This sign says: It is time to have electricity. We are upset and have not seen work crews. The generator costs money and we are broke!
It is amazing how much better life feels with electricity and water. I will never take those basic services of modern life for granted again. We are only two people of about 65% of the island that currently has power however.
Another sign notifying the electric company of a house that still has no power
It is sort of strange how and where the power is distributed. For instance, our neighborhood was the first one in Puntas to get reconnected, and now, nearly a month later the nearest road to us still doesn’t have it. The patchwork connection is frustrating for those without. Just because you see your neighbor connected doesn’t mean you will be.
AEE is out there doing theirbest!
Still this doesn’t stop the Christmas spirit. Puerto Rico is well-known for the length and type of fun celebrating during the Navidad season. We have been enjoying spending time with friends and going to various events and get-togethers.
Chrstmas Party fun
Winter Solstice Party at Steps Beach
Enjoying nice nights out
And the Christmas Spirit of Puerto Rico
When we are not out celebrating, we have been working on the property. We have added some water tubing to irrigate the gardens more and have found more plants to add to the collection. Now that it isn’t raining very often, the work is a little easier because things aren’t growing quite as fast.
Tarantula in the gardens
Iguanas out en force!
short hike around the property for this beautiful tropical bouquet
Uprighting a coconut palm took quite some doing!
It feels that the more people who receive power, the more powerful and happy people are as well. The general sadness that we saw immediately after and for the first month or two has shifted over the hump to a general happiness. At least 65%. Christmas and holiday spirit has lifted even the lowest spirits some, but we are all still awaiting the full glory of island life once again. The clean-up continues, but overall things are looking more and more beautiful every day.
One of the piles of post-hurricane household rubbish
Men playing dominos in the Rincon plaza after Maria
It only takes ridding yourself of all you have had to appreciate once again. In other words, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. But when (and if) it comes back you will feel tremendous gratitude. Our water came back on last Saturday.
Woman guarding the generator that is powering the pump for water
We had seen the women sitting in camp chairs guarding the generators near the water pumps and anticipated it might come on any day. One day passed, two, three and we began to lose hope. Then we came back one evening after being out and about to an overflowing cistern. Our cup literally overfloweth.
We no longer have to fill up our trash can with water and bring it to our cistern!
Conversations often revolved around which utility would be better to have back on if we could only choose one and nearly all would agree: water. Humans (and most forms of life for that matter) have lived without electricity for most of time, but we have always needed water. Also, we can run about 10 hours of electricity to our whole house with our little generator using only about 2 gallons of gasoline. One the other hand 2 gallons of water, while cheaper only flushes a toilet or two.
Our hard-working little generator has made our life a lot easier!
With the arrival of water to our place there has been a slight (ok, major) shift for the better. We are more energized for everything especially now that the weather is a little cooler and less humid. In the collective consciousness there is a little more joy too. Most people now have water and some even have electricity.
Navidad Boricua is upon us!
But more than that it is the festive Christmas season! Musica navidena is already being played on the radios, karaoke bars and even roadside makeshift Spanish guitar drunken sing-a-longs in the dark.
Si, se puede! We can do this!
Additionally, more and more food can be found in the stores though we have still become accustomed to the can aisle and even boxed milk instead of fresh anything, not only because of the accessibility of these items in the stores, but because we can’t run our fridge very long.
Boxed milk for the win!
Bottled water is now available in the stores as well
The packages we received from friends and family (AKA some of you!) really helped to lift our spirits as well. What we haven’t been using, we have passed on to others in need like our friend Glen who is homeless and lives at the gazebos in the balneario. He recently ran out of bug spray and had a bout of sickness.
When we heard of others losing so much more than us, it also helped to put our situation in perspective. We know at least three people who have lost nearly everything -their house and all their belongings in the storm- and yet they still get up every day and even have a smile on their face, at least when we’ve talked to them. Our other friend Hector lost his entire house and had to live on the streets for a few days after Maria. I can only imagine how scary and devastating to his life that must be.
Our friend Hector with the remains of his house
There is still a little sadness that permeates every conversation. ‘How are you?’ is answered pretty much always with ‘bien mas o menos’ or ‘good, all things considered.’ Everything is couched in the fact that we all know we have been through something traumatic, but are pulling ourselves through it.
Hector with his destroyed house
Britton and I have been trying to enjoy the down time and re-energize ourselves. We have spent some fun moments with friends and are planning some projects around the property.
At the Castillo Serralles haunted house in Ponce
Now that we have water we can do some of those concrete projects that we have put off and clear more areas of the property. We are looking forward to planting more fruit trees and ornamentals.
