Sunday, August 31, 2008

Very strange weather we're having

Okay, so it's nothing like the drenching Haiti got or the pounding Cuba got and New Orleans is about to get from Gustav. When he went by here a good ways south of us, he wasn't much more than a fairly mild tropical depression. Amazing how quickly these storms can become so powerful.

That said it's been mighty strange the past week. Two days in a row we had the most powerful thunderstorms I've ever seen (and I've been in or near four tornadoes). Not so much high wind and rain - although we had that too - but HUGE lightning bolt followed immediately by HUGE thunderclaps. Amber doesn't like storms and he was beside himself. Even Jazz who usually doesn't mind storms was pretty freaked.

Then there's the wind. First, for the past week there hasn't been much, which is rare in itself.
When the wind has blown, it's come from the wrong direction. Ninety-nine percent of the time the tradewinds blow from a very narrow angle from NNE to ESE. When the winds turn around and blow from the west, everybody freaks out. It just feels WRONG. People get cranky. Animals behave strangely. Everything is out of sync. What little wind we've had for the past week has been out of the west or southwest.

And's been hotter the last three days than we've ever known it. So most things are kinda running in a lower gear, just keepin' calm and trying to stay cool.

Tropical Storm Hannah is out there somewhere north of us. The computer models show it hitting the other (northeast) coast of Cuba. And there are two more tropical "distrubances" out over the Atlantic east of us. The first one looks like it's going to curve away north into nothingness. We'll keep an eye on the one just off the coast of Africa. Hopefully it won't amount to anything either.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bones bleaching in the sun

Bones bleaching in the sun

We regularly find skeletons of boats on the beaches along the coast. Usually these are the wrecks of people escaping from the Dominican Republic, trying to get to PR and the U.S. to find a better life.

They build these flimsy boats, put on an outboard motor and some gas, and load 50 to 100 people standing up. This one came ashore on Survival Beach (is there irony in that?) a couple of weeks ago. It's about 30 feet long, 12-15 feet wide at the beam. The bow post is a piece of tree trunk about eight feet long. The hull is rough wood with a single layer of fiberglass.

They take off across 75 miles of open ocean across the Mona Passage, an area not known for calm, quiet seas. Each person pays from $600 to $1000 for passage, this price in a country where the average income is $2 per day. The trip, with little water, little food and no shelter from the tropical sun, can take three days and three nights. Once they reach the Puerto Rico shore, the refugees run and scatter, hiding from U.S. Border Patrol and Puerto Rican police, hoping to find their way to contacts in PR, mostly in San Juan on the other end of the island. Hungry and dehydrated, the refugees look for whatever help they can get.

It is hard to imagine how bad things must be in the Dominican Republic that this seems like a good idea.

If we help them in any way, even just the basic humanitarian act of giving them water, we can be arrested and get five to seven years in federal prison.

After they land, the hulks of the boats are abandoned to break up on the beach and bleach in the sun.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Drunken crab

We have a land crab that lives under the garden. He has an entrance to his system of tunnels and caves right at edge of Ola Lola's. Last month Darryl, instead of "freeing the limes" from his beer bottles by tossing them across the road, decided to "free the lime, feed the crab." He left a beer-soaked lime wedge by the entrance. Surprisingly (to us at least), the crab took it and ate it. He ate several lime wedges that night.

Now every afternoon he comes out of his hole looking for lime wedges. One afternoon some people wanted to see the crab eat a lime wedge but no one was drinking Corona or Presidente, the two beers that typically have limes in them. So I cut a wedge of lime and put it by the hole. The crab wouldn't touch it. That plain lime wedge sat there for four days. He ate a number of beer-soaked limes in the mean time, but wouldn't touch the plain one. So now we only give him the ones from the beers. (Truth be told, he really likes the limes from Grey Goose vodka and tonic, but we don't get too many of those.)

We've limited the number the number of wedges he he can have on a given night - we don't want to damage his liver. (Do crabs have livers?) This despite jokes about marinating him in lime juice to prep him for ceviche. It is fun to watch him, though. And he has gotten bigger on his lime diet.

