The $12,640.66 Electric Bill

 

When we moved into our new place we were warned that electricity prices were kind of expensive and that we should try to be conservative with our usage. We thought we were being pretty good so when we got the first bill we didn’t really know what to think.  The bill was over $12,600 and we laughed to think that they actually printed the bill and sent it to us without someone questioning the amount. Even Miguel’s co-workers wanted to see the bill because they thought it was hilarious. Haha, we weren’t laughing for long.  Miguel called to contest the amount and spent hours on the phone arguing with people.  I went in to the power company and spent a whole morning there without resolving the problem.  The lady said she would call me later after talking to her supervisor but she never did.  The days and weeks went by without anything happening.  We were warned that if something didn’t happen before the next billing cycle our power could be shut off for lack of payment.  That option didn’t look to good to us so Miguel called the power company again and prepared to be on the line for at least 30 minutes before someone answered.  He knew the routine by then and they finally agreed to send someone out to re-read the meter.  In the end we only owed about $100.00 but it took a lot of work to get the problem solved.  The attitude seemed like, ‘How do I know that you did not consume that much electricity? Prove that the number is incorrect’.  There was no one that said, ‘Oh, we made a mistake, let me fix that for you.’ Since then we haven’t had any problems and hopefully it will stay that way.

 I hope I didn’t share too many negative experiences this time.  We are really enjoying our time here and are having a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of visitors and have been able to visit a lot of cool places, and have tried new and different foods. It is true that sometimes things don’t run as smoothly as they do in other places but it is not worth getting upset about. (Unless it is a $12,000 electricity bill. 🙂 )

 

Just so you have an idea of what the bill looks like, see below:

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Si quieres leer el blog en Español: http://www.microsofttranslator.com/bv.aspx?from=en&to=es&a=https://puertoricosarahmiguel.wordpress.com/

 

 

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Isla Culebra day trip and Cueva Ventana

Isla Culebra (Snake Island) was named after a Spanish bishop, and as far as I know there are no snakes. It is a fun, relatively cheap day trip so when we had friends visiting we decided to go. About 30 minutes from where we live there is a ferry that you can take to the island for about $2.50 per person each way. The ride lasts about 45 minutes to an hour and when you debark you can take a taxi for $3 to Flamenco Beach known as the second most beautiful beach in the world according to Wikipedia (link). The ferry trip is not a smooth ride and some people lose their breakfast, at least that is what happened to our friend.  She was alright once we got to the beach though and really enjoyed it.

The water is a beautiful aquamarine blue and the sand is white.  There is an area where there are bathrooms and food vendors.  Flamenco is great for playing in the waves and Tamarindo Beach (also on the Island) is great for snorkeling.  We saw sea turtles and a manta ray and a few other fish on a previous trip.

Unfortunately, when our other friends were visiting we were unable to enjoy all of that.  We didn’t know that ferry tickets for Culebra sell out weeks ahead of time in the summer. We made it to the Port at 7:30am to get tickets for the 9am ferry.  Sometimes if the passenger ferry fills up there is a cargo ship that can take you at 10am to Culebra so we were hoping that would be an option.  There is no regular schedule for doing that so you just have to go and try.  We waited in line until 9:15am and listened to people’s stories of arriving at 2,3,4, or 5 am to line-up and try and get tickets.  I guess they pre-sell a certain number and leave a few to be sold at the ticket-booth which opens at 7:30am the day of. One woman right behind me in line was really mad. “They spent over a million dollars to remodel the office at the port and look at this line! It is just as chaotic as it was before!,” she said.  Needless to say, we didn’t get tickets but we knew that was a possible outcome so we put plan B into action.

We loaded everyone into their cars and drove to the northern side of the Island to Arecibo.  Our first stop was Cueva del Indio or Cave of the Indian.  In a previous blog we posted pictures of that cave.  A woman who was with us in the cave had a bad experience.  A baby bat had fallen from the nest and latched onto her tennis shoe which she didn’t notice until she left the cave.  She started screaming and several people from our group rushed over to help.  Miguel said it was hard to get the bat off the shoe because it kept clutching onto the laces.  I guess the lady was on the verge of a nervous breakdown which I can understand.  They finally got the bat onto a stick and got some pretty good pictures which I will post.  After that exciting experience everyone walked down to the beach and got in the water and relaxed.  Later we went to Cueva Ventana (Window Cave) which involved climbing down into a dark hole, stumbling through two large caverns with chirping swallows and squeaky bats and coming out to see a huge opening in the side of the cave revealing a drop off and beautiful view of the valley below. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun but we enjoyed it. I will post a picture so you can see the amazing view from the cave.  Miguel also posted pictures of previous trips to Culebra so you can see how nice the beach is.

