Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

Dominican Yolas


Posted by Cassie

An interesting part of living in Puerto Rico is that we are front and center of Caribbean geopolitics. A recent case in point was when we came upon a yola near Sandy Beach in Rincón. A yola is a small boat usually from the Dominican Republic that is used primarily to transport fleeing people who immigrate (illegally) to Puerto Rico and then potentially to the mainland US. Sometimes they are Haitians who have fled to DR and then from DR they come to PR. It is sort of a follow-the-money game where people leave the poorer country for the richer; much as many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island to the US proper for better job opportunities.

IMG_1032
With a yola on the beach

These are fairly common sights, but this was the first time I saw one recently vacated. There was still clothing strewn about and the remnants of a small fire, probably the people who were waiting for them to arrive. They paint the boat blue and throw a blue tarp over top in order to blend in with the ocean and not be spotted. Sometimes people come over without any plan at all and just run through the jungle looking for water to drink and clothing to wear.

puerto-rico, Dominican Republic
Eastern DR to West PR is less than 100 miles, but through pretty rough seas

I can only imagine the feeling of desperation there must be for someone to make the decision to leave everything they know and take a treacherous 2-3 day journey on a boat like this with nothing certain awaiting them! It reminded me of when we saw the stranded people out on Desecheo that didn’t quite make it to Rincón.

Yola cut
The motor was removed shortly after arriving and the side of the boat was cut (by police presumably) so that it would be harder to re-use

This was a successful journey for these Dominicans. It’s not always the case that all of them end up alive at the end of the trip.

Puerto Ricans call the whole country of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo, not just the capital. And in terms of relations of Puerto Ricans with people from Santo Domingo, there is a tolerance, but also a sort of feeling of superiority due to the citizenship status and also wealth. While Puerto Rico is not rich by US standards, in comparison to a poor undocumented yola newcomer, any Boricua has it far better by most measures.

Here is a short video about the yola that washed up on shore.

 

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Preparing for Irma


Posted by Cassie

Cool clouds
Your normally scheduled daily beauty is about to be interrupted

We have an uninvited guest named Irma who is scheduled to arrive sometime tomorrow (Wednesday September 6, 2017). She is a Category 5 hurricane, the largest that Puerto Rico and the Atlantic has ever faced. We may see wind speeds of 175 mph along with torrential rains. It is such a weird thing to know that this horrendous monster is slowly progressing right toward us and yet it is so calm and beautiful all around us.

Calm
There’s an eerie calm before the storm

But because we all know something big is coming (just what is the question) there is an obvious nervousness, excitement and feeling of impending doom in the air. People are more polite. They are not running as many red lights as usual and they are also not as talkative.

Impacto de Irma
Get ready, get set, here she comes!

It is time to get ready. Get ready not only for the storm, but also for its aftermath which could potentially be very devastating to the infrastructure leaving us and millions others without water, electricity, phone or internet among other things. So what do you do? Here in Puerto Rico most people (including us) have water cisterns and a generator for reasons just like this.

Gas rush
Two days ago people filling up vehicles and cans of gas

Filling gas cans
It’s hard to do most anything nowadays without electricity so gasoline is a must

No water
Water means life! At Selectos in Aguada it is nearly all gone

We filled up at the gas station and then went to the grocery store for more bottled water, coffee, toilet paper, flashlights, candles and a few other things. However, the grocery store was clean out of most water.

No hay gasolina
No hay gasolina means there is no gas!

So we went back to the gas station where less than hour before I had seen a display of gallons of water. When we got there not only were the water gallons gone, but they also had run out of gas! We bought a few expensive bottles of designer water and then went to work on some of the more important things around our house like setting up the water cistern. We’ve had this tank now for some time, but haven’t needed to use it. Well, now is the time I suppose. This water won’t be for drinking (unless things get really dire), but rather to wash with and water the animals if they don’t get taken along with their coops like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. We are going to enclose them for the duration of the storm, but who knows if the coops or our shed will be able to withstand it.

