Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Way Things Are - Car Things

MARBETES: Once a year each car has to get a new sticker for the mandatory"insurance" they call the marbete. They are supposed to send out a triplicate piece of paper with car info on it that you take to an inspection station and then pay the money for the insurance, get the sticker, stick in on your car and you are good for another year. Kind of like car registration in the states but not really. Only once in what is almost 6 years now has this happened and apparently I am not alone! As the sticker expiration date comes close I check the mail knowing it will not be there but WILLING it to be. Easter and all the holy week crap is coming up which means constant closures of important offices etc so I have got to realize my hopes are dashed and I have to go to the PR DMV-like government office (CESCO) like it or not. This is a place of nightmares. It is a place that simply does not function. Oh, THE NOTE. The first time I went to pick up this slip of paper I waited for an hour only to be told I couldn't have it because Jeff was on the title and I am not him. Doesn't matter that I had a marriage certificate, driver's license and a slew of other papers with me, I couldn't get it. This is not a TITLE, it is a piece of paper with the weight of the car on it. This time I was prepared...I had THE NOTE. I also had a copy of Jeff's driver's license and other papers including the title. I went in the afternoon (which is always better) and here is how it went...Amazingly there are only 7 people or so in the line, 5 of whom appear to be together (waiting is a family affair because apparently there is nothing else to do here). We all wait for almost 8 minutes or so with no one being helped by the 2 men behind the tall counter - they are joking and looking at their phones. Then they bark out that we need to stand on the lozas blanca. We need to be like cattle and stand on the white tiles. Everyone snaps into position and they chat some more. Then they attempt to do some work. Everyone is there for the same reason - no marbete paperwork. After 28 minutes they have helped 2 people and it is my turn. I give them the old marbete paper and tell them I need the paperwork. They say they can't give it to me so I whip out THE NOTE. They want my license which I pull out. Now they tell me that for some unknown reason (power trip maybe) I have to go the the pharmacy outside the building, get a copy of my driver's license, and come back. WTF? The government doesn't have a copy machine? What on earth do they even want it for? It is possible I don't drive and got a ride here. My driver's license has nothing to do with this. I comply, but instead of getting in the line again (which is now 30 people deep) I go to the counter and wait until I get it. Amazing. The next day I go to the inspection place and there are 3 cars ahead of me. It takes an hour. When he puts the paperwork into the computer there is a glitch. We have REAL insurance and get a partial voucher (why it isn't a full one I'll never know) for the marbete. They can't process that. So now I have to go to a collectoria to pay. Now it is day 3 and where it gets interesting. Instead of going into Aquadilla I decide to try the collectoria (federal/government office) in Moca to pay for the marbete AND pay our income taxes. I get directions from 2 people and cannot for the life of me find the place. I see a cop and ask him. He proceeds to DRIVE ME THERE. We drive out of the plaza area, turn in some unmarked metal gates to a parking lot with 3 cars in it. He points to an abandoned building with dark glass. I park thinking WTF? I catch a glimpse of a suited figure slipping out the door so I go there. INSIDE these dark windows is another set of doors with a sign - Collectoria. No signs out on the road. None on the gate. None on the building. The sign is inside where you cannot see it until you are there! I go in and there is NO ONE THERE. I go up, produce the paperwork (inspection certificate, insurance voucher, driver's license etc). He slips into the back and comes out with a shiny new marbete sticker! Next I pull out the taxes with check. He offers to copy it for me, gets a receipt and I am off in around 15 minutes after numerous smashings of the metal date stamp. Still there is no line. NO ONE KNOWS THIS IS HERE! All this so I can pay $96 dollars. They can't make this an on-line procedure?

FLAT TIRES: In all my driving years I have never had a flat tire until I got here. If you live here you will get flat tires but they are easy to take care of. It isn't free like in the states, but there is a gomeria on every corner and for $5 you can be on the road again. Sometimes they don't charge you. I had a helpful soul put on my spare in the PETSMART parking lot when I couldn't get the lug nuts off.

TOW TRUCKS: Tow trucks are everywhere and will come for you eventually. It is not expensive. We have towing insurance on the old truck but last week the car leaked its transmission fluid and got stuck. It was 8 minutes from our house when Jeff and I had separate cars and were returning at 9:30 at night from diving. I went and got him and we left the car. It can take a couple hours for them to come for you and it is too hot to sit out there on the dirty, noisy road or in this case to dark and too late at night. The next morning we went to the KIA dealer and gave them $50 to tow it. Gave them the key and the location and didn't have to deal with that part of it. Knowing where to tow it is a different thing because if it isn't moving you have to know where a mechanic is so the tow guy can deposit it there. In this case the Kia has a 100,000 mile warranty so it is their problem. That's the only reason we got that car - all cars will have a problem here. It has now been a week and they just got the hose in. Now they can see if the transmission is screwed or if the hose is the only problem. A week.

