Tuesday, October 09, 2018

MARIA log, Day 55, November 16, Thursday.

It's the raining season. It rains every day. Sometimes afternoons, some days mornings, sometimes overnight, some days all of the above.

Last night we had a huge storm. Okay, Maria was a huge storm!

Last night we had blasting bolts of lightning, huge shake-the-house-and-scare-the-dogs thunder claps, sideways rain driven by the wind.

But no flooding, no pieces of roof flying off. Just a good ol' fashioned tropical thunderstorm. Lying there listening to the storm, I couldn't help but think of people like our neighbor Robert, riding out this storm in a tent behind the remains of his house, destroyed by Maria.

Or the people still living under tarps instead of roofs. How did this storm have feel to them? Was it like deja vĂș?

We were safe in our intact house, under our solid roof. And we are incredibly grateful!

A NOW moment: We had a HUGE thunderstorm--lightning, wind, rain, THUNDER!--last night. Okay, not Maria huge, but big. I was reminded--again--how little lightning and thunder there were during the hurricane. I expected more.

Maria log, Day 54, November 15, Wednesday

Travel around the area has become a cha-cha--one step forward, two steps back, slide to the side, repeat.

FEMA-funded (we think) crews are everywhere picking up debris of the sides of roads. Electric crews are starting to show up as well  When the crews are out, roads are blocked, sometimes completely, sometimes for hours. Sometimes there are ways around the block, sometimes not.
We usually don't find out a road is blocked until we get to the actual work site, to the actual block.

Back up. Turn around. Look for another route to wherever it is you're trying to go. Often as not, that route is blocked as well. Back up. Turn around. Look for another route.

On the one hand it's frustrating and time consuming trying to get anywhere. On the other hand, "you must learn patience, Grasshopper." These are signs something is happening, that something is getting done.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Maria log, Day 53 November 13, Monday

Monday, November 13

We had our first complainer at Helping Horses. This guy was spreading all kinds of horse manure--that we weren't distributing the food properly, that we were selling grain "under the table," that we were keeping most of the grain for our own horses. He said he had pictures of "someone" loading 28 bags of grain in a truck behind the police station. It "had to be someone in cahoots" with the police taking the grain for themselves.

Yeah, he saw someone loading grain at the police station. Me! He apparently didin't see me and our friend and volunteer Ivan driving those 28 bags of grain to the Picadero and unloading them. Then coming back to the police for two more loads totaling 50 more bags. This was the grain the police brought from the race track, the load from when the truck broke down and we had to haul it the rest of the way.

The irony is this guy came the first day and got more aid than almost anyone else. He kept coming back asking for more.

Actually we did have one other person complain. He complained to Annie that we were only doing this in Isabela and not in Ponce. Hey, dude--you're welcome to come join the party in Isabela! Or feel free to start your own program in Ponce.

But stop f-ing complaining!

Caught up in the NOW, October 7

 Flashback to a year ago: Rolf's post-hurricane birthday. Carole wasn't sure she could get a carrot cake--Rolf's favorite--because the bakery in the grocery store wasn't  sure they had enough carrots. I didn't take any pictures this year because I was the cook, flipping pancakes by request.

It may be "now" and the hurricane may have been a year ago, but flashbacks continue.

Last night we celebrated our friend Rolf's 89th birthday. It was a flashback to a year ago: thunder, rainy and cloudy and gloomy all day (after the hurricane, it rained every day for a month; the sun barely showed it's face ). When we got to Carole and Rolf's house, we were serenaded by the neighborhood-wide song of generators. The power was out and had been all afternoon. So like a year ago, we made dinner and sat in semi-darkness, listening to the rain. And like a year ago, our "family" was all together, this year including Jeremy's wife Anna and their daughters Penny and Vivian, gathered around the table, and we celebrated another year of life!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Last week Michelle, one of our friends and colleagues from Rincon/Aguada, told us she has to return to her home in the UK for a few months. She asked us if she could board her horse Casanova (usually shortened to Cass) with us. We went down to Aguada to see him and--yeah, we'll take him. He's a quarter horse, bigger than Chocolate, not as big as Zip. Nice horse! He'll actually be a good horse for me to ride, especially as Chocolate is recovering from a leg injury.

But--she's leaving Monday and needs us to take him right away! So I've spent the last week putting up an electric fence corral for him and fencing the first pasture area. This is all stuff that needs to be done so we can bring our horses down to Castaways in a couple of weeks. The prospect of bringing Cass in just accelerated the timetable.

Cass was supposed to come Saturday. Unfortunately, Cass was in an accident in a trailer in June. with that memory, when they loaded him in the trailer Saturday morning, he freaked out when they closed the trailer door. His corral and pasture will be here when he gets here. We're hoping that will be tomorrow late morning.

Our other horses are still up the road where they've been for a little over a year. Their living (pasture) space is shrinking as we take down posts to fence in fields here at Castaways.

