Friday, November 28, 2008

Guanica's Dry Forest

There are a couple ways to get to the Dry Forest - one is on the long and windy road following the signs that leads to a parking lot where there are several trails and a guy who can give you a map of where they go. They will give you a little book of drawings of plants only if you ask. Or - you can follow the signs to Copa Marina and continue on the road past the marina which will end at a parking lot which is closed right now because it is underwater and the endangered toads are emerging to mate. This is where we went since it is close to our friend's house. The scene is like this.

There was a little more rain than usual in the forest this year and cacti are showing a lot of growth. They weren't flowering but some were ready to and others were done.
There are a lot of neat cactci including some that have flower stalks 20 feet high!
This one looked to me like a cityscape with tall skyscrapers ready to bloom.

We followed a trail of sorts and then came back along the water of the old coconut plantation. I love how organized and symmetrical nature is.

The seas were calm down south (very different story from what is going on up north) and the blowhole wasn't blowing. We could walk on the beach where you usually can't. The dry forest is a really neat place that you can't appreciate the first few times you go there. I love plants and am into knowing names and such but when you walk around it doesn't look like anything special until you do some research.Not everything is a cactus or succulent, there are a lot of hard wood trees. Everything is very stunted and very old. There are skinks with fluorescent blue tails that look fake. If you go early you can see some unusual birds. It is one of only a few "dry forests" that exist. Pretty cool. Puerto Rico has got Dry Forest, Cloud Forest, Rain forest, a huge cave system, reef systems and for an island as small as it is it has amazing diversity. The only problem is trying to decide where to go and what to do!

Windsurfing the Day after Thanksgiving

After a nice thanksgiving with Toni and Gerd we headed back to their house in Guanica for an early morning hike this morning. The Dry Forest is a pretty neat place. After the hike Jeff helped Gerd fix their electric gate, I helped Toni design and thin out her Agaves and then it was windsurfing time. Jeff is pulling up the sail here.

There wasn't a whole lot of wind, but there was enough for Jeff who is getting pretty good at it. Here he is cruising along.

From the balcony this is the view looking at Gillligan's Island with Jeff on the left and Gerd on the right windsurfing away!

Gerd pulls up the sail.

Gerd looks back at Jeff who is up and away. Gerd again- he is REALLY good at this.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dallas' Kayaking Cat

Sunday we planned on tubing down the Tanama river but after a bunch of late night phone calls and a call at 5AM the trip was cancelled. Too much rain in the mountains caused too much water in the river. The trip is postponed until next weekend. So our friend Dallas kindly offered to take us kayaking in La Parguera. His kayaks were already in La Parguera so we left ours at home. The weather was great, very little wind. Katrina wanted more sun though. The water could have been a little warmer for her but she didn't get too cold.

Dallas showed us around some mangroves. We briefly saw a manatee. Dallas also has a cat that likes to go kayaking.

Katrina with her new friend.
We stopped and did some snorkeling. The visibility wasn't very good but we could still see some nice fish. We didn't see any jellyfish. Just as Dallas was showing me what fire coral looked like we heard Katrina shouting. Looks like she found a bunch of it the hard way. Leave it to Katrina, if it bites, stings, or just plain irritates she will find it or it will find her.

Nice butt cheek. These welts looked like they hurt a lot. She even got some on her back because she was swimming on her back when she brushed into it. It's funny that Katrina get so upset when she gets bit/stung by a tiny tiny ant and she makes such a big deal about it. Then she gets all these welts and hardly says a thing about it. These looked like they hurt a great deal, much more than any ant...
Thanks again Dallas for comming up with plan B.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Plant Progress

These are mini carambolas (star fruit). I'm anxious to try a fresh one since all I know is the shriveled supermarket ones in the states.

Our grove of papayas have grown from seed to splendid trees that already have a whole lot of fruit on them (we are eating our second one). The seeds were from 3 or 4 different types of papayas so it is interesting to see the different shapes and flesh colors. We've got more than 20 trees. I figured some would die and 1/3 would be male and then I would be left with a reasonable amount. Nope. Most were female, all lived and it is a good thing we have the dehydrator!

The dragon fruit has gotten all kinds of new growth on it (light green parts). I wonder if I'll ever get fruit from it?

Our coconuts are producing way more than we can drink as coco frios! We've got probably 5 or 6 trees all full of coconuts - the kind you drink, not the meat ones. Of the meat type we have only one tree and we keep getting gifts from above. Coconut is evil though - totally saturated fat and lots of it! (that's why it tastes so good - sugar and fat hold the world together!)

