Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Way Things Are: NOISE!!!!!!!!

Puerto Rico is a very noisy place for people not raised here. There is a lot of yelling, a lot of use of microphones, cement houses that echo, roosters, dogs everywhere and vehicles that roam around the hillsides blasting information about stores and events. Trucks roam around the hillsides begging you to run out into the road with your gold, your scrap metal or some money to buy pies or "budin" out of some one's trunk.  People here are OBSESSED with noise. Car noise is a large part of the cacophony of assaulting sounds that threaten to break your eardrums at every turn...or stop light. Noise that assaults you as you try to have that peaceful moment of coffee in your home or that moment of quietness at a stop light. Noise in Puerto Rico is everywhere and everyone is competing to do it best!

I'm not talking about the "music for everybody" sound systems, or the two story speakers mounted on trucks that make it look as if the Dr. Seuss-mobiles could topple at any moment...I'm talking about the fake sirens and train sounds that people use instead of horns (which they also use freely). Not that I personally enjoy all the unnecessary beep-beep-beeping, but does anyone really believe it is a cop coming?  Seriously? This is the land where cops drive around with their lights on 24/7 to properly warn criminals that they are coming. This is a place where you rarely hear a REAL siren and when you do, whether it is an ambulance a cop car you do not pull over, you continue on like it is another Puerto Rican in the next car doing a fake out.  So what about the train sound. Has anyone here (that is alive) ever heard a real train? Do they think people are thinking "wow, I better pull over so the train doesn't run me down"? It's not just the sirens and train noises. Puerto Rican's love noise of any and all kinds. Everyone has to have multiple dogs with skin infections and diseases chained up on the roof or in a doorway dragging the noisy chain around barking all the time from boredom and misery. People just stand and have "conversations" next to the barking dogs yelling at each other to be louder than the dog. Is there a thought to move, move the dog or train it or feed it? Nope, noise here is met by more noise.

We had a neighbor in our house in San German who had a barking boxer and a yippy little dog and a new baby. When they had the kid we thought our sleepless nights would surely be over. Not quite how it turned out. "How does the baby sleep?" we asked as we tried to get them to move the dog to the other side of their house. "Oh, if the dog is barking we let her sleep with the TV on." Yes, the onslaught of noise starts when they are young (just like waiting in lines)!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

5 Caves Near the Tanama River

Tom called and invited us caving. The trouble with this time of year is rain. Rain means a lot of the great wet caves are too dangerous to go into. This year has been strangely wet later than last year and there are not many dry caves we know about. Tom, however knows a lot of caves and suggested doing a cluster of caves close to one another near the Tanama River. We had seen one of them from the river level when we hiked the Tanama on a ten hour journey a few years ago but it was way up the cliff. Today we were going to get to see it. We also were not going to have a 10 hour day!  I don't know if I am out of shape (yes) or was just tired starting out (maybe) but boy was it hot. The kind of hot that makes you fatigue quickly and sends you into heat exhaustion. We walked a half hour maybe and got to the first cave. It was very nice with bright white rock and formations. It wasn't a large cave but nice none-the-less. Then we did some more walking and went into another cave. Then we went to what was basically what looked like an animal hole and it was a surprising and interesting cave. This was my favorite cave of the day because I liked the little hole we went into to get into it. Tom went feet first on his back and all of us had to do a little wiggling to get into this one! Inside had some neat rock layers and I think this was the one a crocodile fossil was found in (no crocodiles were never on the island so it had to have been brought here long ago enough to fossilize). There were a lot of coral fossils also. The cave had a little ledge that required a hand line and some balancing. (DON'T JUMP Diana - WE LOVE YOU)

Then it was off to a pass through kind of slot like cavern/cave you could see through. This one reminded me a lot of the caves on Mona Island (not formed the same way ). At this point we were hot and it was pretty buggy with mosquitoes everywhere so we went into ANOTHER cave just for lunch before heading back. The lunch spot had a terrific view of the jungle and magotes. On an island full of so many people it is amazing to me that we can go not-too-far off a road and be pretty much alone with spectacular views and adventure. This area was particularly clean without garbage or skeleton animals so indeed it was a good day! A big thanks to Tom and Diana AGAIN.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Way Things Are: "Food"/Restaurants

