike it Baby and its constant reminder that no matter where we go, nature is our home.

Puerto Rico: Finding the calm after the storm by Nicole Hammond for Hike it Baby

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard surveys his home and neighborhood after spending over 24 hours in a Category 5 hurricane. Over a month later, most of the island still looks the same as it did the day after the storm.

Organizations helping with recovery efforts:

Wavesforwater.org is an on-the-ground program organized by the huge surfing community to provide water filters.

Universalhope.org is an international non-profit focused on empowering women, especially those escaping domestic violence, through education and jobs creating stunning handwork. They have multiple locations in Puerto Rico and currently focus their resources on helping the hardest hit communities in PR.

ARF Animal Rescue is based out of Rincon, PR, and provides homes to the many satos (street dogs) as well as help rescue other abandoned animals, such as cats and horses. After the hurricane, they have also cared for unique animals, such as macaws that were left homeless.

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Photos courtesy of Morgan Krowel taken in Aguada, PR.

Nicole Hammond is a mama of 2, wife of one. Her family is active duty Coast Guard, which includes 2 dogs and 1 cat, and are thrilled to currently call Puerto Rico home. She stays sane by staying outside as much as possible and enjoys yoga, coffee (fair trade organic!), painting, more coffee, swimming, and delicious locally crafted spirits. Her family is committed to a low-impact life spent exploring, creating and helping others.


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