Thursday, September 29, 2016

Keeping Connected - Update

Our days here in Salinas have admittedly been somewhat lacking in adventure...  Being stationary provides us with a mailing address... which makes it very easy for us to spend money.  We've ordered things we've needed for a while, and things to make our lives a little easier using our Amazon Prime membership until I'm starting to feel a little guilty.

But I've rationalized that once we leave here, it may be some time before we have this opportunity again... so....  We've also rationalized ourselves into getting a new phone plan.  So far, our Plan-for-keeping-connected has worked very well.  But very soon we will be continuing on to islands where we may stay only briefly.  Sure we can still get sim cards for our iPad but with the added obstacle of a new foreign language... Spanish was difficult enough but throw in French?

So we rationalized that if we deduct the cost of iPad data... we could do what so many other cruisers have done and sign up for a T-Mobile One account.  Our old iPhone is dying.  We terminated our long-time AT&T account when we left the states... but we kept our phone number... the one that connects our entire lives... and ported it through Google Voice.  The problem with Google Voice is that it needs a phone # - a Plan - to forward to... So we set up Skype.

The Skype has been great with a couple of drawbacks.  We have to have either data or wi-fi for it to work... and we have to be on the computer or iPad to hear it ring.  So we've missed calls.  It gives us great transcripts of voice messages via email... but it was still a missed call.

So, rationalization again... with the T-Mobile One plan, we can have a US phone number where people can call us... we can still use the Skype to  receive calls on our old phone number that everyone knows... they'll just forward to our new phone through Google Voice.   I know... complicated.  But once it's all set up, it works very well.

But what about the added cost of the new phone number?  How do we rationalize that?  Well, we only shut down our old AT&T account because we wouldn't be able to use it in the islands.  With this T-Mobile account, we WILL be able to use it... throughout the Caribbean.  We've added a data line for the iPad and splurged with the T-Mobile One PLUS, which speeds up our data.  So we can have a mobile hot spot through the iPad to run our computers... and it's unlimited data.

Friends who are already down as far as Grenada tell us that while there are some places that have no coverage, it has been pretty good overall.  And I would say that "pretty good overall" is better than nothing!

So we're paying for a new phone number and iPad (high speed) data for about $115 per month plus taxes...
We're paying for Skype services for less than $100 per year (allows us to keep our long-time phone number through Google)
 And what are we getting?  Well, we have basically three phone numbers that will all ring to our phone... We get high speed unlimited data on the iPad with mobile hot spot functionality in the states and throughout the Caribbean... We get unlimited text and data throughout the US and Caribbean...  This allows us to tether data service to our Macs and our Apple TV.

Now... if only we could figure out a way to stream US video services outside the US without paying for a VPN... Well guess you can't have it all!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Test Driving The Tribord - A Gear Review

Setting out to test the Tribord
Love 'em or hate 'em... when I was researching the many different brands of full face snorkeling masks out there I found that the reviews were as polarized as they are about politics and anchors!  Some people love them and others hate them.

I found that the haters all sounded like hard core types who don't consider that there are people in this world who just want to float around on top of the water and gaze at the scenery below without ever diving deeper than a few feet from the surface.  For those people... give the Tribord a pass.  But for the others... people like me... this is what you've been waiting for!

Looking for just the right snorkel spot... no... not here!
We'd already had an opportunity to handle one of these masks ourselves when a nice woman rose from the waves pulling one off of her face one afternoon while we were walking the beach on Culebrita.

That planted the seed... but after speaking to my Dive-Master-Brother about it... I was not ready to commit.  He said that we wouldn't be able to dive beneath the surface because it would be impossible to clear our ears... and for that reason alone we shouldn't buy them.  So I waited.  And I mulled it over.

Some weeks later a Facebook friend posted a comment about hers and how much she loved it.  After questioning her extensively and watching the video on the Tribord Easybreath website... I was sold!  I went online to Amazon, read lots of reviews and found several videos that answered that one nagging question about diving below the surface... And then I ordered two... a pink one for me, and a blue one for Bruce!

This spot looks just right!
I will admit... some of the negative reviews got to my subconscious and actually gave me nightmares while I waited for our masks to arrive.  It would be a pain in the butt to have to return these things and I really wanted them to work.

Finally they arrived and we ripped open the boxes and tried the masks on.  They felt really funny but seemed to be made well.

My guinea pig...He's always willing to go first!
I remembered several of the reviews mentioning that they received "used" masks that had sand on them... I inspected both very thoroughly and found them to be in pristine condition.  Well that's one nightmare shot down by the light of day!

