Category Archives: culture

A Slight Shift for the Better


Posted by Cassie

Dominos in Plaza
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.

IMG_1954
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.

Filling up at the terminal
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.

La planta
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.

IMG_1950
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.

We can do it
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.

Box milk
Boxed milk for the win!

Water in econo
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.

Hector in house
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 and house
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.

Bill and Jenn FriendsAt 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.

Clearing more space
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.

Gypsy future
When will the electricity come back on? The future is uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: playing dress up is fun! ;-)

IMG_1951
With one of the hardworking people putting back together the power grid

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Ave María and Huracán


Posted by Cassie

Ave María is a religious expression that is commonly used in Puerto Rico. It’s sort of like Ay, Caramba or Mother Mary please help us and in this case it’s: Really, there’s another hurricane headed right for us?!

Religion, science, camaraderie and legends all try to help us make sense out of the craziness that life throws at us it seems.

Hurricane Maria
The projected path of Hurricane María could be anywhere in the red

After the last hurricane, we’ve decided not to move out of the wooden cabin to the concrete cabana for María. It’s actually far less windy in our little protected valley of the cabin. The worst part of Hurricane Irma wasn’t the hurricane, it was waiting for the power and water to come back. So we again got more gas for the generator and are again filling up the water cistern.

The stores are out of drinking water again. I asked a woman at the grocery store why they don’t just fill up their bottles from the last storm with tap or rain water like we are going to do. And she seemed a little confused. “Pues, las usamos y luego las botamos…Well, we use them and then throw them away!” Hmm. I guess I have a harder time just throwing stuff away, especially knowing how useful they are. It’s pretty simple to sanitize them!

Guacamole
Is it a coincidence that avocados are so abundant this time of year and guacamole is so easy to prepare even in a hurricane?

We also learned from the last storm that it is open game on junk food! Calories don’t count if you have to live without water, internet or electricity, right?! In Econo, not only was all the water gone, but also all of the Chef Boyardee, an apparent hurricane favorite!

In addition we heard a cool legend story that the Tainos (natives of the island before Columbus) apparently believed. Hopefully I don’t screw it up too much:

El Yunque better

There were two twin brothers. One was named Yukiyu (which was later translated as Yunque the same a the national park near San Juan) and the other was Huracán. Yukiyu was the good god who cared for Borinken (the island of Puerto Rico) and all of its inhabitants and was especially present in the mountain areas. Huracán was the evil brother who was always jealous that the islands loved Yukiyu more and so he would try to come around nearly every year to destroy Yukiyu and his beloved ones. He and Yukiyu fight and most times Yukiyu wins. Therefore you must give thanks to him by being kind to the land. But this battle rages on to this day.

Wood
Some of our old wood is being repurposed as hurricane boards

Some people get really worked up about these storms and many others are pretty calm about it. You can tell who are the (calm and collected) veterans and who (ahem, lots of gringos) are the newbie scaredy-cats. We are trying not to be as freaked out about this one as the last even if the storm is super hyped. There is a real psychological screwiness to watching the models as they descend RIGHT OVER YOU! It makes even the calmest person get a little agitated.

Generator
In our neighborhood…hooking up a new generator and propane delivery

We are learning from our neighbors who have lived here their whole lives and have survived many tropical storms and hurricanes. We figure, they know much more than we do about living through a major storm. Some people are boarding up windows, but mainly just those with full glass fronts. We stopped and talked with Julio, our 86 year-old neighbor who must weigh about 100 lbs, and Berto who’s in his 50′s to see how they were doing for the storm. Berto said he was tying some things down with rope and that they better tie up Julio so he wouldn’t blow away! haha!

Window Prep
One neighbor is weaving plastic trash bags through the window to cut down on the water spray

I am trying my best to be calm because I know the odds and I know what we can do during and after. The storm seems to be moving north and losing some steam and the only real danger is directly in the eye. Anyway, there’s only so much you can do and the worst case scenario (afterward everything is ravaged and there’s no water or electricity for weeks and weeks), we just take a month-long (or longer) vacation to visit family in CO before dealing with the mess. Don’t sweat the small stuff as they say, and it’s all small stuff.

