Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Merry Chistmas!

Our nephew Jordan spells out our message on the dune.

So where ya been? Oh, I guess it's the other way 'round - we haven't been here. We lost Internet early on Christmas Eve and didn't get it back until late last night. So we've been here, just not able to get on line.

For the last two weeks we've had huge winds - 30 mph plus - day and night. It's been overcast much of the time, and rainy. Lousy surf (mostly) and too much wind for kite surfing to be much fun. On Christmas Eve the power was off and on, mostly off. Every time the power went off, the cell phone towers went down. And Internet just went away for a week. Empathy for our friends in the frozen north perhaps?

But all is back on now. The winds are back to more manageable speeds. Skies are blue and the ocean is pretty calm (surfers aren't very happy about that). And we can get back to wishing everyone a very merry Christmas (which we'd planned to do a week ago).

We had a wonderful Christmas. Christmas Eve we had invited some visiting friends from the States over for a quiet dinner. On Christmas Day we went to our friends Mary and George's home for dinner. Mary and her cousin Teresa (visiting from Scotland) made an amazing Christmas dinner: starters with smoked salmon and pate; then ham, two kinds of turkey, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, carrots in a honey-dijon glaze, green beans, fresh bread, salad; and all topped off with a Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Oh my god. I haven seen so much food since...since...since Thanksgiving at Marisol's. It was wonderful!

Last night (Dec. 29) was our holiday party and a celebration of our second anniversary at Ola Lola's (and our fourth wedding anniversary). More than 80 people came to celebrate with us. Sorry if you missed it. It was great time. Lots of people brought a bunch o' yummy dishes to share so there was lots of food. We had a small gift exchange that pleased everyone. And of course, in the true Ola Lola's party spirit, there was lots of fun and great company.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to celebrate with us. And a huge special thanks to all our friends, both here on the island and all those who have visited Ola Lola's during the past two years, for helping make our lives so rich and so full, and for helping make Ola Lola's a success. Thank you all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Happy Solstice! To all of our many friends in the northern half of the country, shivering and buried in ice and snow, please know we are thinking of you. We hope you are some place warm and safe.

Today, the shortest day of the year, has been celebrated as a special day for centuries. Even though today is officially the first day of winter (and even though some of you have had winter for weeks), from here on the days get longer. Spring is coming.

And in the sometimes weirdness that is our life, after not posting a blog for four days, we're putting up two on the shortest day of the year. And, we still have not mailed our Christmas cards!

Speaking of celebrations, on January 1 we will celebrate our 20th annual New Year's Day Kite Fly! If you are anywhere in the neighborhood, come join us.

Shh-h-h-h! It's a secret...

Nobody is supposed to know but today is our good friend George's birthday. He has a natural Scottish reticence about being in the spotlight or being fussed over. So if you see George today, just whisper "happy birthday." But don't tell him we told you it's his birthday.

Of course George didn't want a birthday party, but hey - this is Ola Lola's. Far be it from us to let such a moment pass. We knew George had another commitment for tonight so on Friday we threw him a Happy "it's not your" Birthday party. Not-your-birthday cake with candles was served and everyone participated in singing George many not-your-birthday songs with personalized lyrics (some of which Elaine got up in the middle of the night to write) to melodies such as "Auld Lang Syne," "My Favorite Things," and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". And yes, George was surprised since he didn't know we knew his birthday was even close.

Party season is in full swing here on the island. (I guess that's the third season here in Puerto Rico, along with surf season and snorkel-'n-dive season.) Thursday night we went to Ron and Tina's Christmas party. Ron and Tina live in a beautiful house up on the cliff above Shore Island Beach and the Villa Pescara. They finished the patio in their yard this year so the party was outside.Their party is always a great mix of Puerto Ricans-by-birth and Puerto Ricans-by-choice. Somehow, (mostly at Ron's insistence) the party always ends in a stay-at-home paranda (more about parandas later).

Note to Zan: Someone brought the traditional Hormel party platter in your honor and it was a hit.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

new favorite surf photo

This week we've had some good size waves in the 8-10 range around us. The problem for surfers has been the wind: it's been blowing 15-25 mph day and night. Wind like that across the face of the waves makes 'em terrible for surfers. Favorite surf breaks like Middles, Jobos, Surfers and Wilderness have been totally blown out and unsurfable.

Tuesday we went out checkin' out surf sites, just to see if by chance there might be something surfable and somebody might be out. Nobody at the usual spots but...

We stopped at Borinquen beach, just to look at the waves, 'cause it not usually a surf spot. But there, down near the cliff and the rocks, a half a dozen or so surfers were out. Wow!

I set up the camera so I could shoot with the rocks and cliff as a background. What a totally different look! It doesn't even look like a Puerto Rican surf break. There were some great shots from this short session. This is my personal favorite. In fact, it's my new favorite surf photo. I love the contrast between all the moving water and the rocks and the surfer right in the middle of it all.

You can see more from this set on Flickr and on the web site, www.puertoricosurfphoto.com.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You are invited

YOU are invited to the Ola Lola's Holiday Party and our 2nd Anniversary Celebration. I know, it will be hard for some of you to get here but you are invited anyway. If there is anyway you can be here, we'd love to see you.

Think about it. And know even if you're not here, we'll be thinking about you, too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Flying kites for Christmas

Yesterday we performed at a company Christmas party for the families of our friends at the golf course. We got to fly on this amazing site overlooking the ocean. (The photos are from a visit to the site last month to check it out and test fly there.)

After a week of high winds that made practice nearly impossible, we had okay, flyable winds for our hour-long performance. The site on the bluff has very squirrelly winds, in some places really good, in others a step forward or backward sends the kite into a black hole. But hey - we're professionals, right? So we took it all in stride and made it work.

