Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Cats

It has been a year at the new house and the cats have adjusted really well. They are enjoying the front garden. This area used to be just grass and now has flowers and ferns they like to lounge under. They know they are safe inside the wall. Being cats, they still sneak over the wall and across the road and we are happy no one has been smushed. The average lifespan for a Puerto Rico cat is 4 years so they are all doing well and hopefully have some more years ahead of them.  Tuca and Chicken like sitting on the hot gravel on the edge of the garden. Jackie is the youngest (only a year or so) and she has stolen Pollo's favorite sleeping spot - the mango fruit bowl. Yes, I am a smack and have taken fruit out of it so it is comfortable for them! For xmas they got a brand new fun cat tower. Rip is on top, Tuca mid level, Chicken pole dancing, Pollo feeling excluded, Blanco watching from the table and Dakota headed for a tent.
In the yard Chicken is hanging out in the avocado tree on a cat platform built especially for the cats. Jackie likes to hide under flowers in Tuca's spot. I must have something delicious I am making in the kitchen - Blanco, Pollo, Tuca and Chicken are interested. Tuca loves to sleep on warm towels and clothes or anything soft.

Rip and Dakota are waiting for food. Dakota is from Washington and must be at least 15 by now. While I was painting the house I'd start climbing down the ladder and find one of the cats just sitting and watching me. Chicken seems to be enjoying the sunset and looking over the wall from above.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cueva Jaguar - The Unknown Passages

This cave is very exciting! Jeff and Tom went without me once to locate it (not easy since the opening is obscured by trash) and they spent most of the day looking for it. With time constraints they weren't able to explore some of the smaller side passages so we did that on the next trip. That trip led to some very interesting water passages. One of them sumped. I was sent down a tiny passage and I could hear water far down below but since no one else came down the passage with me, and I didn't think I could fit, I came back out not knowing where it went. Then on the way out there were three other holes that went places. That is what Tom wanted to do on this trip. Tom produced a map of the cave from the 1980's I think. It showed a hole that forked to the right and left and went in a big loop. That was the point of the trip. I popped in and kept going. I knew Jeff would get about 10 feet and go back out. That's what happened. Diana didn't want to do it either so I encouraged Tom to come in and off we went at warp speed. Warp speed is hard when you are crawling in a hot, low, muddy  passage for an hour and a half.
The entrance into the cave had more climbing than I remembered and the mud made things slippery. The cave is freshly decorated with healthy, growing formations. Jeff, Diana and Tom look at the map before Tom and I head in. Well Tom and I  kept crawling and crawling and sometimes could crouch. Mostly it was crawling. I liked the pattern of mud on the ceiling here - Tom said something about electromagnetic forces distributing the mud into that pattern - or something like that. Here he is going down the tunnel. Some parts of the tunnels had formations - some straws, some flowstone and some stalactites. Mostly though it was mud. We got to some complicated things that weren't on the map - the "swiss cheese" effect I call it where things go down and to the sides and up above. We left our packs at the junction since it was just too hard to push them ahead of us and it was too low to wear them. It was tiring and hot. We resorted to making little piles of mud and rocks to mark our routes since things were not on the map and our flagging was in our packs! We did squeeze through some small spots and came out at the junction but on a route different than we had thought. A small squeeze emptied into an 8 foot pit that looped around. We emerged after longer than we thought after exploring it all!

Then it was out, finally, into the big part of the cave which is quite nice! Jeff and Diana were glad to see us and pretty sick of waiting. They were about ready to leave when we emerged. After lunch, water, and looking at the main room Jeff and Tom wanted me to go back into the tiny tunnel from the previous trip to better check out my report of water. Just as before Jeff stopped around half way into the tunnel. Diana stayed with him and Tom went in with me. When we got there there was flagging at the hole that I don't remember seeing. Someone had gotten this far. Tom couldn't see anything because standing in the hole blocked him from seeing into it. Yeah, it was small. Not only small but awkward - I could put two feet in but not anything else. Last time I went head first in to take a peak and that is when I heard water. This time I wanted to go in.

