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!

No More Drinking The Cool-Aid - Medical Care Outside The US

Well I guess it can be argued that Puerto Rico is PART of the US... but when you get up to that payment window at the dermatologist's office... it definitely is NOT!

We rented a car so that we could drive over to the big city of Ponce for a visit with dermatologist Dr. Jaime R. Villa-Colón.  He was recommended to us by one of the cruisers here in Salinas and she couldn't say enough about him...

Bruce has had some previous skin cancer issues and it's been more than a year since he's been checked out... and I NEVER have.  Perhaps after a lifetime as a sun worshiper and three years living on a sailboat... it's time!

I've got a few spots that have been behaving strangely and just wanted to get them checked out.

Our biggest fear was the cost.  What would it cost for me to see a dermatologist with no health insurance?  Bruce has Medicare, and they take it here in Puerto Rico... but not only does it months or more to even get an appointment for a skin Dr. in our home town... the cost would be at LEAST a couple hundred bucks for the visit alone... without doing anything!

We entered this professional building and found ourselves taking a step back in time.  There was no air conditioning in the common areas, odd... but it was all very clean and quiet.

We squished ourselves into the rickety elevators, stuffed to capacity with patients.  The hallway on the 4th floor looked like something from the 70's... or maybe a VA hospital!  It was all very old... but sparkling clean.  And there were no musty smells...

We had been prepped on what to expect and were completely prepared to wait... and wait... and wait.

We were NOT prepared adequately for the language barrier...  There was one woman at the receptionists area who could speak limited English but she was very nice and we got things worked out.

The waiting area was full of people... maybe 15 or so sitting in the utilitarian but clean plastic and metal chairs lined up in the bare room.  There was a TV playing a soap opera in Spanish.  Everyone was silent.

I was called up several times to the desk to answer questions and get our paperwork... the actual medical charts...  I took them to our seats and opened them up to complete the forms.  They were in Spanish only.  No English subtitles.  It was a little bit of a shock as I expected that something as important as a medical record would at least be bi-lingual.

I went to work reading the forms and between my limited knowledge of Spanish, the similarities of many words in both languages, and the fact that I knew pretty much what was supposed to be on the forms... I think we did pretty well.

There were only two forms, front and back... not the pages and pages you would expect at a medical office in the States.

Also unexpected... we were called back to the inner waiting room really fast!  There were six chairs lining the anteroom with four exam rooms.

Again, we expected to wait... But I was called in after the first patient came out.  A nurse gowned me and I waited only briefly before Dr. Villa came in.

While waiting I looked around the exam room looking for anything that would support the level of warning about healthcare outside the US that I was so used to hearing.

The room was ultra-clean.  The equipment looked in good repair.  They had computers... just like in the US... Everything looked really good!

When Dr. Villa entered, he was very charming and spoke excellent English.  We talked a bit and then he looked me over.  He chastised me about not protecting my legs adequately as he said I had a lot of sun damage... He was surprised that the rest of me was in pretty decent shape, skin wise anyway!  I've always worn simple Oil of Olay face cream with SPF 15, and most of the time when we are going to be in direct sunshine for long periods I wear sun protective shirts.  But I will admit that I often go without covering my legs...

He reassured me about a lot of my trouble spots (just aging) and treated three areas, one especially suspicious on my thigh just above the knee, and two others on my right hand.  He treated them with liquid nitrogen, it stung a bit but didn't really hurt.  Then I was free to dress and join him in the room with Bruce.

Dr. Villa had a student shadowing him on Bruce's exam.  He went over Bruce thoroughly and found one small spot on his face to treat.  We talked some more about what to look for, he gave us a pamphlet and said we were good to go for another year!

Next, we came to the really scary part.  Paying the bill.  We have funds set aside in our budget for medical care so I wasn't worried we couldn't pay it... but nobody wants to let go of that little padding in the bank account.... The receptionist flipped back and forth between the papers in the charts... She entered stuff into the computer... then the English speaking woman came up to deliver the news...

Apologetically she said "For you Mrs. Swart, today's visit will be $60... and for Mr. Swart, because it's Medicare... It's going to be $114. so a total of $174.00."