The good news is the audience, particularly course owners Stanley and Charlie and their families and course designer David and his wife Liane, were pleased and impressed. As David said, "I am impressed. I'm not surprised at how good you are, but I am impressed!"

Thank you, Stanley and Charlie, for inviting us to perform - and for the great lunch afterward!

Today Rescate Playas Isabela, a local group working to clean up and protect our local beaches is having a family Christmas Fair. We are going to put up some kites for that event as well. Today will just be single line kites. The venue for this event really doesn't have room for dual-line demonstrations.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Surf season

Thanksgiving afternoon at Wilderness Beach

It's surf season here on the island (which is why it's so bad for snorkeling an diving) and I've taken a lot of surf photos already. There are a ton of new pictures from October, November and early December on PuertoRicoSurfPhoto.com. There is a "Readers' Digest" version in two sets on Flickr for those who don't want to go through all the photos on the web site.

A good swell is supposed to come through middle of this week. I'm hoping to get out and get some new stuff to post.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ocean time

A photo from a snorkel trip to Crashboat Beach in November when Amy was here. You can see just how cloudy the water has been.

On Thursday I went SCUBA diving. When I recorded the dive in my log book, I realized I haven't been diving since August. Let me repeat that: I haven't been diving SINCE AUGUST! And to be honest, I've only been snorkeling about half-a-dozen time since then. The ocean has simply been too churned up and too rough to make snorkeling or diving much fun. Visibility has been terrible. Even our dive master Darryl has pretty much been diving only for SCUBA classes.

But Thursday was really good, the best it's been in a couple of months. Visibility was good - 50'-60' - and the water was a beautiful blue. We went to Natural and had about a 45 minute dive.

It felt so good to be back in the water. I miss it. I love taking surf pictures but I miss being IN the water myself.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A week after Thanksgiving

A week on and I think my insulin levels have returned to close enough to normal to write about Thanksgiving.

Wow! We went to our friends Marisol JR's house for Thanksgiving dinner. There was so much food and ALL of it wonderful. TWO turkeys (there were a lot of us!) Stuffing. Homemade cranberry sauce. Southern-style cornbread dressing. Potato salad. Darryl's famous Caesar salad. Sweet potato cassrole. Asparagus casserole. Broccoli casserole. Cakes. Coquito. It was amazing.

And of course dinner was followed by salsa dancing (by those in any condition to move). Thanks to JR, Marisol, John, Darryl and everybody who was there and who contributed to a wonderful night!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Horse's point of view

Hi. I'm Chocolate - Elaine & John's hors. nOtt sooo eszeyy Tu typ wiff hooooovezz. Soo I tehll Elinae waht too tpe.

I am very smart and I have figured out how to open pull out the chain, throw the lock and push open the gate on my pasture. Elaine caught me just about ready to make a break a few days ago. They say I'm a "character" - not sure exactly what that means, but I think it's because I love attention and I'm very relaxed and lie down to sleep like a dog when I get my naps (that's me above laying in front of Ola Lola's). My favorite snacks are granola bars, guineos (bananas), mangos (YUM!), and my grain. Which, by the way, I only get 1.5 cups twice a day (please feel free to lobby for me to get more...I'm a hungry guy!).

But, I do sometimes get a great treat - I get to meet people, especially young people, who love me and get to sit on me and I treat them to a moment on a beautiful (and very humble) horse. I've done it with my friend Paige who visited Ola Lola's with her parents, Anna Paula, who came by with her dad, Agustin (another friend), with Kennedy Anne, Elaine & John's granddaughter, and most recently with a beautiful girl, Isabella, who just turned 5 years old on Nov. 29th. Elaine leads me with Anna Paula on top
I met her when Elaine was riding by the Eclipse restaurant on the beach and she and her brother were there having lunch with their parents and fed me some fried plaintain chips. They were yummy, but hard for me to get 'cuz they kept falling off their hands and I can't see at the end of my nose and while trying to eat one, I accidentally bit Isabella's finger. Boy, was I sorry. She cried but was very brave and cooled her sore digit in her dad's ice water before deciding she wanted to come sit on top of me.

I was soooo happy that I could show her that I liked her and didn't want to hurt her (I just wasn't sure if the finger was a carrot or not until I tasted it...it wasn't, so I spit it right out and let go with my teeth).

So, all was well that ends well I hope. Isabella sat on me and smiled and had her picture taken by her beautiful mom while her dad and little brother watched me (I hope they send me a photo). Then they all stopped by while I was getting washed off with the hose after my ride (something I really like) and Elaine gave Isabella a little kite for a birthday present (plus balloons which sometimes scare me 'cuz they go POP!!!).

I hope that Isabella and her family and all the wonderful kids I have met have a wonderful Christmas and I hope I get an extra ration of grain and some mangos in my stocking, too.

Chocolate (world's most awesome rescued horse)

p.s. John rode me today for more than 2 hours and he did great. We love each other a lot and I hope I can spend more time with him, too.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Happy Birthday, John

Last night we celebrated our friend John's birthday, by his own admission the 23rd anniversary of his 30th birthday.

It was kind of an impromptu party, rather than a full-blown Ola Lola's do-it-up-right party. We didn't find out it was his birthday until Thursday at Thanksgiving dinner.

John, whatever the party lacked in preparation was more than made up for in the spirit of wishing you a happy birthday this year and many many more!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy birthday, Kelly!

Kelly and her family came to Ola Lola's last night to celebrate Kelly's 18th birthday. Kelly, we are honored you chose to spend part of this special occasion with us. Thank you.

And tell you younger sister and brother you know a great place to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays!

(I don't think Kelly was quite this fuzzy after her birthday celebration. I think it was a slightly fuzzy photographer.)

