Our Finca and a 5 Year Old in Puerto Rico

We haven’t been blogging too much lately. We’ve had our hands full with the busy finca life, being parents, working and having fun on this awesome island. Sydney and I listen to a “Silly Kidz” Pandora radio station on the way to school every morning. Here is a song I gave a thumbs up yesterday. It’s a fun song in the car…the video is a little adult oriented, but she hasn’t seen it yet. :-)

Corona Extra Pro Surf Circuit Hits Rincon

1904128_10152263779884544_258122990_nRincon has been on the ‘surfers map’ for years. It was first in the spotlight in 1968 when there was a world contest held here and it has slowly gained popularity since. It remained sleepy for years but it has really picked up the pace since Summer and I moved down here. There are a lot of people that are bummed that their little lawless town is changing. They don’t like the development, the new $500 fine for getting caught with an open container of alcohol and they definitely don’t like how crowded the lineups have gotten. Between surfers on the outside that know what they are doing and the group lessons on the inside that have no idea how dangerously shallow the water is, it’s no longer just the skill of riding the wave. It’s the skill of contest surfing your way to the peak (unless you’re surrounded by your friends) and then the skill of avoiding people on the inside ditching their boards for the safety of the shallow water while their instructors (sometimes surfing themselves) yell words of encouragement.

I’m compassionate to learning something new, however,  I truly believe beginners should learn to surf somewhere where they are not a danger to the people around them, themselves or ruining waves for guys and girls that know what they are doing.

Ok, so that’s something I don’t like, but something I do like about the ‘progress’ of Rincon is all of the new amazing food trucks, restaurants, craft brewing (there’s a new brewery in downtown Rincon plaza- Rincon Beer Company) and even stuff at the grocery stores. We have a lot of favorites in town that have been establishing themselves over the years, but there are two new food joints that just opened up this season that we’ve added to our long favorites list (Mi Familia brick oven pizza, Solitaire farm to table, La Cambija local fresh, Island House, Copa Llena, etc…). These two new spots are both food trucks. They are the Rincon Taco Bus (on the Puntas Beach Road/Gall Road) and Jack’s Shack (on the left right before the lighthouse). Both are inexpensive, use nothing processed as everything is from scratch and both focus 100% on fresh ingredients.  Loving it.

I digress.

I am writing this post to share how crazy Rincon was for the Corona Extra Pro Surf Circuit that was held on February 23rd and February 24th at Domes beach (the one next to the retired nuclear power plant). It’s always a little bit of a shit show when Corona comes to town. Giant air balloons depicting Corona bottles are erected all over town and all the bars & restaurants sell Corona for $2.50. Corona signs are stapled to all the telephone poles for miles around and banners are strung across the streets all over town. Driving to the beach near the contest (Maria’s Beach) took me 45 minutes! It usually takes one song on my iPod.

If you are prepared and understand the madness that is about to ensue, the Corona can be fun. People are partying all over the beach and having a really good time. I avoid going out at night like the plague when it’s in town, but the day time party scene is a really good time. People are camped all over the beach and woods at Domes, Volkswagen Bus Clubs and Jeep Clubs are all over the place and there are hundreds of Toyota Corollas with sound systems valued at 2x the value of the car. Artisans set up all up and down the strip and EVERYONE is trying to sell you something if you’re looking to buy. No one is pushy like in areas of Mexico where I have traveled.

In years past, the organizers of the contest were not very responsible and left behind a path of litter destruction. I didn’t go and inspect after the contest this year, but when I went surfing a few days later the beach seemed to be in pretty good shape. I know the local chapter of Surfrider spent time down there and I appreciate their efforts. Thank you to all the volunteers.

Sydney and I skipped the parking lot traffic and took my truck down a few bike trails from the other side of the point and arrived center stage at the contest in my truck. We only had to walk the last 50 yards. It was awesome. I didn’t take any pictures of the surf on Saturday because it wasn’t very good. Knee high. The guys/gals surfing really are pros though, they can surf those little mushy waves so well. Very impressive and get my respect. The waves picked up for the second day with chest to head high sets coming in by the time the finals started.

Have a look at a few of the pics from the day.

