Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thanksgiving at an eco resort

On Thanksgiving, during a morning walk through nearly deserted Old San Juan, we learned that on Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico everything is closed: shops, restaurants, even fast food places.

We got a bit worried, because around noon we were leaving El Convento and San Juan, heading to an eco resort at El Junque - Puertorican rain forest.

Consequently, even roadstands, which usually serve tasty local fare, like lechon asado, pollo al carbon, etc. and an abundance of fruits and other snacks, were closed, so we arrived at Rio Grande Eco Resort quite hungry, but the resort manager immediately ordered the resort kitchen open and within less than 15 minutes we were served fresh fruits, juices, sallad, rolls and a - way too large, but tasty - cheese omelet with veggies.

I admit that we used most of the rolls to feed the turtles, having chosen a table on a patio, near the turtle pond.

After brunch wedecided to explore the resort. It is sprawling on 40 acres of an 300 years old former sugar plantation.

There is an abundance of hiking trails, a jogging path, a baseball court and a Rio Grande River runs through the resort.

The resort has aseveral family style two story "villas" - that can accomodate up to 8 people

and a few double rooms.

All villas have large balconies overlooking the resort's garden and its large and inviting pool

We barely have time to enjoy the river, nature trails and the pool, when the Thanksgiving buffet dinner was served at 5:30. It was a traditional American style Thanksgiving fare, albeit with a tropical twist.

'We did not have to worry about being hungry on Thanksgiving' mused Daughter when we lingered in the torch lit bamboo walk, casually mingling with the other guests 'I am as stuffed as the turkey'.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Enjoying El Convento

Daughter flew in from Atlanta yesterday afternoon and after driving through Isla Verde and Condado, we reached Old San Juan, where we booked a room in the converted convent, El Convento, now one of "the best small luxury hotels of the world".

El Convento has plenty of charm. The rooms look like they are taken from an old convent - which they are - and equipped with some modern amenities (Flat screen TV, Bose music box). Outside the rooms are long, charming corridors, open to patio El Nispero, where breakfasts and lunches are served

I, a newly minted Puerto Rico resident, loved the patio, shaded by a 200 year old nispero tree, but Daughter, an Atlanta dweller (= lots of trees, lots of shade, not much sun in most of the houses there), who is a sun worshipper extraordinaire, chose to make a - charming - nuisance of herself, and asked that all her meals - whether those from the patio or from the fabulous tapas and paella restaurant El Picoteo
be served on the hotel's garden terrace, a place with a nice view of the cathedral, the city and the sea and which had sun ALL day long. And the staff was mostly happy to oblige.

On the floor above the garden terrace there is another terrace with a cute swimming pool and jacuzzi and an even more magnicent view of the city and the sea. A great place to relax after Viejo San Juan sightseeing and shopping.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I moved today ... again

Again. To my second place in Puerto Rico. This apartment is a large - and a quite spartan- studio , but directly overlooking the ocean. It is located in a 4 unit apartment building: two one bedroom units on the ground floor and two studios - same size as the downstairs one bedroom units, just differently configured - upstairs. Large terrace with a table and chairs plus a hammock for ech unit, separate entrances, even separate stairs to each of the upstairs apartments. A huge lawn in front of the building with two coconut palms, some plastic chaises and stairs down to the beach. Nice. And far from any construction noise. Richt now all the other apartments are empty, but they are all reserved for the high season of December through April.

This move was pretty uneventful: no furniture to move, just a few personal belongings thrown into a large car and driven half a mile. Then unloaded. I can live with moves like this one :-)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Amazing results

I checked my blood sugar levels this morning and it was perfect - and I did not take a drop of insulin in 48 hours and only a half of my glucophage dose! In fact, after eating 3 dates equal to about 20 grams of sugar my blood sugar raised no higher than to 120!

Of course my semi fast for 2 1/5 days after my emergency room visit contributed to it undoubtedly, but I already ate a full living food lunch (raw lasagna, rollies, greens, sprouts, kale, tomato dressing) and a gourmet living food dinner last night (vegetarian sushi, raw green soup, raw vegan pizza) at 'Natural High' in Rincon and my results are close to miraculous.

And most of the credit for my diabetes reversal needs - undoubtedly - to go to living foods and Ann Wigmore's Natural Health Institute that propagates and teaches it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Buying a car in Puerto Rico

It is a sad truth than when you live in Puerto Rico, outside of San Juan, which has some public communications in form of buses and a train, you need a car more than anything else (other than lodging, of course) .

