Friday, December 26, 2014

10 years after


On December 26, 2004, a devastating tsunami hit Thailand. As the news broke, we were at sea, on a cruise through the Caribbean. We even got the news on board the ship.

Three days later we got married on a Caribbean island.

Five nights after the tsunami struck, on New Year's Eve, we were sailing back toward Puerto Rico. As the clock moved toward midnight and the toll in lives and property in Thailand continued to rise, I confess the thought occurred to me - was I the only one on this cruise ship who had seen The Posidon Adventure? That was a movie about cruise ship that was capsized by a giant tidal wave just before midnight on New Year's Eve.

I meant - and mean - no disrespect for the people and victims of the tsunami in Thailand. The tragedy was huge - and very scary.

Thailand is rebuilding. And our cruise ship survived New Year's Eve.

3,000 peanut butter burgers?!?


This weekend? Maybe. If not this weekend, then next weekend for sure. It all depends on you. Are you going to help us get to 3,000?

Three THOUSAND peanut butter burgers.

Wow! Who'd a thunk it?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas


It's been a wonderful Christmas - a wonderful dinner last night with friends, Christmas morning Skyping with the grandkids (almost as good as being there) then a wonderful dinner at home with more friends.

We hope your holiday has been equally wonderful.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sargassum returns

 

Sargassum - a brown seaweed - has washed up up on our beach for the last few days. We don't really know where it comes from. There are rumors it is disturbed by fishing trawlers passing out at sea. I don't know.

What I do know is that even though we've seen sargassum on our beaches before, we've never seen this much or seen it last this long. It's coming in waves. Fresh seaweed washes ashore even as yesterday's and the day before's change color as they dry in the sun. It is piled up in ridges like brown snowdrifts two or three feet high. It stretches all along the north shore. Fortunately it doesn't wrap around to the beaches in the west, Crashboat, Natural, etc.

We'll see how long this lasts.




 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Por fin - buceando! (Diving at last!)


 As I wrote before, it has been a great fall for surf but at the expense of diving. That - fortunately! - came to an end this week. We've been diving three out of the last four days.

The waves have been down, at least around the corner, so the "west" has been good. There hasn't been rain in the mountains for a couple of days so there is nothing washing down the rivers and visibility is getting better.

We've been to the reef at Natural all three times, expecting to get the strong current from the south. We've parked one truck at Wishing Well thinking we would do the drift dive. This week has been a great example of why you don't take anything for granted at Natural. Saturday we had  a gentle but noticeable north current. Sunday we started drifting on a south current and thought "ah! Here it is." About halfway to Wishing Well the current turned to the north. So we turned and headed back to Natural, drifting the other way. We were almost back to Natural when the current shifted back to south so the last little bit was a kick back. Today, it was north all the way, strong enough that we nearly overshot our landmark to turn to shore.

But it as been wonderful getting back in the water! It looks like we have the rest of this week and then another big swell comes in on Saturday. Right now we're planning dives Christmas morning and Friday morning. Then it's back to surf.

But I have some good photos to remember this lull by.





 



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Surf Surf Surf!


It has been all surf all the time this fall. After one of the worst surf seasons in memory last year, this fall has been rippin'! I've taken more surf photos in October, November and so far in December than I did all of last season (October to April). And honestly, it's some of the best work I've ever done.

Of course all that great surf comes at a price. I haven't been snorkeling or diving in nearly six weeks. The last time was in early November, nice easy dive at Natural. Since then, between the waves and the bad visibility caused by lots of rain - nada.


The other price I pay for all this great surf photography is time. I go out for two or three hours of shooting and come back with 600 images to post process and edit and then post on the website. Then I edit them again to put the best-of-the-best on Flickr. It all adds up to a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. I'm not complaining - I love it! But it is part of the reason I haven't written more here.

You can see all my surf photography on our website, www.puertoricosurfphoto.com. If you want the "readers digest" version, check out our Flickr site. We are up to just over 6,500 photos on Flickr that cover pretty much our whole Puerto Rican adventure.

Today it's rainy and windy so no photography. I'm off to the weekly shopping for Ola Lola's.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Criollo Thanksgiving dinner


It's a week after Thanksgiving and I'm grateful for LEFTOVERS! This is the first time I got to try our criollo Thanksgiving from last week's specials. Pavo-chon - turkey seasoned the way the local lechon asado (roast pork) is made. Arroz y gandules - Elaine's most excellent first attempt at this local criollo rice-and-beans staple. Batatas y amarillos - batatas are the local sweet potatoes, milder and not as intense as American sweet potatoes. Amarillos are ripe plantains. Elaine roasted the two together and tossed them with just a hint of cayenne pepper. And lastly, homemade cranberry sauce, my only contribution to the feast. 