With some encouragement from Tom and my desire to see where it went I tried going down. I needed a rope since it was a pretty big drop and I couldn't see clearly enough to assess the situation. Tom tied off a rope and gave me a super cool little tool - Petzl Tribloc- to attach to the rope to help me out. I attached the Tribloc 5 feet down the rope, dropped it in the hole, and proceeded to squirm into the hole which was a little tight even for me! That is after I broke off a little protrusion of rock! I chimneyed down until I reached the Tribloc (ascender), wrapped my hand in the loop and lowered myself to a little standing area. From there I could see the water but unfortunately it was another 15 feet or so down. No way could I do it without a harness and figure 8. No one could go down this to get me if I fell or couldn't come back up and I am not sure which side of the sump that section of river is in. This drop scratched up my back a little and remains unfinished. I do want to come back with a harness. I think I could attach my vertical gear to the rope, lower it,go down the hole, put it on and drop into the river. The other guys could go the river route and we could try to meet up. Worse comes to worse and I am in an isolated section I am pretty sure I would be able to come back up the hole. The other thing would be to drop the rope and vertical gear down the hole, everyone go the river route and look for the rope from the river. This will be an interested trip to make in the future! Lots of water, tiny holes, small passages? My kind of cave. I especially like that I am the only one who can go down (or up) that hole! It is a challenge!

So we went back out into the main area and then out. There was one last hole to explore and it was a sneaky water passage that went under the collapse area. Very interesting and not at all what we thought it would do! All in all one of the best caving days I have had in a while. A day full of interesting exploration!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Way Things Are - Getting Prescriptions

First off, I have to say that until 4 years or so ago I never went to the doctor, got sick or had any problems requiring prescriptions at all. I don't like to take aspirin or vitamins or anything. I think if you eat well (hard to do here) you can avoid most problems. Well, that isn't exactly the case unfortunately. In the past the problems I have had involved overusing the body - carpal tunnel (surgery fixed both wrists), wrist cyst (surgery) and a torn shoulder labrum (surgery). I also had infrequent migraines resulting in what I call 'big eye" where the pupil of one eye totally blows out, I can hardly see out of it and I see big floating colorful circles or squigles or other bizarre shit. Genetics has given me a thyroid problem that I need daily medication for which leads me to this post.

The problem with the thyroid thing is that my body attacks it (Hashimotos), the pituitary freaks out and sends messages to every body else in the body and they all respond sending the body and mind into chaos. Medication can control this, but with other hormonal changes (I'm over 50) and the continuing death of the thyroid everything fluctuates and the medication dose changes etc. I can't sleep and wander the yard looking at who is making that irritating and super loud high pitched screech (a green bug that looks like a leaf) etc. Not sleeping makes things even worse so I have given in to the occasional sleep drug. Now come the problems.

Getting Prescriptions:
Doctors seem to be happy with writing prescriptions on their little pads of paper but only want to write them for 30 days. This would not be a problem if things here functioned. They don't. Sometimes a prescription (for migraines which I get more when my thyroid levels are shifting) is only 6 pills. Not a problem if you have refills, right? Sometimes they forget to put your address on it. Not a problem, I can fill it in or they can call the doctor or get it off all my ID, right? Sometimes they either say "no substitutions" or "substitutuions ok" - not a problem, right? All of these ARE problems because it is just The Way Things Are here in PR. My doctor is 1 1/2 hours away so I can't just drive there to fix these problems (plus thinking about having to do that pisses me off) and finding another doctor has you waiting for 6-9 months (I have another endrochronologist appointment in the works for June - made that appointment 4 months ago).

Refilling Prescriptions:
So yesterday I went to the pharmacy (doesn't matter where you go) to get refills on the thyroid drug (have to take daily) and the sleepy stuff (I don't need it but there are windows of time where they will refill things and if you miss them - whatever they are- they won't refill them). I was told "it is too early." "What do you mean 'it is too early' I say." I can't refill them today, I have to wait until Saturday. I shake the pills out of the vial and show that there are exactly 4 pills left. One for Weds, Thurs, Fri, and Sat. I apparently have to wait until I am completely OUT before they will refill it! What if there is a hurricane? What if the truck breaks? What if I go caving and am not here Sat? What if they don't have any (this has happened more than once). I cannot miss a pill without setting off a cascade of grief and discomfort. This is how it is. The bottle says "4 refills by July 2013" but who knows what that really means? After persuading and proving that the prescription was written exactly 26 pills ago and explaining I would not be here Saturday they agreed to give me the one prescription ON FRIDAY. Another trip into town. The other one I can come in on the 26th but not before.

