Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Need Coffee Help and Road Scene

We've got three coffee bushes that are starting to ripen. I've looked on different websites to figure out how to process the beans, I've tried the methods and haven't had much success. The beans aren't ripening at the same time (which is normal). I read that you either ferment or dry the red flesh off and I tried the drying method and then just squished it off with my fingers. When I did that the beans looked like the ones on the plate. I put them out to dry and another almost resin like layer cracked off and that didn't leave much to do anything with. I read that it takes 5 years before you get a good crop, but how do you process them? In Papua New Guinea we saw beans on tarps on the ground - sounds like an ant disaster here. If I put them in the solar dehydrator will they dry too fast? Should I just slip off the red part and throw them in a saute pan on the stove on low and try to roast them that way? I'm a novice - help.... I don't expect to be able to make more than a shot but I'm hoping for a taste!

Now that I have the little go-everywhere point-and-shoot camera I can photograph my favorite things. I was on my way somewhere and saw this Dr. Seuss truck wobbling down the highway. Sometimes living in Puerto Rico is like living in a old movie - drivers in beat up cars going 40 on the main highway...drivers in other cars with a different time frame in mind...lots of Dr. Seuss trucks with cans in bags sky high...barrels like these...or horses towering above the driver's cab.

When I got closer I could see that everything was strapped down really really well - as long as it doesn't tip over the load is secure!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Otters, Porpoises, Harbor Seals, Puget Sound King crab and Giant Fish

Otters, porpoises, harbor seals, Puget Sound king crab, and giant fish, all seen in a average day of diving in the San Juans, Washington. The sun was shining (not an average occurrence) yesterday as my friends and I took a diving trip in the San Juans. It was just like old times. We had a great time! The only things we didn't see were whales and bald eagles.

I am having a great visit with my family and friends. My sister just had a baby girl. She definitely looks like a Kruse. My sister's two year old boy is adorable. He is fun to play with. I am teaching him that TV is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Adventures at a New Supermarket

Every supermarket here in the west is better for SOMEthing. Pueblo has the meat cuts we like, the Sabana Grande Mr. Special has good vegetables, the Mayaquez Mr. Special has the best prices for canned things and Grande in Yauco has "unusual" things for around here like Pita Chips, artichoke hearts, Dark Rye bread etc. A few days ago I went with my neighbor Awilda to her mom's, a grocery trip to the big Econo in Ponce and then we picked up her husband's truck (he is in the National Guard and just shipped out for a year). Econo was the first supermarket where there were a jillion people working, people actually helping customers (they cut some flank steak for me - and knew what that was) and there were NO LINES! Gobs of people and gobs of checkers! There were very very good prices on things and some very interesting meats.

First you have to understand that I generally dislike meat. I can't eat soy any more so I am stuck eating it and can stomach what I call "disinfected" or "sterilized" meat - meat that doesn't look like what it is. Stuff without bones, fat, skin or anything resembling the animal that it was. So now you can understand my fascination and horror at the meat counter...

Tongue - I understand that in most parts of the world people eat this and enjoy it. I rarely encountered it in US supermarkets and definitely wouldn't spend $6.50 for a hunk of tongue!

I'm not sure what this even is. Maybe pork belly or skin or something. What would you even do with this?

Here's a display of assorted parts. The most striking difference to me in food here is that there is no color. All the viandas are white/brown (and hairy), the fish is all dried and white, all these meat things are white, onion are white. I guess culantro and pimentos are green but not much else. Is this true in the north?

One of my favorites - feet. I'm sorry, but this stuff just gives me nightmares! It is bad enough when you can't tell what it was but when it has wings, or hooves still on it - yuck!

The best for last - bull balls! I didn't realize they had those neat little veins all through them - kind of a neat pattern. Do you cook the crap out of them and stuff them? Grind them up? Fry them? I can't even imagine. There are many foods I enjoy here (Yucca, Name, calabaza, pinons) and some that I just cannot even think about. I am adventurous in a lot of ways but I'd rather eat a bug than a ball.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Me Gusta Cosas de Puerto Rico

I was in Yauco and just love the colorful hillside of houses - no drab barf beige, grisly grey or watery white here - just really really happy colors!

