Sunday, July 22, 2018

NOW July 22, 2018 Back again

Fifty- two day into the hurricane season and no hurricanes yet. More than a month since my last post. Sorry about that. It's been a busy few weeks.

We spent a lot of time finishing getting Ola Lola's and the Lola House ready for the new owners.

At the same time we had to get our new house ready to move into. Nothing had been done at the new place - which we've named Castaways - since Maria and the former tenant moved back to the mainland. Trees and fences were down in the yard. The yard itself was totally overgrown. A digger (front end loader/backhoe) spent three whole days clearing the trees from the yard and the area behind the house where the horse corral will go. The house needed cleaning and painting.

 We got everything moved to Castaways a week before "the Kids" came. Lots of work, lots of time spent but we're beginning to see light that isn't the headlight of another train coming at us.

The house still needs a lot of work and we have to secure the property so we can bring the horses down. But as we say, "poca a poco" - little by little, one day, one step, one task at a time.

We took nearly two weeks off island to the mainland to visit family and friends. Elaine has been back to the mainland several times - for equine therapy certification training and family crises - but I realized I haven't been off island in nearly four years. I haven't seen family or friends in that long. I was supposed to be off island (diving in St. Croix) last September when Maria hit so that didn't work out. And I was supposed to go to the mainland in December but got sick and couldn't go.

This was a really good trip - really great connections with people. There only downside was there were so many more people we want to connect with but just couldn't. (LS - are you reading this?) Well, that and the 13 hour layover in the Orlando airport. Oh, and catching a "bug" in the airport or on the plane on the way home  But those were minor inconveniences.

"The Kids" - Stephanie and Jordan - moved into the Lola House while we were gone. The immediately started making the house and the business their own. They had their soft opening first night last night. Just drinks for now; food is coming about August 1. It looked great while we were there - old friends and strangers alike stopping to say "hi" and have a cocktail or a beer (or two).

We are so happy for them and wish them all the best!

More about the travels in a bit.

Friday, June 15, 2018

NOW Friday, June 15


On Thursday Elaine, Marie and I did my traditional birthday dive (even though my birthday isn't until Saturday). This was my first time in the water since I broke my wrist. And, it was the first time diving the reef at Natural since Hurricane Maria.

I've heard from other divers that Natural was pretty devastated and they weren't wrong. Even now, nine months after the hurricane, the reef looks barren to those of us who knew it before. Most - but not all - the huge barrel sponges are gone as are soft fan corals and the little lavender vase sponges. We did find a couple starting to make a comeback, though.

There are new things we don't usually see at Natural taking up residence, like these anemones.

Tiny fish, like the gobys and the little blue chromis love the anemones. We saw several of them.

It was rare to see sea urchins at Natural. The newly exposed crevices in the rocks, uncovered when the sand washed away in the hurricane, are home to gazillions of sea urchins. That's bad news for the feet but good news for the reef.

And other life is returning as well like this squirrelfish and scorpion fish.

Natural, like Crashboat, is going to be fun to dive and watch over the next few years as Mother Ocean rejuvenates the reef. Can't wait to watch!

NOW Friday, June 15

Wow - a month since my last post. Sorry about that. Here are some updates on what's happened in the last month.

The hand is doing much better. I'm actually typing (and correcting) with two hands now. There is still some swelling and tenderness but overall it is much improved.

Much of  our time in the last month was spent writing and rewriting contracts, getting our new place ready to move into and our much-loved beach house and bar ready for us to move out of and the new owners to move into.

Say what?

Meet the new owners of Ola Lola's, Stephanie LaVake and Jordan Noie - or Jordan Noie and Stephanie LaVake if you're looking at the photo below.

They are a very cool pair of foodies and drinkies from Wisconsin(!) and you're gonna love 'em! We do already.

We are moving into a new house across Isabela. Okay, it's not our beach house, it is farther from the beach. But it is coming with 22 acres of adjacent land - a home for us and for the horses. Neither the house nor the yard nor the property were cleaned up after Hurricane Maria so there is a ton of work. We've done a lot already but there is always more to do. Before we can move the horses, we have to fence the property and build a corral. It may be September before the horses get there. Plus, the house and land are less than a block away from the land where we are setting up the therapeutic riding program. It's a whole lot of win-win for people and animals.

