Friday, August 10, 2018

Just wondering...looking back and looking forward

It’s been almost a year since life changed in Puerto Rico. It’s easy to look back, but more difficult to look forward.

I think we wisely chose to concentrate fixing things close to our home. We’re relieved to be off the grid, no longer flinching when the rain comes wondering if the light will go. The pool is better than ever, having replaced the 25 year old motor for one that is variable speed, etc. The lattice and fencing is up and the deck has been repainted. The water well is housed in a new room and the barn is roomy, sturdy and ready for future projects.

And that’s where my thoughts hit a stand still.

The restaurant and casitas are still untouched. The exterminator comes every two months as if nothing has happened and the green casita has been used overnight by friends. I don’t know if they notice the bends and gaps in the screens or the “splinter” in the ceiling reminiscent of patching the roof with metal sheets on the ground. The cottages are almost 20 years old. Switch plates have rusted edges, yellowed books should be tossed and the shades have seen better days, but it still feels like my envisioned “casita del campo”.

The yellow casita makes my heart sink. Flowers and vines invading the openings where screens once were reminding me that “doing nothing” is giving permission to the jungle to take back its land.
As we finish up the barn, we’ll be taking back our “business in the back”. For what purpose? I don’t know yet, but we have to.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Why aren't there any mosquitoes?

“Why don’t you have any mosquitoes here?” That’s one of the first questions we’re asked at our guest house in the mountains of Puerto Rico. I always answer, “I don’t know…I guess it’s because of the bats, birds, lizards and frogs,” but that may change very soon if they begin aerial spraying of Naled. Guests from Guaynabo in the metropolitan area say they no longer hear coquis (the endangered native frog and symbol of Puerto Rico) after trucks began street spraying.

Friends who have relatives in the health field say they haven’t seen an onslaught of Zika cases; in fact they haven’t seen any. I’m sure there are many cases, but I don't know anyone and I do know people who have had  Dengue and Chikungunya. I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist, but this situation is bizarre. Who created this widespread panic and why? Baseball games (major league) were cancelled; the Olympic swimming team refused to train here…what is going on?

that cute little carnivorous coqui
Puerto Rico is a small island and winds carry everything to us. I had ash from the volcano in Montserrat on my car and the Sahara dust wreaks havoc on many who suffer asthma or other respiratory ailments. Puerto Rico's situation economically is precarious and although I’m not an economist  certain things are apparent. The government is broke, but the people aren’t. People are working, shopping, going out to restaurants and paying their light bills. There’s an agricultural movement going on to grow our own food and buy local. The spraying of Naled will change all that. Organic farmers can no longer be organic and I’m sure health problems will arise. Aerial spraying is not the answer to the problem, if indeed there really is a problem.

I’ve watched two news conferences recently. The first had the governor’s cabinet heads gathered around while the governor spoke of the possibility of aerial spraying. All were commenting that if the CDC says the spraying is safe, then it must be safe. Since they have lost all fiscal control, they appear to have lost all sense of their own ability to make judgments or have opinions.  They stood there looking like deer in headlights. I wonder if that’s what happened when they tested Agent Orange here or during the 80s when “coca” (cocaine) was supposedly planted  at the University’s Experimental Agriculture Station so that an herbicide could be tested to kill the crops in Colombia…fighting the drug “war”. Puerto Rico should not be the guinea pig for the United States to test their poisons.
The next conference I saw was with the head of the Dept of Agriculture speaking to farmers. I tuned in to hear a local bee-keeper (yes, we do have bees on the island) say that last time there was spraying (not sure when), it took over six years for the bees to come back and would the Dept. of Agriculture insure this loss? …more deer in the headlight look.

Zika seems to have a mind of its own and is not following professional protocol. It’s spreading and not always in the ways health professionals have told us and is appearing in states not predicted. Zika is not new and since the majority of people infected aren’t even aware of their infections, unlike Dengue and Chikungunya, maybe the birth defects attributed to Zika are not necessarily caused by Zika. It certainly seems that more reliable information is needed about Zika. There is reliable information about Naled and it does NOT need to be sprayed over Puerto Rico.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer in the tropics....a day in the mountains

The beach is full of people, music, coolers and food. The sun’s hot; the water’s warm, but I think I’ll wait til summer’s over to go to the beach.
Summer is our slow season so  I took advantage  of a free Sunday and called a friend to go to the  Café Gran Batey, a family owned and run coffee farm in Utuado. 

