Friday, November 30, 2012

Cueva Barbudas and Monte Encantada

During Thanksgiving week Jeff had a few days off so we went caving. On Black Friday we headed to a couple of caves 15 minutes from our house. These caves are on 112. The first is kind of interesting because they pump water out of it...probably is our drinking water. There is a huge shaft in it and you can hear the pumps and feel the vibrations. We parked on 112 and walked around the guardrail for maybe 10 minutes and went down the steep slope (note Jeff at the top) toward the black hole in the lower right of the second photo (cave opening). Here Jeff is inside looking at all the water.
The little half circle is usually where you go in but the water level was too high for us to do it. When you get to the other side there isn't much head room and I don't really want to drown.
That was that in that one. Then we walked another 10 or 12 minutes to a nearby cave - Cueva Monte Encantada. This had a huge opening and was nicer than I remembered. It isn't an extensive cave buy hey, it is 15 minutes from our house. There are a lot of bats inside. There were some rooms to explore - Here is Ron. There is a 30 foot drop and a pool of moving water at the bottom of it. It is hard to tell from the photo but the triangle-like thing has dirty/muddy water with a darker curvy line of moving water at the bottom. Going to and coming from where you cannot tell.

Here is Jeff doing some exploring .It is unfortunate we didn't have a real plan for the day. Jeff took the day off and we expected to do a cave unknown to us. Well that just didn't work out. We did get to go caving though and we will make sure there IS a plan for the next trip!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Groundcovers - Flat and Taller

I spend a lot of time digging out perfectly good lawn. I enjoy having some lawn, but unfortunately I don't want everything to be lawn and some of it is on a such a slope that it is impossible to mow without mowing over your foot or flipping the mower over. In those cases I start digging and think about what to install after the fact. I have come up with some favorites that provide useful and interesting covers for the dirt. Things I do NOT have to mow. This photo shows part of the front of the house - a part that was only lawn when we moved in almost a year ago. It shows my favorite plants for hard to deal with places.
The flat ground cover was a plant I originally bought to cascade out of some drain hole free planters on the wall. The spot is full sun. It looked alright but kind of ratty so I just threw it on the ground and to my surprise it took off and looked fabulous! Now I rip out handfuls and bury them all over as I excavate more and more lawn. I water maybe the first few days and them let them go! They flower like crazy and spread like rock stars (that didn't come out right)...
In the top photo is the "firecracker plant." I don't know what the real name is and it won't help you find it anyway. This plant gets about 2 feet tall, flowers continuously, attracts humming birds and spreads when the flower-laden tips touch the ground. It is drought resistant and wonderful! I put some here, in a shady area, and it isn't blooming as much as I'd like so I will relocate it to sun. This stuff I found on the property and have been moving it around. It sends our crawling runners and is a nice green. No flowers yet and I don't expect they will be impressive but it is a different height and texture for a different look on the sloped property. Gingers are always good if you want a clump of blooming spreading stuff. There are gingers many different heights. I have some I swiped from the jungle that are a few inches tall and I have 8 to 10 foot tall torch gingers. They hold the soil, put up with neglect and spread easily.
This doesn't look like much yet but I had some at the other house. The plant looks kind of ratty up close but there is a perfect place for everything and in front of the boring cement wall in front of my house is the spot for this one. It will completely fill up the soil from the wall to the road and will have purple flowers all the time. You can mow it, use the trimmer or hand cut it if it starts looking bad. You can drive on it and it pops back up. Perfect for this spot! I will post another photo when it fills in. Also it doesn't require perfect is that? I have seen it in full sun and part shade. Then there is mani. Not the edible peanut, but the yellowing flowering ground cover that is great for dry places mani. It spreads like mad once it gets going (which takes time). You can mow it, use the trimmer, walk on it and it is great. It may dry out during the dry season but will pop to life with a little rain. Great for slopes.
Last there is my absolute new favorite - Lantana. I know. I know. I poo-pooed it for a long time too. I have 8 different kinds of butterflies in the yard and orange and yellow flowers all the time. I like the smell of the foliage when you brush against it. It isn't flat but you can keep it bushy and low with a little pruning. I haven't figured out how to successfully propagate it but hey, you can't have everything! So there you have it - solutions for slopes. Why fight these rotten areas when there are cool things to plant? If you don't like what you do you can always pull them out and put them somewhere else!

