Monday, January 28, 2013

New House Colors

When we bought our house a year and a month ago we wanted to work on the roof and repaint. We had someone else do the Danosa roof shortly after moving in but the painting I just put off. I painted inside because it was doable but outside required pressure washing, some minimal scraping, deciding on colors and then balancing on ladders and I wasn't up for it until now. After a few trial sized paint colors that didn't work we decided on a nature-inspired (if you live in the souped-up color land of PR) Bird of Paradise colors! Jeff pressure washed and scraped and for the past what-seems-like-forever I have been painting. The wall itself is a lot of surface area and picking a color proved tricky. We tried a light orange and in the bright light it just looked like yellow. On the front of the house the light orange  looked exactly like the inside of the porch green. We get a lot of bright light! In the afternoon the shadow from the overhang makes the house front look like it is two different colors of orange - very interesting.
There is still a little white I need to paint under the stairs. I need to do a little more of the iron and am a third of the way done with the ballasters. The white metal gates need painting and so does the cistern. I probably have 3 partial days of work left but can take my time. The wall looked ugly, like a giant cement wall. Now the color and the plants make it disappear.
The front was boring. Now I have heliconias, an Ylang ylang and gingers in a curved bed along the fence that now has privacy screening. No neighbors, but a weedy field isn't what I want to see. The view from the porch is now much more soothing on the eyes. The front was a boring block of lawn and wall but is now a planted garden with butterflies and birds and snoozing cats. The house colors are like the birds of paradise and gerber a daisies I have planted.

The back had a deck that floated like an alien thing in the back. Now it has a nice cover, the paint helps it merge with the landscape and plantings are growing up nicely to conceal underneath. I think it turned out really nice. We thought about barf colors but just had to do our tropical style since this is the tropics. Everything is growing up nicely and I'm not done landscaping yet. I'll have to post some before and afters of the yard once the painting is truly done.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cuevas Humo y Evaporada

We've been doing some caving lately since it is getting to be the dry season. Caving is kind of hard to do multiple days in a row because it is just plain physically demanding. You need to hike and climb and you are using fingers and thighs and knees and every muscle you don't know you have. Add to that a lot of humidity both in and out of the caves and it can be exhausting. Jeff had some people email him from the states. They wanted to see some caves and would be here for a few days. Jeff took Friday off of work to take the guys to Cueva Dos Chorros and then, because they were respectful and careful cavers, to Cueva Sorbetos. They were really amazed at the size and quantity of the straws in Sorbetos. I joined them, along with Bro and Richard and Tom, for a trip to Cuevas Humo and Evaporada the next day. These two caves are near Camuy and both have huge entrances and belch out huge amounts of foggy steam. They are impressive caves for us, but for the visitors they were pretty much astounded which gives us an even more appreciative view of caving here. The day started with most everyone being on time for the drive to the house near the cave. Tom was running late but he knew where the cave was so he joined up with us later. We drove up and the gate was closed! We have caved here several times and the gate was always open. Bro and Richard got the owners' attention and despite not being super pleased they opened the gate, let us park in front of their house and we quickly walked across their property to get to the caves. Never in a million years would people in the states let you do this but here, no one thinks of liability or of denying access. At least not many people. We went to Humo first for a Tom adventure to a passage we hadn't done before that leads to Cueva Angeles. While we waited for Tom I took Patrick and Adam in the lower part to the really nice formations for some photo shots. When Tom arrived we headed to the upper passage and then the for us"unknown" passage. There was a fair amount of climbing, a lot of mud but really nice big passage! Here Adam and Patrick are doing some climbing.

On the left Patrick in crouching near one of the formations in the lower area. After climbing a bunch of rubble we ended up near the part of the passage where Tom has always stopped because ropes weren't rigged (some have to be rigged from the Angeles side). This time there was a set of parallel what-I-call "trapeze" or "tightrope" ropes set by persons unknown with unknown anchors and unknown ropes. This is not something we like to risk since humidity and bat shit and cockroaches and other environmental factors are really hard on everything. (plus Jeff has first hand experience with a poorly rigged unknown rope) We did not consider crossing and the visitors didn't have vertical gear. Bro didn't look too interested and Richard would do it but didn't have the necessary experience to do it safely. Tom decided to have a look so he re-rigged a rope to drop 60 or 80 feet or so into the pit to check things out. While he was doing that Patrick, Adam and Bro had a look at the map.We were only about a fifth of the way on the map and who knows where Humo ends and Angeles begins?