Today is day 15 of the 2018 hurricane season. Up until June 1, we were counting the days since Hurricane Maria. Now we're counting the days of the new season without a hurricane. Sorta like the "number of days without a lost-time accident" counter is factories. So far, 15 days and counting.

More coming soon!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

NOW May 15 update

Just a quick update about my arm. When I fell I actually broke three pieces off the lower end of the radius (not the ulna). It required surgery and titanium plates and screws to put it back together. There is along story about the surgery adventure but everyone was great and the surgery went smoothly. I don't have much pain, really just ache-y and hard to get comfortable.

I can't feel too bad about this thing when there is so much good all around us. The day before my surgery a friend of ours on the mainland had triple by-pass surgery and is doing fine. A good friend of ours here on the island has had diabetes since she was a child. With little education and very little guidance she has been trying to manage by herself since she was eight. Her out-of-control diabetes was causing her to lose her sight. The day after my surgery we found out she had her diabetes under control enough that she had the surgery to repair her sight. She can see!

Elaine's cousin Kara has climbed the highest peak on every continent except Everest. She's been on Everest twice, once when an avalanche killed a number of Sherpas and a couple of years ago when and earthquake rattled Tibet. While I was having surgery, she was climbing to Base Camp on Everest. As of this morning (Tuesday, 5/15) she and her group are at High Camp at 27,000 feet, preparing for their final push to the summit.

Although all the contracts are not yet signed, in the last couple of weeks we have reached an agreement to sell Ola Lola's. We have an agreement with the people at Ciudad de Salvacion to create our therapeutic riding center there. We found a new house a house to rent almost adjacent to the church property. And, the two sisters who own the house also own 22 acres of land surrounding the house! We are going to lease that for the horses. That clicking sound you hear is sound of dominoes falling inline!

Yes, I'm bummed because I can't play with the horses. Yes, I'm bummed because I can't get in the ocean. The hardest part really is that I can't get started on stuff - can't help clear the new yard, can't start putting up new fence, can't start building a new corral. But that's all temporary. With all this wonderousness around, how bummed can I be?

Anyway, it's been near,y two weeks since my surgery. I go back to the doctor on Thursday. More updates after that.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NOW Thursday, April 26

I made to 66 years old before broke a bone.

No "you should see the other guy" here. The "other guy" was a driveway. Except for a bit of my blood, "he" looks pretty much the same. We were loading a couch into the back of the truck. I lost my balance and fell off a fairly high porch. My right hand/wrist took most of the fall followed by the faceplant. I fractured my ulna. I gotta make up a better story than that.

We're headed to see an ortho guy in a few minutes.

If i'm MIA from here for a while, that's why. This one-handed, left-handed hunt-and-peck typing is tedious.

At least it wasn't my hip!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Maria log day 48 November 9, 2017, thursday

Thursday, November 9, day 48

We have receive so much love in care packages from so many amazing wonderful people! Water filters, Food. Personal care stuff. Solar lights. So so much love1

As much as we can, we share with others, especially through Ciudad de Salvacion. They are still out looking in remote areas for people who need help. All of the supplies are so appreciated.

One the most loving packages came from our friend Jynx, aka Colleen Baker. Jynx is a tattooed Harley-riding kite flyer. We're friends but we've never been as close as we are to some others in the kite community.

Jynx's friend recently lost her husband. Instead of flowers or the usual donations to charity, this woman asked her friends to "pay it forward." Jynx chose to send us a huge box of supplies for the relief efforts. What an incredible gesture from both of these amazing women!

I can't say often enough or loud enough how grateful we are for so much generosity.

Sometimes small things can make a huge difference.

For example, Kiki, the young man who is taking care of Sprocket the rescue horse, lives as far from the grid as we do. He has 17 horses he cares for every day. His last feeding is at 8:00 pm in the very deep dark. To see he either holds his cell phone on his shoulder for light, or has his wife hold it.