There are also magic windows that I don't understand and no one can explain. I don't want to refill something if I don't need it. Sometimes the doctor will give 4 refills on the sleep stuff and I don't need any for 5 months and then have a big problem and do need a fews nights worth. If you don't refill things "on time" (whatever that means) you can't do it. It doesn't matter that the bottle says 3 refills left and you are before the expiration date printed there.

When a Refill Isn't a Refill:
A refill isn't a refill if you don't go in and get it in a certain amount of time. Sometimes a prescription isn't even a prescription. One time she wrote a prescription (my levels were swinging wildly at the time) and I did not know (she didn't tell me and the pharmacy didn't either) that had to be filled in 24 hours. I was an hour late. Couldn't get it. The migraine pills (which keep me from barfing and drooling or at least help the headache) say 4 refills (there are only 6 in a box) but they won't refill them without a new prescription. They won't fill it at all without an address written by the doctor on the script.  So what exactly is a "refill" and what is the magic window for getting them? If I have something that says "4 refills by July 2013" and I don't need any of it until June or ever, I don't want to have to get each refill 28 days or whatever that magic number is or be blocked out of any ever. That is The Way Things Are. You are forced to collect and store drugs whether you need them or not so that you have them when you need them or else you will not get them (can't get doctor appointment immediately). I guess the other alternative would be to go to the emergency room throwing up with a migraine assuming you could get someone to drive you there and wait for 20 hours to get the magic pill. Or wait until you drop into a coma from not taking the thyroid pills you couldn't get at the pharmacy and had to skip a pill or more.

Substitutions or No Substitutions:
This a potential area of problems. It the doctor checks "no substitutuions" and the pharmacy doesn't have what it is you won't be able to get a substitution. They also won't call the doctor to approve one. You will have to drive to the doctor, wait for hours and get a new script. If  they check "substitutions" the pharmacy will fill it with a generic which is usually fine, but in the case of thyroid stuff isn't.

So that is The Way Things Are. I suggest that at the doctor's (if you are unfortunate enough to have to go there - and yes, it IS inevitable as your body marches toward death) you get prescriptions for anything you THINK you might need. If you are waiting for hours in the office and months for the appointment you have to think this through. Check all prescription sheets for: Your name exactly how it is on insurance cards (or your license if you don't have insurance). ADDRESS - make sure it is on there and matches the insurance card or a bill you have. DOCTOR LIC# and code. REFILL.  SUBSTITUTIONS (yes or no depending on what is ok for you - usually YES is the better choice). Ask if you have to get whatever it is in 24 hours or not. If you can, get prescriptions for 90 pills instead of 30 (they instinctively will write 30). I didn't do this for a couple reasons - humidity changes the effectiveness of the thyroid drug which is pretty sensitive already and my dosage keeps shifting (don't want to store/purchase stuff I may not need). I hope this will help you navigate The Way Things Are so you can go with the flow and hopefully get what you might need. If any one can explain this "refill window of time" thing to me please help!

I really don't understand why things are the way the are. Migraine pills are brain things and the pill will not fix a headache and doesn't have any affects any one would enjoy (if you don't have a migraine it doesn't do anything). Thyroid meds could give you a heart attack (I don't think drug users are looking for this). The sleep stuff might have some kind of street value I suppose. I think it is all a passive-aggressive way of controlling the population. Just like lines and all the other disfunctional procedures here!

UPDATE: Just spent an HOUR to get 2 or the 3 prescriptions. I was there 3 days ago to refill. They told me I was "too early." Told me to come back Friday (today). Last night Walgreen's called. I went today to pick them up but were they ready? Nope. Had to wait for them and then did they have them? Yes on 2 of them and the other one...if i want insurance to pay for it I need a "new prescription." So, I can pay $95 or $10 to see a doctor to get a prescription and $5 as a copay. What would you do? Neither is my answer since it is not a "must have." The line was 9 people deep and I am sure they all had the same problems. Each person is 15 minutes while they copy numbers into 9 columns by hand, have you sign the little clipboard etc. no wonder there are 3 murders a day here!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Re-exploring Cueva Systema Vientos San German.

