Living Without a Car in Puerto Rico


Posted by Cassie

Can it be done? Can you live car free in Puerto Rico? This past week we had the opportunity to answer this very question. Not by choice, but by necessity.

Britton was going to go run a quick errand to the local agro near downtown Rincón when the truck broke down and wouldn’t start back up. He tried to find a part and fix it in the parking lot, but the nearest auto repair shop didn’t have the fuel pump in stock. So he left the truck there and commenced the long walk back to our house in the hills.

House and yard and sky
Back at la finca

He had left around 8am in the truck and I expected him to be back around 9am at the latest. By the time he came strolling through the gate he was covered in sweat and it was nearly noon.

It became immediately obvious in that moment and the next ones to come where our weaknesses and dependencies, and also our ingenuity and strengths were.

We have become very dependent on vehicle transportation for our every need and want. We use the truck to get a vast majority of our groceries at the grocery store, we take it to Mayaguez for items that we can’t find in Rincón and we even just take it down to the beach for yoga or a swim. In a sense, our truck has become our legs and without legs you start to feel immobile.

Another dependency was on the parts from “elsewhere” to ship to Puerto Rico. They make cars so specific now that each make and model has a unique part and all of these are made somewhere like China and have to be shipped in. So when the internet company somehow lost the product in-transit to Puerto Rico that left another major dependency. Where would we get this one unique part for our car that is rarely in-stock? Not to mention that this whole system-including the vehicle itself- runs on non-renewable fuel which we know is a limited supply. What would we do without fuel?

And then of course there is the dependency on money itself! What would we do without that?! (That’s a question for another day perhaps.)

Getting towed

 

Our strengths were that we have a great network of friends including our neighbors who after a few days helped tow the truck from the agro back to our place as well as friends who took me to the grocery store on day 7 of our carfree lifestyle and others who picked up a part for us in Mayaguez rather than Britton having to ride his bike there. It truly is important to have a strong social network and community wherever you go, and to make sure to help each other out!

Another strength was that we realized we really weren’t as tied to the truck as we thought. We walked down to Sandy Beach one morning to do a Stand Up Paddleboard yoga class as well as to a nearby convenience store/fruit stand and Britton rode his bike to a coffee shop.

Paddleboard yoga
Thanks to Cait at Sunburnt and Salty for this great class and our first time on a paddleboard!

And of course a big strength was that we could do this. We didn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to report to. If we had to go to work or drive somewhere every day it would have been much more difficult. Plus Britton has the mechanical and technical ability to trouble shoot and fix almost anything.

We also began to see the value in what we are creating on our farm. We really do have quite a bit of food. We had lots of scrambled egg breakfasts and egg and avocado sandwiches and tuna mixed with avocado sandwiches as well as passionfruit, coconut and sapodilla snacks. We also began to see the turkeys truly as a food source and not just amusing pets (though we haven’t yet made that transition). We did however get to the point, after a week of no driving (and therefore about 2 weeks of no major grocery trips), that we could just turn off the fridge. We began to fantasize about other non-system dependent transportation options, including even a horse and buggy!

Avocados eggs and coconut
Lots of eggs, avocados and coconuts!

Finally on day 8 without a vehicle Britton with the help of our friend Matt, managed to acquire and replace the fuel pump (this was a challenge in and of itself because they had to lift the truck bed and find something to prop it up with — in this case our cooler!)

Cooler prop
More than one use for a cooler! (Holding up the truck bed while Britton worked)

As we reflect on this car free period we definitely see how in the modern world, dependencies create more and more dependencies. For instance, people often have two vehicles just as a backup for their one or an expensive warranty and car loaner program from a dealership. This means you must spend more, have more insurance and more maintenance on both. All of the parts come from somewhere else and most people take it to a mechanic because vehicles (especially the newer ones) have become very complicated. And because nowadays most people don’t use their bodies for transportation (biking, walking, etc.) we get out of the habit of doing so, and therefore it creates a loop that makes us not want to do it.

Truck up
Disassembled it looks like a dump truck!

Britton and I had been talking about walking or biking to the beach (barely a mile away) since we moved here and it took us not having the choice to finally do it! It seems in many ways the convenience of things and the externalization of our problems (usually by just paying someone or using some device to solve them) has made us as people less connected, weaker and lazier as a whole.

So does this answer that question or just present more? I would say that if you are a modern person used to private vehicles that it would be very tough to live without a car in most of Puerto Rico. In the capital of San Juan it is probably very doable. For people who commute somewhere every day, it may take a little more reflection on the lifestyle you want (spent in traffic or in your local neighborhood) to make the changes necessary for a carfree life.  But even right here in Rincón we know some peoplewhose primary form of transport is a bicycle.

I am not sure we are ready to give up on vehicles altogether quite yet, but it was a good feeling to know that with just a little more preparation we could be just a tad bit more off the mainstream grid. And we are going to try and use the vehicle less in our day to day living. And to remember that it is a luxury, not a true necessity.

