Puerto Rico Day 1 – Aguadilla, Rincón & Villa Cofresí

Rosa Linda

Devastation from Hurricane Maria along the roadside in Puerto Rico.

Destruction! Devastation! Awful! Heartbreaking!

As we drove from San Juan to Aguadilla to Rincón, Puerto Rico three weeks after Hurricane Maria, I stared out the window in disbelief and these were just a few of the words that came to mind to describe what I saw. My husband, Dr. Nathan Goldfein and I had flown to the island to visit my family and offer medical relief wherever needed.

Nathan and I are seasoned travelers so making the decision to go to Puerto Rico to do what we could was easy. After all, if we can live on a boat with 3 kids and sail to distant islands the way we do, we would not be easily deterred by reports of difficulties other travelers were facing. We have dealt with plenty of travel nightmares in our day and this time we figured it would be easier because we weren’t worrying about the kids (thanks to our awesome babysitters, Allie & Lauren Miller). Plus, we were working with a friend who was working with a group that promised to help us get to Puerto Rico and, more importantly, to get us home again when we were done. But we would soon come to realize that we were wrong about how easy it would be and when it came to post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico, promises were never a guarantee. Everything about this trip was challenging. Not only were there the physical barriers blocking roadways after Hurricane Maria, but the human barriers often felt insurmountable.

Mudslides are seen everywhere in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Because I have had a deep connection to this beloved island since childhood, it was all I could do to keep from weeping openly at how wrong everything felt, how wrong the world looked on the ground. The mangled, strangled, crushed mess of it all. From the minute the hurricane threatened my father’s homeland, my mind started swirling with fear and worry. Actually being on the island, made that even worse for me. If the cities and main thoroughfares looked this bad, what could I expect when I finally got to the remote mountain areas where my family lived? More fear and worry. The landscape was unrecognizable. GPS didn’t work. Cell phones didn’t work. Street lights didn’t work. How would we find our way? What would we find when we got there? Was this a fool’s errand? By the time we got to the Aguadilla airport I was already emotionally drained and we still had hours to go before we could rest for the night.

But along with gaining a new understanding of how dramatically Hurricane Maria forever changed Puerto Rico, there was something else I soon came to learn from this trip; no matter how awful things seemed something would always appear, just when I needed it most, to offer a beacon of light in the darkness. At the Aguadilla Airport that beacon of light was the sight of our friend, Hector Sanchez.

Hector Sanchez at the donations distribution center at Aguadilla Airport in Puerto Rico
More than just the father of our daughter’s gymnastics teammate from West Palm Beach, Hector represented all that I am grateful for in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s ruthless brutality. Two days after the storm Hector put everything on hold, raised his hand and volunteered to go to the island to manage relief operations on the ground. We were supposed to go with him but were told our seats were offered to some reporters from a news organization instead. For two and a half weeks we scrambled to try to get another flight, all the while struggling to coordinate with Hector from Florida however possible. But because communication was virtually non-existent we didn’t really know what to expect by the time we arrived in Aguadilla. So it was a joyous moment when we finally saw him alive and well, and doing what he had been doing for weeks; taking care of the Puerto Rican people by making sure the donations sent with love from the US were getting to those who needed them. Given the devastation it was a massive undertaking, and the hurdles were everywhere, but being the Army veteran that he is, he performed this job with honor and without rest (along with his friend and fellow Army Veteran, Felix Castro). Seeing him renewed our resolve and broke through my fears. Hector would later tell us we were also a sight for his sore eyes.
Dr. Nathan Goldfein and Hector Sanchez discussing medical relief logistics at Villa Cofresí in Rincón, Puerto Rico.

Hector was also responsible for the next beacon of light at the end of that long day. Knowing it would be a bad idea to drive up to the mountainous area where my family lives that night, he had arranged for us to rent a room in a little, wonderful hotel in Rincón called Villa Cofresí. It would end up being our base of operations for the entire Puerto Rico trip. It is the place we connected with amazing people from the US Army and other organizations that helped us find people to help. It is a place that we will definitely return to with our family. This is a quick video I took when we arrived (that’s my husband, Nathan checking in):

Rather than writing about this wonderful little spot and the generous, kind-hearted couple that run Villa Cofresí, Tito and Sandra Y. Caro, I will just share a little video I took while I was there. It doesn’t fully capture the amazing work they did for their community in the wake of Hurricane Maria, but at least you can see for yourself why this place made a very heartbreaking, challenging trip a little easier.

Thanks for allowing me to tell these stories! There are so many more to share. I will continue to post more of our Puerto Rico journey here, little by little, as my family is now preparing to sail our home, the sailing catamaran, Dawn Treader, to the Isla del Encanto very soon.
May you all be surrounded by wonderful people and loving kindness as you read this.
Lots of love,
Rosa Linda
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