As one of our Ola Lola's specials it is the most criollo meal we've offered at Ola Lola's. We made a conscious decision at the very beginning that we weren't going to do criollo. There are so many wonderful criollo cooks and criollo restaurants nearby. We felt - and still feel - we should let others do what they do best and we'll do our thing. 

However, Elaine certainly proved she can do criollo with the best of them. Was there ever really any doubt?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Sick sucks

Being sick anywhere sucks. Being sick on a tropical island sucks more. Elaine is finally shaking the chicungunya virus but we both have acquired a respirtory "thing" that's going around. Fever, yo-yo-ing temperature, cough, a complete energy drain...this SUCKS!

Haven't been able to spend any time with the horses. Running the dogs on the beach has been short and sporadic. Haven't been out photographing surfers all week. Because of ocean conditions - rough, wavy, and poor visibility because of lots of rain - I haven't been diving in TWO MONTHS!

Okay, I'm not really whining. After all, it's still 81 degrees. There is no snow in our forecast. And while surf forecasts are for fair-to-middling surf through the weekend, it looks like great surf mid-week next week.


We're looking forward to felling better and to great surf! And to diving again soon. I miss it!

Friday, November 28, 2014

No "black" Friday here

  

Nothing "black" about Friday here in Ola Lola's neighborhood! We are surrounded by a stunning tropical palette of greens - from translucent jade to turquoise to the light in the depths of an emerald, of blues - from the paleness of a star sapphire to deep-ocean cobalt, of sparkling whites, all under this blazing clear Caribbean sun. 

We are so grateful that we get to live in and share this amazing place. We are constantly awed by the beauty and the wonder of the world around us.

Come hang out with us a while. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

From Elaine:

To all my friends and family - near and far - just know I love and appreciate you soooo much on this Thanksgiving day! I am dealing with chikungunya still and in the past 24 hours some new virus has found my depressed immune system so it's been less than pleasant to say the least. And I don't normally post this kind of personal info but there are people I have wanted to write, call, talk with, be with and reach out to who may wonder where I am. And, well....I'm here and just trying to get through what's directly in front of me, and being very very grateful for all the help I have received from my love, John Cosby and friends who have been so supportive, shared in my pains, given me many moments of humor, and helped me see rainbows when it just felt like rain.

(Chicungunya is the latest tropical mosquito-born virus to hit the Caribbean. It was first discovered in Tanzania in 1952 but was mostly confined to Africa. The first confirmed case in the Caribbean was in St. Thomas in 2013. Since then, in a little over a year, it has swept through the Caribbean and most of Central America. Estimates are 800,000 to 1 million people in the Caribbean have or have had it. It is rarely fatal but is incredibly debilitating. Although the fever phase is relatively mild and short, other effects can last for weeks, months or even a year. The disease mostly affects the joints. Descriptions range from "having ground glass in all my joints" to "being pounded by sledge hammers every time I move." Elaine is in her ninth week of this crap.)

Still, there is so much to be grateful for - family, friends, our home, our animal "family." From here on our little island we wish a very happy and grateful Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

More vistors from St Lucia


So it has been a busy month since our last post. I really do apologize for the delay. I've started bits and pieces of posts but for one reason or another haven't seemed to finish them. Not that there is nothing to write about mind you - there is always a lot going on. It's just finding the time and motivation to make it happen.

Two of Elaine's friends and colleagues, Wendy and Marie, from St Lucia came to visit in October. We, and especially Elaine - spent a bit of time showing them around our island.

It's always interesting comparing thoughts and impressions with visitors from other islands.  I think for many the phrase "Caribbean island" conjures up stereotypical images - white sand beaches, tropical drinks, fabulous hotels, rain forests. And I think there is there is and impression that "Caribbean islands" are all pretty much the same. Honestly, they are not.

For example, Puerto Rico is unusual in that it is not a volcanic island like Dominica or St Lucia. It is rather a limestone uplift, caused by the North American tectonic plate sliding under the Puerto Rican or Caribbean plate. We, that is Puerto Rico, sit right near the edge of that plate. Because of the tectonic activity we have a number of relatively small earthquakes around us practically everyday. Most of them we don't feel but occasionally one shakes the buildings. (One occurred in the middle of the night two years ago. With the memory of the tsunami in Japan still fresh, people living down here near the ocean fled, trying to get "up the mountain" to higher ground. There were so many people trying to drive up the hill there was a traffic jam at 2:30 in the morning. And really, there was no danger of a tsunami: that terremoto, like most of the ones we feel, happened inland, not in the ocean.)

