Monday, December 23, 2013

Caves in Our Neighborhood (almost) - 4 New Ones

On Sunday we stayed close to home and went off with Tom armed with some guy's 50 year old not-very-descriptive report of the locations of a bunch of caves near our house. Weather looked iffy so water caves were out and being close to home sounded great. The information was sketchy but Tom's knowledge of topography/geology etc makes finding things possible and probable! First we drove on 112 to the spot where we see the drug dealer stand guard 24/7. We had gone down into this cluster of houses before and asked around. People pointed to the hillside and we were coming back to scope it out! We parked, changed, and walked behind a house up onto the hillside following the river and came to our first "find." It was a large opening that went through to the other side. The bottom looked scoured by lots of water which was strange. The other side was a field and it is hard to imagine it draining that much water. We looked around. Tom was more interested in it than we were since he understands the geology and we don't. There wasn't much to it so we poked around a bit and then climbed the hill to what looked like an upper level.

This upper level wasn't much either but did have a tiny hole that we thought might lead somewhere. I went in feet first having to really flex around a stalagmite with my helmet off. I did end up in a nice little room but it did not go anywhere. One of these times I am going to get in somewhere I can't get out of! A little swelling or water drinking and I could be stuck! I contorted my way out head first. Oh, such relief to be out!

Next we roamed around the ridge and came across a hole that turned out to be the amazing find of the day! This little cave is full of decorations! Unfortunately a majority of the stalactites have been broken off but the amount of decoration was still amazing given how close this cave is to houses and people. After a couple small drops you enter a large room with a side room and a deep cut in the bottom. We explored it all looking for passages to continue on but didn't have any luck.

We wandered around for another hour or so in pouring rain and found another cave, Cueva Armistad (?) which is where rebels reportedly stashed guns and maps of attack plans. No rebel booty here though - just lots and lots of bats. Not much of a cave passage-wise but interesting for a few minutes. We continued wandering around looking for a few other caves without finding them. It was an early day which was fine with me - rainy and cold. We hacked through the jungle with a machete (or at least Tom did) to get down to this field. We walked across it so we could climb up the other side to the car. On our little trek we were hoping to see another cave...running water was there, vegetation was there and all the conditions were right....but no. No cave. We hiked up to where the car was and headed to our house for a beer and snacks and mainly a nice HOT shower! Kind of a different day with a big payoff. We discovered one very nicely decorated cave close to home.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


These two (Jackie and Chicken) look like they are up to no good - munching on catnip and the paranoia has set in... Blanco yawns after a box-nap, then sleeps some more and then gives the "look how sweet and beautiful I am" cat pose.

Then he goes outside to the porch to snuggle with Pollo in one of the many cat beds. Pollo is tuckered out from her excursion to the roof. When Jeff showers in the morning he sees her (and some of the other ones) climb up the ladder and onto the roof. Enjoying the sunrise maybe? Taking a look around? Even the cats seem to enjoy our views!

Rip is kind of a strange loner except when he is stalking the others or playing chase with Jackie. He has been hanging out on the porch more often. I think since he is 3 now he is calming down. He can contort into the strangest positions. EVERYBODY loves the catnip pot. I think it is one of the best things I've done! At first they didn't take an interest but once they figured out what it was they have all taken turns snoozing in it!

Even Dakota the 15 plus year old guy has managed to stand in it - can't quite curl up. And Jackie? Busted and guilty looking...totally high!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DAM and Guajataca Tunnels

Saturday's weather was not dry enough to go caving as planned so we came up with some alternatives! Tom had found the Quebrada de Los Cedros Dam on an earlier outing and took us, along with Diana, on a trip out there. This dam is on the Aguadilla/Isabela border near Jobos and is completely overgrown to the point of never being able to find it if you didn't know it was there! Not quite sure when it was built but Tom and another friend (Ron) told us it was built as a hydroelectric dam. Unfortunately, despite warnings by geologists, they built this massive structure on Aimamon limestone which is porous and won't hold water. Needless to say, this huge structure never worked. Tom knew exactly where to go and in a short machete chopping few minutes we were on the top of the dam. You can't tell, but the structure has got to be 50 feet tall? We walked down a steep slope to it's base. Jeff and Tom are going in a little opening. We walked through a lot of these openings and most were pretty full of guano. Mounds and mounds of bat poop! Holy shit!