We gave him a couple of the "head lights," battery-powered LED flashlights that you wear on your head, that we received in one of the care packages. I wish you could have seen his face! His eyes lit up like we'd given him a million dollars. Now he could work in the dark and see and have his hands free. That simple light changed the way his life works.

We received a care package from Elaine's sister Mary. She used dish towels and wash clothes as packing material. At first I thought that was kind of weird. Then we got another. And another. And another.

Okay, I'm a little slow on the uptake but I finally got it. Rather than packing relief supplies with useless, actually harmful plastic packing, she packed them with things people could actually use!


NOW April 17, 2018, Wednesday

Deja vĂș all over again!

You may have read about the island-wide power outage. We didn't read about it until two days later. We only knew it was island-wide because a friend in Wisconsin sent us a text message about it.

Anyway, there was instant panic. Lines at the gas stations formed like magic, like lines of ants attracted to sugar. We were driving home from the horses and actually needed gas. So we decided to sit in the line. After all, it wasn't that long. I hopped out of the car, ran across the street to the little colmado (bodega in the city, convenience store everywhere else), grabbed some beers, and we waited. Hey no problem. We know how to do this. We've had practice; we have experience.

It was in fact a major power failure caused by construction workers severing a major underground transmission line (so much for buried lines being safer!). Original estimates were 24-36 hours to repair. We got power back in less than 24 hours. Hooray!

All is good. We have changed from one state of normal (power off) to another state of normal (power on).

Saturday, April 07, 2018

NOW, April 7, 2018, Saturday

Saturday, April 7

After the hurricane: Temple ruins, Crashboat

Sorry I got behind on posting  I'm working on a couple of projects now that I have the computer and photo software back.

One of the projects has been working with the first photos I took of the underwater wreckage at Crashboat back in November, two months after Maria. I took the photos snorkeling, from the surface, in poor visibility. The color originals are pale, washed out, low contrast, no detail, just vague shapes.

I started playing around with the images to see what was there, hidden in the image files. At first I got these strange, distorted colors.

I've said before our post-hurricane world was like living in the Upside-down from the Netflix series, Stranger Things. This is even more evidence of the Upside-down. But wasn't exactly what I was looking for. So I remove all the color and played around with the images in black-and-white (which I've always loved). I'm really happy with the results. I like the gritty, post-apocalyptic feel of the images.

Now the question is what to do with them. I'm looking for a space locally for an exhibition of prints. I'm also exploring options for an online exhibition.

That's just one project. I also have two video projects and a magazine article in the works based on Crashboat photos. And then there are the horses which another whole thing.

Stay tuned. Exciting times ahead.

Maria log day 46, November 7, 2017, Tuesday

Tuesday, November 7, day 46

Today was a hard hard difficult day. We said goodbye to one of the best friends I've ever had. Amber joined his brother Jazz.

Even after the shots this week, Amber continued to get worse. Last night he couldn't get settled, couldn't sleep. He needed help getting up and down from the bed. I had to carry him down the stairs. He was in so much pain.

The decision for his sake was easy. No more pain. No more fear. No more anxiety. All the hard parts were selfish. He (and his brother) has been such a huge part of our live for so long - 17-1/2 years! He taught me so much. He's been a great friend. It was hard to let him go.

No, that's not right. It is hard to be without him  It is strange and sad and empty. He touched so many lives. His spirit is still with us. And the memories. And the love.

Run free, my friend.

Maria log day 45, November 6, 2017, Monday

Monday, November 6, day 45

There is so much need - not just among humans but animals as well.

Today was the first day of the "helping horses" food distribution. More than 60 people representing more than 300 horses came to the Picadero today.

Our biggest problem is going to be keeping up supply. We're using donated money to buy grand locally but it's hard to find. We have donated grain coming from the mainland but it is so expensive to ship. And, for whatever reason, not all shipments are getting though.

