Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy Anniversary to US

Wow! Yesterday - December 29 - was the first anniversary of our opening Ola Lola's. It's hard to believe it's been a year already. It has been an amazing, wild, wonderful, crazy year. We love our new home. We love being here and living here and becoming part of the community, especially the community around Shacks and Jobos. This is truly a special place to live. We have made so many friends, some local, some just visiting. Now that surf and "tourist" season is starting back up, we're seeing "old friends" again, visitors who come to Shacks every year that we met last year. It's great recognizing faces and getting reacquainted.

Yesterday was also our wedding anniversary. Three years ago Elaine and I got married on a beach in Barbados. Who could have imagined the beach in Barbados would lead us to Shacks Beach in Puerto Rico?

We celebrated both anniversaries last night at Ola Lola's with cake and champagne. There are no pictures because we were just too busy beings hosts at our own anniversary party. But it was a GREAT party. Thanks to all our friends - regulars and first-timers - who shared the special evening with us.

As we begin a new year, we want to say "thank you" to all of you who have supported us this year, either by coming to visit, stopping by for a drink or two, or even just following our adventures on this blog. To all our friends who haven't made it down yet, thanks for just being there when we needed you.

It's been a wonderful first year!

John, Elaine, Amber, Jazz, and Chocolate

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Catching up - Christmas at Ola Lola's

Ola Lola's decorated for Christmas. This is our Christmas tree this year. Elaine and I lashed it together out of bamboo and the centers of coconut palm fronds. The tree is outlined with green rope lights and has little white bulbs criss-crossing it and in the star. It really is pretty and has gotten rave reviews. Somebody even offered to buy it!

You can get real trees down here. Cut fir trees from OREGON (did you hear that Michigan?) were about $60 each at Sam's Club. We saw cars driving up the highway with two bound Christmas trees on top, sometimes sharing the roof rack with surfboards.

Ola Lola's Christmas party. We had the party on December 22 this year.
Most of our "regulars" were here, at least the ones who weren't "off the rock" for the holidays. It was a more laid back party than the September birthday or Halloween parties, but that was good, appropriate to the season.

A few transplanted northerners admitted to missing snow on Christmas. I may someday but this wasn't the day.

We closed on Monday, Christmas Eve so we could be with friends and our extended Puerto Rican family. We spent a great evening with Marisol and her family and a bunch of friends, eating WAY too much great food and probably drinking too much. I don't remember - I wasn't driving.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


For now at least. We have been completely without internet service for over a week. That's why no Christmas message, no photos of the Ola Lola Christmas party, no new Flickr photos or photos on Since we now use internet-based Vonage for our primary telephone, there were no Christmas phone calls to (or from) friends and family.

That said, we've had a WONDERFUL Christmas here, full of fun, joy, incredible friendship (including friends from the States), beauty and wonder.

We sincerely hope your Christmas was awesome and that your New Year's celebration is safe and fun.

We'll try to catch up on all that's been happening here at Lola's Corner for the past 10 days. It's been a blast. Hope yours has been too.

More very soon! (If our access to the 'net holds on...)

Sunday, December 16, 2007


The Christmas party season is in full swing here on the island. We went to a house-warming/holiday party at our friends Andrea and Wade's on Tuesday. Thursday night was the big get-together at Ron and Tina's (photo). Last night Boyd and Kendra had their party since they're leaving Friday to go island hopping. Elaine went to boyd and Kendra's but I stayed a Lola's. Damn! Missed a party!

The party at Ron and Tina's turned into a impromptu paranda.

The traditional paranda involves a bunch - say 20 or 30 - of your closest friends getting together, bringing musical instruments (or just pots and pans to bang on), and coming to your house at 2:00 am, waking you up with music - sometimes great, sometimes dreadful depending on your friends' talent. For the honor of this serenade, you are expected to provide large quantities of food and drink (the stronger the better) for the assembled masses. Your reward? YOU get to join the traveling party as it moves on to the next site.

Sorta like caroling on steroids.

It's a great tradition. There were a couple of parandas down the road last year. One in particular had an awesome trumpet player. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. I should have gotten up and joined the party. Instead I just laid in bed and listened to the trumpet.

At Ron an Tina's party, we didn't go out but we had a great time singing horribly offkey renditions of traditional paranda songs (which none of us gringos knew) and traditional carols (which many of the Puerto Ricans only knew in Spanish) accompanied by bongos, harmonicas, and other noisemakers.

The Ola Lola's Christmas party is next Saturday. If you're in the neighborhood, please join us. Everyone's welcome.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sub-Tropical Storm Olga

An awning ripped off the ocean side of one of the villas down by the beach and thrown over the building to the street side.

Jazz looks out at a stormy grey ocean during a brief lull in the rain this morning.

Hurricane season officially ended six weeks ago but it didn't seem like it last night. Sub-tropical Storm Olga went by and was much worse than Hurricane Dean this summer. As I write this at 6:20 pm local (AST) time, we've had power back on less than an hour for the first time since about 2:00 am. It has (almost) stopped raining for the first time all day. (Note: power for us also means a phone; without it, we had no lights OR phone OR internet...just FYI for those who tried to call or email.) And after nearly two weeks of steady, constant 20-30 mph winds 24 hours a day, the wind is calm.

It's not surprising that Olga was worse. She ripped past the north side of the island (which happens to be where we live), due east to due west with the storm center less than 70 miles off the coast. Dean was 250 miles south of here and we had the whole island between us and the storm.

The good news is we are all alright. It was a grey, gloomy, wet day in paradise but - no snow or ice. Elaine ran some errands to places where they had power and I mostly laid about with the dogs and read. The all-day rain has been pretty gentle (unlike the storm rain last night) so there really hasn't been much risk of a flood. But - we've been watching.

Now the storm is over the Dominican Republic and mostly away from us. Here's hoping for a quiet, peaceful night.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tres Favoritos

This photo was taken by our friend, Charlie, who gave me my first kiteboarding lesson and who is a fabulous kiteboarder (John loves shooting photos of him in action).

from Elaine: These are three of the most wonderful males in the universe...and I love 'em and am so grateful they are in my life. This is them sitting on our beach, loving being together and loving our life here. I think the picture's worth a million words.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Two new certified divers in the water. Kinda feels like passing your driving test. Woo-hoo!

Yesterday we passed our written scuba open water certification test. This means John is now a certified scuba diver, a goal he has had for many years! I am still not completely certified as I still have some more diving to do to with my instructor to complete my certification. However, it feels good to have passed the written test.

And, what's more, it was done Puerto Rican style with lots of fun, laughter, good food and drink, easy-going timeline and atmosphere, and good company (our friend and dive instructor, Darryl, came for dinner and brought the tests with him). John and I each scored 89%; good thing we had separate tests so it was clear we didn't cheat. We learned some things during the test as well (as will happen with any good assessment and great instructor). Seawater weighs 62.4 lbs. /cubic ft. Water cools your body 25 times faster than air. And, my favorite thing of all I have learned from scuba diving instruction is that every plastic bag picked up off the beach or out of the ocean - or, better yet, prevented from being thrown carelessly as trash - will possibly save the life of a sea turtle. Turtles are practically the only animals that eat jellyfish and they frequently mistake plastic bags for jellyfish (I understand; done it twice myself), eat them, and die as a result. I am very happy that scuba diving will and is making me more environmentally aware and a better friend to the ocean and its inhabitants.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


but more slowly than I would hope.

More than 10 days out from my fall and I'm still a bit stiff and sore. My internal thermostat is finally back to normal after a week of hot/cold flashes with that fever early in the week.