Cueva Ensueno - Dream Cave

It all started with a dream...the dream of making money by starting up a "tourist" spot in Puerto Rico. A dream that never did come to fruition for many reasons. We had been to this cave before but did not know the history. Ron Richards let us borrow his copy of "The Ensueno Cave Study," which was made by Russell and Jeanne Gurnee (with others) in 1988. The Gurnees are responsible for major exploration and "discovery" of the Camuy System. The expedition into this small cave was in February of 1987. It was being considered for development as a show cave by the Cordero family which owns it to this day. They managed the Camuy show cave for 5 years and had plans for a Hacienda presenting a turn-of-the-century coffee plantation in addition to the show cave. They purchased property around the cave and there were plans for a road to the location, plans for how to get lighting into the cave and water services. There were drawings of the whole shebang and it all seemed well thought out. About the cave: The cave is part of the Lares Limestone Formation formed in the late Oligocene (24 - 30 million years ago - unless you believe earth was made in 7 days and hasn't been around that long). It is an upper remnant of the Rio Camuy Cave System formed by "undersaturated water flowing into carbonates off of less soluble rocks in the interior." The river used to be at a higher level than it now flows. It used to flow through this cave. It is a decorated cave with a walk in entrance, small constriction in the middle and then a nice room of helictites.
We parked on the small road outside the gate of the property owner's house. There were caretakers out trimming and we asked for permission to cross the property and enter the cave. Ron was collecting temperature information and we just wanted a nice caving day! Inside we saw some evidence of where they were thinking of putting lighting. There were also damaged stalactites.

We saw a few scorpions. We had to go through a constriction that regular people would never go through. The plans had the owners tunneling a parallel hole alongside the cave so visitors could walk on a flat surface and see into the cave without having to duck or crawl or go through this part. After the constriction there is a room with some large stalagmites and stalactites and possibly evidence of earthquake damage (large things at odd angles that clearly have been broken and have regrown). Ron is in front of one of these. Up close you can see the cake-like formation has toppled! The cave then gets lower and lower and ends.
The stalactites on the roof of the cave in the main room had many helictites on them. You had to look closely to see them but once you start looking they were all over! If the cave had been developed it is doubtful you would have been close enough to see them. Here's Jeff under an impressive drapery with bacon. It is all very Doctor Seuss looking.
So why didn't this come to fruition? Many reasons. The cost to tunnel around the constriction, build the Hacienda etc etc was around a million dollars. The break even point was 189,000 visitors which means Puerto Rican's have to visit it. They estimated that more of those visitors would be Puerto Rican than would be from other places. If you live here you know that people here generally would not be interested in something like this in the numbers they projected. At $3 bucks a person for entry there is no way this would work! They could have made it work if they could provide food in a nice setting that was served reasonably fast and was well-priced, and in a clean environment but we all know that that indeed would be a DREAM...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aguada Day Trip - Cemetery and Church

Every where you go in Puerto Rico there are churches. Churches and cemeteries. In the states I never had an interest in visiting either but here in Puerto Rico there is quite a bit of history and there are some really neat buildings and old, interesting cemeteries. Every town plaza has at least one church and I am on a mission to visit at least nearby ones. There are churches scattered every mile or so it seems, embedded in neighborhoods, under tents in fields, etc etc. It is the ones in old buildings I am interested in. Cemeteries it seems are everywhere also. This last week I went with a friend to the town she grew up in - Aguada. We headed to the town plaza near where her grandparents lived to take a look at the church. This is Iglesia San Francisco de Asis. It was built between 1924 and 1936 and was repaired after a more recent earthquake. The two towers are over 100 feet tall. We met outside and waited a bit before entering since there was a funeral in progress. Cars and people were lined up outside. When it seemed appropriate we went in and looked at both old and new stained glass. I always like looking at the creepy statues and figurines on pedestals or enclosed in glass boxes. This wooden pope was donated to the church by a local artist, Creepy.
After wandering inside for a while it appeared that much was new in this church. I am more interested in the older intact churches. We went outside and at that time music/shouting started coming out of the gigantic speakers welded to a special funeral truck. Behind that was a car covered in beautiful flower wreaths. I have seen the same thing (speakers and wreath covered cars) in the middle of highway 2 blocking traffic before. Definitely something you do not see in the states. Behind the wreath-covered car was the casket vehicle and behind that a bunch of mourners walking along following the vehicles with music blasting. Diana had gone to this church as a young girl and said females had to sit on a separate side from the men. She isn't old. We finished looking at the church and headed off to the cemetery. I had driven by this cemetery many times on my way to the vet. It seemed like a newer cemetery but I wanted to check it out.
One thing I find interesting is how many bodies there are, how packed in they are (with no apparent organization) and how elaborate the markers are. I am fascinated by how many bodies they actually put in one cement housing. In Aguadilla they had what looked like plant markers stuck in pots with as many as a dozen names on them.  There are different things people do to personalize things and there seem to be different styles depending on how recent the deaths are. I had not seen photographs taped onto them before. You can see how faded the photos are. In the older section a lot of headstones didn't even have names on them and many were overgrown and the soil around them was eroded. Then in the middle of old stuff there would be something modern. A lot of graves used bathroom tiles as a way to decorate. Some of them used marble and many were just cement. Some had rajas cages around them I guess to secure the space. There were so many markers you could not walk between them - you needed to walk on top of them which just seems wrong.