We then went through it and into the river bed which, if the rock weren't so porous, should probably have water in it. Of course we encountered garbage (cars, stoves, tires, etc). We then found the tunnel that leads to the partly built hydroelectric plant. We didn't go all the way through the tunnel but will return on another day for that. It goes for almost 3 miles and comes out at the bluff overlooking Jobos beach. That is a view I'd love to see. We didn't continue because we were spooking bats and a group of rats and don't know if the end is capped or open. We didn't want to disturb the bats or trap them.

After that it was on to somewhere we have always wanted to go but haven't  because we usually have more exciting things going on. Today was perfect since it was close to home and rain didn't matter. We headed up number 2 and parked on the right just before you get to the giant Puerto Rican flag on the way to Quebradillas. Behind the lottery stand is a nice trail that is clean. It leads to a tunnel that is garbage free and loops back around to the highway. You can see nice stone bridges/walls and flower blossoms were on the ground everywhere (pee tree blossoms).

Then we headed west on 2 to get to the other tunnel. This area was a totally different story...people know where this one is and you don't really have to walk. The parking lot wasn't too bad. Tom told us about how different this spot was 10 years ago - how there were vendors and food stands and it was cleaner and kind of an attraction. That is not what we saw. We saw graffiti, smelled urine, saw trash of course and wished it were how he remembered it. There is a flat trail that goes for a little bit along what could be a beautiful coastline (if people didn't throw trash everywhere). It has great potential to be a beautiful walking, biking, roller blading trail that could connect to the nice Isabela/Jobos trail. There was a small cavern at the end of the tunnel that was the official bathroom and garbage can. Just think what a few trash cans, bathroom stalls and supervision could do for a spot like this. There was even a "no tirando basura" sign stuck on the rock high out of view where most people wouldn't see it. I mentioned this to Tom and he thought it was high so no one would steal it. Maybe a joke or just plain sad. Sometimes those signs really mean "throw it here." Just like the "no parking" signs or a colored curb mean "park here."

The tunnel has spectacular views (if you can overlook the trash) and you won't find more dramatic scenery. I am glad we came out. I'd love to visit on my own to photograph but unfortunately I don't think it is safe. The waves were really high and a lot of the rocks looked like they were floating or were about to levitate. Bi-Polar PR. Immense beauty and ugliness together again. If you want just the nice....go to the first tunnel. It doesn't have the water views but it doesn't have the trash. Neither is physically taxing and both are a decent outing for a rainy day when nothing else is going on!

We had a good meal at the Cheesecake Shoppe "Just Say Cheese," where they have different beers, pizzas (on a nice thin crust) and...cheesecake. On someone else's table I spied an awesome looking salad, so that is what I had. Unexpected! I have trouble just eating a big ball of cheese followed by whipped cheese so I gobbled a real salad with different greens, tomatoes (not just an under ripe slice), nuts, cheese crumbles, cranberries and a nice dressing. I did follow that with half a slice of cheesecake and coffee. They have made menus since the last time we were there! They offer good food and service (and of course being in good company always helps). It was the first time in a lot of outings that I didn't sit out the food part or whine about it. I am sure that pleased my company immensely!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Final Tropical Thanksgiving

This was our final Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. The weather has started to get wonderful, the skies are blue and the humidity has dropped. Where else can you sit outside for Thanksgiving? As a final hoo-rah we decided to have a nice dinner in a nice place with good friends we may not see for a year or more. Our friends Toni and Gerd spend 5 months in Puerto Rico each year and this Thanksgiving had a couple visitors from Germany staying with them. We all headed to Royal Isabela for a Thanksgiving buffet. The setting is spectacular and is an example of how all of Puerto Rico could be. Royal Isabela is a golf resort that isn't locally advertised. I found out about it while talking to the gal whose husband sells bread at the farmer's market. I was asking where he sells his bread. She said "Royal Isabela" and Villa  Montana (another restaurant/resort). She also said she worked in the organic gardens on the grounds there and that they try to source local produce and meat for meals there. I managed to get a phone number and when Jeff's parents visited we took a trip out there. The food was good quality and service was very good as well. It isn't crowded either since no one knows about it and there aren't any signs showing where it is.