I hate being sick or laid up. I went in the ocean for the first time in over a week on Friday - not even in the ocean, just the tidal pool at Middles Beach. Even the little waves in there were too much. I don't have the flexibility back yet to just float and bend with the waves. But it felt good to be in the sun and in the water.

There haven't been any new pictures for a while. No pictures of surfers, even though there have been waves. No pictures of kite surfers, even thought there has been wind. No KAP, even though there has been plenty of wind. I just haven't been able to go out to shoot.

I did "find" a few new kite surfing pictures from just before the accident and few surfing photos of the big waves Thanksgiving Day (one of those is above). The new pictures are now up on Flickr - check 'em out.

In a way I haven't missed much. The weather has been crazy! With apologies to all our friends in the Midwest and Northeast who are dealing with a major winter storm and sub-freezing temperatures, we've had our own version of a winter storm. We've had constant winds in the 25-30 mph range, constant 24 hours a day. We had huge driving rain squalls. And, relatively speaking, it's been cool. People at Ola Lola's have been wearing jackets and sweatshirts in the evening. This morning the low was SIXTY-EIGHT DEGREES! Okay, it's a far far cry from the 18 degree windchill in Michigan, but that equals the record low for this date here.

The waves have been what the surfers call "washing machine" - churned up, mixed up, big without really being surfable. Because the ocean is churned up, kite surfers have had a hard time even with the big winds.

The winds are calm this morning and surf predictions are 3-5 feet. I'm heading out in a few minutes to see who's on the waves. I feels really good to feel good enough to go shoot surfers.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Two dogs, a horse and...

a snowy egret.

Meet Beluga. a baby snowy egret who came to stay with us last week. He's been walking around the garden, eating bugs and millipedes. We're not sure if he's injured or just too young but he doesn't fly (yet).

We were afraid for him at first because of Amber and Jazz, pointer/retrievers that they are. In fact, last weekend, Elaine and Jason and Erin herded him (her? I don't know.) out of our yard and into the yard next door where Chocolate is. Within an hour he was back in our yard.

The dogs have been curious about Beluga but really haven't bothered or chased him, which we're really pleased about.

These white egrets are all over down here. Flocks of them follow the hay mower and the hay rake when they mow the field across the street - which they are doing as I write. So seeing them is not uncommon. They ride horses backs. One occasionally rides Chocolate but I haven't manged to get a good picture of him yet.

For now, we have a fourth "pet." Don't know how long he'll stay but we're enjoying him while he's here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dia de Gracias - giving thanks

Fins up! Erin and Elaine play in the tidal pool at Middles Beach.

Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving. We did! We had a wonderful time with our friends Erin and Jason from Michigan. They came to visit us for the weekend. We picked them up a the airport here, took them to their room at Villa Tropical so they could change into shorts, and then we went to the beach. We then joined our local friends Marisol and her family, as well as friends 'Zan and Darryl for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner - turkey, rice and beans, salad, mashed potatoes, and of course, great company. The weekend with Jason and Erin was spent getting in some snorkeling and swimming at various local beaches, enjoying some of the local cuisine and color, and hanging at Ola Lola's. The time was short and very special.

I moved pretty slowly all weekend. Thursday morning, while I was trimming the hibiscus ahead of Erin and Jason's visit, a ladder and I had a parting of the ways. I fell pretty hard and bruised my left side and ribs pretty badly. I tagged along on some of Elaine, Erin and Jason's adventures, but couldn't participate much. To make matters worse, I spiked a fever late Friday night. Saturday night I was pretty sick so Ola Lola's had its first-ever substitute bartender. Jason and stepped in and did a wonderful job helping Elaine run Ola Lola's. Elaine took over solo on Monday night. Thank you, guys, so much!

Having three days off is helping my ribs heal. Yesterday I did nothing but rest. The fever is gone. I won't be 100% by Friday - the ribs will still be a little sore - but I should be back behind the bar. And thinking about this past weekend, once again, I am reminded that we have the best friends in the world!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A auto adventure in Puerto Rico

Before we get to our story, we hope you had wonderful, safe Thanksgiving filled with joy and the love and comfort of family and friends. We had a GREAT time.

And now, our story -

One of the things we really dislike doing is going to Sam' s Club. Neither of us is particularly fond of Sam's or WalMart in the first place. But to drive 40 minutes or so, just for the privilege of shopping there - that just adds to the dislike.

That said, there are some things we use at Ola Lola's that we can only get consistently at Sam's. So, every couple of weeks we make the run to Mayaguez to go to Sam's. This past Tuesday we made the run.

The road between here in Mayaguez is a four lane, what in the States we would call a "limited access highway," not quite an expressway but close. It is also VERY hilly, up and down, up and down, for most of the 30 or so miles.

We turned out of Sam's with the Ola Lola-mobile jammed packed with stuff, trunk full, back seat overflowing. The first hill is about a mile from Sam's. When we started up the hill from the traffic light, the Lola-mobile wouldn't up-shift. All we had was first gear. After a several tense moments of driving driving on the shoulder, we pulled off to see if we could figure out what was going on and what we could do about it.

Transmission fluid? Checked that and it was fine. Jiggled wires and cables and "stuff." No good. We thought about who we could call for help. Marisol? Usually the first choice. Be we didn't have her number. Zan? We remembered her phone number but Zan and the two of us would barely fit in her car, let alone the stuff from Sam's. The young woman in the gas station couldn't help us find a tow truck but a very nice gentleman in the gas station found a card for a tow service. I copied the number and when back to the car. Oh. Did I mention the one cell phone we had with us was dead? The man offered to let us use his phone, but we (or rather, I) decided to push on. Off we went: Elaine, me, a ton of stuff from Sam's and a car that only ran in first gear.

There were some hairy moments but we made it home, 2-1/2 hours after leaving Sam's. Okay, we did stop at one car repair place in Aguadilla. But it was 5:00 pm the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They looked it, said it could be this, or that, or something else. Bring it back tomorrow.

As we came past the airport coming home, we decided to rent a car. Friends were coming from the States Thanksgiving Day, still needed beer for Ola Lola's, and we had no idea what was wrong or how long it would take to fix it. Of the four car rental places at the airport, three were completely out of cars. We got the last car Avis had, the last rental car on this side of the island.

Our friend Jose, who is a mechanic, doesn't like to work on trans missions but he did a bunch of research for us but didn't have any definitive answers. On Wednesday, Elaine went to make the beer run in the rental car. The owner of the warehouse where we buy beer asked where our car was. Elaine told him and he recommended a place on the other side of Isabela.

Too late to do anything about it on Wednesday. First thing Friday we called the place Tito recommended. Yeah, they could take a look at it if we brought it right in . So off we went again - our friend Erin from Michigan with Elaine in the rental car and Jason and me in the "car with one speed." We made it with no mishaps. They said they'd look at it a call us later.

When they called, the car was fixed and it was "only" $175. Poco a poco (little by little), we're building a really nice car here. And we're a tw0-car family, at least for the weekend.

Monday, November 19, 2007


A friend of ours encountered an iguana for the first time the other day. At quick glance, she thought it was a dragon. And she's not the first to think so.

They are pretty strange looking, especially when you see one basking in the sun in the middle of the road or on the rocks or peering down at you from a tree.

Iguanas - specifically, green iguanas - aren't indigenous to Puerto Rico but as another blogger wrote, they are filling some ecological niche because they thrive here.

They most likely got to Puerto Rico as pets, cute little reptiles sold by pet shops. But like the "cute" little alligators, these guys grow up, some up to four or six feet long. A full-grown iguana is not cute and cuddly. So, like the alligators (and unfortunately, like so many dogs here on the island) the iguanas were dumped on the side of the road. Somehow enough of them found each other and now they are all over the island.

