Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kayaking Dos Bocas

On our caving adventures we drive all around the island following lots of small roads to get where we are going. We have passed by Dos Bocas many times and heard of the restaurants you can take a free ferry to. Like everything in Puerto Rico there are not any signs, no hours, no menus, no information at all - just a corral to herd people into so they can wait for whatever the procedure is...wait for hours in a line. After one recent cave adventure we actually got in this corral and waited for the mysterious ferries to show up to whisk us away to fried food. After waiting in the corral it became clear that each restaurant has a boat that will only come if there is room for you to wait over there, across the lake, at the restaurant. We gave up and ate somewhere else. Jeff and I  returned because it looked like there was a place to launch kayaks and we wanted to cruise around the lake just because it is a pretty spot. We have given up all intentions of EVER eating there. We went on a Saturday and it was bizarre because no one was in the parking lot and no one was waiting for the boats. We saw a fishing boat on the launch and that was it. We put the kayaks in and headed out across the water.
The day was nice with blue skies and a small breeze. It was a pretty easy paddle. We came across lots of pelicans and egrets and probably saw more birds than we have ever seen in one place in Puerto Rico. Birds were sitting on stuff, roosting in trees and making a lot of noise as we approached. Unfortunately we decided to move in closer to see them up close and that is when we saw what they were floating on...lots of trash. Like everywhere in Puerto Rico the trash just ruins what could be a very nice place to enjoy.

I was more than a little angry about the garbage so we moved away from shore to take our minds off it. After turning around we could hear a lot of water and finally saw a big waterfall that we didn't see from the other direction. We continued and the restaurant boats were finally in action with their Puerto Rico flag flapping on the boat. What exactly is the "pride" for, I wonder...maybe they could show some real pride and sponsor a garbage pickup day...or not throw it there in the first place?
Back at the dock there were more flags. And of course, as on every trip out of the house there has got to be at least one dead dog. This one was floating, and stinky and bloated, near the launch we had to use to get off the lake. A sad end to what started out as a nice day.
Next we went to the Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park on 111. We really would prefer to see the one down in Ponce, but this was on the way home and we had never stopped before. This old photo is from 1915 when excavations first began. There are 22 petroglyphs and some really neat stone rings. We are kind of spoiled because we see petroglyphs in their natural settings near or slightly inside caves quite often. It was interesting though. It is unknown what the big play field was for but they assume ceremonial/religious things of course.

There was a small, overly cold museum room with stone stamps and stone rings that were the size of basketballs. The rings were really neat and must have taken forever to make. The site dates from 1200 AD to around 1500 AD. It was pretty neat to see this and now we can cross 2 things off our Puerto Rico Bucket List!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Area 51

Here in Puerto Rico there are many "area 51's." Areas that are not secret military installations but rather secret places where things like bread and real chocolate are hidden. It takes years to ferret out these locations and thanks to friend Liz I was able to find yet another one today. If you are from the states this may not seem like a big deal, but here in the land of liquid cheese, cheap soda and particle-board "meat"...the land where everything is in a can or has a shelf life of a million years fresh food is rare. This is NOT because we are on an island - it is NOT because "things are hard to get here."..(over 95% of food is imported) is because people don't know about these things, don't want to try them, and only eat a handful of unadventurous things. (I say this as a person who has eaten everything that grows on my property, things very adventurous and unknown to me until I lived here). So where is this special area? Across from the Holiday Inn near the Mayaguez Home Depot there is a cement arrow on the east side of highway 2. If you follow this arrow it will bring you down a road and on the left you will see this sign. If you dare, you enter this "distribution" area and head toward Warehouse Number 4. The road is empty and large. There is no traffic (this is a secret place). When you arrive there will be a few cars parked haphazardly (as always). There are plenty of spots to park in but make sure you block people if you can.

