Category Archives: How-To

Construct It: Cabin Floors and Walls

Posted by Britton

I figured it was maybe time to do a little construction update.  One thing nice about doing things at your own pace is that you can take a step back when you start to feel overwhelmed or don’t have an answer to a “how to” and want to take some time to research.  A lot of building this house has required research because I’ve never done it before.  Like what screws to use for drywall and WHY?  What screws to use for cement board and WHY?  How do you construct a shower basin in a wood framed house?

The company that delivered the drywall delivered screws too.  They were black phosphate coated drywall screws BUT they were fine thread.  When I asked about it they claimed of course “It’s fine to use them in wood!” which isn’t really true.  Wood screws use a coarse thread for holding power.  Fine threads are used for metal studs.  Just an example of how a small thing can turn into a small ordeal when you are ready to start a project in the morning.

Using what are considered the “correct” fasteners might not matter to some people, especially if the fasteners are difficult to locate.  I have been called “Mañoso” (picky) a few times which is accurate I guess.

Mud, Tape and Ready for Primer/Paint

This past week have been getting the inside ready for paint and flooring.  Since we decided to go with tile, we needed to prep the sub floor.  We got 24 4×8 sheets of 3/4″ thick cement board.  Those weigh 136 pounds each!  It took a whole day just for us to move them over to the house.  It was actually easiest for one person to carry an entire sheet on their back than it was for two people to awkwardly try to move one.  So there was a lot of resting in between trips but we got it done.

While I do a lot of the research myself it is tremendously useful to have Waldemar help with each step. He propels us forward so much more than we can do alone. I really appreciate his help. He brings skills, experience as well as lots of energy and motivation when I just don’t have a whole a lot.

Britton and Waldemar floors
Installing Cement Board

We then cut and installed the cement boards (generically called plycem here).  Those things were ridiculously heavy.  The floors however are SOLID and we shouldn’t have any problems with tiles popping or cracking.  Under the cement boards we used thinset to fill any space between the 3/4″ inch plywood.  There are a few write ups about this online.  The professionals who sold me the cement board told me I didn’t need to use thinset, but again for me it comes down to the “why” and the write ups did a good job of convincing me that it should be done.

Waldemar and Cassie 2
Cassie brings over lunch for us and helps where she can

Our tile is on order and should be here in a week or so.  We wanted to get a natural feel instead of using ceramic printed tiles and went with a red clay tile almost like terracotta.  Again, Mañoso but what can you do?  If you want something, sometimes you have to wait.

Waldermar and Britton
¿Tu quiereme? Waldemar and I work together a lot and have gotten to know each other well, even with the language barrier.

We also used cement board for the shower stall.  Over top of the cement board I used aqua defense, it is a paintable rubber membrane that adheres well to thinset when dry so you can tile over it.  The paintable membrane will keep any moisture from seeping past the grout/tiles and cement board into the wood below.  One thing I have learned is that cement is porous and should be sealed if you want to keep water out.  There is also a 3 piece drain.

Blue bathroom
Green Water-proof Membrane

Soon we should receive some tiles.  Until then we will be painting the walls.
Cassie Painting
Cassie Priming the Drywall for Paint

So as you can see, we haven’t JUST been chinchorreando and having fun…We are making really good progress on the cabin too. Now that we can see the walls and floors taking shape we are super stoked to move in!

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18 Ways Your Life Will Change if You Move to Puerto Rico

Posted by Cassie

It is truly difficult to really capture how much of a change in lifestyle it is for someone who is not from Puerto Rico to move to Puerto Rico. It is different for everyone and some people (like children) will adapt faster than others. It also depends where exactly you move. Some people like condos and gated communities that are completely shut off from everyone else and their daily experience will be quite a bit different from people who live immersed within a neighborhood. People with kids will have a different experience than childfree people. But overall, here are a few ways your life will probably change if you move to Puerto Rico.

Aguada house

1) Housing - Whether you buy or rent you will more than likely live in a cement house with tile floors and louvered windows. Often on a road with virtually no setback or yard. It takes some time to get used to, but when you’ve been through a tropical storm you’ll understand why concrete became the standard (though on the otherhand not always the best in an earthquake) and after you’ve swept your floors for the 5th time that day you will understand why you wouldn’t want to have moldy dirty carpet anyway.

