Friday, June 29, 2012

Focus on Fruit - Guanabana aka soursop aka Annona muricata

Ah, another bizarre Puerto Rican fruit! When you first arrive in Puerto Rico there are all kinds of odd things growing in your yard, your neighbor's yard, along the road or in the jungle. Some of them can be found at a roadside fruitstand and others you may see once and never again. The first questions are:  What is it? What can I do with it? When it is ripe? How do I process it? I find a lot of the local fruit wonderful and a bunch of it nasty. A lot of things people eat here involve eating and spitting out lots of seeds, fibers, and pits. A lot of the fruit here have weird textures which are disturbing at first. Guanabana is one of the "disturbing textures" ones. The juiced fruit has the texture of man stuff. Yup, I said it. Man Stuff. The tree is a nice enough looking tree that will get spiky (soft spiky) football sized dark green fruit on it.We have been eating them for a couple months now so I suppose it is a spring fruit. The fruit is dark green and hard as a rock one day and bird pecked the next so you have to be watching if you want to harvest it. Seriously - one day it is very hard and the next day will have dropped to the ground. With all our fruit I make daily rounds looking for birds (easiest way to tell if something is ripe), fallen fruit or almost ready fruit. Once you pick it it looses its attractive dark green color and turns black and disgusting looking. Never fear, the fruit is still good! Once the birds have pecked a little hole in the fruit it is time to harvest. You just cut around that part. Inside is a soft, fragrant white flesh with hard black seeds. The seeds are covered with pulp and you just press the flesh through a sieve (I like this big holed one). Don't put this fruit in the blender/food processor or the seeds will ruin your blades. When you press it through you get a lovely bowl of man stuff. Slippery, slimy and a little frothy! I pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it. I store the cubes in the freezer in baggies to add to smoothies or simply make a guanabana smoothie with the cubes, a little soy milk and that's it! No sugar required. It makes a nice ice cream or sorbet also.

The only other thing I have done with it is use it as the liquid in pancakes. I had soursop pancakes in Fiji once. I suppose you could make "limbers" which are the adult version of a popsicle. The taste is refreshing - kind of like banana, a not-sweet pineapple...kind of hard to describe. It is one of the few fruits that isn't overly sweet. So don't let those fruit drop. Definitely don't just eat it (funny texture and too many seeds). Try substituting it for liquids in baking maybe or curries and report back...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cueva Cucaracha - Not the "Best Time Ever," Just the "Last Time Ever"

On Sunday we were off the Cueva Cucaracha to help some student scientists collect spiders. They have been collecting spiders in various caves all over the island and had heard stories of Cueva Cucaracha. It is a well-known fact that people go into this cave once only...never again! Jeff and I have been inside two other times - May 2012 and again February 2011...the trip with "the episode." We had just taken a couple friends here earlier in the week at night to watch the bats leave the cave and we were quite excited to go into the cave. This is a shot of the entrance to the cave on the first trip. Ron was taking some measurements and Jeff was ready-to-go! We crawled through the low entrance and went to the bat room so Ron could take some temperature measurements and at that point Jeff decided he had had enough of the heat, the waiting and the humidity. He left. That was the end of the trip for him. On this first trip there were baby bats hanging all over the walls and our clothes. Ron finished his reading and we headed to the "bat stew" area so as not to disturb the babies and to get out of the heat! You have to stand in the stew and duck under some rocks to get to the cool spot before continuing on in comfort toward and into the river. The river ended in a sump. Keep in mind this is only one month earlier than our trip last year.

Jeff never saw the river so we went with Tom last year in February. The hot room was hot but manageable and we went through the stew no problem.  Shortly after the stew the trip ended.

Now we are going in on our 3rd trip so Jeff can actually see part of the cave. It is a late start and only 15 minutes from our house so it is going to be an easy day for us. The first bit of a pain is that 3 people haven't rappelled before. Ron brought a cable ladder but it would be hard to use because of the steep outside of the pit and the tree root in an odd location. After fiddling for too long it is decided to  re do the anchor and lower them on a rack into the pit.  This is the pit looking from the upper area after the "trip."
The tunnel at the entrance has steam streaming out of it. You can feel the heat before you even enter. With 8 people it is best to spread out a little because  people can jam up in the tunnel and everyone can really suffer! I go in with a couple of people with the plan of blasting through the hot area, going through the stew, and waiting on the other side where it is cooler. On entering the cave there is clearly more water in it than the other 2 times. It also feels a heck of a lot hotter and right away I start having problems breathing. The three of us get to the stew, rest, go through the stew and sit on the "cooler" side ...only it really isn't cooler. We sit for what seems like a very long time before Jeff and some others show up. They don't even go into the stew but decide to turn back. Bro at this point is missing so someone needs to go find him and make sure he isn't passed out somewhere which is a real possibility since everyone is wheezing and breathing wrong. Even pouring water on myself didn't really help and combined with the unusually high temperature where it should be cooler we turn back and head toward the exit. The stew area was disgusting as usual. There were not any babies that we could see but going in there were tons of bats hitting me. Jeff didn't see any bats but he had his head down the whole time!

