Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Our Furry Friends

In Puerto Rico there are plenty of disturbing things to talk about but instead of talking about how animals are thrown away like garbage I am going to talk about what we have done about it. When we bought our house (and it doesn't matter where your house is in PR it will be this way) it kind of "came" with animals. We brought one cat with us, Dakota, and all the others sort of appeared at our house hurt or hungry. What is an animal lover to do? When you drive up your driveway and find a cluster of kittens eating avocados that have fallen to the ground you have to do something.  I like to make a cat post when Jeff is traveling so he can see his little friends! Here are some old and new shots of our cluster of kitties! Blanco is like an angel. He is the son of Bepo. Bepo had a litter of kittens we didn't know about up on the hill. We didn't see milk, she was skinnier, she was hanging out at the house all day, and we thought she miscarried. We gave it a few weeks and took her in to get spayed and found out later (when I heard meowing with  my supersonic hearing and found Blanco stuck in a log) that she did indeed have a litter and they were without their momma while we kept her recuperating in the house for a few days. Talk about feeling guilty and awful. I had even asked the vet if she was nursing prior to having her spayed. We don't go to that vet any more. But he survived and is a real sweetie and the most gorgeous cat we have!

Little Rip showed up on the balcony, strutted right in and made himself at home. He is the cat with the most attitude and has grown to be quite long, sneaky and panther-like. He is pretty adorable.

Princess was the first cat we did something about. She was a kitten and was stretching on the cement one day when I saw a huge slice that went from her armpit down her side. We had a heck of a time catching her and Jeff almost broke her tail while I was throwing a blanket over her. She now sits close to me and rubs on me and is nice until you try to pick her up and she freaks out. She was spayed when we had her cut sewn up and we couldn't keep her in the bathroom - she was really really feral.
Bepo  is the mother of Blanco, Mars, Stripes, Junior (RIP) and who knows who else. Her sister Feo (who disappeared) we think was Mini's mom. Bepo was here when we moved in and we thought it was the previous owner's cat who he tried to move to his new place (1/2 mile down the road) but disappeared. We thought maybe she came back to the house she knew. Nope, wasn't his. Bepo got attacked by a dog or another cat and almost died.I found her in our porch area in a pool of green, totally smelly but alive. The vets at the Cabo Rojo animal hospital fixed her up and now she just hangs out in the house or close to it all day and night. She behaves like a normal cat.
Dakota is the cat I stole from neighbors in Washington who weren't feeding him. I sneak neutered him and he decided to stay where there was food (big surprise). He is the old guy of the group - must be 11 or 12 by now. Somehow I doubt any PR cats will live 1/2 that long.
Tuca was hand carried to me by my neighbor Amparo. What are you gonna do, have her just put it down on the ground to fend for itself? Look how little she was. No brothers, sisters, one to cuddle or keep warm with. Yeah - now I check Amparo's pockets before I let her come over!
Tuca likes to snuggle with her head tucked into her little cat bed. She is kind of normal and sleeps with us, stays around most of the time and follows me when I am harvesting or checking out things in the yard.
Mini is the most feral of the bunch and she is gonna have a tough time moving assuming we can even catch her. She is pretty smart but doesn't get along with the others real well.
Stripes is another one of Bepo's kids. He is skittish until it rains and he wants to sleep on the couch, or when he wants food. He will squirt just out of reach but when you can catch him he is limp in your arms and loves his stomach rubbed. He is a really nice cat but would be better without all the others around.

All of the cats except Mini will pig pile and snuggle. Here Blanco, Mars (orange one) and Stripes (brothers and sister) cuddle in a cat nest.
When Bepo's three kittens finally showed up they were eating avocados and were really feral. My how things have changed! Look how small they were! I even fed Mars milk replacement for a while.

We don't know where Pollo came from but she is turning out to be a nice cat. She doesn't like to be picked up but will rub and rub and rub on you, sit against you on the couch and is a nice little pumpkin head. We called her Pollo because she looked like Chicken kind of. My theory is that all cats have replacements or duplicates here. Same with chickens. You can see one of the them and think there is only one until you see both of them side by side!
Here's Blanco on the run one day when he was small. I couldn't touch him or go near him and he was fast like a rabbit!

