Monday, September 30, 2013

Mysteries Solved

When you first arrive in Puerto Rico (and really for all the time you are here after your arrival) you will see things that you have never seen and just can't figure out. 

FOAM - One of the things we saw over and over in our San German neighborhood was a piece of really thick foam haphazardly lying across car hoods or across car windshields. It seemed really bizarre that people would have that kind of garbage lying around and it didn't make sense that you would store it on your car where it could get black and moldy in the rain. Then mango season rolled around and we figured it out. After driving and having mangoes drop out of the sky denting the car hood and bouncing into the road we got it - foam is protection from mangoes that can break your windshield. Of course not parking under the mango tree would work too but hey, you can find free dirty foam alongside any road and park the car where you want.
GRASS - When we would drive up to Aguadilla to go diving we always saw old guys on the side of the road chopping grass with machetes or driving around with grass overflowing out of car trunks, passenger seats or trucks. Apparently it is cheaper ("better for you") to spend 10 bucks in gas to drive and get free grass for you horse instead of buying more nutritious hay.

CHURCH -When we first tried to find dive sites people kept telling us to "turn at the Church" to find the Rincon Wall. We drove up and down the road I don't know how many times looking for an Iglesia only to discover it was Church's Chicken they were talking about! All directions are near the "bridge," "mango tree" or so and so's house that isn't there any more.

BURLAP SACKS IN THE JUNGLE - When we started caving (and later we started noticing this on the side of country roads) we would run across people in the jungle, or emerging onto the road FROM the jungle holding really big, body-size burlap sacks. Honestly it was kind of scary and we didn't want to ask what was in there and tried to steer clear of the whacko out doing who-knows-what with his sack of who-knows what. Later we figured out it is just people out digging malenga or name or collecting other fruits or roots from the jungle.

FOAM AND PLASTIC CUPS/PLATES/UTENSILS - It used to piss me off to pay 30 bucks for a fish dinner in Joyuda or 12 bucks at Martin's BBQ or any amount really and have food put on disposable crap. It really irritated me when I found a vegetarian restaurant (don't get excited) that has reasonable food (still cafeteria style though) and serves it on foam. Somehow I think if you are vegetarian you kind of value more ecological things. I asked the owner why she doesn't use real plates and she told me "people stole them." Yup, they walk out with the plates. We hear this a lot though as an excuse for no toilet paper, no paper towels etc. If it is the truth it is pretty darned sad. I think they probably don't have water to wash things but it could be true.

MIMING - A favorite thing is when you see grown people inside their cars with their hands on the glass moving them upward. This entertaining "miming" is just a way to get the window up since a lot of things just don't work the way they should here! Still makes me chuckle every time!

PLASTIC WHERE CAR WINDOWS SHOULD BE - Everywhere there are cars with plastic stretched taut where a window should be. Everywhere. The same cars for months it seems driving around like that. We thought people couldn't afford to replace the glass and that was the problem but no, in most cases it isn't. When someone broke into our car and smashed out the passenger window we went to have it fixed. It was over a month that we drove around with plastic while we waited for the monkey who was using our new window as a raft to make it to shore. Apparently though he knocked the 15 cent clips off the raft when he paddled!

CAR AND VAN DOORS TIED OR WIRED OPEN - This one threw me for a loop until I followed one one day. The guys driving around were stopping to read water meters! The guy on the door-wired-open side could pop out and read the meter and pop back in.

GUARD RAIL SITTING- There was a guy we thought was a road gnome until we saw him move one day. At certain places you will see people consistently sitting on the guard rail or, the more innovative ones, in a chair near the road. They will sit out there for HOURS. What we have figured out is that they have no cell reception in their house and have to sit outside to chat for hours on the phone.

STICKS IN ROAD - Everywhere you go there are sticks or twigs in the road and sometimes garbage cans or junk metal rods and all seem to have streamers, or sacks, or balloons on them. Usually they have holes around them that are bigger each day you pass them. Sometimes the sticks move out more into the road until they are in the middle. This is because there is a leaky or broken water line. The water company takes 7 or more days to "fix" it but doesn't fix the road over it so in a day it is usually broken again. Sometimes neighbors will dump dirt over which doesn't last. But good news- since water loss is over 60% the water company has vowed to fix fountains in 2 days AND to fix the road above them. Let's see how that goes.

DRESSED UP PEOPLE WALKING IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH UMBRELLAS - You get used to people wandering the small roads with plastic bags. Sometimes you don't know where the hell they came from but now we know it is probably a "colmado" in a nearby house and they are getting bread or canned things. If the people are dressed up though, they are spreading Gods good word after yelling and tapping their fingernails on the gate to get you out of the house.
WHITE VANS FULL OF PEOPLE AT NIGHT - White vans cruise around neighborhoods collecting people to bring them to church. You will see the same vans a few hours later bringing them back.