We met our friends and took them along the twisty roads to find the place. As you arrive you are greeted by a large gate that opens as you drive close. Personnel come out and greet you and direct you to the restaurant. We had reservations for 3 and the table was ready with our name on it and the Thanksgiving spread was already out. There was roast turkey with a crushed casava stuffing. There was gravy and cranberry sauce. Roasted pork loin with a mango chutney and ham with pineapple were also available. There was a pasta station with made-to-order pasta and a pizza station for made-to-order pizzas. Candied yams and Italian chard stuffing and rice were nice sides. There were a couple salads and pasta salad, bread, and a  fresh local fruit salad. For dessert tres leche, flan and pumpkin pie. We all gorged and enjoyed talking for a couple hours. Gerd and Jeff used some "app" on their phones to figure out who the tugboat/barge we could see was. Toni and I wandered the grounds a little enjoying the views. We all had a very nice dinner. No leftovers in the fridge...but no dishes in the sink either! This Xmas will be our last and I'll go all out at home with turkey and everything else. Royal Isabela is on the Kruse "recommended" list.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Marbete "Insurance" and the Bumper Bump

This is a tale about almost escaping Puerto Rico without a car accident (mirror tapping doesn't count). Yes, 6 years of driving all over the island on little roads and bigger ones with erratic, mean, and oblivious drivers. It finally happened - the bumper bump. I normally am not in the car during the morning traffic when every one near a school blocks the road...when people have their free stuff appointments...when the 40% of the people who can and should work actually do (lowest labor participation rate of all countries). I was 10 minutes behind Jeff because we were dropping the Kia off to get the engine light checked out. I am on 112 right before it joins 2. There are 10 or so stopped cars in front of me - stopped at the stop light. BAM! The guy behind me apparently was texting or talking or both or had non functioning brakes or whatever and he just smacked into to me. He doesn't even get out of the car. I hopped out pissed off and stayed in the road blocking 20 cars behind us so he couldn't escape. He says "sorry" but my bumper is pushed in. "Sorry" doesn't cut it. He has a friend who can put a bumper on for me (stolen probably, just what I need). To his "sorry" I say "911." I call the cops and then Jeff who circles back. I take a photo of the bumper, his car license, his face etc. The cops actually show up in 15 minutes or so and pull out (you've seen it before)...a black and white composition notebook (like you used when you were 10) Same kind they use in the laboratories, at Walmart for forgotten goods, at MRI/Xray places. He gets my report, license, marbete, last four digits of the soc sec number, phone number etc. He gets the guy's info - none. He writes NO LIC in the book and then the guys supposed name (no ID), address, contact info. Typical. He tells me I have to have a 4 digit report code before I can go to the Asociacion de Suscripcion Conjunta del Seguro de Responsabilidad Obligatorio. The guy has to go too, but he can't because he has an appointment. The cop LETS HIM DRIVE AWAY without a license! I am just amazed. Why even have a license or ID if it doesn't matter? Apparently you can just drive around without one and without any ID hitting cars along the way without even a ticket.

We drop the car off and I drive Jeff to work. I do some shopping and go home figuring this is a lost cause or will be more trouble than it is worth. A couple hours later (after I get home) I get the call with the 4 digits I need. Now I have to drive back to the "adjuster" place to "make the appointment.". I time this with collecting Jeff and picking up the car which has to be collected before they close (4pm). How hard can it be to make an appointment? Well, making an appointment isn't getting a time. It is a whole other thing. You go into a holding corral and wait. Then you get called to a back room. Your appointment is someone dialing a number and putting you on the phone to give someone the VIN number, numbers off your marbete, phone numbers etc etc and the story. After 8 minutes or so on the phone you get a day and time to, you guessed it, come back. So why couldn't this be done on line or by the person who hands you the phone?