Tank
Britton filled up the tank  and made an access spout for it

We also stopped at the bank to get some cash out because who knows how long that system could be down as well! While we were there, they were preparing the building by putting on the metal storm guards over the glass windows. Most people have Miami shutter windows, but any true glass windows should be covered.

Cash and cover
Banco Popular in Rincón

Huracan Kit
This meme is meant to be funny, but also accurate

Cabin today
Let’s hope that on Thursday our pretty cabin is still here!

Besides the terror of the storm itself, the inconvenience of the days, weeks or months we may be without basic services, Britton and I are also nervous for our recently built cabin! We have put a lot of our heart and soul into it and we are so scared that it could just be ripped right out of the earth like a tree. It is well-built and in a valley that has good air flow but gets no direct wind, not even a gust.  We’ve closed everything up and taken what we needed with us to the concrete cabana where it’s breezier, but huff and puff and you probably won’t blow it down. So, now it’s just a matter of waiting and trying not to freak out.

Wish us luck. It may be a while before we can post again, but I will do my best as soon as possible.

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Do You Need Air Conditioning in the Tropics?


Posted by Cassie

Do you need air conditioning in the tropics (particularly in Puerto Rico)?

This is a question that is perhaps best answered by you, but in my opinion, the answer is no. Even though it can get pretty hot and humid in the summers of the tropics, here’s why I say no.

heart in lights
We all love electricity, but it’s pretty expensive!

1) It’s really expensive. In most areas that are tropical including here in Puerto Rico, electricity is very expensive. Electricity here costs about double what it does where we were from in Colorado, but because we don’t use much here our electricity bills are actually less. The two big items that pull the most electricity and therefore increase your bill are air conditioners and electric dryers (and swimming pool pumps, but that’s a whole other demographic). Even the most efficient air conditioners such as an inverter that can cover maybe 1000 sq ft will increase your bill from a base of $20 (what we currently pay) to about $100/month. And if you jump into another rate tier it can be even more.

electricity bill
Our last month’s bill without air conditioning

2) It is hard on the environment.
When a lot of people are pulling electricity to run something like the luxury of air conditioning it uses a lot more resources. In the case of electricity in Puerto Rico and most places really, it is still mainly powered by non-renewable resources such as old dirty coal and oil products. The less people use in general the better it is for the environment because less has to be mined, processed, shipped, etc.

3) It’s hard on the infrastructure. Here in Puerto Rico the electrical infrastructure is a bit outdated and with calls for cuts in the budget it is unlikely to get upgraded any time soon. Locally, in Rincón there is one barrio called Puntas which is very popular and probably the richest neighborhood. It is the only barrio in Rincón within walking distance to the best surf breaks and so it became a gringo haven and more gentrified than some other areas of Rincón. The houses cost the most and there are probably more houses with 3000 + square feet, swimming pools, multiple units and multiple air conditioners than elsewhere. This also means it pulls WAY more power from everyone else to run those pools, A/C units, dryers, etc. We can almost guarantee a local or widespread power outage on popular tourist weekends when everyone is using these resources because the infrastructure can’t handle this type of load.

4) You never acclimate. Before deciding if you ”need” air conditioning you should live here for a full year. When we would visit the tropics in the winter coming from Colorado where it was negative 20 degrees we would step off the plane and just be amazed at how hot it was! It could be a 100 degree change! Now in the winter we are both under the covers at night because it can dip down to a chilly 72 degrees (it’s funny but true!). If we had rushed out to install air conditioning right away we would have never allowed our bodies to acclimate to this tropical environment. Now when I go into the Econo grocery store or the movie theatres where they blast the AC to the max I am freezing and have to either bring a jacket or go outside to warm up. I think our bodies acclimated in a different way as well because I have lost over 30 pounds living here without trying (here’s how)! It doesn’t make sense to carry that much extra weight and heat if it’s hot.

5) It’s another thing you have to maintain. Things break. Everywhere. But in the tropics the rate of entropy seems to be much more rapid. Things just break and break down faster here and then have to be either fixed or replaced. If you don’t have it, you don’t have to worry about it!