Anyway, he's now just another one of the characters at Ola Lola's.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sarah's great catch

Every day out in the ocean is special, even the wavy, choppy, low visibility days. If nothing else, thousands of fish and coral and other creatures allow us to be guests in their home.

But some days a truly extraordinary, amazing, incredible, awesome. Yesterday was one of those.

We took Sarah and Greg and Tita and friend Scott to Wishing Well to snorkel. We were paddling around, enjoying the reef, when Sarah started shouting through her snorkel, "Hey! Hey! Come here!" When we all got to her, she said, "look at that sand moving!"

Sure enough, the sand was moving. As we looked to see what was causing it, slowly the outline of a Southern Stingray took shape on the bottom. It was amazing! Just lying there nearly covered in sand. We could see it's gills working and occasionally sand would blow out from underneath it.

Southern stingrays have a very distinctive shape. Unless divers bother or harass them, the rays pretty much ignore them. This guy just laid there while we swam all around him and dove down for a closer look. He didn't seem too interested in us, not nearly as interested in us as we were in him.

And the stingray was only one highlight of an incredible hour on the reef. A school of about a bazillion (okay, maybe it was only 10,000 or so) mackeral scad kept swimming by us. It is impossible to describe the sight of thousands of little fish streaming screaming past you. We all just hung there in the water, laughing with pure joy.

Oh yeah - then there was the scorpionfish. And a huge yellowtail snapper. Did I mention that right at the beginning, right where we get into the water off the beach, there was a pod of 22 - TWENTY-TWO! - reef squid? The pod included the tiniest baby squid we've ever seen.

There are more pictures from this amazing dive on Flickr.

Alas, we didn't see a turtle on this swim, but hey, ya can't have everything. We were pretty satisfied with an amazing day on the reef. Thanks, Sarah, for spotting the ray.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Congratulations, US Women's Soccer Team

The US Women's soccer team defeated a very good, very powerful Brazil squad 1-0 in overtime today.

We saw a number of the Brazil players - Marta, Fromiga, Tania, and others - when they were just teenagers the first time the Women's World Cup was in the U.S. They have grown up and matured and are VERY good. And they played much cleaner than they used to. Other times I've seen them they were a "dirty" team. In fact, soccer referee training uses video of blatant serious fouls by Brazil against the U.S., especially against Mia Hamm. As individuals and as a team they have matured nicely.

Congratulations to the U.S. women. Well done!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008



Babalonia Family Reunion

Our Puerto Rican sister Tita (Marisol) with her uncle Toño Mendez at the Babalonia family reunion. Sr. Mendez is 102 years old.

Sunday we got to be part of one of the oldest and largest families on the island. Our wonderful friend, our Puerto Rican sister Marisol invited all of us to the Babalonia family reunion.

The family first came to Puerto Rico from Spain and Italy in the mid-1700s. One side of the founding grandparents had 25 children, the other side had 23 so it's a BIG family. There were about 400 people at the reunion and they had to turn away more than 100 who wanted to come at the last minute. More than a hundred came from the mainland just for the reunion.

The party was held at a rental hall up in the mountains in Moca, where the family settled. At one time the family owned huge tracks of land spread out across the mountains. In true Puerto Rican tradition, over the years pieces were sold off for this or that or traded for something the family needed. Family members still have holdings up on the mountainsides.

There are more pictures from the family reunion on Flickr.

Thank you, Tita, for inviting us into your huge extended family.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another busy week

Trudy and Elaine on the beach at Borenquen

It's been another busy week here - working on stuff (like the website) for Save the Horses, working on sponsors for ChiringaFest next spring, and CLEANING! getting ready for visitors from the mainland. We finally got the kitchen and office "remodeling" projects completed so the place needed a good cleaning.

Trudy, Elaine's best friend for years and years, arrived at 2:00 am Thursday and our friend Sarah and her husband Greg got in at 2:00 am Sunday.

