This yearend post finds me reflecting on more than what it’s like to live in Puerto Rico. I can say I’m just as jazzed to be here as when I landed for the first time in August of 2009. I cannot imagine living any other place.
The food, the music, the countryside, the people will grow on you.
As I’ve said before, Puerto Rico is not without it’s frustrations. Especially if you are a gringo from the mainland, though Alaska hardly qualifies as the ‘mainland’. I grew up in Alaska so that tends to ‘color’ my perspective.
Puerto Rico and Alaska share some of the same issues
Both rely heavily on food and almost all consumer goods used day-to-day from stateside. In Alaska, we referred to it as ‘the lower 48’. In PR, it’s the ‘mainland’ or something less friendly. Both places share a sense of independence.. an attitude that you could make a go of it. Not so much these days, but you can see it in the attitude of the ‘old timers’. Those that were used to depending on each other to get stuff done. I see it in the rural folks of PR and I admire them for it.
Then there are the cultural differences. To be honest, what passes as American Culture these days bothers me to my core. I think about it a lot. Way too much emphasis on consumerism and ‘things’ and less concern with ‘community’.
Goodbye to TV as We Knew it-
I was a child of the TV Era. I remember the day my dad brought home our first black & white TV. I must have been 4 or 5. TV ads were part of the norm. Even after I got cable… nothing had changed. Just more of it. There was a time when you could get ‘some’ real news via the TV, but those days have come and gone. So after 50 years of perpetual TV in my life, I had DishTV cutoff… cold turkey in September. No more ads, no more bogus news, no more dumbed down content. That was 2 months ago. I don’t miss it. Sure, we still get some programming via NetFlix, but it’s ad free and costs a fraction of what DishTV was charging, not to mention the large drop in power usage – around $20 a month. That little box drew a lot of current and was prone to over-heating.
I get all the ‘news’ I need from a handful of Websites dedicated to genuine journalistic values, not networks with agendas. Real news is not always what you want to hear, real news seldom is, but I would never shoot the messenger. I want the unadulterated truth, no matter what. I know that’s a tall order, but it’s out there if you know where to look.
The Puerto Rican Economy-
Puerto Rico is going through some tough times right now. Way worse than what’s happening on the mainland. PR’s publicly held utilities have all yanked up their rates over the last year. They have budget ‘shortfalls’ that more borrowed money will probably not fix.
Junk bond status is not a good place to be.
So much so that they are about to change the balance of political power in Florida.
This exodus of the Working Class is adding immensely to PR’s economic woes.
For those that don’t know, politics on the island is strictly driven by Statehood Status.
Very few think of themselves as either Democrat or Republican, but as to whether you support Statehood, support full Independence or some form of Enhanced Commonwealth. And EVERYBODY has an opinion on that! I won’t go into specifics or express an opinion here. That’s a whole different can of worms. I’ve said it before, I’m good with whatever Puerto Ricans decide.
Stuff and Things-
As mentioned earlier, I’ve had to cut back on activities that require lots of walking or standing for long periods. So as a consequence there have been less posts about places we have visited. I did get to tag along on an Iguana Hunt this year. It was a standout day to say the least. I met a bunch of real good guys too! We also got to tour the Capitol Building in Old San Juan. A free tour, well worth the trip.
I’m still chugging ahead on the garden front.
Most of the trees I planted 3 and 4 years ago are doing quite well. They include several Pomegranate, Starfruit, Bilimbe, Breadnut, Noni, Annona and one Caimito. There are also 8 or 9 Citrus trees of 4 different varieties that should produce fruit starting next year.
Keeping the Guinea grass cut back is a huge challenge.
The stuff grows to over 7 feet tall. If you don’t take it out at the roots, it will come back with a vengeance after the next hard rain. It killed off my first round of Date palms, but I have a brand new set, ready to go in the ground, along with some Acai and Salak palms. These palms will go into the ground with ‘tree rings’ made from cut down tires. This will help prevent water from running off downhill and force the roots to set deeper.
They will be topped off with mulch to keep the weeds down.
I’m still running tests on plants and trees that I think I could put to work.