Over the years Tom has brought up doing the 200+ foot drops into Systema Vientos. Things aligned just right this weekend to make it happen. We met Tom, Tim, Sherly, Julie, and Franklin near our old house in San German. We got to the parking area around 10AM just as the property owners were on their way to church. We said hi and told them what we were doing. They were very friendly and accommodating.

We set off for the Boom Boom entrance to the cave. The Boom Boom entrance is named that way because that’s the noise rocks make when they fall into the cave. More like Boom Boom Boom. Cueva Vientos is an old cave in some very old limestone pockets on the South West side of the Island. It was formed underwater and is not your typical river passage cave found on the North side of the Island. Since it was formed underwater it’s more of a three dimensional maze with many vertical and horizontal components. It’s so confusing you can get lost just turning one corner!
We spent several hours searching the top of the hill for the proper entrance. Piecing together some poor descriptions of the entrance from some old trip reports and using an IPad to do an internet search we finally agreed that we found the correct spot.

Tom then left us to rig the drop while he went back down the hill to find our exit point and rig that with a 40 foot rope. Julie readily volunteered to go down and check things out then come back up the 200 – 250 feet. Unfortunately we didn’t have one really long rope so we had to use two ropes. We rigged the 150 foot rope first and put a knot in the end so no one could accidentally rappel off the end of the rope. Julie stuffed the 100 foot rope into her pack and down she went. It was 1PM and we finally had the first person on rope.

Julie came back an hour later. She had descended to branch where she had to choose left or right. She chose the bigger branch (left). She found a nice ledge before running out of rope. She took out the 100 foot rope and tied it to the rope she was on. She continued down not knowing if the rope touched the bottom! It did but not by much. She got off rope and looked around but soon found she was in a blind passage. It didn’t go very far. This was a dead end. She climbed up the 250 feet of rope and reported back to us what she found.

Tom was back by then and we re-read the old trip reports. The next person had to go down to the first branch and pull the rope up and drop it down the other smaller branch and verify that it entered the main part of the cave. Tim volunteered. Again after a seemingly endless amount of time we heard a very faint “off rope”. That was the signal for the next person.

The distance was only 250 feet but because of some twists and turns we couldn’t hear each other. We had to leapfrog our way down. 130 feet down there was a small ledge with an important little hidey hole. This is where the two ropes were tied together. That made it so we didn’t have to pass a knot on rope and gave us a place where we could communicate with the surface and the bottom.

One person would get to this point and yell up “off rope”. Then they would squat down and press themselves into the hidey hole and hope none of the falling rocks would bounce toward them. We could attach ourselves to the “free” end of the main rope while we waited for the next person to come down. It seemed like an eternity waiting for Franklin to get to me. I had to sit on an angle pressed into the rock and staring down a small hole that dropped into infinity.

When Franklin got to me I was able to finish my rappel. On rope I squeezed through the small hole with my face in the dirt. When I got to the bottom I yelled “off rope”. Franklin then relayed “off rope” back to the top where Julie was waiting. She came down and I assume they did the same sequence.

I didn’t get off rope until 4:30PM. It was 5PM and we all finally made it to the main part of the cave. Tom showed us around for a bit then he realized that the bats would start leaving the cave soon. We didn’t need to be in an exit when 100,000 bats were trying to leave. Again as I mentioned earlier this cave is a 3D maze. I don’t know how Tom did it but he found our way out in no time. I climbed the 40’ up and was out of the cave at 6PM. I didn’t wait for everyone else to get out and set off up the hill to go get the 250 feet of rope and other gear before dark.

By the time I got all the rope out of the cave and coiled up it was dark. I was joined by the others and we carried our gear back down and to the cars in the dark. We cleaned up and headed for Pizza. We enjoyed the pizza and margaritas (not me). We got home around 10PM and Katrina was sick. Julie and Tim also got a bit sick from either the pizza or margaritas. 14 hours and we only spent an hour in the cave but it was worth it.

