Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Xmas on the Island...

Xmas has been happening here since around November when we first saw xmas trees at Sam's Club. There was one tree outside in a kind of tree lot and the rest were in a refrigerated container. Not something we are used to seeing! After Thanksgiving the came the Ur ur ur ur early bird sale which started the shopping season off at around 5 or 6 am. When I first heard the ad on the radio it cracked me up because I understood it...it had rooster sounds and then some words that essentially meant "early bird" sale! Very funny! Then came the santa caps. Our neighbor lady was working in her yard (machete in hand as always) in 80+ degrees with a santa cap on. Here are a couple santa caps in action... the first was at an intersection with kids asking for donations for something (not sure what) and the second was in Mayaguez at Ricomini's "home of the jelly rolls" we are addicted to.

A few days ago we started just driving around to see what was up behind our house and in the general area. Then we took an evening stroll in our immediate neighborhood to look at xmas lights and decorated houses. There are some nice homes with very nice yards on our street and some of those yards have very unusual plants in them. One house has a strange gourd tree and a tree with some interesting hanging beads of fruit. This first house had lights everywhere and of course the xmas tree on the front porch. This house was decorated very nicely and I just love the lit up palm trees!

This pretty little house has really nice ironworks, a meticulous yard and poinsettias (which look like yucca plants to me) hanging under each arch. I like to stroll around looking for ideas for our yard and also to meet people who live nearby so we can at least take a walk and they will know we belong here.

We took an afternoon to tour our own city - San German. There is some wonderful architecture that is only seen by walking and on weekends there are fewer cars so it is easier to drive and park. The town has two plazas which is an unusual layout. There were xmas displays (trees) and the 3 Kings of course. 3 Kings day I think is January 6. One of the kings was taking a ride in the back of a truck to another location I think! It was odd to me that a xmas tree was in the plaza next to a live, beautiful tree that could have been but wasn't decorated!

The 3 Kings may be the inspiration for the creepy mascot that Burger King has. Kind of scary. So I had to include the creepy king head in some images just for fun!

The kings were very large (except the little statue in the first picture - bottom right) and kind of creepy looking.

One thing I love here is that there are colorful houses. In Washington everything was grisly grey, barf brown or some variation there of...here there is real color. Many people spend a lot of time on their porches and a lot of people have their xmas trees there.

Well that's it for xmas - we think - we haven't heard any fiestas today but boy there have been some loud ones. Lots of music and singing and instrument playing and fireworks going on for weeks now. I wonder what new year's eve and 3 Kings day will be like...musical I am sure!

Friday, December 21, 2007

We have Seen the Light (house) That is...

Me duele el cuello (I hurt my neck) so we skipped yard work and took a drive. Drives that should take us only 20 or 30 minutes end up taking more than an hour because roads are not marked well, maps don't have all the roads on them, and not all roads go where the signs say they go! The last time we tried to find the Cabo Rojo lighthouse we ended up driving through ranch land near Guanica in a big circle before ending up at Boqueron Beach. That is part of the fun of it, the drive will always bring you somewhere! This drive was no different. We drove around following the map and ended up going through little towns and ranch land and then down a long dirt road to nowhere - wait...it put us in the mangroves of the Boqueron Wildlife Area where people bike around and on a private little beach a couple bays over from...you guessed it, the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. We worked our way back out and got on track, went down another long dirt, potholed road (seeing a rather large iguana in the road), and parked at the end with the Lighthouse in sight! We took a walk out to it and talked for a while with the caretaker Pedro. We strolled outside to take it all in.

Inside they have got views all around and Pedro put together a nice aerial video of the Island with historical information as well. Well done. From the top of the lighthouse you can see water in all directions.

On the north side of the lighthouse the seas are a little rougher than to the south. It was a pretty windy day and things were a little stirred up with some white caps in the far distance.

When you reverse tracks and head to the trails going south of the lighthouse you come out at a lovely little crescent shaped beach called La Playuela. There were a few families out set up under the trees with coolers and stuff, just sipping drinks and playing in the gloriously warm water. We have been here before when the water was flat and pure turquise. Today it was a little stirred up with the wind but just as warm and enjoyable.

