Gratitude. For so many things. We all go through trials and tribulations in life. It just seems to be the way of the world. And if we compare them to others we may see ours as better or worse. But there will always be someone or something better and always worse. Rather than compare, however, giving thanks seems to open our hearts rather than close them.
Working around the property
Two days before Thanksgiving we were mowing the field. This takes about five hours of work with both of us on a mower -dueling lawnmowers if you will. It was sweaty, hot work, but one of my more enjoyable chores on the homestead because it magically transforms a field into a golf-course looking resort. Just as we were resting on the bench admiring our work and giving thanks for water in our pipes to clean up and drink, our neighbor yells down “llego la luz!” The power was back!
Light at the cabin!
Britton had seen the trucks and crews of men descend upon our neighborhood a couple of days before but we didn’t have our hopes too high. But sure enough, when we returned to the cabin the lights, the fans, the fridge! (ahhh ice!) all worked once again. It was amazing the sense of calm and relief that washed over us. A feeling that after almost exactly 2 months without electricity and nearly the same without water, we were nearly through this whole ordeal. The final key will be when the internet is restored, but for now we are bathing in a sense of gratitude as well as water and illumination -literally.
At our friends’ house in Cruces checking out the blimp in the telescope
A wonderful Thanskgiving high atop the world!
We spent Thanksgiving with friends perched high in Cruces overlooking the Rincon peninsula and the patchwork of light throughout that the valley that indicated more or less where the electricity had or hadn’t been restored. And what a feast we had in spite of their lack of electricity and water. We are reminded why we love it here so, despite the constant daily challenges of life here as a stranger in a strange land.
With friends on Thanksgiving
Having fun playing music
We have friends like the Kersches who have taken us in and loved us as family. We are on a beautiful tropical island that even in times of crisis tiene una buena cara. We have friends and family near and far who care about us. The island is regaining its glory and magnificence just as the trees are sending out more leaves and the flowers bloom. Some areas have lost beach land and palms, but overall our gorgeous lush paradise is Eden once again.
The trees are growing back in strange ways including shooting out branches directly from the trunks
Marina Beach is empty but gorgeous!
Taking a break for a well-deserved swim!
Britton working on the concrete pad
Britton and I have been busy mainly working around the property. We have been clearing, cleaning and planting. We are also doing some small projects. We recently finished the concrete pad on the ridgeline side of the bridge that connects to the cabin. One of our many titles around here includes forest ranger and trail building is a key component in that function. Like the trees and the plants reinvigorating, so are we. And for this and much more we give thanks.
Turkey boy (as we call him) approves of the new pad
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
“Oh, no! I just peed in a fresh bowl of water and then flushed it! I am so sorry, Cassie! I haven’t done that in over a month, I can’t believe I did that!” Britton exclaimed.
This is just one of the surreal comments that make absolute sense in our current situation. We are now in this hurricane survival situation over 40 days. Over 40 days without water, electricity, internet, very little cell service, limited credit card acceptability or cash availability, or even food security. We are slowly adapting, but it has not been easy.
Ice: a great Maria-themed Halloween costume
Everything is about resources and the web of effects that spirals out from the lack of them. You cant buy gasoline without cash and cash is mainly available at banks and ATMs which are not often online. Ice is scarce unless you know someone or are willing to wait in line for an hour for one bag.
I am not sure why Coca-Cola is so popular right now, but it definitely is to the point of rationing it!
Working outside clearing trees or mowing means sweating. Sweating means needing water to rinse off and to drink. Getting water entails going down to the plaza or a local fresh water spring and filling a trash can and 5-gallon jugs with water that we then move into the cistern. It also means catching as much rain as possible.
Moving water by hand from one bucket to the cistern
Britton filling the jug at the literal watering hole -a natural spring by Pool Bar in Puntas
I have to wash everything by hand and a full hamper and sheets takes at least 20 gallons of our very precious water. But at least we have found these resources.