The "Boom Boom" Plan - Cueva Vientos in San German

Photos cannot show what this little adventure was like! Tim and Sherly were visiting from Florida for a weekend and wanted to do a vertical cave. Last weekend most of our little group spent a long day together at Cueva Larga where they discussed the "Boom Boom" Plan. I was not along on that trip. The plan was to find the "Boom Boom" entrance of Sistema Vientos and drop the 200 plus foot (no specifics known) drop into the cave and then wander for a while going out a different exit. Jeff and I had been here three times before (twice with Tom) and know that it is a confusing cave. The most confusing part on this trip though was finding the entrance! Tim, Sherly, Julie, Franklin, Jeff, Tom and I met at 9 and it was roughly 3 1/2 hours after that that we found the hole and got it rigged to the right place! Tom had gone down the hole some 7 or 8 years prior but finding a small opening in a big jungle is a difficult task even with GPS coordinates which is something we did not have. There was a fair amount of wandering and many openings were found but we couldn't be sure which was "Boom Boom." A rope was tied off and Julie said she'd take a look. She was gone forever and came up very tired after reaching the end of the 150 foot rope, tying off another 100 foot rope, getting to the bottom and having it be a pit that didn't go anywhere! She came back up (not easy), reported back and believed maybe she taken the wrong place at the fork. She went the large route (which is always the better idea). Tim then went down to check out the other route and he was tasked with rerouting the rope down the other pit. We could hear a faint yell to send someone else down. Down we went. We frogged it sending a person to the changeover ledge (where the second rope was tied off). That person got off the first rope and waited there for the next person, then got on the second rope and another person was sent down the first. It was the only way we could know only one person would be on the rope at a time. It was a long, contorted way down!
This is where the first rope ends and the second begins (down that little hole).
Jeff is coming down the second rope here. The second drop was maybe 70 feet? Whatever it was seemed a lot shorter than the first one that descended into darkness and whispered out for us to go to the darkness. Where we came into the cave was near a large bat room we did not want to disturb so there was a lot of waiting in a small, warm area for everyone to get down. It took a lot of time. Sherly took my photo as I explored an area I recognized.
Franklin and Julie came down last. We explored a few pits and upper passages (can't really call them passages because the cave is like swiss cheese). Sherly is coming through the "luge" which is a small steep tunnel you really can slip and shoot out of (just beware the pit at the bottom you can rocket into). There were LOTS of bats around including the "suicidal bats" which is the actual name of one of the bat rooms. This bat has a baby under its wing.

Tom and Sherly waiting for others to arrive. Sherly trying to climb to an upper area - us short people needed a rope to do it. This boa was near our exit point. Since we left at almost dark the bats were gathering for their nightly exit and the boa was probably getting into position for fine dining. Bats were attaching to us, falling on the ground (we gave them a lift) - there was no way to avoid them and we tried to get through them as quickly and quietly as possible.
One by one we ascended up yet another rope (100 foot) to get out after only an hour in the cave. That is when more adventure started - in the dark we had to find the other entrance and haul a couple hundred feet of rope out of the hole and pick up machetes etc then hike the rest of the way to the cars! It was a successful day. We did the longest drop we have done. I used a full sized rack and didn't exactly glide as I wanted but didn't have to bounce and feed line through it like usual. Julie however had a hard time with the Petzl Stop but made it down ok. So the mystery of entrance "Bam Bam" is solved and makes for an exciting entrance to an amazing cave that we will most likely visit again!

Friday, February 8, 2013

February is Flower-time...or is it Always Flower-time?

Hibiscus come in many many colors and I could envision an entire yard of just hibiscus. So far I've got three colors - yellow, this orange pink one and "Meteorite" which is the best yet! Can't wait for it to get bigger!

 The torch gingers are blooming and I don't know what this strange plant is but it flowers!
The orchids bloom on and off all the time - I strap them to the trees and let them do their thing.
Someone gave me a few pinches of coleus and I continue to plant it all over and use the plants as a factory for more. The odd yellow flower is a rattlesnake calathea that is blooming for the first time. Below is yet another flower on my "cat's whisker" aka 'bat flower" plant.

The heliconias are starting to drop their flower pendants and who can resist the unreal colors of neon pink gerbera daisies? Yes, definitely an awesome place for flowers!