Wednesday, December 12, 2018

MARIA log December 12 Day 80 Tuesday

Tuesday, December 12, day 80

I took Carole to Ciudad de Salvacion today. She's heard a lot about it but she's never actually been there.

She went to make a donation in the names of her grandchildren, Her grands are older and as she put it, privileged white kids. They don't need more "stuff," more "things." On their behalf she wanted to do something to help kids who don't have that privilege. She told Danny (at the church) "use this for children, for toys or for whatever is needed most."

Thank you, Carole. You have the biggest most generous heart.

Sunny, no rain today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

NOW December 11 - Update to "A Walk Up the Quebrada"

When I wrote the post "a Walk Up the Quebrada," I realized I had no pictures of "the curve" from the top. Today I remedied that oversight.

It is 15 months after the hurricane and some things have changed, but not the roadway itself.

 Approaching "the curve" as it is today headed uphill.

Approaching "the curve" today headed down. The white-painted barriers have been there for a couple of months - long enough to get tagged with graffiti. In the early days following the hurricane there was nothing except downed trees to warn of any problem. After a week or so, someone - a citizen, not any official agency - liberated a couple of orange barrels and marked the danger zone in the downhill lane. Sometime later officials placed official orange barrels around the problem. Those barrels stayed for a while, tied to trees at the ends with plastic caution tape. Eventually those barrels were either liberated or knocked over the edge. (At least one is still down there; You can see it in the center photo below.) Then a loose semi-circle of plain concrete barriers was around the hole. Recently, those were replaced with these painted barriers with reflectors. Mind you, nothing has been done to fix the road.

As for what's behind the barriers:

'Nuff said.

MARIA log December 11 Day 79 Monday

Monday, December 11 day 79

I was out running errands and stopped at Crashboat. They've actually done a bit to make it a beach again. Mostly they bulldozed sand out of the parking lot and back on to the beach. They picked up a lot debris and trash. Not the old Crashboat but better than it was.

The water looked fairly decent. I really wanted to dive it but didn't. The tide was changing and I was afraid visibility would close down before I could get back with dive gear. Another day.

I actually me a person from FEMA today, the first actual from-the-agency person I've seen. He is an  inspector/investigator named Garth. He's kind of a blowhard, arrogant and very first-world.

He did give me one good piece of information: FEMA does not demand that people leave their damaged property damaged. They want photos of the damage and then move on, get started rebuilding. FEMA does not expect people to live in tents until the inspectors come.

When I started to explain that live-in-a-tent-until-the-inspector-comes was the information people received via the coconut telegraph, that there was no hard information from FEMA or any other agency, he went all first-world on me. "That's bullshit! The information is right there on the website! Or you can call the toll-free number. Or just download the app to your phone!"

When I tried to explain about the lack of access, he said, "That's bullshit! I was in Houston after Harvey. I was in Florida after Irma. I've been in war zones. I know about interrupted infrastructure!"

That's what he called it: "interrupted infrastructure." This after he told me that he and other inspectors would have been on the island sooner but they had to wait until they were sure the infrastructure would support their needs and their work! He may know about "interrupted infrastructure" but he obviously has no experience with non-existent infrastructure.

The list of arrogant assumptions in his response is mind-boggling:
1. That everyone has a computer
2. That everyone has a computer that works
3. That everyone has a working internet connection
4. Or, that lacking a working computer, one has a smart phone
5. That everyone has working cell service
6. That everyone can read English (all the sites I've been able to see are English-only)
7. That everyone can read. Period. During the work with the Helping Horses project we met many people who are illiterate, who can't read or write in either language.

I realize with Garth it's just ignorance and arrogance. But I still think there is no excuse for it.

That encounter did nothing to help lift the weight. The edges are a little darker today, the weight a little heavier.

Monday, December 10, 2018

NOW December 10, 2018

Meet Coda Bear - the latest addition to our ranch. He arrived this morning on the midnight flight from Jersey. He was our daughter Amy and her kids' dog. Because so much has changed in her life, she felt she needed to move him to a great new home. He got very attached to Elaine (and vice versa) when she was in Ohio last winter. And, truth be told, he and I got pretty attached in the short time I was there in July. So - he is my Christmas surprise. Coda Bear is a hundred pounds of love sponge.

One of the issues for Amy was not being able to give Coda enough attention and exercise because she and Kennedy and Kai have such crazy busy schedules. His Puerto Rican fitness camp started this morning with his first-ever walk on an ocean beach. It's great for me too. Now I have a reason - motivation if you will - to get up and beach walk every day. I used to do it with the other dogs but as they got older, just getting to the beach was a long walk. Now a walk to the end of the street is enough for Oz. Coda is two and full of energy. Just what I need!