Changes on the Upper Area - Horse Free for 1 Year

When we first got here the upper area was a jungle. Trees that had been cut down (the bad ones) were left and big branch piles and stumps and vines had grown over everything. Horses were up there on and off for a few months until we decided we had to boot them out. The critical moment was when I moved some 3 foot palms from in the gully area up onto the top and watched a horse walk over, bite the leaf and haul off with the whole palm with me chasing from behind! There was plenty of stuff for them to eat, they just wanted what they watched me plant more. They really messed it up - it stunk, vines were all that was left, and there were bare patches from where they liked to stand and pee.

After a lot of work it is looking better! Jeff has chain sawed many of the stumps...we've cut "bad" trees selectively...we have consolidated piles of branches which have since decomposed...I've used the compost around new plantings...we have pulled vines and more vines to encourage the grass to grow.

The big tree on the left I kept so I can start a small tree under it and use it for shade. There is agave, canistel, plumeria, pomegranite, jakfruit, mamey de pais, ylang ylang, a small lime, bay rum, cashew, moralon, 3 coffees, aguacate, flamboyants, bananas, palms. Most were 6 inch starts and a few were seeds. It'll be interesting when everything grows up! I tried to plant on the contours and leave adequate spacing. It is tough though, since 15 feet from tree to tree makes everything look bare! I know from past "too close together" plantings and from glancing around the yard at mature trees that it will all work out.

Here is the seedling of the flamboyant on the top of the photo (second tree from right).

And here is another flamboyant I started from seed. Jeff just whacked the grass down after 3 months of letting it go (he is sick of weed whacking) and I raked the cut grass. Normally I would leave it to mulch the ground, but it was 5 feet tall and I needed it to keep building my trail. I rake the grass and dismantle stick piles and use the sticks/branches to lay out the trail location. Then I dig dirt from the top and shovel it over the twiggy stuff into an almost V. That angle ends up flat when the sticks and grass cuttings decompose leaving me with a flat trail. It is getting nicer and things are getting easier to maintain. It will be really nice when everything grows up and the shady areas below keep the grass down and all the stars in the universe line up...yes I am dreaming. Rains can flatten any terrace or trail you've made unless you constantly work it. Trees (the bad ones) can overtake an area in no time and the vines make everything a tangled mess. But yes, it is like a little arboretum in the making! I see it all clearly.

Working on the Raised Beds...Again

So I've been working on the raised beds trying to get a permanent garden space that doesn't get washed out in big rains.

I just get it finished and we get some big rain. Big enough rain that it moves cinder blocks out of place.

And now I have redone the raised garden bed. It rained pretty hard around 5 today but it is still intact. I only had a couple pieces of short rebar to drive in to the upper blocks so hopefully I don't lose the bed before I drive some more reinforcements in! If I can get them to hold I won't be re doing and re doing the area. Then I'll have to start the lasagna method of composting (I'm getting lazy).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Trip to Albuquerque NM for Training in My New Job

I had to go to Albuquerque for two weeks for some training in my new job. I went with 3 other coworkers. We had a great time while we were there. It was nice to have some good food for a change. I gained 10 pounds in two weeks! We ate out every night and I had sushi 3 of the nights and a lot of fish on the other nights. The traffic in Albuquerque was awesome! You can go from one end of town to the other in just 10 minutes during rush hour. The roads were wide and there are plenty of them. Our hotel was just 8 minutes from work but the best thing was that the Sandia Mountains were also only 8 minutes from work! We drove 170 miles one way on a Saturday to visit the Chaco Ruins. The speed limit was 75 mph most of the way. We drove the equivalent of driving across Puerto Rico (the long way) over 3 times that Saturday.
The Chaco Ruins were also really neat. I took a bunch of pictures of them. Unfortunately there wasn't any place to get something to eat within 90 minutes of driving and we didn't bring any food.