Now I have the appointment and I get the news that I also have to get an "estimada." Awesome! My appointment is for Friday and today is Wednesday and late in the day. Thursday I go to the guy who does my car inspections. I know he doesn't do it but he is always helpful. That is where I find out that there are really only two places I can go to get the estimate. I can't just go anywhere. He describes some place near a cemetary and gas station but I don't think I'll find it. Then he tells me about one on 111 near a certain ferreteria. That I can find. I find the ferreteria but not the place but I ask around and someone points to a grey carpa so off I go. All I have to do is point, the guy looks some stuff up and prints out (printer with tractor paper) my official estimate! I am done and it hasn't even been an hour! The estimate is for $1,490 dollars. Yikes. The truck is a 2000 with lots of miles on it and a rusted bed with bangs and evidence of mirror tapping.

The next day I go for my "cita" which turns out to be at a real time and I get the adjuster to look at it, print a bunch of stuff off the internet about the truck, records mileage etc then sends me to an English speaking person who tells me I am getting $608 due to depreciation and an extra $100  if I bring in paperwork for another appointment to show that the work has been done. I got the check THAT DAY because miracle of miracles the other guy actually did his part and went in. All in all this was fairly painless and my "windfall" has paid for 6 years of buying a marbete! Amazingly I did not encounter problems with Jeff being on the title. The marbete is the marbete - it insures the car not the driver or owner.

Here's a little more about that marbete. This is the most expensive insurance on the planet. The insurance is for $4000 and costs about $99. REAL insurance is $318 for $300,000 of coverage and towing. Marbete is like the Payday Loan of insurance. Puerto Rican's have 70% home ownership (higher than in the US) and they just don't get it about insurance. In my case this worked out but someone we know still hasn't had her accident resolved when someone smacked her car in San Juan. The guy was at fault and just hasn't gone in. It has been MONTHS. Plus the $4000 of coverage won't begin to cover the damage to her car so she is left in limbo while her REAL insurance dukes it out in an endless nightmare that will probably involve court and trips to San Juan eventually. So like everything else here it is a crap shoot. In my case though it went smoothly and didn't involve hours. I actually can say it was efficient - definitely a first! Word of Advice though - get REAL insurance especially if you own a house. There is so much room for fraud it is scary and if you are a gringo watch out!

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Puerto Rico has been a great adventure but we have decided it is not for us.  6 years has been enough and we are moving on from the Island of Enchantment to the Land of Enchantment for reasons too numerous to get into. So our lovely house is FOR SALE! If you have considered moving to Puerto Rico now is the time! Let me tell you about our house. When we moved from San German to Moca we had learned quite a bit about The Way Things Are. We had some basic requirements that were VERY difficult to full fill. We did not want direct neighbors. We wanted land with mature trees- we moved here to enjoy the fruit and exotic flowers and trees. We wanted views. We wanted somewhere inexpensive and breezy and as quiet as possible. Puerto Rico is NEVER quiet (or it is until it isn't) but we knew what to look for. We wanted to be close to what we do but still rural. We didn't want a Puerto Rico Shoebox, we wanted something clean and open with windows we could see out of and enjoy breezes from. This house is all that and more! 

The house is 8 minutes off of 111 via 125. You pop out at San Sebastian. 19 minutes gets you to the Aguadilla waterfront (diving and surfing and Crashboating). 25 minutes via 112 gets you to Honeywell/HP where the only jobs are and also to Jobos (surfing). 15 minutes gets you to the Isabella shopping center or in the other direction to San Sebastian shopping or Moca shopping and doctors and car stuff etc. 30 minutes and you are in cave country.
We have views out EVERY window on ALL sides. Views of magotes, Desecheo Island, valleys, sunrise and sunset. Because the house is on the top of a ridge we get the views and breezes or even wind around this time of year. It is an awesome house for weather watching since you can see storms all around before they ever get to you if they do. The house is open with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms upstairs with a living room, dining room, kitchen/breakfast bar. The refrigerator is 2 years old with a bottom freezer. Stove is electric and fully functional and the slot has a gas line if you want to change it. The cabinets are clean and modern. Unusual for here.