Here are some random things I want to remember about finding food, avoiding "food" and getting food. Even if you avoid eating out (seriously recommended) you still have to eat something which involves finding and purchasing "food."
- If you want cheddar cheese instead of plastic American cheese or squeeze (they call it "liquid" here - look at the El Meson menu board) you have to ask for "Papa de queso." Why cheddar is reserved for  potatoes I will never know. Meson, Subway and sometimes panaderias have it but you have to ask for it by name.
- Expect to wait in line to order, then get your food cafeteria (love the line) style, and then go get in line again to pay. El Meson and Martin's BBQ let you pay at the time.
- If you are sitting down expect that out of 4 people at least 1 order will be messed up or not come at all. If you have another day to wait for it to be fixed do that, otherwise JUST EAT IT. It doesn't matter if you ask ahead of time for what you want, for example setas on a pizza. "Si" will be the answer even when they don't have them. They will just make what they have.
-Expect that you and your friends will not be eating together. Remember though, you should feel lucky you get anything at all.
- Think carefully about the roadside trucks. Is there running water? Is this the same vat of roadside oil that has been sitting semi covered in the rain for weeks or months? Is there a BATHROOM for the food handler to use or does he do it in the woods and return to make your sandwich? Is the big pile of chemical laced pallets what they are using to make those yummy bacalitos? Is the smokey flavor of those e coli chickens from car exhaust? If you have to eat there eat fried. I don't think salads (even though they are just lettuce and a single slice of tomato) are the way to go. Is there only a cooler for refrigeration?
- TheTrifecta. Is there EVER running water, soap, AND toilet paper in one place? Ever? Have you EVER seen a Fourfecta? (water, soap, toilet paper and paper towels)
- Why is every vegetable brown and hairy? Why are there red grapes WITH seeds in them when ones without seeds exist? Why do a lot of the fruits have nasty fibers, seeds or hairs that require spitting out in front of people or watching other people suck or spit things out? What do you even do with the white pig skin or stomach chunks in the stores? Why is everything white or brown?
- Is there a menu? The Cheesecake Shoppe, which has pretty good "papa de queso" pizza has NO menu. They do however have food: ball of bread with oily chorizo and cheese chunks, followed by pizza, followed by cheesecake. They also have 50 imported beers, are at least at one point they had one of each - twice they did not have the one I wanted so I gave up and just took what they had.
- Are there PRICES? There is a place I call Area 51 that has some unusual things (for here). First you have to find it in the industrial area, then go into the mystery rooms and then scavenge through boxes yourself to bring things to the register and see what your "cash only" bill is.
- Another oddity is where things are in the supermarket. In the diabetic section you can find a "better" type of peanut butter (not Jiff or Skippy) but the #2 ingredient is sugar. You can usually find something other than Wonder Bread (here "Holsom" makes it - how's that for a play on words) if you can locate it - rye, wheat and french baguettes are usually in the freezer no where near the bread section. In the Aquadilla Econo rye bread is near the waffles, sourdough and NY bagels and other better breads are in a freezer next to the beer at the aisle end near the deli. If you want coffee - some of it is in a section where you would expect it but if you want a better selection where you look depends on the store you are in. In Mr. Special it is under lock and key where you check out. Sometimes they will point there and ask if you want some. Sometimes it isn't locked up but is near the registers where the manager is. Aguadilla Econo trusts people more I guess and has it all where it should be!
- Why is there cabbage on my sandwich? Raw cabbage is kind of nasty and  I ordered a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. At least have the photo and description say "cabbage." Why are there french fries inside my bean and potato burrito? Why are there french fries with Chinese food?
- The most important thing is that if you see something unusual (curry paste, licorice, honeycup mustard) buy it ALL. There are no guarantees you will see it again. Tempeh was at the Adventist Store along with bulk nuts and now it has been a year that they haven't had either. Bummer.
- In summary, Puerto Rico is not a "foody" place....it is a nightmare and a scavenger hunt.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cueva Cofresi

Sunday's outing was a short one since it is really too hot to do much. We met a family that came here a few months ago from Alaska while we were diving a month ago. It turned out we had corresponded prior to them moving here. Since then we have gotten together and we thought it might be a nice outing for them to see a cave. (we think everyone should experience a cave if they come here)  Mom was in Arizona so it was Bill, Madison, Liam, Jeff and I. We all headed to Cabo Rojo, parked, got our gear together and started the walk down the road, over the fence and off into the rocky landscape. Even with coordinates it is hard to locate the entrances to these caves unless you have been to them. The only other time we were here was with Tom and we wandered around a bit before finding the entrance. We found one walk in entrance but it wasn't the one we wanted so we looked around some more. Once inside we didn't remember it very well  since we had entered one of the rappelling holes before. We all went in and started exploring. I got the kids to do a little crawling into a couple low spots and tried to encourage exploration - "are you ever going to be here again? Don't you want to know what's through there?" It worked and they were troopers. Madison went into a couple small holes with me.

Liam went into one. We have to get them over their irrational fear of guavas, snakes and bats. Aversion therapy. Yeah. Bill was smiling all the time so we think he had fun.
 We saw some cool tarzan vines. We always like tarzan vines.

We could tell when the kids reached their limit and had snacks and then headed out. We had one final trudge out to this cool bay with odd rocks. It was very hot and everyone was a little dehydrated and tired I think.

We looked around a bit and then headed back passing some sugar mill ruins. Then we headed to the beach (Playa Buye) for a little resting and cooling down! It was a very nice day. We stopped for some food at Faccios. Madison and I grabbed stuff at Camiles and sneaked it in. The margarita topped off a good day and we all went home a little tired and hot. We may torture them again and head to Cueva Vientos in the Guajataca. Next time they will mentally be prepared - on this trip they didn't even know what they were going to be doing, only that they were going somewhere for the day (good job dad)!