To close the last big instalment of The Dreamcatcher series in Puerto Rico, LFB brings you an interview with one of the co-owners. Keep reading if you would like to hear how the Dreamcatcher got started, are interested in eco-travel, and would like to learn more about both Puerto Rico, stimulating local economies, and what you can do on your next trip to be more eco-friendly!
LFB: Could you tell how you got involved with The Dreamcatcher?
Stephan: The Dreamcatcher was started by my business partner Sylvia, who started it almost four years ago. It’s beginnings were more of a coincidence than anything. She was offered what is now the front part of The Dreamcatcher to live in and rented it at a very low price with the promise that she, an interior designer, would fix it up. And so, she converted the property and turn it into a space where she herself would want to live. She ended up spending so much money renovating the place and it’s many rooms that she started renting out the other rooms every now and then.
After a while a neighbor tried to close the place down because she didn’t have a permit so she went and got a tourism permit to create a full on guest house. Back then however, you needed seven rooms in order to qualify for the permit. Sylvia didn’t have those seven rooms, so she began expanding into the garage area and that is when I came on board to help with the business side of running a bed and breakfast.
This whole project grew very organically but grew very quickly. But you know, there are many layers to this project – there is being a good host and being good with people and making them feel welcome, then there is the design side and the design is very much part of the essence of what this place is about, but in oder to keep a business afloat, you need to understand the business side of things. This was where I was able to help Sylvia.
I came down here just for vacation, and things just happened from there. I wanted to open a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn, but the whole permit situation there made it very difficult, so when I was here for vacation, I just became fascinated with the place and saw the potential of Calle Loiza [the area near The Dreamcatcher] to have a renaissance. I had lived in Berlin and saw it happen there in Kreuzberg and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as well.
LFB: How did you and Sylvia actually meet?
Stephan: We met through a friend in New York, so we knew each other casually, but I came down here and was thinking of buying something here and starting something on my own but after a while we thought, why don’t we do something together? We looked at the building behind the current space Sylvia at fixed up, and invested in that property as well.
What I did was come in and make The Dreamcatcher accessible by getting the word out there and putting the Dreamcatcher on sites like Trip Advisor to help generate more guest and keep the business running. This business started out as a very bohemian project which is so unique to Puerto Rico which is mainly full of big resorts. And it’s not done this way because we tried to make it that way. It reflects what kind of people we are and reflects the kind of way we would like to travel, the kind of rooms we would want to stay in. We now have grown from seven rooms to eighteen.
LFB: Do you guys want to keep The Dreamcatcher small still? Because it really does have that flair to it where it is still homey and you bump into other guests and have chats with them…
Stephan: This is why the rooms are all very tucked in. We have a lot of little nooks, the reception is in the middle and not in the front, so everything is decentralized. Lots of the rooms have private little terraces so it gives people privacies, but there are also a lot of opportunities to mingle like in the communal kitchens and during breakfasts in the dining room. We also offer exclusive tours on the island and yoga. Two thirds of the rooms also share communal bathrooms.
LFB: That leads me to my next question. With the shared bathrooms and the communal kitchens, yoga lessons, and vegetarian and vegan meals, clearly this kind of bohemian lifestyle is very important at The Dreamcatcher. So at the very beginning, was it always an interest of you and Sylvia to put something out there that was eco friendly and geared towards travellers that were maybe not so interested in consuming, but who want to cook their own meals and not just spends tons of money at the casinos on the island?
Stephann: That is exactly what it came from. Again, we created a place that reflected how we would want to travel. Sylvia did live in this house [before it became what it is today]. She needed to share the kitchen with the guests, but she was a vegetarian, so that is why vegetarian food was served. It was perfect for me, because I don’t eat meat either. We don’t like staying in big resorts. We don’t like renting a car and just doing the things that everyone else are doing. We want to have that real immersion into what it means to be in a country like Puerto Rico.
A lot of people come down here and they may take a big tour to the rainforest, but that is it. They haven’t really explored anything. So this is why we have the hand drawn map with over 100 locations within walking distance in Ocean Park Canturce, so people can see what Puerto Rico recall has to offer.
And the communal kitchens are also important aspect to us. We still want to make [The Dreamcatcher] affordable for people. We have many high-end rooms and then we have rooms that are tiny, have a shared bathroom, and if you don’t want to have breakfast because you think that $11 for breakfast is too much, you can also just buy some cereal and some milk and eat that, but you still can enjoy being at the beach, being two minutes away from the beach and having a relaxing vacation without spending $400 a night.
The sustainability of tourism is also important to us. That is why we encourage people to take a stroll and not take a car. Of course, if people want to explore the island, they need to rent a car because public transportation is just not there, we can’t change that. But with little changes we can provide space for people who just want to come for 4-5 days and have trip with a small impact on the environment. You do not have to rent a car, there are shared bathrooms, we encourage everyone to re-use their towels, etc.
We do a lot of what other hotels are also doing but we try not to indoctrinate anyone or change them, but we offer what we would want to offer, and luckily there are enough people with similar interests who want to come here. But there are also a lot of people who now come here who are not vegetarian or are not doing yoga. They just want to stay here because they like the aesthetics, it’s affordable, or they want to be near the beach.
So it is a mix of people, but for those people we don’t tell them they need to eat vegetarian, which is why the breakfast is separate. But we do invite them to and some people then see that they can have a good vegetarian meal without dying! So we just live how we see the world. This to mee is beautiful, this is how I want to live. This is me, this is Sylvia. And we invite guests to come, and hopefully they do.