Downstairs originally was part of the marquesina (carport). There is a large TV room, a full bathroom and bedroom. There is still room for a car/workshop/toy storage as well as a covered carport attached if you want to use the toy area for a shop/storage. Out the screened sliders is the covered deck which looks out over the magotes and landscaped yard.

Downstairs bedroom fits a queen bed, couch and table and has loads of storage. This bathroom is the upstairs main bathroom.
The covered porch wraps around 3 sides for sunrise, sunset, and yard views. The umbrella shaped tree is a quenepa and that is the neighbor side. Both upstairs rooms fit a king bed and chairs/dressers. Both have lots of shelving/storage. Both have windows on two sides. There are no neighbors on 3 sides and it is doubtful there ever will be. We tried to buy the property directly next to us and came to an agreement with the neighbor but he doesn't legally own it. He couldn't sell it. The back of the barbed wired fenced part drops off probably 80 feet after our property (no neighbor potential). 1/3 of the property is chain link fenced and ready for a dog. I painted the house a year ago inside and out. We put on a Danosa roof which has a transferable warranty. There is a very large cistern with pump and back up pump. There is HOT WATER throughout the house (a luxury most houses don't have). If you know anyone interested route them to the blog and have them email me. It is a great house and if we were going to stay here this is about as good as it gets. It is also priced to sell at 170,000 with a substantial cash discount!!!  Someone is going to get a wonderful place to live with lots of fresh fruit all the time: quenepas, guayaba, guanabana, acerola, nispero, canistel, 20 avocado trees that fruit from May until December (still have 2 trees of fruit now). There are lots of guineos - red ones, manzanas, ninos and big ones. Lots of coconut, a fiberless mango, red corazones and pink corazones, cocoa, etc and lots of special trees and plants. Also a yellow and red flambouyant that bloom profusely and an Ylang ylang. I even have a covered area of raised benches for vegetable gardening. It is ready to live in and doesn't require any work. We haven't lived in high desert or desert of any kind but Jeff has traveled to the Albuquerque area for work many times and our hiking/biking adventures will be starting up soon! As always, you'll be able to read about our new adventures hopefully in the new year!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bi-Polar PR

Parque de Moca is a nice park off highway 111. I have started walking there as a change of pace and a way to combine a couple trips out and away from the house. I only see one or two people there ever and maybe it has something to do with the sign - a plant blocks it so you don't really know it is a park. This place is garbage ANYWHERE. No stray animals. No people sitting around hanging out. There is a soft track that is in the sun but a nice place to walk that is flat and good on the feet. When I get tired of that I do a figure 8 loop on cement that has an incline to it. This part is in the shade.

After the track and the loop I divert to this bench area of "hurdles" where I can get some up and down exercise stepping up and down and up and down. Then I can do the track and the loop and hit the stairs. They are evenly spaced and not slippery. Like I said, this park is very very clean.
There are a good number of shaded kiosks with benches that are in excellent condition scattered around the park with some near the creek, others up high and some near to the path. There are even BBQ pits and sinks but the water does not work.

Also in the park are basketball courts, a volleyball court, batting cages and something else behind a padlocked door.

There is even a fabulously clean swimming pool that is well maintained!!!! Another shocker is that the bathroom is not only open but has a trifecta...toilet paper (in one stall only), soap and running water.

So, all this sounds really great and for walking it is. The problem with the rest of it is that it is all CLOSED. I don't know and won't know what the deal is. I was just told I couldn't swim (been closed for 2 years). Yup, that's right, one of the few places in PR that is maintained and that pristine, clean look is because no one can use it. Bi-Polar PR. Either they have facilities people use that are left in disrepair or this one (a rare thing) that is immaculate and thought out but that no one can use. Another missed opportunity for kids - wouldn't it be nice if they could be active and swim or play volleyball instead of sitting on the guard rail or garbage heap, or out near the road poking on a device. Such a shame.