We’ve learned a lot throughout this very active hurricane season and feel even more connected with this land, people and culture by going through this. We are all in this together!

Also, just FYI, we were contacted by Channel 31 (which is also Channel 2 News) out of Denver last night and did a Facetime interview with them explaining our connection to Colorado and Puerto Rico and what we are going through with Irma and María. The segment should air sometime tonight around 9pm local Colorado time. Let us know if you see it!

Ave María, please be good to us! And Yukiyu, please convince Huracán to leave us unharmed (and preferably with power and water quickly too)!

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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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After Irma


Posted by Cassie

All is good in the hood as they say.

Banana trees
Many banana and plantain plants folded over in the wind

We have weathered the storm and come out just about as good as you could hope. Not only was there not any damage to our immediate area, but even the water and electric came back on within 5 days for most people. There are a few people who are still without some utilities, but everything is slowly booting back up.

Group foto
Hanging with friends Priscilla and Ivette in La Parguera

On Monday, Labor Day, we went down to La Parguera to meet up and compartir with some friends. It was eerily vacated as people prepared for what was to come. For us, it was good to get away from the news and the worrying.

All day Tuesday we spent hauling our stuff from the wooden cabin to the concrete cabana. We definitely over-prepared, but when the news says that the largest storm ever is coming straight for you, even I, the don’t-worry-be-happy girl, started to be slightly concerned.

Avocados
A branch on one of our avocado trees fell so we had to gather the aguacates. Did someone say guacamole?!

Come Wednesday, the power goes off around 12noon. It seemed to be a precautionary measure as there was still hardly any wind or impact of Irma. That was the last time we had contact with the outside world until Saturday when we went to Home Depot and were able to use their free wi-fi (as an aside it’s actually kind of nice to sit and use internet in there on their patio displays -hah).

The worst of the storm passed in the middle of the night Wednesday into Thursday. We could hear major wind gusts but not much else. There was very little rain and we commented that we’ve been through a lot worse in Greeley where our house would receive the full force of wind from the west. And in the town I grew up in near Wyoming, the joke is that a metal chain is a wind sock. So I was underwhelmed to say the least. Not trying to taunt you, though, Irma!

ft_windsock
When you come from a windy area, you expect a bit more

The next morning we went to check out the damage. The worst of it was right at the bridge where a medium-sized tree uprooted, got tangled in another tree and landed on the bridge. It caused no structural damage. We just had to chainsaw it out of the way. I think we caused more damage breaking dishes and glass jars hauling our stuff over to the cabana and back than Irma did to our property, not to mention that Britton was pretty hung over. Yes, we definitely can cause more damage to ourselves than any storm.

It was hot and boring without internet or electricity to run the fans for 3 days. We did end up hooking up and using the 400 gallons of water, so we were thankful for that. We took the opportunity to spend a lot of time reorganizing our stuff that we moved over and cleaning the cabin. After a few days I tired of eating canned foods and junk food. We were happy on Saturday to go into Mayaguez for a few parts and a nice meal at Pollo Tropical. A lot of other people had the same idea too it seemed.

Tree down on bridge
Trees on the bridge to the cabin

Someone mentioned they would like to see pictures of the places we visited before the storm. I assume this means the gas stations, banks and grocery stores. There really isn’t much difference now from then. You wouldn’t even think a major hurricane nicked us because there is hardly even any plant debris on the sides of the road. Occasionally you can hear a generator still running, but overall almost everything is returning to normal. We even went out to Sunday Funday in Aguada and had a fresh coconut water/whiskey drink.

Coconut drink
Sunday in Aguada…everything looks pretty good!

I am not sure if this hurricane prepared us for something larger or made us less because we didn’t see much destruction. Either way, I am glad nothing much came of it for us. I was very sad to hear that St Maarten/Martin received a lot of damage because we were just there on our cruise! And I hope the other islands and Florida are able to recover swiftly.

Chickens
Even the chickens, turkeys and Kitty are all fine!

Here’s a short video during and after Irma at our property.

 

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