Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dead Dogs

Every day I normally see about 10 to 20 dead dogs on the side of the road in varying states of decomposition. Today I witnessed one getting killed. It made me sick to my stomach to see.  Dogs are not wild animals. They must be taken care of and controlled. It is inhumane how dogs are treated here. When we mention to people here that we spay and neuter our animals we get funny looks or comments like your emasculating the poor boy. How long is it going to take to get this attitude changed? We also hear story after story about how a dog was poisoned and killed. Please spay and neuter your pets.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cueva Sorbetos - Que Linda!

On Sunday Jeff and I drove up to Arecibo to meet with Bro (the organizer), Jose F., Espera, Iraida, and Ivan for another journey underground. This time the trip was to Cueva Sorbetos (straws) near the Tanama River. I decided to risk taking the better camera (non waterproof one) since this cave is primarily dry except for the swim across the river to get to it! I am very pleased I did this since the cave was really decorated with very detailed and subtle designs the small sensor on the other camera wouldn't pick up. The cave entrance had been cemented up a long time ago when the formations were in danger of being taken or damaged. Something (hurricane?) or someone however made a small opening and it is that opening that we entered. The cave was very large and open and muddy. Immediately there were straws covering the ceiling.
The straws were 1 - 4 feet long and very dense. A single touch could send them breaking off. We helped each other watch for head clearance while going through the lower areas. Many of the formations were "anti-gravity" looking - parts headed off into all directions.

There were a lot of columns and calcite pedestals. At one point there was a huge wall of formations I call "nature's HDTV" that we sat in front of and had lunch "watching."

There were also a lot of bushy bushes of formations that had the anti-gravity parts poking out in all directions. The entire cave looked like it was full of chandeliers. These straws are still forming and have drips of water and minerals coming out from them.

Looking up into the ceiling there were formations I think are called drapery formations. They were mixed in with the anti-gravity-bush ball things.

These formations are sooooo delicate. In my mind I imagined a mini cirque-de-solei going on with butterflies or nymphs sliding up and down the straws. Humans can't think up this stuff - nature is just beautiful and perplexing and delightful to observe.

Here's some more of the drapery stuff (I really need to learn the names of formations - all the books here for stuff like this are in Spanish). On Ivan's Facebook page he called the dark formation bacon drapery - It kind of does look like bacon (yum).

One thing that is hard to show in photos is the scale of things. The ceiling in this cave was over 50 feet in many parts and just covered with these straws. You really feel dwarfed when you see the structure of the place.

Butterflies and lightning bolts...

Jeff is dwarfed by a huge column. I can't get Jeff to stop watching the TV!

There were also flowstone formations and some straws were muddy. I have a photo that shows a mud line - won't post it here - that is interesting because it shows that the water rises a few feet at least. Since the formations aren't broken off though it must be a slow rise of still water.

Bro and I saw a pool of water in a lower area and we climbed in to explore. The water was perfectly clear and we really didn't want to disturb it, but this spot wasn't on the map. I went through a little triangle space and could see down but needed probably 10 feet of rope (which we didn't have) to explore. Bro couldn't get in since it was smaller than his shoulders. Could it lead somewhere? Definitely.

Some more flowstone or "ice cream sundae formations" as I call them.

The highlight of course was all the straws - photos and words cannot describe the magical qualities of this cave! We exited after several hours inside, swam a rope across the river and followed it across. A short hike later we were at the cars and headed home. We left at 7am and got home around 6:30 - an early day for us. We look forward to the next adventure but the dry season is coming to an end so caving will probably be less frequent. Whenever we have a chance to go though we are there!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yard Stuff

It hasn't rained in probably a month at least and the ground is cracking and it is really dusty when you try to do anything. Before our friend came to visit I watered all the little trees in my arboretum. This is also the time for planting stuff I need for erosion control - if it is raining when I install them they get washed away, but putting them in now means I need to water. I have moved around and divided some plants and put them in the river bed near the bridge. While I was out there a new chicken showed up and he is absolutely gorgeous!

He is pecking around some philodendrons I moved but I don't care. He is big, and shiny, and has a nice comb. Elsewhere in the yard the cats hang out under the firecracker plants that are under the Robelenni palms. There were three of them out there and they were on the bridge for a while watching the big chicken.
Tuca was snaking around under the firecracker plant which is a good plant for erosion because where ever it touches it roots. This plant is also likes dry spots (once you get it going) and has lots of nice flowers.
My garden is pathetic. I have given up and am not gardening much. In June I will figure out if aquaponics is the answer and start growing better stuff then. For now I have some really tough bok choy, some tomatoes that something got to and cucumbers which always do well.
I love this white shrub that looks like an umbrella. Don't know what it is called but it is really nice.

