Category Archives: Challenges

Flash Flood Stall Out and Rescue


Posted by Cassie

We went to Aguadilla for an appointment and ended up in Aguada (watery-land)! Literally.

aguadilla
View overlooking Aguadilla out to Rincón

In Aguadilla we ran our errands, stopped and had lunch and then headed back home. On the way home it began to rain a little, and then a little more. We drove through Aguada and realized we forgot something and turned around splashing through a growing overflow of water on the road. We went to the nearest Farmacia. They didn’t have what we were looking for so we returned the way we came. This time there was a police car blocking the road with cars turning around. We could see that the road was flooded out, but we had just passed through there 20 minutes earlier! It couldn’t have risen that much more that we couldn’t pass, could it?!

The police spoke through the speaker and said in Spanish we could pass at our own risk to ourselves and vehicle. Britton took that as a green light! We went through one part just fine and then it started to get deeper and deeper. There was a slight hesitation on the part of Britton and then it was over. The truck stalled out in the middle of the road that was now a river…

poor-guaguaHow stuck we were! Look at that water flowing!

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Like we were in a fricken boat!

water-in-the-truck
That was sinking!

britton-oops
Ooops…

We sat in the truck as it filled with water for about 20-30 minutes. People around us took pictures and video and yelled to us from the safety of the parking lot to make sure we were ok. Eventually the Emergency Rescue Management team showed up. The people in the military-looking Hummer first said they were going to look for a chain to tow us out and then decided to just get us out and we then would wait for a grúa (a tow truck) to get the guagua out.

It was pretty exciting to get extricated from the truck by climbing through the window barefoot. I’ve never had to be rescued before and I am so thankful these people are here! Everyone was super nice and didn’t give us a ticket or even a scolding except to tell Britton that he should be more careful since he had precious cargo on board (me)! Awww. I think they knew we had received our own punishment. They even said they were happy to make new friends with us even if it wasn’t in the best of circumstances. People here in Puerto Rico are so wonderful.

with-emergency-crew
With a few of the crew that rescued us! Thank you all!

The grúa came and towed out the truck and took us home. Now we are working on the truck to see if we can get it to run again…

checking-engine
Checking the engine

cassie-and-guagua
What an adventure!

Here’s a little video I managed to take in the midst of the chaos.

 

 

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¡Caravana, Caravana! Politics and Caravans in Puerto Rico


Posted by Cassie

Just as in the states, it is currently political season here in Puerto Rico. The politics of Puerto Rico is a bit different than in the states, but in one way it is very similar: it is nuts!

caravana-political
Caravanas clogging the roads

Just as a quick primer on Puerto Rico politics, here’s a few things to know.

There are two main parties: 1) Populares (also known as PPD- Partido Popular Democrático) and 2) PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista) which they pronounce in passing in Spanish as Pay-Nay-Pay. The distant 3rd party is PIP (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño).

Popular is Red. Popular is symbolized by ”la pava” which is the old jíbaro hat.

ppd-logo1
PPD: Pan, Tierra, Libertad = Bread (food), Land and Liberty

PNP is Blue. Symbolized by “la palma” the palm tree.

ppd
PNP: Estadidad, Seguridad, Progreso =Statehood, Security and Progress

PIP Independents are green. The main platform is to become independent from the United States.

prpip

But basically it is a 2 party system. The main platform for all the parties is identity in relation to the US. They are trying to answer the question of whether or not to stay a commonwealth of the US or become a state (or in the case of PIP to become an independent country). The red populares favor commonwealth status quo and the blue PNPs want statehood. PNPs are aligned somewhat with the Republican party at the national level though overall Puerto Ricans in general are politically liberal. The PNP governor candidate (of the party aligned with the Republicans) in fact is a liberal Democrat at the national level.

So while Puerto Ricans who are all US citizens (including us transplants) have all been disenfranchised and cannot vote for president of the United States, politics is still serious business here and everyone has an opinion on the state of things. Puerto Ricans also love to party. So what better way to connect the pastimes of complaining about politics and hanging out than having huge rallies and caravans!? We’ve passed by a few rallies and they are interesting. There’s often free food like lechón, live music and the candidate making long-winded speeches promising the world.

rally-jpg
At a political rally in Rincon. Live music, fun…and politics?