Then there is Chicken who came to us with the real chickens. He is the best, most lovable, hang-around-me-all-the-tine cat! He is adorable!

We hate to see animals uncared for and basically thrown out. They litter the highways and roads in numbers greater than opossums and raccoons. These are domestic animals that are neglected and treated like wild animals. We have taken in this mob and spayed and neutered all of them, given them at least one round of shots (more if we can get them into a cat carrier) and regularly worm them. They give us great joy even though it is a large group. I don't know how they will transition to our next house but we hope they adjust well. Even if some of them don't we feel great knowing that these guys have had a healthy life so far and know that without us some of them would likely be dead. Even so, there were 3 others we neutered that disappeared (2 we found dead of unknown causes). While we are here we will continue to do what we can and feel good doing it! We love our furry friends!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food, Garbage and Nuisances

First I'll start with the nuisances - nuisance 1 - there is a Coastal Contacts ad banner on my blog and I have been having a really shitty time trying to get a %$^% order from them! I do not want this ad on my site. I just got an email saying "thank you for your return" which of course is for an order that did not come at all. Nor did I get a slip from the Post Office or a call from Fed Ex or a tracking number or anything. DO NOT ORDER from them if you are in Puerto Rico anyway. There is no free shipping HERE despite us getting USPS. Their 1800 number doesn't even work - you have to search all over their crappy site and by chance try their international number to get through to someone who doesn't know what is going on.
Piss off 2 - I have been waiting for a jar of pet wormer pills from a Canadian company (no one in the US sends here that has this product and price). I believe it is coming since I have a USPS parcel slip that I have a registered package, but it could be some unknown delivery of something for my birthday (that is really unlikely since I don't know of anything and what I REALLY want is the cat wormer pills for my b-day anyway!) It could be taking a while since it is medicine and from Canada but it has been 8 or so days (but a holiday was in there). My fingers are crossed. USPS is one of the few things that WORKS in Puerto Rico. The gal even delivers my packages behind the gate so I don't have to go to town and wait in a line to get them!!! If these nuisances are their mix up we are really doomed and it is all going downhill!

Now on to food and garbage. I was reading on the Huffington Post Green page about a gal who tracked her garbage from her house to the transfer station to another transfer station to the dump. She tabulated all the miles that garbage traveled and it was a huge waste. The average person makes 4 1/2 pounds of garbage A DAY! I have never been a fan of garbage and since moving to Puerto Rico, where it is much more "in your face" and "on the ground" and "in the caves" and "on the beach" and "thrown out of cars" etc etc I have become outright disgusted. When I say "in your face" what I mean is - in the states all the disgusting packaging is removed before the consumer sees it so it is easier not to think about. You buy furniture and all that crap stays in the truck they deliver it in. You buy a refrigerator and the old one is "taken away." Here in Puerto Rico these are not options. Everything comes to you with all its original foam, cardboard, plastic, tape, wood etc and it is amazing. Of course there is a lot of just plain bad behavior here - the supermarkets will put one fruit on a foam tray, wrap it three times with plastic wrap, put a price sticker on it (the apple even comes with its own sticker on it anyway). Times that times all the fruit or vegetables you need on a trip and you end up with a lot of foam and plastic - or you use a lot of gas to go somewhere you can buy loose fruit/veggies. Here they actually have a person come up to you with a "paid" sticker to stick on a cat food bag or other large thing that won't fit in a bag. They even TIE a bag to the handle of say laundry soap if it won't fit in a bag. WTF? Do they think you are going to run off with a 20 pound bag of cat food? People here don't run anywhere ever! My favorite bad/non thinking behavior is little mini coffee cups that they automatically give you a lid and stir stick with and won't refill your paper cup - they will give you another cup/stick/lid if you get another mini coffee. If you refuse it they just throw it away even though it is perfectly good. They also put only 2 things in each plastic bag. Bag manufacturers make bags that are so crappy you have to double bag to carry anything and they are just too large - the bags could be half the height and use half the petroleum to make or at least make a shorter stronger one. So the answer is cloth bags, right? Not here - they continue to try to put my stuff in plastic bags and then put the plastic bags in the cloth one! It is a battle every time I go to a new checker or store. In the states I used to love it when they would put say soap, or dish soap in its own bag inside the bag - hey, it is already in a plastic bottle and I am going to use it to wash the fruit anyway...does it need another bag? Ok, so SAMS club might be better you think. is all the packaging from a little trip that I haven't even unpacked stuff from yet. 