The leaves are dropping off of everything and things look really ratty except for the heliconias which are in full bloom. These blooms last for a couple months at least and I have divided and placed them all around the yard. The corazon fruit tree is giving us some fruit and the papayas and guineos are abundant, chinas are two pitchers of juice away from being done and the yucca isn't ready yet. We do have 6 or more calabaza and it is a good thing they store well. The mangoes are not blooming yet but I do see buds on the aquacote. One nice rain will change it all but I just don't see it happening. The nice thing is the breeze and the 66 degrees at night. Bad thing is it is in the 90s and only 45% humidity - dry dry dry! I can feel my skin shriveling up.

So I do what I can in the yard which includes just watching this really cool rooster hang out.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Restaurant Review - Good Food at Last!!!

I had heard rumors that there was a decent French restaurant in San German. I heard it was a little expensive. I heard more rumors that it was good and still was hesitant to get my hopes up. While our friend Rob was visiting we were running running running the whole time and finally decided to go out and ended up at L'Auxerre in the heart of San German. The rumors turned out to be true! We had a wonderful meal and it was a nice way to end Rob's visit.

First off, you could sit outside out of the air conditioning. There were cloth tablecloths and glass glasses. The glasses were filled up with water and you didn't have to ask for it. A waiter appeared immediately as did silverware and napkins and plates. We had menus and our questions were answered. Is the fish fresh? (there was a halibut dish and a salmon dish - fish we know from Washington) Where is the crab from? Still we were skeptical about fish since it is always dried out and deep fat fried here. We opted to try one fish dish and stick with one chicken dish since chicken is usually cooked well here.

First though we got appetizers. Rob had French Onion Soup which he said was good. Jeff ordered a trout appetizer and I got crab cakes. The trout had an amazingly crispy skin and was perfectly moist on the inside. The crab cakes were not oily, had a nice taste and nothing to chew shell bits. Oh, and did I mention bread? They brought out warm bread as soon as we ordered. They also had a wine list.

So when we ordered the entrees we thought it was a bad sign when they didn't have the chicken. Jeff got the salmon which was on some kind of pureed sauce and I ordered the halibut that was on a cauliflower/endive puree that was seasoned well. The portions were decent I thought but could be considered "small" if you are used to the over sized globs of crap most people usually eat. There was a really nice sear on the fish and it was cooked perfectly - Jeff thought his was a little pink on the inside like a seared Ahi but it was warm and delicious. Rob ordered a Churrasso steak that looked good if you like beef - had a nice glaze on it. Rob also had a couple whiskeys, a particular kind that he likes and that they had and wasn't Jack Daniels. I had a margarita because they didn't have lemon drops or lemon martinis (a small disappointment that was overlooked due to the great excitement of good food!)

For dessert Jeff had a chocolate mousse that I tasted and Rob had creme brulee. I was too stuffed to have my own thing. I am not a mousse fan but this was made with a lot of really good quality dark chocolate and was yummy. The creme brulee had a crackable crust and was dense and good. This was a fabulous meal with actual service!!! A few things to know - the menu had 4 appetizers and 4 entrees and 2 desserts on it. The menu changes every 2 or 3 weeks because the chef flies to New York to get fresh ingredients. The menu is limited but all of it was really nicely done. They had a choice of 3 proteins (fish, chicken, beef). They had all kinds of alcohol if you are into that. It is hard to find the door. In San German there are two plazas. The restaurant has large banners on the second story of the building near the church on the second plaza - not the Porta Coeli church, the other one. You have to walk around the other side of the building to get in. It was odd to see banners, and then padlocks on the doors. The guy in the ice cream shop will send you around to the next street over away from the plaza. It is on Calle Estrella #16 Esq. Calle Cruz and the phone number is 787 892 8844. They add a 15% tip to the bill so just be aware of that. This was very exiciting! Really good food perfectly prepared with service!!!!! We have to be careful not to go there too much. Maybe go just for coffee and dessert some times?

Get up and go - wednesday and thursday 6-10, friday and saturday 6 - 12am and sunday brunch 11 - 4. Yum!

A Few More Pictures of the Yu Yu Trip

Katrina's pictures are a lot better than mine but I have a few to add with her in some of the shots. Below is some of the gear required for the expedition.

Katrina and Diana watch Tom rappelling down first to make sure the rope is long enough!

Katrina rappels through a tight spot.

We have to rappel through that small hole?! This is deep inside the cave.
What I still can't get over was that it took us about three hours to get as far as we did in the cave. Then it took only 15 minutes of walking and swimming to get to the exit ropes. We had fun.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cueva YuYu - an Adventure

Tom Miller invited us to do some surveying in Cueva YuYu on Sunday. There has been a flurry of cave activity because it is the dry season. Like a lot of our adventures it did not turn out how I had imagined. The first part of the adventure was hiking through the jungle to find the hole. We passed many holes including the hole that was the dry part of YuYu. Tom used his machete to forge a new way to the hole we would be going down and I stayed in the back placing survey tape on our "trail" so if there was a problem I could find the way out. We arrived at the deep pit. There was already a rope thrown in but we decided to hang our own so it would drop more vertical instead of going over the ledge - usually an easier rappel that way. Tom tied our 100 foot rope to a tree and dropped it in. It landed on a ledge and we would then drop it down the other part to get into the cave. One by one we rappelled down into the hole.