(BTW, Kelly, if you and your family have any other better photos from this night, we'd love to see them. Please e-mail them to info@ola-lolas.com. Thanks.)

Anyway, happy birthday, Kelly, and thanks for sharing it with us!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

All of us here on Lola's corner - me, Elaine, Amber, Jazz and Chocolate - wish all of you, wherever you are, a Thanksgiving full of love and friendship, peace, joy, happiness, and a deep appreciation for all you have to be thankful for.

For me: Elaine. For Elaine: me! For both of us - Our five amazing children. Our two grandchildren. Our incredible friends - an incredibly long list that gets longer nearly every day - here on the island and back on the mainland. Our crazywonderful dogs, Amber and Jazz. Elaine's horse, Chocolate. Our amazing lives together here in Puerto Rico. Sunshine, blue skies, the opportunity to share the ocean with thousands of fish and beautiful corals nearly every day. Our "treehouse" home. And, most importantly, our better-than-can-be-imagined love and support from friends and family.

And thank y'all for reading this and being interested in our adventure.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OMG - there are two of them!!!

A week or so ago our good friend Zan (right) got a phone call from Cheryl, a Michigan State sorority sister. "Hey! Haven't seen you or talked to you in 14 years but we're going to be in San Juan next week. Come pick us up so we can spend a few days with you."

It's like a flashback to college - here they are, two blond sorority chicks, loose on East Lansing, Michigan. Only this time, with Cheryl's boyfriend Tim as designated driver, they're loose on the beaches of Isabela and at Ola Lola's (among other watering holes). The second night at Ola Lola's we had to ban them from singing sorority "fight" songs, especially the ones they couldn't remember all the words to.

So Cheryl and Tim are in town, staying with Zan 'til Thursday. God help Isabela!

Meanwhile, our friend Trudy left this morning, headed back for Minnesota. But we're sure we'll see her again soon. We're pretty sure she's going to move here for a job. Wish her luck.

For now, we get a break (sort of) before the Christmas season starts in earnest with Thanksgiving on Thursday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A week of big waves and big wind

Big waves usually make the surfers happy but this week's big waves haven't been very clean or all that well organized, at least here on the north coast. I've heard Rincon has had some better waves for surfing but I haven't had a chance to get down there.

We've had pretty constant 20+ mph winds for past week, day and night (which is a little unusual). The winds have kept the waves choppy.

Our dear friend Trudy has bee visiting all week. She's a Master Gardener and came down for an interview to create and run an organic produce farm for a big project here. We wish here all the best. For one thing, it means she would live close by. For another, it would mean fresh produce close at hand. Both are things to be grateful for. Trudy leaves tomorrow. Hopefully, she'll have a little time to put our garden in better shape.

Between the huge waves and chilly wind (okay, it's been in the 70's, not the 20's or lower) Trudy hasn't had much ocean time this trip. But it looks like she'll be back in January, maybe for good. There will be a lot more chance for ocean time then.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Whew! We're still here...

just way WAY behind!

It's been yet another couple of busy weeks here on our corner of the island.

We had a GREAT week with our daughter Amy and granddaughter Kennedy Anne. Kennedy is a beautiful, precious, loving little "mani" ("peanut" in Spanish). What a sweetheart!

Amy had a wonderfully relaxed week with abuelo and abuela gladly taking over some "Kennedy time." Both Amy and Kennedy learned firsthand about the healing, restorative powers of of hammock-time.

We also spent a lot of time last week with six wild and crazy guys from New Hampshire, down here for some sun and surfing before heading back to snow and skiing. The group (shown at left) consisted of Matt, Seammus (a master chef who cooked us dinner one night), Mattie, Carl, Ryan, and Bobby (Elaine is the one in the middle of the group, laughing).

Three of the guys are in a band called Audio Kickstand. They came to Ola Lola's last Monday and jammed! Trevor (from Villa Tropical) sat in on bass guitar. Everyone danced - including Kennedy Anne - and played instruments, using our "paranda" percussion set from our friends, Michael and Michelle (now in Maryland). More than one person said it was the most fun night ever at Ola Lola's. That's sayin' somethin' 'cause there have been some fun parties here. It was a blast, though. The boys are already planning their trip back next year.

We can't wait. Just make sure you bring the guitars, guys. And thanks for a fun week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Visit from hija y nieta

We're having an island-vacation HERE this week with our daughter, Amy, and granddaughter, Kennedy. They arrived on the red-eye flight early early Saturday morning. Life has pitched Amy some unexpected and not-so-fun stressful curve balls this past several months (divorce, moving, job loss) and we decided that now was the best time to spend time with family and to make our own "winter holidays" for the next week.

Kennedy is now 16 months old - walking, jabbering away, responding to commands in both English and Spanish (she goes to a Spanish-speaking daycare back in Michigan), and the most happy, loving little girl ever. We may be biased, but those are the facts. She's been smiling, hugging, laughing, and winning hearts at Ola Lola's all weekend.

So, both baby Kennedy (our little "mani") and Amy are spending time just enjoying the sunlight, catching up on rest and a little pampering from parent/grandparent units, and having a bit of a tropical vacation with us. It's been a joy - the pictures tell much of the story so far. More will be posted on Flickr soon.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A new day

We woke up this morning in a new world. Obviously it's all over the news and blogs everywhere but I have to add just a few more words to the mass. There is the obvious - we have elected the first African-American President in U.S. history. While that's historically important, to me it's less important than the man himself.

We watched his acceptance speech with tears running down our cheeks. It was so good to hear inclusion - everybody is part of this - and not the divisiveness we've heard for so long. There was recognition that we face huge challenges but also recognition that together, we can overcome them, that it will take effort from all of us to do so. When he used the word "we," he seemed to include all of us, "We," as in "We, the People," not the "royal" we.

