Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cave Video

The entrance to the bat cave.

In the bat cave. Bats everywhere. We did disturb the bats unfortunately but we tried to keep that to a minimum.

Approaching the exit. I cant see a way out.

Oh, there it is. It's through that 6" crack. To bad for me because I had a big breakfast and cant fit. I guess I'll just hold my breath and dive down and swim underwater to the other side...
I had a little apprehension doing just that. I was wearing a live vest and a backpack. It made diving down difficult and I didn't want to be pinned to the top of the hole under water. Second, I was concerned about all the straps and crap hanging off of me getting stuck on a rock. You can see the rock is not smooth. I should have taken my life vest and backpack off before going under like Katrina did. That was fun and we survived!

Disneyland Natural (exploring a wet cave with SEUS

Today we had a wonderful experience with the members of SEUS (the southern cave group) going into the underground! This was the first time we explored a "wet" cave in Puerto Rico. We have traveled to Akumal Mexico and gone diving in caverns and caves and bicycled to cenotes and done some similar wet underground traveling, but doing it so close to home is at treat we want to repeat. Jose invited us on this trip and we met a bunch of nice and knowledgeable people - Pucho (Carlos), Joel and I'm sorry I can't remember the other 8 people's names. We met at a bridge (meeting up with people here is always at a "bridge" or at "church" (which is Church's Chicken) in Penuelas. We did a little driving, consolidated things into a couple cars and then drove up the road some more on rocks and dirt and parked here.

There was a pleasant walk/hike for maybe 30 minutes to get to El Convento and along the way we learned many interesting things about wasps, native trees and plants, things not to touch, birds etc. There were a lot of Ceiba trees like this one along the way both young and very old trees. When these trees are young they are evil looking with big thorns covering every inch of trunk. When the tree ages the thorns look dwarfed and are up high and the above ground roots catch and hold water. It is hard to show the true scale of things. So we listened to birds, smelled the wild jasmine that covered the ground and hung in the trees and walked to the entrance of where we would begin our adventure.

This is the point where we were going to enter the water/cave system. The south is a little different than the north. The cave system in the south runs from Ponce to Penuelas and there are caves in Rosario and Guanica. There are caves like this one that has a river flowing through it. In the North I don't think they are wet caves. In the north there are more formations I think, but we haven't been many places so we don't really know. We put our life preservers, packs and helmets down so we could walk around a bit and see a few other cave entrances in the area. Then we went back, put on the preservers and hopped into the chilly water! Since I am usually chilly I wore a wetsuit with a shirt underneath and my work boots. Very good things to wear - the wet suit was flexible, warm, buoyant, and protected my legs from the sharp rocks. The boots let me walk on slippery things with traction and protected my ankles.

Here's Carlos entering the cave and being followed by a couple other people. This "wet" cave was wet the whole way through which made it seem like an amusement park kind of. Without fins you kind of kick and paddle with your hands - some spots were definitely over our heads.

Further in there were waterfalls. We would be swimming and hear a waterfall. Remember that we are IN A CAVE. There IS NO LIGHT other than what we have on our heads. Hmmm....I think I hear rapids? We were going against a very light flow of water and when we got to the waterfalls we had to climb up them - some were taller than we are. It is pitch black, kind of steamy, we are floating in water and now need to climb up slippery rocks. The tops of the waterfalls were interesting formations because the minerals built up and formed little mini-dams and pools. Underground. With bats and spiders and crickets and congrejo (crabs) and shrimps and little fish.

Here we are just swimming along looking at bats and small formations and things.

So after several waterfalls, and more than an hour in the caves we get to the "bat room" where there are a lot of bats fluttering around because our lights and noise has disturbed them. Very cool. After the bat room we came to what looked like a dead end. This little slit with light on the other end. At the beginning of the dive I noticed one of the guys had a rope and I wondered what it was for. We were told this wasn't a rappelling cave and we didn't need ascending and descending gear. What could the rope be for?

Well - the final part of our adventure was to take off the life vest and pack, take a big breath and submerge to maybe 2 feet and swim underwater about 7 feet and pop up on the other side. I wear contacts, and even if I didn't you still can't see because you are in a cave and now we are going underwater with a rope as a guide. Pretty neat! The second time will be no big deal, but for the first time, not knowing the area, it was kind of "you want me to do what?" So we all got through, did a little more swimming, climbed up a very steep waterfall and emerged out another opening and up onto regular land again. We walked to a big cavern (called Cabra) that had a little window up above you could see trees through. It was huge! This cavern looked a lot like the one you can't go into at Camuy. We climbed around in there for a while and then hiked back.

