Friday, February 29, 2008

Shacks/Caverns/Finally My First Lobster and it's Big!

Last week and Last night we dove Shacks. The site may also be known by other names like the cavern or caves.Wow! What great dives! You start by swimming out not nearly as far as we have been. Then you descend before you get past the breaking waves. The waves break on the reef and you can't swim over or walk over the outer reef so you have to swim under it! There are a bunch of passages or caves that run under the reef. They may run 50 to 150 feet long. It requires going up and down and up and down, from 5 feet to 30 feet deep some times. It can bother the ears. If the waves are big enough they run over the reef and it creates a current that pushes you through the passages and out to sea! Getting back to shore can be tricky some times. Even last night the waves weren't too big and in some of the passages (we explored many of them) the water was hard to swim against. It requires grabbing the rocks and pulling yourself along. Outside the reefs edge is where all the life is. We saw lots of eagle rays, turtles, lobster, etc. On last nights' dive I caught my first lobster! No one told me they scream and vibrate when you hold them! It felt like I was being shocked! It didn't help that the lobster was huge. I had a hard time fighting it and getting it in the bag. They don't call them spiny lobsters for nothing. I have lots of cuts in my thumb and I was wearing gloves.
The carapace measured 5 3/4 inches! Our dive was 85 minutes long and David, Raul, and Katrina still had 1000#'s left in their tanks. I didn't have nearly as much.
The business end of a lobster. I have seen pictures of someone who had their finger pinched off when the lobster bit him. Science fiction can't come close to mother nature.

Take 466 at KM 117.1 on HW2. Follow it until it becomes 4466. Then make a right turn. I think the Google image is correct.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just Some Stuff Around the House

When we moved in we discovered 13 orange trees that hadn't been shaped in awhile. They were heavy with fruit and the branches were criss-crossing with dead limbs. I did some "finger pruning" (snapping off dead twigs)..."pruning to harvest" (cutting off huge branches)...then "pruning to shape" to try to tame the trees. It took quite a number of weeks to do it since we needed to juice the oranges and could only have so many bags around at one time. Well after a few light rains....poof... shiny new green leaves. Another light rain and I am smelling the most wonderful smell wafting into the blossoms! I'm happy I didn't prune off all the fruiting wood and I'm glad they all aren't blooming at the same time (it would be overpowering).
The lower part and upper parts of our property have about a 45 degree slope. They were both head-high in grass and vines and tree seedlings when we got here and we have been working hard to tame them. At the same time we know we only have the dry season to get it together before the rains and erosion problems can start. Besides weed whacking, vine pulling and planting coconuts We rake all the cut grass into mulch piles with the hopes of composting on the spot (once we get moisture). Putting these horizontal to the slope will stop any soil from sliding further down and create some terracing for us. The areas under the mulch are cool and damper so I keep stealing the partially composted stuff to put around new or relocated plants. I think it is a good plan. This terraced area has green beans and a tomato plant, a aji dulce pepper plant and some zucchini plants in it. The only odd thing about Puerto Rico is that there isn't green food. Everything is an odd cut of meat or a weird (but good tasting) root. I have a problem with eating food all the same color, but in this perfect climate I can grow everything as long as I can find seeds or a real vegetable to get seeds out of. My neighbor chucked a partial tomato into her yard and is now harvesting. I took her lead and have a million little free starts of things that will soon be food!
Here's the upper hill and another pile of sticks/brown matter or what I call "gold". Soil here is wonderful but not real deep. It is a heavy soil and amending with leaf debris and grass cuttings helps keep moisture in and improves the soil structure. It is lots of work turning and moving it but it really really helps.

Look at these trees! They have decent shapes now and the canopy will leaf out when we get some rain. I have also removed grass from under the tree out to the drip line. This should help moisture and fertilizer get to the feeder roots. Two down and 11 more to take care of!
These were a nice surprise to find in the yard. They were planted on the slope of the gully and need to be moved up-slope a little for maximum viewing. Something else to do in the planting/wet season. The cut heliconias are larger than my shoes and last over a couple weeks in the house.