While all this is going on, Elaine is busy getting all the paperwork--leases, insurance, non-profit applications--in order for Horses of Hope. By the way, we were not chosen as a finalist in the Chipstarter thing. We have to start looking for another funding source to build a covered arena,

It could be January for all the looking forward to an exciting future but looking backward and remembering what was happening a year ago we're doing. (The month of January is named for Janus, the Roman god with two faces, one looking to the future, one looking to the past.) Exciting times!

Monday, September 24, 2018

NOW, September 22, 3018

I wanted to see what Crashboat looked like a year after the hurricane. So, I dove there on Saturday, a year and a day after Maria.

I'm pleased to say fish were abundant, which means they are finding food on the ruins. Little things - tubeworms, sponges, little bits of coral are starting to grow on the wreckage. Watching the underwater renew itself is going to be one of the best things over the next couple of years.

We're supposed to have waves for the next week or more so there won't be any diving for a few days. More Maria log posts to come.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

NOW and then, September 20

One year ago last night the lights went out. For us the lights didn't come back on for five months. Other people waited much longer.

One year ago today we hunkered down in a friend's concrete house, listening to the wind and the rain, no news, no contact with anyone outside our little box, not knowing what was coming or what to expect, but safe and together.

Today, now, it's calm, in fact, no wind at all. It's cloudy and might rain later, but that's kind of the way every day is this time of year. There are no tropical storms or hurricanes on the immediate horizon.

I am surprised at how emotional last night and this morning are, not just for me but apparently for many of us given the posts and comments others are making. But it's a very strange, odd emotionality (if that's even a word). I feel totally connected to the moment, to those around me who went through Maria whether they are right next to me or far away. At the same time I feel disconnected, like I'm watching from outside my body or watching a movie of myself. The calm is almost eerie, as unnatural in it's own way as the hurricane was. Yesterday was exactly the same kind of day but it didn't feel strange yesterday, only today.

As I've said before, the effects of those 30 hours a year ago are still with us. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

NOW September 17, 2018

Whew! You probably heard about that little storm--Hurricane Florence--that hit the East Coast this week. If you're far away from it, be grateful. If you're anywhere near Florence, our hearts go out to you. (Meanwhile, the Twit-in-chief can only rant that the nearly 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria are a political ploy by Democrats to make him look bad. As if he needed their help!)

A good friend of ours moved back to the States with her family after Maria. Part of the reason was her school-age son. But partly she--like many others--had a difficult time with the devastation and slow recovery after the storm. After things settled down (I won't use the phrase "returned to normal"), they came back. But things here on the island still weren't the same. It still wasn't "normal." she and here husband decided to move back to the States permanently.

They settled in. They just bought a house, just--as in two weeks ago, in North Carolina, near (but not on) the coast. And Florence hit.

Florence was not as devastating as Maria. It wasn't as powerful to begin with and diminished as it approached the coast. Still, the wind was near 100 mph. And the rain! And rain and rain and rain. Our friends apparently didn't loose electric, or if they did it was only for a short time, because she was able to keep posting updates on Facebook.

You could tell from her posts, both in what she wrote and reading between the lines, how incredibly stressful this was for her.

Folks, PTSD is real! And it sucks! And it is not reserved for combat veterans or police. No one who goes through something like Maria comes out unchanged. I wrote about this a bit earlier: different things set off different reactions in people. For Elaine, it's anytime there is a constant, persistent banging noise. It takes her right back to that night, listening to the wind and the banging of that piece of roofing against the door of the house where we stayed. She zones out and it takes a little time for her to come back.

I can only imagine what living through that--again--was like for our friends.  And for people on the other islands: first they got hit by Hurricane Irma. Before they had time to process that, Maria hit less than two weeks later. How do you deal with that?

It is almost exactly one year later. We are still feeling and dealing with the effects of Hurricane Maria.

Friday, August 31, 2018

NOW Friday, August 31

This is a NOW post but it is related to Hurricane Maria.

Over the last week we dove and snorkeled two sites that we haven't visited since Maria, Rompeolas and Steps Beach in Rincon.

Rompeolas is a site in Aguadilla, It is a shallow, easy-to-get-to dive with a nice reef at the south end and really interesting rocks and cracks to the north. Maria devastated the area, destroying an oceanside bar and damaging all of the houses along the beach. The beach itself, like so many, disappeared, stripped of nearly all the sand. The damage is clear even in this photo taken three months after the storm.

Because of the shoreline damage and given that Rompeolas is less than a mile from Natural and half-a-mile from Crashboat, I was really afraid of what we'd find underwater.

We've had a lot of rain in the last week, thanks to a lingering "tropical wave" so visibility wasn't the best. Still, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the reef survived.

There are more corals, both soft and hard, and more sponges surviving here than at Natural. I can't explain it. Just one of Mother Nature's quirks.

