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Internet… sometimes… maybe, maybe not

Yeah, yeah. I know it’s been too long since I did a real post. This update is part 1 of 3. To say I’ve become distressed with our poor internet service out where we live, would be an understatement. Writing and posting images to the Web is a very time consuming, check and recheck process. Doubly so when your connection cuts out, drops off or goes away for hours or days at a time.

You Are Not Connected to the Net

Obviously, we do not rely on our cellphones or tablets to access the net or get work done. We are power users. We maintain a hardline through Claro/PRT, but the DSL can hardly deliver dependable rates over ‘dial-up’ speeds. To qualify that- the faster the data-rate, the more prone it is to major ‘packet data loss’ and that’s a real issue when you live so far from the main trunkline like we do. We laugh when Claro marketing calls, asking if we want to upgrade our ‘speed’ or heaven forbid, sign up for cable TV. What a joke. PRT Line Truck And I’m being polite. It’s out for so long, they provide us with a temporary cable modem to hold us over until the hardline is fixed again (If we want to make the run into Ponce to pick it up). That’s happened at least 3 times in the last 6 years.

So, we opted for a no data-cap wireless connection via VelocityNet. A dedicated mini-dish with ethernet to a desktop modem. I’ve mentioned them before. It’s the only practical way to get internet in a rural setting.

It is relatively reliable, but like any cell based service data speeds during the day suck. In the evening, we can stream Netflix or Hulu… most of the time. Me first mate stays up late, just so she can get her work done. Unfortunately, it seems to drop-out like clock-work, around the 1st of each month. Not sure why, but I can speculate. We think they are busy running through their client list, turning back on those who have paid their bill for the next month. It’s a small, local outfit.Claro PRT Another point- they often pass off their connection to the web to other, 3rd party internet service providers. It’s something we track. Sometimes we ‘originate’ from Florida, sometimes from San Juan, sometimes from Cincinnati. Go figure. Yes, there have been a few times when both have been out at the same time, but it’s rare.

Posting content to the Net from our rural location is a major act of frustration. I’m retired and tired… I don’t need this crap. Sorry, but I need to make a point here. It just all sucks so bad, so much of the time.Cut Phone Lines

If we lived closer to town, we could get stable DSL. Something to consider if you plan on moving to PR, but need fast Internet to maintain a web site or generate income.

A HughesDish is ok, if you don’t want to stream TV or movies. And it’s expensive. We had one when I first got here, but the old set will not work on the updated service. It’s probably more dependable than any local solution, though it’s not bullet-proof. Bad weather like heavy clouds or hurricanes will disrupt service. Then there is the daily data-caps which will put you off-line for 24 hours, if you go over. From 2AM to 6AM there’s no limit. Big deal.

I’m done venting. Thanx.

Gardening: The Evolution of No Real Plan

I’ve done a lot of posts since I got here, about my ‘little’ gardening effort. Gardening was a big part of the reason I wanted to check out Puerto Rico in the beginning. It’s the only place in the USA where you can have a veggie garden year round. Not to mention, the potential to grow fruit and nut trees and other ‘interesting’ stuff.

Seed Starts in Pots

Ironically, we have no veggie garden as all of my effort has been put into starting and planting new trees from seed. Starting a bunch of seeds was like Phase 1. Getting them into the ground is basically Phase 2. Did I mention I’m looking forward to Phase 3 where I don’t have to spend so much time doing dirt-work?

I will admit, I did not really start off with a hard plan or a clear idea as to what I wanted to do. Heck. I was retired. So the ‘plan’ has evolved over time. I guess the vague goal was to grow as many kinds of fruit and nut trees,Papaya Starts along with some edible palms, bamboo and a few interesting things, like Balsa wood or Bio-diesel nut. A mix of things.

I can’t call our place a farm, because there are no farm animals… not even chickens. Nor is it a homestead since we are not self-sufficient. We still draw our power from the local grid and use city-water. I wish we didn’t, but we do. Our power goes out often. In fact, there was an island-wide outage just a couple weeks ago. We got our power back the next morning, but some places were without power for several days. For us, it’s not a life threatening thing.

I guess the closest way to describe our effort is as a botanical garden where every plant has a purpose… whether it be food, medical, craft or fuel. At some point, I hope to set a few paths around the property. Add a bench or two. Then I can concentrate on keeping it neat. For now, it’s pretty rough. I still wear long pants and a t-shirt to work outside.

BTW- Having no real plan was very out-of-character for me.

Folk Medicine, Puerto Rican Style

I like the idea of self-sufficiency. That’s a secondary goal.

Earth and SpiritTo that end, I’ve searched the Net for info on local plants and herbs. In my last post, I talked some about Cannabis and it’s potential medicinal benefits. I think it’s somewhat ironic that Puerto Rico has such a long history of folk-medicine, going back centuries, but resists decriminalizing a plant with ‘health benefits’. I don’t get it.