A big thanks to the SEUS members for guiding us on a wonderful adventure. There is no way to find these places on your own and definately no way you could know to submerge and swim underwater where we did. You really have to go with people who know what they are doing and who know the areas. This is a nice group of people to spend the day with. We look forward to more day trips like this or heh - since it is dark anyway, why not a night time cave adventure?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shopping in Puerto Rico - Frustrating and Surprising at Best

So on Tuesday I opted to head out to Walmart for 3 things - bags of cat food, another nozzle for the hose, and a blanket. Yes I am cold at night now despite having a couple blankets already. It is dipping into the high 60's!!! First off, I should have known it would be hellish by looking at the mall parking lot. I did not realize the kidlets were not in school yet. I persevered parking, looked for a blanket in Marshalls's (which is a huge pigpen, flea market store full of broken and damaged things with really long lines all the time). No king size blankets in Marshalls. I head to Walmart and get a cart since I know they have the nozzle and cat food. I get stuff in the cart (no king size blankets or blankets at all) and find a shirt for yard work as well. I peruse the store since you never know when something new and unexpected will show up like Asian Fish Sauce maybe? No. I see kids pounding bread loaves flat. The typical Puerto Rican "me first and I don't care if I block the aisle to chat and don't care if my ass if blocking your cart" attitude. I get in line. Something snaps as the line doesn't move and everyone in line has 6 people with them chatting on their phones and blocking things and touching everything. Generally a bad day for me and I did what I NEVER have done before - abandoned the cart and got the hell out! I checked Pueblo for fish sauce and cardamon. The other mission was to find green food. I went home to the peaceful property and had some coffee and petted the kitties. Much better.

The next day I am on a REAL mission for the blanket and green foods. This time I head south to Yauco. My first stop is the nursery where we got our cement table. I figured I could start things off well by looking for a big cement or metal doo dad to hang in our "sun room" porch area to liven it up. They had a gecko but it was 20 bucks and small. Hmmm. So I left empty handed and continued on a road I hadn't been on to get to Yauco. And there is front of me is a giant Pitusa Supermarket! Maybe green things are in there? No fish sauce, no green things but I scored some Lays BBQ potato chips (which I ate for lunch- yes big bag). Then there was a Marshall's. Marshalls is a love-hate (mainly hate) store. If you can get past the flea market thing and happen to be in a shopping mood (rarely) you might find something like my cool perfectly in tune wind chime. Usually not. But this Marshalls was like a normal in-the-states store with lower prices. Clean, uncluttered, nothing broken, nothing damaged and no lines! I didn't find a blanket (had to go to San German Kmart for that-6 minutes from my house) but I did find things.

This cute suit was 14 bucks. I can always use a bathing suit since elastic seems to get sticky and disappear here.

I found this neat coffee mug - I like having coffee in the morning in a special mug. $3.99

This rain jacket isn't something I was looking for, but is something I need for rainy hikes or going down to the gate, or from car to store. $14 and pretty blue. You have to get these things when you see them - I haven't seen raincoats here. I love that it isn't an REI price.

I picked up this SPF 40 light weight wick water away yard work shirt for Jeff.

I found this New Balance light weight shirt for caving that has a pocket on the arm (for car key or back up batteries or whatever) and is asymmetrical up top with a zipper. The neck is great because it will be under the harness straps without being a heavy shirt. $12

There was an organized shelf of not too many xmas ornaments so it wasn't overwhelming. I got two "kitties on slippers" - $3 for the pair, and the white kitty for $2.
These geese were $3 for the pair. In Puerto Rico if you see something you even THINK you may need you have to get it. You may never see it again! So I scored. I then went to Grande in Yauco and got cellophane noodles, rice sticks, some other Asian spices/sauces but NO FISH SAUCE. This is a nice store, but still no green. But all in all a worth while trip and the quest for real food continues!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Food Supply Shifts...for the Better

Finally it looks like we will have something green to eat again...beans! Not my favorites, but they grow easily here and you get a nice crop that goes for a while, and now that they are starting to appear I should plant some more.

Vegetable gardening here is easy/hard. I am still learning when it is the correct time to plant things to eat. We haven't had rain for weeks and weeks, cracks are appearing in the ground and 2 of my small trees (Abiu and Canistel with blossoms) have a small amount of scale on them. This is the time the vegetables start doing alright since a couple months ago they would have rotted or gotten some mildew on them due to rain. Or simply gotten washed away. Plant when it is too wet and things wash away or rot, but in another couple months things will get buggy. I've got a couple full size tomatoes, basil, green beans, and a couple aji dulce peppers here. I cut the basil back by half and dried it (kept some fresh if I can find pine nuts for pesto) and cut a lot of leafy parts off the tomatoes so I can see the worms which will appear any time now to devour my green forming tomatoes. Also it will increase air flow. I have a new faucet there so I can water things and that will help out! (thanks honey)

The quest for green food here on the island aggravates me, and here I have a lot of green but it is basil. Kind of limited with what I can do with that.

We have 3 carambola finally, and have been having a lack of fruit. I pruned the oranges last year drastically (they needed it) and only left one tree to bear this year. The oranges have started and there are a hundred or so but we have only 1 avocado left. Quenepas have been done forever, no acerolas (trees are getting stripped of leaves by mysterious beings I can't find), guayabanas are not that entertaining, I don't like guava (they are done), and although there are literally HUNDREDS of guineos in the wings it could be another month and then all banana hell will break loose! We have been enjoying papayas every morning and if I could find plain yogurt I could make some nice smoothies (it is white so I should be able to find it here ha ha).