I haven't been so impressed with or moved by a speech since JFK's inaugural address.

In fact Obama reminds me a lot of JFK, young, energetic, fresh. There is a power about him but also a humility.

He said, "But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you...This is your victory... I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead."

"Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, 'We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.'"

And there is one last great bit of symbolism and irony. Obama made his acceptance speech in Grant Park in Chicago. Forty years ago this past August, Grant Park was ground zero for the protests and riots during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. For those too young to remember, that was a time when the country was torn apart by the Vietnam War. For many years our country has been divided by fear-mongering and divisive "you're either with us or against us" politics. For Barack Obama, a Democrat, to make the inclusive speech he made there is all the more amazing.

Here's looking forward with hope. "Yes, we can."

Meanwhile on the island...in Puerto Rico, we observed our first election on the island. WOW! It was a holiday for most businesses, full of participatory electoral energy and passions like we have never seen before. Cars were painted on their windows and windshields with candidates names, flags of various candidates (used much more than anything like the bumper stickers we see in the states) were flown from houses, business, light poles and waving from cars loaded with people which drove through business areas and neighborhoods shouting and cheering for their favorite candidates. Vans and SUVs drove with doors slid open so that passengers (including children) could lean out and yell to pedestrians, people sitting on their porches, and passing cars alike. At our friends' home last night a dozen or so people met and gathered 'round the television cheering, arguing, and watching the latest election results as they came in. Even the 9-year-old got into the discussion about which policies and candidates "should win." In the end, we have a new governor on the island and the incumbent mayor of Isabela, "Charlie," also won while parties and debates continued until late in the evening!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day


For all of you in the US (and that includes PR), election day is finally here. Whatever your opinions, whatever your choices, please go out today and exercise your right to vote.

Having said that, however, we are not voting today. We can't vote in Michigan anymore and don't feel comfortable enough with our understanding of politics here on the island to make any kind of informed decisions. And, because we have no congress persons or senators from Puerto Rico (i.e., no representation), there are no federal candidates to vote for either - including the presidency. So we're sitting this one out.

A good friend who now lives "off-island" shared these observations about Puerto Rican politics:

"The island is a strange place, as you are finding out. Think about it – in [the US,] a nation of close to 300 million in population the President gets to appoint 2,700 to federal positions (cabinet, sub-cabinet, ambassadors and the like). Puerto Rico only has 3-4 million (depending who you ask), but the governor gets to appoint 5,000 to state jobs. No wonder the politics are so emotional. There are a lot of jobs at stake. After the elections tomorrow make sure not to stray too far from home. It will get crazy in the island during the counting of the votes...I cannot emphasis [sic] this point enough. It does get crazy."

I think we'll take his advice and stay close to home tonight. Ola Lola's is closed because it's Tuesday - but we would be anyway because it's election day. By law, no alcohol can be sold between 12:00 am this morning and 9:00 pm tonight. That's so the passions at the polls aren't fueled by alcohol. Today is a holiday in PR. Many businesses are closed so people can go vote. The political passion does translate into high voter turnout here, though. Typically, more than 80% of the voters actually vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Uniquely Puerto Rican (Part II) – Roadside Sightings

While driving in Puerto Rico, there are a number of common sightings here that are very uncommon, to say the least, in other places we have been.

The following are ten of these, in no particular order:

1. Horses. Many, usually without halters, but a rope around the neck tied on the side of the road, eating grass. Others, being transported in the back of pick-up trucks (with wooden sides), held in by a rope, and – recently seen, a horse with a rope around its neck loping behind a new Yaris with a young teen sitting in the trunk, one hand holding the lid up and the other on the rope pulling the horse.

2. Unmarked food stands with warming lights over fried pastry-looking objects. These are empanadillas, not unlike Cornish pasties, filled with everything from pizza sauce and cheese to octopus or chicken. There are also balls and tubes of meat or cheese wrapped in cornmeal (sorullos) or potatoes (papas). They are always fried. Cost – usually less than $1.50 each.

3. Power and telephone poles painted in 3 colored 4-5 foot stripes on the first 10-15 feet from the ground. We have been told the colors signify which pueblo or township they belong to.

4. Signs that show the silhouette of a cow or say that livestock may run into the roadway (“ganado en rodaje”).

5. Political posters, almost always with a smiling headshot of a candidate who goes by his or her first name (i.e., “Charlie,” “Freddy,” “Janice,” “Norman,” “Ivan,” “Evelyn”). Apparently, this gives the impression that this person is your friend and thus, deserves your vote.

6. Houses or buildings painted with random subdued but tropical colors (reds, oranges, yellow, lavender, blues, greens, turquoise) as if someone just grabbed a bucket and painted for the day, then grabbed a new bucket the following day and so on.

7. Airbrush artwork. On vans, usually painted with caricatures of cartoon characters (Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, Lilo and Stitch, Tom and Jerry, Superman, etc.) selling pizza along the roadways. On incredible murals - some more urban punk, some more impressionistic style - painted onto concrete walls, poles, buildings. Or, on signs for businesses.

8. People sitting on porches within 2-3 feet of the road, watching cars go by and remarking on them and their contents (“Ah, que lindo” for example, when we have the dogs with us in the car).

9. People stopping or parking their cars in the roadway so they can chat with friends, either standing in the road or driving the opposite direction. Traffic comes to a standstill but nobody complains. (The only honking we ever hear is when cars don’t move quickly on a left turn green arrow – these are never green long and everyone wants to get through the intersection.)