According to an article released by Airline Industry Information the invasive species became "a plague" at the airport in San Juan. Flights were delayed so iguanas could be cleared from the runways. In June, 2006, the airport considered drastic measures to eradicate the pests.

Elsewhere on the island, they're mostly just a strange sight. This guy is three or four feet long and sometimes hangs out in the tree outside our window. The good news is - they don't breathe fire.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Back in the ocean

I've written before that this is surf season and sometimes the ocean is just too rough to snorkel in.

Today was a snorkeler's dream day. Not only was the ocean flat (sorry, surfers) but the water was clear and visibility was great. It rains nearly every afternoon and run-off from the rain tends to cloud up the water. We took full advantage of a beautiful sunny day. We actually snorkeled to the outside of the reef at Shacks, something that doesn't happen often this time of year.

On the way out we saw a number of palometos dining in the shallows. Just outside Blue Hole we saw a bunch of black durgons, including a whole bunch of babies. I spotted this barracuda and called Elaine to come see it. By the time she got to where I was, the barracuda was gone but a school of either balao or ballyhoo sped by just below the surface. We're not sure which one - they are very similar and very fast. We caught up to the barracuda again which is when I got this shot. Two schools of blue-striped grunts swam by. About 20 feet below us a school of Southern sennet (related to barracuda) passed underneath. We saw several different parrotfish - princess, stoplight, yellowtail and others.

It was an amazing return the to ocean after too long a break. It would have been enough just to swim for a while. We both feel the need to get in the water on a frequent, regular basis. Not just near it, on the beach, but in it. If we don't, we get cranky. The ocean is a spa, therapy for the mine and body and soul and whatever ails you. The great fish sightings are a bonus.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lots goin' on

Can't believe it's been five days since I posted to the blog. We had a busy weekend at Ola Lola's and the surf's up so I've spent mornings chasing/photographing surfers. Then there's processing and editing the 200+ photos, making web pages for, and getting them posted.

Just this month we've added 13 new sets of photos to PRSP. We're using different software to create the pages. Now you can view the whole set as thumbnails and click on any individual photo to view it larger. Once you have the larger view of any photo, if you click on the arrow in the upper right corner, you can view all the images as a slide show. You couldn't do that before.

Also, the new pages allow you to order prints of the displayed image right from the page. Payment is through PayPal so it's easy, safe and (pretty) seamless. Of course, you can always just e-mail us, tell us what size of what photo you want, and send us a check. That works too.

We haven't posted any thing new to Flickr for a few days. There will be some new surf photos up there soon. Our Flickr site now has over 1,300 photos with more than 11.000 views. (Elaine looking at my photos doesn't count. Otherwise there'd be a LOT more views.)

Not much diving or snorkeling right now. The waves have been too rough (even when they're not good for surfing). We've had lots of rain so the visibility in the water hasn't been very good. So, for now, we're mostly hangin' out on the beaches, enjoying our little bit of paradise.

I'll try not to let this go so long between posts. I've gotten in the habit of writing the posts around a photo and if I don't have a new photo to show, I tend not post anything, even when there's lots to just write about. No excuses, just a recognition of my own sometimes bad habits.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dia de los muertos

Our friend, artist and teacher Sarah Ginn created a community alter for "dia de los muertos" - the Day of the Dead. This is a Latino version of All Hallows Day celebrated primarily in Mexico. Many of the familiar Halloween themes - skulls, skeletons, ghosts - are part of dia de los muertos. But in the Latino holiday, they aren't scary. The dead are not to be feared but celebrated and honored.

Anyone with a loved one to celebrate could put a picture and a brief statement about that person on the alter. Elaine and I put pictures of her mother and grandfather and my mother and father on the alter.

Neither dia de los muertos nor Halloween are celebrated much here on the island. Wal-mart, in which the entire garden section is now Christmas (and has been since the end of September), had ONE rack - not aisle, one RACK - of Halloween stuff. Sarah had her students help make parts of the alter. She got grief from parents who didn't want their children participating in such stuff. A few children weren't allowed to visit the alter.

Special thanks to Suzann for the picture. The alter was open the same time as Lola's so we only a a very few minutes to get there and wouldn't you know it - the batteries in my camera died. Shame shame. But we celebrated their passing at the alter anyway. Thanks for the picture, Suzann. And thanks, Sarah, for the alter.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A night of anxiety, a morning of gratitude and rainbows

It began a week ago Thursday around 6:30 pm. It was a bright night under a brilliant full moon but a stormy night with a wild wind blowing.over a raging ocean. Clouds scudded across the moon and rain squalls punctuated the night as they had the day

Elaine: The afternoon rain finally died down so I left to ride Chocolate on the beach. As I turned for home, the full moon rose over the ocean, an amazing sight with the waves crashing on the beach, shimmering white as they reflected the moon. Powerful powerful mojo. I took the horse back home and called John. “You have to come to the beach!” I yelled. He came down with the dogs and got on the horse, which is where I wanted him to see this amazing beauty. We walked, rode down the calle and onto the beach.

John: Rnding on the beach under the full moon was magic, beautiful, amazing, spiritual, defying words to describe.

Chocolate was a little skittish when we first got to the beach but he settled down and we seemed okay. We rode off a gentle walk into the moonlight.

Elaine: I took the camera and started taking pictures as the dogs ran out and he walked the horse ahead of me. He was about 200 yards or so further down the beach

John: We stopped and turned to wait for Elaine (on foot) to catch up. Chocolate was alert but standing steady.

Then something spooked him. He shied. Then bucked, then reared. He threw me and bolted down the beach

Elaine: The horse took off – stirrups and reins flying.

We both ran after him but he quickly disappeared around the point ahead and we lost him. After fifty minutes or so of searching in blowing wind and rain and still no horse. By then, I was frantic and none too gracious about it. After an hour or so of running and yelling on the beach and the dune, I went to our friend Tito and his family. Tito told me to stay at his house and immediately saddled his horse, Flicka, and took out onto the beach to look for Chocolate. His family – wife, Jolanda, and daughter, Jolanda, and son, Francisco, gave me water and tissue to dry my tears and reassured me that Tito would find Chocolate and that he would be okay. Tito searched for almost two hours; John drove in the car and looked on the road and I returned home, calling Chocolate as I walked. Still no horse. After John and I were both home, I then left again on foot to search the fields near the dune that separates us from the ocean. Two hours – still no horse. Tito promised to resume his search at first light and said he was sure we would find him.

John: None of us slept very well last night and at first light we were out looking again.

Elaine: John and I met met Tito on the calle to the beach at about 6:30 am. He’d already been riding and looking for almost an hour. Still no horse and the rain was beginning to fall again. The wind was fierce (about 30 mph). No one had seen Chocolate. We couldn’t imagine where he might be except that perhaps the reins became entangled on a tree or fence and he was stuck there. After another 90 minutes on foot and Tito on horseback – each of us going in slightly different directions – I was told by a man working on a construction site 2 miles or so from our house that he had seen someone leading a horse down the beach. This was all in Spanish so I couldn’t get all the details straight. But I immediately hiked out to the road and began to run towards home.

I called John on the cell phone. He said, “I was just going to call you. There’s a double rainbow and one end looks like it’s right at our house.” I said, “Yes, I see it” and I told him what the man had told me. He dropped to his knees out on the sand in thanks and I continued to run. I was almost home when another man – one I had talked to the previous night in my broken Spanish – stopped me and said that he thought my horse was with Tito. I turned around and headed back towards Tito’s house. That’s when I met up with Tito on Flicka. He told me that Chocolate had run farther than any of us had believed he would and that he had stopped and been caught and tied up in the yard of a family about 2 miles east of us sometime during the night. Tito had gone there, gotten him, led him back to our house, unsaddled and bridled him, rinsed him off and made sure he was secure before leaving to come find me.