We know there are a lot of stray dogs here on the island that need homes. We have two rescue dogs (and three rescue horses and a rescue cat). It might seem strange to bring another dog to the island when there are already so many. As a good friend of ours said, "Every animal that needs a new home needs a new home. And he's with family." Coda needed a home and now he has one.

Welcome to the family, Coda Bear!

Addendum: When we picked Coda Bear up at the airport, we had to get him in baggage claim. We got him our of the shipping crate and started through the airport. They've changed the way things are done at BQN. All the people waiting for arriving passengers have to stand behind a certain line. The waiting crowd gets jammed up with the check-in line for JetBlue. Then all the arriving passengers with their luggage gets shoved in to the mix. I'm bringing a hundred-pound dog on a mission to get outside to pee through this. Lots of people - not just Puerto Ricans - are scared of big dogs. That crowd could not have parted faster or wider if I rode through on horse!

MARIA log December 10 Day 78 Sunday

Sunday, December 10, day 78

Marie's eyes are still bothering her so horse care has been all mine this week. That's okay. I'm enjoying the time with them. I'm not getting as much out of it as I should though. I feed them and hang with them but I don't do much to work with them. I really should do more. This is a perfect opportunity; I'm just not using it.

Today was a quiet day, I feel lethargic. Not lazy, \just not motivated to do anything. Not like there aren't a thousand things to do. The post-hurricane to-do list is huge. Plus there is the get Ola-Lola's-ready-to-sell-or-open list. Then there are my thoughts/plan/ideas for whatever they are worth.

I know I'm feeling isolated. Almost all of my "social networks" are down. Ola Lola's is closed. I don't hang out in other bars - can't afford to anyway. With no electricity and no Internet I have no email. Cell service remains spotty, iffy, at best and non-existent at home. I've been writing this journal for almost three months, intending to put it on our blog. Without no Internet I can't post it. Without electricity I can't use the computer to process the photos that go with the journal.

Pretty much all of my "normal" activities are shut down. There is no - or at least very little - snorkeling and/or diving. The ocean is rough, visibility is bad and bacteria counts are high. There is surf and there are surfers but again without access to computer and Internet, there is little point to going out to shoot. I can't even go for a beach ride; the horses are too fare from the beach.

Am I just feeling sorry for myself? Maybe. I really don't think so. I don't feel "oh, woe is me." I don't feel put upon or special. It's just a weight that wasn't there before. I feel depression creeping in at the edges. It's something I need to watch for, to be aware of.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

MARIA log December 9 Day77 Saturday - A Walk Up the Quebrada

Saturday, December 9 day 77

We've now been 79 days without electricity. The rumored goal is for 95% of the island to have electricity restored by Christmas. Even if that ambitious goal is met, there is no doubt those of us down here at the pig's ass end of the line will be in 5% remaining. The only power company truck we've see was a van the first week when someone came through surveying the damage. Since then, none. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Since we first moved here, I've wanted to walk up the quebrada, the canyon through the cliff where the river and the road come down from up top. I wanted to even more right after the hurricane, when the walls were stripped of vegetation. Today, on a bright clear windless and rainless afternoon, I finally walked up as far as "the curve."

 In the  two-and-a-half months since the hurricane some vegetation has returned to the quebrada. Most of the trees still look like Dr. Seuss characters, or something from a Tim Burton movie.

"The curve" is a big curve in the road coming down through the quebrada. The edge of the road on the outside of the curve was damaged before we moved here but Maria took out half the road.

I've known for a long time there was some kind of drain pipe under the road at that point, and that the drain pipe has been broken for years. That's what caused the original washout.

During Maria the unimaginable amount of water rushing through the quebrada caused more washout, more broken pipe, and less roadway. Now the road is a precarious one lane on a blind curve. At first drivers were very polite, very courteous, taking turns through the narrow space. Now people traveling both directions, up and down, speed through the curve like they have the absolute right-of-way. Or like it's not a narrow one lane.

Today I got to see "what's down there" from the bottom up. On the walk up the now-dry riverbed I was amazed and awed by what the torrent carried down and then left behind.

 When I reached the riverbed below the curve, the jumble of broken concrete drain pipe and other debris I expected. This is what is below the washed out roadway.

 That dark edge at the top right of the photo is the edge of the roadway.

What I didn't expect is there is a natural spillway there.

I don't know what Nature intended that spillway to drain, but there it is. I suspect when the roadway was built, the builders put in the pipe under the pavement to allow the drainage without going over the road. When the pipes first broke, water began to undercut the road.