AVOCADO CAGE - My favorite guy at the San Sebastian market puts a lot of stuff into prison. He has plenty of cheaper things on top of the cage and one day I asked him what was so special about the prisoners. He told me that he counted how many people touched a single avocado he placed on top. In a couple hours over 129 people had touched or squeezed the avocado and not bought it. The no-touch avocados have no bruises and he guarantees them!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cueva Corriendo y Otros

We haven't been caving since June for a few reasons:  our best caving buddy (Tom) had some surgery, it is the wet season and caves are full of water, no one else seems to want to respond to emails and go. We were excited when Tom was up to visiting a few smaller, easier caves. We first went to a previous show cave (Camuy) that was dismantled ( which means people have stolen all of the useful metal and materials out of it). You could drive to its mouth and see the other side. There was a skeleton dog in it (a starving dog) and I didn't want to look around much. When we finished that one we drove a small ways over near Cueva Cerdo Infierno (Hog Hell) - a cave we have fond memories of! We parked and walked in a dry river bed full of trash. Some neighbors told us the water goes up fast and you could see the "ghost trees" which are trees covered in white trash bags the water has sent screaming down the river bed. The mission was to map this small cave and send me up a "Katrina Hole" to see where it entered the main part of the Infierno system. A Katrina Hole used to be a hole no one else can fit in and now has become anything every one else doesn't want to go in. I am usually up for it since squeezing and low spots are my specialty! I am the station finder, Jeff the data taker and Tom the recorder. Monica was also along. I trotted ahead and climbed up this little 7 foot wall (second photo) and up into the muddy stand-up in part. I figured out the first and second stations and waited for them to shoot the measurements. As I was waiting I could hear what sounded like someone hitting a pipe far away. I mentioned it but the guys were oblivious or couldn't hear it from where they were. It was a strange sound.

After the second shot I went through a really muddy spot to a low area with water and dams in it. This was a tricky spot to figure out the correct station - line of site was hard because of elevation changes and obstacles. I didn't want to get wet yet so I made my way around and figured it out. Then I ended up looking at a big pool of water. The next station would require going into this low air space water filled spot and it has been raining every afternoon. The "Katrina Hole" was somewhere ahead and water from the main cave would be dripping out of it. Then Tom says he doesn't remember these pools. He doesn't remember water being here. I make a decision to skip this until another time. We have had some exciting times in the "Hell System" and I wanted to save it for a drier time.

We start heading out and I see some "fossils" that turn out to be parts of a plastic cup embedded in the cave walls. I am pretty close to that 7 foot wall and can see the entrance. Then we start to feel a weird vibration and start hearing a strange rumbling and I hear a loud yell - "RUN!" I get out and all of a sudden Jeff and Tom are right next to me (last I saw of Jeff was when I grabbed the rope when he handed it down from the wall). Tom hadn't even made it to the wall yet but here he was. He was so fast I think he left his hip behind!

So what happened? More importantly what DIDN'T happen was we didn't get in the way of a wall of roaring water coming out of the cave. Tom heard the rumbling and felt the vibrations and, having been in a situation that felt like this before, thought the cave was filling with water and that we had to run like deer in front of headlights to get out fast. Luckily it was only THUNDER, but you don't know what it is when you are in there.I am still very glad I did not go further into the cave since all the remnants of garbage in the walls and ceiling are proof that a real scenario could be water gushing out the entrance. We KNOW there is a lot of water in the system - Hog Hell, Ponor 3 and Ponor 2 have waterfalls and swimming parts and very large passage that go on for hours. I don't want to be in a cave and have water not be there one moment and be gushing out holes in the ceiling and walls the next.  No thanks. So we make it out and then walk back trying to stay out of the stream bed which the neighbors have said rises very quickly.

We are on to the next cave. We stop by a guys house who on a different adventure gave us a ride back to our cars when we came out of a cave not near where we went in. This new cave was behind his house and we would enter it around the other side of the magote. Again, the warning of water gushing out cave entrances. We walk for a while and pass by this pipe and bucket with screen on it - someone's water supply. I wonder how they can throw garbage in the river and then think their water will be clean. Where do they think it goes? This cave was also a show cave that has been left to rot. There were rotten/scary stairs in it but the cave itself really would have been a great show cave if there had been some vision and maintenance.

