Thursday, March 27, 2008

Coconut Mishap Numero Dos...Only Really This Time

Katrina's revenge...this is one coconut that will never sprout. I'm draining it of all juices which I intend to enjoy as I lay low tending my injury. What injury you ask? Well I will be sure to photograph the post injury BRUISE I am sure I will have for a long time after being struck on the inner thigh by a four pound (yes I weighed it) coconut that fell 15 feet off the lovely palm I was sitting close to while on a beach excursion.
Jeff and I had a nice dive Tuesday evening (98 minutes) after a week of not diving due to 30 foot waves. We heard that another low pressure system was coming in on Thursday but we didn't know that that meant more big waves. We gathered the dive gear and headed out to CrashBoat which is in Aquadilla near El Natural (where we dove Tuesday night with 3 turtles and all the usual players). Jeff is headed to the states so he wanted to get a dive in before having to endure 47 degree water. When we got there it was not like we had ever seen it...8 foot waves crashing ("Crash" boat could have given us a clue) on shore and surfers out. No way diving would be good so we pulled out the beach chairs, floaty rafts and snack cooler and decided on a beach day. Jeff doesn't like sun so we plopped down near (not exactly under) a coconut palm like all the other beach goers on spring break. I sat in the sun while Jeff took the raft out into the very big waves for some rough and tumble fun. With surfers around you have to watch your head and be prepared to dive down or get hit...but that was not the mishap! So I had enough sun and sat in the chair in the dappled shade. I had a nice daydreaming thing going when I felt a really odd sustained pain on my inner right thigh accompanied by a loud slapping sound. Man it hurt! I was confused and stunned to find this heavy and hard coconut in my lap. Other beach goers heard it hit me too. Ouch. I don't know what force it hit me with but can tell you that I might as well have had a sledge hammer blow. Humorous huh? What are the chances? I used to think I would die by getting taken away by a six gill shark but I now know it will be death by coconut.

I hobbled into the water to cool it off since it was swelling and hurt more than a little bit. I had some rough and tumble and decided we have to buy boogie boards at least and then learn to surf. I floated around body surfing for a while and then we finished our day and went home. It really hurts - so much that I couldn't shut the gate and walk the 180 steps up to the house or even take on the slope to check for more green beans. I guess I won't be making trails on the hillside for a few days at least and won't be stepping on a shovel or doing anything on a slope. So yes - I now believe it is possible to crack your skull and get a concussion at least from a coconut. I am just hoping the swelling goes down and I am not this sore tomorrow...I have a big couple gardening weeks ahead of me and planned on cement work and diving when the waves go down. A coconut injury was not part of the plan...but I got my revenge (yum).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Waves Too Big to Go Diving

Check out pictures of the giant waves we had last week at We didn't get to go diving because of them. I hope the coral isn't destroyed too much. Check out the Steps dive report on our blog to see what it usually looks like. We did get to go snorkeling in Guanica with some friends. Conditions there were nice. Here I am refreshing with a nice coco frio.

Ah, plantanos, like every thing else, fried.

Here is Chicken Little with his family.

And here he is trying to get out of the rain. We won't let him in the house because our other cat would fight with him. Maybe someday when Dakota gets to obese to fight. El gato es gordo!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cats, Chicken Spa, Veggies and Troll Bridge...

News flash !!! The Chicken Spa has moved from its prior location (in my garden bed) to under the Tamarind Tree. This hen made a nice hole and kicked/fluffed up a bunch of dry dirt before settling in for a rejuvenating nap. The other bitch and their pimp (rooster) did the same with the little cat sitting in the shade but not in a hole like the others.
This is the big, bad Dakota (aka Little Boy) - our fat cat from Washington. We neutered him young but he is still a big bad fighter and only goes on supervised walks in the yard. Other cats visit him (they know he is in cat prison) and taunt him from outside the rejas but today.... I had him on a supervised walk when "Chicken" (aka Chicken Little) the little cat came to greet me. Dakota tore out after him and when I rescued poor, innocent and nice little Chicken I got a nasty scratch from none other than my bad cat (soon to be replaced - not really). Cat purgatory is now in session. Look how comfortable and innocent Chicken looks near our fountain. We give him snacks (since he forages with the chickens) and have to decide when to have him neutered and when he should have his shots. At what point do we take him in? Well we had a bit of a rain squall today and I looked out and saw him sitting inside our decorative teracotta pot. Where does he sleep? Do the chickens look after him? Will big bad Dakota hate his guts until Chicken can beat the crap out of him?