Washing clothes outside
The Red Cross was out of food boxes and water within about 30 minutes of showing up
Sometimes we get food that just shows up such as from the military or Red Cross. These are basically just boxes of junk food. I don’t have any idea how they can call a convenience store meat stick an “entree” but like the quote above, things are sort of surreal and crazy right now. I’ve eaten more junk food during this hurricane period than in the whole year I think.
The “entree” is a beef stick and the “starch” was saltine cracker snacks
There are signs of life, however. Many places are getting water The grocery stores are starting to get a little more fresh and perishable foods again, though I am still hesitant to trust the meat or dairy.
Late October in Econo
Since there is limited greens, we decided to grow our own
The one time we bought fresh milk, it was spoiled and came out in stinking clumps. We have therefore resorted to the boxed ultra pasteurized milk for our coffee and cereal in the morning.
Electricity is still probably a while away, but a great night was when the plaza in Rincon was relit. It was almost like lighting the Christmas tree in New York City. It felt strange to see lights in a sea of black darkness all around.
The night electricity arrived to Rincon
Like a scene in a zombie movie…emergency room out of service
Internet is still very hard to find since we don’t have smartphones. And even if we did, cell service is not exactly stable. We have found a few spots we like for internet like the Aguada Plaza, the Rincon Plaza especially Roots, and El Galeon in Aguada. Mail is still hard to get and even basic things like health care cannot be counted on.
Sunset at El Galeon where we found internet (and I am currently writing)
Without much screen time or other usual activities, we have resorted to old-school entertainment. Britton mentioned that a lot of this time feels like his youth. We play cards in the morning when we run the generator which powers the fridge, charges the laptop and other devices, runs the fans and plays some music. We dance around and with Halloween I had fun playing dress up and doing a spur-of-the-moment silly photoshoot using costumes from the box like a kid in the toy box. We have started planting seeds for fresh greens and day dreaming of projects when normal life is fully restored. We are getting a little crazy and sillier, but maybe more creative too with all this time on our hands.
Dressing as a hippie
Britton in a wig jamming out
Creativity comes alive when you’re bored and have nothing else to do but play
Art evoking emotion (or are we just going stir crazy?!) haha
Dolly Parton meets Dracula?
Britton, the wallflower
Pretty in pink
Llego la luz? No, just to some lamp posts
Halloween trick-or-treating in PR is only amongst people in the know…including from a car
Fun at Roots on Halloween
Halloween day was pretty fun. We visited some friends in Mayaguez and the light posts came on while the kids were trick-or-treating. I learned the Spanish Puerto Rico song for Halloween:
Dame dulce, no mani.
Trick-or-treat, Halloween, give me candy, not peanuts. But I think everyone would be far happier si llego la luz instead!
It was our the first time since we moved here that we went to the Halloween party at Tamboo since Shipwreak is undergoing repairs. It was the main/only party in town this year. I loved the hurricane-based costumes. It was a great chance to take a breather from the normal survival routine.
At Tamboo with the Gas Can girl!
Vikings, Voodoo and Grooviness
We have discussed leaving for a while, perhaps back to Colorado. We would be able to visit family and friends and spend the holidays there. But we are on the fence. It’s cold in Colorado this time of year and we don’t have our own place to decompress. I am not sure if the stress of travel and imposition on our families would make up for discomfort of living here without water and electricity, but in our own bed in a nice climate… This has been a test of wills, strength, mental health, and stamina to stick through it this far. Some say it may be a Christmas miracle if the electricity arrives by then….but…Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico is (slowly) rising up.
Flags are everywhere and the phrase Puerto Rico se levanta is on everyone’s lips
I have to admit that this has been a struggle and it still is. At first it’s exciting. You’re in the middle of it. There is a massive storm, you must react in the now. Then the next day there is the aftermath to deal with. Then there is the learning. Where are the resources? How am I going to survive? Is everyone alive?
Beef with Juices -yuck!