The power of moving water is truly amazing. That's hardly an original observation but true none-the-less.

I want to walk the quebrada all the way up, as far as I can, just to see it. You know, because it's there.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

NOW, Saturday, December 8

Saturday, December 8

Today's adventure reminded me of a story from my childhood.

When I was a kid, we had a tree trimming party about this time every year. It wasn't a huge party, my parents, my uncle, the neighbors across the street, and Al and Janet Rietch, a couple my parents knew from work.

My parents rarely drank, unlike my uncle (an alcoholic of the first order), the neighbors and the Al and Janet (the friends). But they did imbibe on special occasions and the tree trimming party was such an occasion. My father and Al put up the tree and started stringing lights on it. They kind of worked on the Julia Child model of tree trimming: put up the tree, have a drink. String a strand of lights, have a drink, String another strand of lights, have a drink. You get the idea. By the time all the lights and ornaments were on the tree, everyone was pretty well looped.

Back then, way back in the middle of the last century, trees weren't topped with stars as often. the tree-topper of choice was a ball - like a round ornament - with a long glass spike on top. When it came time for the tree-topper, my father pulled the top of the tree down so Al could reach it. Al shoved that spiky tree-topper on and my father let go.

It was a tall tree, taller than I guess they realized. When my father let go, the spiky glass topper hit the ceiling and shattered. "Well, damn!" Somebody - I don't remember who - said it. Probably not my father though; he didn't swear.

Al and my father trimmed the top of the tree and went out in search of another tree-topper. My mother and Janet cleaned up the glass. The neighbors went home; my uncle kept drinking.

In due time Al and my father came back with another spiky glass tree-topper. My father pulled the top of the tree down, Al put the spike on, my father let go. I guess they didn't trim quite enough off the tree because the spike hit the ceiling and shattered. "Well, damn." This time I think it was my father.

More trimming and another trip out for another tree-topper. The third time must have been the charm because this time when Al put the topper on the tree and my father let go, the topper didn't shatter. It cleared the ceiling by maybe an inch.

With the tree fully decorated and the topper - the third topper - safely in place, everyone could sit down, enjoy it's beauty, and have a drink.

My adventure today, my quest, was for lights for the tree. We haven't really had a tree since we moved to Puerto Rico; we decorated Ola Lola's. Now we have a house, grand kids are coming, so we got a tree. Yes, it is artificial. We can get cut trees here at Walmart and Sam's, but they come from somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Which means that to get here for Christmas they must have been cut in July.

Anyway - we really didn't have many lights before. Most of what we had we left with Stephanie and Jordan. But no big deal, right? Two-and-a-half weeks before Christmas everybody has lights. Wrong! An early beat-the-traffic trip to (gasp!) Walmart. Nope. Not a single strand of lights. Nada. I had to stop at a big chain hardware store on the home. They'll have lights. Nope. Nada. They don't even carry them.

How can you not have Christmas lights two weeks before Christmas!!!!!!? It's worse than after the hurricane! Last year the stores had lights, there was just nothing to plug them in to..

So I came home, unloaded the truck, and headed back out in the rain. We checked Walgreen's online and supposedly the one closest to us had lights. Nope. Nada. I called Elaine and asked her to check Amazon. They could ship us lights but wouldn't guarantee the would get her before Christmas. So back out into the driving rain to drive to another Walgreens. Yep they had lights. In cases on a dolly in the middle of the floor. No one around to unpack or stock them so they couldn't sell them, even though there were about 20 customers standing there looking at them.

Back out into the rain, drove past a K Mart (because their website said they were completely out of lights!), on to yet another Walgreens. This one had lights  Not exactly what I wanted but they are lights! While I stood in line, the power went out. Their generator kicked in but it took ages for their systems to reboot. Then the system wouldn't take my debit card. I had to run out to the car to get my credit card. As I ran out, all the 50 or so people backed up in line scowled at me because I had the only currently working register tied up.

All this for Christmas tree lights two weeks before Christmas. Sure hope they all work.

MARA log December 8 Day 77 Friday

Friday, December 8, day 77

Today is my former best friend's and my former wife's birthday. Don't ask me why I remember that.

We made some tweaks to the new fence. It will change more than once as we use it.

We don't want to leave the horses in the new tall grass all the time. We want to bring them in for evening grain and for the night. What we didn't think about was how to entice them out of all that new grass.

Marie stood at the top of the rise and whistled and called them. And the came! They all came trotting up for their evening grain. I thought that was pretty cool.