Tres Palmas Day
There’s nice warm weather year round! So enjoy it!

How to avoid roasting in the tropics without air conditioning

In Colorado we did have a fuel-efficient air conditioner that we ran for about 2 months out of the year and kept at about 80 degrees to take the edge off. This was because it would get up to 100 degrees in the summer and our house had a wall of west-facing windows that heated it up like crazy. Some people here in Puerto Rico have houses or live in apartments or condos that are devoid of all trees and get hit with that full afternoon sun and because they are concrete boxes they just heat right up like a cooking stone. To avoid the negative consequences discussed above it’s important to look for a place to live that will be conducive to living without air conditioning. These include:

Cool tree cassie

Shade and Trees/vegetation. Do not underestimate the power of shade. Shade from any source will do, but shade from a large tree will give you the added benefit of the cooling water respiration effect. Shade can drop the temperature by 10-30 degrees. When you are surrounded by vegetation such as a small yard this will help as well because the heat from asphalt and other concrete building radiates. I think I read somewhere that San Juan is about 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the island due to the roads, buildings and the density of people.

Wall Ceiling and Fan in Cabin
We built our cabin with high ceilings and lots of airflow because we knew we wouldn’t install A/C

High ceiling with ventilation. Heat rises, so a high ceiling that is ventilated with windows or vents will help keep the air flowing and the hot air away from you.

Breeze. Look for a place with a natural sea breeze or trade winds. If it’s too high up it may get a little too windy, but often places on hill tops tend to be a bit breezier than lower. This also keeps the mosquitos away a bit more.

Britton and beer
To stay cool, drink lots of cold fluids!

Fans. In the middle of the summer we have our ceiling fans running as well as a box fan. Moving air makes a huge difference.

Cold showers. We also take more cold (70-75 degree) showers in the summer. Then we stand in front of or lay under a fan for the double effect.

More time at the beach/pools. You don’t have to be a genius to know that spending time immersed in water will cool you down even if the water here never gets too cold.

A/C luxury time. When all else fails and you are just hot and cranky, go see a movie or do your grocery shopping in the middle of the hot afternoon. You are sure to cool down using someone else’s air conditioning.

cassie-hammock
Hang out and relax in the shade

I am not completely opposed to air conditioning, but it does seem to be a luxury that people over-use and think of as a necessity when it clearly is not especially when considering the above factors. Once you’ve been acclimated to the tropics I would say it only gets “too hot” for about 2 hours in the afternoons of the summer. During those hours, take a siesta, drink an icy cold beverage, take a dip in the sea or rest under a shady tree in a breezy spot. That’s how humans have handled heat for most of human-time and also how the majority of people in Puerto Rico (including us) still live.

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We Are Extras in a Puerto Rican Sci-Fi Movie!


Posted by Cassie

Life is so fun and random if you let it take you down the strange twists and turns the river has in store for you. The fame and fortune just doesn’t stop around here (haha)! I really enjoy all things art and “Hollywood” from music to modeling to acting to directing to making videos, whatever! So when I heard that a film was looking for people, I immediately sent in my info and a couple of photos. A month later I still hadn’t heard anything.

Cassie Britton movie
As extras in a Puerto Rican Sci-Fi movie!

Then on a Sunday I was sent a message asking if I was available to work on Tuesday and Wednesday. I said yes, but please send the info (where, when, etc) as soon as possible. I didn’t get any info until Monday night at about 7pm and found out that it was in Carolina (San Juan area) and I would need to be there at 6am (less than 11 hours from then) and bring a specific wardrobe. I felt like I was on my own mission impossible movie.

I nearly cancelled because I told my contact that I didn’t think I could make the trip back and forth 2 days in a row driving from Rincón 3 hours away. She mentioned that I would get paid $100/day and I said that I would be driving with Britton. She then offered Britton to come along also as an extra as long as they liked his pictures in order to help cover the costs of us staying in a hotel in San Juan. Though Britton didn’t have the specific wardrobe, we thought we would give it a shot. It was also very hard to have to wake up at 2am and drive somewhere we’d never been.