Tito had spent about 5 hours on horseback looking for – and then finding – Chocolate. Many others, including fishermen on the beach and neighbors we barely know, had also expressed concern and helped us look for and locate him. There are no words for the gratitude that John and I both feel for these people. There aren’t enough words of gratitude for the thanks we have for Tito and his family for what he did. This man gave me this horse as a gift; today he gave me that gift again when I thought it might be lost forever. And a rainbow was there to mark the occasion.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

and water

We were lucky as TS Noel went by. It was grey and gloomy and rainy for three days (!Unheard of! but there you are). But NOTHING like what the south side of PR, down around Ponce, and then the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the other islands got. It was just dreary here, not dangerous. We didn't even(!) have a flood. About the beginning of the third day I said to Elaine, "This is starting to look like fall in Michigan." She said, "yeah, but it's 80 degrees and we're in shorts and t-shirts." Good point.

The ocean has been very churned up, not very good for snorkeling or diving. All the rain has visibility pretty bad and the waves - great for surfers - have been too rough.

The mackerel scad photo above was taken on our last dive at Crashboat nearly two weeks ago. It was amazing. We were 25 or 30 feet down and completely surrounded by thousands of mackerel scad. We were inside a living moving swirling ball of fish. They'd whiz by one way then whiz by the other way. It was like watching speeding commuter trains going by.

We saw the huge schools of mackerel scad earlier in the year, when they were fry and only about 2-1/2 or 3 inches long. Now they've grown up and they are 6 or more inches long.

I entered one of the photos from this dive in the Lonely Planet Photo Challenge on Flickr. The challenge was to photograph traffic. I called the picture "Rush hour." It got a lot of views and a couple of votes. I was happy about that.

All the most recent underwater photos from both SCUBA dives and snorkeling are on Flickr. Check 'em out. And feel free to leave comments.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Happy Halloween and All Hallows' Day. We hope you had an appropriately scary Halloween. If you have a "saint" you want to honor, today is the day.

We were lucky when Tropical Storm Noel passed by the island. We got grey skies and some rain from the storm but nothing like the Dominican Republic. Mudslides and other problems caused by more than 20 inches of rain claimed at least 30 lives and many more are missing. The WHOLE COUNTRY, 9.4 million people, lost electric power. Now the storm is heading for the Bahamas with 60 mph winds and heavy rains.

Here at home the waves are building, the surfers are coming back and the trade winds are blowing stronger and steadier. That means fun for kite surfers - and better opportunities for kite aerial photography (KAP).

On October 21st (before Noel went by), our friend Eric was out kite surfing. I managed to get some good photos of him just off the beach. I've photographed Eric before from the kite, from the shore and from underneath in the water. First, he's a really good kite surfer. Second, he's a lot of fun to photograph and to work with. As much as he can - given that we have no communication and both his kite and mine are subject to the whims of the wind - he tries to get in good positions to photograph.

The results of the latest shoot are up on Flickr. Watch for more good stuff in the months to come.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We put a spell on you

A tropical storm spent the last four days making its slow way past south of the island. It has been grey and gloomy and rainy every day (kinda like fall in Michigan except it's 75 degrees and we're in shorts and T-shirts, not jeans and sweatshirts).

But last night, with a lot of help from our friends, we put a spell on all that gloom and had a great time at the first-ever Ola Lola's Halloween Party.

Pretty much everybody - including us - came in costume. One of our great friends, George, said he "didn't dress up." But we worked it out: George came as his wife Mary coming to the party as George, and Mary came as George coming to the party as Mary. Got that? They got the prize for "most convoluted costume."

We had prizes for best Kid's Costume, Best Couple, Best Overall and a bunch more. Some of the costumes were just amazing. Body and Kendra's "Anthony and Cleopatra," which Kendra made, were fabulous. When Fran got here, I really did not know who it was. Trevor, from Villa Tropical, was a great Ludwig van (Beethoven) on a Caribbean vacation.

Elaine spent many hours creating a haunted graveyard along the path through the garden. Most of the tombstones had epitaphs that were puns in Spanish. They were wonderful and got lots of laughs from the Spanish-speakers.

We had great food thanks to Elaine and Marisol and great music thanks to our friend and DJ, Juan. Most importantly, after days of rain - including all afternoon before the party, everybody had a great time! Thanks to everybody who came and made the party a huge success!

You can see more pictures of the party on our Flickr site and Suzann put a bunch on Shutterfly. Check 'em out.

And if you missed this year's party, try to make it next year!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The dogs are fine

A few people have asked how the dogs are doing since there haven't been any pictures of them lately. I'm happy to say Amber and Jazz are doing just fine. They are healthy and seem to be happy living here. There are some new photos of the dogs on Flickr. Enjoy. They are.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yesterday's catch

Reef Squid...

And beautiful clouds at sunset (taken from a kite)

Yesterday was a nearly perfect day. Elaine went out to ride Chocolate early in the morning - well, 8-ish. I caught up on a backlog of photo editing and posting. Oh, yeah, and updating the blog for the first time in a week! (Sorry!)

Then we went snorkeling at a new (to us anyway) area called Wishing Well. When the waves are up it's a popular site with surfers but it was pretty calm yesterday.

After a dinner and a couple of beers, we headed down to Middles Beach to let the dogs run and to do a little KAP photography.

It could have been a perfect evening except Elaine spent the evening shopping for stuff for the weekend at Ola Lola's.

There were a lot of pictures from the snorkeling and KAPping. I edited them down to just a few and the best ones are now up on Flickr.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blog Action Day follow-up

Some quick numbers from the Blog Action Day for the Environment:

20,603 registered blogs and bloggers
23,327 blog posts
14,631,038 RSS readers

We're proud to be part of the Blog Action Day. The source for the numbers is the Blog Action Day web site. Check out the site if you want to read more about it.

Closer to home, last Saturday Elaine and I helped with a beach clean up. It was an interesting learning experience. First of all, when you get out of the car and start actively looking for trash, you find out there is a whole lot more trash than you expected. Turning over a pile of leaves reveals layers of trash underneath. To be honest, that's pretty much what we expected.

The thing we didn't expect was the condition of the trash. Styrofoam food boxes start to break apart into ever smaller and smaller (and therefore harder to pick up) pieces. Plastic grocery bags shred. They get stuck on and under limbs, branches, leaves, rocks. They work their way into the dirt. The little pieces are almost impossible to pick up. If you try to pull a bag out of the ground, it tears like wet paper. We (mistakenly) assumed this stuff was indestructible.

The biggest thing we don't know is what this crap is leaving behind in the soil as it deteriorates. Anybody out there know? Anybody know if anybody's ever studied this? My chemistry is a little rusty (as I in I haven't had any chemistry since high school and I didn't do too well then) or I test the soil.

We'll be part of future beach clean-ups as well. We're in the very early stages of creating a kite festival on the beach. We plan to partner with the Department of Natural Resources, Restcate Playas Isabela and others to raise the awareness of the value of the beaches, reefs and the ocean as resources to be protected, not abused. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogger action day - the environment

Today is a “blogger action day.” More than 7,000 bloggers all over the world are writing something about the environment.

I’ve written more than once about the paradise we live in. The beaches, the ocean, the reef are incredibly beautiful. Everybody I’ve met here agrees. But that doesn’t mean we’re blind.

