Category Archives: Rants and Raves

Happy 4th of July -Puerto Rico Style


Posted by Cassie

In Puerto Rico on the 4th of July you won’t see people strutting around in American flag clothing or even lighting fireworks except at the military bases. Occasionally stateside people will buy a bunch of fireworks and throw a party, but in general, fireworks are not a thing here on the 4th of July. I don’t think Puerto Rico ever really got indoctrinated into the whole Independence Day history of the nation, though it is part of it. The history of this island is so much longer than the 200 some years of the USA that it hasn’t quite fully worked its way into the pride of most islanders as it does with most mainlanders.

Almendros 4th
4th of July at Almendros Beach, Rincón

Still, because it is a federal holiday, Puerto Rico gets the day off. And no one is going to argue with that. This year, for many, that meant an extra long weekend of partying. And partying in the summertime means going to the beach! In Rincón both the balneario and Almendros beaches were packed with people, while other beaches were quite calm. This is a social, loud island, so the parties get more and more packed and more and more crazy! Some people set up camp right at the water’s edge to be right in the milieu melee. It’s fun for extroverts, but people who dislike crowds or noise should avoid these festival type events.

Gasolina stage
It’s a huge party on the beach complete with a hula hoop dance competition and air horns!

Rincon Bienvenidos
We ran into local Rincón celebrity “Bienvenidos” who often helps direct traffic and is always welcoming

Such is life
Such is life….is such a good mantra. Row, row, row your boat

We went on a beer run for some people at a pinchos stand. Everyone piled up in the truck. And then we drove, not to a store, but to someone’s personal house and bought some beer. I talked to an old man there who had lived in the area since it was all sugarcane fields. The layers and webs of life here make everything here just little wilder.

Sheryl pickup
No back seats, no problem!

There were supposed to be two other (calmer) parties in Aguada and Aguadilla, so Britton and I packed up and left. When we got to Aguada, no one was to be found. Perhaps it was too windy to set up. So we headed to Borinquen Beach, one of my favorites in Aguadilla, for another party. When we got there, we didn’t find a soul we knew either! It was spitting rain and windy too, but we swam a bit and enjoyed the peaceful contrast from earlier in the day.

Borinquen
Enjoying Borinquen Beach in Aguadilla -while some guy attempts to ostrich himself? ;-)

Britton Beach
We watched a beautiful sunset

Cassie beach

Rainbow
And rainbows

Unfortunately all we had brought to eat was a huge watermelon and lots of beer because we were anticipating BBQ at one or the other of the parties. So, we were getting pretty hungry. Then it started pouring rain so we headed out. We were wet from swimming so we didn’t want to go to any sit-down restaurants. Wendy’s it is, I guess! When it rains hard, often the power goes out and that happened even at this corporate fast food joint. The worker came out to our truck at the ordering window with an umbrella and told us that if we had cash they could serve us. So we had our American-style meal on the 4th of July after all. You just never know what you’ll run into or where you’ll end up here in Puerto Rico. Such is life, indeed.

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Serendipity and a Travolta Movie


Posted by Cassie

60s and 80s
Costume changes with friends- I’ve always loved playing dress up, being a ham, and meeting new friends so this kind of work is perfect for me! (Thanks to Carolina for this comparison shot)

We were invited to be a part of another movie! This time it was a John Travolta film and we were super excited to go. We learned a few things from our last experience as extras in a movie, though, one of which was that the day would be very long and sometimes boring and that the drive to San Juan was excruciatingly long. Thankfully we have some friends on the east coast who welcomed us to use their condo in Fajardo.

Luquillo
Luquillo Balneario beach on one side and the rows of kiosks are on the other

Kioskos
Down the line of kiosks

We stopped by their kiosko in Luquillo to pick up the keys to the condo. It was the first time I’ve ever seen Luquillo and I thought it was very busy and a little dirty, but it seemed like a fun, social beach.

Britton Monkey Threads
Britton says, why aren’t you at Monkey Threads in the kioskos de Luquillo! It’s awesome!

We got really turned around because we don’t have a smart phone and had to just rely on screenshots of maps, but eventually we made it to the condo at the marina in Fajardo. This building was 30 stories tall! We went up to the penthouse level and looked out over the railing. It gave me that tingling feeling in my heart and feet that says loudly: DON’T FALL!

Condo
This building is huge!

Looking down
Careful! That’s a looong way down!