Inside the ziploc (yes plastic) box were - 6 more boxes of bags! Just think of this one example. Every store that sells the individual boxes gets them in these small boxes and dismantles it all to put them on the shelves. How many bags can a person use? It is so easy to grab a bag for cut carrots or a few grapes ... times each item, by each kid's/adults lunch and you get the idea. Are we the only country that wastes this much or it is people as a species? Then there is the lunch meat in a plastic bin, that houses 3 plastic-embalmed circular meat packets of  "slices" that are then sealed with a plastic band which apparently pops open and there is a need for two pieces of plastic tape. Is buying "bulk" really helping anything at all? I also have a great plastic meshy type bag of "artisanal" red onions - how ecological and artisanal is that? So I have 5 pounds of carrots that I peel, chop ends off of and slice for the freezer (in the plastic bags) or for in a water filled plastic container in the fridge for easy eating/cooking. This gives me more waste that at least I can compost. I think I am going to compost cardboard now too - most writing is soy based ink so it is safe to put down to suppress weeds and will rot and add fluff to the garden. So overall I am thinking about what to do about garbage and about the garbage society we live in-- I must have too much time or irritation on my hands!

On to some good food news. If you are reading this from the states you can start laughing now. The big excitement yesterday was bing cherries, scallops, frozen blueberries and asparagus! There isn't any green or colored food here. Only hairy brown vegetables that cook up white and green peppers.  The cherries are amazing and despite my knowing that they had to come here by way of fossil fuels I am enjoying the immensely. I wouldn't whine so much about food here if it were here because it was sustainably grown here. Unfortunately it isn't, 95% of food is shipped/flown here so why can't there be choices? Why can't stuff be grown here - at least the majority of what is flown in (guineos, platanos, yucca, name, pimientos)? I guess the Dominican Republic does it better! Some delightful food news is that we have terrific fruit in our yard and we always have something. If I could live on fruit we would be all set. Carambola is good enough for a few things and we get fruit like this 4 times a year. I planted more kinds of avocados to increase the season with different varieties. We have around 10 trees and they are separated so they don't cross pollinate (hopefully) and bloom at different times. We do get fruit at different times but it still isn't as long a season as I'd like since they don't keep. This year was going to be spectacular but wind knocked off a lot of the little fruits. I can't wait for this most perfect fruit! The longan is blooming nicely.

This blossom is for a corozone which is a fruit you will never eat unless you live here or somewhere in the tropics and know a person with a tree. The fruit is ripe one minute, overripe or pecked the next and doesn't store at all. Boy is it yummy though!
I go back and forth about the soursop (guayabana). The flowers are cool and the fruit is prehistoric. I chuck it in the blender, then through a sieve and use the pulp in pancakes, or breads, or make juice. I first had it in Fiji and when it is ripe and you are in the mood it is very refreshing!
The oranges are looking good. The quenepas are getting bigger. There are loads of bananas and the lemons are ripening. I've eaten some strange peanut butter fruit and of course lots of parcha! Growing your own food is very satisfying and I need to do a better job with vegetables.  I stopped planting things since we thought we had the house sold but I am ready to plant some things now since we are staying put for a while! It is hard to grow vegetables this time of year though when the rain starts. If you've got fruit and the rain comes they will crack or become like balloon animals. I need to build a structure to do it better. So those are the rantings of the day. I think I need to sort through stuff and get rid of things. We don't have all that much stuff but then again we do.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Jeff's Mona Report

Last week we joined a scientific research group of cavers going to Mona Island for 8 days.  Mona Island measures about 7 x 4 miles and is about 45 miles off the West side of Puerto Rico.  It rises about 200’ out of the water and is sheer cliff all around except for a few places.  The top is basically flat. 