We wore the masks for a little while to see if we felt any restrictions or if they had any sign that the breath we expelled wasn't exiting the mask sufficiently like some of the reviews said... nope.  They seem fine.  I was a little worried that I had ordered mine too large because I could feel air flowing out the mask up around my forehead when I blew out rapidly... I hoped that it wouldn't leak.  Maybe the force of the water will push the mask closer to my face to make a better seal...  Maybe I should tighten the elastic straps...  A full two days passed before we had our chance to go out and give them a try!

The winds were down today so we got the outboard going and motored slowly out of the protected waters of our little bay.  We were looking for just the right spot, someplace with no big waves and good visibility...  There was a lot of boat traffic with this being Sunday... but we found a spot on the eastern end of Cayo Matias and threw out the anchor.

Within seconds Bruce was in the water and swimming away as I watched anxiously for signs of sputtering or choking... All GOOD!

I pulled the elastic a little bit tighter on my mask and put it on.  One tiny irritation:  the elastic runs up the center of the head which is right where my ponytail is... Not a big deal, but if this is a review, it is worth mentioning.  Otherwise, the mask feels very comfortable.

I joined Bruce in the water and asked him if he could swim beneath the surface with the mask on.  He immediately proved to me that not only could he do that... but he could also dive down to the bottom... some six feet or so... with very little noticeable difference between this mask and the traditional kind.

With two thumbs up... off we went to see the sights!

The visibility wasn't the greatest... but that wasn't Tribords fault!  In fact, I think this mask greatly improved our experience.  Snorkeling here would have been dismal with foggy vision further decreasing visibility with a traditional mask.  After a very brief adjustment period we both just swam along marveling at how comfortable the mask is.

I have always had a problem finding a mask that would accommodate my nose.  It's big.  AND since having a deviated septum surgically altered some years ago, my nose can not tolerate any type of pressure.  The discomfort I normally feel where the snorkel mouthpiece pushes up against the mask beneath my nose is usually what ends our snorkeling.  I just can't take it for very long.  Today... I felt ZERO discomfort in my nose OR mouth.  The awful mouthpiece I'm used to wearing while snorkeling is a distant memory...

I happily paddled along in disbelief!  I can breath through my NOSE!  I don't have to breath through my mouth anymore.  No more will I struggle with a throat so dry I can't even swallow!  I can swallow all I want!  I can even burp!

Unfortunately Bruce can NOT understand me when I speak to him wearing the mask under water... But then maybe he's faking that.

There were some strange sounds that were a little disconcerting at first.  They seemed to correspond with my breathing so I assume the sound is caused by the air traveling up through the sides of the mask and maybe the little mechanism inside the snorkel.  I got used to it quickly and it wasn't a big deal.

After snorkeling for some time, I began to feel the pressure of the mask on my face between my cheekbones and nose.  The one remotely negative thing I can say about the Tribord is that it left warpaint-like red marks on my cheeks from the way the mask fit my face... This might be different for other people, but Bruce experienced the same thing.  But I would gladly trade the pressure I'm used to feeling from snorkel and mask for this small amount of discomfort... in a heartbeat!

Bruce was already in the dinghy when I returned and I asked him what he thought.  I can't remember the last time I've heard this much enthusiasm in his voice over anything!  He was ecstatic.  He said he would never use the old type of mask again!

Back to the boat for one more test...
He did say that he had a small amount of water leak in, but he has a beard and the seal on the mask isn't as good as mine... But then he was also a lot more active than me... and it was still less leakage than he gets with a traditional mask.  He said that he accidentally tipped his head too far down and submerged the snorkel and it simply closed up... When he brought his head back up it immediately drained and he was able to breath again.

We both agreed that keeping our faces dry and having absolutely no salt water in our mouths is the best part!

The final test will be to see if Bruce can use this mask to clean the boat bottom...  Reviews mentioned that the increased amount of air inside the mask creates additional buoyancy which can limit your ability to remain underwater for long.  When Bruce does the bottom, he usually wears a light weight belt... but we will see...

While I washed my gear he gave it a try...  He said that he did have a bit of trouble staying down and that he had hit the snorkel on the bottom of the boat causing water to leak in.. So maybe he will have to use the traditional style mask again after all...  But since he usually uses the hookah-type compressor and regulator, he was going to do that anyway.

We can't be happier with our new toys and we wish we had bought them sooner!  If you aren't an avid skindiver and are happy with remaining relatively near the surface, we think you will love the Tribord Easybreath!

We have no affiliation with the Tribord Easybreath... we are just happy users!