I have got to get out while I can so I leave the group so I can do my speedy gonazales out the cave! It was a short distance that seemed like miles and even after sitting outside the cave down in the pit for 20 minutes I still wasn't breathing right. I was going to put my harness on and go up right away but was having trouble putting it on. Not a good thing. Bro was at the entrance coming in as I came out. He had straightened up, hit his back on something, then as he was stretched out flat resting noticed he couldn't breathe. Being sensible, he turned back after only going in 20 feet. Now we had to wait for everyone else, but with the condition we were all in no one could go in after any one. Not good. I couldn't stand it anymore and figured I'd get up and out where it was cooler and free up some sitting space for the others. I went up the rope and into the fresher air just as it started to rain. Now we needed to get everyone up which meant rigging the cable ladder or teaching them how to ascend. I lowered my croll and ascender and foot strap. Jeff gave the quicky lesson and I assisted from the top about what to do when you get to the ledge (ascender can't move). Everyone made it no problem and I was never happier to be done! Then we got to the cars.
After going into over 60 caves, parking in very remote areas, diving every weekend and parking, etc we have never been broken into. This time it was a crappy end to a not-so-fun caving day and now we have to wait 2 weeks for a glass window to come.  So, Cueva have seen the last of us. No more Kruse cavers. 3 times is enough! Is it the ammonia concentrations? CO2? Overall low oxygen levels? I don't know, but everyone had a headache and trouble breathing. It would be interesting to take some kind of air quality monitor in there but someone else can do that!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cat Playtime

Cats don't like change, so when we moved we had some disappointing happenings. Three cats (Mars, Stripes, and Mini) took off after we moved 8 others and could not be retrieved despite us leaving beds, food and some of their things around and spending multiple hours of calling and waiting around for them. Of the 8 we moved ... Bepo (who was always inside the other house) ran away after 3 nights in the new house never to be seen again. Princess was around for about 4 weeks and then started taking 2 or 3 day walkabouts. She then took off and we have not seen her again. I have spent many hours wandering and looking for buzzards and bodies to no avail. So that leaves us with 7 happy cats! The oldest one, Dakota, lives in the downstairs room and doesn't like to socialize. He is around 14 years old? Something like that and moved from Washington with us. He believes things are after him and will jump up from his bed and run under the couch to escape whatever it is he is seeing. He doesn't have too many years left. Chicken is the mellowest and most normal cat we've got. He takes it all in stride and had no problem coming into the house. Here he is having some king of conversation with himself. Pollo has been a pleasant surprise! She used to only stay around Mars and we couldn't touch her. Now she sleeps on the bed, rubs against us and is really nice. We still can't take her to the vet, pick her up, or pill her or anything but she has mellowed out considerably. We feel bad that Mars is at the other house but the new owner is trying to befriend her so we can collect her in the future and reunite her with Pollo!

Pollo likes to hang out on the carport cover. She can see everything that goes on and sometimes has company up there. Jackie was reduced from the middle of highway 2 and is a terror! She has weak little arms and is kind of a runt but we love her. She is the most normal and socialized of them all. Here she is attempting to climb from the carport up on to the roof. I don't know what the cats all do up there but it is a regular party place.
Blanco is as gorgeous as ever. He is the only one that won't sleep inside. He does however sleep on the porch at the front of the house every night and comes in for meals and looking around. We have even caught him playing! He is the one who was stuck in the log. Rip is a strange one. He seems slightly retarded. He doesn't see too well and always looks like he has just woken up. His favorite thing in the universe is to play in this cube. We have three cubes ($4 each) and he dives into them, rolls around, and pops out like a jack-in-the-box. He gives a little cry so Jackie will play with him and the two of them tumble around for hours. Tuca is a bitch and stalks Jackie. At the same time though she can be sweet and affectionate.

Rip getting ready to do his butt helicopter move. He looms over Jackie with his front arms, then swings his rear end over and spins around! Very comical! When Jackie is tired out he plays with himself and some ribbon or dives from cube to cube. Blanco caught in the act of playing with Jackie.

As usual there are cats trying to work their way into the colony. NO MORE! There is a puffy orange one who sleeps in the bed with Blanco at night. He meows and meows and rolls submissively near Chicken. He would be a nice cat. There is a Tuca look-alike and a long-haired black and white one. I chase them off by squirting water at them. We definitely cannot take any more in.  We are currently trying to get them to use a cat door. I had screen doors made to keep flies and mosquitoes out. They don't like the flap and would rather stretch their claws out on the screen. We are shutting the "magic window" (bedroom window we would leave open without the screen so they could come and go) now that they are comfortable in the house and don't need an escape route. Peculiar little sacs of guts they are... Cats anyone?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flamboyant Tree (Delonix regia)

The Flamboyants are blooming and are spectacular this year! The hillsides are burning with blooms! Their shapes remind me of Japanese Maples. I can't wait until the petals drop and make colorful pools on the roads!