While doing my research, I came upon a great little book- “Earth and Spirit’ by Maria Benedetti. It’s about herbal medicinal practices in Puerto Rico. Many, many personal accounts as to how they treated health issues with local solutions. Turmeric, Curcuma Spice in Puerto RicoSome of it is still practiced in the mountains of PR. Things like Aloe Vera for burns, everyone knows about, but there was plenty I had not seen before. No, it’s not a substitute for contemporary medicine. I look at it as more of a complement to our diet like taking vitamins. Turmeric PlantOr as an interim solution until you can get in to see a doctor. I scored a clean used copy off Amazon. Nice!

In that same vein, I also grew some Turmeric root so I could make up my own gel-caps. Evidently, a little black pepper helps improve the medicinal properties of Turmeric. I also add a little ground Ginger to the mix. This combo is supposed to help with inflammation and give a little energy burst in the morning. Much more healthy than an energy drink. The photo is of my first harvest, about 4 pounds of root. It’s not that much when you dry it for grinding. I load it into gel-caps and take them with my morning oatmeal.

Home Grown Turmeric RootUnfortunately, my second attempt at growing it only produced one plant. So I’ll save that root in hopes of producing a bigger crop next year. I originally scored the fresh root from an Asian grocery store on Amazon. The plant is related to Ginger so they look similar, but it has the distinct smell of curcuma (in Spanish). Though Turmeric is not usually part of the Puerto Rican spice tradition, I have found it in the spice department on occasion.

Health warning: Please, don’t do what I do. Do your own homework and decide what’s best for you. My situation is not your situation.

Self-destructing Tires… and a New Lawn Tractor.

My first experience with using rubber products, came at the expense of some cheap rubber-bands. They literally melted onto themselves. Then I had a pair of rubber boots go brittle and come apart. In the Tropics, rubber seems to melt or turn into a crumbly mess after just a year or two. Lesson learned, sort of.Shredded Dodge Truck Tires

Tires can also be a problem. We have an old pick-up we use 6 or 7 times a year to do dump runs or go score sheets of plywood. Otherwise, it just sits outside in the sun… day in and day out. On our last run to Home Despot (no typo), We blew a tire, about halfway there. When I got out to change it, I realized it had literally self-destructed. No biggie, I’ll put on the spare. We did not get 1,000 feet before it came all apart too. That required a ‘grua’, a flatbed tow truck to come rescue us and take us to Pep Boys for a new set of tires. Not an expense we had planned for. What should have been a 2 hour round trip, turned into a 5 hour trip. But hey, we got new tires on the old Dodge now! Ay Bendito.

Home Depot is one of our favorite places to shop. But have you ever looked at their fliers closely? It’s alway full of products NOT on sale. Most of the time, the only thing ‘on-sale’ are home appliances you have to special order. Bizarre.

The New Lawn Tractor

Cub Cadet TractorThat run to Home Depot in the truck, was to score a new Cub Cadet lawn tractor. We did eventually get it. And it is pretty sweet. Though it comes with a 46” deck, I got it for making runs with the little cart down to the hoya and back.

I just wish it was not such a pain to detach and re-attach the mower deck. I kept the old red Craftsman mower so I would not have to go through that every-time I need to cut the grass. At 24hp, the Cub Cadet is plenty powerful.

The bumper is an option on the Cub so I made my own from a scrap piece of steel. There are a couple other ‘mods’ I want to do… I’ll feature those in a future post.

Jeeps, a Puerto Rican Tradition

Another goodie we’ve been on the look out for was a used Jeep. Jeeps are extremely popular here. More so than even Alaska. Seriously. Thing is, I wanted something made before 1971. That’s the year I graduated high school. Why? Because any Jeep made before 1971 is a Kaiser Jeep, not an American Motors Jeep. AMC did eventually get absorbed by Chrysler, but there were some dark years in between. Used Jeep CJ-5I never liked AMC motors or transmissions. I owned several Jeep Wagoneers made by AMC, back when. They were always needing work done.

My CJ-5 came from a family in Villalba who scored it new in 1970. It’s in well-used condition. It runs OK and looks clean on the outside. It also has a clean title which is sometimes hard to come by here. It will do some of the heavy-lifting around the property, once I make it ‘road worthy’. What I like about it is, it predates on-board computers, electronic timing or electronic fuel injection. It has a flat-head 4 cylinder motor, a simple 2 barrel carb, a 12 volt alternator and a 3 speed manual transmission. It’s not anymore complicated than the new Cub Cadet. Sweet.

Wild Critters on the Farm… and Rats

I’ve mentioned this before, but here is an interesting fact- Other than human beings, there are no deadly critters on the island. We have tarantulas, scorpions and snakes, but none of them are deadly. Same for the furry type.