It dawned on me already during my second day here, when I dropped off - at Aguadilla airport - my rental car, which took me from San Juan's airport to the west coast. The cost of a one day car rental from Hertz was $44 (with unlimited milage) + gas, the coast of a taxi ride from the nearest car rental to my new place ( less than 15 km) was $35!

It became even more obvious a few days later, when I wanted to visit a farmacy, a grocery store, etc. Puerto Rico - at least the part I live in (a rural area close to the beach between the municipalities of Rincon and Aguada) - is not walkable. The road is narrow, traffic fast and furious, no side walks of any kind + there is a new road or bridge construction going on on my way to anywhere, where driving alone is dangerous - since the part of the road that is open, is so narrow - and walking would be outright suicidal!

So for the last four weeks I was mostly stuck - and had to coordinate (read: beg) rides with colleagues who had cars and took pity on me - for the most pressing shopping trips.

Thus I soon started to look for a car, but first I had to make a decision of what type of car did I actually want, need, and was willing to purchase. Not having a car to take me to dealers I started looking at, a good place to find a lots of things: real estate, rentals, cars, both new and used, appliances, furniture, even jobs, if you wanted – or needed – to be gainfully employed here.

Well, if I were going to do a lot of mountain driving, the safest bet would be a jeep or something similar, I thought… and almost fell for a cute 2-seater, Suzuki Sidekick. But they cost a pretty penny here and - not being sure how long I would stay in Puerto Rico I preferred to avoid spending so much money for something I might need for 6 months or so and the hassle of having to sell it if/ when I decided to leave. When I was in the midst of hesitating, one of the colleagues offer to lend me her old car for a week or so, so that I could be temporarily unstuck and could go see several possible choices.

I accepted – and – after finding out that she was no longer using that car, and no longer needed it, I asked if she would sell it to me. She hesitated a bit, insisted that the car go first to a mechanic, who would thoroughly check it out and fix whatever might need to be fixed, so that I could avoid any unpleasant surprises, agreed to sell it to me after I drove it, inspected and fixed, for another two weeks or so, to be dead sure that I really wanted to buy it.

And in that way I became a – so far tentative – owner of an old, but in decent working condition - Chevy Lumina – for $700!

P.S. I noticed that this blog post is frequently accessed by people searching for buying a car in Puerto Rico and - since this car purchase was a bust, I would like to refer them to the blog of my once neighbor, Chris, who successfully bought a short-term car at first attempt, while for me it took two. And you might also check out the dilemma you might be facing, when you buy a car in PR, what to do with it once you decide to leave the island.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday at an emergency room

Rebellion - there is always a price to pay for it, isn't there?

I was slightly rebelling yesterday against the institute's blended day: there are three of them every first week of the program to help new program participants cleanse their bodies, and one day the second week. They are appreciated by program participants, but for some staff they can get slightly boring with time, as it did for me yesterday, so I was rebelling: first eating almost nothing the entire day and in the evening going to supper at one of the nearby roadstands. Usually, I was told, the road stands in Puerto Rico offer tasty local fare, but I got yesterday far more than I bargained for : an e-coli, most likely in the spring sallad!

I was sick like a dog all night, so sick, I thought I was going to die. I was unable to leave the bed and thought - wise after the damage - that, especially considering that I live alone - I should have been far better prepared for an emergency. As it were, I was in a new place, and haven't yet recorded any of my new colleague's and new local friend's private phone numbers, so I had nobody to call for help, my apartment was locked from the inside so nobody could get to me without breaking out the door if I was unable to open it myself, and - worse of all - I forgot to place my cell phone on my night stand and for many, many scary hours I could not get up and reach it even to call 911.

I was conscious all that time, save for an awful abdominal pain etc. (I'll best spare you the disgusting details), but when I tried to even sit on my bed , I felt so dizzy, that I could not get up, until finally, many hours later, I managed to sit down, then raise myself to a near standing position and... fell on the closet door. From there, one painfully small step after the other, feeling like on an out of control merry-go-round, hugging the closet, then a wall, I was finally able to reach the bathroom.

Then, on my way back, now a tad more experienced in that - walking the walls - skill, I ventured a long trip to the apartment door, unlocked it, and grabbed my cell phone from the dining room table on the way back to my bed. Then I was too exhausted for a few more hours to use the cell, but when I did, I called my employer, left a message and fell asleep.

