Thursday, January 31, 2008

CESCO (DMV) Trips Number 4 and 5

On Tuesday we went to the DMV to schedule our practical driving test. I thought we could schedule it any but it had to be the next day. Our wait wasn't very long, only about 20 minutes. We (Katrina) asked Amparo if she would go with us to the DMV tomorrow so the examiner could copy Amparo's license number down on the driving test form. Katrina was able to communicate all that to Amparo in Spanish. It's so ludicrous for us to have to bring her. I had a hard time at the DMV understanding what they were telling me in English! Yesterday (trip #5) we drove back to CESCO with Amparo this time. We got in line to take the driving test. About 20 minutes later it was our turn. It was a very easy test and we both passed. Now we are official Puerto Ricans or "Gringo Boricua" as someone else put it. The license looks like it was made in the 80's. At least it's good for 5 years. A funny side story... Katrina and I are bad with names. A few weeks after we moved in we had to ask our other neighbors what Amparo's name was. We had been talking to her a few times already and we really wanted to call her by the correct name. The funny thing is she has been calling me Jack and Katrina Kristina. At first we didn't catch it because of the accent but as we had other conversations with her it was clear. So we tried to call each other by name when we were talking to her but that didn't work. Maybe it was our accent this time. So yesterday when we were showing our licenses and paper work Amparo saw our names. We all got a good laugh.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sleeping, Hatching, Hopping, Dropping and Ready to Eat...

On my nightly rounds I discovered this rather large looking rock-with-a-face just sitting there in the middle of the Bromiliad! A toad it was, and a large one at that, and I think it is a Cane Toad since there are supposedly only two toads on the island - Cane and Crested, and the crested don't live above 200 feet (we are around 500). So I've photographed him multiple times and should relocate him a block or more away so he doesn't eat the coquis. Look at that face!
Besides hopping things there are dropping things in our yard. Besides coconuts (a near miss) there have been many crashing breadfruit, banana trees, Anons, oranges and this little treasure - Soursop or guanabana. Press the fruit through a sieve, take the gooey/creamy white pile and mix it with a little sugar, water and milk and stick it in the freezer (or add ice) and you have a delightfully refreshing drink. A nice alternative to orange juice (we are drinking several glasses a day and still have many many oranges)! (The Malta is there for effect.)

Here are a couple fruits from the yard - a guanabana and a corazon. When is an anon not an anon? When it is in Puerto Rico and it is called a corazon. I guess it looks like a heart. Anyway, it is our new favorite fruit. Inside it is white with lots of black seeds. You have to use a spoon to eat it right. Scoop the seedy part first savoring the pear-like sweat taste and save the grainy flesh around the skin for last. Jeff likes them cold and I am anti anything cold. At first I thought they were too sweet and now I climb not-so-big tree limbs when we can't reach them with the ladder!
Well we finally have a hatchling! It is a lovely little gecko still sporting a piece of eggshell on its head. It is the only one that has hatched so far, and as you can see it is quite small when compared to my grubby little gardener's finger.
When we were up inspecting our upper area, and trying to decide whether to keep letting horses up there or not (we decided not) a little round yellow fruit was sitting on the ground. Hmmmm, that looks like passion fruit I thought with the thought not being too far fetched since I had seen passion flower flowers on some of our endless vines. We opened it up, pressed it through the sieve and had another tangy juice to drink! We liked it soooo much we found a nursery near Cabo Rojo or Aquadilla (on the way back from diving) that had vines for $2 each. We bought 5 and put them along the chainlink fence on the upper and lower parts of the property. If vines are gonna cover the fence we might as well be able to harvest something! Oh, and passion fruit isn't passion fruit here - it is parcha! I just call it yummy and cool looking.
Here's a little coqui frog posing on a diffenbachia plant at night. And of course the little baby gecko. And speaking of geckos - they are my new favorite subject to photograph now that I have figured out that they snooze in the ginger flowers at night. Almost every ginger flower will have a sleeping gecko in it by dark. The flash will usually get an eye open but not always. They don't seem to like the red flowers though - that would be the nicest shot. I look for a tail or a little head peaking out of a blossom.
I can find them sleeping on all kinds of leaves usually lined up with the ribline. They look very relaxed.

This one is my favorite - "gecko in a deep snooze."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Anamu, a Blessing or a Curse!