CAR PARTS: Getting parts is what holds things up. Mechanics here are used to making things run with left over wires and garbage basically, but when the car window was smashed (while caving) it took over 3 weeks for the dealer to get one in. I think a monkey was steering it as a raft from Florida or something! That solves the mystery of why so many cars are driving around with garbage bags taped over the gaps. Going to a junker may work for older cars. Maybe. Lots of cars have mirrors hanging on by a wire since "mirror tapping" is a common act of aggression and stupidity here. No one even stops when they do it. Having the marbete insurance pay for it (or other car damage) just isn't worth the time it takes to register the parts with CESCO, So my mirror is taped on and Jeff had to replace the mirror part of his. Most cars don't bother fixing them and apparently pass the inspection anyway.

DRIVER'S LICENSE: This is something I have to do in July and I am really dreading it. My friend who has lived here her whole life just did it in 14 hours. There is a line to get a paper that proves you don't have tickets (or have paid them). Another to prove you don't owe tolls (no toll roads on this side of the island). Another paper is a doctor certificate that literally check off that you have a head and hands. You need stamps (another line). You need a bill to show your address. On and on the ridiculousness continues and I'll more to say about it once I have experienced it. I'd let is lapse but then insurance won't cover accidents to I can't really do that. To be continued...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cueva Sorbetos (straws)

Our final cave trip in this little 4 day flurry was a trip to Cueva Sorbetos, home of a million calcite soda straws. I don't know if there are really a million or not but it seems like it so I made that up! After 3 days of tough caving (although it seems a lot easier in the cool weather) Sorbetos was a nice end since it is a short walk, a little swim, and a beautifully and uniquely decorated cave. Since this was our 5th trip here (Jeff and mine) and it was nice to be able to go slow and look around a lot. When you first visit a cave there is a tendency to blast through it because you want to see it all (therefor you don't) and you don't know how long the cave is and the time it will take you to get to the end and then get out. The walk is along a nice and mainly flat trail near the Aqueducto station on the Tanama River. You could really tell how dry this year is. The river was low and the usual sticks and debris that cover the walkway were absent.

Once inside there is the initial scramble down some rocks and slippery mud. Immediately there is an entire wall of incredible sorbetos (straws) and helictites (anti-gravity looking formations). We had found a spider-web looking mass of helictites on a previous trip that we wanted to show our companions. This trip included Rob, Brett, Monica (who had never been here and had wanted to come for 8 or so years), Jeff and I. It was really muddy and slippery.
Here we are oohing and ahhing under the sorbetos. We found the little patch of amazing helictites too.
Jeff was looking at an extremely nice drapery. Then it was off through the magic storybook tunnel of straws. This area was very slippery and we had to really watch our packs and helmets. On the other side there are many things including this huge column with tiny Rob standing next to it. He looks like a toy even though he is over 6 feet tall!

Brett went down a steep slope into the river to go in the passage I had previously gone into. The running water goes up to a rock with a small hole in it. From there you can get into that hole (if you can fit) and look in to (or go into it if you can fit - that would be me) a dead end pit. The water slops over the rock and into the dead end hole if any one enters the passage. Not a great discovery. He got to the rock and stopped. We then headed up the collapse to the TV viewing room (as I call it) where large draperies and shields and straws abound all suspended and making much better viewing than any TV I've ever watched.
Jeff is near a big column at the base of the collapse. These kind of interesting "poo ball" formations (no idea what the real name is) have intrigued me since I first saw them. Rob is looking at all the amazing calcite and flowstone and straws and draperies etc. Leaving the collapse we followed the wall looking up at amazing helictites and straws the entire time before heading out through the tunnel and back up the boulders into reality.

We did a quick swim across the river and proceeded to rinse off all the mud and get mud out of our boots for the walk back. It started to rain slightly and was raining when we got to the cars to change and head out for something to eat. Food is ALWAYS dissapointing so I won't get into it. Not even shitty food could ruin such a nice day!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cueva Repressa

