Category Archives: hurricanes

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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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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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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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.

puerto-rico-before
Puerto Rico normally at night (satellite images from NASA)

puertorico_vir_2016266
Puerto Rico during the Apagón

puertorico_vir_2016265_lrg
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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