Gas Stations & Bakeries

I really want to keep up with the blog and keep sending you guys a little taste of Puerto Rico everytime we post. There aren’t many projects going on right now besides the constant mowing and weed whacking of our property during rainy season so I’ll make a ‘day in the life of…’ type post.

I experience two extremely Puerto Rican moments today. The first was a little bit of an inconvenience, but not a big deal. The one gas station in town that I trust to not have water in the fuel was out of Regular gas today. Oh well, I’ll get gas in the morning. Currently, regular gas is going for $.88 a liter. That makes it about $3.35 a gallon. I spend an average of 60 minutes in the car on days that I drive. That is about 40 to and from Sydney’s school (once a day) and another 20 minutes to go to surf, grocery store or friends house. When the surf is flat and before Sydney was in school, there were times we would go days without driving anywhere and I would only have to fill up the gas Tundra of the Tundra about once a month.

No Hay Regular - Rincon Gas Station

No Hay Regular – Rincon Gas Station

The second Puerto Rican moment was purely experiential and me appreciating Sydney’s home town and la isla enctanta. I was at a bakery ordering a $2.25 ham, egg and cheese sandwich on a flattened piece of fresh baked bread and saw a pile of fresh Puerto Rican avocados (aguacates) piled up on the counter next to a glass display filled with absolutely delicious looking Puerto Rican pastries. Yum. It is a scene we see here all the time. Seasonal fruit on the counters from peoples back yards, sold on the side of roads, gas stations etc. The pastries are always here too, but don’t eat to many…they’re aren’t exactly good for your waistline. Have you ever had a quesito though? Next time you’re down, you better get one and a small cafe con leche. Mid morning snack of champions.

Avocado and Pastry at a Puerto Rico Bakery

Avocado and Pastry at a Puerto Rico Bakery

Home Exchange Adventures – Sydney Tastes Wine

First Taste of WineMany of you may already know this, but if you do not, we completed our first home exchange with a wonderful family in Spain this summer. Trading homes, cars and animals for a few weeks is an experience money can’t buy and we highly recommend it.

We have been back in Puerto Rico for a little over a month now but our work schedules have been bringing us off the island regularly and we haven’t had time to post many of the pictures or videos from Spain. Although, I would really like to make a giant post with details of all of our adventures, I think it will be in everybody’s interest to post a few short teasers so we can get SOMETHING to you.

Here is a video of Sydney tasting moms wine at the market in Santander, Spain.

Equal Rights For Consumers in Puerto Rico

PR and USA License PlateIt should go without saying that residents in Puerto Rico should be treated fairly and not be discriminated against. Whether it be because they are Americans, they are Puerto Ricans or because they live on this awesome island called Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. As an American in Puerto Rico I have experienced discrimination within Puerto Rico and as a Puerto Rico resident, I have experienced discrimination from American companies that treat residences of Puerto Rico differently simply because we live in Puerto Rico.

I am going to give a few examples of my personal experiences of discrimination while living in Puerto Rico. Before I start, I think it is important to let all of you know how much I love it here and how much I love my friends and neighbors. Pride of heritage is one of the admirable qualities of all the Puerto Ricans I know and since I didn’t grow up with that nationalistic enthusiasm, I want to make sure I don’t offend any of mí gente in PR.

Americans Discriminated Against in Puerto Rico

Prejudice in Puerto RicoMuch like the places I have lived in the United States, generalizing an entire population of an area just doesn’t work when trying to map out prejudice and discrimination. For example, when I lived in North Carolina, most of the people I met greeted me with open arms, but there were some that were so prejudiced against Yankee’s (I’m from New Jersey) that they would ignore my very existence in a room. These people were the minority and despite their ill behavior towards me, I absolutely loved Wilmington, North Carolina and consider it one of the safest most amazing places I have ever lived.

Well, the same type of discrimination goes on here in Puerto Rico. There is a minority of people on the island that just don’t care for the Americans that have made the island their home. I do my best to ignore these people and give them the space their vibe, or sometimes their voice, is asking for.

More common than the low percentage of Puerto Ricans that don’t want Americans on their island, are Puerto Rican’s that see all American’s as independently wealthy adults or trust fund kids. These are the types of people that steal and overcharge Americans. The thieves will break into rental cars, houses, hotel rooms and steal things from tourists. The overchargers are businesses and services that offer “Gringo Pricing” versus what they charge the locals. I have had encounters with both types of people, but experience Gringo Pricing regularly to this day.