In the morning I discovered how caring both my employer and my coworkers were: one of the director's Leola Brooks (called by all here "everybody's favorite grandma") visited me, helped me to check my blood sugar (which was awfully high due to infection) and my blood pressure (which was stratospheric) and suggested gently that I should go to an emergency room immediately.

I agreed and she helped me to get dressed and dispatched a bilingual colleague with me to the emergency room in Rincon. And when I came back from the emergency room I discovered that the institute's housekeeping staff has not only cleaned the mess I made that night, but my entire apartment, and washed and dried my bed linens and towels. Boy, was I grateful.

At the emergency room I was immediately examined by a doctor ( who was informed of my high blood pressure and all other symptoms even before I arrived) and then put in a bed for observation, hooked to an oxygen tank, given a drop, an EKG, taken a battery of blood - and other tests - given a medication and .... realeased after about 5 hours, feeling almost human again. I was instructed to be carefull eating sallads at rodside stands.

The emergency room bill was - perhaps - the biggest shocker: $ 95 for all that! Full price, for the uninsured, since my employee's health insurance has not kicked in, yet.

Can any of you, living in the USA believe that?

There are benefits to be "just" a commonwealth territory, and not a state: efficient, effective and extremely affordable health care for all!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A busy Monday

There are two construction projects going on next to my ill-chosen first Puertorican apartment, one a villa and the other a 77 unit condo project with a swimming pool etc, so it is recently no problem for me to get up at 6 am (when the noise of construction machines starts), but today I skipped yoga on the beach and headed almost straight to work, stopping only for about 15 minutes to jump on a trampoline ( since it apparently wakes up our lymphatic system) , then at a wheat grass juicer and was at work before 7 am. And am still here, although I stopped working some 15 minutes ago. Well, yes, I took an hour for lunch and instead of eating my energy soup (it is a blended day at the institute - sort of a semi-fast and today I am sort of rebelling against it) went to take a dip in the sea. I also took an hour for dinner and went for a long walk on the beach (after eating a couple of spoon fulls of energy soup with blended papaya - starvation is not my goal). The sunset was breathtaking and I again regretted having left my camera. (the photo is from flickr by feivel2010)

But now, after working 11 hours - some retirement! - I feel tired, so I'll probably be heading straight to my apartment to enjoy the night silence - a nice, though brief, respite from the noise of the construction work allowing me to read and to sleep - untill - hopefully - 6 am tomorrow (sometimes they start at 5:30).
Lucky for me I found a replacement to my apartment - a little, secluded place directly on the beach, and will be moving again next Sunday.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A glorious Sunday

It's such a glorious day: the surf is up, up, the waves crash with strength on the beach and on the rocks, where parts of the beach totally disappear under the waves, when the tide is so high.
All morning I could hear the crashing sound of the waves while doing my laundry (don't you just love doing laundry in the tropics? the washing machines are outdoors, but under a roof - in case it rains - right next to a traditional pila, and nearby are the clothes lines, so alive with colors, after you hang your laundry in the fresh air), and when I finally got to the beach, attempting to do some swimming in a semi protected from the current cove, I was bombarded by coconuts, dislodged by the waves, rolling back and forth, lots of them rolling back and forth and some hitting me. A bit too intense "massage" if you ask me.

The beach is fringed with coconut palms and every day we pick sprouted coconuts from the beach and bring them to the institutes's coconut shed, where one of our macho chefs will open them with a machete ( I ain't brave enough - yet - to use a machete on a coconut myself, although, when I lived in the cloud forest of Costa Rica four years ago, I had my own machete - ha! - and was becoming quite handy at using it... at least in my own opinion... the real pros smiled politely after they stepped back to a safe distance) to get to the spongy texture of a coconut that has sprouted, being exposed to both sun and sea water. Its flesh taste like a cotton candy, only better... and it's good for you, too :-).

It became quite hot in the early afternoon (94 f) so I came to my office for a couple of hours to cool myself (my office has ac, while my apartment does not), intent on blogging, as promised, but instead I spent time reading European Sunday newspapers on Internet, so the description of Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institutes's program will have to wait till next "too hot to stay on the beach" free time, sorry :-(

P.S. Photo courtesy of Coconut Palms Inn in Rincon

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A happy grouch

After reading my last two post you must think that I am a boring grouch, totally unfit for a life in a Third World "paradise". And perhaps I am - to a point that is.