I was speechless... Quickly I schooled my face to appear nonchalant about it while I poked Bruce insistently to hand over the credit card... hurry, before they change their minds!  We headed for the door and the elevators to freedom!  We only had to get through the parking lot payment window... $2.75!

It was almost 10:30.  We had been there for less than two hours... I know that patients in my former employer's office routinely waited in the outer office longer than that!!!  And their bill would be more than that for one person, let alone TWO NEW PATIENT VISITS!!!

I've worked in healthcare most of my adult life and sure... I've been drinking the Cool-Aid... but no more!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mad Dash To Los Jobos

Susi and Henk from Windhover
Yes, we are procrastinators.  There.  I've admitted it.  Since we arrived here in Salinas over a month ago, we have been putting off our trip into Los Jobos to get acquainted with our hurricane hole.

After listening to the forecast this morning, our procrastination came to an end but it looked like tomorrow would be less windy for making the ten mile dinghy trip.

Goodbye marina and protected waters...
Before I was even out of my jammies, Henk knocked on the hull to tell us that THEY were going to run out there and wondered if we wanted to tag along.  OF COURSE we do!  Safety in numbers and all that.  Our outboard engine is not the most reliable and that's a pretty long distance for our little "family car".

Rounding Punta Arenas
Henk and Susi helped us drag our dinghy over the dock to splash it without moving the boat (we are backed into our slip with no room to maneuver the dinghy off of the davits).  Then we followed them out of our cozy bay and into the wind!

Well so much for the wind being lighter early in the day.... It was already blowing and the waves were pretty big for a small dinghy... but bouncing along with the warm water dousing us entirely was a hoot!

Our turn to lead... we've got the iPad with the chart!
We haven't had this much fun in a while!  We had to stop a couple of times to work on the outboard... The outlet for the raw water flush kept clogging... and by the time we reached the turn into Los Jobos it sounded like our spark plugs had fouled... so Bruce had to change them out...  Sigh...

The entrance.  Turn to port just past those markers...
Bruce was becoming more and more agitated by the time we reached the estuary...  He was worried that we had used up about 2/3 of the fuel in our tank... We never run it wide open like that so it was sucking it down...  And why does "adjusting the throttle cable" keep getting pushed further down on the "to-do" list anyway...  Bigger sigh...

Not my best side...
So we motored slowly into the area where the chart shows the most shallow water and I started checking depths as we crept along.

We bought our little hand held depth sounder in 2011 and it's still working like a charm.  It only reads when you're going kind of slowly, but that's our only complaint.

Our track into and out of Los Jobos
The most shallow spot we found was about 7 ft.  That's plenty for us to get in with the big boat.

We tested near the banks and up into a sort of cove... It shallowed up there fast!

The open bay to the left of our track is where we will probably find our spot.  Of course we will talk to the locals when the time comes... but it is my understanding that we will park our nose up into the mangroves and tie on.  (That way our rudder doesn't get bounced on the bottom, risking damage.)  Then we will put out two/three anchors spreading out from the stern.  There should be plenty of room for lots of boats up in the estuaries.

There is no way for big waves to form in such a short distance with the mangroves all around... and the narrow, shallow entrance will help keep the surge to a minimum.

The plan was to continue on around the bay and into the next one but Bruce was too worried about our fuel consumption.

So we left Susi and Henk doing their depth survey, hoping to be able to share their results... and we took off homeward bound!

On our way out of the estuary we saw several manatee rolling and flopping their huge tails.  They were shy and didn't want their picture taken, but I did get this one big mud cloud.  One powerful woosh of a tail stirs up a boiling mess of stinky swamp bottom mud...

The green track was just over 10 miles.
Of course going back WITH the wind was much more fun (and faster) than going against it.  We whooped as we surfed on the big waves and we made the trip back to the marina in half the time our outward bound trip had taken.

And we used a LOT less fuel... so we didn't need to do all of that worrying about running dry... BUT... we had only about two tablespoons (slight exaggeration... but not really) of fuel left in the tank... so there's that.

So.  Now we have a visual and feel a lot better about going into Los Jobos if this storm comes our way.  Hopefully we won't have to initiate our storm plan..because it's a LOT of work... But we are doing some of the little things so that we will be ready.

This video posted by Distant Shores TV has given us a visual of what it will be like during a storm.