Between all the cleaning and preparation and intermittent internet outages, I haven't had much opportunity to write. Not that there hasn't been enough to write about:

Before Tropical Storm Fay was Tropical Storm Fay, she was a a pretty disorganized tropical low that forecasters predicted would go right past us on the north side of the island. Fortunately for us, they were wrong and she went south of the island. There was a lot of rain and many areas of the island - especially in the south and east had some pretty bad flooding. We were very lucky! We only got a couple of inches of rain and that fell in a long gentle rain - what back in Michigan we called a "good soaking rain" - instead of a deluge. There was never any threat of flooding here and we're very grateful.

Trudy is a trained Master Gardener and she's spent two days cleaning up the garden, clearing out dead stuff, trimming up live stuff and generally teaching us to make the place look better. Between what we learned from our our friend Marty when he was here and what Trudy is teaching us, I hope we can keep it up after she leaves. Otherwise, she'll just have to come back once a month to take care of it for us.

Good thoughts out into the universe for Laura and Michelle, friends who are both (but separately) having medical procedures this morning.

This morning we - Elaine, Trudy, Sarah, Greg, two friends of friends and I - are going snorkeling. Then this afternoon, Trudy is going to do a discover SCUBA dive with Darryl and Elaine is going to tag along. Tonight we're all going to dinner at 18-67, one of our favorite restaurants on te island. Then tomorrow Elaine, Trudy, Sarah and Greg are going horseback riding at Tropical Trailrides. Hey, just another busy week in paradise!

Monday, August 18, 2008

U.S. Women's soccer team to Olympic semi-finals

Other than Michael Phelps phenomenal eight gold medals in swimming, the US Women's soccer team is the only thing I've been following. We don't have TV so I have to watch the scores on the Internet.

The US women beat Japan today to win a place in the semi-finals against Brazil. The US team seems to have struggled at times. They are without their biggest scoring target, Abby Wambaugh, who broke her leg a couple of weeks ago against - Brazil. The US will need to be on the top of their game. Brazil beat world champions Germany 4-1 in their semi-final match. The US-Brazil match should be fun.

More posts about what's happening closer to home SOON, I promise.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Kite festivals preview video

We got a couple of requests to see the kite festivals video so here it is. It's also available on YouTube at Hope you like it.

We're using this short two-and-a-half minute video to show potential sponsors what the kind of festival we plan to put on looks like. So far the response has been great. Now we just need to turn the enthusiasm into dollars.

Thanks to the Chicago Fire Stunt Kite Team for all their years of amazing performances, to Scott Fisher for the wonderful Tour de Kite events (our Puerto Rico event will be on the 2009 tour), to Josh and Zach Gordon, Mackinaw Kite Company and the Great Lakes Kite festival, and Fluke.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Mad crazy busy

We've been mad crazy busy around here. I thought we left the madness behind when we moved here but I guess that's just some of the weather we brought with us. We just can't seem to help being involved in six or eight projects at once.

We've written before about the kite festival we're planning for next spring. A couple of weeks ago that project took a quantum leap and looks like it could become huge. The challenge is so much - especially regarding sponsors - has to be done NOW - or better yet, last week. So we've had meetings, presentations to prepare, a new teaser video, and we still have that Department of Natural Resources permit and it's many pages of documentation out there. I'm working on a website for that event. It's a challenge when you don't know the name of the event 'cause you don't know who the title sponsor is. Ah, the joys of special events! (I thought we left this madness behind...)

And there is the Save the Horses project. It's on a fast track. I got the basic website for Save the Horses, Inc. built this week but now it needs to be filled in with all the details.

But it's not all work-work-work. Even though the ocean has been weird for this time of year - lots of wind, choppy, wavy, and stirred up - we still go in somewhere nearly every day. Our friend and dive buddy Darryl took the picture above of Elaine and me over the reef at Natural last week.

We've been doing a lot of snorkeling at Wishing Well, just "around the corner" of the island. When Shacks is wavy, Wishing Well is usually flatter. Visibility hasn't been the best but Wishing Well has a beautiful reef and we always see something cool. And besides all those beautiful fish are willing to have us as guest in their ocean for an hour or so. It's great.

There is a new set of the best recent underwater pictures up on Flickr. I also put up some of the photos from the Ola Lola Open Golf outing at Royal Isabel Golf Club. Check those out too.