The last two posts were written almost three weeks ago, but I could not post them, because I could not connect my laptop to the Internet and decided to forgo Internet for two weeks, when I went through the "Living Food Healing and Rejuvenating program" run by my new employer, the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute. I admit, I was more than a bit sceptical of all the claims of almost miraculous health improvements made by former participants, but, since I was going to work here, I decided to first try it myself.

And today, I am happy I did.

Not only have I lost a total of 9 pounds in three weeks (two weeks 100% on the program, the third week 75 % on living foods - I have not been a vegan, a raw foodist, not even a vegetarian before I came here and I decided that 100% living food lifestyle is not for me, despite its advantages, but due to them, I'll strive for being between 50% to 75% living food lifestyle), I also lost about 10 years off my appearance ( and I was looking younger than my chronological age even before... lol, aren't I vain?) . I am positively glowing, radiating health and happiness. I wish I could post a "before" and "after" photos, but I still have no camera and no access to my previous picture data base :-( .

What's more important, my diabetes started reversing itself quicker than any former participant claimed. Already during the third night I had the first low blood sugar incident and - according to my doctor's previous advise for such an occurrence - which I at that time thought unlikely - I had to eliminate one of the two anti-diabetes pills I was using. Yet the next night I had another low blood sugar incident and - again according to my doctor's advice - cut down my insulin intake ( I use Lantus, a 24 hour insulin) from 30 to 25 units a day. Next evening, after dinner and a bowl of watermelon as a night snack (which I admit, I squirreled away from breakfast), my blood sugar was 67, slightly below a low fasting level of 70, so I further cut down my insulin intake to 20 units a day. Then my blood sugar levels stabilized, ranging between 70 and 120, but a few days later I noticed that I could see better without my glasses than with them. I was not prepared for it but another program participant, a young and gorgeous Type I diabetic was: 'Typical for diabetes reversal' said she. Hmm, I thought, I had astigmatism long before I became a diabetic, but never mind, lets enjoy it and not look a gifted horse in the mouth too closely, as an old proverb says.

In my next post I'll tell you more about the program and - for the sake of a full disclosure - about some of mine and other participants less pleasant reactions during the program.

Now the rain stopped and - after a whole day at my desk - I am heading to the beach for a swim, a walk and to watch the sunset. Happy, happy, happy. So happy, that not even shabbiness bothers me much any more ;-) !

My first Puerto Rico dwelling

My new apartment could serve as a "model" example of the shabbiness and shoddiness I observed on my ride from San Juan to Rincon. Too bad I forgot my camera in Atlanta and have to wait until my daughter comes for Thanksgiving to make and post any photos :-(( , so for now you'll have to do with just a description.

The villa in which my new apartment is located has recently been remodeled and looks nice and fresh, with an inviting front porch with outdoor leisure chairs and plants in pots. Also on the plus side, there is an almost unobstructed view of the sea between the two houses on the opposite side of the road, because - on the minus side - the villa during remodeling lost completely its tropical garden promised by its web site photo. So besides the flower pots on the porch there are only a few trees at the back and a bare grass in front of the house, "decorated", you guessed it, with not one, but two blue plastic garbage barrels at the road side, obstructing the view of the sea!

Inside, the apartment walls are even and freshly painted and the floors are covered with new - pinkish - tiles. There are three large windows in the kitchen/dining/living room combo, and two large windows in a bedroom and they all are new, with gleaming white dividers that rise or lower the narrow glass slats. All the cranks operating the windows are new and working. They also provide somewhat of a workout to crank up or down 9 parts of every window, or 5x6 = 30 in total. All the windows - and doors - are also equipped with new screen nets, so I might not need to hang my newly purchased mosquitiera over my bed. The refrigerator/freezer is brand new and so is the queen sized bed and box springs - still in their protective plastic covers. The bedroom furniture is also nice - not my style, but nice: light wood with an intarsia of huge tropical leaves on every drawer and with dark patina green metal leave shaped knobs.

There is a matching round table and a TV stand with drawers in the living room, but the TV stand misses one of the doors, which are supposed to cover an - for the moment absent - TV... and the missing door alone would make the entire living room looking shabby. It would have been far better to remove the other side of the door and all the hinges and leave the TV space totally open, rather than half closed. If I were the slightest bit handy (or - like Jen from Dominica - had a "Mr Wizard" of sorts accessible ;-)) I would remove that door and the hinges myself, but since I am not, I need to complain about it to my landlord and make him fix this and other shabby elements .