Britton has been throwing logs while I clear through the vine mess
I have noticed that living in Puerto Rico really is somewhat enchanted. Strange, unexplainable and life shaking moments are interspersed with a peace, beauty and happiness that is hard to compare. Being in the Bermuda Triangle they say can do that. Radio frequencies shift ever so slightly and a Katy Perry song turns into a salsa song and back again. And so it is now on la isla del encanto: a slight shift for the better. This is not to say that it is easy; it is still super hard to do anything. It is like reading a book in a dream or trying to run a marathon in 3 foot deep mud. For instance, it has taken me three trips to different places for internet on two broken laptops just to write this simple post. But seguimos pa’lante, we keep going forward! It’s the only way.
When will the electricity come back on? The future is uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: playing dress up is fun!
With one of the hardworking people putting back together the power grid
Agua y luz. Water and electricity. When you move into a house, this is what makes it a house and not just a shed or storage area. We recently finished up the electricity installation including the fans and it really makes it feel like home when you can just turn on the lights at night, the fans when it gets hot, or turn on a little music.
Outdoor fans for the front deck
Britton also framed in the last bit of the wall and the bathroom loft area. We are in the home stretch!
Bedroom fan and framed wall
Rafters above the bathroom and closet
To install water at the cabin, Britton connected about 300 feet of 1/2 inch tubing, buried about half of it, crossed the property, affixed it beneath the sky bridge and then connected it to the cabin.
Waterline where it travels under the bridge
Waterline where it connects from the bridge to the cabin
Next up was internal copper water lines which Britton soldered. Thankfully we have plenty of leftover copper pipes that we reused from the old wooden house and so this was fairly inexpensive. Britton has also worked a little with copper piping before and so this went fast. There was one pipe rupture but Britton fixed it pretty quickly.
Bathroom plumbing and wiring are ready!
You could call this the house that Britton built. Almost everything he did himself or with one other helper. There has not been a moment when he was not working hands on. An amazing feat. It can take a little longer when it’s just you and you’re learning as you go, but he has been a champ. He’s done a great job!
We are now on to the next phase. The skin. Drywall should arrive this upcoming week and Britton and Waldemar will begin installation. It’s all coming together and really starting to feel like a house. I can’t wait to move in!
The cabin is coming together nicely. We have been chugging through some of the tasks that we can tackle on our own like the tar paper, hurricane clips, lag bolts, collar ties, the stairway and making new trails.
Cabin Currently with stairs and tar paper
We are always thinking and planning two or three steps out, however. We are trying to decide what to do for siding and windows and doors. But the big question that has been on our mind is should we go with solar energy or regular grid-tie energy.
When we first started building the cabin we thought solar was our only option since the cabin is so far from any road and tucked up in the jungle. Then we talked with the electrician who built our pedestal and moved the electricity from the old wood house to our cabana and he said he could do it. And all underground too! No unsightly wires hanging in the trees. So this gave us a second option. We have done some research online and visited some solar stores in Puerto Rico as well. But we are still having a hard time making a decision.
Britton checking out some solar panels in Puerto Rico
Each option has its pros and cons and they sort of cancel each other out.
Here are the pros for each option as we see them:
Pros for Regular Electric:
Cheaper to set up (at least half the cost)!
Can use as much electricity as needed without worry of running out
Easier to connect for expansion/building other things
Done by professional -one stop shopping and less hassle for us
Not as many parts to understand/fix if they break
No load on the roof for the panels
Aesthetics (no panels showing)
Pros for Solar:
Not dependent on the expensive energy of Puerto Rico which is currently around 30 cents KW -one of the highest costs in the U.S. and abroad
Make us more conscientious about energy usage if we only had so much
Off-grid living at its finest
Could be used in other applications as well
Never have to worry about power outages when everyone else loses power
We were actually just about set to do solar, but then we saw the price tag and how little energy it would actually generate. From Maximo Solar in Aguadilla we got a quote for about $6000 for 1.5 KW/day (assuming 5.5 hours of sunlight). This included pretty much everything including the batteries, inverter, panels, charge controller, and wires. But it did not include the mounting hardware or the battery rack and it did not include installation (which would mean a big learning curve for us).
The most energy efficient fridges use about 1 KW a day and all the other appliances (lights, fans, laptop, point-of-us water heaters, etc) would probably fall under the rest, but we would need to be very energy conscientious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but leaves little wiggle room for a long stint of cloudy days though Rincon is sunnier than many other places on the island. We found other systems online that are slightly less costly, but the shipping to Puerto Rico is outrageous (a rant for another day!).
We could all learn more from plants: the ultimate solar energy converters
So we are still sort of weighing the pros and cons and thought we’d put it out there to see if there were any other perspectives we were missing. One of our friends said to do whatever it takes to get solar in order to get out from under AEE’s (the Puerto Rico Electric Company) thumb. But we really haven’t had that much of a problem with them. It’s a tough call. Hmmm. What do you think?