My friend Nike and Hurricane Maria

I met Nike Umpierre in September, 2013.  Four years to the day before Hurricane Irma would brush just north of Puerto Rico causing widespread damage knocking out power and water to his home and business, but not the type of destruction seen on many of the smaller islands......four years and two weeks before hurricane Maria would make landfall in Puerto Rico, finishing the job Irma had begun.  More on that in a minute.

Back in 2013, couch-surfing through Puerto Rico brought me to an as of then un-opened guest house in the hills of the rain forest (El Yunque) in the northeast of the island.  It's there that I met Nike, who with his business partner at the time had planned to open a small 5-room guest house called El Escondido, which in Spanish means "the hidden".  After nearly 7 years of knocking down walls, adding bathrooms, designing and building terraces over-looking spectacular views of the north coast, and foot paths through some of the most beautiful gardens I'd ever seen, (not to mention sinking his life's savingings into the business) they were ready to open but at a loss on how to actually get the word out and do so.  As I've told the story to a handful of people, one night (after a few beers I'm sure) I said something about coming to Puerto Rico to open and work for the guest house in exchange for room and board should my life in St. Louis fall apart....which it promptly did.  They called me out on my proposition and I moved to Puerto Rico in January, 2014.  

Nike (pronounced Knee-kay) put me up in his own modest house on property adjoining the guest house among gardens that he had been developing for almost 20 years.  After much research and development, El Escondido Guest House opened and saw it's first guest in May, 2014.  It was an instant and huge success with guests coming from far away countries such as Australia, Russia, Argentina, and all over Europe, Canada, the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  We were blown away! (No pun intended)

But the success of El Escondido lies not in it's "to die for" views or ability to transport one to another world, tranquil and serene, void of so much of the ugliness seen in everyday life, but rather in the unassuming, calming and caring nature of it's host, Nike.  Those who have met him know what I mean.  Others need only to read some of the hundreds of reviews on Tripadvisor to be convinced of the type of person he is and why he's touched so many lives in such a positive way.  I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know Nike personally  over the last 4 years and don't believe there's a finer man on earth.  He's become my best friend.  He has a passion for collecting miniature orchids and wears many of them tattooed on his shoulder.  A new-found interest in tiny carnivorous plants is his latest hobby.  He's a lover of nature in general and the type of person who really wouldn't hurt a flea.  Deeply devoted to his dog Anubis, the last of his pets and somewhat of a guest house mascot.  Being a local born and raised in San Juan, Nike is a wealth of information about the island that he willingly shares with his real true passion....the guests that he awakes for at 5:30 each morning to prepare their breakfast and see that they have everything they need to enjoy their day, wether it be directions to an "off the beaten path" adventure or advice on where to find the best seafood.  He's eager to help and genuinely cares for each and every one of his guests.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 around 2:00am while Nike, Anubis and I are holed up in one of the guest house's bathrooms,  Hurricane Maria after making landfall as a category 4 storm to our southwest, ripped through the island on it's way back out to sea just west of San Juan, destroying much in it's path including the island's power grid.  Nike's small home, still without electric or water since Irma 2 weeks prior, is now completely uninhabitable and cutoff from the main road with fallen trees, accessible only by a path cut through what remains of the once beautiful gardens throughout his property.  The guest house itself sustained only slightly more damage than it had from hurricane Irma....peeled paint, interior flooding, etc.  But the grounds are unrecognizable.  30 foot tall coconut trees were uprooted and tossed into the pool, mature fruit trees that recently fed up to 12 guests each morning are gone.....just gone!  Mudslides occurred throughout the property, one causing muddy water to flood the first two floors of the house.

El Escondido is not so "hidden" anymore.  But the trees that remain standing will sprout new leaves, the gardens can be reworked and bloom once again, the mudslides will eventually be covered in new vegetation and paths cut in to replace the old ones washed away.  But it will take electricity and water, something the government expects months to restore, before the guest house can reopen.  The collapsed bridge to town will also need to be replaced.  Even then, it will take tourists with the courage to return to the island for vacation.  

Nike is a "giver".  As such, he's had his share of being taken advantage of.  But it's never dampened his spirit and you'll never hear him complain...about anything, even now!  He's very resourceful and lives a simple life, requiring very little to get by on as he has since age 15.  He's a proud man and would never ask anyone for a dime but would be the first to literally give you the shirt off his own back.  But life's supposed to get easier as we get older, right?  For all those reasons and many more, I ask you to join me in helping make Nike's life a little easier for him at this time by donating to this fund.  He has no other source of income other than the guest house which is on leased property with a monthly rent.  
Most of the profit was re-invested back into the business.  Even if he's able to re- open the business at a later date, his own home needs lots of time and labor devoted to it before he's able to return.  The stated goal amount would provide him with approximately 6 months rent, money for a small generator to power a fridge and pump to get water from his cistern into the house including providing power for a small fan to make the sweltering nights more bearable.  Building materials will be needed and before that, contracted bulldozing of the trees lying in his road is necessary to even reach his house.  The list goes on.

Please consider giving a small amount and sharing my story with all your friends and family.  I honestly don't know a more deserving person than Nike.

Thank you and God bless you and may God bless Nike and Puerto Rico.


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Organizer and beneficiary

Scott Schwartzkopf 
Affton, MO
Fernando Miranda Umpierre 
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