Mofongo and Malta at a roadside stop!

2) Food/Diet – No you won’t have the best apples, asparagus and artichokes. You may find them, but they won’t probably be very appetizing and are probably about a month old from their travels. Lettuces and other tender greens will be sparse in the grocery store. But the tradeoff is a wonderful cornucopia of tropical delights if you just look a little deeply and/or grow your own. While we can get those standard apples here, I’ve never seen a pomarrosa in a store in the states for instance! Also, don’t expect Puerto Rican food to be Mexican food. Puerto Rican cuisine is its own specialty. While I miss the spicy Mexican foods of Colorado, I LOVE many of the great foods of Puerto Rico like pasteles and mofongo.

James Bond Girl Cassie
Warm weather to me means fun clothes!

3) Clothing -When it’s always nice outside, you won’t be needing that down padded snow coat or boots anymore…ever. Shorts and shirts or less. Most of the time I have a hard time putting on even that if we are staying at the property. However, one should always have a pair of pants and close-toed shoes on hand for the occasional visit to some governmental building or to go in a casino. Culturally most Puerto Ricans wear long pants. And must sweat like crazy. So if you don’t want to stick out like a gringo, you can wear pants. I still don’t usually though.

Cassie In the water

4) Activities – All year round summer means all year round summer-like activities. Especially if you live near the beach. Sure you can do most anything you did where you came from like go to the mall or a movie or whatever, but you will probably find yourself taking up some new hobby and activity. More than likely some creative venture. You also live on one of the most beautiful islands filled with all sorts of what you would probably consider exotic locations that you can explore anytime and pretty much without any pretense!

Home Depot

5) Shopping- Speaking of shopping….This is an island. Be prepared to get everything locally if possible. This is a who-you-know sort of place. You will need to be friendly with everyone because everything is connected. But if you do go shopping in the conventional way for example to some big box store like Sam’s or Marshall’s and you see something new that you may vaguely like and haven’t seen it before, you should probably buy it. More than likely you probably won’t see it there again or for a long while. And while you can buy a lot of things online, shipping is uncertain and sometimes pretty expensive.

6) Your abilities – You may have to do a lot more for yourself. And you will be surprised and amazed at the things you can do when you believe it. Heck, we are literally building a fricking house in the middle of jungle with very little outside help. You will grow and be stronger than you ever thought possible. But you have to be willing to give it a shot. You will learn about the can-do attitude of the people here. It may be done on Island Time, but if something gets set into motion, it gets done! You will probably learn a lot more home remedies and McGwyver type of fixes too. It helps to have 2 of everything just to have the parts!

Driver's Permit Guide
There are “official” rules and then there are the “actual” rules of the road

7) Driving – At first you will think the driving here is absolutely nuts. Oh, they just used that as a bonus lane!! Oh, they said hi to their neighbor with a bunch of traffic behind them, ínteresting. They totally dodged that pothole and headed straight into traffic. Did they just go right through the red light?! Wow, the cashiers sell and OPEN the beer for customers in the gas station? Oh, they are just going to stop right here and buy some quenepas and m+ms, oh and a whole pizza, at this intersection? Or there is someone who is turning and the car in front of you decides to stop wave them in front. Then one day you are in a position where that move might be helpful. So you try it out. And then you realize you are pretty much driving just like everyone else. And it’s awesome!

horse and playground
Playground and a horse

8) Setting – Of course there are palm trees and gorgeous beaches. But there are also some of the weirdest, funniest moments and scenes I have ever seen.

Show me your paradise
Show me your paradise

9) Utilities – From the word Utility. The quality or state of being useful. And utilities ARE very useful. But they are not ALWAYS consistent or on. Water, electricity, internet. They all go out much more often than many other places. This is another area you will get to work on that attitude change thing. As I write this we have been without water for about 3 days. We have a slow trickle from the remains of the line, but we are careful not to shower long or flush the toilet too much. We have gone weeks without internet. And nearly as long without electricity. Instead of thinking they SHOULD be on…I try to remember how great it is when they are and also how nice it is to go outside and enjoy the world without all these man-made systems for a few hours. Also, another opportunity to find out how much you can truly do for yourself. Most people have generators, water cisterns and know where the best hot spots for internet in town are for this very reason of not relying too much on any one system.

