Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter - What's Done Stays Done...for a While

You can kind of see the arboretum taking shape. What were little trees are now larger trees with some producing fruit (Longon, Peanut Butter Fruit, Pomegranate, Canistel).
Where else can you grow orchids just outside stuck on trees?

Vegetables are hard. Seeds rot, wash away..plants get buggy or stunted or grow HUGE like balloon animals (only they are cucumbers). This is a vining Malabar spinach that only grows above 84 degrees. It isn't as good as baby lettuces but hey, you can grow it!


More tomatoes.

Purple basil.

Batatas amarillas (a sweet potato but it isn't the same as a sweet potato in the States) under a hot pepper with a baby papaya.

I love this plant. It blooms ALL the time and roots where ever it touches which makes it great for covering big areas and stabilizing soil.

Look how tidy everything looks! Don't blink...it is raining and the grass will be a foot before you open your eyes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Surfing at Last!

Finally, after talking about it every single time we can't dive because the surf is up...I took a lesson. It was kind of a reward after sealing the roof and painting around the house. I was in a funk due to (for here) crappy grey weather and a lack of caving and diving. I called to arrange the lesson and left a message for Melissa at Puntas Surf School in Rincon. She didn't answer so I brought beach stuff and what I thought I should wear surfing and decided to go to Corseca Beach to check out the visibility for diving this weekend. As soon as I got to the Rincon exit she called back and I was meeting her in 30 minutes at Maria's Beach.
She showed me some paddling tips, the stand-up maneuver and position on the board before heading out into the water. Paddle paddle paddle and out we went across the white breaking waves. Kind of tiring since my arm strength isn't that great. We got where we could rest and she gave some more tips and started looking for waves. "Paddle paddle paddle...pop!" she said. When the wave caught the board I could really feel it. That surprised me. It is almost like an invisible hand down there that reaches up, takes hold and starts to pull! What a rush! I was standing on the first try and rode it for a little bit and it fizzled out. Then it was paddle paddle paddle to get back out. As a beginner the waves looked pretty big to me. A couple times I forgot to rise up on the board when a wave crashed on me and that is not good. Rising up reduces the impact. Then it was resting and waiting and then "paddle paddle paddle" and "up." You can definitely feel when to stand. I had a couple waves I was too far "on my heels" and toppled after only riding a little bit but I was up every single time. I didn't think I'd be standing/riding on the first lesson so I was very excited. I think the hardest thing about surfing will be reading the waves, learning the timing, and developing the different muscles needed. Diving requires a strong back. Caving requires flexibility, slithering ability and a mental attitude. Surfing I think (this is only after one lesson so what do I know) requires a strong core - my ribs and pubic bone were/are very sore. The ribs were sore kind of like in kayak water polo sore but a little different. My shoulders weren't sore and my back was fine but pressing into the board on the pelvis made that area sore. I think you have to learn not to "look" once you decide to go for it! In caving you can do crazy climbs and slithering because you only look where your light is and avoid seeing the huge drops or other dangers by not looking there. After you commit to a wave I think it is the same mental thing. The surf pushed my bikini into a thong so next time I may wear pilates or biking shorts. (the extra padding may help too). So in the hour lesson part was on the beach and the 45 minutes in the water let me catch around 5 or 6 waves. The last one I could tell was different than the others because I felt a mini elevator drop sensation in my stomach and knew I missed the timing a little or it was just bigger than the others. I fell off, the board I think may have whacked me a little and I got salt water up my nose before paddling back out for the final wave. The last wave died pretty quickly and instead of paddling out I aimed for the shore and rode the board in on my stomach which was extremely fast, furious and fun! Even if I never get good at this I can always have fun on the board anyway. So after inquiring about used boards Melissa was willing to sell me a couple and xmas became a much happier day. I had been looking for boards but most of what was available seemed to be short which isn't good for beginners. The boards are soft boards like what I had the lesson on which I think is good since we aren't 30 anymore, may not get good at this for awhile (if ever) and the impact will be less when we get whacked. Now I had to hide the boards and contain my excitement so Jeff wouldn't know what I had done. How do you hide a 9 foot and 7' 8" board from your husband? I leaned them on the other side of the shed and since he comes home in the dark he didn't see them. He also didn't suspect I would do that. What I had trouble with was not busting out with the surf lesson excitement! I also explained away my lack of accomplishments in the yard (not up to the usual) with feeling a little "off." Reality of course was some tired arms and sore ribs and pubic bone. So today I gave him the leash and let him figure it out. He thought it was a stand up paddle board but I had no intention of ever doing that - I call it the paddle "bored." He is excited to get out there but the waves are huge right now - too big for beginners I think. We'll try for next Thursday when he has a day off. He is excited and so am I! Just what we need...more equipment and more body damaging sports...do it while you can I say since it won't be for forever.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