We broke tradition tonight at Carole's and had Los Gapo instead of pizza. It was a nice change.

No rain today.

Friday, December 07, 2018

MARIA log December 7 Day 76.Thursday

Thursday, December 7 day76

Got all excited because there was a utility truck working down our street. Not electric though. Something to do with TV and Internet cable. I would get excited about that if we had electric to poser it.

No day of infamy here today. Somewhere I'm sure they marked the date but we don't see the news so I don't know.

I spent several hours running the wire for the new horse pasture fence. That, taking Oz for a walk on the beach and going to Carole's for dinner is pretty much how I spent this sunny rainless day.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

MARIA log December 6 Day 75 Wednesday

Wednesday, December 6, day 75

Yesterday, between raindrops, I finally finished getting a fence around the house. It's not the final permanent fence, just a temporary barrier.

Today, under a glorious winter sun, I started fencing a new pasture for the horses. thirty-eight T-posts driven. Almost exactly an acre enclosed.

At the far north end of the field there is this really thick, really tall grass. I mean really tall - seven feet or more in places. (That is my post driver on top of a six foot T-post in the photo.) And thick - really thick! I don't know what kind of grass it is, maybe a type of sawgrass. But it will scratch you up! And down.

Looking at this grass I couldn't see over, that I could barely walk through, I thought of how the first white settlers must have felt looking at grasses on the Great Plains. I had a couple hundred feet to get through, not a thousand miles.

Still I thought this is nuts. a machete won't cut this stuff. I know, I tried. I needed a way to make a path, to flatten this stuff down.

Enter "Mongo." Named for Alex Karas's character in Blazing Saddles, Mongo is my 1999 Dodge Ram pick up. "Mongo good truck. Mongo tuff truck."

It's a good thing 'cause we hit some rough stuff plowing through that grass. Most of it was pretty easy going. Until we hit the rocks I couldn't see. I scraped the bottom over one big one then buried the nose against two more. But Mongo's four-wheel drive got us out. When we were done I had a mashed down path to follow to put in fence posts.

Tomorrow I string the wire and then let the horses in. For now I'm tired and sore.

No rain today. Sunny and breezy.

NOW: Sunny, warm, no rain. I realized the Christmas winds are blowing, just much more gently than in other years. Deja vu all over again: Worked on the new yard gate today. We'll be fencing a new pasture sometime in the next week.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

MARIA log December 5 Day 74 Tuesday

Tuesday, December 5 day 74

The light rain that started in the evening continued overnight, accompanied by quite the breez blowing. In fact its been windy for the past few days.

Ah! It's December. The Christmas winds have started. Every December the tradewinds pick up; they're called the Christmas winds.

Today the Christmas winds brought spotty light rain off and on all afternoon. Must be a little cold front passing by because I'm, well, cold.

This morning Elaine sent me a text: it is cold windy and rainy in Cleveland. I wrote back, "Just like here!" Well, not just like here. In Cleveland "cold" is somewhere around freezing. Here it's anything below about 73 degrees.

Elaine's not here to snuggle with. Both of our warm Vizslas are gone. Tonight I'm wearing a sweatshirt to bed. Hey, it's December!

And a hot shower sure would feel good.

NOW: Well, December 6 a year later. No rain today. In fact no rain for a couple of weeks. And the Christmas winds haven't started to blow yet. Marie's talked to her daughter in eastern Washington state this morning. In the background, Marie could here this pounding noise. Marie asked Amanda what they're building. Amanda replied, "Nothing. I'm chipping ice in the horses' water bucket." Here it was 84 degrees today with heat index of 91. No complaints.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

MARIA log December 4 Day 73 Monday

Monday, December 4, day 73

For me it's all horses all the time. Elaine is gone. Marie has an eye problem and can't be in the sun. So feeding morning and evening is up to me. That's fine, it's not a big deal. I just don't get much else done.

I did go snorkeling this afternoon. I felt bad about it. It's the one thing Elaine wanted to do before she left and we couldn't. Twenty-four hours later the ocean is pretty calm and viz is pretty good.

A number of people asked about the big elkhorn coral on the west side of Shacks. Most of the massive elkhorn survived!

I'm a little surprised. It is very shallow and very exposed. But it survived!. The coral nursery we started no only survived bu appears to be thriving. Sean, the nursery project advisor from NOAA, did a great job picking this spot for the nursery.

Today's weather: clear and sunny until late afternoon. Then cloudy and light rain. Distant lightning and thunder in the evening.

Monday, December 03, 2018

MARIA log December 3 Day 72 Sunday

Sunday, December 3, day 72

Today was a hard hard day, one of the most difficult since the storm.