I just love geckos - I like seeing them staring at me from on trunks and leaves of plants, I like hearing them on the screens at night (they sound so big) and don't mind them scooting around the house. I'm not so happy with their legs dangling out of the cats' mouths though or when their bodies are left as gifts for us.

Toads in the night are bizarre. The cats are afraid of them, they gang up and the toads just sit there like this!

From behind they are even creepier in a good way.

I love dancing and crowing roosters and all the hens and chicks that wander around our property. The cats leave them alone and for the most part they don't dig up too much stuff!

I love the sound of coquis in the night - especially after a rain. We don't have air conditioning so they are REALLY loud sometimes (they and their insect buddies who I swear have maracas and drums in their hideouts). When Jeff travels he notices there are no bug noises, no coquis, no chickens and no horses. ..all things I love about being here!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


We got a Hacienda property tax bill. This meant I had to go to CRIM, AGAIN, to get the real amount of our taxes documented. To make a long story short, we bought our house and weren't able to move here for 10 months so we owed some tax. Usually in Puerto Rico you are exempt on your first house if you live in it up to a certain amount of money. We have two acres and our exemption isn't the entire property, but pretty close to it. We knew we owed something when we got here but not the $1000s they initially said we owed.

The first visit to CRIM was a treat since we didn't speak Spanish, didn't know what papers we were supposed to have (like social security cards, birth certificates etc etc), and didn't really know what to ask other than "how much do we owe." Seems like a simple question, but this is Puerto Rico. We were told they would have to "investigate," and not to pay the bill. We didn't and were surprised to get another bill for a different amount that still didn't seem right.

Speed forward another March Jeff had to go to CRIM for paperwork saying we didn't owe anything so we could get the solar panel tax credit. He settled up with them because they supposedly sent someone out to investigate (we never saw them). In May (two months later, this year) we get a CRIM bill for around $1000. This comes and we don't pay because we figure the computer hasn't caught up with the investigator. Now it is July and I am working by the gate and a truck comes into the driveway with another CRIM investigator. I show him there is only one house, show him the perimeter and he tells me the $149 Jeff paid in March was too much and our tax should be about 23 dollars a year. Goody, that is less...good news. I have his name, phone number, hours, had him write down stuff. When we get another $1000 bill and the Hacienda bill for $110 I have to go in.

So today was the day. NEVER go places in the morning - all the old people go and spend the day waiting. I slid in before 2 and waited in a line to tell them what I needed (in my best Spanish - "mi cuenta is incorrecto y porque este is incorrecto my Hacienda cuenta is incorrecto.") He understood as I pointed out several different amounts on several different bills that didn't agree and gave them the name and info I had the "investigator" write down while he "visita mi finca."

Out comes a familiar face - the woman who helped resolve stuff with Jeff. After 30 or more minutes we agree they calculated the information incorrectly and we owe $14.80 a YEAR! Amazing! They had the exemption figured out wrong just like the investigator said. Best of all - and this wouldn't happen in the States - when I get a bill I need to call her extension, give her the secret number she wrote down for me and she will credit me and I don't have to go there! That means we won't have to pay our $14.80 for around 10 years! I won't have to go there again! Unfortunately I had to pay $2 for a stamp (what is with the stamp thing anyway) and go downstairs to Hacienda.

Hacienda was not quite as nice. I know it is my problem that I am not well versed in Spanish. I know enough to do most things, follow a lot of a conversation, and I try my best without hesitation - but I don't know the specific words when dealing with CRIM, making doctor appointments, lab stuff and specific specialty words. I explain the problem (the exoneration number changed and this affects the Hacienda bill in my favor). She gives me a phone number for the San Juan office for "customer help" and if you live here you know there IS NO SERVICE. I ask if they speak English - "yes" she says. I whip out my phone without losing my place in line and call it and don't hear any English or anything about "incorrecto cuenta," "pagar cuenta" or anything remotely sounding like my problem (which is what exactly?). I hand it to her and she does press the right number, gets to the right person and gets my info in the system supposedly. I am told to come back in a week to see if they changed it.