Because everywhere you look, some nice - or at least acceptable - appointments clash horribly with others that are either shabby or shoddy.

The so called "shabby chic" style of decorating has, in my opinion, absolutely nothing to do with chic. I personally do not crave any pseudoantiques, any 'memory' or 'character' of old things, I don't ever feel a need to be grounded in anybody's tradition - not even my own. I do not like excessive ornaments, either. For me to thrive everything needs to be clean, modern. light colored, made of natural materials, streamlined and close to perfect: I like simplicity - preferably a sophisticated one, with graceful lines. I abhor equally both the pretense of overdecorating (though I agree that simplicity, underdecorating is also a pretense) and the pretense of shabby chic. If anything is distressed, it either needs to be repaired, restored to its former glory or thrown away. But I digress, so back to the apartment:

You might find it hard to believe, but in the middle of the main living room wall there is on over sized hole for two industrially grey metal meter boxes, one with a lock, sticking out. Yes, it can - and will be by me - covered with a picture, even though the picture can't be hanged flat due to the lock, but ... what kind of a moron places meter boxes in the middle of a living room wall of an apartment????

The living room couch has an awful yellow/brown/orange color and horrid pseudo rokoko shape, but I immediately covered it with my blue, simple, though nicely textured, cotton bedspread from India, which successfully covered the ugliness of both its color - and - to a lesser extend - its pretentious shape. Boy, am I glad I took the bedspread with me, despite the space it took in my luggage!

The shabbiness does not end there: kitchen has cheapo cabinets (oh, well) and - what's worse - naked light bulb in the 9 foot ceiling! Industrial 'chic' ??? Since I am only 5'2" it would be difficult for me to remedy it on my own. But the kitchen wall has very nice ceramic plaques - presumably by a local craftsman. Go figure the philosophy behind it all.

Bathroom: the naked light bulb in the ceiling again and NO other lighting - neither over, or on the sides of the mirror above the hand basin. And no shelves or hooks of any kind and no surfaces to put anything on. Talk about minimalism! Also there is no hot water here, though there is hot water in the kitchen and in the shower - although in the shower the hot water is marked as cold and vice versa. I asked the landlord why and got an answer: "the plumber made a mistake". I asked, incredulous " and you let him get away with it???" and got a shrug as an answer.

Apparently, I have a lot to learn.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Estas llegando a un paraiso

"You are approaching a paradise " proclaimed - in Spanish - a huge road sign in Aguadilla near the famous Crashboat Beach. But at the moment I saw it, the "paradise" I was driving through was pitch black, so that only a lightning allowed me to see that bragging - or warning (?) - sign.

It was 4 pm on Saturday afternoon, October 20, and less that two hours before that I picked up my rental car at San Juan's airport for a ride to the west coast of Puerto Rico with my huge suitcase, large duffel bag, a carry on and a small backpack ( in lieu of a purse).

Initially the ride was pleasant - most of it on highway 22 surrounded by green, green, green and more green. Perhaps as many as 22 000 shades and variations of green, occasionally interspersed with the Caribbean blue of the sea, but hardly any other color, which surprised me: I expected more color riot, more flowers.

Traffic, contrary to a prevalent opinion on Puerto Rico's traffic - flowed smoothly and rather gently. But it was a Saturday, not a weekday rush hour, which might be quite different. Still, I noticed that more than a few drivers exhibited a clear tendency towards tailgating, though that was no need for it whatsoever. This tendency might explain why - in a sunny weather in unhurried traffic - I have passed by no less than FIVE traffic accidents while driving less than 100 kilometers! A record for me, but for Puerto Rico? I do not know.

And then the highway ended and the sky darkened. Mercifully, because the road side dwellings looked definitively a lot more shabby than paradisaical.

Houses peeling, unkempt, whether shacks or solid middle class (save for their lack of tender loving care) villas, every now and than a tropical Mac Mansion, either at a seafront lot or on a hilltop with a panoramic vistas. But the ubiquitous blue garbage cans were present in front of almost every house, whether a shack, or a Mac Mansion, in plain view, with no attempt to hide them, to cover their ugliness, which in a tropical climate would not require either much money or much effort : a small, three sided espalier would suffice and the tropical vegetation would do a beautiful hiding job in no time at all.

What is it with inhabitants of this island, that makes them so uncaring about their surrounding so untidy? While do they so readily accept shabbiness - and shoddiness? And is it only this island or is it a larger Caribbean trait?