To the right is the new garden area - not dug up and composted yet. To get their from the main yard you have to cross a five foot deep and maybe 6 foot wide gully of sorts (a water feature in the wet season we think). Jeff put together this little Troll Bridge so we could get over the gully or just sit (feet dangling) to listen to the coquis. We still have to dig the cinder blocks into the ground so the bridge sits more flush. Maybe tomorrow since the ground is soft?

Here's Chicken's family out on their morning forage around our compost stacks.

And what about Holstein? He is a very feral cat we cannot touch. He doesn't hear very well but has a routine of showing up for snacks. When Chicken is eating he just waits patiently and lets him finish. Puerto Rico animals all seem to get along...the chickens have cat friends....the cats are ok with each other...every cow has a bird friend. What is wrong with Dakota? I thought he could turn his life around.

I get bored with food (sandwiches for lunch, peanut butter and bread for breakfast - and coffee which I am not sick of-- and rice, beans, chicken or shrimp for dinner). All very beige food. Here are some goodies from the yard that brighten up our meals -- cherry tomatoes and yellow crook neck squash (calabazine amarillo). We still have oranges and are eating at least three things from the yard a day. Tonight included Cilantro, tomatoes, squash, orange juice and coco frio! All this bootie after another great dive at the Shacks. And as a bonus we got some rain so tomorrow should be a great day in the yard....

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Divine Dive en la Noche...

David couldn't make it but Raul, Javier, Jeff and I and a technical diving guy we dove with for the first time all rounded up at El Natural at 6:30 for an evening dive. I'm showing Javier's hand signal right now for (bullshit)...we talked for awhile and entered the water around 7:15 maybe. We park at Israel's house and pay him 3 bucks to "watch the cars" but he and his family (very nice people) do far more than that...they keep a clear path to the beach, a cleared place to park, and they physically sit there and watch the cars so you can leave stuff in the back or whatever worry free. On one night dive they even came to the beach with a light when our group overshot the beach entrance! Nice people. And now....da da da...about the dive-that-David-shouldn't- have -missed... The sunset was spectacular first off, and then the dive started like most of them with a swim out to the reef, a descent into very clear turquoise water and the greeting by puffers and trunck fish etc with everyone getting ready for bed or feeding. Basket stars were unfurling, tangs were changing color and settling onto the bottom and eels were slithering out of cracks and crevices on the prowl. So what did we see? What DIDN'T we see would be a better question. We saw the usual players - Tang, both kinds of puffers (really adorable when the puffiness goes down after they have been puffed up), parrot fish making their bubbles, so many different kinds of fish I can't describe them. We had fun looking into the flats and into crevices and basically just looking a long ways in all directions! First up were a couple squid that were courting - they were changing colors and lining huge one and another smaller one. Then we saw a really neat slipper lobster and some big crab in nice large barrel sponges. Puffers, cow fish, huge file fish, soap fish...we turned up into the shallows after 50 minutes or so. The reef bottoms out at around 70 feet, then we hear there are sand flats and another reef that starts at 95 and ends at 150 starts up. We stay on the first one so we get our 80 something minute dive in! After turning into the shallows we see a frantic light shake and we zoom over and find not one, but 3 turtles (two different kinds) in the undercut area. We watch for a long time and another one shows up. Now we have had almost an hour and think that is the highlight when "shake shake shake" with the lights and there is a good size nurse shark that cruises to another undercut. In a caverny area nearby is another smaller one. Just before the sharks we see our first "pulpo" or octopus...not huge like the Giant Pacific Octopus but still smart and interesting. And before that we saw another big turtle with barnacles on its back. We must be at the end now. Another 15 minutes or so go by and another light shake...this time it is a really big southern stingray that cruises my way. As I am examining it and thinking of lifting it up to see the mouth I see the very long, barbed and piercing tail and decide to move aside. In Washington death-by-six gill shark would have been alright, but hey...I just got here and am loving it! I was born to be here! After watching the sting ray for a while I looked in a few more crevices and saw a little turtle (butt and back fins sticking out), my bottom time was 85 minutes and although I wasn't cold I figured it was best to end the dive after the stingray (better dreams that way)! So with 1000 pounds left and images of cool big things in my small mind I left the water thinking wow - too bad we have to come up... and also thinking wow....I get to do this again in a day or so! So what's next? Jobos (Shacks/caverns) at 9am on Sunday. Who knows what we will see!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shacks Caverns