So how do you know you have arrived? You kind of don't. If you get to a door that has a glass display case with some cheese in it you know you are there. Then you enter clear hanging plastic "car wash" style strips and you are in the land of forgotten vegetables! There are no prices, there is no way to weigh things, there is no list of the secret ingredients that have been beamed down. You need to lift boxes, open boxes and look on every shelf to determine what is there. Some of it is in great shape, some in inedible shape (bendy broccoli) and a lot in large quantities (quantities too large for 2 people). But if you look hard enough there are treasures to be found. You put things in what ever container you bring and then go to the guy in the front who calls the gal from the unknown area to jot things down, weigh things and give you a total that you must pay in cash. Here's what $39 got me. Yes it was pricey but hey, haven't seen a baby carrot in 6 years (sorry, carrot cores don't count) and fingerling potatoes???

So I scored some healthy cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, wide rice noodles, zucchini, small eggplant, baby carrots and little veggies, a parsnip and white beech mushrooms! What else was there? There were heavenly bottles of sirachi, tubs of white miso, pounds of baby carrots and baby zucchini...tubs of marscapone, rice noodles, curry paste. There were a few nice cheeses (no cambazola) and a huge amount of marinated anchovies. Enoki and white beech mushrooms, all kinds of fresh herbs and lettuces, arugula, blue potatoes, pouches of "good" chocolate for baking - no Scharfen Berger but 52% which is unusual for here. I was so overwhelmed I probably missed some good stuff!

Other "area 51's" include the Adventist store where you used to be able to get raw bulk nuts, tempeh, agave, Puffins cereal (Jeff likes it) and real peanut butter that is only peanuts. Some of these things aren't there all the time but it is still a good spot. This is directly across from Home Depot - just drive through the intersection toward the field and after a speed bump it will appear on your right.

The Econo on 110 in Aguadilla is another mystery area. If you want 8 grain bread, sourdough or garlic sourdough you go to the imported beer shelf across from the wine area (left when you enter the store). There, hidden in the freezer are loaves of realish bread and even bagels! When you throw your head back in delight you may also notice real chocolate...Lindt 72% (Lindt is not my favorite except the chili and the one with orange slivers and almonds). I think there are even a couple different brands that may top 82% cacao! This store has a few different dark beers, rye bread is in a different freezer across from the wonder bread and there is a really good selection of different vegetables. I have found fresh poblano peppers, dragon fruit, tomatillos and orange cauliflower.

Freshmart in Aguadilla sometimes has almond butter, soy bacon, tempeh agave and nutritional yeast. They are carrying less and less like everywhere else.

So all in all a nice day with a friend and a discovery of somewhere to get some of the more unusual things that might be required for special dining! Still hoping for an "area 51" with scallops, fresh fish and REAL bread - I think I have to get a bread maker. Seafood will have to wait until we are back in the states.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Excerpts from the Book "You Can't Make This Shit Up!" Chapter Odd Road Things

No photos in this one. I took a couple but didn't need to keep them. That means this will be a short post of something else that is bizarre...unless you live here in Puerto Rico.

So it starts out on a Sunday...picture this, Jeff and I having a day at the house where we aren't rushing off to a cave or to go diving...we are just talking in the kitchen. Then we see a car slow down. Then we hear a car door. Then the car starts moving. Then the car door opens and shuts again. We look out the window and go onto the porch to try to figure out what is going on. This car has passed our house by a couple car lengths. Our house on one side has a cluster of 6 or 8 houses we can see (where it is coming from), and on the other side nothing. We recognize the car. The ridge starts heading down and there is a big stretch of no houses and steep drop offs. This is where the car is headed.

Now the car is backing up and we hear the car door AGAIN. The car now takes off slowly and behind it is a little dog. Wonderful. Jeff is pretty pissed off so he gets the key, goes out into the road and goes after the slow moving car and dog that is running behind it. The driver stops as Jeff waves his arms and yells angrily. I go out and tell the driver "no tirando tu perro en frente mi casa...perros necesitan comer y armor. No estan basura." The guy continues with this start/stop routine and then starts doing a back up toward Jeff. Jeff manages to catch the dog which actually has a collar, looks clean, and he drops it into the car. The entire time the man says nothing in Spanish or English. He is like a zombie just starting and stopping the car and opening and closing the passenger door.

The car now goes forward, and then after a few minutes comes back up the hill and there isn't a dog running after it.

Fast forward another 15 minutes. We see the car again and it is coming to the gate. It stops, and a woman gets out. The driver is the dog guy. She speaks perfect English and explains what was going on.