I know it is winter here because the ground is cracked from lack of water - in the tropics winter means the dry season. It is the dry season and that means house stuff shifts from constant yard upkeep to house upkeep - sealing the roof, pressure washing, painting, cleaning etc etc. I finished pressure washing and sealing the roof last week and then moved on to pressure washing the cement that circles the house and continues around the balcony. After that I scraped loose paint and pressure washed again (Jeff did the second pressure washing) I let it dry for a few days before painting it. The paint only looks good for a while before it will start coming up in small spots were rains hit it continuously...or where chickens crap (I think they poo acid)...or little dips in the cement that pool water. But for now it looks spectacular and I am relieved it is done! For a year anyway.
I painted all the grey, scraped and pressure washed and repainted the fountain and repainted the bricks along the edges.

Here it is after pressure washing and scraping...Whalla! No standing water, no algae and a nice clean paint job!

I even repainted the troll bridge. I liked it red better but had left over fountain paint (a special water sealing paint) that could be used on wood too. This actually is better at night when you want to wander by moon light or sit and watch the fire flies. Paint doesn't really last for long here no matter how tight you pound the can shut. I like to buy only what is needed and not try to store that crap.

I've been working along the driveway to try to reclaim the cement (there is about 6 inches of matted grass overtaking it).

The hedge I pruned back severely is now filled in. The winter is kind of nice I guess. It gives you a little break from the constant feeling that nothing will ever get done. It gives you time to just take a day off and sit with coffee and a book in the yard with the pets. It is a lot cooler at night though and I have to put on sweats and a long sleeve shirt with hoodie. I like the hot weather better but I guess the seasonal shift is pretty small compared to everywhere else.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cat Colony

Well, it's about time for a cat update. The little colony has stabilized at 11 despite efforts of others to join in. They are acting up a little at night and disrupting our sleep (Stripes is bothering Blanco and Bepo is bothering Tuca and outsiders want in and panic the insiders etc etc.). And so it goes when you've got pets. There was a new little white one that showed up and luckily we found a home for it. If we were going to live here forever we'd take them all in (?) but that isn't going to happen so the group cannot have new members! Puff disappeared and we feared she was dead (if you live in Puerto Rico pets mysteriously get poisoned by pet haters - most of whom have dogs that they don't spay or neuter and let roam freely to mate and have unwanted puppies). Then Puff reappeared not showing any injuries and she wasn't skinny so we figure it got too crowded for her and she found a new house. We need a few more to do that - that was the original plan...spay/neuter/release (and feed them if needed). The plan turned into spay/neuter/immunize/deworm/ flea drop/feed/and take to the vet for whatever problems may occur. Also...enjoy them and watch them play! Here's little Rip sleeping in one of the cat houses. He usually sleeps in his little cat tent but I caught him half falling out of the little hole today.
Last night's big excitement was the paint roller.... Rip, Stripes (legs only), Bepo and Chicken are fascinated!

I have been doing a lot of pressure washing, painting and general house upkeep the past few weeks and moved this pot in so I could paint it the next morning. They found a new game ...Spin-Your-Friend! One cat goes inside and some others stand on it and do the logger roll thing or they lay on the ground and kick it until it spins. Here Rip is climbing and Chicken is inside. The other cat head is a cat bed they at first thought was real.

It started innocently with Chicken claiming the pot as his.

We didn't see Blanco for a couple weeks and worried about him. He is kind of spooky and is definitely afraid of Stripes who has turned out to be very large and strong. When Stripes is at his other house Blanco hangs out with me in the yard and house. He is the most beautiful cat ever - white with peachy/orange on his face and tail and the most magnificent lavender blue eyes.

Blanco is having a good chow down and Mini (I call her creepy-mini because she stalks me in the yard) is not approving.

Here he is again standing on the newly painted walkway. I have done touch ups twice already when I discovered kitty and chicken footprints.

Look at those eyes! What a gorgeous boy! Tuca is kind of an adolescent now and sneaks in with us on the bed early in the morning instead of crawling in when I go to bed. She gets tuckered out and likes to snooze in the dirt.

Mars stays around all day and she sleeps underneath plants in the bed outside the kitchen door.

Here's our gorgeous boy Blanco again - he is an easy target for the mean cats since you can always see him!