10. Vendors on foot, at intersections with left turn lanes, walking between the cars and selling things like bunches of bananas, bottles of water, newspapers, and bags of plantain chips.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Happy Halloween

And happy birthday, David, from all of us at the Ola Lola's Halloween party. We all sang "Happy Birthday" to David who was with us in spirit(s)! (This picture doesn't show everybody, just everyone who was there when we took it. More pictures coming on Flickr.)

We had a great time and as you can see, a whole bunch of great costumes including our top adult winners of Susan as "Tinkerbell" and Trevor as "Johnny Cash." There were kids with great costumes, too, and a haunted Ola Lola garden with a graveyard and monsters galore. Thanks to everyone who joined us and special thanks to everyone who brought food. It was WONDERFUL!

Hope everybody out there had a safe and fun Halloween and David had a wonderful birthday. David, we missed you and toasted you, several times throughout the evening.

Today is El Dia de los Muertos - the Day of the Dead. In many Latin American cultures - especially in Mexico - today and tomorrow are special days that bring the spirits of the dead close to the world of the living, sometimes even crossing over. It's very similar to the Celtic traditions at the same time of year that eventually became All Saints (or All Hallows) Day (today, November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) in the Catholic church. Our Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve (or Even) - the evening before All Hallows Day.

Anyway, in the Dia de los Muertos tradtions, the spirits of the dead, are not to be feared but rather to be celebrated and honored. So even though this not an especially big holiday in Puerto Rico and we didn't build a Dia de los Muertos alter, today we're celebrating the family who have gone before us, especially Elaine's mother, both my mother and father, and right now special thoughts for my great aunt Nora. She was like an older sister to my mother. She passed away two weeks ago at nearly 92.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

We're up to our ears getting ready for tonight's Ola Lola's Halloween party but we're going to take just a minute to say "Happy Halloween" to all of you. Hope it's safe, fun, happy and properly scary. Watch for party pictures here tomorrow. And lots more coming soon, we promise.

Happy Halloween!

John, Elaine, Amber, Jazz and Chocolate

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Uniquely Puerto Rican - Part I - Driving

When traveling the roads in Puerto Rico, we are often struck (ooh, maybe a bad choice of words) by certain peculiarities that we have not seen in other places. These include both the way people drive and relatively common roadside sightings here.

As for driving habits, we are coming to believe that the culture of a place may be found – at least in part – by learning the “rules of the road” and driving habits of the locals. In Puerto Rico, there are certain guidelines that we have learned to follow that make driving a more pleasant, less stressful process here.

First, left hand turns really do get the right of way in heavy traffic. This right of way is not all or nothing, however. The amount of right of way is determined primarily by two things: how far a car sticks out into an intersection or oncoming traffic, and how fast the oncoming traffic is moving. So, the more a car sticks out, the more it has the right of way and, conversely, that right of way is proportionately reduced by the speed of the oncoming traffic. It is considered appropriate for oncoming vehicles (with or without stopping) to reduce speed and to allow the vehicle moving from a driveway, parking lot or side street (with or without stop sign and with or without stopping) to turn left ahead of you, regardless of whether there was any indication of an intersection. As the car coming into traffic, you must judge the intent of the other drivers. It’s a little like the game of chicken, but with courtesy.

A second rule is “merge” or “yield” really means move ahead. This also follows the same “polite chicken game” scenario. The rule here is much simpler, however. In the case of merge (“ceda” in Puerto Rico) or yield signs (as in, where a lane is closed on the highway) whichever vehicle’s set of wheels is ahead goes first when the lane disappears. There are none of the midwest U.S. signs requiring drivers to move into the open lane 1/2 mile before the other one disappears. In fact, real Puerto Rican drivers continue to move in the lane moving fastest right up until one lane ends and then move over, if needed, based on whoever gets there first.

The final rule is really not a rule, but a recognition of commonality. Many, many cars in Puerto Rico do not have working brake lights and/or turn signals – one or both. We are not sure why – although we joke that these features must be expensive extra options that people elect to forego since we see this even on newer vehicles. But we have learned not to follow too close to the vehicle in front of us because you never know whether there will be any signal to indicate slowing, stopping, or an upcoming turn.

It all feels crazy – not unlike driving on the left side of the road in the UK – when you first get here. However, after awhile you realize that once you understand the unspoken and unwritten rules, driving is much easier and certainly no crazier than what we experienced in other places (like downtown Chicago, for example).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Congratulations, Yvette and Alberto!

Yvette and Alberto are here on their honeymoon after getting married in St. Thomas. They are spending a couple of days at Villa Tropical and chose to spend part of their evening with us.

Congratulations, Yvette and Alberto! And thanks for spending some time at Ola Lola's!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jobos open again

The entrance to Playa Jobos where the semi trailer was parked last week.

Last Sunday there was a protest at Jobos over the closing of the parking area. Protesters cut the chain that blocked off the drive beyond the semi trailer. They tore the signs the owner put on the trailer and and spray-painted messages like "Jobos is open" and "Enter here" on the trailer.

I saw the trailer early Monday morning but didn't have a camera with me (that won't happen again!). By the time I went back a couple of hours later, the trailer was GONE! All that was left was the spray-painted "Se vende" sign.

We understand the protest - the parking has essentially been "public" for decades. Jobos is a very popular beach, very crowded on weekends and holidays. To not have the 200+ parking spaces available, for all those people to have to find places to park on the road, is very hard on surrounding properties and on people who just need to get through Jobos on the road.

That said, I gotta feel a bit for Willie, the guy who actually owns the property. He's getting on in years and he's been trying to sell the property for a couple of years. There are various rumors about the possible sale. One says a big hotel chain wanted to buy the property (no one knows exactly why - it would be very hard to develop the property, but with enough money, who knows?) and the state (in one version) or the municipio (in another) pulled some version of imminent domain and told him he couldn't sell to the hotel, that the state (or the municipio) was going to buy it. But apparently nothing has happened, i.e., no money has been forthcoming.

