Moving to Puerto Rico and the Unknowns
Sometimes when you move to a new place, you have a good idea of what to expect. You can research the local libraries, the local parks, the best pizza place in town and find the local Baptist church in town. Moving is always hard, but sometimes the path is pretty clear and certain. This one was not. There aren't a whole lot of Americans moving from fairly rural Pennsylvania to beachside Puerto Rico for Act 20 yet. I suspect there will be more in the future, but for now, the waters are somewhat uncharted. We could research enough to know the area we are staying in is safe and that the school is top notch. We visited several times and got a feel for the slower culture, the airport, the driving and the heat.
However. Once you move, there are things that you never thought about that matter. Things that matter quite a lot and things that you wish someone would have told you. There are good things and bad and little things that would have possibly made us lean towards this rental instead of that rental or choose these months vs. those months. Little things. Little decisions. We still would have come, but we would have been armed with a little more information and a little more comfort. You can follow along in real time on instagram if you are curious:
For now though, let's dive right into the things we've learned in the first 2 weeks.
Here goes -- the good, the bad and the stinky:
We knew that bugs might be an issue, and were particularly concerned with mosquitoes and Dengue fever. What we did not know is that there is an even more vicious foe and it is 1/4 the size of a common mosquito. They are little biting gnats and they are quite hard to see, but then there is a swarm of them around you and bite-bite-bite. The bites swell up more than a mosquito bite into a hard, little mound with a small pus-filled tip. They itch like mad and then go away in 3-4 days. We are combating them with various methods - throwing the arsenal at them really - and seeing which solutions work best. I have some DIYs that I am trying and will share once I know they work, but thus far DEET products work and anything with Lemongrass essential oil (lots of it!) also seems to be working. (I use THIS brand of Lemongrass oil from Amazon -- about $3 per bottle)
The gnats tend to hang out around water, sandy areas and forests and are most active at dawn and dusk. Keeping yourself in motion or wind (as in an open golf cart) keeps them at bay and they do not seem to bug us while swimming. Sit outside on the porch at dusk without a little citronella and you are eaten alive!
We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of "everyday comforts" available in Puerto Rico. Presumably due to its status as a US territory, the stores seem to have the same US buyers, so many of the brands of food, toiletries and other necessities are the same. Unlike Costa Rica where tampons and contact solution were nearly impossible to find, here in Puerto Rico, they are readily available. I could have packed slightly less if I had known the local WalMart 5 minutes away had everything. There is also a nearby Kmart, Marshalls and Old Navy which carry "American" sizes and styles of clothing and other products. I recently made contact with another expat here in Palmas who is going to take me to see the local "pulgueros" (thrift stores!) and fabric stores. Excited is an understatement!
3. The Heat
We knew it was hot and we knew it was humid, but we didn't quite know how we would adjust to it. We have vacationed for extended periods in other hot locations (Mexico, Costa Rica, Florida), so we had an idea of what to expect, but there are two things that have made life a lot more comfortable.
Cold Showers & Black Iced Coffee
We truly never touch the hot water in the shower or bath. The cold is never truly "cold", but it is definitely cool and we take 1-3 quick showers a day and usually a dip or 2 in the community pool as well. It helps a lot. Switching cold turkey from hot sugared and creamed coffee to straight black coffee on the rocks happened fast and easy. It is refreshing, bitterly so, and perfect morning, noon and night (decaf). I drink mine in a glass mug and I drink it quick because every drink reaches room temp (around 80 degrees) pretty quickly.
4. The Smells
We moved to a nice beachside community called Palmas del Mar and were expecting beachy clean breezes and the smells of topical fruits romantically drifting amidst the palms. It turns out the Caribbean is having an algae problem this year and it is STINKY. Like so stinky that I honestly kept checking diapers the first couple of days because I was certain they must be dirty.
|Our rental is right on the water -- HELLO algae!|
The smell has seemed to dissipate (or I have grown used to it) over the last couple weeks,
but in the meantime, I was very, VERY thankful for candles.
5. Trash in the Ground and the Post in a BoxHere in Puerto Rico, most of the trashcans are literally IN the ground (they look like THIS) and many of the homes here use post office boxes instead of home mailboxes. Any package deliveries also go to the PO Box. Neither affect us terribly much, but are an interesting twist on everyday life. The PO Box is in a little postal store in Palmanova Plaza, a beautiful square in the middle of Palmas with restaurants, a fountain and apartments above. (HERE it is at night.) I call it "the castle" because I can find my way home on the golf cart as long as I head towards the "spires".
6. The Golf CartsWe knew that many people drove golf carts around Palmas instead of cars, but we didn't know how much we would like it! Palmas is really quite like a small town in itself with multiple restaurants, a bank, the postal store, various activities like golf and tennis, etc. so the carts make good sense. What we did not realize is that a used golf cart cost us nearly the same amount as a used car here. Granted, we needed a 6 passenger golf cart instead of 4 for our family, but the used golf cart market is hopping. By all appearances though, the carts hold their value, so we should be able to sell it or trade it in for a fair value, as opposed to cars which dip dramatically. In any case, the entire family LOVES the gold cart. When it is hot outside, the wind is just perfect and when the baby will not fall asleep, the golf cart is her panacea.
7. The Dryer that Vents INTO the HouseThe homes here rely on tropical breezes and fans a lot. There is plenty of air conditioning to be had, but the electric costs are double or triple US mainland prices. For a couple of days, we tried to go without AC, but then the no-see-ums attacked and we realized that anything without a screen at dusk or dawn was just simply not an option to open. We started using AC, balanced with fans in the rooms that were occupied and both get turned off when you leave the room. You can get a sense of how delicate the balance is, yes? Well, enter laundry. The first time I went to do a load, the washing went fine, but then the dryer turned on and after 10 minutes, the laundry room literally felt like an oven. 200 degrees or so -- really. It turns out that this particular home has an inside dryer water vent. That means the heat, lint and such are pushed into a tub of water to vent IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM instead of outside and thus the ENTIRE house gets hot. It is a solution that might be necessary in a basement apartment or such, but for a tropical location where access to an outdoor vent would have been possible, it is a deal breaker for me. We are currently house hunting and that dryer vent is one of the very first things I check. It is VERY important.
UPDATE: 3 weeks in and we are able to turn the air off a lot more often even without opening the doors. 81-84ish feels ok (with a fan breeze) for room temperature to us now, but when it creeps above 84, it feels quite hot!
On the opposite side of things, this particular rental home has luxurious sheets, pillows, towels and beds. It makes a WORLD of difference and we kind-of hit the jackpot in that regards. It all evens out :)
All said and done, we are adjusting to Island life, trying to slow down, grow in patience and learn to manage the heat and the bugs. In short, Palmas del Mar is lovely, the people of Puerto Rico are lovely, the breezes are as lovely as expected (though the smell is sometimes not) and we would do it again in a heartbeat. We would pick a place with a dryer vent to the outside though.