From the ledge we could see that our 100 foot rope wasn't long enough to get us to the bottom so Tom did some knot work and connected ours to the one that was there that did go to the bottom.

Here Diana is on the ledge and the ball of light below is Tom at the bottom.

Jeff makes his way down.

This ladder has some historical interest (not sure what) and it is right where you have to come over the ledge. We tried our best to avoid it but every one of us ended up straddling it at some point.

This part of the cave was the only part with shallow water. Here I am across the water taking a photo of them near the drop zone. There were some beautiful formations, but we didn't get to look much since this was a survey mission. Immediately we head into the very cold water. Jeff is using the Disto (is that how you spell it?) thing to take distances and inclinations. Diana is taking the compass readings and I am holding the white card with my light on it at the "station" we are taking readings to. All of us are in deep water and it was very difficult.

This water feature was at the beginning of the wet the beginning of the day. We are all submerged. I am floating and trying to grasp the edge while holding nail polish (to mark the station) and survey tape in one hand and the white card in another all day. My rack (no not boobs-rappelling gear) is swinging between my legs, my harness is pinching and my life vest and pack are floating up around my head. It is not comfortable. The Disto thing is fucking up and not recording so it takes forever and my little fingers are getting fatigued and I am cold. I HATE being cold. Then I start shaking and that just makes it worse. We get to a tall formation we climb onto because under it is a steep waterfall we can't go over even with ropes. From up top Tom rigs some rope so we can slip into a tight crack and rappel down around 25-30 feet into the river below the falls.

Here Diana and Tom and rigging the ropes so we can go into the crack they are standing on the edge of. Meanwhile Jeff goes further from our up-top perch and finds a rope already in place with a carabeener in the wall. It goes straight down and into water a little further downstream. Someone else is maybe surveying or exploring. Here Tom makes his way part of the way down to the waterfall base. After this point we can't see him.

Down below the water is freezing and over my head the whole time except for a tiny ledge I can balance on at the bottom of the rope. We float around trying to make the dam Disto thing work for what seems like forever before I just have to stop because I am frozen. Jeff was cold too. Diana and I decide to climb up the little hole we had all come down and Jeff and Tom float over to the bottom of the other rope and ascend there. No way did I want to connect everything up in the water.

Here's a view of Diana in the water getting ready to come up. I just want out at this point because I am so cold. We were in the cave maybe 4-5 hours but somehow the return trip was short! We looked around a little, but now it was after 4 and we still had two ropes to ascend and a hike out.

Coming up wasn't a problem for me or Jeff or Tom, but since Diana was last no one was there to hold the end of the rope and she was having trouble coming up. Tom went back down, she went up and then he came up with a pack on the bottom of the rope for weight.

The cave was beautiful with Zumbo-like formations but much wider passages and a lot more water. I do not want to see this cave in the wet season - I'm pretty sure you don't even attempt a trip here if there has been any rain in a week or more.

Beautiful walls and flowstone. Then we are headed up the ropes. For some reason (probably coldness and tiredness) we were all a little snippy. Jeff went up the rope to the ledge so he could help Diana up the overhang if needed. Diana made it just fine and then I came up. I had a mini melt-down because my equipment just wasn't rigged right. Pissed me off! It was fine for the other ups and downs and now for some reason my Croll was up around my boobs instead of near my bellybutton....I couldn't get good extension to work my way up the rope but I was already on the rope. The &*$#%@% straps for my feet are simply annoying (way too long and a tangle problem) and I am pissed because this is the part I am usually really good at. And I am COLD. I do get up, then Tom comes up and Jeff starts his way up. Oops....Diana doesn't have her pack. Where is it? Well, Jeff looks around on the ledge and it isn't there, which guessed is all the way at the bottom. She forgot it there, Tom assumed she had it on and Jeff and I just kept track of our own stuff. So back down he goes, having to go over the knot to retrieve it. Now he is on the very bottom and no one is there to hold the rope. Climbing up as the last person is always a little harder. So he gets to the ledge (it is getting dark now), takes a rest and then makes his way back up. Hooray! We gather up all the gear and head into the jungle.

