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Indiana, United States
Debt free empty nesters...ready to stretch our wings. Life is good and we plan on making it even better. This blog is mostly about our trips to Vieques Puerto Rico, with a few odds and ends thrown in about our life after the mortgage.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Gordian Knot.....

Back home for a few days now. Trying to acclimate to the normalcy (but as I will explain later this is all a matter of perspective)  of having such novel amenities as electricity (other than from a generator), gasoline (that you didn't wait in line for, for over 4 hours), abundant cell/internet service, and just a general life pace that rivals the CERN particle accelerator, is difficult, to say the least. Trying to find a way to explain what I experienced in the last 6 weeks, post Maria,  in a way that really conveys my raw, visceral, experience is akin to untying a gordian knot. But here it goes....

This whole trip was suppose to be our normal, well as normal as possible, November trip to Vieques.  Maria be damned, I was going anyway. As I've explained in earlier posts, securing a vehicle was the lynchpin, without it we weren't going. Enter Jeff Blanding, the owner of Pure Vida in Esperanza. Jeff, through Vieques Peeps Facebook, offered me the use of his car. Through our correspondence,  I decided to meet Jeff and his father Dave, at Pure Vida and stay at his house. The plan was to work on his house in return for the use of his car and his house. Before I go any further I also need to thank Frank Misplon and Ed Wintle who also offered, not only a vehicle, but also a place to stay.  

Having the vehicle secured,  the trip was a go. We had initially planned on flying VAL out of SJU, but due to their weight restrictions,  plus the uncertainty of even being able to fly out of Isla Grande, we changed to Cape Air. Cape air, in what was a generous and smart business decision, changed their ticket prices back to what the used to be. $90 each way. Bravo, Cape Air. 

 The need for the extra weight was do to the fact that I was checking  a generator, which totally shot one 50lb weight allowance. We flew down to SJU on United,  who at first at the ticket counter, would not allow me to check the boxed generator? When I quoted to the ticketing agent (who, believe it or not was from Puerto Rico living in Indianapolis, talk about small world) United's own baggage policy...which she made a couple of phone calls to verify, I was allowed to check the generator, albeit with a $100 overweight charge. The thing is, the generator had to be new in box, United's policy. The generator  itself weighed 47 lbs, the boxed generator weighed 53 lbs, They wouldn't budge on that little detail and in the process netted an extra $100. Cape Air got me for $40. So..the $470 generator ended up costing me $610. So much for there being a natural disaster and all. 

SJU was fine except that a large portion of the airport is closed. Electrical outlets to charge a phone are hard to find, very hard,  and when you do find one there's a large crowd already plugged in to what I, just a few hours prior, regarded as a given, readily available, resource. We waited at the ticketing counter to board. No gate. This was much like it used to be when Cape Air was downstairs at the airport. 

Flying out of SJU over Puerto Rico on Cape Air allowed me to see Maria's wrath. That and a sea of blue tarps, which I would learn a lot more about in the coming weeks. 

All the  operations at the Vieques airport are downstairs now. The upstairs is closed off as it is damaged. Lyman is still open, but very limited hours. Jeff was waiting at the  dark airport to pick us up. No phone service. It was a strange beginning to our journey. 

It was raining when we arrived and as it was to turn out, it rained almost ALL of November. An absolute crazy November. Jeff and his father had arrived a few days prior to Lorrie and I. He had no electricity (no generator until I got there), no water and no cell service at all. His house had lost the roofing on the porch and the gazebo. The wifi antenna on the roof had blown off. The dryer had blown off the back porch. Even the license plate had blown off the car we were going to use. So Lorrie and I entered a dark house, absent of any running water or electricity. Jeff showed us what bottled water he had and gave us a rundown on how they were catching rainwater to flush toilets. Talk about a baptism by fire. 

First order of business was to unpack and fire up the generator I had brought with me. It was a Predator 2000 watt inverter I bought at Harbor Freight.  Chinese made, but worked like a champ. I even converted it over to propane, via a snorkel kit you can buy, just prior to  leaving Vieques. 

