Impressions from the Raíces Disaster Relief Support Trip – A Travel Log

by Francisco G. Gómez & Nicole Wines

During our recent disaster relief support trip to Puerto Rico from January 12-19, 2018, Raíces Crew members were able to post some impressions on social media. This helped us to keep a kind of log of immediate reflections and experiences from the week spent with our family, friends and network of ecological and cultural collaborators throughout the island. Here is the compilation of the postings made throughout the week, along with some of the photos we took while documenting the work of grassroots organizations dedicated to sustainability, resiliency, and a just recovery for the island of Puerto Rico.

Want to support these efforts? Visit, donate to and share our PR Relief Support Fund Link to help us continue to support the groups we are partnered with on the island. You can also read additional updates and report backs from our trip in the Sustainable Disaster Relief Category of the Raíces blog.

Day 1 – San Juan, Toa Alta

Descending from the clouds before landing in Muñoz Marín, I saw much of the landscape covered with blue tarps and crumbled structures – a deep sadness overtook me! But, always trying to visualize the cup half full; the road to Toa Alta revealed a tremendous sense of hope. Boricuas were, are and shall be in a frenzy to get the island anew. The spirits lifted and I saw/see the pheonix rising from the ashes! Now I only feel guasábara power and the resiliency of my people…to be continued.

Some Impressions:
Blue tarps
Garbage piles
Shuttered businesses
Torn roofs
Purifying water half a liter at a time
Smiling resilient people
Dangerous driving with only half the traffic lights functioning
Linemen everywhere
Welcoming hospitality
Bucket baths with filtered water
Cold beer
Home repairs
Debris-trees, crumbled walls, business signs down, electric poles, downed fences, garbage bags
Abandoned homes and businesses
While other neighborhoods flourish
Live music in the parking lot of the grocery store..neighbors gathering, dancing, singing, playing, smiling, seeking some relief, some downtime, some laughter with friends
Attempts at normalcy

Day 2 – Loíza, Carolina, El Yunque, San Juan

Work crews clearing tree debris along the coast
Raining indoors at COPI
Piñones kioskos open but nearly empty
Pike electric trucks everywhere…license plates from North Carolina, Indiana…reminds me of post Sandy NJ
Mudslides in the mountains
Collapsed houses
Zero electric in Loíza, zero electric in the mountains of Rio Grande
Samuel Lind’s art studio running on a generator but filled with artworks in progress
More island hospitality and smiling faces
Seems like the interior will have to wait until services on the coast are restored
Electric lines dangling in the mountains, metal poles snapped and bent in half
More blue tarps, more debris
The yunque is closed, but you can drive up to 200 ft before the coca falls for pics
Vegetation regenerating in the rainforest but still quite bare, brown and sparse
Tropical showers and rainbows
Old San Juan bustling, more street music than we have seen in years…so much beautiful music
Eating mofongo sitting next to Ron Perlman
The most stressful nighttime drive ever in PR due to lack of traffic lights
Word from one of our island partners that she still has no running water in her apt in Sabturce, even city centers have spots with no basic services

And today, westward and into the mountains, up to Casa Pueblo to support their work in restoring power with solar energy…sustainable and renewable #PRseLevanta

Day 3 – Utuado, Adjuntas, Lares, Camuy, San Sebastian, Isabela

No electric in most of the interior
No water in Utuado-tankers of potable water for residents to refill
Second floors caved in
Zinc roofs strewn through the mountainside
Driving over countless electric wires
Poles and wires dangling overhead
Solar power at Casa Pueblo
Butterfly house
Native monarchs
Invitations to return
Corn ice cream
Collapsed greenhouses
Pulling over to gift organic seeds to agronomists and growers
Closed roads and washouts
Guatajaca Dam draining-impending drought for thousands
Speakers blaring, floats and jeeps with lights and sirens, party time
A highway turned to a river of garbage-not by the storm but by the two leggeds’ festivals (just like fairs, fests and concerts in the states)…heartbreak
More driving over wires
More debris
More trees and poles down
More blue tarps
More smiling faces
More music…so much music everywhere

Day 4 – Camuy, Isabela

The last 3.5 days in PR have revealed that there is something seriously wrong other than the obvious visual signs of physical devastation after María.

After an amazing experience at Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas last Sunday, and sensing a new reality of survival, even at a micro level of sustainable and renewable energy practices on the island – once again my spirits and resolve were replenished.

I understand that the true damage results from that something underneath in the psyche of many of my sisters and brothers on the island- It’s called collective trauma.

Each of the organizations we’ve visited have shown this trauma in a variety of ways. It’s been heart breaking to say the least and a futile need to empathize at best! The ether is filled with a desperation that is quelling at a snail’s pace.

My people are not new to this, however, this is a catastrophe of such epic proportions and not easily shaken off. My Boricuas have a new found solidarity in unity and their own brand of resolve…they are resilient and determined.