Many people here don’t seem to realize what they have here, what an incredible resource this place is. Trash and beer bottles and pop bottles are regularly tossed on the beach or thrown from car windows. This is certainly not unique to Puerto Rico. Roadsides and beaches in the States suffer the same way.

To combat this problem here on our corner of the island, a group of locals, Puerto Ricans and ex-pat Americanos together, formed a volunteer, non-profit organization called “Rescate Playas de Isabela” (Rescue the beaches of Isabela). Every other month they – perhaps I should say “we” since Elaine and I are members – work with the Isabela government and with the state Department of Natural Resources to have a massive clean up of a stretch of beach. Once a month organization volunteers clean up the stretch of road we’ve adopted. This picture is of the trash we picked up in three hours last Saturday morning along one mile of road.

Volunteers from Rescate put trash barrels (like the ones in the photo) at all the beaches in Isabela. Corporate sponsors – particularly Corona and Heineken – paid for the barrels and the municipal government makes sure they get emptied. It sounds like such a simple thing but it took many many hours of volunteer time. Most importantly, this simple idea has made a HUGE difference in the amount of trash left on the beaches.

If you want more information about Rescate Playas Isabela, check out their site at www.myspace.come/rescateplayasisabela.

Better yet, JOIN Rescate Playas Isabela. It’s $15 a year or $25 for a family. You get a T-shirt and you will help a great cause close to our hearts. I don’t think there is an application on the myspace site but e-mail us at and we will send you the form.

One other local environmental issue before I get off this: the reef. The reef! I think it is mostly ignorance and perhaps carelessness but people – both Puerto Ricans and turistas – abuse the reef. They stand on it. They sit on it. They kick it. They look at it and think it’s “just a rock.” Or worse, they look at it and assume it’s dead. IT’S NOT! It is an 8,000 year old community of living creatures. And it is still very much alive.

Look around you. What in your environment do you take for granted? What do you not notice because it’s always there? What do you walk on without realizing you’re hurting another living being? Just for today, think about it.

Think globally, act locally.

Thanks. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Christmas in the Caribbean

Before we get to Christmas, Happy Columbus Day! I've written before that Puerto Ricans lover their holidays. Monday (Oct. 8) was the "official" U.S. Federal Columbus Day holiday. Today, October 12 is the official Puerto Rican holiday. Wow. Two holidays in one week for the same event. Imagine that.

I think I also wrote before about Christmas here. Puerto Ricans love Christmas above all other holidays - except Three Kings Day, which is actually bigger than Christmas. I first thought the Christmas celebration started the week of Thanksgiving and lasted at least until Three Kings Day (January 6). Or sometime just before Easter. It appears I was wrong.

At least the little town of San Antonio, just "up the mountain" from us, has their Christmas decorations up in the plaza already. I'm not sure when they put them up; I first saw them day before yesterday. I haven't been out and about enough to know if other towns have theirs up yet.

I do know that KMart and WalMart took all their summer beach/garden stuff out about the middle of September and immediately replaced it with huge displays of - you guessed it - Christmas stuff. Little tiny displays for Thanksgiving. Maybe one aisle for Halloween. Whole walls for Christmas already! I'll try to get pictures.

We love the Christmas celebrations here. But even many of the Puerto Ricans we talk to think this WAY too early to have all the Christmas stuff out. Thank you KMart and Walmart. By the time Christmas gets here, we'll all be so tired of it, it won't be fun any more.

No, that's not true. It will still be great and fun. Not even the insensitive big box stores can take the joy out of a Puerto Rican holiday!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

American Kitefliers Association convention

The American Kitefliers Association's national convention and Grand National competition was last week in Ocean Shores, Washington. (We didn't make it this year.)

The "octopile" (above) was a world record for the most octopi in the sky at one time. Understand, each one of those octopi is 88 FEET long! That's a lot o' ripstop!

Brooks Leffler, one of the world's great KAPpers (kite aerial photographers), has an amazing bird's eye view of the ocotpile taken with a camera suspended from a kite line. That picture is posted in the Kite Aerial Photography pool on Flickr.

Special thanks to Ann Vondriska Brinnehl who took all the photos on this page. More of her photos of the convention in day-by-day sets, can be found on Flickr. ( No, I didn't post that wrong: Ann took the pictures and posted them on husband Dan's photo stream.)

A number of our friends from the Midwest competed in the stunt kite competitions and did very well. Congratulations to all. Sorry we weren't there to cheer you on - or to compete against you!

Brothers Zach (lounging) and Josh Gordon are the pairs stunt kite team Eos. They brought home trophies for First Place in Masters Pairs Ballet and a second place finish in Masters Pairs Precision.

Zach also took first in Masters Individual Ballet and second in both Masters Multi-line (quad-line) Ballet and Masters Multi-line Precision.

Meanwhile, Josh was fourth in Masters Individual Precision and sixth in Masters Individual Ballet.

Elizabeth Gordon, standing with brothers Zach and Josh, took second in Novice Individual Ballet and third in Novice Individual Precision.

Mike Delfar (left) and Dan Newan are the pairs team O2. The were first in the Team Train event and fourth place in both Masters Pairs Ballet and Masters Pairs Precision.

Dan also competed individually, taking seventh in both Masters Individual Ballet and Masters Individual Precision.

Alison Newman (center, with Elizabeth and Josh Gordon) brought home the first place trophy for Experienced Multi-line Precision and the third place award for Experienced Multi-line Ballet.

Again, thanks to Ann and Dan for the photos and congratulations to ALL the Midwest flyers at the convention. Maybe we'll get to go next year!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Surf season

We've had some big waves the last couple of days so we've been out shooting surfers. A couple of the Billabong girls were in Isabela, having some fun at Middles Beach. This is Keala Kennelly. In addition to being a champion surfer and a member of Billabong's Adventure Division (chasing some of the biggest waves in the world), she also stars on HBO's "John in Cincinnati." Oh, yeah - she a really great person. She and teammate Sanoe Lake stopped by Lola's for a Pina Lo-lada.

Thanks, ladies. It was a pleasure to meet you and fun photographing you..

There are more pictures of Keala and Sanoe on our site.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Heal quickly, Sarah

Our friend Sarah fell and broke her foot last week and is now in a cast.

Sarah is an art teacher here. She's been working on dia de muertos art with her students. She found this great image in her research. She (painting upside down!) and a friend painted her cast.

The cast is a hassle: Sarah loves to go to the beach but sand in a cast is a PAIN! She likes to dance and the cast slows her down a bit.

What a great way to deal with and celebrate conquering an adversity! Two other friends, when they saw the cast, said, "Wow! That's beautiful! I want one! Oh. No. Wait. No I don't."

It is beautiful but we hope it is VERY temporary. Heal quickly, Sarah!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Snorkeling and diving

The opening of the surf competition season on the island means bigger waves are on the way and the days of diving and snorkeling outside the reef at Shacks are numbered for this year.

Right at the end of dive with Darryl outside the reef a week ago, down to my last 500 lbs of air and with dead batteries in my camera, I spotted a dolphin. Darryl had his own problems (a free-flowing emergency regulator dumping his air into the ocean) but he managed to get a few shots.

And there is still a lot to see inside the reef.

Elaine and I were snorkeling late one afternoon when we found this crab under a coral ridge, chowing on a sea urchin. He (she? we didn't think to look) pulled the spines off, nibbled what he wanted and then tossed the spine aside. There was a pile of spines behind him like rib bones at a bar-b-que. A bunch of other fish swam around the crab looking for scraps.