In particular, I’ve been playing with Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus). A hardy, fast growing Hibiscus that makes a very high grade of homemade paper pulp. Normally, it it is an annual, but in PR it will flower, produce seeds, go momentarily dormant and then start all over producing new leaves followed by a new round of blossoms. I started with 5 plants. One of them has gone to seed 5 times and still producing. All in all, I have collected a few hundred seeds from them. I will take all these and use them to produce another round of seed producing plants. Yes, I could have purchased a bunch of seeds up-front, but where is the fun in that? Besides, the blossoms are quite pretty. Kenaf is part of a long term effort. There are other plants and trees I’m working on too. More about those in a future post.
Needless to say, I’ll be very happy if I get the bulk of my potted trees into the ground next year.
I built a second rainwater collection unit in 2014 based on one of those 275 gallon square tanks. I now have 400 gallons of water in reserve for the Dry Season, that will cover the months of January, February and March.
It turns out, they have been making large round briquettes in Asia for quite awhile. The ones made in Japan are exquisite. Nor is it that hard to do. Most are 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 2 to 3 inches thick with a series of pass-fire holes in them to aid in burning.
One large briquette will cook an entire meal for 4.
They burn clean, with no smoke or odor. A great alternative to wood or conventional briquettes. Bio-Char is nothing more than reclaimed grass, stems and twigs that were destined for the garbage. Once processed into charcoal, they can be pressed into briquettes. I have made my own charcoal in the past so I’m not new to the process. I’ll share more as I get into it.
What is Old is New Again-
Since I’m in the middle of shifting gears, I started looking at new ways to pursue my passion, photography. In doing so, I stumbled on to an old alternative black & white print process that suits my style and background. The Carbon Transfer Print Process is well beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say, I will be making prints based on this method at some point. The process is not expensive to do, once you are set up, though it is very labor intensive. Time I got, money, not so much. On top of that, the chemicals used are relatively benign and easy to score.
I never, ever thought I would be going back to the darkroom.
I thought those days were behind me. I had always enjoyed the time I spent in the darkroom experimenting.. trying new things. To this end, I’ve been busy acquiring what I need off eBay and Amazon. I did have to build a darkroom sink and flat file for storing sheet stock from scratch. That construction work is mostly done. We looked around PR for used gear, but no luck. My dedicated work space will be featured in a future post.
There is still a digital component… Part of the process requires making intermediate negatives as big as the final print. That’s done via an inkjet printer.
Even in the States, only a handful of photographers engage in making Carbon Transfer prints. It’s an ‘old school’ thing. Almost a lost craft. The good ones are highly sought after by collectors because of their rarity and longevity. I do have a target demographic in mind.
I’ll also be shooting some B&W film and processing that as well.
Our Claro/PRT service was/is intermittent at best. Nothing we can depend on. Hardly a couple weeks go by without dropped service. The drop might last 2 minutes or 2 weeks. After 3 years of issues, we quit chasing it. We ended up stripping our service back to a minimum, just so we could have a land-line to the house. Instead, we have VelocityNet. It’s a dedicated wireless hub with an antenna on the roof, aimed at a local cell tower. And it’s flat rate with no data limits. Speeds are only ‘good’ as it floats up and down with cell tower loads. It’s still more reliable than Claro/PRT/DSL. Some of our friends use osnetpr. They cover most of Puerto Rico with the same type of service, just not Coamo where we are. Supposedly, HughesNet has a new and improved service, but it has not reached PR as far as I know.
Last, but not least-
I spent 10 days visiting my brother Richard in southern Arizona a couple weeks back. I had gone down to see my Dad before he passed away, but missed him by just a few hours. Sometimes things just don’t work out. At 89, he lived a very full life on his terms. He smoked cigars right up to the end. We put together a little ‘Affirmation of Life’ for him and his friends in Patagonia where he spent his retirement years. He was a WWII Iwo Jima and Korean War, Marine Corps. Vet with a Purple Heart. Not too many of those guys left. He will be missed. Family matters. I wish more people understood that.
Puerto Ricans do.
The last shot is of the Patagonia, Arizona area.
May the New Year bring great hope and prosperity for all!
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