Cueva Repressa is the third cave we ever went to and we remembered that it was kind of creepy and had water in it but that is about all. The first two caves we went to had been dry and we really thought this one was an adventure. We visited it in September and weren't able to go past a waterfall because of high water. This time the goal was to see the whole thing since it is a really really dry dry season this year! Jeff, Anthony, Bro, Brett, Richard, Rob and I headed across the field to the entrance and then on in. Immediately the cave's dark personality came through - everything was drippy and dark and there was water. Jeff didn't remember much, but I did so I went a little ahead with Anthony to kind of lead the way. It was easy going.
"Easy going" ended at the water fall which was a slight obstacle. This is the spot we stopped the last time we were here. Last time I had managed to pop up onto the top and over it going through a little hole on the side. One of the other guys got up on top as well but the rest stayed down and had lunch. This time it was up and over for everyone. Eventually. The passage continued on and came to a nice section with white columns and stalagmites. Jeff took this photo of me crouching amidst the columns!
Shortly after this section came the "creepy low" section. By this point the group was kind of like 3 groups. Not a good plan. Group 1 ran ahead without looking back. Group 2 wanted group 1 in sight and group 3 in sight. Group 3 was not aware that some folks had run ahead. On top of that there was a slight fork. The right hand fork just came back around and the left involved going into high water/low ceiling which seemed like the implausible choice. This of course was the way. The problem was that when a couple people entered the pool the water rose up on the person IN the water filled tunnel enough to creep that person out and threaten them with the thought of no air. Yes, there was not much clearance. This opening looks big but rapidly gets lower and lower. As each person got through it became clear the front group had run ahead into another water tunnel, which left group 2 having to decide who to ditch. We waited for group 3.
Well group 3 never came. The water never rose and we didn't see lights. I left Richard waiting there and I scouted ahead for the runners. There was no response to yelling and light wiggling. I didn't want to be in a high water area alone without any sounds or lights from people in either direction so I went back for group 3. By now someone in our group had gone back through the tunnel to get them and they had gotten turned around and headed back out. They figured out their mistake. Now we had most of the group together so we could continue. Jeff and I decided to stay back and take some nice photos in the white section while others went on. I had been into that second high-water tunnel and it couldn't really go much further. We spent some time taking photos while the rest of the guys went into that tunnel and a little further before it sumped and they returned.
There were very clean sections of the cave. I really liked the dams and pools. I like the low ceiling situations but you need to be in the right frame of mind.
On the way out Jeff took this shot of me standing near the drapery on some dams. It is a pretty neat cave. So....what did we learn on this one? There needs to be some kind of plan before you set off into the cave. If you aren't going to stay together as a group you need to inform people of what you are doing so everyone can enjoy themselves. If you run ahead (I've done that before) it is always good to have someone with you and have a time limit so people know when you are coming back. That way people don't worry and can come after you after a certain amount of time if you don't show up (like maybe something happened?)  Don't leave any one behind, ever, especially if they are unfamiliar with the cave. Everyone always should be with someone unless they choose to rest or have lunch on their own in a safe, known spot. Maybe 5 is a better number for a group. Part of the fun is sharing these amazing stories afterward, stories when everyone has a shared and enjoyable experience!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cueva Zumbo - The Best Cave Ever!

Wow - internet has been out for a bunch of days (thank you Claro) so I haven't been able to make any posts. We have done a few days of caving so now I can get to it! Rob was visiting from Washington State so he joined Richard (photo on the left), Bro, Jeff, Brett and I on a trip to Cueva Zumbo which is my all-time favorite cave! Why is it a favorite? Well, there is a rappel at the beginning...lots of climbing...lots of water...and mainly a really cool, sculptural landscape of neat looking rock! This is a Dr. Seuss-type landscape of whip-cream curls and magical entryways and keyhole looking "doors" in the rock that lead on to the next part of the cave. On the way back it all looks new as you try to navigate your way back...up! You forget how big the drops were that you climbed and sometimes can't seem to find the hole that leads back where you came from. On this trip the cave seemed shorter than I remembered and involved more swimming than I remembered even though the sump was semi-open. We did stop at the sump since the cave is physical and it was day one of four back-to-back days of caving (only 3 for me and that was a lot).

These "whip cream curls" are really super hard and sharp rock. It is hard to explain the dimensionality of this cave. It looks like we are standing on rock tops a couple feet tall, when in reality we are balanced on rock tops with an 8 foot drop below to running water and the cave sculpture continues 20 or 30 or more feet above us! The design looks like swiss cheese with really neat curves and waves and openings reminiscent of wood carvings or maybe metalwork. On this trip we found someone had installed some well placed hand lines that made our journey through the cave a little less treacherous in areas that were difficult to have three points of contact (2 hands and a foot or 2 feet and a hand). If you did slip it would be a very involved rescue to get out of the cave- not something any one wants. The cave does take a couple hours each way even when you are moving at a good clip. When you get out there is an hour of walking as well and daylight has always been an issue on previous trips. With this in mind you do want to keep moving but have to be careful not to get sloppy (which is hard when you are doing strenuous climbing on the way out).
The water was clear and very cold. I had a wetsuit top, fleecy wetsuit-like bottoms and new paintball knee and shin and elbow pads on. I had forgotten how much swimming was involved and how cold it was. If I had remembered I may have worn a life vest. We climbed and swam and climbed and swam. Since this was the third or fourth time in this section of Zumbo we were able to take more time to look around and try to get photos. The photo thing is hard with water and humidity and no free hands!
This cave is amazing. The walls look like wood and the shapes are truly magical. It is like an amusement park for adults. You have to decide whether to try to stay in the river or go up...if you climb up you have to go back down can climb in and out little have to pass packs up and down too. This is kind of hard on some of the muscles the next day or two or three! Besides the appearance there is also the sound of running, gurgling water and drippy ceilings. This was our top pick for Rob to see and we are pretty sure he enjoyed it! Richard hadn't been there before and he had a good time too. For the rest of us the cave is always interesting and there are new things to see no matter how many times you travel in this one. Who can believe we get to do this stuff? Before we moved here we had never been inside a cave and now we've been to around 80 different ones! Still, out of all the beautiful things we see this cave is The Best Cave Ever!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sumidero Resurgencias cave exploration!