My plan is to wait a week, call my CRIM contact who is sending the info for updating tonight (this is theory of course), ask her to call downstairs to Hacienda to check and not go in until it is in the computer that my bill for Hacienda is officially $8.08 (according to the CRIM gal who called San Juan with my information before I went downstairs). Then I will go in, and pay for the year - $8.08 is a semester, and try to pay for the second year. So all this work they do - investigators to the house, hours with us on 5 different visits, and we owe $14.80 a year in property taxes and $8.08 for Hacienda. How much did this cost the government? How can there even be roads here if this is how things work? I was very pleased that we will actually get the overpayment (as small as it seems) as a credit - in the States that just doesn't happen.

In Washington we were taxed over a $1000 a year on an un buildable lot (our yard) before I caught the error. When I caught it I had to find comparable properties, get letters from planning departments for the city and other junk and go to court to settle it. Never got the money back, and two days before court got a certified letter asking us to pay more than we should but a lot less than the $1000 to settle. We did, but that money (a lot) was gone forever. So despite the disorganization here it is at least fair...

Ah, and it only took a few hours! A good day in Puerto Rico

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cueva Zumbo or Underworld Sculptural Exhibit

The day for us began at 5:30 am with a drive to Florida. The cave is technically in Ciales but is accessed from Florida. We met up with Ivan who is always a good friend, joined the larger group and then proceeded to the gatekeeper's house (Pipo?). This gate was put in by neighbors who were tired of junk cars being taken into the jungle and left there. The SEPRI caving group has a good relationship with the neighbors here who are very helpful and gracious.

Jose Morales gave another briefing about the dangers of this particular "wet" cave (hypothermia, falling and breaking body parts, sharp rocks, getting tired etc). We then consolidated into several cars so we could drive past the gate a half mile or more to start the hike in. The group was large (30 people) but consisted of really good cavers for the most part. There were a few people who had a tough time with what Jeff and I consider a walk. It was a hike that could have taken maybe 40 minutes if you kept up a pace and were in shape. It meandered up and down hills in the jungle, not really on a real trail, and as always the journey in the jungle was a big part of the adventure. The elevation gain was 1000 feet maybe. It was hot and humid. As with all the caves we have visited there is no way you would know that it was there unless you went with someone who had been before many times. We wandered through the jungle for 1 3/4 hours and Ivan had the good sense to flag trees on our journey with bright pink flagging tape. Bro was doing the same behind us. Little did we know how helpful this would be on the way out!

We wandered around and found all kinds of fruit on the ground - pomerosa, chinas, and as always lots of bromeliads, philodendrons and flowers. Then we stopped to listen for water. There was old tagging on trees and that definitely assisted us in finding the opening. Listening for the river was key - even though the river was underground!

We got to the small hole and put the wetsuits and harnesses on so we could do the rappel in. It was a short rappel, maybe 25 or 30 feet I think. It was a little awkward with the rocks. Once everyone was huddled in the small area we left harnesses and climbing gear behind, put on life vests and proceeded. Here's a climber rappelling in.

When everyone was ready we saw the first people taking backpacks off, tossing them down into the water with a plop and then squeezing down this crazy little crack! You couldn't reach the river so you just had to let go and plop into the water. It was a crazy start to a surreal cave - our reality for about 5 1/2 hours or so.
After the shock of that entrance we were facing this unreal sculpted area that seemed more like a Disneyland ride than reality. We floated in the river and into the mouth of the rock not even believing the shapes and forms the rock was sculpted into.

Sometimes we would need to float (water was over our heads) and other times we could walk a little. Here we could kind of stand in the water and bend around formations to follow the water down deeper into the ground.

Most of the cave however involved kind of tip-toeing on these really sharp sculpted rock areas. It is hard to see how 3 dimensional this is, but we would be stepping on little spires of sorts or kind of like barrel rims with water running 6 - 15 feet below. There wasn't any way to get there (except falling) but you could see it and hear it clearly. So like characters in a Doctor Seuss book we tip toed for hours stretching our arms as wide as they could go to stabilize ourselves.