Elaine left for the States today. She's going to Cleveland for at least a month, maybe more, to help our daughter through a serious domestic shit-show.

We've been apart before. It's always hard but this it is especially so. Every other time our separations have been for adventures. There has been joy and celebration mixed in the difficulties of being apart.

Not this time. What waits at the end of this trip is a step into chaos. Oh, there will be moments of joy - it's Christmastime and she will be with the grandkids.

I'm supposed to go to Cleveland to join her in two weeks. I have crazy deeply conflicted feelings about going. The kids really want me to come; maybe my being there will help Amy (but maybe not). I can definitely help and support Elaine. It's my one chance in a couple of years to maybe see other family.

But there is still so much to do down here. Still no electric and so much cleaning to do. There are the animals (yes, I have great people to care for them). There is the house (yes, I have someone to stay here). If Amber were still here there would be no question: I would stay here.

Not to go would be a betrayal of family. To go feels like a betrayal of home. At least that's how it feels.

Fortunately it's Sunday and the drive to San Juan was uneventful. Thank you, Carole, for letting us take your van. We got to travel in luxury.

The rest of the day sucked. Before we left for San Juan we went to feed the horses. Both of KTJ's back legs were swollen and needed attention. We tried to squeeze in a last-minute snorkel but everywhere we looked it was too rough, especially with the lack of sand at the beach edges. It was just too dangerous. Besides, visibility was terrible. So on her last day Elaine had to care for her injured horse and couldn't do the one thing she wanted to do - get in the water.

Then we had to say good-bye.

NOW: December 3, 2018 - today was a much better day than a year ago. We worked horses, Elaine did therapy with a client and we rode a little around the ranch. Then waffles and fried apples for dinner. Together. MUCH better than last year.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

MARIA log December 2 Day 71 Saturday

Saturday, December 2 day 15

Today's highlight was - dinner! I made fish tacos at Carole's for everyone. Everybody loved them! Jeremy's take: "Best fish tacos on the planet!" Everybody wanted more but we were out of fish and cole slaw. Next time - and there is universal agreement there will be a next time - more fish and a double (triple?) batch of slaw.

Otherwise today was a day of cleaning before Elaine leaves for Ohio.

One of the big stumbling blocks to getting a fence up was the stumps from the three traveler palms behind the house that fell during the hurricane. The stumps were right on the fence line. Roots of all three trees were entwined, like multiple Medusas. Although the trees toppled and pulled our many of the roots, some were still stuck in the ground.

It looked like a formidable job. A friend has a digger. He was going to dig them out. But his digger broke. Time for plan B.

I looked at the roots. I figured I could separate them with a chain saw. There was enough room in the hole the trees left that I wouldn't be chain sawing dirt.

Once the roots were separated, it was just a matter of wrapping a chain around the stump and pulling it out with the truck. With the help of Elaine and Lourdes we got the stumps out and dragged them to the road. Done.

Now there is no excuse not to finish the fence. Manaña!

NOW: December 2 Today it's not tree stumps in the way but a concrete wall.The old cyclone (chain-link) fence was cemented in to this low barrier wall. A lot of it is broken. I had to bust out a corner of busted concrete so I could put in new posts for the new gate.

Today our Jeremy and Anna brought Jeremy's brother Matt and two of his kids the see and ride the horses. That was fun. Matt's daughter Grace, who is nine, said the magic words: "Daddy, I want a horse."

This evening we went to the beach at Sardinera/Villa Pesquera to watch the sun set and the waves pound over the rocks. The ocean was putting on a show!

Saturday, December 01, 2018

MARIA log December 1 Day 70 Friday

Friday, December 1 day 70

A pretty laid-back low-key day - worked on the fence around the house This really should be a one-day job but I've managed to stretch it to three days. Otherwise, still lots of cleaning around the house. We are finally getting to things that need lots of water to clean.  (I've said this before: the great irony of a flood is when it's over, what you need more than anything is more water to clean up.)

Elaine and our friend Lourdes are finally getting "China" (what we call the kitchen/prep room; that's another story) cleaned. It has been long and hard. There was flood mud, moisture under the floor that sprouted mushrooms, mold in and on the walls. This is the only room in the house that doesn't have windows, the only room that seals pretty tightly so moisture gets trapped. Without electricity we can't run fans and so it's hard to dry out.

Elaine and Lourdes got it clean though. Everything in China (we pronounce it "CHEE-na) - pots, pans, dishes, shelves, everything - had to be taken out and washed. Now all that's done. Tomorrow they will finish cleaning the rest of the kitchen.

