Category Archives: Weather

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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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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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!

water-out-the-window-2
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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