Most of the caves ring the edge of the top of the island.  They are only a few dozen feet from the surface of the island with spectacular “windows” overlooking the ocean with sheer cliff below.  The caves are flank margin caves and were formed differently than the caves on PR.  Most of the caves we went into were mined heavily until about 1927.  Damage to the caves was very apparent.  It is widely accepted that bat or bird guano is what was mined.  The caves were wide open but only 4 to 8 feet tall.  Some went in 1000 feet but most were close to the edge of the cliff.

As an engineer with a scientific background but not a scientist it was interesting to listen to some of the conversations between members of the group.  In my mind I couldn’t get consistent answers to obvious questions I had.  It leads me to believe not much is known about what went on the last few hundred years.  Is it bat or bird guano or something else?  How did it get there and what happened to all the bats and birds.  We saw very few bats and birds.  Some of the mined material was so close to the ceiling how could so many bats or birds get in there?  Since these are flank margin caves how did all the rocks get in there?

The camping area was nicer than I expected and had showers (with no shower heads).  The water was not potable and we had to bring all our drinking water.  Our food situation was dismal except for a good selection of breakfast cereal and oatmeal (purchased at 4AM on the way to the boat because it was forgotten).   Most of our food was canned or boxed with a large percentage consisting of candy, cookies, and granola bars (looks like the food shopping was done by guys).

The new visitor's/science center must have cost several millions of dollars to build.  It was very nice and had a lot of solar panels to power it.  Too bad the only visitors to see it will be the illegal Dominicans, Cubans, or drug dealers before they are arrested by DNR/Customs.  Thirteen Cubans made it to shore (US soil) the day we left.   Getting a permit to visit Mona is not easy and Diana spent a lot of time and effort getting a permit for our group.  This is public land and people are supposed to be able to visit and enjoy it.  It’s either “not their job” or easier to say no for the DNR employees.  Maybe they want it to be their own private island.  The 4 DNR “guards” stationed on the island were nice, helpful, and friendly but they are not the ones issuing a permit. 

I haven’t mentioned yet that it was Hot Hot Hot.  It rained so much the prior month the mosquitoes ate us alive.  DEET didn’t work well.  At least the mosquitoes disappeared after 7pm and we could escape by going into the water.  They were so bad they were even in the caves.  In several caves Katrina and I wore mosquito netting over our heads.  Fortunately Katrina bought a couple of nets at Wal-Mart while she was buying our 5 gallon water jugs.

The heat and humidity gave us blisters and rashes very quickly.  It was so hard to do anything.  The longest hike I went on was 7 miles RT and that was difficult.  I drank over a gallon of water on that hike.We went to a bunch of caves:  Day 2 Negra and Aleman. Day 3 we were looking for Capitan but found Gatos.  Day 4 Esqueleto (this was second best).  Day 5 was a long snorkel.  We saw a small stingray, turtle, squid, octopus, and a big barracuda.   The water was warm and clear.  We kept running into cold water and tried to find if it was from a spring.  We came close to finding many springs but we couldn’t pinpoint the source. Are we lost already? Here Tom is consulting one of the maps we were given.

Look in the front of this picture- the whole cave floor has been blown up & mined.

Day 6 was the Disney ride to the east side of the island.  We went in the north side of Cueva Lireo and rounded the corner of the island and came out the south side.  This was our favorite trip of the week.   On the way back we got attacked by a big Mona Iguana.  It really was ferocious jumping and biting everything it could.  We couldn’t drive around it because there was no room on the road/path.  The sides of the cart were open and the iguana was trying to jump in.  Shortly after passing the iguana the road turned into a lake for a long long way.  That was crazy but fun.  A perfect way to end the day.

My first Scorpion

I love this picture.  Katrina enjoying the view.