Now, though, we are just in it. No one is worried about us being alive anymore. Hurricane Maria is not in the news anymore. And so we are just here living without electricity and water for over 4 weeks now! And I am having a hard time. What is your breaking point? Is there any one point? Or is it a slow burn that drives you to the point of lunacy?
We don’t take hurricanes -and we reserve the right of admission
It’s not any one thing, but like dust accumulating on a surface, it starts to add up. I am not eating well because food is just not appetizing. Beef with juices and canned foods is great to survive, but terrible to thrive. GI Junk Food is about the worst of the worst!
I have a layer of grime on me that I just can’t wash off. Even my fingernails are dirty and all I want to do is wash my hair. And when I do, I am holding the hose handle outside under a royal palm tree trying to wash off the suds that I can. And don’t even ask about the bed sheets…Oh how I miss the washing machine! But worst of all I feel lost and purposeless because there is no way we can start any new projects without resources. How can you pour a concrete pad without water?!
A welcome break at the pool of a neighbor!
We work outside clearing trees and have some hope of beautiful days to come when we can plant tropical exotics, but it is hard to want to work in the hot sun when we are trying to use less than 5 gallons of water a day! I am constantly hot and find myself drawn to any body of water. I miss running the fans throughout the day. We are not even accustomed to air conditioning, but fans! Oh, fans! How I love and miss thee!
Upside down world
Military vehicles everywhere
We have some mobility now that gas is fairly available, but we don’t have many places to go. The grocery stores are nearly empty and even restaurants that are open have a menu limitado. All I want to eat is fresh food. A cold salad! The worst is probably the boredom. Without a TV or internet or anything to do, I begin to feel very depressed. Why am I just laying or sitting here sweating, I think. Even my laptop died so I can’t even edit videos!
Aguada sharing the Rincon Post Office
I try to console myself with the fact that we have it a lot better than many people. Most of our neighbors don’t even have a generator or cistern. I don’t know how they do it! Though we have more than many, our neighbors still share with us what they have. They bring us the military food and want to spend time with us. We feel loved and cared for down our little street.
Our first MRE meal
It is disheartening to see our enchanted island so ravaged. It feels like we are in a post-war scenario with all the military vehicles, soldiers and aircraft flying overhead. This has been a true test of wills. Of endurance. Can you handle this? I have had many a break-down; I am certainly not impermeable to the difficulties of this time.
Government Desalination of water
GI Junk Food includes Pringles, Pop-Tarts, Puddin’ cups and Chef Boyardee!
Some people my think that we are not living too far from where we were before. And it’s true. We live in the jungle, we don’t use a phone, we try to live off the land, etc, etc. But in reality this has shaken our world. Partly because there is the collective consciousness that is desperate for some semblance of normalcy. People try to have an “actitud positiva” – it’s something! “Algo es algo” as they say! But when you feel the weight of the situation, it becomes a little harder to bear.
But we’re doing ok. I am just wearing down. My emotions are closer to the surface. I cry a lot more easily. I try to be strong through this but sometimes I feel very weak and powerless. We still look for the small joys in life. Mini missions of pool parties, ice runs (a milagro if you can find it!), water refills at a local spring or the FEMA water station, and of course the constant quest or internet provide us with a welcome distraction from the destruction and the “waiting place” that we are in right now.
Having good friends help!
Some people have ask how they can help. The Red Cross is present and a few businesses like the Rincon Beer Company have become non-profits. If you want to send us a care package or would like us to forward something to a group, you can reach us at: PO Box 609, Rincon, Puerto Rico 00677. Even words of encouragement would help to lift our spirits.
What do we need? Well, we will survive in any case, but some things that might be helpful through this time include anything that you can think of for extended camping conditions:
-light sources like flashlights and lanterns and their batteries
-anything crank powered
-fans -crank/wind-up and/or battery powered
-non-powered games and toys
-TV shows/movies/music/books/coloring books/etc
-food -healthy food that can last!!!!!!
-floaties/fun stuff for the sea/pool
-solar powered anything
Thanks for thinking of us. We’ll get through this. It’s just been a rough go.