Driving the curvy mountain road, you’d never know there is a severe drought in Puerto Rico. The landscape appeared lush and green. We found the Gran Batey easily and drove down their long driveway….entered the building and joined a small group sitting around talking and drinking coffee.
We put in our coffee order (black or with milk) and then they asked us, “Do you want a tour before your coffee?” “Sure”, we said. So as the three people said their good byes, five of us walked to the nearby “finca”. Jose Daniel took us on a short tour pointing out the coffee plants surrounded by breadfruit and orange trees.
From the trees to the machinery (old and new), we saw the process of making “gourmet” coffee. They do it all: picking, ‘shucking’, drying, shelling and roasting….and the love, care and knowledge they put into it shows. The coffee is delicious . As a former coffee farmer who sold our ripe (uva) coffee to the local government cooperative, I learned that my coffee beans ended up mixed with local and outside beans which were then roasted and sold under local labels….which is why the quality varies so much from bag to bag.
After our tour, we returned to drink our coffee and eat some cake. I assume most people buy coffee before leaving; we did. Presently the tour is free and so is the coffee and cake. They’re in the process of expanding some of their public facilities so perhaps they may charge in the future.
If you want to spend the day with family, chatting over coffee…I suggest you visit Jose Morales,  Lotty Aymet and their son Jose Daniel (and maybe their daughter, Angela) and learn about the work and care that goes into your morning brew.
You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Puerto Rico tourists never see

Flamboyant - aptly named

 When I think of Puerto Rico, I picture a little wooden house with a zinc roof and a flamboyant tree. Although there are fewer wooden houses than in the "old days", there are still flamboyants that line the streets and countryside in bold bright colors. The red/orange, yellows and blue/purples grace the streets and highways with their bonsai like form and brilliant colors.

It’s too bad that most tourists will never see this scene because the flamboyant blooms in the heat of the summer and doesn’t last very long.  During the winter months when tourists appear from all parts of the world, the flamboyants are barely visible.  The green trees are camouflaged by their surroundings and are hardly noticed.

·  Plant - Delonix regia
·  Delonix regia is a species of flowering plant in the family Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. It is noted for its fern-like leaves and flamboyant display of flowers. Wikipedia

Saturday, June 21, 2014

21st Century at TJ Ranch

Although most of the world is well into the 21st Century, TJ Ranch is comfortably enjoying the advantages of the 20th Century. We may be 'late bloomers', but that's just fine with me.

In 1991 we got a telephone land line. It's quite extraordinary to tell your 24 year old that he was born before we had a telephone. About five years later we had a large satellite for television viewing. We no longer had to choose between three Puerto Rican stations; we had a whole realm of shows and movies. Our satellite didn't get local stations, so for many years we were unaware of local news or politics. TJ Ranch was a world to itself, an oasis from the "real world"...not actually 'off the grid', just off in our own world.
Then we got a computer and I became adept at the workings of e-mail and "the web." Perhaps because of the slow speed of dial-up, the kids never became enthralled with cyberspace. They learned enough to get by, but not much else. And that's where we were at the end of the 20th Century...and that's just about where we are today.

We have satellite internet and laugh at the ole dial-up days although  when I proudly offered our wifi to a teen-age guest and told him he wouldn't be able to watch some you tubes, stream events, play online games or even skype, he didn't understand. I guess we haven't advanced all that much. 

We have a website and facebook page...and that's about it. I never use my twitter kind of feels like the question," when a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?" If I tweet....can anybody hear? does anybody care? I am "linked-in"...not sure to whom...or why. Instagram, netflix, pintrest, etc., etc. are all happening now, but not at TJ Ranch. Even a smart phone seems pretty stupid here. With scant cell service and slow downloads, a phone becomes...just a phone...and perhaps a camera.

And so here we to e-mail and even bank online. Our new television has more capabilities than a rocket, but we're just fine with our little bit of technology. 

By the way...what's that thing that can skip commercials??? 


Sunday, August 25, 2013

An open letter to Cesar Millan or Why I only have one dog:

One of the few things which upset tourists visitng Puerto Rico is the problem of stray dogs on the island. Now a days there are numerous organizations which are trying to deal with the problem and I will post links for them. Juan Agustín Márquez's documentary: "100,000" has demonstrated the dire situation of dogs in Puerto Rico and many celebrities have  finally rallied to the cause with donations and public service announcements on television. Here's a picture of a cutie dumped on the hill. I don't know what ever happened to him.