Another day we were swimming with about a hundred small bar jacks. A long slender silver shaft appeared right in the middle of the school of young jacks and we found ourselves swimming with a huge barracuda. I only got one shot of him (her? We didn't look.). You can see it on the Flickr site in the new set of snorkeling and diving pics.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Did I say "we live here"?

I don't say this (out loud) or write this nearly often enough, but we are so incredibly lucky to live here. Every time I walk over the dune and out to the beach (some days we do it three or four times) I just stop and say, "Wow! We live here!" Every time we come out of the ocean, whether snorkeling or diving or swimming with Amber and Jazz, I stop and say, "Wow! We live here!" Every time I see Elaine riding down the beach on Chocolate stop and say, "Wow! We live here!" It is amazingly wonderful and humbling. I hope I never ever lose my sense of wonder, awe and gratitude to the universe for allowing us to share this magical place.

New tables debut to rave reviews

Our new tables made their debut at the "everybody with a birthday in September" party. The new tables are AWESOME! They are beautiful (thank you Marty and Elaine), they are incredibly well-crafted (thank you, Marty) and they are STABLE (thank you, Marty). We haven't had a single spilled drink or broken glass since we started using the new tables. Our guests love 'em! And so do we. We're really pleased and proud of them.

Each one of the tables features pictographs chosen by our regular guests. The pictographs are from originals created by the Tainos, the last native people to inhabit the island before the Spanish arrived. You can see a close up of each individual table on the Flickr site.

And if we haven't said it before, THANK YOU, MARTY!!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Early surf season

The local beaches hosted two surf tournaments over the last two weekends. I shot some pics on Friday before the Corona Pro tournament, mostly amateurs but some of them pros warming up for the weekend. I went back for a while on Saturday to shoot some of the tournament. I couldn't stay too long 'cause I had to get Lola's ready to open. I'd planned to go back on Sunday to KAP (kite aerial photography) the tournament but a dead battery in the car sidelined those plans. But I got some interesting stuff anyway. You can see them on the PuertoRicoSurfPhoto site. Click on the "surfing" tab and scroll down to September.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Elaine went diving!

Elaine went diving yesterday!

Until recently she's been very happy snorkeling and pretty much staying on the surface. Then she started free diving to see what's under coral ledges and to get a closer look at what's down there. Of course, once you start that, you want to stay down longer than you can hold your breath. That leads to wanting to breathe underwater which in turn leads to... SCUBA!

Our dive instructor/buddy and good friend Darryl gave Elaine "discover SCUBA" dive for her birthday. As he puts it, it's the "drug dealer's approach to SCUBA - give 'em a free one and get 'em hooked." Well, she pretty much is hooked. So she's starting her certification training. She's doing it along with our friend Marisol .


I am riding Chocolate. I've been riding before and I really enjoy it. I'm just not very good at it. It doesn't matter - we get to share our favorite activities and passions.

Speaking of passions, last night we took our first salsa dance lessons. Stay tuned for more on that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What a party!!!!

The first-ever "Everybody who has a birthday in September" birthday party was a smash! Everybody had a great time. Marisol - whose birthday actually was on Monday - said it was the best birthday she'd ever had. A headcount at one point had 80 or more people at Ola Lola's (where 20 is a crowd). Taking a hint from the UFO stand around the corner, people spilled out into the street. Cars were parked from Ola Lola's nearly half a mile down to the crossroad leading to Villa Tropical and to Tropical Trailrides. The roast pig (lechon asado, which was fabulous!)

was GONE! There were only a few bones and scraps left for the dogs. We ran out of several liquors and beers. So many people brought fabulous side dishes and everyone pitched in to help both at the end and to keep Ola Lola's clean throughout the evening.

The idea for a party in September started originally as a party to celebrate Elaine and Michelle, who share a birthday day. Then Suzanne wanted to have a party for Marisol. Ana wanted to celebrate her birthday at Ola Lola's, too. Jennifer wanted a party for her husband Trevor. All these plans were going on separately. We started pulling them together into one big bash, the "Everybody with a birthday in September Party." We knew there were at least six people to celebrate.

When we called all the September birthday people up front to sing happy birthday, there were 15 (we think...not sure if we got everyone)!

There are so many people to thank for making this party such a huge success:

Suzanne for taking the lead, organizing the "outside" stuff, bringing decorations and supplying Ola Lola dips.
Lesa, Brian and Carlos for arranging for the pig roast (and Ramon, with help from our neighbor Felix, for preparing and serving such a delicious dinner).
Kendra who made special birthday crowns for the "guests of honor."
Ana for arranging for the DJ who did a great job keeping the music going and people dancing (I'm especially grateful for the DJ. Usually music is my department. I was just too bloody busy to even think about music! Great job, Juan.)
Everyone who contributed side dishes and desserts, and everyone who contributed to the cost of the pig and the DJ.
Elaine of course. I can't even begin to describe her huge efforts before, during and after the party.
And EVERYONE who came, shared their evening with us, had a huge great time, helped keep things picked up and kept us smiling, and helped make it a wonderful party that we ALL enjoyed.

I had very little time time to take pictures (too busy running out of stuff in the bar) but Suzanne is sharing her pictures on Shutterfly. The pictures above are hers, too. Thanks, Suzanne!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On culture, part 2

The friendliness Elaine wrote about extends to Puerto Ricans off the island as well.

When we were in Milwaukee for the kite festival, we met several Puerto Ricans currently living in Milwaukee (Milwau-ricans?) .

First we met Maritza and her daughter Tashi. They heard about the festival - and that a kite team from Puerto Rico was coming. They came to the festival because of that - to see the equipo de chiringas de Puerto Rico. They also brought Maritza's 95-year-old abuelo (grandfather). They had never been to a kite festival before, let alone seen teams of sport kite flyers. They were warm and welcoming and gracious and very happy to talk about "home." They even brought a Puerto Rican flag for us to autograph.

We also met Brandan, originally from the island but now a graduate student at the University of Marquette in Milwaukee. Seems one of the world's top experts in karst (which is what most of this island is made of) is at Marquette. Brandan went to Marquette to study so he could come back "home" and study and hopefully teach about the karst here.

We spent nearly two hours talking with him, reminiscing about the places we all know, bringing him up to date on changes on the island, and talking island politics.

I'm not sure who was happier talking about the island, Maritza and Tashi and Brandan, or us. We all enjoyed the shared sense of "home."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Of cars and culture

“Though North Americans found graitfying opportunities for investment in the islands, they were less gratified by the tempo of island life, especially in Puerto Rico. They seemed unable to appreciate any of the virtues of its culture, while being repelled by what were, in their view, all its faults. The people were courteous and courtly, uninterested in material wealth, committed to enduring social relationships, accepting of hierarchy, Catholic but not fervent, hypersensitive on issues of honor, generous to a fault. On none of these counts could they be expected to win over the North Americans, who viewed themselves as supremely rational, hardheaded, yet idealistic liberators whose fortune it was always to do well while doing good, representing the nation of the future, energetically endorsing hard work above sociability, business above agrarian enterprise, equality above courtesy, frankness above politeness, money above kindness – and Protestantism above Catholicism.”

Jack Delano – pg. 2, Puerto Rico Mio: Four Decades of Change (1990).

“In the impoverished countryside and the urban slums, living conditions were horrendous…What most impressed us, however, was the dignity, hospitality, gentleness, patience, indomitable spirit, and unquenchable sense of humor of the people in the face of the most appalling adversity.”

Jack Delano – pg. 24, Puerto Rico Mio: Four Decades of Change (1990).