There are many nice plants in the yard but the trouble has been finding them and figuring out what is a weed and what is a plant to keep. Everything needs dividing or rejuvenating. Another job for spring. I can't help myself though and have to do some clean up, redefining where the beds are and mulching with my "grassy gold". This area is under the mango that has large mangos. The mango has finally blossomed and I have cleaned up the bed underneath it. Later I will divide and move plants - more free plants.

This dove made a nest and a "little one" in the tree outside our bedroom. I call the doves "microphone birds" because they sound amplified all the time. The nest showed up one day and the dove didn't move out of it for a couple weeks. The baby hatched and then today - poof - they are gone and the nest has blown out of the tree.

There is a bed I revamped under the mango.When I finally clean up an area I find little rock walls or hidden structures. I find pieces of rebar that at some point either kept a weed whacker from hitting something or it propped something up. Lots of mysteries in the yard. I keep waiting for some of the plants to do something so I can decide what to do with them. Every day is exciting. Things seem to grow overnight. I have red tomatoes already, zucchinis that are finger length and little peppers. All stuff I planted from seed...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Los Animales y Pajaros y Insectos...

One of the reasons we bought the house we did was the yard. The yard is full of mature trees and palms and ornamentals that offer a wide variety of forage and shelter for birds and bugs and stuff. I don't know what this bird is, but there were two of them in this palm picking the palm fruits and dropping them to the ground. They did this for a day or two only - probably a weird mating ritual!

We were quite excited when we saw this bird, because we mistakenly thought it was the endangered yellow-shouldered blackbird (most have been tagged). But no, it is a Puerto Rican Oriole. I have spend many hours watching this bird build its little hammocks in a huge palm we have near the balcony. It straddles the ridges of the leaves with its legs and does stuff with mud. Then it weaves this hammock (actually several) suspended across the palm leaves.

Our upper property is under construction - major vine pulling, raking, cutting of stumps and mini trees. The vines crawled up anything with elevation and the result is "ghost" trees - they look almost like topiaries. When the vines have fruit or seeds on them it brings in the birds - in this case an Ani.

At night I make my rounds with a flashlight trying to figure out who is making what noise. The Puerto Rican Screech Owls sound like monkeys, the doves sound like they have microphones and the insects? I swear some of them have maracas and maybe even percussion instruments! Just like the coquis though, when you step near them all the sound stops and you can't locate them. This looks like a grasshopper - not sure.

This spider makes odd funnel type dimensional webs under banana leaves so watch when you are picking fruit.

I absolutely love the coquis and they seem to be many kinds on our property. The eyes are different, there are lines on their heads, coloring is different, and they don't all make sound. Some of them seem to have a favorite "regular" spot on a palm leaf or in the stalk of cut down banana trees. I don't ever see them in the daytime despite going out early in the morning looking.

My absolute favorite animal though has got to be the rooster. There is one that thinks he lives here with his little bitches (4 or 5). It is the first thing we hear in the morning and the last thing (sometimes mingled with dog) before falling asleep. They are responsible for my bizarre dreams. They are the reasons I investigate down by the breadfruit trees or the avocado numerous times a day - sounds like people walking around. I can count on them to be where ever I worked last in the yard. They set up a spa (dirt bath holes) in my flower bed. Sometimes I set up decoy areas to keep them out of the "good" spots - I chuck bananas to head them in another direction and to watch the rooster toss back his head and do the urr urr urr to keep the bitches close. And for fun I sometimes send the rooster and two of his group in a direction away from the other two. Then I get to watch and hear the commotion as he rounds up the gals again. Yes, I love chickens.

Photographing at night is creepy which is why I like it. After seeing a few spiders (and getting my face close to photograph them) I have decided to wear tennis shoes and long pants. There is the temptation to get really close and to touch them when their hairs look like this. The little fangs however kept me back.