Today's weather report: Sunny, warm, no rain.

NOW: December 1, 2018 Hm-m-m, must be something about the season. Yesterday I started clearing out and repairing hurricane damaged fence in our new yard. Today I start building a new gate. Déjá vu all over again.

Today's weather report: Sunny, warm, no rain.

Friday, November 30, 2018

MARIA log November 30 Day 69 Thursday

Thursday, November 30 day 69

Sixty-nine days after Hurricane Maria, today is the last day of the 2017 hurricane season. It was clear, sunny , and hot.

After we got the second half of the gate up and some cleaning done, we went snorkeling at Shacks.

The water looked pretty clean when I took Oz for a walk but by the time we got in, it was back to murky 20-foot visibility. The tide was coming in and it was kind of rough. We almost abandoned the "dive" and got out early. Am I ever glad we didn't!

Right at the end, right near the shore in the shallows we saw the biggest school of mackeral scad I've seen in five or six years. We used to see big schools like that at lot at Crashboat.They haven't been there for a long time.

I just laid there in the shallows watching the river of fish swim past. Elaine and I got separated as she looked for a way to the beach. She told me the rush of small fish chased by bigger bar jacks completely blocked her way to shore.

Of course, this was the one time I didn't take a camera.

NOW; today is November 30, the last day of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. The weather today is almost exactly like last November 30 - sunny, dry, warm. We are so grateful that the weather is the only similarity to last year, and for no repeats. In fact this year we didn't have even a big tropical storm. We're real okay with that.

MARIA log November 29, Day 68 Wednesday

Wednesday, November 29 day 68

I started work on the second half of the gate today. Basically I got the posts in the ground. I wanted to finish it but I can't find the wood I need. I've got the fence boards but not the cross pieces. None of the lumber yards have what I'm looking for. Construction materials are still hard to find and expensive.

Elaine had to go to CESCO - the island version of the DMV. It's only open until noon and the line starts forming about 5:00 am.

While she waited in line, I waited for a crew to fix Jeremy's air conditioner. They were supposed to be there by 8:00 am. Apparently they failed to specify what day.

Since we were both waiting and we both had cell signal we texted. Elaine was telling me about some of the people she was standing in line with and some of their conversations.

I thought, "There is a master's thesis here for some sociology student: the importance of queues in human social interaction."

That could be followed by a dissertation: Gas stations as community gathering centers in Puerto Rico. Its a narrow enough niche I'll bet no one has studied it before.

By the way - cloudy all day but no rain.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

NOW Thursday, November 29

Today's best moment: Rolf meeting Chocolate.

As part of our therapeutic riding center, Horses of Hope, we plan provide services to adults as well as children. We've talked for a long time that we want Rolf to meet the horses. He rode horses when he was younger and we're interested to see if meeting our horses triggers any memories or emotions.

The first meeting went very well. It's a little early to tell if there is a deeper response, but both Rolf and Chocolate look pretty relaxed together. There are more horse encounters in Rolf's future. Stay tuned.

MARIA log, November 28, Day 67 Tuesday

Tuesday, November 28, day 67

Today was the last day of Helping Horses at the Picadero. We - and I include myself even though it was mostly Elaine and Annie - did good. The need is much greater than the supply but we did help a lot of people help their horses. We can all feel very proud.

Now a bit of a rant: We have a friend we'll call X, who left the island right after Maria on one of the very first humanitarian flights out. Many people left, for many reasons.

I can tell you exactly why she left: worried parents, her job, and her first-world psyche couldn't deal with living in the post-hurricane third world.

I don't judge her - or anyone else - for leaving. Each one of us had to make that decision for him or herself. That said...

About two weeks later she sent us a message on Facebook, assuming somehow we would get it. "Emergency! I have maggots in my refrigerator. Can you go clean it for me?" We eventually got the message on one of our borrowed Internet connections.

Uh, no. We have our own stuff to clean up.

By the time she left, electricity on the island had been off for a week. Even so, she didn't clean out her refrigerator or cabinets. She walked away from spoiled food in the 'fridge and food waiting to spoil in the cupboards. Now, weeks later, she wanted us - or someone - to go in a clean up the mess she left.

Another friend, M., agreed to go clean up. When M. got to the apartment, not only the refrigerator but all the cupboards and the entire kitchen were swarming with maggots. No way could she do this job for the paltry $120 that was offered!

X. left no cleaning supplies. There is still no bleach to be had on the island, still no water. M. had to take everything out of the 'fridge, carry the maggot-infested shelves down three flights of stairs and half a block to the ocean to rinse the maggots off the refrigerator parts and her own arms and hands. Only then could she go back to the apartment to clean. With no bleach and no water.