So here is the "can't make it up" story. They are renting a house over in the house cluster while they build their own house. Their dog likes to escape. When they want to take the dog with them all they have to do is open the car door and the dog hops in and they can go where ever they want. Today the dog escaped and her husband was driving up and down the road opening and closing the door so it would hop in. They weren't dumping it (trust me there are hundreds of dogs dumped on the roads here) - they were trying to get it to go in to the car,

Makes perfect sense!

So recognizing that this probably does make sense to them, and that they seemed nice (except for the odd thing of the guy not responding or saying anything even though I made a decent attempt at Spanish - didn't even utter a "no no") - I did my best to apologize in Spanish to him and English to her and told them if we see the dog escape down the road we will return it to them. She said they "didn't want any trouble" and we told her we didn't want to see dogs or cats dropped off on the road to die. They don't like that either and understood how we jumped to the wrong conclusion. Mystery solved- they were just inviting the dog to take a car ride, of course!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Excerpts from the Book "You Can't Make This Shit Up" Chapter Marbete Again? Road Chaos? I'm at a Loss?

Yes folks, it is time for another installment of "You Can't Make This Shit Up!" The events described here are real or surreal depending on if you are a local or not. Even though I have been here almost 6 years I am still frightened/amused/disgusted/at a loss over today's events. I started the day off with high hopes of great fun and enjoyment. I could not for see how or why things would unravel. I planned on visiting my friend Liz in Rincon. Rincon is not somewhere I go often (prefer to stay North of Aguada) so I am not super familiar with all the back roads. The truck has been overheating so I took Jeff's car (which turned out to be a VERY GOOD THING). As I was about to leave the power went out. Good, I thought, it should be back on by the time I get home. I travel down the ridge and find a giant power truck and power lines layed out all over the road across the part everyone (in any direction) has to cross. I stop. There isn't a cone, a flagger or anyone. I look up and the guys signal that I should just drive over the lines. I do. They are putting in cement poles so maybe things will be better during hurricane season - anything is better than the crappy termite eaten wooden leaning ones! I continue on when I go to turn at the ceremonial figures to go to Rincon the road is completely flooded and everyone is just stopped haphazardly at all angles waiting. This is a bad scene I want no part of so I do a fast U-turn and get onto highway 2 - the biggest road in the west...the one that goes north to south on the west coast. I am driving along just fine, then go up a hill and it is a parking lot! At this point I am locked in by cement baracades down the middle and no turn offs. I sit. I sit some more. It is creeping a teeny bit but mainly just sitting. Over an hour I am sitting. Meanwhile the road is like the Walking Dead zombie road scene. Cars are now pushing in between cars and filling the shoulder trying to cheat and get ahead of everyone else. People are almost hitting each other to go where exactly? Nothing is moving. Total chaos. All the lanes and non-lane sides of the road are full of cars pushing and honking and it is starting to get scary. Then I look on the other side of the barrier - there are cars jumping the shorter curbs and then going the WRONG WAY on highway 2. This is not pass-up back-up, this is full on driving the wrong way. Then I see a cop doing it. I see someone doing a real pass-up back-up for a half mile before he disappears out of sight. Meanwhile there are people continuing the right way on the highway just ignoring the wrong way people at full speed like this is normal. After a long while I eye a short curb I can hop. I get out of the car and ask 3 people if I can cross in front of them (it is really only 2 lanes but 3 cars are lined up). They let me cross, I hop the curb and head the correct way home happy to be alive. You could feel the tension, it was like caged animals all shoving and pushing and angry. Is it because of flooding? An accident? Cops can't get through- ambulances can't get through - the shoulder is packed with cars- didn't hear a helicopter. If it is flooding couldn't they have put signs and cones out or something last night? I may never know.