Then there is the perception of size. As small as Puerto Rico is (111 miles by 39 miles, the smallest of the Greater Antilles), it is larger than any of the islands down the chain. Puerto Rico is big enough that it doesn't feel like an island, although people do get island fever and have to get off to the mainland U.S. St Lucia feels like an island. It is very small, less that 300 square miles. Because it is a volcanic island, the interior of St Lucia is very rugged, very steep and impassable so most of the living space is concentrated around the edges, making it seem even smaller.

And then there's shopping. A lot of mainlanders just have to get off the island to shop. They just cannot find anything here. This in spite of the presence of Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, outlet malls, malls in Mayaguez and Ponce and and and. A lot of statesiders, both visitors and those of us who live here, bemoan the lack of selection in grocery stores, especially fresh produce. There is something to this complaint:fresh produce is less plentiful here than in the States.

But for visitors from other islands like St Lucia, Puerto Rico is a shopping heaven. In fact, one of the major goals for Marie and Wendy's trip to PR was to shop for thing they cant get in St Lucia.

Celebrating differences is part of why we travel and why we choose to live outside our comfort zones.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Surf season


Surf season has begun in earnest. We got double-overhead waves from Hurricane Gonzalo But that was just one day. We've pretty good surf for a couple of weeks. We already have 10 galleries of photos up on our website, www.PuertoRicoSurfPhoto.com. That's just so far this month. I think that's about the total for all of last surf season. One, it was a bad surf year. Two, with Elaine in St. Lucia, I just couldn't get out much. Here's hoping that will be very different this year.

In addition to our website you can also see our photos on Flickr. Take a few minutes and check 'em out. We hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dodged one that time.


 For a couple of days we sat here and watched Tropical Storm Gonzalo take aim at la isla. Just before it hit the island the tropical storm strengthened to a Cat 1 hurricane.

And then, Gonzalo made a hard right turn away from us. We got a little rain, a little wind and today some waves from the storm but that's it.

Now, Gonzalo is a Cat 3 hurricane churning toward Bermuda. Latest forecast indicate the storm is weakening a bit so Bermuda may only see tropical storm force winds.

We were lucky. The northernmost of the Lesser Antilles - St Marrtin, St Martin, St Barths, Antiqua - were hit pretty hard. We were spared. And we're grateful.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Visitor from another island



We recently had a visitor from another island - Elaine's (and my) friend, Elaine from St. Lucia. That's Elaine on the left and Elaine on the right.

So how does one entertain a guest from another island? Well, first you ask! "What do you want to do while you're here?" Fortunately for us Elaine had some pretty definite ideas: horseback riding on the beach, snorkeling, scuba diving.

As I've written before, all those things are available in St. Lucia but the options are more limited than here in PR. And, each island is different. Riding on the beach in St. Lucia is not the same as riding here.

We got her off to a great start. She'd barely arrived when we took her swimming with the horses.


For her first beach ride, she rode Chocolate bareback.



The next morning it was off for a full-on beach ride, the first of several.


After riding and a bit of lunch, we were all off to Wishing Well to snorkel at one of our favorite sites.


video

 They were almost too tired for the pot-luck party at Ola Lola's (since we weren't open).

Another day, another ride on the beach. Then, scuba diving!












For a final adventure, we all went to La Parguera to snorkel among the mangroves.



And a Lucian picnic in Puerto Rico - Pitons (the really good beer from St. Lucia) and homemade "bakes."


We managed to knock quite a few things off Elaine's "50 things to do in my 50s" list. So much fun!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My yuppie shopping hell

While we were in northern Ohio, I found myself in - what was to me - yuppie shopping hell.

I was designated taxi for a trip to the dentist which happened to be next to a big shopping area, not a mall really, but a bunch of free-standing big-box stores next to a strip mall. So there I was, in a huge parking lot, surrounded by a huge Target, a huge Marshall's, a three-story Kohl's and Lowe's (which by definition is huge).

I was in fact looking for two kitchen items: a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup and an inexpensive knife sharpener. (I'd already been to two stores looking for these same two items.) Shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong!