The views off the balconies were amazing and we spent some time just enjoying them. I think we’ve become somewhat hillbilly though, living in the jungle for so long. I felt the compulsion to just go out on the deck naked as I always do at home and also to throw banana peels off the balcony as I do at home. Britton had to hold back from peeing off the deck! Haha! I also was mesmerized watching cable TV for the first time in a long while and I took an actual bath and filled the tub with hot water. We also wandered around to the pool area and gazebos of the property. It felt kind of good to be back to civilization for a while! These are the sort of things people take for granted as modern man I suppose.

Boat Bay
Check out all the boats!

Cassie rock
I still tend to gravitate towards nature -and au naturale ;-)

Deck view morning
It was the first time I had seen a sunrise over the ocean and it was incredible!

We thought our scene was going to be at El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo which would have been great because it was only 5 minutes away from us, but they changed it to be in Santurce in the heart of San Juan.

Ocean and Conquistador
El Conquistador from the balcony of the condo

We filmed at La Casona in Santurce which is a very old remodeled building and is now an elegant restaurant.

La Casona
Looking down at the courtyard of La Casona during a scene

60s outfit
Do I look like I’m going to a semi-fancy/conservative restaurant in Cuba in the 60s?

The first thing when we arrived we had to fill out our paperwork and then head over the wardrobe and makeup where they changed my look a few times to fit the time period (mid 60s at first) and feel of the scene. It is sort of random and serendipitous which roles you may get as an extra. Some are “heavy” like the guys who played Mafioso guards opening the doors for Travolta’s character. I would say I got a medium role. I got to sit at the table with Jordi Mollá, a famous actor in Spain who has also done a number of Hollywood movies, most noteably, Blow. His role in the scene was to sit with three women (one of which was me) and then signal to Travolta. So I may get about 1 second of screen time, mainly the back of my head! (Famous hair!!)

Jordi Mollá
Vicky, Jordi, Me and Carolina -the best table in the restaurant haha!

We actually talked with John Travolta a little while he waited to enter the room of mob bosses. He said we all looked great and he loved that time period. They really don’t like us to take pictures during filming, so I didn’t get a picture with him, but it was pretty cool. The only thing that I can say was really bad about this experience was all the smoking! I am getting over a slight cold and since they were smoking inside the restaurant during our scene (they would probably say to be period accurate but that I would say was just plain disgusting) it caused me to have a coughing fit. I had to try to hold in my coughs while they were rolling and it was quite torturous if you’ve ever had a cough that needed to get out and you couldn’t! I had to get up various times to get a drink of water to calm it down.

Makeup
Makeup!

We had a late lunch/dinner and then headed to wardrobe/makeup again to change time periods. This time to the 80s! I really didn’t get much of a role in this scene, but Britton did. He and a friend played a couple crossing paths in front of Travolta as he heads out the door.

Britton looking ood
Britton looking sharp at La Casona

Still, even though we were all dressed up with nothing to do, we ladies had a great time laughing at our bright blue eyeshadow, huge hair and red lipstick. Girls just wanna have fun!!

Sara and Cassie 80s
Sara and I -Crazy makeup!

Priscilla and girls
So much fun! Priscilla, me, Carolina and Vicky

Britton’s scene ran late and I had to wander around the building for a while. I talked with Manolo, the owner of the restaurant, and he took out his beautiful macaws and African grey parrots for me. He also showed me some of the finer details and mosaics around the building. It was a tesoro. The night ran long and we didn’t get back to the condo until about 4am!

Las Vistas view
Me at Las Vistas

We slept in late and then went out to brunch at a nice little place in the hills of Fajardo called Las Vistas. Then we were on our way home in the Millenium Falcon (the Mustang)!  The drive back was pretty uneventful until about Arecibo when I told Britton I needed him to stop so I could use the restroom and get something to drink. As he pulled off the highway, the car began to sputter. We were only about 1/2 a block from a gas station! Come on, come on! But nope. It just died right there.

Broke down Falcon
Where we broke down

Serendipity strikes again, however! We broke down precisely at a mechanic shop! How odd is that!?! They pushed the car into the shop lot and diagnosed the problem. It was the fuel pump! Yikes! I walked down to the gas station and went to the bathroom and cooled myself down in the air conditioning. The mechanics were very helpful and friendly and said they would contact Auto Zone and see if they had the fuel pump in stock and that they could work on it today! Wow! That would be awesome! We were tired and worn out from a long two days in the city and really just wanted to get back home to the countryside. Britton being the always helpful type, stepped up and they finished installing the fuel pump in only about 2 hours from the time of the breakdown! We were so grateful. They probably could have taken advantage of us, but only charged us about $40 in labor! If you are in Arecibo I highly recommend Nachi’s mechanic shop!!