This bug is a big noise maker. There was one on our screen making a huge racket until I walked up to it. Then it stopped. As soon as I turned my back it started again. The body on this insect is patterned just like a leaf. The color is just like a leaf. The eyes could be mistaken for fern spores. They are kind of creepy in a good way.
Here's another one sitting atop a flower in the yard. Part of the fun of living here is discovering what plants do (had no idea this marginally interesting plant would flower like this) and figuring out about all the wild things. Here's another spider. Is it the same type as the hairy darker one? Maybe an alter ego in blond? I am ignorant as to the names of most things yet but have a personal mission to learn the "real" names and local names of things. I'm having a hard time though since things aren't what they are. There are weeds related to poinsettias (or maybe they are poinsettias) that are called Leche Bane. The Momordica balsamira vine is called Gundeamor... it will be fascinating to find out the names of all the critters in our yard. I'm going to start a sketch book to inventory things (plant and animal) and of course take photos and hopefully piece together this interesting puzzle!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vejigantes - Evil Spirit Chasers - in Ponce's Carnival

Yes, you are reading the numbers correctly - 150th year of the Ponce Carnival. This is Puerto Rico and there is history here! This is Puerto Rico and like everything else here there is a slight bit of disorganization...when does the parade start? Who knows, not Ponce Chamber of Commerce. Where does it start? Where does it end? What's going on? Festivities go on and on for a week and who knows if it actually culminates in a big parade or if it repeats each night? We know some folks who always go the night before ash Wednesday, but it sounds like we had a better parade showing on Sunday. This parade was around 4 hours and went into dark. There is a website, but it only has a brief sentence for the current days' events. Something like - "Ponce Carnival all day." Our friends go at night when it is cooler, but I wanted to photograph and have light so we popped into the car around 1 figuring we would catch part of it anyway. As we drove around trying to find the Ponce square (most things happen at city plazas) we crossed over the parade so we then tried to get ahead of it. Hard to do with police blocking roads and stuff but we did it! It started at around 3:30 with every high school and city and town represented by bands, costumed people, cows, etc.

This is a traditional Hatillo costume from the Northern town. The blue costume is one of hundreds of vejigantes who roam the parade route banging the bladders to chase evil spirits away. Groups of them run around in packs snarling and banging the bladders in between the horned masks and city groups.

I don't know if this guy represented a town or not but he was a crowd pleaser! He and his bizarre pony whinied and trotted around mingling with the crowds. Everyone in Puerto Rico joins everything - the parade had little pee wees and older folks and everyone in between riding on floats, dancing in masks, chasing the spirits or in this case riding the pony.

It's hard to show the scale of these floats, but here you can see the massive "outfit" this little girl is wearing and another little girl was riding on the same float down below. The building in the background gives you an idea how big it is. Such wonderful colors! The littlest girl on the bottom sometimes threw candy out to the crowd. Masks masks and more masks- the traditional Ponce horned masks and many modifications of it on top with vibrant colors on the bottom. Everyone is swirling and bopping around together. I really liked the bat head - don't know who was in it, but it was a cool costume and it looked great when s/he swirled and tilted the head!
These are just creepy...there was a whole float of characters like this all slightly moving like bobble-heads only creepy. You could see human eyes in there, and human hands on the outside, but the scale is off and they were just plain creepy. On the flatbed I think it was representing a baseball player, a business man, a farmer, rancher, slave, and who knows what else.

And of course you have to have a chicken! This is the land of chickens and horses: they are in truck beds, they show up in your yard, they are along the highways, the calles and caminos. They are even at the gas stations. Not a day goes by without seeing and hearing chickens and horses! What kind of parade would it be without one?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Peep Peep Peep