Fortunately the corazones are starting up. I have to check twice a day to see what is ready. I can check in the morning, and then when I am having afternoon coffee I can sit under the tree and watch the birds. They manage to peck most ripe ones before I can get to them!

Here is one just starting to blush. It can be hard as a rock right now and in 4 hours be soft enough to eat. This is one of Jeff's favorites (I like them too) and a favorite of the birds. The insides are what color? Just guess - white like every other Puerto Rican food!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Always Another Project...but This One is Big

This is the bottom of our property alongside the driveway where we have papayas and guineos and assorted native trees and such growing. It was a forest of bad trees and over-the-head grass when we moved here and the remnants of a five string barbed wire part cyclone fence ran across the bottom near the neighbor's house. This is the house where Hamilton (previous owner) and his family lived while they built our house. Paco lived there with his wife and couple kids until he died a year and a half ago. He unfortunately was the one who kept the place up and did all the household chores. Now that he is gone it has gone to hell since his wife in not quite right in her ceiling. She's got a couple nasty dogs that she doesn't always feed who run around and kill chickens and who knows what. A bad dog (I used to think there were no bad dogs only bad owners but I believe differently now) uses this route as well. After having a missing and a dead cat it is time for a real fence.

First Jeff weed whacked the previous fence line and even whacked the neighbors entire yard (didn't get a thank you even) in preparation for the big job. My part was to remove the five lines of barbed wire and pull old chain link out of the dirt and clear the area for pole holes.

This is where I whine about my wrists. But I can whine - I've had carpal tunnel surgery in both and a cyst removed twice - wonder why? My fingers were sore too and I of course got many cuts - barbed wire is nasty (another reason to get it out).

This area was at one time a nice cut but has since eroded and the slope makes things very difficult. There is one big hole up where Jeff is that we fill with debris since it is eroding. I'll put the old chain link over the pile and grow things through it I think to help stabilize. I've already planted vetiver grass which is doing a great job of preventing more loss.
Here's a pretty good view of the terrain. Very difficult. Plus we don't have water down there. We have to mix cement (for the posts) on the very steep driveway and haul it down the slippery slope. It is very steep and uneven. Jeff decided to mix the cement up top and wheel it down. I heard a slipping sound and had barely enough time to hop into the truck before it careened down the driveway on its own! Emergency brake was on, It was in park. We had a lot of cement and other weighty thing in the back and maybe when we took that stuff out it decided to slip - freaked me out! Now we have wheels turned (duh) toward the harmless side and blocks under the wheels. Oh the terror - as if the project weren't horrid enough.

We went with 6 feet fencing. It is a little high on the driveway side but won't be much above ground level toward the middle, then we can drop to 5 foot stuff as the slope levels out. Lots of pole cutting and way to much thinking. This is the most difficult thing we've done by far and is taking some time - thanks to the kings Jeff has some time off. Thanks to crappy weather diving isn't really a good plan either and there isn't a caving opportunity so here we are doing fencing. This fence won't be going anywhere for 20 or more years. Nice deep holes, thick poles and all the expensive braces and brackets and such. We figure it will be about $10 a linear foot for the deal and it is 115 feet long in this spot. There are plans for a short one on the side all the stray cats come from. Not that it will stop them, but will stop dogs and be a cat deterrent. Can't fence it all, but there doesn't seem to be a threat from above - it is forest land and there isn't access.

Here Jeff is dwarfed on the neighbor's side getting poles in and figuring out how thing will hang. It is requiring far more thought than we anticipated. We are pretty good at doing things but this one is hard!

A Surprise Visit at the Bottom of the Driveway!

For a couple hours I had been hearing loudspeaker stuff in the neighborhood and thought one of the little churches was starting Tres Reyes parties early! Boy it was loud. I headed down the driveway with camera in hand to find the source of the music but Chicken and Dakota (cats) were following me and I didn't want them out the gate. Then Jeff got home and said the kings were on 3362 which is the road to our house (exit 177). I had to see them, being that sights on the roads are among my favorite things here in Puerto Rico. I hopped in the car and we did see them. Later though I heard them again and called my neighbor at the end of the driveway and asked if she had seen the kings. Later she calls and tells me they are coming! I race down the driveway just in time! The road is a one car (or three horse) road so cars were backed up. The loudspeaker car was out in front and maybe they were headed to the park? We never see that many cars on our road. A little neighbor girl came out with some grass for the horses. The tradition is that tonight kids put a box of straw out to feed the camels?

I forget their names but I think one is Baldorf.
Here they are at the bottom of our driveway (lime green wall on left with car pulled over to make room).

And they are looking up the driveway at something - did a cat follow me down?
And here they are before they disappeared into the darkness. In Puerto Rico you can see anything and everything on the roads. Always unexpected and there are always surprises even though you think you have seen it all! What fun!