Yesterday afternoon I was in Aguadilla for a job interview with Honeywell. Since I was going to be in Aguadilla for the interview I thought I might as well going diving. I hung out watching some surfers surf some big waves IMO (8 feet high) just a few miles from where we would be diving. Since the surf was up a bit David and I decided to stay on the inside of the reef and just explore the many caves and caverns. Vis was good on the inside and got worse as we got closer to the outer reef. It was a good dive and we had 80 minutes bottom time and the sun was going down just as we came out. Tonight were going to El Natural again. It should be a wonderful night dive.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aguadilla Court House Dive Yesterday

We had nice conditions yesterday, 80' vis in shallow and 50' vis on the wall. Of special note was a very large barracuda with big teeth. It followed us around for 10 minutes and came real close. We also saw a large green moray eel, a small octopus, and lots and lots of small colorful fish. Our bottom time was again 85 minutes and the water was 77 degrees. We were a bit cold at the end. It was a nice dive.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Diving...Another Surprise in the Land of the Surprising!

When we picked Puerto Rico as our relocation destination it wasn't because of the diving. It was because it is a large island with a great lifestyle, lovely people, and a variety of sportsy things to do and it is more affordable than most other places that have great weather! We picked the west part of the island because it is close to conveniences (potential work, Home Depot, Sears) and close to kayaking and beaches and is still really rural. We had heard that THE diving was the La Paguera Wall which is a $70 boat trip for 2 short dives. We don't do "short" well (normal people dive for 30 minutes) and I hate boats.Well of course we have once again been surprised in a good way! We have been diving a couple times a week from shore and have had delightful dives!

It really helps that we have met David. Not only is he a superb diver, but he has skilled friends as well that he has introduced us to. He knows the sites and knows excellent divers that also know different sites and has excellent air consumption (I am no longer the airmaster - he and Raul are).

Now to the dives. The best of the best is Jobos or "Shacks." These underwater caverns are really cool! There is no way we can go there yet on our own - it is a network of caverns with some dead ends. You have to know the two that go through to the outside reef so you can dive the reef and then return finding the caverns that go back through. We can't judge the conditions on our own since the caverns get water forced into them and it can suck you in and out or simply trap you in there if conditions are wrong. You can't always get back to shore if you go up top either. We have gone during the day which was awesome with light coming through the holes and turtles and giant eagle rays cruising the reef. But it was definitely the most wonderful at night. Unfortunately conditions didn't let us stay on the outside for very long - lots of surge and waves above (it is on the Atlantic side). What we did see was magical though - sleeping beauties (fish of every color) dozing on the bottom, and I mean really just sleeping on their sides on the coral! Seattle didn't have fish the way PR has fish! Blue, green, pink, red, yellow, white, purple, lavender, name a color and there are multiple fish in multiple shades of it. At night they just lay down. My favorite thing though is the turtles! You dive around and see turtle "butts" sticking out of the reef - their heads and front flippers are wedged in the reef. We have seen at least two different kinds of turtles. We also have seen a Eagle Rays in groups of 2 or 3 and solo. Going back into the caverns was a bit tricky and some of the holes we entered were small - you could not wear doubles and get into them. With the whooshing of the surge it was matter of timing to see a hole, go in and scramble so you didn't get sucked out or wedged in the entrance. This dive was the first time in all my diving I think where I really did not know where I was at all and was totally reliant on David and Raul. They absolutely know what they are doing which is why we went and now we know for sure they know what they are doing. We spent 84 minutes going through the network of caverns (which at night seemed like caves) - up and down and squeezing through little holes seeing tubastrea coral and other stuff. It was kind of like being an ant in an ant farm only we were underwater!

We had a wonderful dive at The Natural during the day with visibility around 70 feet, water around 80 and Eagle Rays and puffers, and trunk fish and just all kinds of stuff (plus sunshine beaming down and illuminating things). Then we did this spot with David at night and WOW - We were picking up huge puffers, cowfish, filefish. We saw a nurse shark about 5 or more feet long and only one pectoral fin...I was able to stroke its back before if took off. Again, sleeping fish etc. and excellent visibility.