Baby chickens! There are sooo many chickens in the hills around us it is all urrr urrr urrring all the time from dawn to...well dawn. It doesn't end. If you take a walk at night they are huddled in the giant trees (they seem to like particular trees). When you awaken to urr urring they are usually wandering around the last area you worked in. For a few days one of our "familiar" roosters only had 4 of his 5 "companions" with him. Then the 5th showed up with 9 little ones trying to navigate the steep hillside where are oranges are. There was one lagging behind and I picked it up to let it catch up and momma had a cluck-fest and ran at me pecking. It's been a week now and there are still 9 chicks! Listen to them peep! We waited until the grass had seed heads to do it and the chicks, mom, other "ladies" (and the "pimp") all seemed to enjoy the buffet! Another area of the yard is the chicky "spa" where they have made some small craters in my garden where the sit...rustle their feathers and kick up little dirt clouds as they clean themselves. Some other ponderings about chickens. Before moving here we picked up a book about Puerto Rican Birds and in it was an entry for "Red Jungle Fowl." Hmmmm, we thought, those look like chickens. It is like everything else here in Puerto Rico...they may be Red Jungle Fowl, but to us they are "chickens with no owners." Just like "chinas" that are oranges, "batata amarillas" which translates to yellow potatoes but really they are sweet potatoes but not really because they aren't shaped the same and don't look the same on the inside and the taste is a little different. In order to find out what they were (we had gone to a BBQ and had them baked on the grill) I had to buy every kind of "batata" in the store - batata horneo, batata cocinar, batata roja, batata blanca, mameya, and after sampling them all it was the yellow one we wanted. Back to the chickens. The rooster that comes here with his "ladies" is the instigator of them all. He is the major crower in the valley and when he starts it goes in surround-sound for miles and miles around the area. They get tired and don't even urrr urrr anymore really, they just start sounding creepy like crying babies or witches riding broomsticks or something. Makes for very weird dreaming!

Aguadilla Court House Wall Dive

This dive site has a steep slope of coral that runs parallel to shore. Word has it that the visibility at this site is generally poor, less than 30' because of a river near by. There is a fair amount of silt also present. When we dove it we had a great day with 50' vis. We gather that current can be present at the site. Save enough air so you can swim in on the bottom. Swim out for 10 to 15 minutes. The coral starts near the edge of the slope in about 25' of water. The bottom of the slope is about 80'. Past that and its all sand. The slope generally runs parallel with the shore but has fingers that jut out and back again. The reef may be shaped like a crescent. I saw turtle on our dive but no lobster. We saw a fair number of eels.

See how clear the water is. Katrina enjoys some sun after the dive.

We parked across the street from the beach.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Rincon Deep Wall Shore Dive

Note: We only dove here once so far. I will update this post as we get more experienced with this site and hopefully put some pictures in it. Site Description: A 10 to 15 minute swim straight out from shore brings you to a wall that starts about 60' and goes deep. I hit 110 and the wall was still going down. Lots of small fish were swimming around the plentiful coral. We started by heading south then turned the dive near the end and headed back north. Before you get to the top of the wall there are stretches of coral that run out to the wall. They can start in 30'. Just diving these would make a good dive. From what we are told current is usually not a problem here but its best to do this in the morning before the wind picks up Directions: Coming from the South we took 115 to Rincon. Around KM 10, 11, or 12 there is a KFC and Churches Chicken on the right. Turn left about 100 feet past the KFC. Go to the end of the road and park when it comes to a T. The entrance to the beach is a 10' public access point between two houses.

Friday, February 8, 2008

NO CABALLOS (lo siento)

For the first couple months we've been here we have had horses occasionally show up on the upper part of our property. We used "bad" spanish to let the rancher know we liked having them there, and he would rotate them on and off the property. We started to work on that part of the property though and realized that the horses had made trails (which will be useful) but had kind of evil eating habits. They prefer only grass and new grass at that. They ignore vines, plants with stickers and pokey seeds etc. and continue to tear off new growth. This gives the weedy things a competitive edge. These horses are big, and you can see how much green there is on the hill - unfortunately it is mainly vines! Horses eat 30 pounds of grass a day.
These two ponies were our favorites...we could pet them, and feed them green grass and water.
This is the male and pregnant female (she was scary) We didn't like her much.
So after the last time the rancher moved them we started to pile sticks (trees have been cut down for years) and we started to pull vines and realized it is a mess up there! We love the horses, but we want to put some ornamental plants and fruit trees and a star gazing platform up there and can't do it with horses there. They will eat all the special things we plant. If we want grass up there before the rainy season we have got to pull vines, get sticks out of the way so Jeff can weed whack and let the grass go to seed. So that's the plan -- NO CABALLOS. So long horses...we will miss the creepy sounds of large things moving around in the night...of horses stampeding toward the fence for fresh grass...and knowing that the clap clap clap of horse hooves in the street meant they were coming to our house.
Our last memory is of feeding our little group fresh grass down by the Corazon tree...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Busy Week for the Kruse's