In an effort to salvage the day I figured I'd take care of the car marbete. Miraculous as it may seem we actually got paperwork in the mail for it. Not triplicate but a xerox duplicate. CAICO insurance is great, so I already received the insurance voucher a couple weeks ago. This voucher means I am insured through them and therefor only pay Hacienda (government office) part of the cost instead of the whole amount. So I know the car inspection place can't handle the voucher part, but figure I'll get the inspection part while I have the car. I drive right up, there is no line, he does it and tells me unfortunately he can't sell the sticker because Hacienda is having problems and won't give them any. I knew I'd have to go to the colectoria so I don't really care. I drive up to this unmarked gate and park. I go through the unmarked double doors and aha! INSIDE is the collecturia sign! I go in and as before, there was NO ONE THERE except 2 workers and a security guard.

This is where it gets mildly interesting. I hand the guy my vouchers and inspection certificate. He disappears behind the door (like the magic curtain in the Wizard of Oz), comes back and says I can't have it. What do you mean I can't have it? THE DATE ON THE VOUCHER IS MAY 14 and it is not May 14.  I AM TOO EARLY. What shit kind of logic is this? I have already paid my insurance premium and am insured. I have the inspection sheet. I have the CESCO (DMV) paperwork. They have "procedures" and cannot accept the voucher until exactly May 14th or after. So apparently you cannot pay for it early? It's a fucking sticker for god's sake! After talking him through some options I paid for it in full, got the fucking sticker and now will have to get reimbursed from the insurance $100 bucks or so. What a load of shit and inefficiency. It is just unbelievable stuff that happens here ALL THE TIME. You can't refill prescriptions until you have no pills. You can't pay for your marbete using your voucher unless it is an exact day? Give me a fucking break. So now I am back home. The power is STILL out so I have put on the generator. After yesterday's rain there was a huge termite hatching which is another things you can't make up.
All kinds of winged termites fluttering and beating the windows, doors and any little opening anywhere in the house to get in. The cats are watching and occasionally jumping. Mainly though there are just piles of wings in and out of the house that need cleaning up. Today's traffic mess was the first time I have really felt unsafe and frightened in Puerto Rico. I think the whole place may be unravelling. Can't Make This Shit Up!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cueva Barbudos y Monte Encantada

Looking out of cave entrances has go to be one of life's finest joys. Scuba diving used to be our favorite thing to do until we discovered caving. There is something just inherently wrong about going into dark holes...and something amazingly wrong that more people haven't and will never do this! Caves are truly one of the only things left to explore. These two caves are not big, but their entrances are still impressive and the best part is that they are exactly 10 minutes from our house. Yes we have been in them a couple times before, but hey - if we don't have anything else planned it is kind of like walking around your neighborhood. It is still nice. On Sunday we joined Tom and some of his students on a trip here. It is always best to have a couple people who know the way through the cave and jungle in case there is a problem. These caves are a short 10 minute walk off the road. Incredible, huh? So here you can see the little cluster of people on the right. Below that is a photo of beams of light as seen from inside the cave (Monte Encantada) at the bottom of the slope.

I like to imagine these as tractor beams like the ones in Star Trek - if I stand in them I will teletransport to somewhere else. My little camera has a panoramic feature I has just started to try to use. It gives you an idea of the formations. Monte Encantada has a lot of bats in it and guano. The bats huddle together when they aren't flying around disturbed.

We spent an hour or so at Monte Encantada. After that we hiked 8 minutes back toward the road to Barbudos. This is the cave entrance and Jeff on the trail. Once you hike down into the mouth you encounter a stream and this little tube-like entrance. When we were here on Thanksgiving this was completely full of water and we could not get in. This time the way in was open!

Jeff bent over and went through the little hole. The ceiling then becomes lower and lower and the water higher and higher until there is very little clearance.

Most of us took our helmets off so we could do the head tilt to keep our noses out of the water. It then opens up a little more (to maybe head high) and the two water pipes can be seen. This class was a hydrology class and the point was to show them the water pipes. You can feel the vibrations which is kind of creepy. This probably is the water supply for our house. Looking to the back of the photo is looking out of the cave. I didn't continue on (since I'd done it before and a number of students needed to see it) but the cave stays low, constricts some more, opens into a little room, goes up and down on sharp rock and ends at a sump which we have heard is diveable. Here's Jeff swimming out the entrance and climbing back up toward the light. I wouldn't say these are super duper caves, but they are close to home...easy to walk to...and who can beat the way the light was coming through that cave entrance?