So the others not shown are Dakota (the one we brought with us), Pollo, Puff, and Stripes. We love the cats!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sunday's Trip - Cueva Indio in Arecibo

There is so much to do here in Puerto Rico and we want to do it all while we live here! After a nice Saturday at the Cultural Park we went to the SEPRI cave party and then to Diana's parents' house for the night. It was wonderful to be able to sleep and not have to drive home and then back up for Sunday...a huge thanks to Diana for arranging the sleep over! We slept well, had a nice breakfast, then headed to Julio's house to pick up some cave documentation. Then we headed to Cueva Indio, which is really a sea cavern rather than a cave. This cavern is in Arecibo. Most of the beaches we have explored have been West Coast beaches...I went to Manati but other than that we haven't really explored northern coastlines. This shoreline is spectacular!
This cavern is totally accessible to all - no need for vertical gear or even a helmet/light. Parking is a 5 minute walk away and beer is available. We walked on the sharp rocks and found a hole looking into the water, then walked around and found an easy way in (ladder). There were many petroglyphs that appeared to be a mix of "real" and imitations. It is hard to tell which is which and hopefully the site was documented previous to more modern carvings being done. Here is one that is hard to tell if it is real or not.

We see many petroglyphs in many caves but often they are caves not frequented by people other than cavers so it is easier to tell if they are original. This cavern is so accessible it would be easy (if carving into rock is easy) to replicate designs. Even in the barely visited caves these carvings are near the entrance and not deep in the caves. These bell holes are very interesting and yes, there were bats in them. The guano has eaten away the rock to form the bell holes but what is interesting to me is the design of the engraved areas around the bell holes. Wave action maybe?

There was only really one hole to climb that was fun and here Diana is just coming out of it. She is ALWAYS smiling and a lot of fun to be around!

What made this trip was the spectacular seashore. It was rugged with waves crashing onto shelves and through holes in the rocks. It is December and the skies are bright blue, it is 80 something degrees and the water is warm. This is the best of Puerto Rico right here. Friends, temperature, and natural beauty.

Looking down the smashing waves were spectacular.

Here Jeff is sitting inside the cavern. The shoreline in Arecibo is rugged and beautiful and well worth the trip.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jardin Botanico Cultural in Caguas - a Wonderful Outing

On Saturday the SEPRI caving group was having a party and we like to go to see folks we may not regularly cave with. The affair usually starts very late (9pm), is in the metro area (traffic), and food comes out around 11pm (too late for us to eat) so we decided to combine it with a couple other activities we may not do as "destination" things. A couple years ago we went to Caguas to a cave called Aguas Buenas and while we were in the area saw a garden that looked interesting. Caving is an all day affair so we passed on by for something to eat before the 1 1/2 hour car ride home. Today was the day. We had a craving for more sushi, the garden was nearby, and both were kind of on the way to the party. We asked if Tom and Diana wanted to join us and they did. After driving for 1 1/2 hours we get there and it is CLOSED. Cerrado. No signs, no information, just a guard sitting outside telling us it is closed. In my best Spanish I tried to communicate disappointment and was sent to the office where I was greeted by Gil Calderon (the boss). It turns out that the Jardin Botanico Cultural was closed so they could install xmas lights for an upcoming event. I was disappointed because I could see what we were missing... I was the activity arranger with a couple other innocent victims in route and I didn't have a backup plan. In Puerto Rico there should always be a back-up plan. Fortunately for me Mr. Caleron went above and beyond what I had hoped for and he had his security officer Jorge Vila produce a cart and give us some park/city history as well as a guided drive around the park for 2 hours. (I was hoping they would let us just wander around on our own and had no expectation of a tour.) They would not even accept any money as a tip or for admission. Only in Puerto Rico would this happen. Jorge is extremely knowledgeable about the history of the city, the park, and sugar plantation/mill history on the island. He produced all kinds of photos of old-time Puerto Rico and as we drove around the park he wove that history into the living history of building remnants standing on the property and buildings that had been rebuilt. This park, Jardin Botanico Cultural, has many beautiful sculptures and replicas of Taino petroglyphs scattered throughout it and some "real" petroglyphs on a stream side rock. There is a beautiful river running through the property and ponds they have created. They have created a Jibaro home and Jibaro lunches are offered for a reasonable $5 when the park is open. Jorge treated us all to a limber (thank you Jorge!). Here is what I considered to be the most interesting sculpture of all. This figure is of a person growing out of the earth...the legs become roots at the bottom and there are many detail features of Taino designs that I don't show here.

The figure is quite large and entirely bronze with some painted features on it (leaves).
The gardens are really more arboretum-like...primarily trees at this point. It is a young jardin having only been started 8 years ago. Even so there are many native trees, a palm area, an area of fruit trees that would have been used by people of the time. The cultural areas are woven throughout with sculptures, figures, re-creations of Taino ceremonial areas and homestead areas. I think the park will only get better as time goes on and hopefully funding improves. Here are some historical sugar mill remnants.