Difficult to see, but I had to build a bracket to hold the regulator and then pipe (hoses) propane to the regulator and then from the regulator into the carburetor. You have to take the front off the carburetor and then insert the snorkel into the carb opening, disabling the choke. There's a prime button on the back of the regulator.  It took me just a few hours, but I had to fab a bracket, which you can buy, to hold the regulator. If I hadn't of had to do that it wouldn't have taken long at all. Ran like a champ. Took a bit more to start on propane, but no waiting in gas line. Costs a bit more to run the propane also. You can see the chain. Yes..they were stealing generators, so you have to lock them up. 

After Jeff and I got the generator running it was time for Lorrie and I to have our introduction to what we affectionately name "bucket baths." We used rain water to bath with. One quickly realizes how much water one uses when your relying on rain water to bath and flush toilets with. Our bathroom mantra was "if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down." Hope that's not TMI, but it's the reality of the situation we were in. 

Jeff had brought down some packaged food. He made some jerky that was kickass. We made  a run to Lydias and bought a few provisions, cash only. We ended our first day at Bananas. Fish tacos and rum punch. That combination was to become my standby meal. I ate that nearly every day for almost 6 weeks. Didn't even have to ask when I walked into Bananas. Lea or Kelly brought me a rum punch and a few minutes later it was fish tacos and lentil salad. The fact that what few places that are open are able to make such great food and atmosphere all off of generator power, moreso given the gas situation, was unbelievable. 

Kurt and Kelly at Bananas have done a fantastic job and took me in as one of their own. An unexpected benefit of being on island when things are so bad and there are so few tourists (if any at all),  is having the time to get to know locals and business owners on a much more personal level that ever would have been possible. That experience I wouldn't trade for anything. 

And now for the damage to the Malecon. I was amazed at how much had been cleaned up, but also taken back at how powerful Maria was and how extensive the damage:

The below photos is tubular stainless steel, about 1 1/2 diameter. It was totally smashed.

It was a shock. A lot of the railing along the Malecon was gone and there are big pieces of rebar sticking out. Some areas of the paving blocks are gone or sunken. La Nasa was destroyed. That is the point there the ocean washed away the Malecon itself. They have that area boarded off. The whole Malecon will have to be rebuilt. There was this monster debris pile across the road from the Green Store than was slowly being hauled away. By the time I left the island it was substantially smaller than this video:

When we first arrived,  Bananas, Lazy Jacks and El Block where the only options on the Malecon. Cholies was open, but seemed closed for the last couple of weeks I was there. I know it is really hard on Choli. His entire business is basically gone this season, as is a lot of businesses on Vieques. We ate at Cholies twice, and yes..we were the only ones there:

Its a real dichotomy. The small business need tourist $'s desperately, but the island isn't really ready for tourists, yet. I dunno what's going to happen, nor how some of the smaller entities will survive. It's sad.

With just a handful of places open on the Malecon, it was all about Lazy Jacks after 7 or 8pm and the same old crowd would show up just about every evening (more of that intimacy I mentioned earlier). Stewart had 1/2 price pizzas going and the place was sort of busy, which felt good. One night I met Neal, a physician who owns a place in Esperanza. In a Medalla, rum punch, and some other medications I can't remember, conversation... he pulled out his guitar and blew my socks off:

We attended the opening of El Block, and there was a great turn out. Once again, I was amazed at the atmosphere created on generator power and very limited resources:

But there was one wonderful surprise at El Block! Hot water in the bathrooms! I felt like crawling up into the sink to bathe. 

It wasn't all rum punches and wild nights on the Malecon. Day two saw me diving into Jeffs gazebo roof. Which was followed by his front porch roof, then some plumbing work, then a dryer install, cut down and hung a slab interior door and finally a new set of steps coming off the back porch. 

I had mentioned Frank and Ed earlier in this post. Frank had a packag that he sent to me to deliver to his caretakers. We managed to find them in the first few days and get them the package. Then we arranged to meet Ed who also offered us a place to stay and a vehicle. Ed has two houses on the north side. The one house in Bastemento I was familiar with and agreed to meet him over at it and help assess damages, he hadn't seen it yet. Upon seeing the damages Ed was noticeably upset. I told him not to worry, I would take care of some repairs he needed to his upper story handrail.

 Lorrie and I secured the materials from Nales the next morning and by noon I had his handrail replaced. Wasn't much for me, as I was right in my element. Ed saw it as a monumental accomplishment. I was glad to do it.