Speaker truck strange sights
Speaker trucks…one way to annoyingly tell everyone about some news or product

10) Freedom – You will not be nearly as coddled. You will be able to jump off slippery waterfalls and climb to hilltops and caves without helmets if you so wish. Police will likely look the other way at drunk driving. You will be able to have roosters and chickens (and goats and pigs and horses and…) in pretty much any neighborhood. You can host big gambling parties. You can sell stuff on the street. You can blast your music as loudly as you want. How you handle that responsibility of freedom will depend on you.

Horse Flamboyan SMALL
Flamboyan season -and a horse in a tiny truck

11) Seasons – This one seems to be a big one for some people. Like, ”Don’t you miss the changing of the seasons?” For me, the only season I really enjoyed see change was the one that brought us out of the cold depressing dark winter/spring into full summer fun. Wasn’t that everyone’s favorite time? No school. Long days. Parties with friends. Hanging out outside. BBQs and nice weather. And so, I get to live in summer year round. And actually there are seasons here. They are just a little less pronounced and more to do with rain and fruit varieties (mango or avocado season for example) than with temperature. Also there are seasons of people at least in Rincón. Tourist season and off-season.

12) Your Attitude. (From Type A —> Type B): If you can make this change it will help you tremendously. If you can’t make this transition, this may not be the place for you. There are cockroaches here. There are rats here. There are mosquitoes.Things break more often and wear out faster. Things get dirtier and need to be cleaned more. There are poor people. It’s harder to find all the stuff you are used to. There are not as many jobs and definitely not as many high paying jobs. Things take longer than you are used to or think they should. We get it. But please…Take a chill pill. Go to the beach. Take off your watch. Listen to some music. Jangear con tus panas. Breathe in the moment. All of this is just part of the adventure. Have fun with it! Learn something! People who can’t adjust at least a little to Type B Island life will probably not enjoy Puerto Rico unless they completely isolate themselves from it.

13) Design of your life!  With freedom, a can-do spirit and a laid back vibe you will probably begin to design the life of your dreams. You will be able to move from a wage slave beholden to someone else’s vision to the boss artist you have had locked away. With a lower cost of living you won’t need to make as much money to make that happen and you will be doing something you truly love and would do even if money wasn’t a factor. Often times in an informal under-the-table economy!

14) Language -Spanish! (Español) - You can get by, especially in certain areas like Gringolandia (Rincón, Aguadilla, most of the west coast, university areas, parts of San Juan, etc) speaking only English, but you certainly won’t have a very broad understanding of Puerto Rico and your social circle will be limited. Nearly everything is first in Spanish here. Puerto Rican Spanish specifically which is pretty different than other Spanish. Everything. From the TV to radio, to basic conversations with retailers to deep important conversations in government buildings. If that bothers you or can’t adjust at least a little to it, you may go crazy.

BQN Beach Sunset
Borinquen Beach, Aguadilla

15) Tropics – This is the tropics. That means it is incredibly beautiful and post card perfect sometimes. We live where you vacation. But it also means that it can be pretty humid and hot. It means there are creatures and plants you are not used to. There are big spiders and bigger cockroaches. There are weird sounds that you can’t identify especially at night. There are termite swarms after a big rain. And the rainstorms are big and thunderous. Aguaceros! You will probably break out in some sort of sweat or plant poison rash (like Puerto Rican poison ivy) or even tropical disease (like Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika), you may get sunburned because the sun is pretty intense. It’s also an island surround by sea. The sea is dangerous! People often underestimate the power of the ocean and there are always a few drownings every year!

Cassie Mojito
Mojito time!

16) Drinking - There is definitely a drinking culture here in Puerto Rico. Fueled by rum from the island (Bacardí, Don Q) as well as Medalla and other light beers. It would be a rare event or party without alcohol. It’s hot and a cold one tastes pretty damn good sometimes. Even customer appreciation events at banks, grocery stores, parades at all hours of the day etc are fueled with alcohol. Chinchorreos, cabalgatas, parrandas are all reasons to drink more. With that is a lot more acceptance of alcoholism and its consequences. You will probably have to watch your drinking a lot more as it can easily creep up on you.