So after our strolling/beach afternoon we were hungry and decided to head to Joyuda - we kept hearing people talk about how this is the seafood area with lots of good seafood restaurants. Well it was disappointing. The spot was wonderful, near the Isla the Ratones (island of the rats), the sun and light breeze were comfortable but...we have yet to find a good restaurant we like here. We have liked Amparo's (our neighbor lady) corn sticks and arroz con gandules, we have really liked Hamilton's sisters pastelles and his wife Guillermina's dulce con arroz, and we can eat rice and beans and roast chicken every meal but...where can we get a nice piece of broiled or baked fish that isn't swimming in a pool of oil? I love tostones. Yuca and yautia are decent starches. Fruit is absolutely awesome. But where is a simple piece of non-fried fish? I have heard of El Ancla in Ponce...is it there? On the up side the places we have enjoyed eating (sometimes we drive too far and don't bring food with us) are El Mezon (excellent sandwiches on good bread), Mr Special cafeteria (good and inexpensive as well), Ricomini Panederia and in a pinch Tropical Pollo (for Sancocho if it is a cool day). A real treat is a Mr. Pretzel at the mall. Soft and doughy and hot and salty. A nice surprise!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Too Much Pressure!

Last night around 11:30pm I went to bed. As I passed by the living room I heard some noise in the laundry room. The new hot water system was venting water through the pressure relief valve. Early that evening we noticed that the water dispenser in the fridge door was dispensing water much faster than normal. No long wait for your glass to fill. So I shut the water off and went to bed. Our neighbor, Amparo, came over in the morning and conveyed the message that there was a problem with her water last night. It was the coupling I fixed after I ran over it with the lawn mower. It was spewing water like a fountain. The coupling came off. I repaired it. Then I was off to get a new pressure reg and pressure gauge. I was already going to Mayaguez to pick up my vice at Sears. One thing I learned is every time your going to go to Sears, bring all your receipts for the last 30 days, and any receipts for items you have on order. After leaving the DMV yesterday we were at the mall when I got a phone call from Sears saying my vice was in. No, I did not have the receipt because I was not expecting the vice to be in! It was too funny. Here is a picture of my new pressure gauge. Note the pressure!!! 160PSI, I saw it go to 180psi!!!!! Needless to say the water is off now until I put the new regulator in.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Driver's Licence Trip Number 3 to the DMV (CESCO)

Ok, here is the story so far. We drove home and had lunch. After lunch we drove back to CESCO with our Marriage certificate. This morning we took a number, it was 21. We didn't have to wait long. We left a little after 11AM to go home. When we came back it was a little after 1pm. The number being served was 22!!! The new number we picked was 46!!!!!! I contemplated leaving and coming back but the guy next to us had two numbers and he gave us one. It was 40. Then a few minutes later the numbers climbed from 22 to 30 real quick. We wound up waiting about an hour. Not too bad. We try to explain where we were at to the new person. She goes away for about 10 minutes. She comes back and tells us to follow her. We go into a back office and the woman behind the desk starts to tell us we need a statement or something from Washington ST DMV. WHAT! We explain that we were getting a learner's permit and we wanted to take the written test. Then things were ok and we went to take the test. We go to a class room and sit down with a paper test! I thought I was back in High School taking my first drivers test. That was when we didn't have computers! We get the test, 20 multiple choice questions. Some of them were confusing. I did my best. Katrina finished a minute before I did. Katrina's test was checked by hand. She passed by the skin of her teeth. I got them all correct. So we passed. Now it's time to get the drivers permit. Katrina had an issue again with her last name but got it resolved after 10 minutes and another copy of the Marriage certificate. Then we go wait in another room for our cards. I get my card and my mothers maiden name is on it! Katrina's name is correct. Mine has my name correct but my mothers maiden name added to the end. I don't know what kind of problems this might cause but I am not going to change it. Now all they need to do is put my SS number on the card and if someone ever steals it they have everything needed to steal my identity. And they use the SS number here for everything! So now we go back in 31 days to MAKE AN APPOINTMENT for the Drivers test, buy another stamp, give them two more photos and wait in line. That will be trip number 4. We need the 30 days to learn how to drive...

Now get this, for trip number 5 we have to bring someone who has a Puerto Rico Drivers license with us!!!!!!!!!!!! Thats so we can take the Driving test. Thats a big favor to ask someone to come with you to the DMV while you take your drivers test!But it was a successful day, we got our learners card and some book shelves from Walmart. Oh, to make the card they used scissors to cut the photos and used a small plastic laminator. Not very secure or hi tech. No holograms on this card. Lets hope the real card is more secure.