We gave out all the grain we had today and started a waiting list for tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll be able to find grain to buy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Maria log day 42, November 3, 2017, Friday

Friday, November 3, day 42

We took Amber to the vet today. the arthritis in his back and hips is getting worse. He's in a lot of pain and is having trouble walking. It's difficult for him to go down stairs and even harder to go up. The vet gave him a shot of pain killer and an anti-inflammatory. We'll see if that helps.

The strain of five weeks without electricity, weeks without water, and all the other post-hurricane stressors is beginning to show. Things are beginning to fray around the edges. The "we're all in this together" camaraderie is morphing into "me myself and I."

Post-disaster behavior would make an interesting study, both in psychology and sociology.

The strain is most visible at traffic intersections where there used to be lights. At first, even without lights, people were respectful, accommodating, courteous. As gas became more available and people were able to return to work, there were more cars back on the road. Police began directing traffic at major intersections. That kept things calm and moving.

In recent days even the police have abandoned some intersections because some drivers ignore them and zoom right through.

Hope we get traffic light soon.

 I shave off my "hurricane beard" (and hair) today. I'm not sure why. It's only partially because we have consistent tap water. I still use captured rain water to shave with.

Capturing rainwater has become an obsession. I still do it every time it rains. We're using rain water to clean with rather than using tap water.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Maria log day 41, November 2, 2017 Thursday

Thursday, November 2, day 41

We went to visit Sprocket, the rescue horse, today.

Kiki, the young man who is caring for Sprocket, has done an amazing job. Sprocket looks great, especially considering how he was. (Conversations with Kiki are always a little intense. He is very friendly, very animated, and talks faster than anyone I've ever known, so fast even other Puerto Rincans have trouble understanding him. He only speaks Spanish so we really have to concentrate to understand.)

Sometime B.M, (Before Maria) someone took pretty good care of this horse. His hooves have been trimmed, his teeth look good. And he's already gelded! That alone eliminates a huge concern and expense. 

We received an email from Susan, Stan Brock's "assistant to the president" in response to Elaine's email asking if and how he, Stan, intended to help support his rescued horse. Susan explained in a most condescending  email. that Stan has no salary, that he lives in the RAM headquarters building, that he only own five sets of clothes. She said Stan sees a problem and gets it fixed and that he had no intention, no thought, no means to help support this rescued horse. She did ask what the cost would be and did we expect this support to go on indefinitely. 

My response to Susan: Our organization exists to provide therapy to people with disabilities. We are not an animal rescue organization. Our "headquarters" is any place we can find Wi-fi or a cell signal. None of us receives a salary, not even the certified professionals. We have minimal facilities and all of them are damaged. While we certainly sympathize with the plight of the many lost or abandoned horses, in this post-hurricane Maria world, we are struggling with no income to keep the horses we have safe, fed, watered, and healthy. We have no resources to take on rescues. We only took on this project because Stan was so insistent. 

Further, every single one of us believes an act of rescue is an act of commitment. That commitment doesn't end when the animal is "healthy" and recovered. The animal still needs food, shelter and care. Those needs don't suddenly disappear just because the animal is "healthy." So yes, this is an on-going commitment for an indefinite period of time. 

I thought - but didn't say -  it seems to us that Stan sees a problem and gets somebody else to fix it while he moves on. 

This also makes us wonder about his medical clinics. By all reports they are excellent but they are by definition and design temporary. Do they just come in and do quick fixes and then move on? Hmmm...

 On a much happier note, Elaine, Annie, Michelle and I met with the pastors of Ciudad de Salvacion about locating our therapeutic riding center on their property. In the spirit of everything we've seen from them so far, to a person they were welcoming and accommodating. 

 They are offering us about three-and-a-half acres - FREE! We can build whatever we need on the property. They have an 0n-site well so water is not a problem. They will provide electricity. All free. 

Their only request? That no one will be denied therapy because they can't pay. That fits exactly with our mission!

As we talked, it became very clear not only will they allow us to use the property, they want us there. Yes, they see it as outreach but out reach of their "mercy ministry." Like everything else we've seen so far, they offer help along the lines of "what would Jesus do?" rather than a side of help with a huge plate of agenda. 