Eventually X. said she couldn't afford to pay any more. M. said, "then I can't clean any more."

Over the last two months I've seen occasional Facebook posts from X. Granted, I see FB maybe five minutes at night at Carole's. X. may have posted an absurd number of comments offering help and asking how friends are doing. They may have been there and I just didn't see them. The posts I saw were comments (complaints?) about how cold it was up north and asking when electricity and water were coming back on in her apartment. As if anyone knew.

Friday we saw a post in huge letters "ISABELA HAS LIGHT!" I've refrained from commenting on any of her crap until now. "Maybe in your part of Isabela. Not ours."

X. posted several times that now that electric is back on, she's coming back. But she's moving into a different condo in the same complex. She suggested people could help her move and get their stairmaster exercise carrying her stuff down three flights of steps, across the complex and up to the second floor.

Last night we got a personal message from her. So-and-so had the key to her condo if we wanted to shower or do laundry. It was a genuine, heartfelt offer. And, as far as I know, the first offer of anything since the storm.

Of course the offer was followed by a request to help her move. Elaine's response was perfect: What was she willing to pay for help? Not for us, but for any of the many people who are desperate for work. Even though she's been off island, working, collecting her regular paycheck, X. replied that she was hoping friends would just come help.

This whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. This person, who bailed at the first opportunity, who has done nothing to help in the last two-and-a-half months, has not been here for the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other hard part, now that it's easy, now that at least her little part of Puerto Rico has reached 2-1/2 World status, now she comes waltzing back and expects everyone to drop everything and help her.

The arrogance and lack of awareness of anything or anyone beyond herself pissed me off!

Am I being petty. Maybe. Probably. Maybe to even ask that question is to answer it. It still galls me.

Today was mostly sunny and warm, no rain. What do I have to complain about?

MARIA log, November 27, Day 66, Monday

Monday, November 27, day 66

Another no rain day.

Carole and Rolf got electricity back today! They now have both water and electricity. We're still filtering water because nobody is sure if the water treatment plants are working properly. Carole feels like she should be filtering the electricity, like it's not safe to use.

Actually, "filtering" electricity is not such a bad idea. No one is sure just how stable the grid is so having key electronics - computers, TVs, modems and routers, etc. - plugged into battery-back up power supplies is a good idea.

But mostly, it's all good Carole!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MARIA log, November 26, day 65, Sunday

Sunday, November 26, day 65

Another no rain day. Could it be that we're actually going to have a winter dry season? We haven't had one in the last two years.

In the summer and fall of 2015 we were in a drought so severe that water was rationed in some areas. Then, in January, 2016, in what should have been the dry season, the Pacific weather patterns changed. The El Niño pattern, which means dry conditions for us, switched to La Niña, which means wetter weather. It started raining in January, 2016, and hasn't stopped. That's the biggest reason scuba diving has been so bad for two years. When it rains in the mountains, "stuff" washes down the rivers and into the ocean. That stuff from the mountains screws up visibility.

It would be nice to have some "normal" wet-dry seasons for a change. I say that recognizing that when we talk about weather, there is no "normal" any longer.

I got some things done today. I built the first half of the house fence gate and installed it. I hope to have the other half built this week. We moved the old not-working ice freezer from the bar to "Rancho Raquel" where the horses are. We've been storing grain and other horse stuff in it here at the house. Now we'll have lockable storage right on site.

We were home for dinner tonight. When we're at Carole and Rolf"s we have light because of the generator. We come home  to complete darkness and flashlights while we get ready for bed. Tonight it was darkness for the whole evening. It is really dark down here! But we can see a lot more stars.

MARIA log November 25 Day 64, Saturday

Saturday, November 25 day 64

Another sunny no rain day.

Off to Home Depot in Hatillo for fence posts. Not many people on the island seem to use T-posts but suddenly they are a hot item. The 50 posts that were "no problem" on Wednesday? Today there were only 38 posts in Hatillo. The Home Depot in Bayamon had 0. Ultimately we need 80 new posts. Oh well. We'll start with what we have.

Even more than usual we have to piece things together. It is very rare to find everything we need in one place. Most projects take at least two an frequently more stops.

After my early morning trip to Hatillo, we decided to check out the beach and the water at Wishing Well. Wishing Well, or Peña Blanca, has always been one of our favorite snorkeling spots. The reef, with beautiful soft seafan and featherduster corals waving in the current, starts right at the beach. It is home to schools of blue tang, ocean surgeon, and sargent major fish and almost always a turtle or two. Or five. Or six.