Some places would kind of drop down and we would have to hang by fingers and lower ourselves as close to the water as we could get before simply dropping down. When this would happen you didn't really know if there were sharp spires in the water or deep the water was... and how you were going to get back up! But down and down we went squeezing, dropping, tip toeing, hanging our way into the darkness. We went on and on until it kind of ended. Some of the more experienced cavers contemplated and we found out later that they did submerge in the river and emerge on the other side of the blocked area by going through a sump/siphon area that is very dangerous. I was kind of chilled and started to think about how tough it would be to be climbing up all the things we dropped down so we made the decision to take our time going back out while they figured out if it was safe enough to go-to-the-other-side. This was a good decision I think. Now we were at the lowest point and had to travel kind of up to get back. It is easy to forget where you have come from and how you got where you are. Things looked very different coming out. Jeff is looking for a way to get up since the river goes under rock at this point. No other way except up to get out.

After some pulling with the arms and stretching with the legs to hoist our way up we need to find another way to get further up. Maybe the way is in this hole?

Some of these spots were hard since I just didn't have enough arm to span the areas and although I am very flexible the leg just stopped a little too soon in some areas. I really had to think and plan my progress. Since I am kind of small I had no trouble in areas other people had trouble with, but I did have trouble where they didn't. Thankfully everyone helped out to make sure we could all get where we needed to get.

When we arrived at the hole out it was dark and we were losing light. We got the harnesses on and climbed the ropes out just as the rain started and we lost light. Now I was cold. I had an extra fleecy shirt for this reason, but my dry bag flooded with all the dropping and everything was wet. We left with the first group and unfortunately didn't get to say goodbye to many people. When we hiked back it was dark and we looked with our headlamps for the flagging tape to make sure we were on the "trail." The trail was now more of a river and looked completely different in the dark. Absolutely crazy! This whole adventure was crazy crazy. It didn't even seem real. When Jeff and I changed, got in the car and drove back we didn't get home until 10:30pm. The next day we were both really sore in ways we haven't been before. The tops of my thighs and muscles near my clavicles kept me laying on our wonderful Temperpedic mattress longer than usual in the morning. Climbing steps hurt. Lifting my arms hurt. We both had weird bruising patterns on our arms. Then David called and we went for an 80 minute dive at the cuevas in Isabela (Shacks). The walk in the gear was slow but moving in the water helped loosen things up. Monday however was a different story...

Fantastical Formations (things this spectacular deserve a made up word!)

All through out this cave there were odd sculptures on a fantastic scale that you just can't understand from a photograph. I call this one the "double fountain" since it makes me think of the fountains that just burble out a small coating of water continuously. Of course I could call it "fountain entrance" since we floated between the two to continue on.

The majority of the cave we were balancing on top of the lips of these formations or sculptures. It was like standing on the rims of barrels, and what it hard to tell from the photo is that the river is about 6-15 feet below where we balance. It was like being in a video game or like some made-up world in a Doctor Seuss book!

In three spots that I recall we found what looked like bits of wood embedded in the walls. We were told that these are dugong fossils. On the way out Ron pointed out what looked like a vertebrate. The walls look like soft sandstone but they are not. This stuff was very very hard and sharp.

This might give a better impression of the 3 dimensional quality of this place. These are the formations we walked on for about 5 1/2 hours. We walked, climbed, hung by fingers, dropped several feet into the river below, stretched to span the chasm...we used a lot of muscles we didn't know we had!

This shows the little rims we walked on. Some of these pools were bathtub sized, some were like sinks, some had water rushing through them and others didn't.

On the way down we hung by fingers and plopped into the water after dropping backpacks. On the way back we had to do some major stretching and climbing and figuring out to get back up. A lot of times we had to balance and hold on with one hand, push a pack up to a person reaching as low as they could who was balancing as well before we could proceed.

A lot of the cave looked like swiss cheese but three dimensional. The scale of the place was just huge! The water below was sometimes over our heads and we floated with our life vests to the next spot we could climb.

This cave was the best ever (but they are all different and all interesting)! It was surreal the whole time from the first moment when we had to remove and drop packs to wedge down into the first hole to the whole 3D video game bizarreness of the landscape. On the way down we just kept going and going trying to keep a good pace and not block other people. We didn't really look at things because we were just trying to plan the next step. On the way back we were able to take it slower and really look at things closely - because we had the time and we had to do some real figuring out in order to climb our way up and out!

A huge thanks to SEPRI for inviting us, Jose Morales and whoever else helped organize this trip and all the other people we were able to enjoy this trip with! Can't wait til the next one!!!!!