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!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Remember That Summer We Lived In Puerto Rico... Part 1

Sahara Dust Haze
Four months.  FOUR.  Months.  If you remember back to our pre-hurricane season days, we chose Salinas, Puerto Rico for protection from storms.  So did it work?  I would say YES!

Our rationale was this:  If a storm came off the coast of Africa and headed our way... by the time it reached Puerto Rico it would still be a weak storm having had either insufficient time to develop or would have inhospitable conditions.

This year we had weeks of hazy skies from Sahara Dust blowing off the African coast.  The dust that blanketed this part of the Caribbean essentially kept the sea temperatures down so that storms were slow to develop.
Our sunrise view

Lots of lovely wi-fi at the snack bar...  Every morning we took our computers and surfed the internet...
We arrived here in Salinas in mid-July.  We made it all the way to the end of August before the threat of a storm influenced our days...

Days spent doing things like making grocery runs with our little cart...

And carting bags of laundry to the laundromat just over a mile away...  We had to pass a park where horses roamed free.  One day the horses were between us and the laundromat.

The male horse had a hard time keeping the females from getting too close to us.  He would put back his ears, lower his head and run to cut them off if we got too close.... I would quickly dash back behind Bruce so that if one of us was bitten by a mad horse... it would be HIM!  He took this husbandly duty well...

Other critters from which Bruce protected me... Iguanas!

Marina de Salinas has a weekly BBQ and happy hour on Friday nights.  We met up with some other cruisers spending the summer here and enjoyed the cheap food and loud karaoke...

Introducing JM and Michael to the others...
We welcomed friends from Adventure US 2 as they passed through on their way to Fajardo.  We spent a few days hanging out with Janet Lee and Michael and will see them again in November when we get going again...

Walking through town on our way to the festival

Local statue celebrating the fishermen

A day at the festival!

Local rice dish... very popular!

Pinchos!  Our favorite street-rood!

Janet Lee sharing her fan with me... it was HOT!
Little shack that opened up some days to sell lunch

A home along the way that sells empanadillas ... yummy street food!
We rode the streets of town...
When we arrived here we had thoughts of buying a cheap cruiser-car... but that didn't happen.  So we settled for bikes.  We have lovely folding bikes back in my daughter's garage in Florida.  The cost of shipping them to Puerto Rico was more than just going to the Walmart in Santa Isabel ten minutes away and buying new ones... so we did!  Having wheels opened up our range a bit.

We went out onto the salt flats just east of the playa...

Random Creepy Santa
Back at the marina, there are local fishermen who go out most days and return by 11 am with their catch.  We could buy fresh seafood right off the boat before it went to a local restaurant...  One day we bought a snapper and a nice lobster...


We'll take the big one!

We took our catch back to the dock and Bruce cleaned them... we had several meals from these two big boys...

Poor Bruce... he always gets the ugly jobs...

It seems like it's always storming over the mountains.

Tarpon hang out here at the marina all the time.  

We did some laundry onboard...

Our guardian

Brunch for about $5 at the local bakery.  We went there a LOT!
More friends arrived, this time it was Kimberly and John-Michael from Louisiana aboard their boat, Pura Vida.  They stayed for a month and we did some adventuring with them...  

Bryce (Smidgen) laying it all out there
One evening we were sitting around talking with them and another couple, also coincidentally from Louisiana... and somebody suggested we have a Gumbo pot luck!  Two nights later, we contributed cornbread to their two pots of delicious authentic gumbo.  Sometimes it's easier to get forgiveness than permission, and we got chewed out a little by the marina for having a renegade pot luck...(read your contract people) but it was already done... so there you have it.  

Bruce and Kenny (Smidgen) serving it up

Big moon!

Of course our storm-free days had to end eventually.  But it was the end of August before a threat came...

That got us going... we went out to Los Jobos and staked out a spot to move the boat should the storm develop into a hurricane before it got to us.

Fortunately,  just as planned, it was barely developed and passed us far to the south.  We had only a little rain and a brief increase in winds...

In early September we had a little more fun with Invest 92...  but again, we were happy with our choice.  The basin here in Salinas provided plenty of protection without us ever having to leave our slip.

Meanwhile, we continued enjoying Puerto Rico...

Since we had saved the expense of buying a car, we rented one a few times while we were here.

Not much room to pull over but stunning views!
Driving up into the mountains was much more exciting than being on the main roads... which have tolls and traffic...  But when the afternoon rains came, the narrow roads could become treacherous.  We have developed a system of determining which roads not to be traveling on when it rains...  Roads with two numbers (52, 10) are the easiest roads.  Three numbers (724, 180) are exciting... roads with four numbers... forget it.  They are narrow and steep with room for only one vehicle in most spots...

Las Tetas de Cayey!
We drove through several tiny towns tucked up into the mountain valleys.  It's difficult to imagine life in these towns-that-time-forgot.  The old buildings still standing after so many years.  The people are all SO friendly and accommodating.

Never pass a bakery...

Lunch!  We had no idea what we were ordering...  The daily special!
A word of advice... never rent a car on a Monday or Tuesday.  Most things that you might wish to see are closed in Puerto Rico.  Some open on Wednesdays, but just about everything is open Thursday-Sunday.

A second word of advice...  Google sucks!  SO many times it took us to the back entrance (or not) of the thing we wanted to see... SO many times it took us to a dead end or roadblock where there had once been a through street but no longer... or maybe there was NEVER a street...  But it was an adventure and we eventually found our way.

Coming down out of the mountains began at about 3:30.  We wanted to reach the more flat roads or be home before dark...

One more stop to take a look at the Hot Springs for a future visit.  Bruce didn't want to sit in hot water during the day...

Our route except the middle is missing...

By mid September we were holding our breath... It was the peak of hurricane season and we had been very lucky...  Will our luck hold?  But life went on...  We enjoyed more touristing with Kimberly and John-Michael.

This piece was more than 2,000 years old. 
Nearby Ponce, PR is a larger city with a lot to offer the tourist.  We visited their Art Museum.  I will tell you that Bruce knows much more about art history than I do, and when we visit a place like this, I really wish I knew more.

We weren't able to get a tour in English, but there was one docent there who spoke to John-Michael in Spanish and he relayed the information.  It was fascinating.

The museum has an extensive collection that dates back to the 13th century...  So much history in one place.  It was awesome!

Our luck just seems to be continuing with attractions we wish to see being closed... This time it was Museo Castillo Serralles... a castle owned by the family who owns the Don Q rum distillery (also not giving tours)

The castle was closed so that they could set up the interior for their annual Haunted House... so we went next door to Cruceta del Vigia and took a look around.

This structure reminded us very much of the Columbus Lighthouse in the Dominican Republic... in that both are very ugly and left us wondering why they were ever built.

The view was nice however...

Our day ended on a more pleasant note... we returned to the Hot Springs in Coamo and soaked our cares away...

So at this point our summer is half over.  We are in the thick of hurricane season and we've decided to stay through Mid-November...

We have completely settled into our lives here in sleepy little Salinas, PR and the time seems to just stretch out before us... We can't believe we've been within this 160 mile area for almost six months.  Six.  Months.