The two quotes above are from a book of photographs of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans that I bought for John. They personify the culture we are experiencing here and love so much. They are clearly reflected in so many of our interactions with the people here, most especially in the last several days since we got back from the states.

It began with more car trouble. Arrived at 4:30 am on 9/12 to find our car’s power steering had gone kaput. Later that day we drove it to the specialized auto repair shop our friend Marisol found for us – W R Auto Parts – some dozen or more miles east of us on Carr. 2. I took the car and my poor pigeon-Spanish and managed to explain the problem. The young man who helped me could not have been more patient, and willing to use his English while helping me with my Spanish. He explained that it looked like the pump was the problem and with apologetic body language and words said this would be costly, and perhaps even more expensive if it turned out to be the rack and pinion steering instead. “Quanto?” I asked. He wrote $125 p.s and $225 r/p on the back of his business card. I’m no expert on car repair prices but I knew this was less than half we would likely pay in the states so I grinned with relief. He also said they were very busy – might not be able to get me in until Monday, but then started asking me where I lived and pointing to the Ola Lola sign on the car, wanted to know about the business. I managed to give enough info in Spanish for him to get a sense of where and what we were, and then it was his turn to grin – hugely. “Oh!” he exclaimed, “the place where they wave at you and are always really friendly!” Turns out he has a friend who stayed at Villa Tropical who told him about us and he had driven by…once. I acknowledged that was indeed Ola Lola’s and that we used the car to get our supplies for the bar. He then stated that he would fix the car the following morning (Friday) and said if I could get it there by 8 a.m., they could be sure to have it done before they closed for the weekend Saturday afternoon, even if it was the rack and pinion steering. He added more fluid, showed me the type to buy (cheaper than regular power steering fluid), and reminded me to keep adding it to protect the problem from getting worse. No charge.

I came home and shared with John how his “viral” marketing strategy of waving and smiling at everyone who passes had reached well east of Isabela already. And sharing the joy of interacting with someone who obviously was happy to help, and not purely for economic reasons.

That evening, while driving in the dark to pick up a pizza for our late dinner and a couple of last-minute groceries for the weekend, the car died…completely. I barely made it up the cliff, with its steep slope, narrow lanes, and twisty curves. It finally came to a full stop on the side of the road about 1/10 mile past the top of the cliff, and a good distance from the Supermercado Coop (where we get groceries), any open gas station, the pizza place, and home. It was 8:30 p.m. and I called Marisol on my cell phone. “I’ll be there in 10 minutes…just need to get the kids in the car,” she said. Her husband was not yet home from work and it had to be a huge interruption with a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old to get ready for bed, but there was no hesitation, question, or overlays of quid pro quo attached. It was just the generous (“to a fault”) nature of a true Puerto Rican friend – our Puerto Rican sister – responding to a need.

She got there and we tried to figure out if we could use the jumper cables in my car to start the car. It was dark. I had no headlights; one of hers was out. Her van’s battery was hidden and we couldn’t seem to get things hooked up. She used my cell phone (had left hers home in the hurry to get there) to call her husband. He said he was on his way and would be there soon. Meanwhile, Marisol left to go pick up our pizza.

Within 20 minutes, JR, Marisol’s husband, pulled up in a pickup with a friend. He told me not to worry, kissed me in greeting on the side of my cheek, introduced his friend to me who also kissed my cheek, and then hooked up the jumper cables to the truck. At about the same time, a police car stopped and shined its light on our little band across the road. Once they saw we were trying to jump start the car, they made a u-turn and came across the road to join us. “Where’s Marisol?” Junior (who goes by “J.R.”) asked. I told him she went to get our pizza. There was no hint of anything other than understanding acceptance and he went back to work, talking in Spanish to his friend and the police officers. The car started with the jumper cables, but as soon as they were removed, it died completely. Marisol returned and immediately gave me my change from the pizza and began translating for me. “It’s the alternator, they’re saying,” she told me. For the next 30-40 minutes, conversations in Spanish whirled around me causing me to both realize how far I have to go with my own Spanish language acquisition and yet somehow making me feel a part of it all.

During that time, the four men agreed that the car, even if we could keep it running, was unsafe to drive home especially given that I would have to once again go down the cliff’s twisty road to get there. They helped push the car to a safe place in front of a house further off the road, with Junior assuring me that the people who lived there were his friends and would not mind. Jose informed us that his twin brother, Anki, had a shop where they fixed alternators and starters and that he could fix ours the next day. Jose also called Anki to see if he could come and look at the car that very night, right there on the side of the road, but that turned out not to be possible. He wrote down Anki’s phone number as well as his own personal cell phone number on the back of one of his business cards, saying that if we had any problems contacting his brother to call him first thing in the morning. Discussions ensued about having the car towed to Anki’s shop in Isabela as well as forming a plan for how I could most easily and inexpensively fix the problem the following day. The plan, as laid out through Marisol’s expert translation was as follows: 1) We should return to the car early in the morning, remove the battery, take it to the gas station up the road and get it fully recharged (would take about an hour), then replace the battery in the car and immediately drive it to Anki and he would fix it.

Marisol then drove me home with the pizza, all the while talking to me about how she would call Anki in the morning and arrange everything since he did not speak English, and would help us with rides and translation as needed to get the whole thing taken care of the next day. I got home at 10:00 pm, smiling from ear to ear with the whole experience of people so generously offering assistance bursting in my chest.

Next day, our guardian angel, friend and Puerto Rican sister, Marisol, once again gave us reason for our hearts to overflow with gratitude for the wonder of this new home, its people, and our inclusion with them. She spent the day helping us. First, she picked up John and they went to get the battery charged. While waiting for it to charge she returned to our house where the two of them had a yummy breakfast of waffles and preserves (homemade by our dear friend, Donna, in Wisconsin) while I rode Chocolate for his morning exercise. Marisol and John left, got the charged battery, replaced it in the car, and checked with another mechanic just down the road to see if he could repair the alternator. He said that he didn’t have the equipment to check the system accurately to be sure it wasn’t more than that and recommended none other than Anki as the place to have it done properly. Marisol and John returned to our house where John and I swapped places so he could get Ola Lola’s ready to open. I drove our car, following Marisol to Anki’s place, a small open cement “underbelly” to his parents’ house on a crowded street in Isabela.

There I explained (and Marisol translated) that our power steering had gone out as well and, given that the previous owners of the car had replaced the alternator with a new one last December, I wondered if there might be some connection between the problems (or even, a separate electrical problem that was not related to the alternator at all). The information was respectfully considered, but within a matter of minutes, Anki had determined that the alternator was indeed bad and was suggesting that if we took it back to the place that the previous one had been purchased and there was a warranty, we could simply get a new one for free and then he would put it in. Marisol jumped at the idea and I called John to say that she would be driving me back to the house (well out of our way once again) and we would be picking up the receipt, which thankfully we had saved.

I admit at this point I was more than a bit skeptical. Here was this guy pulling out a grungy looking alternator from the car and handing it to us on a dirty rag and saying that if we returned to the store where it was purchased 9 months ago, they would simply hand us a new one and we could bring it back to him and he would replace it. I became even more skeptical when I saw the receipt with about 20 exclusions to the warranty – exclusions such as incorrect installation, misuse, etc. How the heck could we prove this was the alternator under warranty, much less that we hadn’t violated any of the provisions, especially since the alternator was out of the car.

However, I was soon to be reminded we were simply traveling through a continuum that was part of Puerto Rican culture, Puerto Rican honor, and Puerto Rican generosity. We arrived at the store, the alternator was replaced with a new one and a new warranty with no questions asked. After a small hesitation on her part and a bit of convincing on my part, I was allowed to buy Marisol some windshield washer fluid and a new lamp for her front headlight which was out as a small – very very small – token of my appreciation for this miraculous saving of $125, the cost of a new alternator.

