The island is alive. Puerto Rico still stands after Hurricane Maria, yet everyone seemed to question our decision to return so soon after the category 4 hurricane trampled roughshod over the entire island. Amidst reports of widespread power outages and food shortages a handful of friends and I ventured to Puerto Rico for the quintessential surf and kite escape. With much of the island’s basic infrastructure hobbled, we worried about the living conditions but we’d heard whispers of positive reports so we booked flights, packed boards and camera gear, and set about exploring the February kite scene.

The first morning after a red-eye flight I woke up to a view of the ocean in a color and clarity I had not seen in a very long time. I had lived in Puerto Rico a few years back but had forgotten the vivid brilliance of its clear, turquoise water as it unloaded off pristine underwater reefs. I’d also forgotten how the typical Puerto Rican morning greets you with views of intoxicating greens, blues and yellows with wild trees, grasses, palms, and scrubs littering the coastal shelf clear into the tropical mountains. The rising sun illuminates the natural environment from the side to create a vibrant contrast between what is light and dark and green and yellow. Even the most professional photographers are hard challenged to capture the true depth of this effect. With humidity so thick, like lingering smoke, the ocean air is heavy with spray churned by heaving waves and gently carried ashore by a subtle breeze. The light from the sunrise ignites the micro drops of water suspended in the air and makes the entire countryside lavish with rainbows backed by a melody of swaying plantain, coconut and palm trees. But in my initial moments of consciousness back on the island, it was the organic scent of island air that struck the heaviest chord of memory. I wasn’t anticipating how vivid this sense of smell would be to me, but Puerto Rico has its own uniquely specific aroma that is alive and well, even after Maria.