Travel & Leisure India & South Asia

that ISLAND SPIRIT

THE WOMAN SITTING next to me leaned over to look out the airplane window at the ocean below. “Nosotros los puertorriqueños,” she said. “We come from the water.” Introducing herself as Diana, she told me she was returning to Puerto Rico for the first time since Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 storm that devastated the island in 2017. Some of her relatives had yet to rebuild their roofs, and Diana had come to lend a hand. The rest of the time? She’d be at the beach listening to Bad Bunny, Puerto Rico’s rising star of reggaeton, and eating bacalaítos, or cod fritters. If I was serious about finding out what island life was like, she said as we touched down, I should do the same.

In the hurricane’s wake, two narratives about the island have taken root. In one telling, Puerto Rico is slowly clambering back to normalcy, rebuilding homes and infrastructure and entire towns, still reeling from loss. In another, tragedy and disaster spurred community building and new ways of doing business, and the Puerto Rico that has emerged since is more vibrant and creative, clinging to joy more tightly than ever, having seen how quickly it can slip away. I’d come to find out which side of the story felt closest to the truth.

Sunlight blazed through the waves as they crested, capped in white, then crashed and spread foam across the pier. I

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