Can it be done? Can you live car free in Puerto Rico? This past week we had the opportunity to answer this very question. Not by choice, but by necessity.
Britton was going to go run a quick errand to the local agro near downtown Rincón when the truck broke down and wouldn’t start back up. He tried to find a part and fix it in the parking lot, but the nearest auto repair shop didn’t have the fuel pump in stock. So he left the truck there and commenced the long walk back to our house in the hills.
He had left around 8am in the truck and I expected him to be back around 9am at the latest. By the time he came strolling through the gate he was covered in sweat and it was nearly noon.
It became immediately obvious in that moment and the next ones to come where our weaknesses and dependencies, and also our ingenuity and strengths were.
We have become very dependent on vehicle transportation for our every need and want. We use the truck to get a vast majority of our groceries at the grocery store, we take it to Mayaguez for items that we can’t find in Rincón and we even just take it down to the beach for yoga or a swim. In a sense, our truck has become our legs and without legs you start to feel immobile.
Another dependency was on the parts from “elsewhere” to ship to Puerto Rico. They make cars so specific now that each make and model has a unique part and all of these are made somewhere like China and have to be shipped in. So when the internet company somehow lost the product in-transit to Puerto Rico that left another major dependency. Where would we get this one unique part for our car that is rarely in-stock? Not to mention that this whole system-including the vehicle itself- runs on non-renewable fuel which we know is a limited supply. What would we do without fuel?
And then of course there is the dependency on money itself! What would we do without that?! (That’s a question for another day perhaps.)
Our strengths were that we have a great network of friends including our neighbors who after a few days helped tow the truck from the agro back to our place as well as friends who took me to the grocery store on day 7 of our carfree lifestyle and others who picked up a part for us in Mayaguez rather than Britton having to ride his bike there. It truly is important to have a strong social network and community wherever you go, and to make sure to help each other out!
Another strength was that we realized we really weren’t as tied to the truck as we thought. We walked down to Sandy Beach one morning to do a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class as well as to a nearby convenience store/fruit stand and Britton rode his bike to a coffee shop.
Thanks to Cait at Sunburnt and Salty for this great class and our first time on a paddleboard!
And of course a big strength was that we could do this. We didn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to report to. If we had to go to work or drive somewhere every day it would have been much more difficult. Plus Britton has the mechanical and technical ability to trouble shoot and fix almost anything.
We also began to see the value in what we are creating on our farm. We really do have quite a bit of food. We had lots of scrambled egg breakfasts and egg and avocado sandwiches and tuna mixed with avocado sandwiches as well as passionfruit, coconut and sapodilla snacks. We also began to see the turkeys truly as a food source and not just amusing pets (though we haven’t yet made that transition). We did however get to the point, after a week of no driving (and therefore about 2 weeks of no major grocery trips), that we could just turn off the fridge. We began to fantasize about other non-system dependent transportation options, including even a horse and buggy!
Finally on day 8 without a vehicle Britton with the help of our friend Matt, managed to acquire and replace the fuel pump (this was a challenge in and of itself because they had to lift the truck bed and find something to prop it up with — in this case our cooler!)
As we reflect on this car free period we definitely see how in the modern world, dependencies create more and more dependencies. For instance, people often have two vehicles just as a backup for their one or an expensive warranty and car loaner program from a dealership. This means you must spend more, have more insurance and more maintenance on both. All of the parts come from somewhere else and most people take it to a mechanic because vehicles (especially the newer ones) have become very complicated. And because nowadays most people don’t use their bodies for transportation (biking, walking, etc.) we get out of the habit of doing so, and therefore it creates a loop that makes us not want to do it.
Britton and I had been talking about walking or biking to the beach (barely a mile away) since we moved here and it took us not having the choice to finally do it! It seems in many ways the convenience of things and the externalization of our problems (usually by just paying someone or using some device to solve them) has made us as people less connected, weaker and lazier as a whole.
So does this answer that question or just present more? I would say that if you are a modern person used to private vehicles that it would be very tough to live without a car in most of Puerto Rico. In the capital of San Juan it is probably very doable. For people who commute somewhere every day, it may take a little more reflection on the lifestyle you want (spent in traffic or in your local neighborhood) to make the changes necessary for a carfree life. But even right here in Rincón we know some peoplewhose primary form of transport is a bicycle.
I am not sure we are ready to give up on vehicles altogether quite yet, but it was a good feeling to know that with just a little more preparation we could be just a tad bit more off the mainstream grid. And we are going to try and use the vehicle less in our day to day living. And to remember that it is a luxury, not a true necessity.