Getting a Drivers Licence Trip number 2

A few weeks ago we went to Crash boat beach in Aguadilla. As a side trip we stopped at the CESCO (DMV) office to start the process on getting a driver licence. We learned about some of the process from Stefan and Summer's blog (http://ca2pr.com/). We got the form from CESCO, we went to the Dr's and had them fill out the form saying we had two arms and legs and that we had a head. They stated we could walk and said I had 20/20 vision (because I don't wear glasses) and that Katrina has 20/25 vision because she wears contacts. Then we went to the IRS dept and each bought a $10 stamp and a $1 stamp. Then off to the barbers to get our photos taken, yes I said barbers. Then to the pharmacy to pick up the $3 English version of the driving manual. We thought we were prepared so today we went to the CESCO office in Mayaguez and wanted to take the test. We brought our Washington Drivers licences, our SS cards, our Passports, our Birth certificates (THEY KEEP THE BIRTH CERTIFICATES) and then we stood in line. We didnt wait long, about 10 minutes and then the POWER went OUT! We were next in line! When the person in front of us finished we walked up and said hello. We asked about the process and if we could take the test. While we were learning the process the lights came on. That's good we thought, we can take the test. But as the CESCO employee checked our paperwork and documents she said she needed our MARRIAGE Certificate! So we just drove back home and are eating lunch right now. In a few minutes we drive back to CESCO and try again to take the WRITTEN test. (The driving part of the test is a whole nother story to be continued)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tropical Research Station and Montoso Farms...

After some disappointing trips to regular nurseries looking at ho hum regular stuff I began my quest for some unusual plants. I am a hard core gardener into the wild and weird. In Duvall, WA I had a windmill palm, hardy banana, bamboo, 2 types of kiwis, fig, passion flower, jujubee shrub, musk strawberries and much more...all stuff people in Washington usually don't see let alone grow. Our yard already has spectacular tropical fare, things I've only ever seen as houseplants, but the possibilities for a gardener such as myself are truly endless here. Besides that, with 2 acres I have an arboretum full of specimen plants already sketched out in my little mind! So the quest began with a trip to the Tropical Research Station at the University of Mayaguez so I could begin to identify the types of specimens I would like to have in my little arboretum. They have got some huge trees, many different palms and best of all lots of things are labeled with the real name. The folks sitting where you check in were very helpful and passed along some fruit info I could keep.
Then a week later Jeff, myself, our friend Toni and her neighbor/friend Lourdes all went to a true find -- Montoso Gardens! This fabulous spot specializes in Heliconias, gingers, exotic fruits, palms and bromeliads. The knowledgeable leader of our pack took us on a tour through the farm pointing out interesting species along the way and answering many questions I had. He recommended a book I had already seen but not gotten yet (I have it now) called Arboles fruitales exoticos y poco conocidos en Puerto Rico by Juan Rivero and Bryan Brunner (Montoso Gardens owner). The book is in Spanish, but is set up like all plant books with mature size, spread, years to fruiting etc and is a great inspiration for me to learn more Spanish! After the tour I bought a few things and am plotting which things to get next! The Gardens are only 4 miles above our house in Maricao, but it is at least 45 minutes and an elevation gain of 1000 feet. I forget the exact name of the Heliconia below, but it is something like Rostata or something, an absolute must even though it is one of the more common ones they had. I love that color scheme and it is flashy and big and bright! Below that is a consideration for the area near our gate. When Toni and Lourdes missed our house someone told them to go to where the coconut trees and garbage can are...that just won't do. I'd rather be located by "go to the really weird thorny tree trunk - they live up there!"

Here's our little group with pack leader David Brunner on the left, myself, Lourdes, Toni and Jeff is taking the photo. Back to the thorny tree - it was a scary, thorny, evil looking way cool tree! It might be hard to have in the front though due to pruning issues. While it is small it could be difficult to weed whack around and open and close the gate. Back to the drawing board.

The photo below is at the research station with Jeff in front of a huge palm. We actually
have room for things of this size and I will have to really plan distances between things now that I see their full potential. I have also figured out that I can stick a stick in the ground and it will have leaves in a week as long as there is rain - things really grow here. The plan is to plant specimen things, and then more understory type plants once the main plant creates a little shade.
Here's Jeff holding a machete bean from the tree behind him. I forget the machete bean story but remember the name since it is a cool one. Look at Jeff and that bean - he looks so natural.

This photo is another "must have," it was a King Kong Heliconia. The flower was about 20 inches long, furry, and the little hairs were really soft! Maybe it was the she - Kong, I'm sure, but a "gotta have it" for sure. It is on the Montoso website http://www.montosogardens.com/ under pendulous heliconias.

Here is another Heliconia. There are many many color combinations, styles, sizes etc. Expect a Heliconia book from Bryan soon!

Look at the fur! I just love nature.