Red Hawk in Puerto RicoI can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting at my computer, like this moment, and I’ll hear a Red Tail Hawk (Guaraguao) screech out loud. It’s like a Discovery Channel moment, every time. I didn’t even get that when I lived out in Willow, Alaska.

I really need to take a day and just sit outside with my 400mm until they fly by, for a few good shots… They always do. It’s moments like this, that make living here so fantastic.

In the 7 years I’ve been here, I’ve had some awesome ‘nature’ moments.

I have yet to see the indigenous owls, but we hear them all the time. Same for the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot or the little saltwater Caiman crock. Or any Sea turtles. There is also some Rhesus Monkeys running loose on the west end of the island, but most of them have been put down. They were a genuine threat since they are very aggressive and suffering from venereal disease and Common Puerto Rican Garden Snakepossibly rabies. Getting bit, could be a problem. The biggest threat comes from mosquitoes. Use bug spray, if you are out in the woods. I do.

Fortunately, that’s the worst of it.

We have small snakes, many kind of lizards, as well as the common Iguana and Bats at dusk. Things like Tarantulas and rats, only come out at night. We seldom see them. Rats are a problem because they can be quite bold. I had to score a heavy-duty rat trap to keep them out of downstairs where my seed nursery is. I even built a wire cage to keep them from eating my new starts. German Rat TrapThe German rat-trap never fails. It would break a finger if you were not careful.

There is one other critter on the island worth mentioning…

Mongoose (Aldilla) were brought to PR by the Spanish in an effort to try and curb the growth of rats. They are very ferocious little critters. Thing is, they don’t come out when the rats are about and vice-versa. Big SpiderThat, and they avoid humans like the plague. I think I’ve seen 4, the whole time I’ve been here and that was as they ran across the road in front of me.

A few weeks back, the dogs went ballistic… we thought it was over a cat. They often wander into the yard. I went down to check it out. I was within a few feet of it when I pulled back the tall grass expecting a cat.

Instead, I saw a Mongoose.

That really freaked me out as they tend to not let go, once they bite you. I stepped back and the little guy quit hissing long enough to run off in the other direction. The one time I was up-close-and-personal and I did not have a camera to record it. Oh well.

The golden bumblebee was also a surprise. I had never seen one before that day. It hovered in one spot so long, I was able to go back into the house and get my camera.

Several Views of Golden Bumblebee

I took hundreds of shots to get the 4 good ones. All done with a manual focus lens (90mm Tamron macro) and no image stabilization (Sony NEX-7). I was standing off by about a foot to get those shots.Frozen Juice Bottles

Making Juice

Keeping hydrated is a big deal under the tropical sun. The locals like to start working outside by sunrise and quit for the day by noon. I totally get that. Problem is, it’s a schedule I have a hard time maintaining.

Drinking water is a must, but I also like to bring along some fruit juice too. I’ve got into the habit of freezing part of it the day before and then topping off the bottles before I go out for the day. I use neoprene sleeves to help keep them cold.

The lemon juice was from one good harvest from our one Puerto Rican lemon tree. It produces fruit year round, as long as it gets rain. So it’s sporadic at best. I love them. They are like a cross between a lemon and a lime. Very flavorful, but tart. Perfect in Lemonade or in a Cuba Libre. I’ve also been told they make an awesome Key Lime pie… PR Lime pie?

Home Grown Puerto Rican Lemon Juice

Making Room for More Trees

In order to accommodate the mature trees in pots, it’s become necessary to clear off more space. The old road down to the hoya behind the house was my best choice. We had deliberately left it overgrown until now, so as to minimize soil erosion. Since it is down hill from the house it will be easy to get water to the new trees, should they need it.

Old Road Looking Down Hill

Clearing out the road would allow me to plant a bunch of bamboo, some ornamental ginger and a few other things. I will cover all of that in the next post. The road is only about 500 feet long, but it’s still taken me about 6 months to clean it out by hand. The scrub Mimosa that grows everywhere, is as hard and heavy as oak. That makes for slow going.

Old Road Looking Up Hill

Then there is always the vines that trail along the ground or hang in the air. Simply chopping them out only leads to new growth as the ‘pieces’ will grow new roots and take off again. So you have to literally carry it away and burn it if you want it to stay gone.

BTW- the scrub Mimosa makes fantastic charcoal for the grill!Baby Common Puerto Rican Iguana

Clearing the dirt road down to the Hoya serves another purpose. It’s the best place to cross the gulch should we ever want to build a bridge to the other side. There was a shallow concrete crossing there before, but it got wiped out by Hurricane Hortense back in September of 1996. 10 inches an hour was insane.

Actually, most of our property is on the other side of the gully so gaining access is a big deal. It’s a thought I’m still developing. More about that idea in Part 3.

This update covers a lot of ground so I’ll stop here.

Part 2 will cover what plants and plantings I’ve managed to deal with over the last year.

God Bless, Roberto Rico

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