By this time it was after
2 pm, and Marisol had to make several phone calls to insure that someone else could pick up her nieces from their school and her son from his, activities she usually takes does every weekday from 2-3:30 pm. She then drove me back once again to Anki’s, where he installed the new alternator, tested it, and evaluated our cooling and air conditioning system (our AC fan is disconnected because it doesn’t rotate correctly on the spindle), all in the rain as his shop had two cars in it and was full. Once I knew that repairs were going to be completed soon, I tried to insist that Marisol return home because I knew she had a 5-10 pm class that evening at the university and still hadn’t eaten since breakfast, completed her homework, or taken time for herself and her family. Instead, she stayed by my side, being sure that anything and everything that was said was translated into English to keep me from any confusion or problems and to be sure I could leave safely.

As Anki was finishing the job, his brother Jose, the police officer, arrived in his civilian clothes. He had come just to be sure that we had been able to get the car fixed without any problems. Anki then finished the job and told us the price - $30! I was once again reminded that there are more important things to Puerto Ricans than getting rich. I paid him and Marisol and I finally parted company, leaving her to rush home with barely enough time to change her clothes and hug her kids before having to leave for her graduate level class. There are no words for the gratitude John and I felt and still feel. The only small repayment I was able to give her was to print out her homework (her printer’s ink cartridge was out) and give her an Ola Lola smoothie to go when she stopped by our place, for the 5th time in less than 24 hours, running late on her way to class.

The next day was almost as miraculous and revealing about the nature of the heart of Puerto Rico. Marisol called me first thing in the morning to see if I wanted her to meet me at the place that fixes power steering. We agreed that I would call her if I needed a ride; but would first find out what needed to be done and how long it would take. She called me no less than 3 times to be sure I did not want to be picked up or if we needed her to get anything for us at the store. I drove the car to W R Auto Parts where I was once again greeted with the friendliness typically reserved for longtime customers and close friends in the states. The power steering problem was diagnosed; it was only a broken hose. Several hours later, they had finished fixing it, testing it, replacing fluid and clamps, and I was ready to go. All of this was communicated with a mixture of Spanish and English and mucho patiencia with my poor communication abilities in the former language. The bill? Twenty dollars, plus tax, with a 90-day warranty.

And so, in some 60 hours of what would have been previously thought of as “car repair hassles,” John and I emerged richer than ever, with our hearts overflowing. There are no words to describe how amazing and wonderful the experience was and how much we love our new lives, friends, and the culture here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gotta love TSA...not

I We feel so much safer with TSA on the job.

So we're going through airport security. TSA had a hissy-fit over a cheesecake - absolutely would not let it on the plane in our carry-on, despite the fact the same inspector told us earlier we COULD take it. What was wrong with the cheesecake? Its texture. The texture of a cheescake is illegal on an airplane! Apparently it meets the TSA (unwritten unpublished seemingly random) definition of "cream or gel."

I shoved (frustration apparent) the cheesecake at the TSA supervisor "Here. Happy birthday!"

"Isn't there someone in the terminal you can give it to?" he asked.

"NO! It's just the two of us. There isn't anyone else!" So he threw a whole cheesecake (our second flan de queso that did not make it to our friends and family in the states) in the trash.

TSA also confiscated our sealed Blue Ice freezer pack - in spite of the fact one of their agents told us a week or so before such freezer packs were okay as long as they were sealed and frozen. We specifically talked to a TSA agent well before our trip to ask about the ice packs.

BUT - the exact same TSA screeners let us take a six-inch-long pointed metal tent stake on the plane in our carry-on. We really didn't mean to or even care about it. It was at the bottom of the bag with all our kite lines, which was stuck in a carry-on bag.

Let's see. Which is more dangerous? Six-inch metal spike or cheesecake.

I DON'T GET IT!!!! But Bush's creation, the TSA, is on the job protecting the flying public from cheesecake and frozen ice packs.

Do you have any TSA yes-no stories? We'd love to hear them. E-mail them to ...commisseration welcome.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In el supermercado

The produce section at the Metro Mart in downtown Milwaukee

We needed to pick up a few things so we stopped in a grocery store in Milwaukee. When you walk in the door of this particular store, you walk right into the produce department. I just stopped and laughed. And took pictures like a silly turista.

One look around was a reminder why most of us gringos bemoan the lack of fresh vegetables on the island. The produce department was HUGE! The wall of ORGANIC vegetables alone was bigger than the entire produce department at the Coop. As we walked through the rest of the store, the variety was nearly overwhelming.

Oddly, we had much the same feeling in the JetBlue terminal at JFK on the flight back to the States. The number of little restaurant choices in the airport food court was mind-boggling, at least for a few minutes. Once we got to Chicago and Milwaukee it was wonderful to have that many options.

For the most part, except for the produce and the restaurants - oh, yeah, and the beer choices - I don't miss so many choices.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A belated Happy Birthday

In the rush to replay the tragic events of 2001, CNN must have missed the media release about Elaine's birthday on September 11.

Happy birthday, Elaine!

Turns out she shares a birthday with a number of our friends. September 11 is not just a day of tragedy. It is a day to celebrate your arrival in this world. So for all of you CELEBRATING on that day, happy birthday.

Great week in the States

Elaine with Amy's black Lab, Molly , on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

We had a great week back in the States. We spent the weekend performing at a kite festival in Milwaukee and hanging out with great friends. Then off to Northern Indiana to sent way too short a time with our friends Jen and Jason. Then back to Michigan to spend a couple of days with Kennedy Anne and her mom and to see other family and friends. There are new pictures of Kennedy Anne and of the festival on Flickr.

We're back with a whole bunch o' new stories and pictures and a new appreciation for our island home.

It was an almost perfect early fall week in the Wisconsin and Michigan. When we lived there, I loved fall in Michigan. Fresh, crisp apples (we brought some of those back with us). Apple cider. The yellows, oranges and reds brilliant against the evergreens and the blue sky. The first cool days when I could get out my sweaters. Okay. I still love all that - or at least the MEMORY of it. I miss the apples (apple pie is my absolute hands-down favorite). And the cider tasted every bit as good as I remember. But I don't miss the cool much at all and I don't miss my sweaters nearly as much as I thought I would.

We went for several walks on a Lake Michigan beach but it is certainly NOT the same as our beach at Shacks. Even after just a few days away I missed the ocean. (And our dogs. And our horse. And Lola's.)

The lake is very different from the ocean. The ocean's rhythms are slower, longer, deeper. The lake's wind-driven waves are shorter and more frenetic. The sound of the waves on the lake is more constant with less break between waves, more like wind through the trees.

Elaine hit the other big difference between the ocean and the lake: You can be ON the lake or NEXT to the lake on the beach, but it is difficult if not impossible to fell organically connected to the lake. For one thing, the Great Lakes are too cold to stay in for very long. Lake Michigan rarely gets above the low 70s and that only late in the summer. Visibility in the lake for snorkeling or diving is at best very limited. And unless you're diving on Great Lakes shipwrecks, there just isn't that much to see. The fish aren't as colorful or as plentiful. There is no reef. Don't get me wrong. Lake Michigan is beautiful. For years I wanted to live on the lake. But I've felt separate from the lake, never a part of it like I do the ocean.

But we're back home now. Our first day back we managed to cram it all in - horseback riding, running the dogs, taking care of several transportation crises (more about that to come), Getting ready to reopen Lola's and finally an after dark snorkel.