The parking area is Willie's land. He should be able to close it off if he wants to as long as he doesn't restrict access to the beach, which he didn't do. He only tried to restrict vehicle access to his property. Everyone was welcome on the beach, just not to park on his land. However, the whole piece of property should be in public ownership, available to the public and protected against development. The state and/or the municipio need to get off their collective butts and make this happen.

A lot of things - especially money - are frozen until after the election and until the new (or old) government is seated after the first of the year. Maybe something positive will happen then.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A weekend of celebrations

Friday night we said goodbye to four great friends - (l-r) Jenna, Alysa, Michael and Michelle. Michael and Michelle both accepted new jobs back on the mainland. So, they are off on a new adventure in a new state. Their leaving is NOT cause for celebration - we miss them already. But we celebrate their new lives and their new opportunities. Bueno suerte y vaya con dios.

On Saturday night we helped Joe and Eileen celebrate their wedding. They brought their wedding party to Ola Lola's for an after-reception party. Turns out we met Joe and Eileen and several members of their wedding party here, at Ola Lola's, in August, 2006, when we were here looking around and talking to Lola about buying the place.

Congratulations Joe and Eileen. Thank you for making us part of your celebration!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"artful dodger" and golf day

Hurricane Omar blew past the east end of the island during the night. Omar didn't exactly "peter out" as our friend Cotterpin suggested in a comment; he become a raging category 3 storm in the process. But we got nothing out of it - a little wind early in the evening and stronger morning winds than we're used to but nothing out of the ordinary. And no rain. We battened down for the possibility of floods and got less than 1/2 inch. We're not complaining, mind you.

So, today when we expected to be picking up the pieces of our lives (literally), we instead got to watch a young Scottish European golf champion and her family, along with our golf course friends, Stanley, Charlie, and David, play and enjoy the fabulous holes that are completed at Royal Isabela Golf Course. It was a spectacular day and Elaine and I both enjoyed being the paparazzi for Querida (a 13-year-old champion), her father James, mother Elaine, Aunt Mary, and Uncle George as they played 9 holes on beautiful fairways and greens overlooking a spectacular ocean.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Can we dodge another one?

The view out our window at sunrise Tuesday.

I don't know if we can...Tropical Storm Omar has grown to a Cat 1 Hurricane and is sitting just south of the island. The original tracking predictions showed it coming around the west end of the island, right up through the Mona Passage and directly over us. The storm track has since shifted way east and it looks like the center will miss the island completely. As of now (4:00 am AST Wednesday), the National Weather Service has canceled the flash flood watch but the entire island remains under a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch. The hurricane warnings have shifted east to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the islands of Vieques and Culebra, St. Martin/Maarten...Saba...St. Eustatius...St. Barthelemy...the British Virgin Islands...Anguilla...St. Kitts...and Nevis.

The predictions are for 5 to 10 inches of rain through Wednesday night, and up to 20 inches total through the end of the week. Maximum sustained winds are 75 mph but Omar is expected to strengthen and pick up speed as it moves north. It is predicted to be a Cat 2 hurricane by the time it moves through the northern Leeward Islands east of Puerto Rico sometime overnight Wednesday night.

This is not a huge storm - hurricane-force winds extend only about 15 miles out from the center. But this thing is moving so slowly! Forecasters expected it to go past PR last night and early this morning. Now that's been pushed back to tonight into tomorrow.

We obviously keep a close eye on the weather and the radar (as long as electric and internet access hold out). The south half of the island got some pretty heavy rain Tuesday afternoon and night, but we just had a few sprinkles. The southern and eastern parts of the island can't afford too much more rain. Right after we got back from Milwaukee and Chicago and all the flooding there, the rest of the island - everywhere but here in fact - got up to 25 inches in less than 24 hours.

So far all is well here. Let's hope it stays that way.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Update correction

I did some further digging last night and talked to the assistant chief for the Border Patrol here. Contrary to what I wrote yesterday, the Border Patrol and Coast Guard do NOT burn the yolas. The assistant chief told me it was probably teen vandals or somebody building a bonfire for a party on the beach.

I was really glad to hear that. The thought that the BP and/or CG were involved in such environmentally destructive actions really pissed me off. The assistant chief here is borderline obsessive about protecting the environment (as much as he was angry about illegal aliens landing, I think he was more angry about the damage their boat did to the reef and the trash they left on the beach). I couldn't image that he would condone burning a treated-wood and fiberglass boat.

I apolgize for my mistaken information.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Yola update

The yola the Domincans came ashore in a couple of weeks ago is still on the beach but now it has been burned.

All the yolas left on the beaches eventually get burned. We wondered about this until a friend asked a former Customs and Border Protection agent. (BTW - Customs and Border Protection is the new politically-Bush-Administration-Homeland-Security-correct term for what we used to call Border Patrol.)

"Per [a former] Border Patrol agent who now works for [another agency] there are several reasons for burning........... at one time the Border Patrol used to cut a V shape out of the stern to prevent additional use, but they remained intact for a long time and were sometimes mistaken again as a new arrival. Now, usually either the CG (Coast Guard) or Border Patrol burns them which prevents misidentification and hastens disposal."

So that's the story. By "disposal" I guess they mean "breaking up on the beach" since none of the boats are actually "disposed" of. Couldn't they just spray some yellow paint on them so they are not "misidentified?" None of us who live close are very thrilled with having fumes from burning fibreglass and treated wood in our immediate atmosphere. Besides the glass fibers don't burn. Once the resin that binds them is burned away, they just lie there in a bunch, kinda like a bad fright wig.