So here Tom is on the trapeze line (only without the balance stick). He dropped the pit on the left hand rope, took a look around at the mound and ledge the parallel ropes circumvented and figured you could balance on the ledge but then there was at least one other big pit you could see and maybe many more after that. Unfortunately he was stuck, again, at the same place he has always ended this trip. Sorry Tom!
Next we went back out and on to Cueva Evaporada. This cave reminds me of the Abyss. The entrance is super huge (especially looking out from inside). When people descend down the slope into the cave they look like little ants and just helmet lights. Otherworldly for sure! We went in and got to the few nice formations and the giant collapse. It is fun to navigate up through the collapse and out to the surface but I think everyone was tired and a few of us had done it before so we stopped. We did head up to what I call the "Jaguar Eyes" - two deep green skylight openings. We went up and kind of under the eyes, through some passage and then were in a large sinkhole-ish area. Last time I found a little tunnel to get to the lip and look back in so I did that. There was also an easier way up.
From near the lip (but not on top of it) you can look down to where you emerge from the inside of the cave and look at the teeny tiny people! There were some other small and short passages we looked around in before heading down. This cave exit is on the opposite side of the entrance - disorienting.

The best part of the cave is when you exit and are looking into the light and the jungle. Patrick is standing up top in the light looking like an alien! All in all a nice day. Jeff and a few others (including the visitors) were heading to Ponor 3 the next day - for me doing a water filled swimming cave after these two would just be too much!. We have spent hours in Ponor 3 and mapped a mile of passage so I stayed home and gave the body a rest. The two visitors started the trip and the water and initial garbage kind of grossed them out so they did something else. Exciting news though -  at the sump Julie and Anthony found their "cookie"  which means when they dove from Boca they did indeed end up at the Ponor sump! Exciting!
We are pretty lucky to be able to go caving whenever we want and have such high quality, unrestricted access. We know that. Caving is the reason we are here and we aren't done yet!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pink Stuff and Pods

One really great thing about Puerto Rico is that you can grow just about everything (except vegetables). Every kind of fruit or flower grows here and does well. Vegetables are really hard unless you want slimy stuff like okra or the Malabar vining spinach or roots. The stuff I would like to eat is very difficult to grow here . I've had some success...but flowers? Totally awesome. The flower above is a "sexy pink" heliconia. I am a heliconia junky and find them for $8 at the pulgero in San Sebastian. The little canoe of seeds on the right I thought was garbage at first - but it was a canoe full of seeds! Looks like nature's saran wrap.

This lovely brown flower is my new favorite - the "bat flower" aka "cat's whiskers" Jeff doesn't get why I just love this but that's ok - I don't understand how batteries and chargers are interesting!

The hot pink bananas I moved from the other house. They aren't edible but who cares? I grow them because of "cool factor." I just love the odd plants. In Washington I really liked black and green flowers. I grew kiwis and bamboo and windmill palms and of course bananas! The neon carpet above are pomorosa petals. This is a kind of decent fruit but I'd grow it for the blossoms alone! We went caving and there were carpets of blossoms all along the roadside! Technicolor plants are something amazing about Puerto Rico.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Way Things Are - The Line

It's a new year here, although I don't quite think it is 2013 yet...maybe 1950.  A new year brings a new chapter to the Puerto Rico saga, a new group of posts I will call "The Way Things Are" for lack of a more interesting title. This first installment came to me today as I was in da da got yet another LINE.

I dread leaving the house (unless it is to go underground or underwater) but we are in desperate need of bread and other "food" items. I hopped in the truck and realized I had another thing to add to my list of things to get - gas. Here in Puerto Rico EVERYTHING is difficult and what makes it frustrating is that 99% of these things could be easily fixed. No brain power required. I pull into the gas station and have to go get in LINE  (yes there is always a line) to give them my credit card. After that I pump my gas and guess what? Go get back in another LINE to pay for it. The fact that it involves going in there twice is bad enough, but often they are writing checks to vendors who are blocking the LINE (or are in the LINE) and even when that is done (which is hard to do with 4 inch fancy fake fingernails) they still have you press this or that on an archaic credit card machine after they manually (yes manually) put in the numbers of your card. Then you have to pull the metal drawer twice...once to sign the slip of paper and a second time to get your card back. Great way to start the day! The only alternative to this little scenario is to try to guess how much it will take to almost fill your tank and pay with cash. Since you are guessing, you will never have a full tank and spend twice as much time at the gas station so it is basically a wash.