Today we went to the Rincon Wall - a 20 minutes swim and then a drop onto a reef at around 40 that goes down deeper than you can go. The fish were calling and I went to 110 with Jeff and Raul going for a dip to 130. Even then, our dive was still 71 minutes with most of the sensible time spent around 50 in the sunshine. Raul saw an Eagle Ray and we saw many many fish. This spot though is very bushy with soft corals and fans and sea whips and stuff on the steep drop off. We saw a large lobster but didn't get it. There was a dive boat out there (didn't see any divers) and we were quite happy to be getting the same dive for the price of a small swim! This dive is like the Paguera wall. We had a lot of fun (great dive buddies as divers and personalities).

So what is diving in Puerto Rico like? It is not Fiji. If you have vacation money to burn get on a live aboard in the South Pacific. For day to day diving where you live? It is easy (I wear snorkle fins, 4 pounds, a 4/3 wetsuit (no hood, gloves and I don't bother with a light in the day) is comparatively warm (80)...not much current (except the caverns)...full of colorful fish that are out where you can see them...totally delightful with great visibility and warm air when you get in and out! It is so fricking enjoyable I go to go and haven't even wanted to bring the camera. I am enjoying diving for the diving. There is a nice variety of spots to go. Most are 45min-1 hour from our house and we picnic and float around on the beach afterwards and just enjoy life. At the Natural we went to sit on the beach afterwards and ended up having a nice lunch brought to us by other beach goers we didn't know. A nice pork chop, good bread and some soda topped off what was already a great day. Puerto Rico is agreeing with us! Even with the language thing (I need to speak better Spanish) we still can have fun, get our ideas across and make friends!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Odd (but regular) Sightings Around the Neighborhood

This is one of two (nobody owns them) roosters that kind of live on our property. This is the smaller one that doesn't do a good job of keeping his bitches in line. Sometimes he will scratch and call them over but he is basically ineffectual. Except for the crowing. Here he is on the look out for where his gals and his other playmate are.

And here's his other playmate now! Yes you are seeing correctly - it's a little kitten! This kitty stays with the chicken pack all day and night and meows if he is left behind. The rooster crows for him when he meows and they actually wait up for him! Here they are sharing a little kibble that dropped from the sky (tee hee).
I don't know why I like the chickens. They go to whatever area I have been working in to scratch and hunt for bugs. I know they are watching me so I set up decoy areas I would prefer them to forage in. Sometimes it works and other times....ah well.

Isn't he the cutest kitty ever! We can't touch him....yet. We give this one and another one (Holstein) some food when they show up but neither will let us touch them. Yet. Our real cat, Dakota (aka "Little Boy") was like this when we first got him and now he is a potato. For now though, the chickens are his friends.

Here are some more "Red jungle fowl" that our neighbors a few blocks away have befriended. They throw out corn and the chickens come running! The rooster will even jump into your arms. I want my roosters (the one's that live in our yard) to do that but they don't like corn. Preferemos comer cosas natural.
This cow is in the pasture nest to and behind our neighbors at the bottom of the driveway. Sometimes it is "cowfest" and there is a mooing contest of sorts with all kinds of ruckus in the night. The mooing echoes and moves around the hills and just sounds wrong.
The neighbors with the trained chickens also have this cool gourd tree near their home. We wander around and see all kinds of oddities so we never know what to expect!
Lots of clip pity-clopping (but odd sounding) in our neighborhood. I can hear them coming through the bamboo tunnel and if I go to the end of the driveway or at least look that way from up top I can see them. Other times they are really really fast. Some of them are the side-stepping Paso Fino horses which look really funky when they are moving if you look at their feet. It seems like Sunday is the biggest riding day when groups of 15 or 20 neighbors on horses ride together. I miss having horses in the yard but...things are looking better up there and we are starting to plant things. So far I've planted a Plumeria (frangipani), Canisteel (eggfruit), moved lots of palms from the giant coconut tree-that-almost-knocked-me-out, and a 6 inch tall blue Flambuoyant. There are millions of mangos growing on the super tall tree and I am getting the real vegetable garden area prepped. I decided to wait for Mangosteens, Rambutans and other special fruit trees until the rains start. No point to putting them in and having to water - they won't be growing anyway. The time for planting is later...(if I can stand the wait)

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Yard is our Supermercado...Finally Some Green!