The huge Target had two knife sharpeners, one an electric whiz-bang for $52 and another for $22. A new set of knives was less expensive! Oh - and no two-cup measuring cups. One-cup and three-cup, yes, but no two-cup. Marshall's had the measuring cup but no knife sharpeners. Kohl's and Lowe's didn't have either.

What struck me - beyond the fact that in all that stuff I couldn't find two, simple, basic items - was just how much STUFF there was. Racks and piles and shelves and on and on of...stuff. It was overwhelming.

I admit I don't like shopping in the first place. Shopping is something I do out of necessity. It is not a calming recreational activity. I couldn't wait to get out of whichever store I was in. Too intense. Overwhelming. Couldn't breathe. And all that stuff. More of it in more colors and more sizes and more brands doesn't make it better. It just makes it more. Consumerism run rampant.

That - the consumerism - more than anything is why I don't want to move back to the States. 

I can only imagine what the average Puerto Rican shopper would think in a place like I saw. Shopping here is a national past time. I often think it's a good thing we're in a recession. I can't imagine how people would be, how crowded stores would be if there was actual money. Maybe our little Walmart plaza would look like that place in suburban Cleveland. God, I hope not.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Notes from the roadtrip


From Ohio we hit the road for a short visit with family and friends in Kalamazoo. We met up with a lot of friends at a mostly impromptu "we're going to be there tonight" get-together at Bell's.


After a couple of changes of plans, we had a wonderful breakfast with our son Jason on Saturday before hitting the road again. The last minute plan changes meant we didn't get to see some people we'd hoped to see. We are truly sorry about that.

One of those last minute changes was instead of heading to the UP driving north through Michigan, we headed around Lake Michigan through Chicago, Milwaukee and on up through Wisconsin.

I don't think I've ever seen the sky over Chicago so clear.


The main reason for the trip around the lake was so we could stop in Milwaukee at the Mots Kite Festival. For years we performed flying kite ballets in the sky at this festival. Because of the economy we haven't been able to get back for a few years. This trip was just to say visit with many of our kiting friends, not to perform. But we did spend a lovely afternoon with some fabulous people.


Thank you all for the warm warm welcome. We love you guys! (Scott, how were you not in this picture?)

A sidebar to our stop in Milwaukee was LEON's!


I've written about Leon's before: purveyors of the the world's best frozen custard, inspiration for the drive-in in the TV show Happy Days.


When we performed at the festivals in Milwaukee. Leon's was always our last stop headed south out of town. This time, it was our first stop going in since we would head north out of town when we left. Strawberry sundae with buttered pecan custard topped with extra buttered pecans. Oh my... GOODNESS!

From Milwaukee it was north on I-43 along the western coast of Lake Michigan to Green Bay. Green Bay is more than a storied NFL franchise, more than a city of that name. There really is a bay named Green Bay. It is a long "sub-basin" at the top of Lake Michigan.

We stopped for dinner in Green Bay at a little place called Plae Bistro. It has great reviews and recommendations, all of which say "don't be put of by the location." That is absolutely true. It's a great little restaurant that apparently has been there for several years. But...it is the only business open in a strip mall that faces the back of a Holiday Inn. The ambiance inside and the food more than make up for the weird location. Even the little patio area (the "plae pen") is nicer than the setting would indicate.

 
Did I mention the food? How about pecan-encrusted walleye? Oh yum!

After dinner we headed up the west shore of Green Bay and crossed into the Michigan UP at Menominee. We spent the night in a motel right on the bay shore. When we woke up, we were ready to start our Upper Peninsula adventure.






Monday, September 22, 2014

Back to the beginning

So the main reason for this trip...

A couple of months ago our daughter Amy called. When she and Miquel got married they didn't have a honeymoon. So for their anniversary they wanted to Tortola (a friend has a house there they could use) and would we watch the kids?

Watch the kids in Tortola? Hell yes!

No.

Okay, so we'll meet you in San Juan and the kids can stay with us. Right?

No.

New house, new town, first week of school and all that.

They went to Tortola, we went to - wait for it - Cleveland!


But we did get to spend 10 days spoiling two of our grand-children. We got to take them to school and pick them up everyday. We sent to the pool and had ice cream at Malley's. Kennedy learned to ride her bike without training wheels (Kai learned a week later.) and learned to kick in the pool with straight legs. We took Cody (the dog) running in one of the near-by parks and he learned to swim in the pond.