CULEBRA ISLAND

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CUEVA VENTANA

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Rental Cars and Driving in Puerto Rico

Driving in a new area can be intimidating whether it’s New York, Mexico or in this case Puerto Rico. When I first got here I was most worried about how the toll system worked. We don’t have many tolls on the West Coast so when the car rental agent told me I needed to buy an electronic card from them for $2.50 a day to avoid being fined $100 for going through the toll without paying I didn’t know what to think. I was sure he wasn’t telling me the whole story but I didn’t want to be fined so I authorized the charges. The rental agent also failed to give me the price I reserved the car for online. I didn’t have a copy of my paperwork so I couldn’t do much about it. The only thing I got a break on was the car insurance since it covered rentals in Puerto Rico. Anyway, if you make a reservation, take a copy with you so they will be sure to give you the price you were quoted. If you want to avoid paying extra for the tolls you stop at the first toll you come to on your right hand side and pay $20 for an electronic card that you stick to your windshield. Every time you go through a toll money will be automatically be deducted from the card; it’s more or less a dollar every pass. When you have about $5 left a yellow light will flash as you go through meaning you should add another $5 or $10 at the next toll. If it turns red you will be fined $100 if you don’t refill your electronic card within 24 hours. The system is very easy to use if you know how.

I had the unfortunate experience of not using the system correctly. I bought a car from a nice brother named Joaquin in Bethel and drove it from San Juan to Humacao without stopping to buy an electronic toll card (The car already had the sticker on the windshield). The system was flashing green every time I went through and since the car had an electronic card on the windshield I thought everything was good. Unbeknownst to me Joaquin called later that day and deactivated the card as of the hour he sold it to me. The next day we bought a new card and removed the old one thinking everything was alright. I still hadn’t officially registered the car in my name so a week later poor Joaquin received a letter in the mail with fines totaling over $900! Fortunately we got things straightened out and the fines were dismissed but it was a little stressful.

As far as road conditions go, the main highways are pretty nice and well-maintained. In some areas I’ve noticed that the on-ramps are too short and people have trouble merging into traffic; sometimes they just stop on the ramp or on the shoulder because of this. The roads in smaller towns have a lot of pot-holes and grates or dips designed to help prevent flooding when they have torrential downpours which is common during certain times of the year. It is hard on your car and there is quite a bit of scraping when you drive on some roads. People also drive differently here, there is no sense of who has the right of way. You just have to nose your way out into traffic and people will be forced to let you in. You have to be a little more aggressive and step on the gas or you won’t get very far but I guess that is the way it is in a lot of cities. I haven’t seen many accidents so I guess that means there are a lot of good defensive drivers here.

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Houses in Puerto Rico, food and dental visits

Houses in Puerto Rico

Our first two months in Puerto Rico we lived at a beautiful resort called Palmas Del Mar in Humacao. It had a golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool. But most importantly, it had central air. When our time was up and we had to move it turned out that our new apartment would not be available for three more weeks so we found temporary housing. We decided to rent a traditional Puerto Rican house. One of the major differences from the apartment is that it does not have glass windows. It has horizontal metal flaps that you wind open or closed. (AKA storm window panels.) On the inside of the flaps are mosquito screens and on the other are metal bars. They help keep out pests, whatever the size. My first day here after putting everything away I laid for a moment on the bed and enjoyed the warm breeze that was blowing through the house. I could hear birds chirping, the neighbors’ salsa music playing softly in the distance and could smell fresh baked bread from the Bakery down the street. I closed my eyes and felt like I was outside in a hammock. It was a strange sensation, maybe not having glass windows was not as important as I thought.

However, now that a couple weeks have gone by, I can tell you the advantages and disadvantages to having windows in PR. First of all, windows are expensive and if you live near the ocean the salt air will damage the windows and every so often they will have to be replaced. If you have windows you will probably have air conditioning which means your electric bill will be high. Electricity is not cheap here. Those are two reasons a huge number of the population does not have windows. Besides, if you live in the mountainous area the temperature drops at night and you can sleep comfortably without a fan or air conditioner. However, we live on the coast and it stays hot here, even at night. Unfortunately, the breeze does not always blow and things can get pretty uncomfortable. For example, we were sitting in our room watching a documentary on the computer and beads of perspiration were rolling down my back, and I am not someone who sweats a lot. The warm salt air also blows in a lot of dust and the floors and countertops have to be cleaned regularly. The salt air corrodes appliances and even gets inside computers making for a short lifespan. Houses near the ocean have to be painted and repaired often, which I was not aware of before living here. Anyway, it has been a good experience and has given me some perspective on what it is like to live without the luxury of windows and air conditioning. It is not unbearable but at times it does get sticky. That is when a cold shower is nice. Oh, and earplugs at night are great for drowning out the chorus of coquis and other animals that serenade you before falling asleep.

