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 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 is good.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Soon to be a thing of the past 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.