 

They are so amazing! and we had such a fabulous time with them!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Chasing waterfalls




The second reason for going to the UP - after Pictured Rocks - was waterfalls. The UP has dozens, maybe hundreds of them. The same sandstone escarpment that forms Pictured Rocks forms the ridges a bit inland that water tumbles over.


The most famous of all the UP waterfalls is Tahquamenon Falls. The Upper Falls is the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Four miles downstream from the Upper Falls is the Lower Falls, a set of five drops. Tahquamenon was on our list for our last day: we didn't make it. That story coming up.

We did make it to seven other falls, some right by the roadside, some a hike back in the wood. Some were in "well-developed" areas with parking and trails and "facilities." Others (our favorites) were more rustic on paths less traveled. You can see a bunch more waterfalls on our Flickr page.


So why not Tahquemenon? We planned to go to Paradise (yes, Paradise is in Michigan's UP), Whitefish Point (near where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down) and Tahquemenon Falls on Wednesday, our last day in the UP. But...Tuesday night we caught a weather report. A big storm was coming across the Midwest and heading right for us. Gale force winds, heavy rain, flooding. The biggest worry for us was we were on the north side of the Mackinac Bridge.

The Mackinac (pronounced mack-en-naw) Bridge is five miles long and connects the Upper and Lower Penensulas over the Straits of Mackinac. Winds howl through the Straits anyway. When there is a storm and high winds, they close the bridge. We were on the "wrong" side to get stuck on.

So early Wednesday morning, instead of heading for White Fish Point and Paradise and Tahquamenon, we headed south for the Bridge. We drove straight through to Cleveland, nine-and-a-half hours.

On Thursday, we checked the news for the UP. Winds blew through at over 60 miles an hour. There was flooding. The public dock in Munising - where we'd been the day before - was damaged and closed. Lake Superior went from flat, calm, beautiful to raging 14-foot waves. Surfers (in heavy wetsuits) were surfing the waves in Marquette. The water temperature in the lake dropped more than 20 degrees overnight. The air temperature dropped even more.

We were very happy to be on the south side of the bridge. And the extra day in Ohio gave us extra time to visit family.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pictured Rocks

So we've been away for a while. Did anyone wonder why? We were off-island for three weeks visiting, taking care of grandkids and doing some site-seeing. This is going to be a multi-part tale of the trip but not necessarily in chronological order. In fact, the first installment is from the middle of the trip.

(Disclaimer: any friends along the way whom we did not see, we are so sorry. Truly. Except for the first week, which was locked in, we deliberately kept things flexible. Translation? Some visits got in, some didn't. We enjoyed every one of the visits we made and sorely miss the ones we missed.)

So where do people who live on a tropical island go on vacation? Would you believe the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?

For those who don't know Michigan, first, it's way up north in the U.S. It has two giant peninsulas in the Great Lakes: the Upper Peninsula and (cleverly) the Lower Peninsula. The two are divided by the Straits of Mackinac (pronounced mack-a-naw). The five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge connects the two halves. Before the Bridge opened in 1957, the only way to get between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas was by ferry or by driving around Lake Michigan through Indiana, up through Chicago, Illinois and Wisconsin. People who live in the Upper Peninsula are called "Yoopers." Those from the Lower Peninsula are called "Trolls" (because they live "under the bridge").

The northern shore of the Upper Peninsula (UP) is defined by Lake Superior, the largest and deepest of the five Great Lakes. That northern edge of Michigan is home to one of the most amazing places on this earth: the Pictured Rocks National Seashore.



For 12 miles of coastline great brightly colored sandstone cliffs rise 200 to 300 feet above Lake Superior. The colors come from minerals dissolved in spring water that seeps through the sandstone and runs down the face of the rock, White is calcium, black manganese, red iron, green copper.

  

The rocks look like great drip paintings. The colors are everywhere.

The Pictured Rocks are why we came to the UP on this vacation. Nine years ago, on our first vacation to the west side of Puerto Rico, we visited a beach called Punta Borinquen. Elaine's first thoughts her first words were, "It looks like Pictured Rocks in the UP!" I had to admit that even though I lived in Michigan for 25 years, I'd never been to the UP or to Pictured Rocks. This trip was to make up for that deficit.

So here is the cliff at Punta Borinqen:


 Here are two more photos of Pictured Rocks:




https://www.flickr.com/photos/ola-lolas/sets/72157647146178777/

 Crazy similar! Very different formations - the UP is sandstone, Borinquen is limestone - crazy similar. More about Lake Superior coming soon. 

There are many more photos of Pictured Rocks on our Flickr page.