Window in Puerto Rico


Metal Storm Window

Food

I’ve attached several pictures of traditional Puerto Rican dishes that we’ve enjoyed since moving here.  One of the dishes is called mofongo. It consists of mashed, fried plantains mixed with garlic and your choice of meat or seafood. There is a dish called stuffed chicken (pechuga rellena) which is banana with chicken and bacon wrapped around it. For a quick lunch on the street you can buy brochettes (pinchos) of chicken or pork glazed with garlic and cilantro or spicy sauce.  They also sell arepas which are small round fried pieces of dough that are opened and filled with seafood, pork or chicken. There is something called breadfruit (pana) which is boiled and mixed with sautéed garlic and caramelized onion. They have wonderful coffee and pastries here; I like a chain called “El Meson” which is kind of the Puerto Rican version of Subway. For a dollar you can get a great cup of coffee, nice and strong the way it should be. Their sandwiches are also delicious. Food costs about the same as in the US but the street vendors and casual beach restaurant prices are pretty reasonable.

Tipical mofongo

Tipical mofongo

Mofongo in the different plate

Mofongo in a different plate

Sarah and the Mofongo

Sarah and the Mofongo

Churrasco and Tostones

Churrasco and Tostones

A big pork fried fillet

“Can-can” or fried pork

Healthy chicken breast

Fried chicken breast

Dental Visit

Miguel and I went to get our teeth cleaned the other day. We had a two hour wait to be seen which is not unusual. I was pleasantly surprised to see that their x-ray machine was pretty modern and it only took about 5 minutes to get that part of the visit over with. Unfortunately the rest of the visit wasn’t as smooth. They laid me down in the chair, not bothering with the usual sunglasses which was fine with me at the time. The dentist looked at my teeth and told me I was doing a good job which I was happy to hear and then he left me with his assistant so she could clean my teeth. I kind of wished I had the sunglasses then because water was flying everywhere. I had water running down my neck and all over my face. ’Maybe she thought she was supposed to give me a facial?’ I thought as the spray became more intense. Thankfully that only lasted a few minutes and she wiped me down and we were on to the scraping part. She pulled out a miniature ice pick and started attacking my gums. Wow, I can only say that I am glad I have a healthy mouth and that she finished quickly! I’ve never before had a dental visit like that one. Miguel said his experience was similar only that the dentist said he was sorry to inform him that he didn’t have any cavities. I guess he truly seemed sad about that so it was kind of funny.

 

To have a better idea of different houses, you can see the gallery below.

 

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Doctor’s visit Puerto Rican style and other random observations.

Puerto Rico  March 2013

So in the US we complain about how impersonal a visit to the doctor is. They herd you in and rush you out as if you were one in a long line of cattle that needed branding for the day.  Well, after going to the doctor in Puerto Rico I’m inclined to think that herding is not such a bad thing.  If you want to be treated on a more personal level, it’s going to take time, a LONG time. My first discovery that things did not run the way they should was when I got to my 1:30 appointment and discovered that the clinic doors were closed and there was a long line of people waiting outside in the hot sun.  We waited outside for an hour and a half until the secretary arrived and let in about 15 of us. “Does this happen a lot?” I asked. “All the time,” replied another patient laughing.  I guess the doctor regularly sees patients in a town nearby in the morning so if he runs overtime he gets to the office late. Everyone grumbled about having to wait but nobody went home since it would be wait now or wait later.  Fortunately I was one of the first patients to be seen and since I was just setting up healthcare for Miguel and me, it wasn’t a complicated appointment. In fact, it was so not complicated and the Doctor was so excited to learn that I was married to a Spaniard that he went online and showed me his vacation home in Spain and told me about a great new app for making free international phone calls (It’s called Viber). He shared his whole family history with me and I must admit I felt a little jealous of Miguel. Everyone thinks Spain is so cool and they all love the accent and want to travel there.  You don’t get the same reaction when you say you are from Seattle, WA. Anyway, then the doctor went on Google maps and gave me a detailed tour of his neighborhood in Malaga which I admired while worrying about his poor patients and how he was getting even farther behind. It was great getting to know my doctor on a more personal level but having to wait hours to be seen was not fun. I have to say though that he was a really nice guy. He gets five stars for personal interest. 😊 He happily chattered on and did not seem concerned and I finally got an order for a blood draw for Miguel and was able to leave.  By the way, if you need any blood tests you have to go to a separate place for that.  Then a week later you go pick up your results and then you go to the doctor again so he can read the results.  All in all, a very time consuming process. So don’t get sick in Puerto Rico. One good thing about health care here though is that if you are unemployed or low income the government has a free health care plan for you so at least you can get treatment.