My friend Rob was visiting from Seattle and with our must do trip to Cueva Zumbo accomplished the day before we decided to do some exploring. Tom and I visited the top of a sumidero (sinkhole) last year but we weren’t prepared for what we found at the time, this time we were. We hiked on some old overgrown roads to reach the sumidero. Just about every inch of Puerto Rico has been cleared in the past so there are roads, trails, and garbage just about everywhere.

This trip was fun because as far as we know this sumidero and cave is not well known. A map was created 30 years ago from a grad student but the copy we have is largely illegible. We arrived at our normal parking spot for the area only to find it chained off. We found a friendly neighbor who told us to park in his yard.

It took us about 30 minutes to hike to the top of this large sumidero. We could see that the other side drops 200 feet down. Fortunately for us the side we were on has eroded and collapsed enough to allow us a bit closer. I took my 100 foot rope and with a figure 8 on a bight put a tensionless hitch on a convenient tree. We were on a steep slope covered with bamboo, trees, and brush. We could not get close enough to the edge to see the bottom and we could not just throw the rest of the rope into the pit.
I volunteered to verify that the rope touched the bottom. I rappelled little by little uncoiling the rope as I went. I had to run it under some bamboo and logs. I reached a point where the drop was vertical and I threw the rest of the rope down. I saw that it just about touched the “bottom”. The bottom was a steep slope of loose rock but climbable. Down we all went. We still had to climb down another 75’ of steep rock and some old garbage to get to the cave entrance.

We get to the bottom and it was cold! This was a giant cold sink. It was dry and warm at the top and cold and wet at the bottom. We were all impressed with what we saw looking up from the bottom. All but one of us left our vertical gear here because we thought a through trip was possible. We went to the right and only got 100’ in before we found a lake of some green stagnant water. We were not thrilled to enter this cold dirty water so we took out the map and decided to try the other side. We got about 300 feet only to find deeper dirty water. We went back to the first lake and plunged in. It was cold and gross but I have been in much much worse water with Tom (Cerdio Inferneo, hog hell).

So we started in and the water was chest high for a while then it finally required swimming. When we got to the other side of this long tunnel the temperature got much warmer and we were on “dry” land again. We checked out some side passages and got to the end of the main tunnel. It ended with the resurgence of the Camuy river coming up from under the left side of the tunnel. It ran across the room and down another passage. The water flow was too strong to safely go down that passage (and come back) so we didn’t. We have had a good dry season so far so the water level is low and yet there was still too much water.

We got the highest C02 reading to date in this area, around 6Kppm. We spent a little time here not wanting to go back into the water. We finally made the plunge again and back we were at the entrance. Since we were already cold and wet we right away plunged into the lake on the left side. We explored the lake passage to the right a long ways, swimming most of it. Then back again to the entrance for a quick lunch. I was starting to shiver so I pushed for us to get moving again this time down the lake passage to the left.

This required swimming the entire way. We thought we would be treated to a small exit at the end that would lead to sunshine. We were not. Instead the passage got smaller and smaller and soon it was just a rock wall. There was a 10” by 8 feet long log floating there. I took it and felt around under the rock wall for an opening. I had to push the log about a foot down and then I was able to push the whole log through. That meant when we left the cave we would need to go see if we could find the log outside of the cave.

We made a quick retreat back to the entrance of the cave. We picked up our vertical gear and climbed out. We had a close call with a 100# rock but no harm done. We hiked back down to the dry river bed to find the log. We found where the cave must connect but there was no log. There must be a small sump in between. Looks like some SCUBA gear is needed to prove the connection.

This cave was much better than I expected with much bigger passages. Not a lot of formations and we were not prepared for all the swimming and cold water but it still was a great day!