This blog is a personal essay, perhaps a lame excuse, or maybe a cry for help to Cesar to why I only have one dog (and two cats).

I live in a doggie Garden of Eden. We have 42 acres of farm/jungle in the mountains of Puerto Rico. We're fenced in...originally for our goats...and now.. for us, I guess. We've always had dogs and although never properly trained, they became "good" dogs as they aged. With plenty of space, they never were "bad" dogs...unless rolling in the mud, jumping in the pool, sitting on the couch, jumping up to greet you with muddy paws...or stealing food off a tv tray is considered "bad". I've always considered dogs "family", and so keeping them outside never seemed particularly fair. Kathy, New Years, BC, Corazon, Mota, and Puppy will always have a special place in my heart.

Now we have Camila...or rather I have Camila. She showed up about three years ago when our kids were off to college, and she became mine. She was extremely shy, scared and eternally grateful (my interpretation) to find a loving home. I didn't hear her bark for weeks; she didn't dare come into the finally had a trained dog. We have a guesthouse/B&B and Camila would follow me and sit quietly in the corner of the restaurant. Poco a poco (little by little) all that changed. Guests loved her..."oh I miss our dog at home"..."we don't mind..she's ok"....and so now she's part of the business. Sometimes she jumps on people, but not usually. She doesn't beg for food, but if you pet her, she'll stay next to you begging for "carino" (affection). If she gets annoying, I can easily give her a treat and tie her in the corner.

Although I know it is possible to train a dog (or many dogs) to stay in certain areas, I don't think I can do it. I don't want more dogs in the restaurant or to follow me around, and I don't think I'm capable of letting one do something and not the others.

Today my daughter is paying to spay a dog dumped in the neighborhood. Catalina (the dog) will be staying here while she recuperates and then be put back on the street at a place where she has a bit of shelter and food from neighbors. I too will dump some dog food in her dish as I pass by. The #1 spay and release in the neighborhood...not a solution, but hopefully a step in curbing the problem. Here's Catalina, post operation...ready for a loving home or else back to the street.

And so Cesar Millan...if you can train be able to keep more doggies out of my open-air, no door restaurant...and to keep them away from guests who may not like dogs...and still let them be part of my "family"...I would gladly take two or three more dogs, but for now...I'll have to take care of the animals I have...1 doggie, 2 cats, chickens and ducks, fish and turtles...and of course our Puerto Rican coquises.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jungle Living

 Maintenance is the name of the game here in the jungle. Plant a tree and come back in two months and see if you can find it. We bought a couple of weeping willows once...imagining a future pond with weeping willows along the shore, but weeds and vines strangled them until they were no longer to be found.

Live at the beach in the tropics and everything rusts from the salt. Live in the mountains and it's the dampness. Buckles disappear... and  old videotapes develop cotton balls long before they were outdated with DVDs.I finally got a dryer when our guesthouse needed dry towels and I couldn't depend on the sun (or me removing dry items on time).

Just look at our "camping area". No longer camping, but our beautiful bowl down the hill...perfect for meditation, bird watching, or simply hanging's a jungle adventure when we haven't cut the grass and a landscaped coconut grove when we have. You can almost watch the grass grow after the rain. Rain, sun, rain, sun....and there it grows..inch by inch.

Our ceiba tree is reaching for the sky. Planted as a sapling with a thorny trunk, it now has lost its thorns and has its massive roots beginning to cross the jungle floor. Sure to outlive us, the ceiba tree has found its home at the base of the hill. This jungle suits it well.

Sometimes it's just a coat of paint that makes things right.

 But usually it's water power that's needed. The pressure machine is our best friend. When the green stuff appears on the sidewalk, it's time to pull out the machine. I wish I could get my hands on one of those New York street cleaners that used to annoy me with alternate side of the street parking. Sitting atop one of those massive machines with the brushes rolling....I could be Queen of the Jungle. Who ever thought you'd have to clean your roofs with so much rain... but what a difference the cleaning can make.

So come and visit us here in the jungle. Watch the grass grow...listen to the sounds of the forest....grab a machete....or if you prefer....stay out of the jungle and just RELAX!