Gatherings & Celebrations: Weeks 3-10
Wow, we've been here in Puerto Rico for ten weeks. I honestly can't believe it, or that I waited eight weeks to write an update. First off, my apologies to all the readers waiting around on the blog to come out. I realize now I took the "holiday and event schedules" I had on the mainland for granted. Here, a lot of things require spontaneity and more time, which as a Cancerian, I struggle with sometimes. The last seven weeks have been a scheduling nightmare between all the holidays, graduations, family get-togethers, birthdays, and some times a combination of multiple celebrations.
Many adjustments came over this period mixed among holidays and celebrations that seemed to be endless. Our time here has covered Mother's day, Memorial day, Father's day, Fourth of July, three graduations for five family members, John's birthday, Cisco's birthday, two cousins birthdays, a family vacation, random beach trips, and finally wrapping it all up with my own 35th birthday.
For us Memorial Day weekend wound up being focused around shopping; ironic since everything we purchased is to help us be more self sufficient and reduce mindless consumerism. The downside of our shopping spree was that we forgot it was memorial day weekend. Despite the craziness we were able to get many of the tools and supplies on our current needs list. There is nothing like good tools to make your work...well, work. Appropriate technology is also a vital part of enjoying your work.
That same weekend, we also purchased our first Berkey water purification system. We have wanted one for a very long time and almost purchased it the weekend before. Fortunately we held-off and ended up getting an amazing Memorial day sale offered through our email. For a hundred dollars less, we wound up with a larger size, plus the fluoride and arsenic filters, a glass carafe with a stopper-top, and two glass water bottles.
With hurricane season just started, and not wanting to use bottled or tap water to survive, we scored a killer deal that will affect everyone's daily health in the house (including the dog), as well as increasing our hurricane resiliency percentage. In the long run each gallon of water cost about 8 cents. The Berkey is not just a filter but an actual purifier. We can filter rain water or pond water with it, and the greatest part is it doesn't need electricity.
Most of our work for the Tierra Nueva property is behind the scenes dealing with property paper work, surveying, trying to get the washed out bridge repaired, and all the other invisible structures that must be in place to build such a community as we are dreaming up. That includes finding sources for mulch, soil, rain-barrels, buckets, and other supplies we need for regenerative farming. The invisible structures to me, also include my Spanish lessons and us learning the Puerto Rican plant names, uses, and growing needs.
Our manual labor efforts are currently focused towards developing our composting program, starting plants, building an aquaponics fountain and pond, and restoring and utilizing the one and a half acres behind the family home. This area will serve to help John achieve his permaculture diploma requirements, serve as a showcase site for a recovered and incorporated ecosystem, and provide us much of the needed food we will consume over the next two years.
Week six seemed to be focused on animals and our connection with nature. Some rain finally came (Ponce is a drought stricken area), making the animals, plants, and trees much happier. Additionally, because of the work we've been doing, the ecological activity of the local flora and fauna have increased dramatically.
We recently started identifying some of the local birds now using the area. One of which is the Venezuelan troupial. His call is very distinct and so are his bright orange feathers. Among the area we are rehabilitating we found multiple piles of dried dung made up of insect exoskeletons but we haven't identified the gift giver. Small hawks have been hunting feral iguanas on the side strip of the property and reminding me a lot of Florida.
One day I watched a tri-colored stray cat traipse down the hillside until he meandered to the coconut tree. Sitting there, next to the ladder, he looked out onto the small valley below while cleaning his paws, the sun setting behind us. The next day half a mouse was left as a gift for us at the top of the hill. It went straight into the compost. A few minutes after the stray cat left a hummingbird flew past me to eat from a very large flowering tree called Emajaguilla.
The most amusing and memorable animal experience for me, was the land crab. Not just because the crab is the Cancerian symbol but because he startled me when I was watering the plants. He was funny cleaning his eyes and drinking water with his claws. Further research revealed they eat rotting vegetation so we assume it has been helping us compost the organic matter we've been applying to the hillside.
Friday of week seven we were up extra early to pick up Charlotte, who was scheduled to teach "Farming with Soil Microbes" at Bikai in Utuado (ew-twa-do). The interstate bridge to get there is still down from Maria, so we had to take an hour detour through a mountain road. Normally it would be a 45 minute trip but now its double.
I have to be honest here and say those minutes were very stressful for me. The roads were so tight and curved, with tall grasses along the edges that cut all visibility. Trucks and cars flew around the bends. I had to put my head in my lap and breath for awhile, especially while crossing the very narrow bridge that had no sides in a very large pickup truck. I know its funny so go ahead laugh, I did...afterwards.
I was later informed that Utuado was one of the worst hit areas during Maria and most people will only travel in and out of there during the day. That is why the roads were so busy and everyone was in a hurry.
Despite the roads and stress of mountain driving, it was great to finally connect with local like-minded people. Rolando and his wife Frances along with their two sons, were very welcoming to everyone who came for the class. First we took a tour of their farm and got a glimpse into their natural lifestyle. I very much enjoyed the natural building methods they employed for the rabbit cages and the chicken coop. I also really liked the milk crates for chicken nesting boxes.
After the tour we met at their schoolhouse that was being constructed to home-school the children. Charlotte taught about beneficial micro organisms like mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, and protozoa and how they are vital for soil health and plant growth. There was much talk about how to capture, grow, and utilize the IMO's (indigenous micro organisms). We talked about fermenting starches, compost teas, and other inoculation methods.
After the class we met at their mini-home for lunch. Frances shared her delicious Puerto Rican style beans and rice that went perfectly with the mashed viandas (various roots) that John made, decorated by an array of abundant fruits. During our meal we were able to connect and converse with a corporate farmer trying to go natural, a woofing couple from Florida (both high-school teachers), their hostess a recently widowed owner of a coffee farm, a potter, an herbalist, and others from various walks of life all wanting a more natural productive environment and lifestyle.
When the break concluded Amara (the local potter) went over her methods of fermenting compost which is a Bokashi method. Bokashi is a Japanese style way of composting that is reportedly better than traditional composting. It pickles the food through fermentation instead of allowing it to decay so it produces less odor, attracts no pests, and doesn't produce carbon gases. It was developed ideally for city and small space composting.
Eventually the day came to a close and we had to leave before the sun got too low. We made it back safely but unfortunately the right side-mirror to the pickup truck got smashed when two cars unexpectedly came into our lane while a tree trunk extended into the road from our other side. Fortunately we weren't hurt and there wasn't any damage to the body of the truck.
The next two weeks became a mini vacation period for us to unwind and get away from all the work no matter how much we love it. We ended up floating in the lazy river at Mayagüez Resort for the annual family vacation and watching the FIFA World Cup Final after a month of games. We had dinner with the family for my birthday and John took me to a local book store to get a book on identifying the local flowering flora.
As week 11 approaches, we are ready to swing back into action and embrace the beautiful grind of our life and the work that needs doing. These ten weeks have been filled with adjustments both personally and collectively as we build a new community. I have had to learn so many new things that I feel like I'm in a constant state of flux steadily adapting and evolving. Not all of it has been easy, but I sit back and look at the affect we have already had, and think about how much it will be in a year. That, combined with the endless views of mountains, flowers, and oceans, is enough to make it worth any struggles we are forced to weather.