On Sunday I hired a guide and went rock climbing. It was hard core! I'll start by saying that serious rock climbing is not in my future. We drove to the top of the Sandia Mountain at 10,000'. We hiked down a ways to the top of a rock spire. My guide said we would rappel down 100' to a small 12" ledge. From there we would travel horizontally about 50 to another ledge. Then we would rappel down another 100' to the foot of some trees.I worked my way to the edge of the cliff and looked down. I couldn't see the bottom because some rocks were in the way. It wasn't just a hundred feet down it was hundreds of feet down. I said no way. I not going to start like this. So we hiked down the side of the spire to where we would have rappelled down to on the second rappel. From here my guide climbed to a ledge about 100 feet above. He tied into some anchor points and had me climb up to him. There were some spots that I thought I wasn't going to be able to find a way up. My guide told me to just shove my foot into a crack and reach for a hand hold. It worked but the shape of the crack opened at the bottom not the top. How did that work?
Now that I was at the top he had me rappel down. This was very challenging mentally. You don't easily lean backwards over a 100' cliff. It got easier every time I did it. I climbed up and rappelled down a bunch of times. I never would go over to the other spot with the 12" wide ledge that went hundreds of feet down.

During the second week I was able to go hiking after work almost every night. It was so easy to get there how could I not go. The hiking was good and I hiked for a couple of hours each time.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Today's Dive and Other "Fond" Memories!

Well. Jeff, David and I headed toward las cuevas for our usual dive. It has been a few weeks for Jeff and two weeks since David and I had a record setting 11 minute dive in what I call diarrhea water very similar to what I left behind in Washington's Puget Sound. We looked at the water and there were some waves, but not anything different than we'd done before. Some other divers said there was some surge and they stayed inside the first hole. We headed out the first hole and then out the second into the open! You go through tunnels under the reefs to do this. There was some fun current pulling back and forth, but not anything unmanageable. We saw a couple nice eagle rays and opted to come in with plenty of air because of the surge (thankfully) and not knowing how the tunnels would be getting back. Also David's hose unscrewed and he sunk like a rock until we screwed it back together and he could inflate. So we came back in after 50 minutes or so. David is the first to try to go from hole 2 to 1 in one of the tunnels that is an arm span wide. He can't go against the current and is sucked out and looses a glove in the process. The other holes are 1) wider nothing to hold on to to try to get out and 2) a very narrow one you squeeze through that would be really bad and not work. The only other option is up. We went up into breaking waves probably 5 feet with no space between sets. We take a long time and David and Jeff and I are all together for a bit trying to cross. The problem was that you could pull yourself forward but then you'd be sucked about 4 times that distance out and there wasn't a break between! The guys make it but I am having real trouble. I was right behind until I grabbed the wrong rock! I could see fins, I could feel safety and then I was totally screwed - the rock broke off and I was sucked way out to sea! I dropped and tried to gain some ground and then tried the "grab a rock and hold on, pull to the next and hold" etc etc only to be sucked and sucked and sucked out. Then Jeff comes to the rescue (he figures we'll both just drift out to calmer water and get rescued when David calls a boat). He blocks from behind so I don't get sucked out so far and we both manage to get across reef 1. Now we are in calmer water, but not calm enough. We drop to the bottom where it is usually calmer. Then we get through the crack in the reef to safety and live to dive another dive - but NOT TOMORROW. We are all resting and reflecting on a dive gone wrong!

This isn't my first "mishap." Another top 3 memorable dives was diving the Diamond Knott wreck in 47 degree water in the Straits of Juan de Fuca in Washington. This is a deep wreck where you can go to 140 or so on the bottom, but the top is too deep to do a safety stop on (85 feet or so). What you do it hold onto the boats anchor line and work your way up. I forget whether we tried to hold onto the anchor line and were doing the "flag in the wind" "hold on for dear life" bit that didn't work in the current or whether the current broke the line and set the boat adrift but either way I know we stayed deep too long and needed a long safety stop that took us 3 nautical miles out to sea. In fog and huge swells we were very lucky to have been found at all - holding my dive buddie's lemon fins (mine were black - I like it stealth) as high above our heads as possible. Another memorable dive was with Jeff and Bob at Sunrise Beach in Washington. They were doing their dive and I was solo since I was photographing. I hear a boat above. No biggy. But it keeps getting closer and passes overhead, then comes back closer, passes over head making finer and finer passes. I watch what the fish are doing and they are pulling in tight against the rock. I do what they do putting the camera down for the only time ever in 14 years of diving. I had a lot of air so I just hid while I was being hunted! Jeff meanwhile surfaces away from the boat, yells some things and the boat takes off. I was on the fish finder I believe and watching the giant lead down rigger balls and steel cable whizzing by my head was absolutely NO FUN. And then there was the time I was actually brought up by a fisherman. Hooked on the top of my mask to I couldn't see it, when you swipe with your knife your head goes back and you can't cut it. Holding onto pilings doesn't help with fishing line and an excited fisherman. I was probably the largest thing he ever caught. So today we reflect on stupid things we've done and try to stay out of trouble.