I am no fan of organized religion of any flavor. I do however have great respect for Jesus as a teacher. I don't believe I need to be "saved" but I do like the way he lived. If more "christians" lived that life, this world would be a much better place.

Maria log day 40, November 1, 2017, Wednesday

Wednesday, November 1, day 40

Elaine came home from feeding the horses with some not good news: the beautiful shade run-in for the horses collapsed.

At first we thought the horses knocked it down. After looking at it, I figured out the horses didn't knock it over. We had a very heavy rain last night. I did a great job of engineering the shelter for everything except heavy rain pooling right in the middle. The weight of the water in just the wrong spot caused the whole thing to implode.

If I'd been able to anchor the legs in the ground, it might not have come down. Then again, maybe it would have.

Breathe in, breathe out, move on.

I said when we built it  I could take it down in a day. Actually it only took about three hours to dismantle. That was hard.

The next shade will be arched, rounded, like a Quonset hut.

The rest of morning was spent trying to track e\down a car to borrow. We had several offers: one wouldn't start; one was completely locked up. For now we're borrowing our friend Lourdes's car. Pretty soon we're going to have to find one.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Maria log day 40 Ocober 31, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, day 40

One of the casualties of the hurricane was the lights on the truck. Some of the wiring got loose, then got tangled in some brush right after the storm and ripped out. We've been  driving with no tail lights, no brake lights and only one headlight.

I know that's very Puerto Rican but I don't like it. Since the storm we've mostly avoided driving after dark. With the car out of commission the truck is our only vehicle.

For a couple of nights when we had to drive it, we stuck a little battery powered light on the tailgate so at least people could tell there was something in front of them. Pretty guerilla and low-rent but "mejor que nada."

Today I spent my day sitting, writing, reading, waiting to get all the lights repaired and working. Nearly seven hours from start to finish.

Done. We have all the running lights again. Now we can drive at night.

Monday, March 12, 2018

NOW, March 12, 2018 Sideways rain and Hurricane flashbacks

Every year in December the trade winds start to blow harder. They're call the Christmas Winds. Christmas Winds can be quite strong during the day - 20 25, even 30 mph. They usually die off at night, only to return n the morning. They blow through the winter until about March, then back off to "normal" breezes.

This year the Christmas Winds seemed especially strong, regularly gusting over 40 mph, which by the way is in the "tropical storm" range. And they seemed to blow longer. day and night, with little reprieve.

When it rains hard in those winds, we get "sideways rain," rain blowing parallel to the ground. For a lot of people the wind and sideways rain induced "hurricane flashbacks" and real anxiety, real fear. For Elaine it was the sound of anything banging in the wind, a shutter, a door, a gate, anything.

In this post-hurricane aftermath,  we live with the myth, the illusion, of restored electricity. We've had electricity back for 40 days, It has gone off for at least part of 10 - 25% - of the 40 days. Yesterday power was off here for 15 hours. For some people this random loss of electricity, even for a few minutes, causes hurricane flashbacks and is a severe stress-inducer.

The rumors about water shut-offs and/or water rationing are back. The latest rumor is the water levels in Lake Guajataca are very low because we haven't had much rain since January. (Duh! This is supposed to be the dry season!) Just the rumors of no water are enough to send some people into a tizzy. 

For me it was last week's huge wave event.

We haven't had waves this big since Semana Santa (Holy Week), 2008. We could see the tops of the waves from out deck. This was in some ways my worst nightmare. The dunes and the beaches were already so badly damaged, so fragile. Water came over the dune at the end of the calle where we get to the beach.

The ocean breached the dune in three places, flooding the hay field across the street with sea water, killing the grass.

There was more damage to the dune in addition to the breaches. More trees along the edge are down, more of the dune is undercutting the trees that remain.

The ocean pushed water up the river and trapped it there. The road back to Villa Tropical et al flooded and stayed flooded for four days. Getting in and out was through three feet of salt water.