This stuff is all over our back yard. The little wispy parts have seeds on them that stick to your clothes and hair on you skin. They also can embed little thorns in your skin. To make matters worse this stuff emits an odor that burns my eyes and nose. It also makes my exposed skin very itchy. This stuff is NASTY! Since I have been doing a lot of weed whacking I have been encountering this stuff more and more. At first I didn't know what was affecting me. About 30 minutes is all I can stand once I start running into this stuff. I literally run to the house and strip off my clothes as fast as possible and hit the shower. It takes a while for the itching to stop. It itches so much. This stuff is supposed to cure cancer and all sorts of other things! Its sold at health food stores and on the Internet. People swear by it. Its one of those medicinal rain forest plants. A search on the Internet brings up thousands of sites. There is even a Wikipiedia entry for it but nothing to get rid of it. I can't stand to disturb it. All I have to do is break one stem and I can smell it. The plant gets to be 3' tall and becomes impenetrable. I should try selling it on the Internet!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Katrina Escapes Certain Death by Mere Inches!

Katrina escaped certain death by mere inches! I was on the ladder pruning an avocado tree and as usual Katrina was supervising me and telling me I was doing it wrong. Then I saw a coconut whiz by her head. It hits the ground, THUD! She turns around and is stunned to see a coconut at her feet. We start laughing and she steps aside.

The tree is very tall as you can see and the old coconut is very hard. Hurray, another tasty coconut for us to eat! We can't reach the coconuts in the tree so we have to wait for them to fall so we can eat them. The meat is very good from these. We have plenty of coconuts that provide us with good coconut water but the meat in those coconuts are not as tasty.

Katrina needs to watch where she stands.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What's In the Lightswitch?

The other day I saw a line of ants crawling up the wall going in to and out of the light switch on the porch. My curiosity was peaked and I had to take the light switch cover off and see what these damn ants were up to.
Closer inspection revealed eggs and lots of them. Probably 20 or so! What kind of eggs are they and how did they get there?

One of the eggs was broken and that's why the ants were in there. We took the eggs out and put them in a jar. They have have not hatched but we believe they are gecko eggs. We have tons of geckos around.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Steps Beach/Tres Palmas Reserva/Playa Escalera

We did a lot of yard work the last couple of days so we took today off. We went to Steps Beach in Rincon for a little snorkeling. We got lucky in that the water was calm. I think this spot is also known for good surfing but not today.

This is a great snorkeling spot and might also be a great shallow dive site. Its a reserve (one of only a few) so no collecting is allowed (theoretically). This is a special spot where there is lots of elkhorn coral. There are studies taking place here.

The reef starts right away. As soon as you slip in the water you will see the elkhorn coral like in this picture.

If you go out a little further you will find a lot of sea fans like these. There are a lot of fish and invertebrates to see here also.

Take the 115 to Rincon, Go through the town. Just outside of the town you will see this sign on your left. The beach is a short distance down the street.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Faces Around Town...and Crunchy Burritos

There are loads of dogs and cats and chickens and iguanas and other animals around. We started carrying dog food in the car because we thought many of the animals looked skinny. Much to our surprise they often look skinny but aren't hungry. This guy was in San German just relaxing on the sidewalk.

This bird was posed perfectly on someone's rejas (ironworks) and the color contrast is what caught my eye. I often find myself looking up toward the clear blue sky... not just to enjoy the warmth, but to look at architectural lines of buildings or other intriguing things going on up above. This little cat was above a doorway just checking out what was going on below. The animals don't understand English, and people say "mitsu mitsu mitsu" or something like that to try to coax them over. It doesn't mean "here here here" - that would be aqui aqui aqui so I don't know what it means but they always respond!

This statue is standing on the world looking toward the town hall in the Mayaguez Plaza Colon. Columbus looks toward the ocean and is accompanied by 16 bronze women brought from Barcelona. There are also interesting people roaming around and a very ornate fountain he is standing on.

Just a few blocks away, we encountered a mob of gentlemen playing a rousing game of dominos. The guy in the white hat asked if we wanted in...we just watched for awhile. The guy in the baseball cap was the serious one. We thought they were playing for "guineos" (bananas) but asked and they smiled and laughed!