I usually get Gringo pricing when working on the house. Prices change when I call for material costs versus one of my fluent Puerto Rican friends. I regularly ask my neighbors to call when getting estimates and supplies costs on construction supplies, manual labor estimates and backhoe, digger and power equipment rentals. I’m lucky to have such awesome neighbors and Sydney is lucky to have 3 abuelas that live right up the driveway.

Puerto Rican Discriminated Against By American Companies

By far, the most aggravating discrimination that everyone in Puerto Rico deals with on a regular basis regardless of their birth right to the island is shipping of goods when shopping online. Many retailers try to charge international rates or refuse to ship because they don’t want to deal with customs. Ignorance leads this parade of retailers because shipping to Puerto Rico can be done via ‘ground shipping’ with both USPS & FedEx and the United States Post Office offers PO Boxes and the same shipping rates as shipping from California to New York. That’s right, same price, no customs and no special rates needed yet many retailers discriminate against Puerto Rico and refuse to ship here. Up until recently, the biggest offenders in my book were Amazon and Apple. Both of these companies have overturned their no shipping or overpriced shipping options to Puerto Rico. Apple did it on their own, but it took a lawsuit to start offering reasonable shipping rates again.
Shipping To Puerto Rico
In 2010, the Government of Puerto Rico started DACO which is a Anti-Discrimination Commercial Office to fight consumer complaints and descrimination against Puerto Rico. Amongst the 250 companies in the states that DACO has contacted in regards to either offering reasonable shipping rates or some type of shipping was Amazon. From what I read in in this article, DACO actually took Amazon to court and one getting Amazon to offer Prime Shipping services as well as reasonably priced per order shipping prices to the consumers of Puerto Rico!

We need equal rights for consumers in Puerto Rico!

The reason I even decided to write this post was because a friend of mine told me she just saved $100 when booking a flight on United Airlines for putting a U.S. billing address instead of her Puerto Rico billing address. I sent her the link to file a complaint with DACO about being discriminated against. Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear your take on all this stuff.

Active Atlantic Hurricanes This Week

There is a bunch of active storms in the Atlantic this week. There is one tropical storm off of Puerto Rico and two hurricanes. One of the hurricanes, Gabrielle, is just south of Bermuda and the other hurricane, Humberto, is just off the Cape Verde islands. Neither of them appear to be a threat to Puerto Rico, but you never know so it’s best to be prepared.

Active Atlantic Hurricanes September 11, 2013

All of the upper level winds and sheer between us and Humberto will make it pretty hard for it to hit Puerto Rico. It is most likely going to pass well North of us if it even makes it that far. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we may get some waves from it. There is also a tropical system North East of Puerto Rico blowing a lot of wind and rain but it hasn’t shown any sign of cyclone formation but I am going to keep a close eye on it. It looks like Gabrielle may keep heading North (through Bermuda) and generate some hurricane swell for the North East. Man, it sure seems like Bermuda gets hit with lots of storms.

How To Choose, Prepare and Eat a Starfruit

Since moving to Puerto Rico, we have planted, grown and tried all sorts of different tropical fruits. So far, my favorite is the starfruit, or carambola. When I tell people this and they tell me that they don’t like starfruit, I figure that they must just be doing it wrong ;). Choosing and preparing a starfruit is very simple as long as you know what you are looking for.

Starfruit Carabola in Puerto Rico

How to choose a ripe starfruit: Starfruits come in green (not ripe), yellow (ripe) and orange (over ripe). The best time to eat a starfruit is right off of the tree, which is why those expensive starfruit that you find in your big box grocery store taste like nothing exciting (or even gross) and should really only be used for fancy drink garnishes. If you live in the tropics and can get fresh starfruit, be stoked, and move on to the next paragraph…

How to eat a starfruit / carambola: There are two ways to eat a starfruit, pick it up and eat it like an apple, or cut it up. If you choose to just dive right in and eat it like an apple, go for it! I prefer to nibble the tough ridges off of the lobes, spit those out and eat the juicy lobes then toss the core. When I eat them like this, I don’t feel like I’m getting enough and have to eat several starfruit to get my fix. Personally, I prefer to spend an extra minute to cut up the starfruit for maximum edibility.