We are on our way to Casa Pueblo, as I write, to witness and be a part of PR history making. This incredible organization will broadcast from their own radio station today, totally powered by the sun – Solar renewable/ sustainable power in/on the airwaves…what an exciting moment…to be continued!

Had an beautiful and fun evening with Nicole WinesFrancisco G. Gómez and Cristina.
They arrived to the Island to give support and donations to different farms and agroecology projects, and also document the real situation we are confronting after hurricane María.

Got to give thanks to Raíces Cultural Center and their organizers from New Jersey.
For all the organic seeds, lamps and handcrafted soaps, and also the great time shared.
¡Blessings your way! 🌺💖
~Jariksa Valle Feliciano – Aguada, PR

Days 4, 5, 6 – Camuy, Isabela, Adjuntas, Utuado, Las Marías, Aguada

Some impressions from days 4, 5 & 6, when we were so busy working, documenting, dialoguing and processing that I couldn’t get my thoughts out in writing…an incredible three days with Don Luis Soto, Casa Pueblo, Plenitud PR and my beautiful friend Kari:

Talk of a full month of day to day crisis for all with 20 hour gas lines, bank lines, no food, restrictions on cash withdrawals, no water, no communications…but miracles every day, community, neighbors and friends.
Finding friends thinner than when we left them last due to limited food supply and hard work clearing roads and debris, digging out of landslides by hand for weeks at a time.
Root vegetables survived the storm and provided our friends with nourishment in the weeks following until the greens began to grow again.
Talk of trauma, especially in children, who feared another storm would come each and every day.
Reconnecting to nature, tentatively, a little bit at a time.
Dead mangrove stands, overinundated by 20 foot waves, now skeleton forests along the coast.
Distributing seeds.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are cherished on this island, the growers who see their seed packets brighten up and burst into smiles.
Loving hugs, heart to heart.
Turning earth with handmade tools, planting seeds.
Energy independence.
History made with the first solar powered radio transmitter at Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas.
Press conferences, interviews, reporters traipsing up mud packed hillsides, cleared for planting and solar installations.
Walks on the coast with old friends, dialogues giving true insight to the inner trauma still being processed by the people of the island.
Relief in the form of friendship-sharing cold Coronas and delicious meals.
Café, everywhere we stop, café.
Learning and working with groups of college students traveling from Minnesota, preparing for a future of sustainability, resiliency, community.
Hands in the earth, arms scraped by patches of fresh cut patchouli.
Camping on a mountainside in veritable paradise, waking up to a tropical sunrise and smiling faces working towards a sustainable future.
Breaks by the river, climbing on the rocks, splashing and laughing.
Talking agroforestry.
Sharing fruits off of trees with new friends who were strangers just hours before.
Learning how to prevent landslides with terraforming.
Our first drink of water that tasted pure…filtered tropical rainwaters at Plenitud.
Seeing old friends and making new ones.
Nuevo jíbaros.
Eco projects.
Earthship construction sites.
Earthbag and super adobe buildings, with ZERO hurricane damage.
Winding mountain roads with crumbled edges from the tropical rains, barricade everywhere warning not to get too close.
Skin healing from the pure mountain air and water.
The power of pachamama.

Day 6 – Las Marías

Arrived at Plenitud Finca yesterday, late afternoon and spent the most wonderful time with brother Owen, his crew and the warmest and fun loving students from St. Thomas College in the states. We broke bread and there was much dialog about sustainability/renewal, things of the spirit and Pachamama.

Plenitud is simply an amazing place on the island of boriquen. Paula, Owen and their community have done incredible work and created a true ecological model for all two legged talkers to follow. A super guasábara to our sisters and brothers, true eco-warriors and an inspiration that continues to augment the beauty of Pachamama in Puerto Rico 🇵🇷 To be cont…..

Day 7 – Puerto de Tierra, San Juan

Seeds, seeds, seeds!!!

Day 8 – New Jersey Bound

Leaving Boriquen in about 10 minutes. The heart is heavy and the mind is filled with some wonderful memories of this extraordinary week! What incredible people we have met and befriended. All of them eco-warriors to the enth degree; they do Pachamama’s work through her….stay tuned for many great stories and a crap load of pics and vids. Adios mi isla and stay tuned… be cont.

On the tarmac headed back to Jersey, back to the cold. This has been a truly enlightening experience-providing relief, documenting, lending a helping hand and sharing with various groups, orgs and farmers in the agroecology and sustainability movement here in Puerto Rico. We are leaving behind a beautiful network of friends and family who are fighting for and working towards a greener, cleaner and more just future, but we won’t be leaving for long. Look out soon for the countless photos and video clips and a forthcoming documentary about the eco-warriors we are working with in the resiliency movement here on the island. This is just the beginning…together we will work for a change, for a better future! 🇵🇷✊🏽🌎💚