Things are much simpler here. A nice piece of fruit, a jellyroll, a game of dominoes, riding your horse, these are the things people enjoy. Everyone is outside. This gal was strolling the plaza on her way to do something. The "Q" should look familiar - Quiznos. There are a lot of things that are familiar enough to make us comfortable, but upon closer examination are really different.
An example is Taco Bell. Taco Bell has a "carne y papas" burrito (meat and potato). Sounded good. I started eating it and it was good, but had a nice crunch to it. I opened it up and it was a burrito made of taco meat, cheese and believe it or not....french fries! No Taco Bell I've been in other than here has that or flan on the menu! I mowed the lawn and it smelled like cilantro - we apparently have "recao" in the lawn which is a totally different looking thing than cilantro, but you use it the same way. There is also "culantro" and in my mind cilantro, culantro and recao are all the same thing. We also bought a chocolate bar (sweet chocolate) that isn't really chocolate at all. It is grainy and sugary and just not something I know what to do with! Bananas are guineos, unless they are guineos manos, or amarillos or wait...those are the yellow plantanos that have to be cooked or maybe you can eat them when they are black or is that when they are plantanos verdes, or get the idea. Oh, and ripe oranges aren't orange either. The skin color gives you no indication of ripeness. So things aren't always what they seem to be which keeps things interesting. And there is good coffee everywhere that is under a buck. No $4 gallon jugs of Starbucks here!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mas Frutas, Odd Pod and Things That Sing in the Night

...but first we have the fruit line-up - on your left we've got toronja (we trade with the neighbor lady Amparo - she is on lipitor and can't eat grapefruit), then a chinoja (grapefruit-orange cross and very good for juice), then a sunburned orange (very juicy), a non-sunburned orange and a lime. That is the citrus lineup - and not shown are the china agria (bitter orange - used for marinade and the leaves for tea) and lemons that overhang our driveway.

This next one is an anon - don't know which one, but it has weird skin-scales and turns bright pink when it is ripe! It took my eating a few before I could appreciate them - had to figure out the perfect time to harvest them. They are kind of like a custardy, grainy, sugary pear. I usually find pears a little too sweet but when you use a spoon to scoop this fruit it is is a real treat and is my new favorite (even more than guanabana)!

Here is today's harvest. We helped Amparo prune a grapefruit and she made us take a couple bags of them. The mango wood bowl on the left has oranges (chinas) in it, the dishwashing bin has more oranges and the bag on the right is even more oranges! In the kind-of middle is another pink anon, and behind it is a guanabana (soursop) that I like as a cooling drink. You press the white, fibrous pulp and seeds through a sieve and end up with a creamy white goo. Add sugar (soursop is tangy) and milk and a little coconut water and ice and you've got a creamy good tangy refreshment! There are a few platanos in the mix. Plantains and bananas are a whole other blog entry!

Well, we are clearing the least making headway! Jeff goes through with the weedwhacker and I follow up with my pink plastic $1 rake (my craftsman and fiskars tools all break but not my $1 little pink rake) to pull grass and sticks into piles. Then I run into the zillion vines and hand pull those until the ground is basically bare (until it rains). I always have my hands in the dried grass and under sticks and things.
Since I am not photographing under water yet (don't know the area well enough to know what I want to photograph) I have taken on photographing - or trying to- the coqui frog! This is a difficult task because they are only out at night when it is dark! So I wander around in dense foliage that is shoulder high with a flashlight in one hand, a camera in the other listening for them and trying to spot them and then waiting for the breeze to stop moving the leaf they are on etc etc. It is hard! They pop about 3 feet when the light hits them, or they go deeper into little holes or under leaves or inside banana stumps These are some attempts. These frogs make huge sound but are very tiny. I was surprized they were so small!

In the morning I watch the big ball of a sun come up over the hill and drink my coffee out in front of the house watching and listening to the hills come alive! The roosters are ur ur uring, cows are talking and birds are out everywhere. This bird and its mate were up in one of our palms knocking the palm fruits off. I thought they were eating them but no...just picking them off and dropping them.

Another odd night time thing are the geckos. They sprawl out on top of leaves and snooze.

This odd pod is all over our hillside. It is a pretty little vine that smells like pepper when you touch the leaves and produces these pretty little orange globe-like fruits that pop open to reveal these little red bean looking things! These beans are really really sticky and exude a sticky substance. The ants love them and probably assist them in taking over the world!

This coqui was caught in the act as s/he bellowed out the cool coqui sound. Do a websearch on coqui frogs and you'll find a site that has recordings of all their sounds. Exactly what we fall asleep to each night!
So those are the ramblings for the evening. It is a good frog night since we got a little rain today! The Puerto Rican Screech owl is out there making its monkey sounds...the grasshoppers are going wild (haven't heard them like this before) and the coquis are superb. I can't wait to wake up and head for the hillside!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy Holidays

Being from the States we celebrate Christmas. If you go shopping before Christmas you will find Santa in the shopping center and kids all lined up to sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. Imagine our surprise when we are in the mall 5 days AFTER Christmas and what do we see? All the kids lined up to sit on the Three Kings laps. We had to reaffirm with each other that Christmas was indeed over. We got a good chuckle out of it.