Founder

A Little About the Founder

In Old / Viejo San Juan, July 2007.

Purple Coquí Tours was founded by Sarah Ratliff. Sarah was raised in the U.S., specifically in New York City, where she worked first as a writer in radio and television and eventually in marketing for a small startup company. In 1998, Sarah moved to California with her husband, Paul.

Sarah continued working for small companies, providing them with trade show management, marketing and project management—all of them key components in planning vacations and tours. In the early 2000s Sarah took a job with Amgen (the world’s largest biotech) as an administrative assistant and project manager in the global health outcomes department. Tasked with planning all of her department’s meetings with doctors, researchers and key opinion leaders in the industry, along with department team buildings and off-sites, Sarah continued honing her skills

In 2002, Sarah founded Purple Works Party Planning, where she created custom-themed weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, corporate events and coming of age parties, such as mitzvahs and quinceñeras. Her specialty was fusion or blending: milestone events respectfully blending two or more cultures, religions and/or traditions of the hosts.

Sarah continued working in the corporate world while “partying” on the weekends.

In 2007, while also working for Amgen as an information specialist, Sarah’s husband was sent to Puerto Rico, to Amgen’s manufacturing facility to upgrade their hardware and software. All he could talk about was how beautiful Puerto Rico was and how friendly Puerto Ricans were.

The two returned on vacation a few months later, and while they had a good time, they were somewhat disappointed. Taking the advice of co-workers, they stayed in the metro area (San Juan, Old San Juan, Fajardo, Carolina and Rio Grande) to hit up all the top tourist attractions, including the El Yunque rainforest.

At the top of El Yunque Rainforest, July 2007

They spent a few days in Ponce (in the south, almost halfway between east and west), another tourist hotspot. But the most memorable time they had was when they drove from the southeast corner of Maunabo along the coast heading west. Passing through the state forest of Toro Negro, Sarah and her husband realized how much of Puerto Rico they knew nothing about. It was obviously only the beginning.

El Balcón del Recuerdo, which means balcony of memories, in Utuado. July 2008.

They returned less than a year later, but this time they’d done their homework. Rather than stay in a touristy area, they rented a house for two weeks on an 8-acre farm in Utuado—in the interior of the island and in the mountains. How they found the house to rent was easy: They went to a website (Vacation Rentals) that offered people’s homes for long-term rentals and picked the only house that wasn’t on the beach.

Relaxing at their rental, July 2008.

This time they lived like locals. They drove up and down the mountain to grocery shop, saying hello to everyone they passed. People said hello back and many stopped to talk with them. They made friends very quickly and were invited to parties, to hang out in local bars, to people’s homes for meals and to experience the island as locals do—with people they had just met and knew nothing about! They checked out other towns in the mountains, like Jayuya and Adjuntas and learned about the history, including where the simultaneous uprisings took place. Some days they had plans and other days they just got in the car, pointed it in a direction and just drove. They didn’t hit up one tourist hotspot in those two weeks and had the best vacation they’d ever had!

Not only did they return home raving about the incredible vacation they had, they quit their jobs, sold their house and moved to Puerto Rico less than two months later. Their plan was to buy land and create a self-sustaining, eco-organic farm. Knowing absolutely nothing about farming, they arranged to rent the house they had stayed in over the summer, which they used as home base as they looked for property to buy.

Between them, they spoke five words of Spanish and knew only a handful of people. This is not the most recommended way to move to a new country. But a handful turned into many handfuls, and soon many people were helping them find a piece of farmland.

At the home of new friends, October 2008.

They found an 18-acre farm in Utuado in March 2009. With the help of many new friends, they got a crash course in how to buy property in Puerto Rico (which follows the laws of Spain, not the U.S.) and followed every procedure to a T. They bought the farm, and following six months of construction to expand the tiny farmhouse, they moved into their new home on December 31st, 2009. At midnight, they were feted with a panoramic display of fireworks—seven in total, across the valley.

They got a couple of dogs and did everything they could to integrate into their new life.

While Paul worked the farm, Sarah rediscovered her voice as a writer: first as a ghostwriter (books and articles) and eventually as a bylined writer, having her work appear in several publications. Today, Sarah’s writing focuses on cannabis, addiction, geopolitics, gender and race advocacy and Puerto Rico.

Continuing in their tradition of meeting friends wherever they went, today Sarah and her husband speak more Spanish, have friends (mostly Puerto Rican) all over the island and are very involved in activism on the island.

Along with everyone else in Utuado and all over the island, Sarah and Paul experienced some form of devastation when Hurricane Maria hit the island on September 20, 2017. Although their house was intact, they lost 80 percent of the trees they’d spent the previous seven years planting and cultivating.

Rather than see this as a setback, like many on the island, Sarah saw it as an opportunity to reinvent herself. Still writing and working with Paul on the farm, Purple Coquí Tours was born from a desire to present the real Puerto Rico—not the all-inclusive resorts written about on travel sites, but the heart, soul, pride, history, struggles, triumphs and resilience of the Boricua people living on this enchanted island.

Sarah and her husband on vacation in neighboring St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) in 2017, a few months prior to Hurricane Maria.

 

You may not know it, but you’ve just opened the door to experience Puerto Rico like you’ve never imagined.

Don’t just visit Puerto Rico. Experience Puerto Rico.