How to prepare and cutup a starfruit:

1. Wash your starfruit. I organically grow my own starfruit, but it’s always a good idea to give them a good rinse before preparing or eating.

2. Cut off one end of the starfruit. I start preparing my starfruit by cutting off the end and standing it up on the cut end for preparation of step 3.

Preparing a starfruit

3. Trim off the edges. Starfruit grows 5 distinct lobes that come to a point. The edge of the lobes are a little bit tough (although not inedible), so I prefer to trim off the edges. I very lightly trim the 5 edges, like you are peeling/skinning something.

Trimming removing starfruit edges

4. Slice the starfruit. Cut the starfruit into 1/2″ – 1″ slices. OMG they look like stars! :)

How to cut a starfruit carambola

5. Remove the seeds. I take the end of the knife and poke the seeds out of the center of the starfruit. There are not that many seeds, so this takes very little time.

starfruit seeds removing seeds from carambola

6. Enjoy! Eat your delicious starfuit, throw them in some sangria or garnish a favorite dish or drink.

How to eat starfruit carambola with dragonfruit yum

While I prefer my starfruit / carambola cut, starfruit was my daughters first solid food and she definitely preferred them whole. Check her trying to devour this starfruit at 5 months old (Note the windmill arms anytime it was taken from her…hilarious!):

Looking to try starfruit for yourself? Look, you can get 3 whole starfruit on Amazon for…$932.88! Hahaha. Wtf?

San Juan Airport Parking Prices

I am posting this to the blog because I would like to reference this price list more easily than digging through my pictures in iPhoto. This post is more for me than anyone else, but if you happen to bump into our site trying to figure out how much it’s going to cost you to park at the airport in San Juan (San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International) and go check out another island or fly to the mainland than I hope this has been helpful.

It seems every time I try to calculate the costs and time of flying versus driving I end up with a wildcard of parking at the airport.

Right now, I am trying to figure out if it is worth driving to SJU for a five day trip to florida or if I should fly on Cape Air. I’ll post a Cape Air schedule in and out of Mayaguez as well. The drive fron Rincon to San Juan is only about 90 miles but it takes anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on the traffic. If you fly out of Mayaguez on Cape Air you only need to show up about 10 minutes before your flight leaves and off you go.

Parking Garage Prices at San Juan Airport

San Juan Airport Parking Prices

San Juan Airport Parking Prices

Cape Air Flight Schedule – Rincon(ish) to San Juan

Cape Air Puddle Jumper Mayaguez to San Juan - July 2013

Cape Air Puddle Jumper Mayaguez to San Juan – July 2013

FYI: For this trip, 5 days parking, gas to SJU and tolls costs $5 more than a single round trip ticket on Cape Air. Since the entire family is going, we will save about $260 by driving to San Juan. The downside is the time spent in the car, but it is only about an hour more than the time we would have spent flying to San Juan and waiting for our flight. Spirit Air and Cape Air schedules don’t line up very well.

How to Make a Hibiscus Hedge From Clippings – It’s Free and Easy!

We’ve just about hit the rainy season here in Puerto Rico, so tis the season to plant, plant, plant! All of the trees that we’ve planted over the last few years have finally blown up and our property is looking pretty lush. This season I am focusing on more detailed planting to make it look a bit more finished. Today, I planted a couple of hibiscus hedges, so I figured I would give a little tutorial on how to make a hibiscus hedge because, not only do they look nice, it’s super easy and free!

1. Get your tools together. If you are super lazy all you really need is snips and something to make a small hole in the ground (if your soil is hard). Today I used snips to cut some pieces off a hibiscus plant that was due for a trim, a pick axe to remove the grass where I wanted to plant the hedge and a pry bar to make the holes in the ground to stick my hibiscus clipping in.

2. Trim off some branches from an established hibiscus. Don’t have a hibiscus plant? Offer to trim your neighbors, or go on a midnight hibiscus trimming mission at a local park. When you trim them, cut them at a bit of an angle.

3. Use a pickaxe, shovel or hoe, to make your line for the hedge. I cleared away the grass so that weeding/mowing will be easier while the hedge establishes itself. If you’re lazy, you don’t have to do this part. I’ve made hedges without clearing the grass and they did just fine. This time I am making the hedge a bit curved, so this gives me a bit of a line to follow when planting the clippings.