-new kitchen sink and faucets.
-new light fixture in Kitchen.
-CRIM taken care of.
-windsurfing practiced.
-raised bed by 8" using 2x8's.
-built a shelf for the microwave so it's not on the counter.
-new light fixture in hallway.
-cleared the upper right corner of our yard.
-pruned Aceola tree
-pruned Orange trees
-planted traveler's palm
-planted Neem tree
-cleaned the gravel area near the fountain dividing plants and relocating them to along the
-enjoyed the Ponce Carnival Parade
-harvested and eaten too many Corazons
-built tomato cages (just in time - there are already little fruits on the 4 foot high plants)
-befriended Holstein a roving kitty who has started curling up outside our door
-taken "Little Boy" (aka Dakota) our inside cat on escorted excursions outdoors
-discovered 9 little chickens trailing their momma across the yard
-got new socks (my feet have been really hurting - stone floors are wonderful but hard and it doesn't help that I am balancing on stumps to clear brush and standing in crotches of trees to harvest and prune...and I am using snorkling fins when diving which means I am walking across limestone and sticks and stuff barefoot)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some Tidying up Around the Yard....

This is how the entrance to the house looked when we got here in October. There were ferns and trees and weeds all mixed in with some really nice stuff that also needed dividing and pruning and cutting and cleaning up! Hidden under the mini-jungle I discovered a defined planter bed outlined with rocks. I worked for many days to unveil the beautiful things in this small area. It still isn't completely how I'd like it, but it is much better.
See all the stuff? There was leaf debris up to the tiles and the dirt is at least a foot below. Leaf debris is great, but not when things need dividing and flowers need removing and when there is total chaos and plant wars going on!
Here I've got the area a little nicer. The gingers have room to breathe, the begonias are divided, the ferns removed, the corn plants relocated and some organic matter put in. Now you can see the stairs when you pull into the carport!

This is to one side of the driveway. There are oranges and the house on the other side up a slope. You can maybe see Jeff to the left with the weedwacker trying to tackle vines and grass that are over his head. A year is a long time and we didn't have any idea what could happen. This whole area to the left is now clear and we are digging it up and putting in vegetables and fruit trees. We have planted papaya trees from seed, parcha (passion fruit), bananas (relocated from other areas of the yard), coconuts (relocated), yucca (relocated) and tomatos and peppers etc.

After a while things started looking more manageable (until we started working on the upper hillside). To the left is a now-clear-grassy area we are digging for a garden. To the right you can see a couple of the 13 orange trees we've got. The gate is at the bottom of the driveway.

This is a photo of a couple of the orange trees that are loaded with oranges. The house is behind them, and you can't see it. I have been doing some harvesting/pruning and the view is totally different now! We drink a gallon of orange juice every few days and still have at least 4 bags ready for juicing at all times. I have only pruned 5 trees so far but the difference is astounding. I even skeletonized one of them and it sprouted new green leaves after we got a little rain.
This is the top of the stairs - the main entrance to the house. The coconut that nearly bonked me is in the background. It is a lovely little house and the view changes daily as we continue to clean up and move plants around!

Monday, February 4, 2008

CRIM Makes Me Cringe. Trip 1

Personally I thought 5 trips to CESCO was excessive. Today we went to CRIM so we could fill out a piece of paper so we don't have to pay property tax. Here in PR you don't have to pay property tax on your first house but you need to fill out a form to take advantage of the exclusion. We got there at 11:45AM. We took a number (74). They were serving number 35 and the small dirty room was full of people. No one was at the only window. They were out to lunch until 1pm. We left. We went to our mortgage company to see if they could help. They told us what we needed CRIM to do. It's not the $13 a YEAR we will save in not having to pay our property taxes that drives us to CRIM. It's the problem that the tax department doesn't recognize that we own the house until we get the paperwork to show our name. It could be a real problem if we ever sell the house.So we will try again in the middle of the week early in the morning. We were told this is a good time to go.