On the way out we pass by the dry part of the cave and don't get to see it since it is now getting dark. We get back to the cars and no one has taken tires or batteries or anything so we are good to go. We stop for food at Sizzler and then make the long journey home. Jeff is probably dozing at work and I am rinsing rope and gear and doing laundry. I'd like to see more of this cave and now know I need to wear more than just my 2mm wetsuit if we are totally submerged in water. If the water is waist high and you can get out of it I do fine -- but I get bitchy when I am really really cold and am not an enjoyable person. I probably just shouldn't go into over-my-head-for-long-distances caves. We all did get out and Tom did get some data. Hopefully we can see more of this cave at some point. Maybe the dry part.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More Activities - Diving and Caving

On Monday February 1 we wanted to take Rob diving. Diving has been kind of crappy lately or not even possible because of high waves. It has been weird in both the north and west so we actually had a couple weekends we skipped. We did hit a couple nice, clear days and were hoping we'd be able to dive the caves up at Shacks in Isabela but it didn't happen. Instead we took Rob to the Rincon Wall and did the long swim out. When we dropped down it was pretty good vis for there - 60 feet or so - and you could see the entire wall and all it's bushiness. Unfortunately the sun wasn't out so the colors and all the magnificent fish were lost but he got the idea. There was a strange current there we hadn't had before so we headed in a lot sooner than usual (plus Rob sucks with air consumption - his nickname is Hoover - like the vacuum!). We then rounded up with David for another dive and ended up at Natural where again there was an odd current and surge. We did make it to the cracks but there were no sharks or turtles to be found. Oh well. On Tuesday we headed back up north for some more caving. First we went to Los Chorros. We hiked back to the waterfall and all the way to where the sump was. The water was a little lower than last time but not enough to go further.

Seeing a cave for the second time makes it almost look new - you see different things. Little tunnels and side shoots that could lead somewhere! Or nowhere. No swimming bats this time but the group was smaller and quieter. Everything in the caves echo so we always disturb bats.

Does this tunnel above Jeff's head go somewhere? Hmmm.

I just love the implausible geology. Look at how there is stuff going in a different direction wedged in this tunnel. This is NOT Jeff's favorite thing - he is convinced the tunnel will flood and take him out!

After a few hours in Los Chorros we headed to Ventana which is more of a cavern than a cave. There are a couple dogs that lead the way so off we went. This cavern is immense - on the way to it from Los Chorros you can look up at the mountain and see the window as well as a couple more higher up. Inside is huge as well.

There were some nice columns.

The main attraction however is the "window" that lets you look out onto the whole valley/jungle below. The picture isn't complete however without the little curl of the dog's tail in the view! So we had a great day (although busy) and got to see Ventana for the first time. It was nice to be able to show our friend Rob what it is we are doing here in Puerto Rico...

Next stop is Cueva Yu Yu tomorrow....gotta go, again.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Re-exploring Cuevas Convento and Balcones

Our friend Rob was here for a whirlwind visit and wanted to go into some caves. We have had many shark feeding and diving adventures with Rob and since we've been gone he hasn't done too much diving at all. We planned to do some diving but the caving was what he was most interested in. Unfortunately we only know how to get to a couple of them ourselves that would be appropriate for a first time caver so on Sunday (he got in at 4pm Saturday afternoon) we hopped in the car for a trip to Convento and Balcones in Florida. Tom and Diana also came along. Tom (aka Survivor Man) has explored and mapped Puerto Rico caves extensively but amazingly had not been into either of these.

We headed to Convento first and found it without any problems. It is a very large cave with some nice formations and a few side tunnels.

Jeff, Rob, and Tom are examining some formations here.

This cave was better than we remembered and had a lot of what I call the "mini-civilization" formations ...sculpted areas that I imagine as little cities where the bugs crawling around are the humans and the bats flying over are war planes. Yeah, I know, a little imaginative.

Tom climbed up this ledge to see if there was a way to get across to another upper area that most definitely has small rooms attached. It didn't work this time, but another time we can bring some climbing gear and get up there. He did have a nice view of the "balconies" from up there and you can imagine the sounds of opera in the immense room coming from the diva up top!

There were a lot of these formations and I think they look like spears of cumulus clouds so I'll call them the cloud formations until I know what they really are. Our best dive buddy David came along also - it was his first cave as well. He seemed to enjoy it!

Nice formations. Dirty Diana. The way up to a side room required a climb and us short people have a hard time doing it...our arms aren't that long so we have to get dirtier!

After an outside-the-cave lunch break we headed to Balcones. We got a little mixed up finding the trail and had to back-track but found it. It, too, was better than we remembered. It had really nice formations.

Ice-cream-sundae flowstone creations. Since this was our second time in the cave we were able to explore a lot more since we know what we are doing now. I found a spot that led into a nice little room and had to take off the helmet to get in. It was a tight squeeze, but that is how I like it!

First I got the head out and then proceeded to wiggle around until I could get the rest out!

There weren't any formations to ruin or break so I was able to squirt into this new area and have a look around!

Leaving a cave with a large opening always gives you an other-worldly a large mouth opening up into the jungle!