Thursday, August 27, 2009

More goings and comings

Last week we said adios to more friends. Caitlin left the island for a while to attend a rash of weddings and coincidentally serve and internship in wedding photography. Her guy JW leaves tomorrow to join her. They will be back - they promised!

Also last week Licia left us. She's back on the mainland with husband Mike and their kids Mason and Ella. When Mike and the kids left at the beginning of the summer, we thought/hoped it was just for the summer. But Mike got a job (! congratulations! It was way too long a wait.) and Licia worked a deal so she could do her job (in Puerto Rico) remotely (from Colorado). They'd only planned to stay on the island a year and were here almost a year and a half so that was a bonus.

We miss you guys! Come back and visit when you can.

It's not all goings though. Our good good good friends Katie and Jill came in Sunday morning for a week. I gotta tell ya, a week ain't long enough! But we're all having fun and enjoying a wonderful visit and adventure. Here they are, getting their picture taken on Borinquen Beach, the "set" of the movie, A Perfect Getaway .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fodor's Guide to Puerto Rico

Last Thursday evening a couple stopped at Ola Lola's and were a bit surprised (and a bit disappointed?) we were closed. We explained our days and hours, that we would be open Friday. Turns out our new friends Ben and Marlise are writers for Fodor's travel guides. They are on the island updating information for the new edition of Fodor's Guide to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, they were moving on to Rincon on Friday and would probably miss us. We had a nice chat, talked about our little corner of the island, what's what, what's good. We told them about our menu and suggested they try One-Ten-Thai for dinner, which they did, which they loved.

We got an e-mail from them on Sunday saying they were coming for dinner on Monday. Cool! They talked to Andy at One-Ten-Thai and others about our place. The "word on the street" about Ola Lola's was so good, so positive they decided to drive back to Shacks from Rincon for dinner with us. Elaine has done such an incredible job with the food and the menu! And the word is out.

We had a nice mellow crowd on Monday, busy but not harried. Ben and Marlise got to meet some of our resident "characters" and got to bask in that one-of-a-kind Ola Lola's atmosphere. I think they thoroughly enjoyed their dinners - Elaine's Awesome Asiago-Artichoke dip, Chipotle Chicken sandwich and her Asian Chicken Sandwich.

One of the things we try to do is to (pleasantly!) surprise our guests, with excellent, first-rate service first and foremost, with our drink and beer selection, and with Elaine's amazing menu. There is a certain level of expectation when you pull up to a place like Ola Lola's. I mean, it's a rum shack. It's a cute rum shack, a "lemonade stand for grown-ups" as one of our friends described it, but a rum shack none the less. (BTW - it's more of a lemonade stand for "never grown-ups.") On the first visit, most people don't expect to find a choice of 16 beers. Or Grey Goose. Or the "best pina coladas in the world" (according to the Billabong women's surf team). You certainly don't expect a menu with four gourmet chicken sandwiches, a homemade burger with your choice of 23 different toppings. Or three amazing appetizer dips. We try to always exceed expectations.

Ben and Marlise were surprised we've only been doing this 2-1/2 years. In their experience it usually takes much longer to reach the level we've reached, in quality, variety and customer following.

First Islands magazine. Then the cover and a story about kite surfing at Shacks. And coming in 2010, Ola Lola's (and One-Ten-Thai!) in the 6th edition of Fodor's Guide to Puerto Rico. Thank you, Universe! And thank you, Ben and Marlise, for coming back to visit us! We're honored.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Worth waiting for

This is what the surfers have been waiting for - a BIG storm out over the Atlantic, not too close, but close enough to drive some deep swell waves our way. Twelve to 16 foot waves were predicted for our North Shore. I checked out Middles (where this was shot), Surfers and Wilderness. Middles seemed to have the best of it although there were people out at all three breaks. I'll try to get these posted to tonight after Ola Lola's closes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Much ado about nothing (this time)

Well, Tropical Storm Ana, the first named storm of the season was barely a whimper when she finally went past the island. For a while it looked like she was heading right at us but then she slipped off to the south and fizzled out. By the time she passed us, she was down-graded to a tropical depression and then fell apart completely. The irony is there is more wind today - after the storm - than there was yesterday.

Hurricane Bill looks to be a pretty powerful storm but it's going way north of us (thank you!). Surfers here on PR's north coast and surfers up and down the US East Coast are hoping Bill generates some decent late-summer surfing swell.

There was another tropical disturbance off the coast of Africa behind Bill but that seems to have dropped off the map and radar.

There was lot of talk about these storms, a lot of buying up bottled water and other preparations. But this time it seems to be much ado about nothing. For now the horizon is clear and the weather is beautiful. And we're really grateful!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"They paved paradise...

and put up a parking lot." Or in this case a parking lot and buildings and 72 (or is it 96?) apartments/condos.

The Developer has started clearing the land at Shacks Beach as the first stage of building his project. Once the land is cleared, he plans to bring in truckload after truckload of fill to raise the level of the land so he can build on it. From the sales prospectus we've seen, it is exactly the same project as before, minus the two additional floors. Now it's three floors, not five.

"Don't it always seem to go/you don't know what you've got til it's gone. They paved paradise/and put up a parking lot."

But we do know what we've got! This is the view 180 degrees and just a few meters from the destruction zone above:

And this shot, looking west, shows the project (the small brown wedge at the left is the area that has been cleared so far; the project area extends through the greenery to where the buildings start at left-center), the dune (the heavily vegetated strip kinda diagonally through the center), the beach, the ocean and the Shacks community beyond. You can see how close the project is to the dune, beach and ocean.