LFB: So it sounds like you have quite the mix here. Guests who would be the kind of people you would likely want to also befriend – artsy people who care about the environment, vegans, vegetarians, etc. But you also have guests who come here who are very “normal” (for lack of a better word). So what is the mix like and do the guests all get along with each other?
Stefan: Yes they do. There are a lot of people who want to mingle and those who do not want to – and if they do not want to they do not have to. They have their own terrace and their own map to explore the city alone. They can go out and go to the beach, or just lay in a hammock and read. They do not have to participate in the things we offer.
Obviously we hope that people want to partake in the things that we offer. We don’t offer yoga to make money. We don’t offer breakfast to make money. We do all of those things to give guests the opportunity to do it. All the yoga donations are for the yoga teachers. Salsa donations are for the salsa teachers. We are not taking any cuts from it. This is just the little city we want to create here. If you do not want to do it, fine, but we hope we have people who do want to do it.
And it changes. Sometimes we have a lot of people who stay in their rooms and other times everyone in the house gets to know each other and hangs out. Around Christmas and New Years we had people from Denmark and Norway and Sweden and four other rooms and they were all from Brooklyn. It was a very interesting crowd. It was amazing. There were families, there were young people. It was such a good mix and on New Years they all got together and we had a party here and everyone hung out until 4 in the morning and they became friends. And they want to come back and they keep on coming back. We have guests that have been here four or five times in the last two years.
LFB: And you also get a lot of solo travellers too, especially women as well?
Stephan: A lot of them. We have a lot of women and a lot of solo travellers. A lot of people who are having some struggle in their lives and want a break – someone how has just quit a job or relationship – or are in a transitional period come to The Dreamcatcher. We have Dreamcatcher couples, Dreamcatcher babies… people that met here and got married and now have kids. One of my girlfriends met her now wife here. They met and they fell in love. This place changes peoples’ lives. That happens in normal hotels I guess too, but I think here it happens in a different way.
LFB: Well there definitely is something about the atmosphere here – you walk through the gates and you step into this oasis where you automatically get a wave of calm. Especially for me, as I am bouncing back and forth between here and the Embassy Suites. Over there it is a typical resort, and I mean that is great for families, but everything is put in plastic cups, everything it getting thrown away in one giant trash can, no one is recycling, it’s a very different vibe. And here it is just relaxing and peaceful.
And you know, that’s fine, I’m definitely always saying how it is important not to judge people. So if someone wants to stay at a resort and have that kind of holiday, that is great. But what is so cool about The Dreamcatcher is that if you do happen to be more mainstream and stay at The Dreamcatcher, no one is shoving veganism down your throat, but little by little, you see, as you said, that vegan and vegetarian food can taste amazing. You see in the kitchen that there is recycling in the communal kitchens, and slowly, you get introduced to these ideas that sustainability can be fun and you don’t have to be a crazy hippy do do it, like many people think. I think The Dreamcatcher is great because it’s a place where it’s perfect if you are very bohemian, but it is also not overwhelming if you are more mainstream.
Stephan: We get hippie and new age alot, but I really do not like the term new age or hippie. But it’s interesting to see that, because for you and I or the core of our guests, we do not consider ourselves hippies or any of that, but it is just how we are. There is a new era, a new kind of people traveling in a different way. It’s not the baby boomer generation. We have them too but baby boomers travel differently. They travel to resorts. The way we travel is staying in places like this.
Puerto Rico didn’t really have any places like this before us, but with more and more people seeing that places like this can be successful they see, oh wow, you can do tourism small scale.
It isn’t that Puerto Rico is changing, but the travel industry here is changing. Big resorts are closing down because they do not have enough people to staff them. So we need to show people that we can open more places like The Dreamcatcher and get people out in the local areas to stimulate areas that were once beautiful and make them beautiful again.
LFB: Definitely. If you can do things on a local scale, that is really where it should start. Tourism is great, but it is so sad when you look at other places like islands in the Caribbean who rely on tourism and cruise ships to come dock every day. And if they weren’t to come, the economy would suffer. The last thing I would like to ask you is in terms of travel and being environmentally conscious and living a conscious lifestyle, what kind of suggestions would you have for people who are travelling, either coming to The Dreamcatcher or just travelling in general? What can they do when choosing a place to visit and stay to be environmentally friendly?
Stephan: If you want to be environmentally conscious you should pick places that care for the environment. That is the best thing. You are still going to fly, but let’s put that aside. Just find a place that has that consciousness and that is where it starts. If you find a place that is what you are, you will find other people there who want to do the kind of things you want to do. And also that place will be able to recommend places where you should go.
It really starts with the place. When people come here, there are other options, they do not have to only come to The Dreamcatcher. But within San Juan I don’t know of any other similar place. I do know maybe 2 or 3 other places in Puerto Rico, but you create a demand and change the market. When you go to a place, yo say, no I want to stay in a place like The Dreamcatcher. Because that is who I am. By supporting that local business and the local businesses around it.
photography by: Rae Tashman
LFB always discloses all partnerships. Thank you so much to everyone over at The Dreamcatcher Guesthouse in Puerto Rico for hosting me during this incredible media stay! It’s partnerships like this that allow LFB to bring incredible adventures and experiences to the LFB community. (I was not paid for this or any other post about The Dreamcatcher)
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