Better yet, couldn't they tow or lift (so as to avoid damaging the reefs any more than they were when the boats landed) the boats off the beach, tow them far out to sea and sink them? Some microbials out there will eat the wood and the fibreglass with just sit there, inert. Basically, that's what happens anyway. Eventually the waves break up the boat, wooden parts float out to sea and the fibreglass pieces wind up stuck in the reef. Better a mile or more off shore than right here on the beach where people walk, swim and snorkel.

Hmm. And yet another conversation to

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Feliz cumpleaƱo, Trish!

Happy Birthday, Trish! And thank you for choosing to spend part of your special evening at Ola Lola's.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Corona Extra Pro Surf tournament

The Corona Pro Circuit made a stop in Isabela at Middles September 27 and 28. There was a lot great local, island and international surfing talent on the beach for the weekend.

There are more photos - surfers taken from the beach and KAP photos - from the weekend both on PuertoRicoSurfPhoto.com and on Flickr.

It was interesting going to another kind of festival here. I went to check out their setup, layout, how they run things, all that kind of stuff. This event was just down the beach from where we're planning Chiringa Fest for next March so we're really interested in how other people do things.

While the surfers were all good and some of the individual rides were interesting/exciting, over-all it was pretty boring. No wonder surfing tournaments on TV are edited on tape.

I can't help comparing other competitions and festivals to kite competitions and kite festivals. So, for our kite-flying friends, here goes: it was a lot like a sport kite "tricks party" must be to the uninitiated - lots of tricks I didn't understand on a short ride. A lot of the tricks looked similar but seemed have different names - to change metaphors to ice skating, was that triple soucow or a triple lutz? This was followed by a lot of sitting around waiting for somebody to catch another wave. The announcer's stand was way down the beach from where most of the waves break, and thus far from where most of the on-the-water action was. (This is not a big surprise: I take pictures at Middles Beach a lot and the waves always break at the same end. In fairness, the beach does get narrow at that end and it might have been harder to place the tower there.) Any background music and whatever commentary there was got lost in the sound of the waves.

I guess it's like most competitions to the uninitiated - I just didn't get it. (Ever tried to explain American football to someone seeing for the first time? Or cricket to anybody?) But I like the color and the festival atmosphere (although most kite festivals do that much better). And I love taking pictures of surfers. Besides, the sun was shining, it was warm, I was hanging out on the beach...life is good.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Soon to be a thing of the past

...car parking at Playa Jobos. People will still be able to get to the beach - by law in Puerto Rico the beaches belong to the people and access to the beaches cannot be restricted by adjacent property owners. But...

Property oweners have no obligation to provide parking or services for beach-goers. The guy who owns the property where most everybody parks to go to Jobos has decided enough is enough. After Sunday - tomorrow - he is closing off vehicle access to the parking area.

He's got a semi-trailer parked across most of the drive. He'll use the chain to close off the rest of it after tomorrow.

Wow! This a very popular picnicking and surfing beach. On holidays - Noche de San Juan, 4th of July, Constitution Day, etc. - it is jammed packed. People park the adjacent road closed. That's with hundreds of cars parked in the lot. Heaven knows what it will be like now.

The guy has been trying to sell the property. He wants to sell it to the Municipio de Isabela but last I heard they are about $2 million dollars apart between asking and offering price.

This could be interesting. Stay tuned. (Hey, Zan - thanks for the update.)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

us and them

Our dogs were pulling at their leashes – eager for a romp on the beach – when I reached the end of the calle. Two guys dressed in camo were getting out of their pick-up truck and started to get their hunting dogs out of the back, taking them to the beach. Couldn’t swear to it on a witness stand, but I think it was to hunt…other people. I yelled at them and told them they couldn’t park there and to leave. Something in my demeanor must have sounded ominous because even without adequate Spanish they looked at me and then looked down, got into their truck and left.

With Amber and Jazz leading, I crossed over the small dune onto the beach. I looked east, knowing I would see the yola (“fishing boat”). It was there about 300 yards away, painted blue, just like the last one. About 35 feet in length and perhaps 10 feet across at its midsection, plain wood covered over with a thin glaze of fiberglass. And painted a children’s “big crayon” blue.

It sat sideways to the beach, its prow pointing east and its plain wooden stern facing me, pushed up against the karst by the tide. Not 12 hours earlier, it had landed – mid-morning, full of people fleeing the Dominican Republic and trying to find sanctuary and a new life in the U.S. The timing was unfortunate for those aboard: a landing in broad daylight usually means that the yola has been seen and may even be accompanied by a Coast Guard cutter and/or have a Border Patrol helicopter hovering overhead as the boat hits the beach. There is much open beach, little cover and several acres of flat grassy fields in the immediate vicinity.

The inside of the boat was similar to the one I had seen before – rough hewn beams, open to the floor and everywhere evidence of the bodies it had held crammed together. A bucket that smelled (possibly a “chamber pot” of sorts). A half-eaten avocado. Plastic packets of water, most emptied. A pair of leather shoes. Heavy blue jeans. A t-shirt. A backpack. A sodden cap.

But, it was the clothes and personal hygiene items scattered on the sand around the yola that was my tipping point. Don’t know why – it just was. Seeing them I just stood and cried. I felt as if I had been expecting to greet someone I knew and had waited to see and they hadn’t been able to come. It was selfish. I wanted the chance to say “hello” and at the same time realized I wasn’t even going to be able to say “goodbye.”