The problem is some people don't seem to care. It seems that some people won't be satisfied until our whole coast is covered in concrete and Isabela looks like Rincon - over-rated, over-priced and WAY over developed. Money is more important than the environment that attracted many of us here in the first place.

(The other song that is going through my head is Tracy Chapman's "The Rape of the World.")

And it's not just here! The same Developer is planning another 124-unit project about 1/2 mile east of here, right next to Bamboo Beach. The owners of the quaint old-school bungalows at Villas del Mar Hau want to built an 11-story mixed condos and tourist rental high rise and then tear down the bungalows. They want to build almost right on ocean and their plan for sewage is to use septic tanks!

Why? How much is enough? How much concrete is enough? How many condos? Before the economy went south, there was a glut of four years worth of unsold housing on the island. Do we really need more? How much money is enough to satisfy these developers? How much damage to the beach, ocean and reefs is enough? To create fill for these sites (which were mined for sand years ago), they will need to tear down the mountains. How much is enough?

And at what cost? What cost to the environment, cost to the lifestyle we came here for? And if the environment is destroyed, who will want to live here? What value will these expensive condos have if there is no beach, if there is no reef, if there are no fish to see snorkeling or diving here?

If you ask me, we're way WAY past enough!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Horse bar

What's a horse got to do to get a drink around here? Chocolate bellies up to the bar at Ola Lola's.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy middle of August and other random thoughts

The middle of August already. Where did June and July go? School starts here next week!

I was closing Ola Lola's the other night and I realized again how much I like being in a public space after it closes, after everyone else leaves. It was late, dark, quiet except for the sound of the wind. I don't know why, but I like those moments. It's always been that way. It's one of the (many) things I liked about being a theater designer/tech director. I was frequently the first one in the theater, unlocking doors, turning on lights, and usually the last to leave. There is something magical, for me at least, in those moments. It's not just the quiet or that it's relaxing - I'm usually still working. At the end of the night at Ola Lola's for example, I'm stacking tables and chairs, putting stuff away.

There is something about the energy in a public place after the public leaves. It may have the same source as our fascination with ruins of ancient or historic places like castles or forts. It may be the same fascination that drives people to look for abandoned buildings or abandoned subway tunnels. Yes, I'd like to do that too. Weird, but I like it.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Querida rides Chocolate

Our Scottish friends James, Elaine and their daughter Querida were visiting our local Scottish friends George and Mary last week. While they were here, we celebrated Elaine's birthday at Ola Lola's and Querida got to ride Chocolate. It was only here second time ever on a horse.

She said she was scared at first, but by the time her "lesson" was over, "our" Elaine said she was the best new rider she has ever seen. Querida certainly did look comfortable on Chocolate. She trotted and cantered around the ring. And Chocolate was listening and paying attention to her, much better than he listens to me.

Querida is just 14, a beautiful, multi-talented young lady. Not only does she ride well, she is an amazing golfer. When she was here in PR the last time, she played the Royal Isabela golf course with Stanley and Charlie. She tied Stanley! She was invited to play in the European Junior Championships in Spain last year. And she just started playing when she was 13. I probably don't need to say this, but her parents James and Elaine are very proud!

They left Friday morning to go back to Scotland. It gets harder for Querida to leave every time she comes to Puerto Rico. She loves it here. I know just how she feels.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor is now a Justice

Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in this morning as the 111th Justice of the US Supreme Court. (Did you notice - 111?) A woman. A Hispanic woman. A puertoriqueña! Awesome! Amazing! For the second time this year, I am truly deeply proud to be an American! (Finally, after eight years of total shame and embarrassment!) Justice Sotomayor is an excellent choice to sit on the Supreme Court, despite the on-going fear-mongering of some conservative Republicans.

A Perfect Getaway

We've waited months for the movie A Perfect Getaway to come out. Although the story is set in Hawaii, much of the location shooting was done here in Puerto Rico, on Borinquen beach and at the golf course our friends Stanley and Charlie and David are building in Isabela. While they were filming the movie, one of the stars, Steve Zahn, came to Ola Lola's to hang out. The film is getting pretty good reviews. We're planning to go see it Tuesday. We'll let you know what we think of it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Comings and goings

One of the constants about our little corner of the world is change. Partly because we are a tourist area, partly because of the number of US government (Homeland Security, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection) and military, partly because of corporate transfers, comings and goings are pretty common. This month, we have a bunch of goings.

Our good friends Eric and Poppy left this weekend for a new assignment in the States. We miss them already. They are more than great friends: Poppy is one of our favorite "book swap" buddies and a wonderful, beautiful surfer. Eric has been my favorite subject for kite surfing photos. (There is a new set of pictures from his last day on the island on Flickr.)

This weekend another good friend left amid tears and hugs. Grace, who was most often seen as a trail guide at Tropical Trailrides, is back in New York to go back to school. Grace, we miss your smile and your joy and your laughter. Feel free to visit any time. I think we can arrange a ride on Chocolate if you miss being saddle-sore.

Also earlier this month, our surfer friends Ashley and Drew got married and then left for Florida. Later this month another of of Coastie buddies, Ian, leaves for a new assignment. And Caitlin and JW leave next week.

But it's not all goings. Our friend Janelle came back this weekend (after getting stuck in Florida for two extra days). While government and corporate transfers take friends off the island, they bring new friends in. And friends do come back: for example, after two years Anne, a friend from our early days here, came back back with her friend Sara for brief visit.

All the goings make us appreciate the time we have with our friends that much more and not take any of that time for granted. Both the comings and the goings are reasons to celebrate friendships, whether close or distant.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Breakfast with reef squid

and sand drums and blue tang and ocean surgeonfish and parrotfish and sergeant majors and... and...

I love starting my day with a snorkel or dive in the ocean!