We also snorkeled at Steps Beach (the surfers call it Tres Palmas) in Rincon. This is kind of a bellweather area for us. One of the best remaining stands of elkhorn coral is at Steps. Once ubiquitous in the Caribbean and Central America, now up to 95% of the elkhorn coral in the world is dead. So this place is important.

As we first swam out, I was saddened by the amount of broken coral near shore. But as we swam into deeper water, the huge slabs of healthy coral colonies began to appear.

Further out the sloping reef also appeared in good shape. The hard and soft corals, anenomes, and sponges all seemed healthy and none the worse for having survived a hurricane. In some ways this isn't surprising. Rincon faces west. Steps Beach is south of the point of Rincon that juts out into the sea. (The point of Rincon is the point where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Caribbean Sea.) The heaviest ocean forces from Maria were from the north and Steps was pretty protected from that. It is still a delicate area with endangered corals. It was good to see how well it survived.

And to make the day complete, Stephanie (our friend and the new owner of Ola Lola's) swam with a turtle for the first time.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Maria log day 50 November 11 Saturday

Saturday, November 11, day 50

Yep, we were busy! More than 130 people showed up today. Some were on the waiting list from before but a third of them were new registrations. The 80 bags of grain and the repackaged alfalfa went quickly.

Ric and Michelle - our husband and wife vet team - and Manuel, our farrier, were busy too.

Fifteen people brought 20 horses to be seen.

When we first came to the island, seeing horses in the backs of pickup trucks was pretty strange. Now it's just commonplace, a part of the culture, no big deal.

I did see something I've never seen before. One guy, after talking to Ric, rode his Paso Fino around the parking lot. This was obviously a show horse. After showing off for a few minutes, the guy rode the horse into the back of his pickup truck. No ramp - the horse jumped into the truck bed. (Damn - I missed the video of that one!) Before the afternoon was over I watched two more horses - this time without riders - jump in to pickup trucks.

When we closed up for the day, Elaine, Ric, Michelle and I went to Ocean Front for a late lunch. Ocean Front's ocean-side deck was badly damaged by the storm surge from Hurricane Irma. Maria finished it off, They made a make-shift bar and seating in half of the parking lot. The rest of the parking lot was full of heavy equipment dumping huge rocks to make a seawall.

It was great having some time to catch up with good friends. Oh - happy Veterans' Day.

Maria log day 49, November 10, Friday

Friday, November 10, day 49

Our work to help other horse owners continues. So many people need help, so many horses!

On Thursday our friend Michelle brought 40 bags of alfalfa cubes from the racetrack on the other side of the island. The first thing was to transfer them from Michelle's trailer to the Ola Lola deck.

Our other Michelle friend, Michelle from Tropical Trailrides, gave us eight 50-pound bags of alfalfa pellets.

This morning I loaded half the alfalfa in our truck to take to the Picadero. Volunteers repacked the cubes and pellets into small two-pound packages to give out.

Most of the horses here have never had anything as rich as this alfalfa. And now, post-Maria, their nutrition levels are way down. If owners were to feed large amounts of the alfalfa cubes, there is a great danger of the horses colicing, a digestive disorder which in severe cases can be fatal.

We were expecting more grain to come from the racetrack today. And it did - sort of.

Two Isabela police officers volunteered to drive to Canovanas on the other side of San Juan to pick up the grain. Because the Municipio de Isabela is a sponsor of the program, they could use the municipio's roll-off truck.

It started getting late and they weren't back yet and we started to worry. We got a message that the truck and the grain were in Isabela but they couldn't get it to us at the Picadero. On the way back from San Juan, they were involved in a minor accident. Eight bags of grain wound up on the highway. The policemen stopped in the middle of the Autopista (expressway) and recovered all but two bags of grain!

Somewhere after the accident the clutch cable on the truck broke. They drove more than halfway home in first gear. Okay, people - that's above and beyond!

One of volunteers, our good friend Ivan, and I took my truck to the police station to transfer the grain. It took us three heavily over-loaded trips to get all the grain to the Picadero. We finished unloading too late for the Friday group. But we're ready for Saturday! We expect Saturday to be busy. we have grain and we have a vet and a farrier coming to do clinics.

It's Friday so it's pizza night at Carole and Rolf's. St. Jeremy - who has done so much of all of us - is leaving tomorrow to go back to Michigan to be with his wife, daughter and new baby girl for a week. So tonight is "special" pizza night - gourmet pizza from Junior's Pizza rather than the "usual" food truck pizza.

Any excuse for a celebration! Jeremy is going to be with his family. Yay! Celebrate! Next week when Jeremy comes back - He's back! Yay! Celebrate!

Re: a question

Thank you to everyone who responded to my question about continuing to write about Hurricane Maria. The response, both in comments here and via email, is that you still want to hear about Maria.

I'm grateful for that, and grateful for the responses. The next post will be a Maria post.