La Junta Fiscal
La Junta de Control Fiscal No Viene a Salvar, Viene a Robar (The Control Board isn’t coming to save us, it’s coming to rob us)

17) Life in a Colony-  If you move to Puerto Rico you will probably be struck by both the similarities and the differences from life where you came from. Puerto Rico has nearly everything you would expect in a state of the United States of America. Except one big thing: Self-sovereignty. Puerto Rico functions as a territory but is basically treated as a colony of the US. As a resident here, you will see what it means to be basically at best sort of forgotten and at worst downright pillaged of resources. We lack the right to vote for president and many of the decisions for the island can be over-ruled by US congress. And we have no voting members there either. It makes it much harder to address island wide issues when there is no representation and very little interest on the part of the US besides financial and military.

Cockfighting is legal and thriving all over the island

18) Overall a big culture change - Some of these are mentioned above, but suffice it to say that you will probably be in for a culture change if not shock. Puerto Rican culture is a distinct blend of Latino Spanish influence and history, afro-Caribbean roots and the effects of being part of the US. While it is difficult to generalize, I think it is fair to say that nearly everything you know culturally is just a little bit different in Puerto Rico. Views on time (hora Puertorriqueña), values of work/family (WAY more days off to “compartir” with loved ones), religion (mostly Catholic with a healthy dose of Pentacostal), food (mmm yum), language (a distinct type of Spanish), recreation (some things are the same but there are new ones here like cockfighting, surfing and coffee festivals that we never experienced before) , history (you should know the names of historical figures like Pedro Albizu Campos, Luis Muñoz Marin and Doña Fela), expressions (many funny common expressions here), social interactions (like kisses on the cheek or saying Buen Provecho), music (salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaeton and more), taboos, and much more are all going to be different in your new life in Puerto Rico.

I know this list isn’t comprehensive, but hopefully helps give you an idea of what sort of lifestyle change you are actually looking into if you move to Puerto Rico. For us, we love it and it suits our personality, but it may not be for everyone. Come and visit before you move. And if you’re anything like us, you will probably be bedazzled by the Isle of Enchantment.

Britton Cassie Anasco

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Chinchorreando with Tostones

Posted by Cassie

One of my favorite words in Puerto Rico is chinchorreando. The verb chinchorrear could be translated as “to bar hop,” but it is much more fun and just sort of how going out simply is around here. We’ve been out chinchorreando a bit lately with some friends and having a good time.

Britton Rob and cassie
Out for rum punches on Rob’s birthday

We tried to play a show at the Landing for the 4th of July but there were some logistical/local politics that literally locked us out, so we chinchorreado back to the jam space and played the after party there instead.

Landing Beach
A quick stop at the Landing on the 4th

When we go into Mayaguez for cabin materials, sometimes we stop and visit friends. We like this little bar called Valle Hermoso. There’s a couple of pool tables and fairly decent food including grilled dorado and green salads. On the weekends they have live music too.

Britton playing pool. He has learned the phrase- ”te toca a tí” because of it

Cassie bar crew
I sometimes play pool but mostly just enjoy jangeando with the lively characters and the awesome mojitos

Cassie Mojito
Yum fresh mojito with real lime, herba buena and brown sugar -no gross 7-up

We even got to talking about Puerto Rican food and one of the guys couldn’t believe I had never cooked tostones. I told him I like making amarillos, but he insisted it was so super easy to make tostones. He went to his car and brought me some avocados and plantains and then gave me an impromptu lesson on toston-making. Then all the other guys joined in on the tips. Check out this video. Haha. Gotta love this place!


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Driver’s License in PR after Real ID

Posted by Cassie

Good news or bad news first?

Let’s start with the good news. I got my Puerto Rico driver’s license and I didn’t even have to take any tests! Woohoo!

Bad news: It took three trips to two different offices and almost a full day’s wait.

Mayaguez DMV
Mayaguez CESCO (plus lottery tickets sold out front under the Virgin Mary)

First we went to the Mayaguez branch of Obras Publicas/DTOP/CESCO and found the line extending basically out the door.  We at least got the paperwork we needed and found out that Colorado still has reciprocity with Puerto Rico so I wouldn’t have to take a practical or written driving exam as long as I had a valid (not expired like was Britton’s case).  We thought the line was extremely long considering that once Britton had jumped through all the exam hoops he was able to get his ID within about 1 hour in Aguadilla and there was virtually no line. So we made plans to go to Aguadilla some time later that week rather than wait in a line about 100 people deep that did not seem to be moving at all. Mayaguez is a bigger city than Aguadilla so it would make sense to be a little busier.