4. Stick the hibiscus clippings in the ground 6″ – 12″ apart. If your ground is hard, use something to make a little hole. I used a pry bar, but you can also use a piece of rebar and a hammer to make a perfect little hole for hibiscus clippings. When making the holes for the hibiscus clippings, make them at a bit of an angle so the the clippings crisscross each other like an X. When they crisscross like this, it make a perfect, full hedge once the clippings start growing in.

5. Water your new hedge a lot. You want to keep it consistently moist until the clippings develop roots. I water once a day until I can see new green growth, but I live in the tropics where it is pretty moist. You may need to water more often to get hibiscus clippings to take off in a dryer climate.

Here is a hibiscus hedge that I planted last year and it has grown to well over 8ft tall. It normally has lots of red hibiscus flowers, but I just trimmed them all off to make a new hedge:

Hibiscus hedge made from clippings

And there you have it. How to make a hibiscus hedge for free! I prefer “living fences” and hedges are a great way to section off parts of your property as well as giving it a more landscaped feel.

Building A Rain Barrel in Puerto Rico

Our weather in Puerto Rico is awesome. We have two main seasons, wet & dry, and they are both great. The wet season temperatures range from lows of 75 to highs of 100 and the dry season temperatures range from lows of 75 to highs of 90. Luckily, I go to work in board shorts year around.

The Wet Season

The wet season consists of almost daily rain in the afternoons for an hour or two with the occasional full days sprinkle/storm. When we do get rain, it’s usually a pretty amazing show of natures strength. We don’t get many New Jersey-esque all day light rain. When we get it, the flood gates open up, you can feel the thunder shake the house and the lightning shows are awesome.

The Dry Season

The dry season down here cools off considerably after the summer heat and the rains slow down. We still get afternoon showers but the consistency of them slows down and usually by January 1st, afternoon showers are scarce and the land starts to dry up. By March the entire countryside is yellow and dry and only the strongest tree’s keep their leaves. Locals take this opportunity to burn the hillsides to rid themselves of the long yellow grass, dried up choker vines (like Pica Pica and burn down the tree’s that aren’t strong enough to survive the annual droughts. It’s during these dry spells that we need to regularly water all of our plants with city water.

Click for Full Size Panoramic of the Dry Yard

Click for Full Size Panoramic of the Dry Yard

I took this picture using the Panoramic feature on my iPhone. It’s not the best picture but it absolutely illustrates how dry our yard gets towards the end of the dry season. I think this picture was taken in March 2013.

Also, this video of Tres Palmas waves shows extremely yellow grass in the foreground…and a big swell breaking in the background.

Watering our plants with city water is a bummer. First of all, we have to pay for it! And second, it doesn’t seem like city water really helps the plants do anything but survive. Regardless of how much we water, our plants simply survive. We don’t see them flourish. However, as soon as the first rain hits, our entire property changes from yellow grass and wilted leaves (if there are any leaves left at all) to a brilliant green. I’m not a scientist but these two facts force me to the conclusion that water from the sky is better for the plants health and building a homemade rain barrel is better for my wallet.

Building Our DIY Rain Barrel

DIY Rain Barrel Kit

DIY Rain Barrel Kit

I was able to build most of this project with things I had around the house (I’m a packrat) leftover from construction. What we didn’t have, we ordered from Amazon via a kit.

This is what I had;

  • Plastic 60 Gallon Drum
  • 2″ PVC Pipe (same size as downspouts)
  • 2″ PVC 45’s
  • 2″ PVC Couplings
  • 2″ PVC 90
  • 2″ to 1 1/2″ PVC Reduce

The key parts we needed that we didn’t have were ordered from Amazon;

  • 1/2 inch hole cutting bit
  • 1/2 threaded gaskets
  • 1/2 spigot
  • 1/2 inch drain valve/cap

If you’re looking to buy the same kit Summer and I got, here is a link to the product on Amazon – rain barrel kit

DIY Rain Barrel Was Fast and Easy

When I finally go to constructing the rain barrels, it only took me about 10 minutes from start to finish which included getting my tools and putting them away when I was done. Building a rain barrel at home is super easy and fast.

Our life in Rincon, Puerto Rico…