Why there isn't much green or colorful food in the supermarket I do not understand! It probably goes far back to when most food needed to be preserved for storage purposes and fresh food couldn't be found other than roots (which store in the ground). The salted dried cod is an interesting thing - kind of an ordeal to do all the rinsing and rinsing and boiling and rinsing required before simmering it in tomato sauce with spices. All the tinned meats are mildly entertaining and name a root and it is here. We have been here a little over four months and after a couple months I realized this lack of green and planted some zucchini. Unlike what the packet says, it quickly germinated and set flowers I never saw. One day I have a couple leaves and the next I have mini zucchinis! They were finger length the day before I harvested them! I also planted these tomatoes from seed!!! So with conditions like this I do not understand why these things aren't more available. By the way, tomatoes are around $6 a pound...papayas on the other hand are like 75 cents a pound and can weigh 6 pounds easily. Pulling off to the side of the road gets you free mangoes (and free grass if you are a horse owner). This is the first harvest!

This looks like a poinsettia but...things are not what it seems. This is yuca which is a harvestable root that you boil and then saute with onions and garlic. Cook it all the way or it will kill you (cyanide). This is the one vegetable I don't want crunchy.
This is our up and coming parcha (passion fruit) supply line. I was very surprised at how much I love this fruit. I'm expecting to see flowers soon, even though it hasn't been in for a month yet. We have 5 vines! I am looking forward to passion fruit ice cubes and juice and little cakes etc.
There are lots of different odd roots with different names here. Everything has a different name depending on who you are talking to which makes things hard. Roots we have are apio, name ( which we just tried and were surprised by), yuca/cassava, calabaza (tropical pumpkin - I am growing this), and I think this thing in our yard is something called malengi (my spelling is wrong but I think it is a taro). Before I dig it and eat it I will have my neighbor friend Amparo check it out. I want to grow potatoes, specifically the batata amarilla, but can't find seed potatoes or seeds or starts so I may have to chuck one in the ground and see what happens! With potatoes the batata amarilla looks like a russet but when you eat it is tastes like a sweet potato but has the texture of a baking potato and it is white like a bake potato. A nice surprise.
The mystery of bananas and plantanos continues...these are a nice bunch of guineos manos on the dwarf banana trees. They are plump and will soon ripen at the same time (we need a dehydrator).I have a monstrously tasty banana cake recipe that is superb.These are plantanos which are like bananas only you don't want to eat them raw because they taste chalky. They have to be cooked. If you cook them as platanos verde (green) you can make tostones by frying them, smashing them flat and refrying them - tasty. Tonight we sliced them and fried them as platanos amarillos (yellow) and made a pinon or a sort of lasagna out of them. When you fry them they are deliciously sweet! Or I should say wickedly sweet and yummy. Platonos can be baked, fried, sauteed. boiled etc -- platanos, breadfruit and all the other roots are all very versatile starches.

Another thing from the yard that went into the pinon was recau. When we first got here and I mowed and the overpowering smell of cilantro wafted through the air and I thought I was imagining it. I later found out that I have recau (which is kind of like cilantro, and also called culantro, but really is different than cilantro) growing in the lawn. So here's a picture of it.

Here is cilantro I started from seed (top) and recau from the lawn (broad leaf plant) You use them the same way but the recau is stronger and kind of easier to deal with.

Bananas? They don't exist here - there are guineos (bananas) and platanos. These are platanos that made our pinon.

Here's a photo of a pinon that kind of shows the platanos used as "noodles" with the middle being ground beef, onions, sofrito, tomato sauce, peppers (don't get me started on pepper types), and egg to hold it together. I was surprised there weren't olives (aceitunas) in it and I will add some next time for a little bit of tang to offset the sweet platanos!
So that's part of the supermarket. We try to eat at least three things from the yard a day and it isn't hard. We have corazons, oranges, recau, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash in the next day or two, beans will be blooming soon. Platanos, bananas, soursop are still here and oranges and avocados and mangoes are all blooming and setting fruit! I have more tomato seed, watermelon, pumpkin, basil, mint is started, peppers (poblano, aji dulce, and a green cooking pepper - no not a bell pepper) are started as well. I may just chuck a few vegetable pieces into the ground and see how that works!

Finally, we still have the sea as supplimentary food. This monster was 5 and 3/4 inches across the carapace (legal is 3 1/2). We bbq'd the tail and boiled the rest and had a couple nice meals out of it. Jeff is holding this monster for all to see - a very exciting "catch" for him!