I also did some work for the owner of Los Cocos. Jenni had lost a lot of palms, although the name Los Cocos is still fitting. I had a chainsaw and went over to drop the ones that had lost tops and would never recover:

Jenni had ask me to leave this one with a taller stump. She was wanting a "redneck" clothesline. Hold my beer and kids, don't do this at home.

We also did get a couple beach days those first two weeks. Sunbay, Media Luna and Navio were are only choices. All the refuge beaches were closed and still are as of this writing. Sun Bay is changed. It is not the manicured crescent beach with tons of shade trees. A lot of the palms and other trees are gone. Most all of the palms were growing new tops. It will just take some time, but it will come back. 

Our only access to internet was the Subway and Tsunami on the north. For our first two weeks everyone was there in the morning. Nothing was open on the south side until noon, other than Lydias and the green store, so most migrated over to Tsunami to get a breakfast sandwich and connect to the web. I'll admit than when I heard that a subway was going to open on Vieques a few years ago I was not happy at all about it. It felt like the carpetbaggers reaching their tentacles into Vieques with the intent on changing it into every other caribbean island. But I can now say that without that Subway, life would be much worse on Vieques. They brought in a huge generator and powered the place as if nothing had happened. Even had pressured water in the bathrooms.

Given the conditions we were living in having pressurized water was a luxury. The cherry on top of it all was the free wifi. There was no place on Vieques at that time to get onto the internet. So that was a godsend. I will always try ot patronize that subway on Vieques. What they have and are providing is really helping people out.

Jeff and his father left Vieques only a couple days after Lorrie and I arrived. It was about a week later that we got water  in Esperanza and man did we ever appreciate it. We learned, as most of the residents on Vieques know, that you can deal without having electricity, but not having water is tough, really tough. 

No more bucket showers. We were thrilled to have a cold pressurized shower. We were also able to finally do some laundry. We were told to boil the water. We opted to just use bottled water for coffee and drinking. We had brought a lifestraw family filter, but had plenty of bottled water. The military had come by and dropped off a couple cases, which we greatly appreciated. 

The gas situation was horrendous. Gas lines were of biblical proportions and there was never a guarantee one would even be able to get gas, as they ran out constantly.I got skunked more than once.   not a great feeling to wait 4 hours only to be turned away. That was and still is as of this writing a very real issue on Vieques. 

The below video is the line starting at the intersection of 200 and 997, by what I affectionately refer to as the "vegetable museum." This is at least a 4 hour line:

It's terrible and what's even worse there was a strike with the ferry and we went for a long time with zero gas on island. I just talked to friends on island this morning and it's gotten worse. To the point that they've moved vehicles from houses they manage to their house because they're afraid of having fuel lines cut and gasoline stolen. It was tougher for us because all we had were a couple of 1 1/2 gallon gas cans. I was using over a gallon of gas a night for the generator. It was imperative that we run the generator at night for the fans. The mosquitos were like I've never seen them before and fans were the only thing that would give you relief.  It didn't seem possible to me to sleep without fans unless you were up high and had a constant wind. 

It wasn't long before we fell into a routine. Me fueling and firing up the generator in the evening. Lorrie bringing in the solar lights she had put out in the morning. Lorrie strategically placed lights that were on motion sensors so that one could move throughout the house in have plenty of light to manage. We had three different lights with us. The  inflatable Luci lights were by far the fav on the island and because of demand were out of stock on Amazon at the time. The brightest motion sensor we had were the urpower lights. These were really bright and worked fabulous for us. We had two of these TomCare lights also. These sat on the table better than the urpower lights. But didn't last as long, nor were as bright. Between the 8 solar lights we had there was plenty of light to make it manageable at night. You'll need to find ways to place them so that, say for instance, when you get up to go the bathroom at night, you have light. Or if you need to make coffee in the kitchen. It's a matter of trial and error. Lorrie did a great job of figuring it all out. 

I had been quite busy doing projects for people on island and a few days before I was to leave, I was approached by ViequesLove and asked if I would be willing to stay to help put on roofs for people who were in dire need. I met with Brittany from Vieques love and  Liz from the Red Cross. Lorrie and I talked and I agreed to stay on for another month, solo, to do roof repairs. 

I'll stop here for now and continue my solo journey in the next post.