Monday, August 29, 2016

There's This Place... La Soplaera Falls

Most of our days are pretty good.  With days running in the 6-8 range normally on a scale of 1-10... today was at least a 13!  With our business out of the way, we had the whole day ahead of us and it was not even 11:00...  We drove out to Ponce Yacht Club to meet up with some Facebook Friends.

Facebook has been one of our best methods for meeting other Cruisers.  We "know" them long before we ever meet.  Today we met Kimberly and John-Michael from Pura Vida.  You may know their Facebook page  or blog Our Life Aquatic...

When we arrived at the marina, I wasn't sure where they were.  We were able to find their boat from just what we knew about them on Facebook!  It was awesome to see Kimberly striding down the dock toward us in real life after we've shared so much virtually!

We could have just sat there in their saloon for hours sharing common past anchorages and talking about the ones we hope to visit someday... but we had a rental car and the day stretched before us!  You can see our track here in red.  We all piled into THEIR rental car and tuled out to a little restaurant that Kimberly and John-Michael knew.

It was almost comical as we tried to order lunch and time after time, we were told that "No hay"... or we have no... this or that.  We settled on what they did have, and continued getting to know one another over our first of many meals together to come...
The view from lunch
How would you like to own THIS house!?
Bruce and I didn't really care where we went, we were just happy to be out and about after so much time spent in the marina.  John-Michael drove us up into the mountains while Kimberly and I talked and talked... so much in fact that she was a bit derelict in her duties as chief navigator and we kept missing the turn and having to go back to try again.

Strange figures hidden in the cave on the hill below the house.
But we didn't care, we just laughed harder and eventually we arrived at La Soplaera Falls! When I told another couple in our marina that we were going to visit a waterfall about half an hour outside of Ponce, they were not aware of it's existence.  But there was a marker for it on Google maps...

John-Michael led the way up the slippery and uneven pathway into the jungle.  There was a dilapidated railing provided but one whole section of the railing was missing. It looked as if a recent deluge had just taken it away as it lay mangled at our feet.  

I looked up ahead in time to see Bruce just standing there looking up at the falls.
This one was pretty good if you ask me!

More missing railing

The mangled railing up ahead
John Michael takes the lead
But that wasn't the REAL falls... oh no... We still had an even more challenging stretch to go before we reached our destination.

All the while as we were making our way through the rushing water, I couldn't help but be completely amazed at this place.  

The beauty, the sound of the water, the power of it... The scents, the mist floating on rushing air currents... and the sound of the Coqui chirping in the forrest all around us... it all came together to make a magical place and we felt like it was ours alone.
The excitement was overwhelming.  I ran out of words to describe it and fell short in my exclamations of just how awesome it all was.  How lucky we are to be doing THIS on a Monday... 

I mean... REALLY... Who gets to DO this sort of thing in their every-day life???  Cruisers, that's who!  Who doesn't have a dream of someday standing beneath a mountain waterfall, just laughing with good friends....

The path, and I use that term very loosely, became more and more treacherous.  Thoughts of danger and peril were crowded out of my head by the sheer delight of it all!

Bruce went ahead but didn't get too far... there were several spots where the rocky ledge was slick...Or where the force of the water threatened to take our shoes off or sweep our feet from beneath us.

We had to place each step carefully and make sure it was solid before transferring our weight and moving the next step forward.  We literally climbed up the stream bed in spots and were soaked to the skin when we finally got our first look at the pool.

It was so beautiful... just like in a movie.  There was nobody else there, we had THIS all to ourselves!  The water was very cool and the air wasn't so hot this high up in the mountains.  Before we started the hike up the stream bed we weren't sure that we even wanted to swim... But we couldn't waste this chance and we were already wet anyway.  Plus the physical exertion from getting here warmed us up...

We spent the afternoon frolicking in the water, laughing and whooping and trying to get under the falls without getting our heads pounded. That water was coming down hard!!!

The current swept us away as we crept along the rocky basin. Bruce tried to swim to the falls but was taken off to the edge by the force of the water...  It was hilarious!  

Photo by John-Michael
WOW.  Just W. O. W.  An experience like this one makes new friends into old friends very fast.  The fact that we had only just met a few hours ago seemed incredible. 

Words can't describe this experience.  Until you've climbed up a mountain stream and frolicked in a waterfall pool... you just have not lived.  

We were pleasantly tired on the drive home and decided to save further exploration for another day.  We look forward to seeing these two again soon when they come to Salinas!

Thank you Kimberly and John-Michael for sharing this place with us.... AND for taking the pictures below of us!