Almost to the front of one of many lines in Aguadilla

When the day came to drive up to Aguadilla, we arrived around 10am to an equally long line just to the information desk. We decided to go get the doctor’s exam and stamps first so that everything would be ready to go! The doctor’s exam is just a formality. The woman had me look at the eye chart for about 2 seconds! Just a hoop, quick and easy. Just pay her $28 including the sellos too. We then waited in the information line for about 30 minutes only to be asked where our “turno” ticket was. We didn’t need to take a number last time we came with Britton 6 months ago so we had no idea about this.

We did have everything we needed for a reciprocity license though:
1) Proof of residence (water or electric bill)
2) Original Social Security Card
3) Valid current driver’s license from the state with reciprocity
4) Birth Certificate
5) Doctor’s form
6) $11 in Government stamps (can be purchased many places but we bought them along with the doctor note)
7) Complete filled out one-page information form

Paperwork for DMV
Ready with everything

The guy at the registration desk said that since the US is requiring PR to phase in the Real ID program in order to better track people it has caused an increase in people from all over the island to the few offices like Aguadilla that has it. I don’t want or need a Real ID since we have passports so this was a huge headache. (And as an aside, if these are so-called “Real IDs” are all of the others fake according to the government?) All I need is a regular driver’s license.

He said that whereas before (like when Britton was there not long ago) they served maybe 500 people a day, they now are processing about 1000! That is why they instituted this turno number system thing because they can’t do any more than that in a day though probably 2000 try. In addition to more work required by the US, they have fewer staff due to cutbacks from the budget crisis! He said, no joke, that we should have gotten there at 5am in order to get in a line for a number and that by 7am, before the offices even open, they are “sold out.” Then with that number you wait in this line that I had stepped into to “activate” the number so that you could sit and wait for 4-5 hours to be called. What is this locura!?

I think he could see our desperation at having now done this line thing twice and not gone anywhere, so he sort of pulled us aside and said that at 5pm most of the crowd is gone and that if they finish all the backed up cue, that we could possibly slide in. But it would be a risk because they close the doors completely at 7pm. Still, we felt like we had been given a special code to this particular game. The friendly clerk was taking pity on us. They may be overworked, but everyone there was super helpful to us.

So we drove back home to Rincón to wait and stopped in Aguada at our favorite little Pollo al Carbon spot.

Pollo al carbon
At the start of Almuerzo this smoker is filled to the brim with chicken

 Birds at pollo al carbon Britton pile o food
Yum. Good food beats out the bureaucracy blues. 

Here’s a quick video of the spot. I think it’s called Rancho Carbon Express and it’s right on the 115. You will see it billowing out lots of smoke with a bunch of chicken roasting. Straight up inexpensive and delicious Puerto Rican street food.

Finally the time came to once again drive back to Aguadilla. We arrived around 4:30pm. The security guard at the front desk must have been informed about us by the previous person as he was expecting us (we apparently still stand out haha!). He told us it would be a LONG wait, but that we should be served if we stuck around. So we camped out and read.

Waiting room
This is the waiting area AFTER most of the lines had cleared out

About 5:30 I got my photo taken and then moved into a tighter group of the remaining people. By 6:30 I was getting nervous that we would be kicked out and have to return but Britton didn’t think so since they took my photo that day they would probably process it. As each number dinged and my name didn’t appear I still had my doubts. 7:00pm rolls around and the janitorial crew starts sweeping under our feet with the remaining 10 or so people. Finally, “Siguiente” was my call to come forward. The woman asked me in Spanish, ”Are you sure you want to get a Puerto Rican license after all this?” Yes it was a long wait, but it must be an even longer day for them! I thanked them for working late in order to process my paperwork. About 10 minutes later my license was printed and I was walked out the door by the security guard who had changed into his street clothes. It was by now 7:30pm. I must have just slid through thanks to these great people. Phew. Thankfully I shouldn’t have to do this again for another 6 years or so!

With license
With my license! We were the last ones in the parking lot! Do I look a little loca? Haha. It was then time for a beer by the beach to celebrate!

Now I am an official Puerto Rican driver! Yes!

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