Next stop was Marshalls - the store you love to hate. It didn't look crowded so in I went in search of another bottle of some awesome barrel-aged balsamic vinegar from Napa Valley. Last I checked was before the xmas chaos and there were 5 bottles. At that time I left the line (as I often do) leaving items in the aisles, literally, (my personal %$^% you Puerto Rico) when I discovered one cashier and over 50 people in LINE. Today looked better but they didn't have it! I did find a couple other kinds to try and proceeded to the LINE. There were 2 cashiers and about 20 people. People here always seem surprised that they have to pay for things. After waiting for 12 minutes or so in LINE they finally get there and aren't ready. Is this fun for them? 12 minutes. After a register opens up (the line is now bigger) the male cashier decides that now is a good time to take the size thingys off the hangers...saunter over to the hanger place to sort them...remove hangers from his area and THEN call the next person. Unbelievable. Marshalls is notorious for stuff like this. Once I was in line while a cashier waited for a customer who brought 3 things to the cashier, then left to continue shopping, and the cashier just stood there waiting. I had some things to say about that and after a bunch of excuses about not knowing what to do, I told her what to do - void the $%#^ order and help other people! Like it isn't obvious?

This didn't happen today but I love it when people at the supermarket or where ever get in the 10 and under line with 20 plus items. This happens all the time and cashiers have no common sense about it. In the early days here I would go to Walmart for cat liter and cat food (thankfully I have discovered Petsmart). On one occasion a man a few people ahead of me had 18 or so items in the 10 and under line. I said something and he pretended not to understand so I said it to him and the cashier and everyone else waiting with 10 items in Spanish. As a parting shot the guy says, in perfect English, "what do you care, you're almost out of here anyway?" Exactly - I COULD BE OUT IF YOU WEREN'T IN THE WRONG $#%$# LINE! Another time a man was in line with 20 things in a 10 and under. I said something in Spanish to the little girl with him, that daddy needed to count things. Uno, dos, tres.... The man insisted that 10 items were his and 10 were his daughter's! Really? Does the 8 year old have her own Familia card or cash? In that instance the cashier sent him to another line but that rarely happens. They just need to have the register shut off at 10 items. So much for being in the short LINE. Next time I will bring 20 things there too. FYI is the register DID shut off they would probably just ring up the guys other stuff anyway.

Doctor's offices (and dentists and any medical, vision, surgery stuff) are horrible for the LINE. Some offices are like cattle roundups where everyone has an 8am appointment (get eyes checked), then you get herded from one room (mass dilation drops), to another (wait for them to take effect), then one by one to slaughter - oops- I mean the helper to look at the chart, then another room to wait some more and then finally the doctor some 3 hours later. I recently went for a stress test where you guessed it, 10 people had an 8am appointment. Normally I would just go at 11 but I really needed this test and I was fitted into the schedule amazingly fast (like 2 days) so I figured I better behave. So there I sat in the refrigerated cold room for 3 hours IN LINE for the test. Is it that hard to just stagger appointments? Each patient takes 20 minutes (or less) so why not have 3 people come at 8, 3 at 9 or 9:30 etc? Is it THAT difficult to figure this out? Do the receptionists feel powerful handing out numbers and having mobs of people waiting in LINE? Does this make the doctor feel successful? I'm sorry, but I just don't understand it. How can this be comfortable for anyone? (and why is it always so freaking cold)

Another unbelievable supermarket episode was in Sabana Grande (when we lived at the other house). Everyone is in LINE with their carts of cold stuff and nothing is moving. Hmmm. The checker blips the stuff through, leaves them on the belt (didn't bag them), tells the customer to take their Familia or Credit Card over to another LINE where there are 8 people at least. What's going on? When I finally get into that line I realize the problem. The credit card stuff isn't working except the one special one. Could they maybe have said something? Maybe put people with cash in one line? Nope. People here LOVE LINES!

So finally today I was in another LINE at Kmart. Kmart is another store on my avoidance list (which grows bigger each trip out into the world) but I didn't want to drive to Petsmart just for clumping cat litter and supermarkets here don't carry that (just the old fashioned non clumping stuff that is cheap). The LINES didn't look bad so in I went. I walk into the store and guess what? No carts. Are there ever carts in there? No. The "greeter" points across the street. Across the street is where they keep them. In the parking lot. There is one way in and out of the Aguadilla Mall (or the Yauco Mall, or most stores here in fact) and you have to cross the LONG LINE of cars to get to where the carts are. After you get the cart you have to maneuver it back across the LINE of cars along the curb to the flat spot in order to get it into the store. And guess what is there? A long LINE, more like a stream, of people discovering there are no carts. They are all walking into you like zombies not giving way. I get my stuff, get in a short LINE and after MANUALLY entering the bar code numbers for my 2 items I am able to escape to the final line of the day - the LONG LINE out! Yes, that is The Way Things Are (here anyway, not in most other more civilized places).