 These ruins have been integrated into a modern stage-type area overlooking a pond fed by the river. This stage area is available for rental and would be a beautiful setting for a wedding, orchestra, office gathering or really any event where you need a beautiful setting with covered areas, bathrooms etc available. Here is the river area with petroglyphs on the rocks. The time of day made really nice reflections in the water and we could see turtles and fish in the water.

There was an arbor-type area that was quite extensive and covered with these beautiful flowers.The light in the afternoon was really beautiful and peeked through the arches of the remaining sugar mill walls.

The flowers were really beautiful. Here's a photo of our guide Jorge.

So our day was even better than planned thanks to Gil Calderon and Jorge Vila. We could easily have been sent on our way or ignored but they chose to provide us with a very special and memorable tour instead! If you are a local island person (as we are) this is a place to learn cultural information and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. If you are a tourist you will learn a lot about Puerto Rico's past and you can combine a trip here with a dinner at Ichiban sushi restaurant in the nearby shopping plaza for some familiar food with great service. There is also a Starbucks in this plaza where you can top off the day with a latte and a 5 layer chocolate cake slice! This jardin is very well thought out and as it develops more will continue to mature. There is a lot of thought put into integrating native culture, plants/trees, historical building remnants and new facilities and it would be a fantastic place to hold an event (not overly expensive either). You can rent the facilities after hours. This year they are staging a new event, the gardens will be lit with xmas lights, which is why the park was closed. I believe they said it will start December 10th. You better call them for all the information if you want to visit - 787 653 8990 The park is easy to get to...when you take the Caguas exit there are actually signs for the "jardin botanico" and there is plenty of parking as well. So go there and check it out! When we are in the area again we will probably stop in again. With xmas lights the sculptures will just glow and the whole place will be wonderful. A huge thanks to Gil Calderon and Jorge Vila for making our day a memorable one! A GOOD memorable...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend Installment 2 - The River

We were headed off to El Yunque on Saturday and checked email before we left. There was an email from Tom. The Anasco River was clear and at a good height for kayaking - a condition that rarely occurs. He wanted to head out that way on Sunday. Jeff had planned to go hiking with another friend but invited her to this adventure instead. She isn't a paddler and doesn't care for the water much so she passed but Jeff really wanted to do it so we did. The adventure started out like all of them do...with a confusing drive to the site. We took 119 (panoramic route) that twists and turns and turns and turns and for a while travels along the ridge of the mountains kind of behind our house. We had a couple pauses as the Tom-Tom lost the road....119 had a little gap (called 105) before it picks up again as 119 and it really isn't clear which way to go. Once we arrive in Las Marias the confusion compounded as the Tom-Tom sent us down an impossible road where we see Dallas (another friend joining in for the fun) driving toward us. We are both confused. We try to get some local directions from people but they too are confused so we go with the Tom-Tom over the 2 GPS's and do make our way there at last. We drive close to the water and it is beautiful! We pull the kayaks off the car, load them up, relocate the vehicles to a safer spot and head out!
Here is Jeff standing in the shade waiting for departure. Dallas is in the kayak with his dog Crash Boat who is wearing a tiny life vest.

We paddle downstream for about 8 miles of mostly calm water with a few little runs like this one. Just enough white water to make for a little bit of excitement. It might be really fun with a higher water level!

We pass orange farms, plantano/guineo farms, coffee farms and cows.

The sun is shining and Tom, Brett, Dallas, Crashboat and I are all enjoying it. It is a perfect day on the water. This was the most exciting little rapid we went down. Jeff went first and made it out to be a big deal which made Brett and I hesitate a little but it turned out to be the funnest spot without any problems.

After this spot we meandered around for a while longer before reaching the bridge where Tom's car was parked. This was the pull-out spot for today. We pulled everything up the steep embankment and I hear little cat voices. Yes. I need hearing aids that will reduce my hearing and screen out cat voices. There were two very teeny kittens under the undercarriage of a truck container. They didn't look deathly but there was no mom. No one in our group wanted to take them and with 12 we just can't. If we were to live here forever we would have but we are on a 7-more-years plan unless things here improve (jobs). We had to leave them, but they got an hour of loving while I got lost retrieving the truck. We finally all did get back to pick up the kayaks (and Jeff) and then headed to Tom and Diana's for a quick visit. It was a nice one. This is a very nice river. The water was very clear (rare event) and there wasn't any garbage anywhere. The float was a nice one and wasn't very taxing. The company was great. Another nice weekend - but busy.