WASHINGTON — With support from a variety of local businesses, Guayama-raised food blogger Jessica van Dop DeJesús has launched a crowdfunding effort to finance “The Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico” — the first Latino-produced travel guides of its kind to be sold in the United States or Europe.
On Monday evening, she threw a party at her Washington, D.C. home to kick off the effort.
“One of the things I always noticed in travel magazines is, they’d have great stories about Puerto Rico, but they were never written by somebody who actually grew up there,” van Dop DeJesús told News is my Business in between serving her guests “guava con queso,” homemade mojitos and other Caribbean delights.
“There was always something missing: articles in publications like Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure about Puerto Rico written by Puerto Ricans,” she said. “So I decided to take matters into my own hands and publish a book from the ‘boricua’ perspective.”
The book van Dop DeJesús plans will be 175 to 200 pages long and will sell for $45, which also includes an e-book version as well as a tote bag. But to publish it on schedule, she must raise $20,000 by Dec. 10 to pay for production, design and printing of at least 500 copies of the hardcover photo book, accompanying e-book and mobile app.
“We’re looking for a publisher right now,” said the 37-year-old blogger. She explained that creating a crowdfunding campaign motivates people to become part of the project and increase awareness of the unique experiences Puerto Rico has to offer.
Plus, she said, “there’s always room for a photography book in your living room.”
Van Dop DeJesús certainly isn’t a typical food writer, nor does she have a typical life story.
Originally from Rochester, N.Y., she moved with her family back to their native Puerto Rico at the age of five.
“As a kid growing up, we would go on road trips around the island, to places like Orocovis, Aguadilla, Peñuelas and Coamo. And once a month, we’d always go to Guavate,” she recalled fondly.
Van Dop DeJesús became a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. Since then, she’s been to 42 countries on and off duty. She eventually became a program officer for NATO in Belgium working in industrial information security, and married a tall Dutchman named Martin van Dop, from Rotterdam. In 2012, the couple relocated to Washington.
Over time, the jovial “puertorriqueña” became a full-time foodie writer, and started her own blog called “The Dining Traveler.”
“Being on social media, I feel like these days photography has more value than words,” she told NIMB. “People see a photograph and it inspires them to go someplace — so I wanted to merge something that was tangible with the digital world.”
Van Dop DeJesús has already made two photo-scouting trips to the island and is going back Nov. 3 for a third time. She and her Venezuelan photographer Italo Morales will be shooting the entire month of January, and the book should be printed in June 2016.
The book will be edited by fellow “boricua” Nina Alvarez — a writer, editor and founder of Dream Your Book Author Services and the Aurora Center for Creative and Spiritual Arts in Rochester, N.Y.
Morales, based in Brussels, recently did a book called “Overnight Generation” about Sarajevo, featuring portraits of people who suffered through Bosnia’s civil war.
“It’s a photographic depiction of where these people are now,” said van Dop DeJesús. “I loved the whole concept of telling a story through photos, even though our subjects are completely different.”
On their last trip to Puerto Rico, van Dop DeJesús and Morales partnered with a company called Poshpacker, which features unique but cheap accommodations.
Some of the locally owned hotels to be featured in “The Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico” include Grateful Souls Hostel in Aguada and Villa Herencia on Caleta Las Monjas in Old San Juan.
Another local business featured in her book is Puerto Rico Helitours, which offers helicopter rides around the island from its base at San Juan’s Isla Grande Airport.
“It’s impossible to include only locally owned hotels, but I do want 70 percent of the content to be local attractions, beaches, parks, things of that nature,” she said, adding that most of the remainder will feature restaurants.
Among the local eateries featured in the book, said DeJesús: Marullos in Aguada; Aseré Cubano Kitchen in Condado’s La Placita; the Café Americain restaurant at Hotel Casablanca in Old San Juan, and Kasalta in Ocean Park, “where President Obama had the ‘medianoche,’ which is what I always have.”
Yet another place she features is the Soleil Beach Club in Piñones, “where I celebrated my 30th birthday.”
So once her Puerto Rico project is finished, we asked this ambitious “boricua” what’s next on her bucket list?
“I’d love to write a similar dining guide to Brussels, which is where I met my husband,” she said.