Another good thing about Puerto Rico is how affordable car insurance is here. For basic insurance it is only $99 dollars a year and that covers everything except roadside assistance and medical. The medical is covered for $35 a year. These charges are mandatory and for a little more you get even better coverage.

I also have to say that I am fascinated by all the tropical fruit trees here. There are mango, papaya, mamey, avocado, pana and coconut trees everywhere. Unfortunately fruit is not cheap. If you know someone that has trees they are happy to share with you but if you try to buy fruit on the street it is more expensive than going to Costco and buying fruit imported from Ecuador. At least that has been my experience. (Maybe it is my American accent that artificially inflates prices.) I’ve attached a picture of the mamey fruit that a friend gave to us. It tastes like a mix between an apricot and a mango. It was really good! The friend who gave it to us warned us that it might cause stomach pain and explained that many Puerto Rican’s don’t eat a lot of fruit (him included). He said that the older generation used to cultivate and eat more fruits and vegetables but now the Puerto Rican diet consisted mostly of fried meat or fish with rice and beans. We later got more mamey fruit from his uncle who told us that the peel probably contained cyanide and was poisonous so we should be careful. We decided to go online and found out that the fruit peel does not contain cyanide but has a natural bug repellant quality and that it was used in the fields back in the day to keep bugs away from young plants.  So I guess as long as you don’t eat the peel you will be fine.

The brothers here are very friendly and kind as they are everywhere and we enjoy service a lot even though it is a little different. We usually stand on the sidewalk or in the driveway and shout, “Buenos dias!” I guess that since most people don’t have real windows, just slat shutters so the breeze can blow through, they don’t like you knocking on the door. That said, people are usually pretty respectful and listen.

I’ve attached some pictures of San Juan and the Cueva del Indio which we went to when Miguel’s sister and brother were visiting. It was beautiful and we will be happy to take anyone who decides to visit.😊

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Puerto Rico – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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January 29, 2013

Miguel suggested I do a blog for the year that we are in Puerto Rico and I begrudgingly decided it would be a good idea. It is a good way to stay in touch with friends without having to write to every single one of them.  I decided that this blog would not be to gloat about how great and wonderful everything is here but to comment on the little things, good and bad that make us realize we are not in the Pacific Northwest anymore.

Miguel and I decided to be wild and adventurous when we decided to sell everything and move to Puerto Rico. Or we were reckless and irresponsible depending on how you look at it.  I prefer wild and adventurous but time will tell.

I arrived last night around 8pm, happy to finally be here.  The first thing I noticed when I walked out of the airport was the noise. They have cute tiny frogs that are called Coqui frogs and they sing “ko-qui, ko-qui” all night long to try to attract mates. So there were frogs croaking and insects buzzing and birds chirping. Welcome to the tropics I guess. It was also humid and warm even at that time of night and I was lugging around 3 fifty pound suitcases and a backpack.  I was regretting not having gotten rid of more items when I spotted Miguel pulling up in his rented Nissan Versa.  He had roses and two Krispy Kreme donuts to console me after the long trip there. He was on a protein only diet so I think he was trying to live vicariously through me.😊 I didn’t mind. I happily ate my donut while noting that in Puerto Rico they don’t put as much crème in the center of their donuts. Hmm.

About 45 minutes later we arrived at Palmas del Mar where we would be staying for the next two months.  It is a beautiful resort right off the beach and they put us in an older 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment provided through Miguel’s job. The next day I got up late and sat out on the patio and enjoyed the view of the Palm trees and the swimming pool.  There was a light breeze and I was enjoying my Puerto Rican coffee when I suddenly felt a stinging sensation on my left hand, foot and leg. I got up and went inside. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something and then I realized they were bug bites! Apparently the mosquitoes in Puerto Rico are smarter than their cousins in the Pacific Northwest. These ones are smaller and don’t make much noise so you hardly notice them.  At least their bite is also smaller.  The reaction lasts for about 30 minutes and then completely disappears. But again, hmm.

One more thing before I go, the power goes off from time to time. It went off three times today and the last time it took at least 10 minutes for them to turn it back on. I don’t know if that is something that typically happens or if it is just a glitch.  Still, I am glad I brought my flashlight and hope I don’t get caught in the shower next time the lights go out.

Well, that is all for now. I will be visiting the doctor soon so I can set up healthcare with them which I heard is an all-day thing so I will let you know how that goes.

P.S. Miguel just informed me the power outages are normal so bring your surge protectors for your electronics if you are planning on visiting. The microwave where we are staying got fried the other day so it would be a good idea.

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