Gaudy colors of fake flowers were every where and lots of little figurines and other adornments. There are the "plant markers" I was talking about. On one of them we have a funeral parlor advertising (kind of odd if you ask me). As I was wandering the group from the church drove/walked up. Of course loud preaching and music blasted out from the car speakers. I don't know what they do in the states but I am pretty sure the only places I will see people standing on the body are here and in the movies. After the loud preaching stopped the people stepped away and disappeared. It was interesting that everyone was just wearing T-shirts and flip flops and sleeveless low-cut spandex. 

I have seen these ceramic portraits at a couple other cemeteries. This cemetery has a lot of bodies in it. There is an older section with mainly cement markers, then there are a lot of tiled-in boxes and up on the hill raised cement or marble ones that are more elaborate. There are also many, many simple crosses stuck at odd angles in the dirt...dirt that has deep gullies in it from erosion and who-knows-where the bodies have gone.
A more recent kind of marker I've seen are faces etched in marble like these. I am kind of interested especially in markers that have faces of people- ceramic, marble, photographs or cement busts. There seems to be a modern trend where people think it is important that they get credit for putting the marker there (they make sure their name is on there bigger than the deceased). There are some markers with funny anecdotes that I am not sure I am catching the full meaning of. There are also lots and lots of creepy figurines, stuffed animals, cement animals, rooster figures, fake flowers in neon colors and some huge monuments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tanama River Float and Cueva Sorbetos

Saturday's trip was our third trip down the Tanama River in tubes! This is a hard trip to coordinate because it is weather dependent meaning you have to make sure there is enough water in the river but that it won't rise substantially (rain) while you are on it. There is also coordination that needs to be done (if you are in a large group) with land owners (for safe parking) and the water authority (if you drive a pick up vehicle up to the dam to collect people). Also where you put in is 20 minutes away from where you take out and there needs to be vehicle coordination since parking is limited. Also it involves coordinating people - always a wild card. The day started out late (as always) with the normal (for here) problem of people being late and everyone having to wait for them. This is not a 20 minute unpredictable "late" but more a systemic problem of waiting more than an hour holding up the many for the few. Once we were on the river though all was forgotten. The first time we floated the river it was crystal clear and a nice group of 20 or 30 people. The second time was utter chaos of 100 plus people and a Willie Wonka chocolate river. This time was 15 people or so and fairly clear water. It was cold water but it is November and warmer here than anywhere I can think of. Here Jeff is smiling as always. There were some little rapids for us to babble down, a few places to walk over (or risk rocks bumping the butt) and only 1 or 2 to portage. Here's the happy 3 musketeers - Richard, Jesse and Issac. They came without tubes and lucky for them someone brought extras! There were waterfalls, guineos rapids,, sunny spots and lush vegetation. The smarter people brought paddles (we were not among of them).
The best part though was the cave at the point we take out of the water. Cueva Sorbetos is just above the dam on the other side of the river and a few people in the group had never been there. We all swam across and entered the cave. It is very muddy and when the river rises you can get safely trapped inside. We went through the muddy area into the heart of the cave (our 3rd visit) and were again in awe of what we saw. THIS is why we stay here. Who gets to see things like this every weekend? Magazine readers maybe, but regular people? Don't think so. In this photo you can see Jeff's yellow helmet to the right of the large column. That will give you an idea of the scale of things. This was in the collapse area which I call the TV viewing room since you walk up the collapse, turn around, and there is a "screen" of formations you can watch while you have lunch! Besides the sorbetos (straws of hollow calcite) there are helictites pointing their antigravity formations in odd directions. I am not super knowledgeable about this but have read that capillary action and impurities cause the odd angles that define this type of formation. These are small individual formations but they cover the walls and ceilings that go for 50 feet or more, have some bare patches and start up again. In my head I picture little trapeze artists and invisible animals sliding up and down the poles. Magic!