This is one of the purchases we made - a Cannonball Tree! It gets to be 100 feet tall and gets these odd gourd-like fruits on it. The flowers smell heavenly and look like really big orchids. The balls grow on the trunk which is divine and interesting. Ours of course is a little pencil right now but it will be bigger soon, and is in a prominent spot as you come up the driveway. Out of all the things we saw this is the one that Jeff was most interested in!

This is the other purchase we made. These are beehive ginger flowers. The flowers start out gold and as they mature turn red. The more sun there is the redder they get. I've decided to conquer an 80 degree slope by terracing a few of these in. Once they create shade a ground cover will go in and our hill will be transformed! They get to be 6-8 feet tall. Many Heliconias and gingers get taller than that. I got three which are staggered on the slope. Can't wait until they bloom! A tree on my list is rambutan and another is mangosteen. We are clearing areas a small bit at a time so we can maintain them planting as we go. All in all very exciting and I recommend trips to both spots!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Fence and That Cat

This first photo is of the right hand part of the property - we cleared the fenceline! Yahoo! In the 10 months the house was vacant trees and grass and vines pulled down the barbed wire and horses were now travelling who knows where. We walked the entire property (2 acres) with a tape measurer and with a weed wacker (over the course of a week) unveiled the "surveyed" corners - paint on trees. 2 acres is a lot of land! Our plan is to let ranchers have horses up there to keep the grass down and slowly select trees to keep. We will move the fence progressively up the hill as we clear and maintain and plant things. That way the horses won't eat the good stuff! Today was the first day in a week that we had a horse up there - I miss them. It is great to visit a little herd of them hanging out under the 50 foot mango tree - nice I guess until they eat the mangos. (I think there will be more than enough to share - two 50 foot mango trees and another in the fenced in part of the yard.) No mango blossoms yet but they fruit starting in march so they should be blooming soon.

This photo shows the scale of everything - big! The flower is an ornamental ginger. We visited a farm that specializes in gingers, heliconias and exotic fruits. More on that later. Here's Jeff standing in front of one of twelve mature and producing citrus trees we have. We are drinking lots of "jugo" or juice and using the juice to marinade meat in as well. We have several types of oranges or "chinos," a chino-grapefruit mix, limon (lemon) and lime and sour orange "naranja agria." Anyone have any good orange recipes? Reply to this blog if you do...I've made orange cake, ambrosia (with fresh coconut of course), juice, a crushed ice-juice-sugar mix (I think they call them "batidas" here), in our brand new hi-powered blender/food processor (thank you Gary and Mary for the wonderful gift). I have been pruning off fruit laden limbs to accomplish pruning and harvesting at the same time! Sometimes the fruit drops and takes off down the long and very steep driveway and we never see it again!

Oh Dakota, I had such high hopes for you and now you are in cat prison - "no mira afuera nunca" - you will never see the outdoors again. This was one of his ten trips outdoors where we accompanied him and all was well. His first unescorted trip? I wrote about that earlier. He could have been happy and made outdoor friends but instead he disappoints.

Dakota was having another excursion here - in the good old days last week. We all happily wandered around the yard...well, not exactly, Dakota would hiss and run and hiss and run all at nothing. I think at 10 years old he is simply better off inside where the roosters can't get him and he can't pick a fight with the horses!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


After lots and lots of sunshine tropical storm Olga came to Puerto Rico and the Kruse household. Everything in the house was damp, the temperature dropped 6 degrees to 72 in a half hour, and the skies opened and dumped lots and lots of rain! The wind was howling and we actually had to close up some of the windows and the kitchen door. We felt like we were in a zoo exhibit and someone hit the rain switch. Lots and lots of rain in giant drops, banana trees falling over in the yard, seed pods flying around and coconuts dropping. We had a mini waterfall coming off the hill, around the house, around the tree in the front and then down another hill to the driveway. Very wild and kind of neat. It was warm and the house was mainly open. The lights flickered a couple times before going off for a little bit.

These views are from the enclosed porch area. Look at the size of the drops!

The activities went on most of the night and most of the following day. It lightened up by around 3:30 or so in time for our visitors to come by. Boqueron Beach is park of the Puerto Rico system of beaches where you actually have to pay ($3) and there are facilities. Of course there are many beaches that are free (most) but the balnearios have changing rooms, bathrooms, lifeguards, a rip tide flag system, BBQ areas etc. The ground was a little hard (rained the previous night) but the sand was sand (not cobble like in Seattle) and the water was a glorious 80 something. The sun was out, the beach was pretty much empty and it was a nice day!

No one on the beach...no one in the water. Pretty weird for December in a warm, tropical place.