The cave was pretty large with some nice formations and some little interesting spots. It would have been a good show cave for the more physically able. We climbed around and there was a nice bat population. Then we arrived at the other side of the magote, could look out at the guys land and could, with some rope, exit there if we felt like climbing. Instead we went back through since it always looks different from another direction and exited to the sound of dove hunters blasting off shotguns. We made it to the cars as it started to rain and got home at a reasonable hour. All in all a good day and very nice to see Tom out and about, even though his super-powers are knocked down a notch for now. We can keep up!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Rican" Roulette

It's time for a new game we'll call "Rican" Roulette. You can play this game unexpectedly at a moments notice and can play it with other people or play it alone. It can ONLY be played in Puerto Rico. Spin the wheel and see where the little ball lands...
-THE BANK. Doesn't matter which bank. All you have to do is write a check (in this case to a roofing company). The recipients will call you because the bank won't cash it. Why? An "irregular" signature. Upon going to the bank it is because when you set up the account years ago they xeroxed only the top half of your signature for "the proof." Or maybe next time they will cash it. Depends on where the little ball lands.
-THE COLLECTORIA. Just try finding it. That's right, spin the wheel and drive around. You need and get a police escort to the unmarked, grafittied and abandoned building inside the unmarked gates. Here there is no line and they take cash only.
-DOCTOR'S OFFICE. You win if you can find it since there is no sign, no hours, no parking. Inside the dingy building (no it isn't a secret and illegal abortion clinic) there is a doctor or at least there will be when he gets there. You "win" if he shows up.
-STORES. Unknown hours and days they are open or closed. You win if you hit it right, the padlock is off and the lights are on and they decide to acknowledge you.
-FOOD WAREHOUSE AKA AREA 51. This is like a true game show. If you can find it you enter through the car wash -like hoola plastic, gather up things in your own bag, take them to the counter and have them add up the mystery prices. Yup. No prices or way to weight things. What a surprise.
-CHEESECAKE SHOPPE. Spin the wheel and see what there is to eat. Oh, they have food? Yes they do but no menus or prices. 7 tables and one chair for everyone to sit on together as they wait (or you can stand in the dirt parking lot or wait in your own car). They also MIGHT have one of the 50 beers they claim to have. Just won't be the one you want. They HAD one of each apparently. Spin the wheel is it your lucky day?
-REPAIRS. Yah, they want to help you. That's why the Claro guy visits your house without a new box to replace the bad one. Or maybe he had only one and gave it to the customer before you. Who started playing today's game first?
-PRESCRIPTIONS. Spin the wheel. Walmart? Walgreens? Mom and pop pharmacy? Your prescription says 30 but you may get home and discover you paid for 30 and got 1. You are supposed to know you have to go back whenever they get the rest. Spin again and maybe they will have the dosage you got before...or maybe they will claim they don't have that any more.
-FOOD. 5 people order pizza. "Do you have mushrooms?" "Si." "Do you have olives?""Si." When the pizza comes (if it does) it doesn't have either olives or mushrooms because they don't have them. Instead, you get what they have. Oh, and statistically only 2 of the 5 people will get a correct order or anything at all.

If you play enough you are bound to "win" but your chances are as good as buying a roadside lottery ticket!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cats and Flowers..What More Do You Want?

After a little rain I went in the yard and discovered a nasty smell and found that all my cactus-like fly trapper plant packets were popping open. The packets are really cool looking and remind me of the little packet of goodness I ate while visiting St. Maartin - a packet that was phyllo dough filled with nuts and melted cheese and some fig or something. Yummy. These packets however don't have the same pleasant aroma but look like little presents in the yard and remind me also of sea stars. Also I noticed my pathetic little "stick" had a gigantic bigger-than-the plant flower on it! This is a special type of hibiscus that is a pretty deep red/black. It will be spectacular when there is a whole bush covered in these flowers.

It is also the time of year the white ginger blooms and sends its heady scent into the air where it just hangs in the humidity. It is lovely. In front of the house, where there were two little flat grass patches I planted a bunch of butterfly attracting flowers that do their job really well. Hummingbirds also are drawn to the front to what I've planted and also to the Manjack tree which is the best tree ever for birds and bees and butterflies. The lantana blooms always, especially if you give it frequent haircuts. Orchids are popping and gingers are winding down. The hanging heliconias are starting to fade but are still impressive too.
All the cats are doing now is napping since it is the nasty, sticky hot time of year with air so still it suffocates.
Jackie and the others all think that if their butt is hidden no one can see them. Tuca and Chicken look like conjoined twins or like they are doing patty-cakes in their sleep! All of them love to roll in the gravel when they aren't lounging.

With all the Sahara dust and clouds there have been spectacular sunsets. This house in particular has got fabulous views in every direction from inside and on the porch and deck. Sunrise, storms and in this case sunset. Lots of colors that just don't seem real.