Playa Beach lunchAfter getting the truck running again we went out with some friends to lunch near the beach 

Beware of Carrasco: Puerto Rico’s Poison Ivy


Posted by Cassie

A friend of ours recently posted a warning similar to this title. Shortly thereafter, we were working in the area under our newly found avocado tree and we spotted the tell-tale leaves. They are holly-like lined with spikes. The plants can grow small or long and almost resemble a viney tree.

Plant

I was careful of handling it, but then a small amount touched my leg. I expected a painful burn like the stinging nettles we also have in the yard. But no, there was nothing at all. No sensation whatsoever. I was relieved. I had expected either a pokey burn or perhaps to swell up with hives as I do when I touch sunflower plants. So I thought perhaps I was one of the lucky ones that does not react to Urushiol, the plant oil in poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and Carrasco, this Puerto Rican poison ivy. We continued working without much thought again about the plant and cleared a nice sized area.

However, about two-three days later I started noticing rashes appearing in certain places, then more places. On my forehead, on my arms, on my hands, on my belly, on my back, all over my legs. I was covered in red welts. The next day they blistered up and then started oozing. They were super itchy and I sometimes just couldn’t help myself but to scratch them. I tried every ointment and remedy I could find. Hydrocortizone cream, anti-itch cream, turmeric, zinc oxide and cocoa butter.

Poison Ivy

Of these, the zinc oxide was probably the most effective but really, I just had to wait it out. After about a week, they had lost the inflammation and started to scab and heal. Working outside in the jungle is a lot of fun and hard physical work. It is difficult to want to wear a lot of clothing when it is 80-85 degrees and high humidity, but if you see this plant, beware! I certainly will be much more careful the next time I do! Thankfully, it is not widespread like some of the other jungle discomforts (like the biting ants).

Líneas de Agua


Posted by Britton

We decided that walking up the hill to fill the chicken and turkey water was becoming a bit too tedious.  Granted it is good exercise, it is kind of a pain.  Since it is a pain the turkeys and chickens sometimes let us know that they are out of water by following us around.  The whole flock.  It is kind of funny, but also can be a reminder that getting them water is a chore.  The distance from the cabana to the turkey coop is about a football field (down, then UP hill).

We figured that since we put the coops along the property line, we could also drop in a new PVC water line along the border.  This serves two purposes.  Easy to water the birds, but also the plants.

It is pretty dry in Rincón during the winter.  It is nice because the humidity drops as well as the temps just a few degrees.  It really does feel perfect out, but the plants and especially the new plants have to be watered.  We have been dragging around 150ft of hose to do the task, but since we have expanded our area of planting, we think it is time to expand our infrastructure.

Truck with pipe
Truck with Pipes

We are now clearing/planting almost to the end of the property line on one side, we are putting down lots of grass seed and we spend quite a bit of time “down below”.  The mower, the chainsaw all the gardening equipment is starting to live at the turkey coop for convenience.  Having a water tap will be perfect!

A nice thing about living in the tropics VS a temperate climate is that I don’t have to bury the water lines.  It makes finding and fixing leaks easier as well as installation.  There really is no need to bury the line.  Not that it makes laying 400 feet of pipe thru the jungle easy, but if I had to bury the pipe I would probably not be doing it!

Laying Pipe
Ducking Under the Mandarin Tree

We have installed the new system and I had to fix a few leaks due to hooking up to some old PVC that was dirty.  Lesson learned, sand/clean the old pipe before cementing.  I should have known because I have worked with copper pipe quite a bit, oh well.  If you want it done right, do it thrice!

Water Faucet
New Faucet On The Coop

This project cost ~$150 more or less.  We decided to do this because it actually made our lives easier.  We had thought about installing a rain catchment system but did the calculations and decided that for the amount of water we use, it was far cheaper to use the water system already setup and maintained by the city.  Plus we have a reserve built up in the lines to our house, so there would be little to no gain and more maintenance and cost.  When we build the main house, we may setup a rain catchment off the gutters/roof.

In either case we planted lots of grass seed, planted new trees, transplanted trees and watered the birds with ease today!

Cool Sights: Golden Basilica, Lightning Show and a Gecko with Chrysalis


Posted by Cassie

We have seen some interesting and strange sights lately, but they are all sort of random. So, rather than making a separate post for each one, I thought I would just share the photos of them in this post.

The first sight was of a golden domed building off in the distance as we were driving to the nursery in Cabo Rojo. I asked Britton to go off track and so we checked it out.

Basilica small

It turned out that it was called Basilica Menor: Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate in Homigueros, Puerto Rico. We climbed the numerous steps to the top and looked out over the city and beyond. It was a beautiful little detour.

Jesus Hormigueros

The next cool sight was an awesome lightning show over Aguadilla bay one  night. I probably snapped about 100 photos before getting the timing right for this one.

Lightning
Lightning show

And finally, we were walking around checking on all the plants when I noticed a big green worm on the underside of a papaya leaf. We fed it to a turkey who had fun running around with it like it was a football. Then we looked under some other leaves and saw this fluffy chrysalis. We weren’t the only one to be interested in it. One of our ever-present gecko friends was checking it out as well.

Gecko and crysalis small
Gecko lizard and Chrysalis