Once little known and little used, the two beaches stretching on either side of a rocky point have grown in popularity in the past two or three years. Where once we could have the whole place to ourselves, lately it's been hard to find a parking place.

Today there is no sand anywhere. Both sides are bare rocks and boulders. The rocks are always there, they are just usually covered with sand. And it's not only the beach. In the water the sand was stripped away by storm-driven waves leaving a treacherous foot-grabbing rocky entry.

In the water we found pretty much what we've come to expect: visibility about 30' and murky. Most of the soft corals were stripped away. A few remain in some of the cracks and crevices where they were protected.

There is hope however. A number of small featherduster corals have taken hold. And, we saw a juvenile hawksbill turtle.

It's not the Wishing Well we've known; it won't be for a long time. But there is hope.

NOW...November 24.

I went back to dive Crashboat today, almost exactly a year after seeing it for the first time after the hurricane. There is more life, more fish, more species of fish, than when I saw it a year ago.

There is a lot of beauty. You just have to be a bit more patient and look a little deeper to see it.

Swimming through the wreckage I am still in awe of the power of nature, the power of wind and water to do this.

Monday, November 26, 2018

MARIA log, November 24, Day 63, Friday Collateral Damage

November 24, Friday, day 63 Collateral damage

A friend's co-worker was taken to the hospital last week with undiagnosed respiratory distress. She had no history of respiratory or bronchial problems. No history of asthma even though that is pretty common on the island.

(Puerto Ricans have a higher incidence of asthma than the general population. For a long time "they" [whoever "they" is] thought it was because of the dust from the Sahara Desert in our atmosphere [that's a story for another time]. It turns out people of Puerto Rican descent, even those who have never lived on the island, have the same higher incidence rate. No one knows why.)

For a while doctors weren't sure she was going to survive. Fortunately she pulled through.

She was one of many many people looking for medical help for new, never-had-'em-before respiratory ailments. At Helping Horses at the Picadero, we're hearing the same kinds of things about horses. Many horses are having trouble breathing, just like KTJ and Zip.

There were so many people reporting respiratory distress the specialists (breathologists?) got together to talk about it.

Their conclusion is all these people - and animals - having breathing issues are collateral damage from the hurricane.

I've never heard this phenomenon discussed after any other hurricane or disaster. When we think about hurricane damage, we think about - and the media focuses on - in damage to stuff: houses destroyed or damaged by wind, rain, or flooding; downed powerlines and trees; blocked roads; grieving people. In the aftermath we are fed images of lines for gas, food, water, medical attention.

Slowly, those lines disappear. Things appear to return to some semblance of  "normal. The public - those who aren't directly involved - get tired of the disaster. The media moves on to the next big disaster somewhere else. Meanwhile, there are people and animals with on-going respiratory ailments and only a handful of people are asking "why?" and "why now?"

When Maria blew through the island, she stripped all the leaves, broke limbs and toppled many many trees. Estimates are between 60% and 70% of the trees on the island were damaged or destroyed. Fields and pastures were stripped of grass and other vegetation. "Things" in the soil below were stirred up into the air.

Those trees were a massive air filter, changing CO2 for O2, capturing dust and spores and goddess-knows what else, cleaning and filtering our air.

We talked in the first days about how bare everything was. The hills and cliff sides looked like they'd been hit by a devastating forest fire, except the spider-y trunks and branches weren't black.

In the second week after the hurricane, when the first tentative flashes of green appeared, we remarked how quickly Mother Nature was rebounding. Now, two months later, there is lots of foliage returning.

But it is an illusion. It is just a fraction of what it was.

Every truckload of debris - and there are hundreds, thousands of them - is full of trees that used to clean our air. The huge dumpsites around the island are the repositories of thousands, maybe millions, of leafless lifeless trees. Even those that survived and have new foliage are caricatures of themselves, trees from a Tim Burton movie or a Dr. Seuss book.

With 90% of the island still without electricity thousands of gas and diesel generators bun constantly. Now that gas is plentiful and relatively cheap ($.70 - $.75 per liter, roughly $2.66 - $2.85 per gallon) traffic is worse than ever.

The diggers (front-end loaders) and dump trucks block roads as they scoop up the bones of trees, stirring up the dust those same trees used to protect us from. Long lines of cars back up behind the diggers and trucks. Memories are short: people have already forgotten about the lines for gas just a month ago. The sit in lines, going nowhere, with engines running and air conditioners going full blast.

There is no wonder that people and animals are having difficulty breathing.