My style of beaching is to get my little green air matress, blow it up so it is soft and go float and daydream in the water! With it soft I can be partially underwater but still have my head out and I can just simply rest. That way I get a little sun, a little water, a few little bobbing waves...but first you have to get warm enough to get in the water. Jeff doesn't like to sit for long so he went in the water and then took a jog on the beach snapping these photos.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Days Are a Blur

All the days are a blur...they start out for me early in the morning when the roosters ur ur urrrrr and the giant ball of a sun pops up from behind the mountains in the front of the house. (One second you see a glow and then up pops the ball.) I have myself a nice cup of Puerto Rican coffee - yummy - and some fresh orange juice and usually coconut and oatmeal or something and then I am off in the yard to do my thing. We have got a wonderful home and yard, but after 10 months of not being here it is a jungle! I am stretching to prune what I think is a quenapa tree to let more sun get to the carambola (star fruit) tree on the right. A short while after the pruning, I saw dark pink blossoms on the star fruit tree! Everything needs pruning, and I do part ladder and part climbing to try to do it. I broke the handle off my hand saw pruning an orange tree so now I have Jeff chain saw some of it...
This is a jobo tree and there was a cluster of ripe ones pretty high up I wanted to get. Standing in the back of the truck with the 12 foot pole wouldn't reach these suckers, so up I went and I was able to climb up high enough to pull down two of them. They were different than I expected - kind of crunchy like an apple, orange like a mango with lots of fibre and a big seed with a melon-like papaya flavor (something is blooming outside and only at night I can smell it wafting into the house - I think it is papayas).

After this climb I pointed out where Jeff should prune the semilla de pan breadfruit tree - after hauling away branches I ended up with a wad of latex in my hair. Breadfruit it ready to eat when beads of latex appear near the stem. You can harvest it at different stages depending on how you want to cook it. Tonight we tried a soft one that had turned kind of brown in the oven with brown sugar and butter in it. It was rather odd. This big greenish bumpy ball tasted just like banana. The previous night we sauteed it and it was just like potato. We also fried plantains and they tasted like potato. When is a plantain not a plantain? More on plantanos and bananas later.

The neighbor lady is always in her yard whacking away at large trees or something. Today she was digging up roots and offered me one. I recognized that plant and knew I had it in the yard so I invited her over to help me harvest from my own yard. First off, this is Puerto Rico, things are not what they seem. Oranges are not orange, I put "cholesterol" on my hair, and what looks like a pointsetta happens to be what everyone calls yuca, which is actually cassava. We do some digging and come up with these. She only speaks Spanish so we bumble along and she is telling us something about some of the roots maybe being "bitter." That is what I understood anyway. I figured it made sense that the big roots wouldn't taste as good as the small ones just like larger carrots suck. No big deal. I boil the roots and we have them for dinner and they were pretty tasty. Just another starch. The next day she tells me they are not bitter and I am just not getting it. I do an on-line search for yucca, or yuca and read all about how there are the bitter ones and the not bitter ones and how incomplete processing leaves you with enough cyanide in the root to "kill a horse." Hmmm. Since then I have read up on how the prepare this root and am waiting for the seizures to start!

This is the neighbor lady - I want to be like her when I grow up! This is our side yard where yuca kind of lines the base of the hill. Of course after harvesting the tuber it is like the rest of gardening here - hack up the stem and stick it in the ground. In 6 months you will have more! Note the machete in her hand. I don't think I have seen her without it!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

That Damn Cat

We have been letting him out on little supervised excursions. It gets him off the couch! So yesterday we gave him some un-supervised time. No less than 20 minutes go by and Katrina hears the screams of a cat fight. That's right, in just 20 minutes he picked a fight with the neighbor's cat. Now he is stuck inside for good and all he has to look forward to is catching and eating the occasional gecko that gets in the house. And the many neighborhood cats come by every day and taunt him through the front screens. Katrina is befriending one particular cat.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sorry Mr Eel

Since I was going in the water Gerd asked me to unwrap the chain to his buoy and boat. I tried a few times without my mask on with no luck. I got my mask and snorkel and tried again. The chain was wrapped around a pipe a few feet under water. I dove down and grabbed onto the pipe. I put my thumb in the end of the pipe to gain purchase and begin pulling the chain free. As soon as I moved my thumb it exploded in pain!
I stood up and looked at my bloody thumb. I was confused for a minute until Gerd said I was bit by the Moray Eel living in the pipe and why did I stick my thumb in the pipe? It was a small eel and the 4 bite marks were small so as soon as the pain stopped I tried to move the chain again, this time being careful of the end of the pipe. I never was able to get the chain around the pipe.