The end of Lireo

Day 7 Tom, Frank, and I headed out to Espenal.  We stopped at Cueva Capitan first and explored that for an hour.  Then we stopped in Cueva Gato for lunch.  Then it was off to Espenal.  We carefully followed flagging tape and did not want to get lost or off the trail that far away from camp or water.  We made it back just in time for dinner.  Katrina helped survey Cueva Cucaracha  near camp and explored Cueva Diamonte by herself also near camp.

A big pig skull

So many goat skulls

Day 8 Katrina showed us Cucaracha and Diamonte.  We also walked down the beach and did some more snorkeling.
Day 9 we got up at 5am and waited and waited for the boat to arrive.  Finally around 7:30 the boat showed up and we were happy to get out of Dodge. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

More Mona- the Not-Caves Part

Like I said before Mona is a buggy, harsh, not-pleasant place full of poisonous plants and not much else. When I was buying water containers I saw some $2 bug nets for your head that I picked up almost as a joke - little did I know that we would use them EVERY DAY! Here is Jeff on one of the trails to one of the caves with his little bug net on. We do a lot of caving and haven't had any exhaustion problems but this island is hot hot hot and there is no shade and the water is what you bring and it is exhausting doing anything. We ended up at this sign while looking for a cave we never found. We did find a couple others but it seemed like a never ending walk.
This mean-spirited iguana depiction is really accurate. This is one of the food boxes. We had one of these laying on its side where we stuffed our stuff. At night we heard stuff moving around and mostly it was hermit crabs, but sometimes the iguanas would walk around camp. Mainly our "food" storage hut sheltered ants. We had two invasions and had to pull everything out. After it rained a couple of the nights we had ants. Not pleasant. Why here's one of the monster iguanas now...
I did find a rock that looked like a turtle. It was outside one of the caves. Water was dripping onto it and it looked like a purposeful thing.
One thing that made the trip was the beach! I have to say I expected the typical Puerto Rican beach - beautiful but with garbage. This beach was stunningly beautiful and since no one can go there was free of garbage! It also was the lee side of the island so I am sure the other side was packed with crap but we didn't see it here! Just crystal clear water, 86 degrees or more and fairly calm. Snow white sand with pink flecks and spotty reefs.

The park rangers were really nice and let us charge camera batteries. They loaned us a vehicle so we could travel to the other part of the island and were pleasant to talk to! They thought it was funny though when I laid on the ground to photograph these palms...I was happy with the photo and didn't get clobbered while under them!
The dock had  this really big boulder near it. One of the days we snorkeled all the way down to one of the points which was  long way away. The water was nice and clear and we saw stingrays and all the usual players.
Camp was on a nice beach (except for the ant infestations). It rained a couple nights but that cooled it off and we had pulled in our "drying" towels and stuff already.
Here is our home for the week. What saved me was the air mattress - besides the mosquito head thing it was another wise thing to bring. The tarp was also smart for when it rained and it did rain pretty hard a couple nights.
You can't have a cave story without a lost soul! Deep inside every cave you will always find lost souls. For that reason cavers always bring along duc tape or gorilla tape. Nothing is worst than trying to go across sharp rock...trying to climb waterfalls or breakdown without a shoe. We had one guy lose both souls and he had to crawl out and it was awful hiking back to the car. That was part of the hog hell trip. This was Frank's moment to shine but luckily there was gorilla tape in Jeff's pack.
Caving is hard on the shoes. Tom seems to have worn out one left and one right and repackaged the remainders into a new pair! Don't throw out the good one...
There were signs here just as if it were a real park that the public has access to. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to get permits to come here. People can come for the day in their own boats, but it better be a large boat and you better know what you are doing...Mona Passage is pretty rough. Maybe the sign is for all the activities the Dominicans can do when their little boats arrive and they claim wet foot dry foot. This gives you a good idea of what the island is like. The dark band just under the surface is a series of cave openings. Pretty darn neat!
Finally we have the Visitor's Center - a beautiful facility with future researcher labs and equipment. It isn't open yet, but here it is. Unfortunately all the solar panels that power it are facing the wrong direction and the windows don't look toward the ocean. Kind of a missed opportunity to capture breezes and views. Anyway, the Dominican's will probably get to see more of it than Puerto Rican's. Hope they enjoy it!