This final one is near Steps in Rincon. It was blooming much earlier than in my area!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cueva Zumbo

This is probably our favorite cave out of the 60 or more we have visited. It is a Doctor Seuss landscape of sculpted rock with a running river and long passages of clear water...stone curly Q's of rock that you have to balance and climb on...the most exciting and probably strenuous cave we have done. The walk to get to it is 45 minutes or so of not-too-hilly terrain on a real trail. There is a short rappel to get in to it and then there is the descent (and return climb) down and under and over rock. It is exciting stuff! Here is a sample of what the majority of the stony landscape looks like...One thing that is hard to show in a point-and-shoot photo is the scale of things. Here you can get a small idea by noticing Tom (in the purple) in the background and Julie in front working their way through the maze. There is plenty of water in this cave and a lot of swimming. It is clear and really cold even in a wetsuit. When you come back you move slower and the cold really gets to me.
Jeff is taking the upper route (left) and Diana is making her way through in the water. Even for taller people it is sometimes a real stretch to go from side to side and being a shorter type person I don't have the arm span or leg span to use the same route as the guys. This cave is totally three dimensional. This gives you an idea of the scale of things. Jeff is making his way up.
Here is some climbing. A lot of the slots or keyholes or crevices we have to go in require passing packs through first and that is part of why it is so demanding. My pack is lightweight, but I end up passing heavier packs over my head and up - it is difficult. Sometimes on the way back we can't figure out how we did it. Over or under? We have to investigate both ways. Here's Diana taking the lower route through the water.

The main passage ends in a sump (rock wall we can't pass because there is no airspace but the water continues on). We carried our harnesses and ascending gear the whole time (heavy) so we could climb up and pass the sump. Here Jeff is coming down on the way out. Jeff is standing on a little rock pillar stretching one arm up and contemplating what to hold on to next! There are all kinds of fantastic, sculpted, bowl-like areas that are like jacuzzis or bathtubs. There are patterns in the rock that look surreal and upside down. The cave captures the imagination and shows the power of water. This is not something to be done in the wet season (good thing this "wet season" is dry)!

There are all kinds of fantastic, sculpted, bowl-like areas that are like Jacuzzis or bathtubs. There are patterns in the rock that look surreal and upside down. This cave captures the imagination and shows the power of water. This is not something to be done in the wet season (good thing this "wet season" is dry)!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Butterflies of Saint Martin (and around)

Besides eating and eating, we visited The Butterfly Farm ( ) for a couple hours. I love wandering gardens (weren't any) and this was the closest I could get. I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did! They had a large area enclosed with shade cloth and many of the same flowers we've got. Our plants are not as large or blooming yet since we haven't been in the house that long. The average butterfly lives around 3 weeks or something so they are constantly mating and laying eggs. With all the sprays and shit people dump in the air and on the ground the butterfly population has been substantially reduced and we appreciate this guys efforts to help keep them around! This Titan Moth was my favorite.

After that we did some more driving and stopped for lunch on the Dutch side. Jeff had the most amazing sandwich -I think it was brioche with some sort of melted soft cheese (brie maybe?), ham (good quality - not the patched together little gross squares) and topped with a different cheese before being heated up. We had amazing desserts - a three layer chocolate thing with a crust that had peanut flakes (crunchy) in the crust, a layer of some kind of dense cake, a mouse layer and a ganache. I had a 3 chocolate layered thing that was a little sweet for me (but we shared so it was alright). Yum. No crowds, no waiting, no company. It is a pretty little island - at least during the off season. Everything was comparatively clean and organized - even the rooftops seemed planned.

Puerto Rico could look here as a model of how to do tourism. PR has so much more to offer but has shitty food, garbage, and mistreated animals all over. Missed opportunities abound. These signs were on every road choice pointing the way to jewelers and restaurants and attractions (weren't many). Even the GPS that came free with the car had locations preprogramed in by name. Yup - make it easy and not frustrating for the visitors so they are happy!
We did a little hike we enjoyed. It wasn't like our jungle romps to get to caves but it was nice enough and worked off a dessert maybe!
All in all we had a wonderful time! This was an excellent food vacation!!! Do we recommend going here? It depends on what it costs and why you are going there. For us it was a perfect, less expensive-than-other-islands getaway with excellent food. For sports adventures there is more in Puerto Rico but trying to find out about or schedule things in PR is a nightmare and should be skipped. Where will we go next? We are looking toward another nearby island adventure/trip or vacation and don't do repeats. Any ideas?