Live the Life: Prepare for Islanding

Ray Scott had barely even vacationed in the Caribbean, let alone considered a permanent move there. But then the commercial airline pilot got a job offer that changed his mind -- and his life. The 43-year-old Maryland native reattached his pilot's wings (which had been on the shelf since 9/11) and moved to Puerto Rico to fly a 37-passenger turbo prop for Caribbean Sun Airlines. We talked to Ray to find out what made him decide to land for good on this popular island destination -- aside from the sunny flight schedule, of course.

What was it about Puerto Rico that led you away from the States to accept the job with a Caribbean airline? Well, if you know pilots, you know they're happiest if they're airborne. So even though I was totally unfamiliar with the island and the Caribbean, I accepted the job in 2003 as a leap of faith. I began flying the island chain that runs from the Dominican Republic to Trinidad. And after a few years, Puerto Rico just felt like the total package, so I decided to settle down on its northwest coast in Aguadilla. Today I'm flying international for Delta Air Lines.

What in particular made you want to stick around for good?Of course, every tale has a love interest; mine is April. She was a fellow pilot at Caribbean Sun Airlines when I first moved to the island, and she had been here for a few years. Finding someone with so many common pastimes is key for any relationship, but maybe even more so on an island.

Does that mean your relationship has made island life easier?Being a transplant into a different culture might be less challenging if you are with a like-minded partner. April and I help each other embrace the challenges involved with such a move. For example, April has a good grasp of under-standing Spanish when she hears it, and I'm not embarrassed to try to speak the language. Together we can communicate in most circumstances -- I'm the "speaker" and April is the "understander."

Aside from the language barrier, what kinds of challenges have you overcome while adjusting to life on Puerto Rico? There are a few drawbacks, but I look at them as a part of the character of island living. There can be unexplained power outages and water service shutdowns from time to time. Also, stores and offices are often closed because Puerto Ricans celebrate every holiday known to man! In Aguadilla this week, the surf conditions have been perfect for everyone -- headhigh, glassy and not a breath of wind. And you will see signs posted at businesses that say, "Closed today. Gone surfing."

So would you say that you are officially an islander when you get used to those "gone surfing" signs? Maybe. My career takes me back to the U.S. once a month, and when I'm gone, I miss the slower island pace that allows us to shift gears at our discretion. When I get home to Puerto Rico, I go to my favorite local joints. There's a Caribbean restaurant called 18º - 67º, which is named for its latitude and longitude. They have a great two-for-one Tuesday-night special. And Ola Lola's is a roadside watering hole down in the Shacks Beach area near Isabela. A lot of locals hang out there to reflect on the day's surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, scuba diving -- whatever. That's what I love most about Puerto Rico: We celebrate everyday life with a relaxed tone.

Has the lifestyle changed you?My whole outlook on life has changed. Most of my hobbies and nonwork activities revolve around bodies of water. Living on Puerto Rico near the ocean has added clarity to what I personally need on a daily basis. Island life brings you back to the bare basics.

What do "the bare basics" mean for you and April on a typical day off? Weekends are full of physical activities. April and I are surfers and divers. We love hiking through Guajataca Forest. After that we usually log some hammock time. Also, almost every weekend evening starts with a cookout serving churrasco (grilled steak with peppers and onions), chicken, rice and beans. It's all washed down with Medalla Light and many rum drinks.

And what about your house? Do you have just bare basics there too?One of the questions I get most is, "Aren't you worried about hurricanes?" But like most homes here, ours is made of poured concrete and rebar with a flat roof. It's bulletproof, simple construction. But it's also on the 250-foot-high cliff that overlooks my favorite surf break. In two minutes we can be standing in the Atlantic Ocean, and a few minutes later we can be in the Mona Passage, between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

With that kind of real estate, are you the most visited relative in your family?You would be surprised how few friends and family originally came to visit when I moved here. Over the years, though, they'd catch a load of what Aguadilla was like, and now they return often. Especially during winter. A lot of people forget that Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, so no passport is necessary. It's also very accessible from most major East Coast cities.

Do you have any advice for someone who might want to move to Puerto Rico? Don't think for one minute you'll be alone; I meet folks every day who have just moved into the neighborhood and are relieved to find two similar souls just around the corner. Just embrace the laid-back lifestyle, practice the local language and be flexible -- like the palm trees your hammock will swing from.

Facts of Life

  • Climate: Tropical
  • Population of island: 4 million
  • Population of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico: About 65,000
  • House starting price: $250,000 for a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house in Aguadilla
  • Main hospital: Hospital Buen Samaritano in Aguadilla
  • Price of a local beer: $5 for a bucket of Medalla Light at Ola Lola's
  • Languages: Spanish, English
  • Ease of immigration: Easy
  • Ease of buying a home: Easy
  • Website: gotopuertorico.com