I didn't get to shoot any of the big wave surfing. We had people coming in to look at the property and all my time was spent either getting ready for their arrival and then meeting with them. Good news coming soon!

Maria log day 38 October 29, 2017, Sunday

Sunday, October 29 day 38

We haven't received any electric bills since August. That bill was due just about the time Maria hit.

I briefly got online at Carole's tonight intending to try to pay the due bill. I noticed that not only was there a bill but an estimated bill for September/October! There has been no electric since September 19th. The estimated bill is bigger than the previous actual bill even though electric use and availability was zero!

Da noive!

This is our 40th day without electric. Mostly I'm okay with it. There are annoyances - no refrigeration, no washing machine. We keep phones and things charged with an inverter from the truck battery and with Carole's generator in the evenings.

The one thing I am missing is my computer. I am jonesing for photography and to be able to use the computer to edit and store images. It would be nice to have stable reliable Internet access to post photos and theses log entries.

There is so much to do I really don't have time for photography and editing but that doesn't stop my soul from jonesing.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Maria log day 37 October 28, 2017, Saturday

Saturday, October 28, day 37

Today was a day of adventures, not all of them good.

The day started well. Elaine met Kiki and together they went to Aguada to rescue the horse, which they named Sprocket.

He's a sweet little guy, well mannered, good temperament. At least prior to the hurricane, somebody took pretty good care of him. When Elaine and Kiki got him he was dehydrated and malnourished but not seriously. We (I say "we" like I'm going to have something to do with it) should be able to get him healthy fairly quickly.

After they loaded Sprocket in the trailer, Kiki headed back to Isabela and Elaine headed to Rincon to teach riding. At some point she realized she left a camera back in Aguada after loading Sprocket so she ran back to look for it.

The car stopped. Quit. Dead. She called me. Fortunately I was in the only place on the planet I get phone signal. I was able to call our favorite tow-truck mechanic (it tells you something about our lives that we have a favorite tow-truck mechanic). He said he would go get her.

But - he got delayed and Elaine sat by the side of the road for nearly four hours. One of her students and her mother stopped to make sure Elaine was okay. She also said she'd try to find the camera.

Sitting by the side of the road, Elaine had cell signal so she called several people, including our daughter Amy. Among other things Amy told her that two good friends - our former kite teammates - were in a horrible car accident. Bob was killed and his wife Karen is in critical condition.

Rafy-the-tow-truck-mechanic finally got to Elaine and got her home. But it was a very difficult, very emotional day.

(By the way, the car really is dead = blown head gasket. If we want to fix it, a car worth about $500 needs close to $1500 in repairs. Um-m, probably not.)

Meanwhile, Marie and I had our own much better adventures. After we fed the horses, Marie needed to go to the main Aguadilla post office but didn't know where it was or how to get there. So I took her roaming back roads to get there.

Since Crashboat Beach was (sort of) on the way home and none of us had seen it, we decided to have a look. Off on more back road rambles and OH. MY. GODDESS!

It's not that I didn't believe the people who told us about the damage to Crashboat, but it's one of those things that until you see it, until you experience it yourself, you can't really comprehend it.

All three of the remaining mooring platforms collapse. Half of the long pier broke off and is gone.

Before Maria: 

 More than 100 feet of the beach has either been washed out to sea or been pushed up on to what use to be the parking lot. All the palm trees are gone. The ocean comes almost to the where the boardwalk used to be at the edge of the parking lot. The boardwalk is gone.

So much beach washed away that the ocean laps at the little bar in front of the fish market.

 I hope the fishermen got their yolas  moved before the hurricane. There is no beach left where they used to "park" the boats. Before Maria:

I've seen a few photos from other divers of the wreckage under water. It is totally unreal. I really want to dive Crashboat, again to see it for myself. Marie and I talked about it but the visibility has been bad.

One bit of humor and beauty among all the wreckage: Someone collected signs and other useful debris and made a tiki hut.

For now the Crashboat we've known is no more. The area around the piers will be a great dive site - in a couple of years. As for what happens to the rest of Crashboat, like so many things, we'll just have to wait and see.