Dining
Dining area. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided to all involved including extras

When we finally arrived and found our way to the office-building/warehouse turned studio, we were ushered into the dining area where we filled out our paperwork including our Puerto Rican drivers’ licenses that were required to work. Then we headed to wardrobe where it turned out it didn’t really matter what clothes we brought because they ended up switching us out of them multiple times.

Wardrobe
At the Wardrobe trailer

Cassie movie trailer small
My costume for the film: a “gatekeeper” between alternative realities

Britton Prisoner
Britton’s first costume was as prisoner, then they changed their mind and made him maintenance man gatekeeper

The majority of the day was spent waiting with the rest of the extras in a room they called “holding.” It was pretty cool getting to know all the different characters. There was one woman from Italy who was also an opera singer. There was a guy who did promotions dressed as Captain Morgan. There was a guy who had written and directed his own films. There were college students and retired people. And nearly all spoke primarily in Spanish which was a challenge for Britton especially when he and I were separated. He had to use his favorite phrase when asked if he knew Spanish: Estoy aprendiendo (I’m learning). And he certainly keeps learning with immersion experiences like these.

Holding room
Extras in “holding”

The director definitely has some pull when it comes to extras as he could put us in roles that were more or less in the front of the frame. Britton mostly was in the background moving ladders and fixing flux capacitors. I was an office worker and wandered around the incident command center and down hallways with my prop tablet. Some extras actually got seats in the command center or talked (silently in the background) with the “jefe.” We had to do multiple cuts of the same thing. There were lots of calls to return to “primera posición,” “corre cámara” and “¡silencio!”

Cassie on set small
Just off the command center preparing to walk on set

Bruno and Cassie
Me and the director, Bruno Irizarry, who has been involved in movies such as The Rum Diary and 200 Cartas

When the first day finished up around 7pm, we asked some of the crew where we could find a hotel nearby. We didn’t want to spend much and we didn’t want to drive to Isla Verde or Condado since we weren’t making much and we had to be up and back at the studio by 5:30am the next morning. We were so tired after only getting about 3 hours of sleep the night before and working for 12 hours that we just wanted something upon which to lay our weary heads.

They suggested a place just down the road. And we found it easily. It had big red kissy lips on the sign and was down a long private drive lined with palm trees. But when we tried to check in at about 8pm we were told it was only for 8 hours at a time and that there was only very basic amenities. We thought that was a little odd, but went and ate dinner and returned around 9:30pm. It was very cheap at $30 for 8 hours which included tax, but when we entered and closed the garage door behind us, we felt like we stepped into a different movie: Grand Theft Auto perhaps?

Cassie Swing
Our room came complete with sex swing and instructions on the wall as well as a stripper pole

There was a sex swing, a stripper pole, purple and pink lights, a mirror above the bed, about 5 channels of porn and a kitchen squirt gun in the bathroom that I presume acts as a bidet. There was a lot of noise all throughout the night with people coming and going and listening to loud music, but the room at least was clean and I was so tired I slept through most of it. I think we were in fact the only couple not using this motel for what it was intended! These sex motels are apparently a very common thing here in Puerto Rico, and something that doesn’t exist in Colorado (at least not that I know of?)!

Sitting and waiting
Waiting…

None-the-less we got through the night for cheap and headed back to the studio for another looong day of mostly waiting around for them to call us. There is only so much you can do while waiting, especially if you don’t have a smart phone. So I doodled and did yoga and we wandered around a little bit until we would get in trouble and herded back to holding.

Still waiting
Still waiting…

Cassie other set
Another part of the building was used for another sci-fi movie

Cassie Stephanie
Having fun and making eyes with new friend, Estefanie

Overall it was a great experience and we made some wonderful new friends! I would definitely be an extra in a movie again, but maybe a little closer to the west coast. Keep your ears perked for a new science fiction movie called “23 Horas” and you just might spot us in the background.

Group extra Group extras with BK
With some co-extras and new friends

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