But it really is the caravanas that you will not forget if you happen to visit Puerto Rico during a major election year such as this one. They are basically long loud parades with huge speakertrucks, buses full of people waving flags, people walking and yelling, fireworks, long lines of cars honking and lights flashing. If you are part of the caravan it might be kind of fun, but if you get stuck in one unsuspectingly, it can be downright nuts and you WILL be late to wherever you were planning on going! I got stuck behind a caravan one night and it was sooo loud and wild I had to pull over just to calm down and let it pass.

Here’s a compilation (above) of a few of the caravanas we have been exposed to this year. This is not all of them, but just ones with videos…I am not sure where the tradition of caravans came from. Perhaps from a time before television or radio where the only way to get your news was from people actually going around and telling others about it. It seems a little absurd this day and age, but it’s also kind of interesting as a cultural remnant.

Thankfully political season will be over after Tuesday and we can all take a deep breath and appreciate the coquis and driving to your destination without becoming a car in a carnival parade once again.

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Swiss Family Jungle Internet


Posted by Britton

Internet is one of those modern conveniences that is just….. so nice to have. Checking in on Facebook, paying bills or looking how to do things on youtube. We haven’t “hooked” up internet service here yet, but we’ve always had some signal of some sort to utilize.  It is probably more of a personal challenge to find alternate ways of connecting than any actual reason.  In the process you can learn all kinds of new things about networking and radios.

When we first arrived the only way to get an open signal was to be on top of the cabana on the corner of the house. Usually this was in the sun or rain! This is what I will consider internet v1.0. It was much easier than packing up and going to a cafe, plus we didn’t have to buy coffee or sit outside some place and look like moochers. We could mooch from our own home!

Rainy Internet
Version 1.0

I then figured out how to setup a repeater bridge by installing a Linux variant DD-WRT on a Linksys router.  The bridge would take the internet signal from yonder and repeat it so that we had wireless access from within the cabana!  It needed to be waterproof so I bought a plastic trashcan from the dollar store, drilled holes for the antennas and hung it upside down.  I had to hang it upside down to keep the rain from draining into the antenna holes.

Painting the cabana
Version 2.0

Version 2.0 worked really well, it was nice to sit inside the cabana and have access.  Of course with both 1.0 and 2.0 the speeds were pretty much dialup.  The Access Point we were using was pretty far away.  Eventually the trees grew tall enough to block our access.  We had to find another source!

We had been talking to our neighbor about the idea of paying for a share of his internet and in return he would put his wireless router in his window nearest our property to get a good line of sight link to our wireless bridge.  Well this worked out really well!  This was version 3.0 and I even made a little wood box for it out of scrap T-111 because the plastic trashcan disintegrated in the sun!!  The speeds were MUCH faster and it worked really well.

Forward to the cabin being built and wanting to have internet over there.  It is easily 500 feet and there is a forest between the router box, so no signal is going to make it over there.  We had already put in an electricity line and I did some research.

Apparently companies have figured out how to make a device that will transmit from an electric outlet to an electric outlet.  This is perfect!  It is called Ethernet over power in case you may want to use it.  One end plugs into the wireless router (Ethernet up-link) and plugs into the power outlet the router is plugged into.   The other end plugs into an outlet at the cabin.  Since they are on the same circuit they can talk.  The device at the cabin also has a wireless router built into it!  So now we have wireless internet at and around the cabin!

cabin-routergoogle-at-cabin
Version 3.0

The only problem I had now was that apparently wires and cables are fun to chew on.  So rats and iguanas have been chewing up the power and Ethernet cables inside the box and it quits working.

So here comes version 4.0 pictured below.  It is waterproof, chew proof relays a wireless signal from our neighbor to our concrete cabana AND sends a signal thru the electric line to the new cabin.  It isn’t pretty, but hey, maybe nobody will want to steal it?

router-v4
4.0 is Ratproof!

It is fun to invent, design, build and test.  That is what we have been doing the entire time we have lived here in Rincón!  What can I say?  I’m a geek.