After a few minutes I began to walk and pick up what I could, to free the beach of litter and face what had been dumped in the plunging rush of humanity immediately after they landed. I was struck by the little things heaped in piles on the sand – a doll without clothes and a pair of saggy jeans shorts; 3 toothbrushes (one even had a plastic holder), and travel-size deoderant sticks; a pair of athletic shoes, men’s briefs and a toothbrush where the waves lapped the sand, a long-sleeved sweatshirt, and packets of soda crackers; empty plastic water bags, hand-sewn rucksacks, a half-used packet of motion sickness tablets (someone chose to be in an open vessel for 3 days, standing crammed against dozens of other people when s/he knew s/he was likely to be seasick?), and 2 pairs of jeans; dental floss, more toothpaste, a bra, a pair of rubber boots, and a silky peach-colored top with shimmery buttons sewn on it. I later was told that most of the people coming from the Dominican Republic by yola bring with them a few small toiletries and a single change of clothes. The idea is that the person will wear a single set of clothes for the 3-day crossing by sea and then change immediately upon landing so as to appear drier, cleaner, more suitably dressed, and less suspicious amongst the locals. Looking at the human detritus strewn on the sand in ever widening circles from the yola, I believe that many of the people on this vessel found there was no time to do anything but drop whatever they were carrying and run!

I know many of the statistics, but going back to yesterday, I am always amazed at the variance in the rumors and person-to-person grapevine news that flits and hovers through the neighborhood like a hummingbird.
“There were 150 of them on this boat.”
“There were 80 but Border Patrol has only found 25 so far.”
“They’ll all be caught soon.”
“I heard most of them got away.”
“Be careful, they will steal your money, food, clothes.”
“I saw some of them looking at a car parked on the road.”
“They caught the people who were driving the van to pick them up.”
“They’ve picked up 120 so far, and they almost got the pick up van, but it got away.”

In the meantime, the small road in front of our home and Ola Lola’s crawls with Border Patrol SUVs, vans, cars, and police officers in cars and motorcycles. Across the road, I can see BP agents walking through the fields. At least one agent has brought out dogs. A small engine aircraft makes continual passes overhead. By mid-afternoon – just before I go to walk on the beach – the helicopters are beginning to conduct their air-to-surface searches. They’re loud and hover directly over the side of our house. I look out the window and find I am torn between wanting to wave and flipping them the bird.

My heart is heavy. I do not understand how the same people that can talk about giving stray dogs in the neighborhood water and food to survive can turn around and arrest a person for giving another human being, who has just spent 3 days at sea without adequate supplies of either, water and food also. I do not understand how we can draw lines on maps and then use them to call the people on one side of the line “us” and those on the other “them.” I don’t know why with freckles and pinkish-beige skin and still unable to speak Spanish adequately, I am welcomed by most people to this island, yet a person from another island with chocolate brown skin and only a slightly different Spanish accent will be forcibly ejected without any other reason than place of origin. I know I carry my own prejudices, but to me we all “look the same.” I say welcome them – and us – home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The American Kitefliers Association convention wrapped up a week ago with the awards banquet on Saturday night.

Congratulations to all our friends from the Midwest who competed in the AKA Sport Kite Grand Nationals at the convention:

Huge congrats to Elizabeth Gordon who took first place Novice Individual Ballet in her second Grand Nationals! Elizabeth also took fourth in Novice Individual Precision.

Dave Bush took first in Experienced Individual Precision and third in Experienced Individual Ballet.
Steve Rothwell and our teammate Paul Koepke finished in the top ten in Experienced Individual Precision and Ballet.

In Experienced Pairs competition, Blues Brothers (Spencer Shubbe and Steve Rothwell) took first in Precision and second in Ballet. Sky Jesters (Dean and Vicky Proudfoot) were third in both events.

Zach Gordon took home top honors in Masters Individual Precision and third in Masters Individual Ballet. Zachs crowining achievement was sweeping both Individual Quadline Ballet and Precision.

Zach's brother Josh finished just ahead of Zach in Masters Individual Ballet and was third in Masters Individual Precision.

The brothers had a busy week - their pairs team EOS finished second in Masters Pairs Precision and third in Masters Pairs Ballet.

The pairs team O2 (Mike Delfar and Dan Newman) edged EOS for second in Masters Pairs Ballet and went to a tie-breaker to win Masters Pairs Precision.

Fire and Ice (Paul Koepke and Kathy Brinnehl) to fourth in both Masters Pairs Ballet and Precision.

In Masters Team, Chicago Fire returned to top form, taking first in Masters Team Ballet and second in Masters Team Precision.

That's pretty much a wrap on the AKA convention from here. You can read more about the event on the AKA website or on Kitelife.com. Next up: the Corona Extra Pro Surf tournament.

2nd Annual Everybody in September's Birthday Party

The September birthday group - at least the ones who could make it. We celebrated with the ones who made it and missed the ones who couldn't.

Last night was the 2nd Annual Ola Lola's Everybody in September's Birthday Party. It was a great party with delicious lechon asado (pig roast), favorite dips by Ola Lola's, and lots of amazing different foods brought by the party-ers to share. We've always loved pot lucks and getting a chance to try other peoples' favorite foods and special recipes.

Many thanks to everyone who came and celebrated, and all those who brought foods to share. Also, thanks to our friend, Billy who helped out serving cold beers in the "beer garden." Juan, our favorite DJ, was back and kept the party rockin'. After we stuffed ourselves on all the amazing food, I couldn't believe people could get up and dance but get up and dance they did!

This year's party was a little more laid back than the total blow-out last year. But that's okay. It was a ton of fun! We had cake and fabulous desserts and everyone at the party with a birthday in September got a personalized gift from Elaine.

Even if you couldn't make this one, make your plans now to be here at Ola Lola's for the Huge Happy Halloween Bash. We'll also celebrate our good friend David's birthday (even though we know he won't be here) Halloween is on Friday this year so...And as Bette Midler said in her Halloween party invitation, "costumes or else!"

Happy birthday to all our September birthday friends!