At the end we came back across the river, walked 10 minutes or so to the walkway over the dam and to the trail. The river recently must have risen a lot to push sticks on the walkway like this. This time a truck picked us up at the top of the trail (in the past we have walked). Then we had the car shuttling before heading back home. I think this will be the last time I do the river and it was nice to have a few friends and sunshine with us!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Day of Extremes in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a land of extremes which makes it difficult to live here and also difficult to escape. Every day is a day of mixed emotions. I have never lived in a place I both loved and hated at the same time and in the same amounts. Elections are tomorrow and here in PR it is a nightmare driving around any time and more so with all the caravans of idiots driving around with people hanging out car windows waving flags and drinking and yelling and using horns and sirens. Given that it was the final weekend before the big day we decided to stay closer to home to avoid getting stuck for miles behind the crazy road blocking caravans. We visited a few places we have wanted to find but never wanted to dedicate a whole day to. Now that we live in Moca (actually closer to San Sebastian) we are closer to everything. It is hard to believe it has been almost a year in the Moca house! The first place we visited was Salto Collazo which is a waterfall on highway 111. We have driven by many times but never stopped. We met up with Tom and Diana. We walked the 10 seconds to the base of the falls and it was pretty nice. I'll have to come here after or during a good rain to see how the flow changes!
We didn't investigate the lower falls but at some point we should. It just looked awfully steep and trashy (yeah, maybe we'll skip that). We headed on highway 446 (near the San Sebastian Walgreens) to a waterfall we had heard about and tried to locate our first year here. We drove all around looking before but never figured out where it was. This time we had Tom and Diana with us and they know where EVERYTHING is! We parked near some rainbow Eucalyptus trees and walked about 10 minutes through some trees. All of a sudden we were in an official parking lot that was charging $5. There were some buildings, real stairs leading down to the pool/waterfall and this was a good thing gone commercial. We had hoped for a nice private swim and it was not to be. Usually if places require a walk that eliminates most people from going there. Now that there is a parking lot it is accessible to all. So we ended up being part of what seemed like a zoo exhibit with us as the animals! People were everywhere and the noise level was not human. People were jumping from the spectacularly high falls into a pool while other people egged them on with shouting and clapping etc. Not a happy day for me any way. Just like a zoo enclosure - we'll have to return when people aren't here.


This is when the day unravels...the next stop was for food. Food is always trouble because it is expensive, bad, and takes a really long time. I have gotten smart though and I always bring a sandwich. We went to Hacienda El Jibarito which is a hotel just off the cliff from our house. Trip Advisor gives it terrible reviews. We went to see the grounds and see about the possibility of lunch. They make no effort to explain the menu or specials in English - yes it is a Spanish speaking "country" but they advertise this as a tourist spot. Looking at the prices and then seeing the Flintstone's style food go by I knew it was not for me, and the others agreed. A giant slab of greasy ribs and bowls heaped with several starches (potatoes, tostones, rice and more) were rolled by on a cart instead of being carried. We looked around a bit and then headed  to our next stop. We headed to a secret beach by way of a different restaurant - Platano. This supposedly specialized in platanos but really only had the typical stuff - mofango and tostones and rice. I knew  this was going to be bad but we did it anyway. With only 2 small families ahead of us the wait between ordering/paying and getting the food was well over an hour. This was when my brain fried and I short circuited and had a melt down. I was ok until a church group came in and led a prayer/chant/sing along. People were using things as microphones and the hollering was excruciatingly loud and I can not deal with it. I left, told everyone which road I would be walking on and tried to escape the noise. But it is election time. On the road I encountered this funeral truck advertising. What are they saying? Call us when you die? Of course there was super loud "music" blasting and yelling about something. Then I encountered squealing tires and saw a caravan of flag waving idiots with a car doing donuts in the middle of the public road in the middle of cars trying to drive. Smoke, tire tracks, cars revving. Yes, the Puerto Rico I absolutely can't stand.
Just as I realized how dangerous it was trying to walk on the road my ride apparently got their food and got out. They collected me and we were off! So we went to a secret beach in North Isabela or South Quebradilla (not sure - it was that secret). Once we got on this quiet, fairly clean and deserted beach the good part of Puerto Rico showed itself. We passed a couple shore fishermen and headed to some pools. The surf has been rough lately and spray was flying everywhere.
Jeff was the first to venture into the sitting pool and you can see it isn't that deep. There were some sharp rocks and after watching Jeff try to walk around I kept my sandals on!
When the waves broke they ran into our little pool with a lot of force and it was the best part of the day!!! We enjoyed a half hour or more of only nature sounds and good company before calling it a day. This part of the day was really nice and beautiful. The beach in November? Warm 80 something degree water? People who enjoy what we enjoy? That's why we stay here.
But no day in Puerto Rico is complete without garbage, a starving animal or burned out car. Yup. Puerto Rico.