Friday, August 9, 2019

Another Day, Another Beach

You might think that since we live on a tropical island in the Caribbean, all of our days are filled with beaches and fruity drinks.  Well, there IS plenty of that... but not all of our beach days are fruity and frivolous!

Once again, we joined a group of awesome, motivated, environmentally and socially conscious people for a day on the beach!  We met up at a nature reserve  called Punta Ballena that is maintained by Para La Naturaleza just outside of Guanica on the south coast of Puerto Rico.  The drive from our place was two hours, but it's always a beautiful drive along the coast.

The road to the beach was dusty and dry, even after a morning rain shower!  

An army of termites crosses our path... or maybe we're crossing theirs!
Once everyone was present, we donned our sun protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses... and packed our water, snacks, work gloves down to the beach by way of a sandy road through the dry brush.

This area of the island is very arid and sees much less rainfall than the rest of the island.  It reminds me a lot of some areas of Texas where there are few trees and dense, scrubby brush.  But there are still small bursts of beautiful color in the tropical flowers that somehow manage to stay alive here!

Passion Flowers!  I've only seen these once before in my life and fell in LOVE with their beauty!
The bees found these Passion Flowers in all this dry country!
Not really flowers, but these fallen palm pods LOOK like flowers to me!

Our leader stopped along the way to show us where we would END the cleanup.  While the event was fully in Spanish, she and several of the other participants made sure that we understood the pertinent parts.  

The organization is very professional and they make sure that we're all aware that help is here if the heat gets to be too much.  There are plenty of drinks and snacks available, and if necessary, a seat inside the truck with the air conditioner blowing, in case anyone begins to feel overheated.  
Along the way, we stopped by a pond to see the army of crabs lining the water's edge!
Lemme atum!
The end of our hike was the beginning of our cleanup zone. Here we all gathered, near the mouth of the lagoon where it leads to the sea.  Much of this exposed sand was deposited here by Hurricane Maria in 2017.  Those who have been here before told us that the water was once much deeper, but now there is much less flow to keep the lagoon flushed. 
Looking landward
Looking seaward
Once again, we gathered for further instructions.  We were given rubber gloves, and two types of bags.  The thicker bags were to be used for general trash, while the thinner bags would be used only for recyclable materials, mainly plastic bottles and cans.  

New word for the day: Reciclaje - Recycling

Receiving our gloves and bags
This was an added bonus for us as we've been wondering why there didn't seem to be much interest in reciclaje on the island.  I'm glad to know that it is available in some areas!  The bottles we collect today will need to have the labels removed and any water or sand drained out.  All of the rest of the materials collected will go into the thicker bags. 

Carmen holds the bag while Bruce tosses trash out of the mangroves!
Since two bags were needed, we formed small groups of three or more so that we could have both types of bags nearby as we began to comb the coast for trash.  Bruce and I teamed up with our new friend Carmen!  She's a sweetheart and was very helpful in translating for us!  One of the "bonus" reasons we are participating in these events is so that we can meet new friends here on our island home.  

We started with the mangroves that line the waterway.  There was plenty of trash washed up amongst the roots, but the problem was... how to get to it!  

Bruce found a stick that he used to reach further into the thick and twisted mangrove.  He would toss out pieces of trash to Carmen, waiting at the edge with the bag.  

Thick tangle where trash can hide!

Once we did all we could in the mangroves, we turned our attention to the coast.  WOW!  What a lot of seaweed!  It has been forecast that this year will be worse than last year for Sargassum seaweed in the Caribbean.  It washes up on the beaches where it dries out and becomes very apestosa!!!

Second new word for the day:  Apestosa - Stinky!

And Apestosa it was!  Tons of the stuff was piled up all along the beach.  Some of the trash was tangled in the seaweed and we had to try to walk out onto it to reach the big pieces.  Now and then, a false step would sink a foot down into the muck, unleashing a new cloud of funk!

New seaweed coming in by the sheet!

Eventually the smell became less noticeable.  Guess our olfactory nerves were dying... or maybe our brains just blocked it out to protect us!  The group fanned out and collected trash large and small.  Much of it was water bottle and other plastic container LIDS.  We found plastic cutlery, plastic cups, lots of pieces of buckets and baskets...  snack food wrappers and plastic bags were blowing into the coastal grasses above the tide line.  

The razor-thin lip marks this as a very young shell
There were also sad little collections of conch shells tossed into piles on the shore.  Harvesting conch is forbidden here on the nature reserve, but people are coming here at night and collecting them.  They remove the meat and leave the evidence of their crime right here on the beach.  These shells were FRESH and every one of them was smaller than the recommended harvest size.  Why can't people understand the shortsightedness of this???

Bruce and Carmen consolidating...  
Near the end point, Wilmarie ties our heavy bag so that it can be weighted
The truck comes to collect our bags for transport to the weight station.
Nothing left but nature!
The worst of the seaweed was past our end point.  You couldn't even see the beach for the seaweed!

Back at the truck, we all had a snack of galletas (cookies) y agua de coco (coconut water).  I will admit that the coconut water is a bit of an acquired taste, but I think I'm beginning to get it!  It sure does do a wonderful job of rehydrating a hot, tired body!

The morning rain and lingering clouds had long since disappeared, leaving a steamy atmosphere and HEAT.  Still not as bad as Texas in the summertime, but still pretty warm!  

We piled our bags onto the truck and began the hike back up the road.  We walked with two other people, leading the way like horses headed for the barn!  We were far ahead of the main group, who stopped on the way to weight the bags.  We were happy to sit in the shade of the Honda and chit chat with Carmen while we waited.  

When the rest of the group reached the parking area, we found out how much trash we had collected as a group.  A grand total of 191 lbs. of trash, and 4 lbs. of recycling was collected.  Yay US!  

Today's group was so very friendly.  Bruce and I felt so "accepted" and even more included in the group than on the last beach cleanup.  Little by little, we are feeling more "ownership"... more of a personal connection to the island.  Helping to keep it beautiful is one way to bond and we are so happy to have found this group to help us do that.  

Hot, tired and muy apestoso... we all said our goodbyes... after the group photo, of course!

That's Carmen next to me!  Such a sweetie!
Wonder if there might be sea foam here sometimes!!
With the air conditioner blasting, we wound our way back along the coast road.  We were hot and hungry, but I wanted to check out this one little place we've passed several times without stopping.  The road leading down to Playa Jaboncillo (soapy!!!) beach looks to have been recently renovated.  It's a pretty bumpy drive, but any vehicle should be able to manage the sloping curve of caliche to the end where there is a nice parking area with tables and a lovely beach path.

We didn't stay long... just long enough to collect a pocket-full of sea glass!  There was less Sargasso on the beach here, and the water was crystal clear out beyond the incoming seaweed!

The sign out front mentioned a $2 pp use fee, but we couldn't find any way to pay it... and we were just stopping to check it out for another time.  It's a lovely place for a picnic, and the rocky waters would probably be prime snorkelling areas.  Add this to the list of Beaches for another day!

There are MANY vendors selling Empanadillas, pinchos and other local favorites on the road leading in... So easy to stop and pick up a lunch!

A slight delay in leaving... hurry up buddy!

How do I know about these lunch vendors?  Because we stopped and picked up several of our favorites for the drive home!

Every time we leave our condo, we find new reasons to love this island.  The people.  The beaches.  The mountains.  The different ecosystems that are here to discover.  Thank you to Para La Naturaleza for allowing us this opportunity to make a small difference!

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