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The Great Apagón of Puerto Rico 2016


Posted by Cassie

Most of Puerto Rico lost power Wednesday afternoon. We were in a panadería ordering some food when the power went out. It is not too uncommon to lose power. No one really freaks out and many people have a generator because it occurs frequently enough to warrant one. Generally though it is only out for less than an hour. We headed up the hills with our pollo and arroz con habichuelas largas to visit some friends. By 7pm there was still no luz (power). From the perch of Atalaya where we were visiting we could see that this was not just a local power outage. This was widespread, but we didn’t know anything else.

line-of-cars-a-the-gas-station
Line of cars to the gas station in our neighborhood

As we drove through the plaza downtown on our way home we saw lines of cars backed up as well as lots of police cars. Still, nothing too serious seemed to be happening, so we weren’t sure if it was related to the power outage or not. Most localized power outages result in little to no action on the part of people. It’s just a part of life. At this point in time we still hadn’t heard the news, but it seemed that something was going on. So we stopped at a little store to ask.

From the person at the counter we heard that apparently a fire had erupted at a main electrical plant substation. There were rumors of an intentional sabotage and the estimated time to get the system back up was anywhere from 24 hours to 10 days or more! So that was why everyone was out buying all the ice, gas, alcohol and gallons of water! It was like a dry, windless hurricane! The gist of the news was confirmed or repeated by various people. Now that we have power and internet again, we have a little more information, but at that time we were literally in the dark and had to rely on what others were telling us.

generator
Our quiet little generator doing its job with a curious chicken

The evening was a little hotter than normal without the fans blowing on us and our sleep was  a bit disrupted by our neighbor’s huge noisy generator that he ran All. Night. Long! The next morning we got our little generator out just to cook, charge the laptops and run the fridge for a bit. Whenever the power goes out, so does the water. Luckily we are at the end of the line and have about 2-6 days worth of water if we ration. Still, we were preparing for a stinky, showerless time and we mostly peed outside to avoid flushing too much.

cooking-on-the-floor
Making egg and avocado sandwiches during the power outage

As I was preparing food on the floor of our little cabana I realized we were celebrating our 3 year anniversary of living full-time in Puerto Rico!!  Haha! A lot has changed since we moved here, but some things stay the same. A similarity is that you must be flexible and ok with these kinds of outages. Whether it’s just a local issue like a blown transformer or a tree falling on a line or a widespread issue like this one or a hurricane or earthquake, there ARE going to be outages here a lot more than other places. This gran apagón was not nearly as long as some that we have gone through, but it affected the most people -more than 1.5 million!

power-strip
Power strip working extra hard!

So how do we prepare for power and water outages? Well, we are still learning how prepared (or unprepared) we really are, but here are a few things that might be handy in these kind of outages.

prep

Light sources (candles, lantern, flashlights, etc)
Hand cranked/battery powered tools like fans
Cash! Many credit card readers and ATMs will be down
BBQ grill and basic cooking supplies and extra food including canned foods
Extra water storage both potable (drinkable) and non- just to flush toilets/rain water catchment
Generator (many people wait until there is an emergency and then there is a run on the stores)
Extra gas for your vehicle and generator
Knowledge of generator-powered WIFI spots to keep in communication
If you like to drink alcohol it might be good to have an extra store because they often institute the Dry Law which prohibits the sale of alcohol during an emergency
Low-tech entertainment like cards, dominoes, board games, coloring books, etc
And most important: Lots of patience, a sense of adventure and a silver-lining attitude

Obviously, the longer the outage the harder (and stinkier) it becomes and the more creative you will need to get. When things start running out at the stores, it will also be a completely different situation. For me in a short term situation like this, the lack of a long, warm shower and fans was probably the most noticeable thing. We didn’t want to go outside and work in the yard or in the cabin because we wouldn’t be able to shower very long. Also, I find that while we don’t have a TV, I am quite dependent on the internet for my entertainment and pacification. So I was getting a little stir crazy. Our solution: go down to the beach and hang out with others in the apagón (outage). At the beach, life is just as calm and beautiful as ever. Plus it felt good to wet myself down even if it is salty water.

another-day-at-the-beach
Day of the Apagón/3 year anniversary in Puerto Rico was just another beautiful day at the beach

In the evening we brought our little generator to jam practice and played music. Afterward we stared up at the starry sky. Without the light pollution of the island, the stars and Milky Way glowed majestically.

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Puerto Rico normally at night (satellite images from NASA)

puertorico_vir_2016266
Puerto Rico during the Apagón

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I find this image to be very striking for just how much more lit up Puerto Rico is than Hispaniola

As we pulled up to our gate, I noticed that the streetlight was on at the witching hour of midnight. The power had come back on. The great Apagón was over. Just in time to go to sleep. Now, we just await the return of the water.

Yet another Puerto Rico adventure for the books.

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