Working on the car
First they had to take out the fuel tank to get to the pump-I even got involved and helped jack the car up while they got under the car

Unfortunately it was Noche de San Juan and there was a big tapón, but finally about 8 hours after leaving Fajardo, we made it home…safe and sound. Stay tuned to the silver screen and look for us in the movie Speed Kills or it may go by the very appropriate name of Cigarette.

Sunset and flag
Sunset out the window on the way back

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Heaven, Hell or Purgatory


Posted by Cassie

C B Sage
I didn’t realize when this photo was taken it would be one of the last ones with our friend Sage

Sometimes I think when people watch our lives from afar they think we live in paradise, a heaven on Earth. And sometimes I truly believe it too. I have seen and experienced some of the most fantastically beautiful things in my life. I am truly grateful for the ability to sleep in as late as I want, spend time with my love, explore new places, meet and get to know interesting people, have new cultural experiences, eat fresh juicy fruit from our own trees, swim in luscious warm crystalline waters, swing from the trees, breathe a sigh of contentment as we watch the sun dip into the sea, hear the birds chirping in the morning and our cat snuggle up to us in bed and so much more. It is truly an isle of enchantment.

Cassie flowers for Sage
Gathering flowers from our farm in honor of our friend

But life is life no matter where you live. It can get messy, it can get hard, it can be frustrating. You get thrown curveballs. Things that seem stable can suddenly crumble under your feet. And in those moments, it can seem like a living hell. And for people like us who have transplanted from another place thousands of miles away you may feel lonely, isolated and not accepted. There can sometimes be felt an undercurrent of prejudice or racism. It’s hard to make a living here. And whatever demons were underneath and hidden by a sense of comfort in your homeland eventually seem to rear their heads and become more pronounced under constant stress. We have known more people die, become addicts, break up or otherwise have a major life upset here (and then usually move away) than I have ever seen back in Colorado. It is just a whole lot harder to hold everything together. There is a reason this place is called Derelict Junction and the 413 is known as the Road to Happiness…or the Road to Rehab.

And for many, it’s a sort of purgatory. It is a waiting out, a finding out, a crossroads. Which way will my life go from here? Let’s go have some fun while we can, they may think. Let’s throw caution to the wind. And while they are here they live in this in-between, the waiting room between heaven and hell.

Sage memorial
Beach memorial for Sage (photo credit Kari DiPalma)

The death of our friend Sage really affected me. I think I always saw Naomi and Sage as kindred spirits. Adventurous souls with a dream. They were some of the first people we ever met when we moved to Puerto Rico. They welcomed us and encouraged us in our pursuits and we were so excited for them, especially the start of Rincon Beer Company. To see their relationship collapse and the end of their era together come so tragically shook me to the core. We are all so very fragile even when we appear so strong. We try to put on a show that nothing can shake us, that we are “better than,” that we are infallible, that nothing can ever break us. But it’s not usually one thing, it’s the accumulation of a lifetime of weight and burdens that eventually become too hard to carry. We need to remember that we are all carrying something and sometimes we need people to help us and we need to help people take a load off.

Sage Flowers

Beach gathering Sage pie
Rincón style beach potluck memorial

Life seems to be a series of moments that shift between heaven, hell and purgatory. We are always up on the high moments, the moments in heaven. We want more. We want more pleasure, more good times, more angelic periods to celebrate and brag about on Instagram and Facebook. But underneath the surface and often tied to these highs there are the lows. There is often heartache, sadness, anger and other lows that we hide away in the shadows and don’t talk openly about. And interwoven between them are all the other neutral moments of chores and waiting, passing time. The purgatory between them that keeps the highs and lows a little calmer. It is like the weather floating between perfectly sunny skies and hurricanes that we live most of our lives, if we can make it.

It saddens me deeply that we couldn’t reach Sage from his depths that we couldn’t even see hidden under his happy smile. And I still just shake my head in disbelief and in shock that he is gone. I feel so much for Naomi and what she is going through. It just hits too close to home.

Paddle out

The final chapter for Sage was a wonderful Rincón-style community event for this unforgettable pillar of our town. It was a beautiful paddleout ceremony, the first I had ever participated in. People told stories and anecdotes of Sage as the sun gently set and flowers swirled all around in the circle of many of his loved ones. We splashed water as a sort of “cheers to Sage!” And depending on your perspective it was a bittersweet moment, heaven in hell or hell in heaven.

 

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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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