Thursday, October 11, 2007

Forum comments, island life thoughts, groceries,

I just got back from the hardware store and visiting the house site a little while ago. Couldn't find JB Weld, which was recommended to me on the boating forum, but found some stuff called "Seal-All". Its advertised for sealing up leaks in gas cans, etc. Gonna give it a try.

Still going through photos we took last weekend. One was this very unusual ( to me, anyway) coral growth. This is right next to another photo I posted of two coral heads. But this looks much newer to me. And its shaped strangely. I haven't seen anything that looks like this on the reef before. The formation is about four feet across, and that's a bit of exposed limestone in the middle. Any of you guys ever seen coral do this?

Stopped by the house. Took a bunch of photos from the patio area and stuck them in a panorama. Its coming along slowly. They are mostly working inside walls and doors this week:
A comment from the THT boating forum:

" like others here, I have totally enjoyed following the life and times of you two on TCI. With so many folks looking forward to, and almost depending on your daily updates of island life, (almost like Howard Stern) how has that changed your daily mindset? Do you leave the house now thinking that you have to find something interesting to photograph or run into someone interesting so that you will have something "exciting" to post for us landlubbers? (Folks here, me included, are actually interested in the process of you drilling a hole in your boat) Do others on the island know that you are sharing their lives with us? Are you amazed that so many are interested in what you cook, drink, look at or photograph? Are you two finding this the least bit amusing? I AM!

Do you realize that you now have a responsibility to "entertain" an audience of stateside dreamers? You really are an escape from the crime ridden and politically charged headlines of our daily lives. Please keep taking and posting the "seemingly mundane to you" pictures and make sure you write about those "uninteresting" locals that you run into on a daily basis, as these seem to be characters and threads that keep us dreamers dreaming! "

Actually, we haven't changed our mundane daily routines much at all as a result of this thread. Nothing posted here is anything we wouldn't have been doing anyway. We boat, fish, dive, check out new places, and hang out with local people as a normal part of our life here.

We do try to remember to grab the little camera now when we go somewhere. And we try to keep an eye out for anything that we think someone might find amusing. But we don't really go out of our way to find it. We did go back to the stone cats and the little cave, specifically to get more photos to post, and we used this thread as justification to go back up to Sapodilla Hill, but we would have eventually gotten back to both of those places anyhow. That was our fourth trip to Sapodilla.

We are pretty amazed that people somewhere find this interesting. Its hard to believe there have been almost 70,000 viewings of this thread. But what does that number mean? Could be twenty people who check in a few times an hour.... Could be twenty thousand people who took a look once and moved on. We have no way of knowing. The only gauge we have are the responses.

We were talking about it last night while watching the sunset. I was wondering if it was worth getting up and grabbing the camera, and the answer was "nah, its just another tropical sunset, they've seen that already". Its like the photos of the house going up, I feel almost like one of those old cliche' neighbors who invite you over to show you their vacation movies. A boring hour of their kids sticking their tongues out at you under a sign from the Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls. At what point are we boring people with house photos? Are they being polite and nodding their heads and saying 'yeah, very interesting' while thinking " Christ, not yet ANOTHER photo of the stupid pergola..."??

We have happily found that taking photos specifically to show to other people has given us a fresh look at this place. We took the photos all along, we just never showed them to anybody. When we first got here, EVERYTHING was exotic, foreign, and strange. It was nervous in places. Was this area dangerous? Are those people looking to rob you...etc. ( Did we tell you we were sitting in a restaurant when two armed guys in masks burst in and robbed the place fifteen feet away from us?)

Now, two years later, it feels normal, for the most part. Its like the first time you have to drive in Boston traffic, as compared to how it feels after five years of driving in it every day. The perspective changes. We do find something to laugh about, or shake our heads over, almost every time we leave the house. Watching the local news here is usually good for a few grins. And the three weekly newspapers are a flaming hoot, for sure. I should scan some of these articles and post them.

A lot of that initial excitement and heightened sense of not being "in Kansas any more, Toto, " that you get when landing in a new place fades with time. Its like vacationing in the same place every year, as compared to what the first vacation in a totally new and foreign place is like. Familiarity. What once was remarkable becomes commonplace. Putting the photos on this thread and then seeing the reactions of other people makes it all new again. La Gringa certainly wouldn't have bothered taking photos of Harry and I cleaning conch six months ago. There was nothing unusual about it, to us. But we thought, hey, maybe somebody SOMEwhere would find it interesting for a couple minutes. Someone who has never seen someone clean a conch, if such a person even exists.. So we post that, and get very little feedback at all. We got more interest in the drywall in the house. So, we scratch our heads and file that away. People ain't interested in conch. Okay. No problem. We aren't either. We catch em and eat em. But what ARE they interested in?

Its also giving us some incentive to make good on some of the things we have been talking about doing. We can use the excuse "hey, we need some fresh photos" to justify getting off our butts and firing the boat up. The local guys don't follow the internet for the most part. Some do, but not many. Most of them wouldn't be able to find the power switch on a computer. Evan could, Preacher couldn't, etc. So no, they don't know they are characters in a boating forum. I do try not to write anything about them that I would be ashamed for them to read, though.

So, that's kinda my take on it. We do need some feedback as to what people want to see. As was pointed out, its definitely an inter-active thread. Got questions about the TCI or what its like to pack up your life and move to a small, foreign island? Well, here's your chance to ask.

(On a question about buying property here)
Ok, looking at present land and building values, and knowing what we have learned living here, this is what I would recommend someone look at if they wanted to do essentially the same thing:

1.) First you have to determine whether or not you have to have waterfront property. If you do, you will be spending anywhere from about $ 500K and up if you want your property to touch the ocean. What kind of you want to live on a canal so you can tie up on your own dock? Do you want a sandy beach, no canal, keep the boat in a marina or on a trailer instead? Or are you happy with craggy rocks, no dock, no beach? $ 700K should find you about an acre on a rocky shore like near where we are building. $ 500K should get you a canal front lot of maybe a quarter or third an acre, with some neighbors close by. If you want the sandy beach, you are probably looking at a million and up. But all that is still available at the moment.

You need to decide which island you want to live on, and that would depend upon a lot of things. How close to schools, stores, big airport, medical etc. you want to be. Are you willing to live more remotely? Its cheaper to buy property more remote, but your support costs will be higher. Your building costs will be higher if you have to transport materials and crew. It will take longer. You might have to boat to another island for groceries and hardware, for example. Costs to run utilities need to be considered. If we were doing it again, I think we would be looking in the Long Bay Hills area, where you can get an acre of elevated land with an ocean view ( not water front) for under $ 200K., the utilities are already run, and the government is planning to pave the road within the year. Its off the beaten paths, but not too remote. There's a marina right down the road. how badly do you want to live right on the water, knowing you will never be more than a mile from the ocean no matter where you live?

Whatever you buy, it looks to be a pretty good investment whether you improve it or not. Land has been appreciating for around 30% per year since we started looking. they just don't seem to be building many tropical islands anymore.

Buying the land is not difficult. Its pretty much the usual type of realtor stuff, and lawyers to do title searches etc. But its not as complicated as the States. Land has only passed through a couple hands here, at most. You will pay a one time 10% Stamp tax on the value of the land, at the time of purchase but then no property taxes from then on. You would pay the 10% on the total value of the property if you bought an existing house. you do not pay 10% if you build a house. That's worth considering, for several reasons. The 10% one time stamp tax you would pay for an existing house would go a long way toward paying your rental costs while you build, for example.

You could also consider buying an existing house and having it upgraded or modified. There are plenty of realtors with websites here.

Building will run you anywhere from $ 250 per inside sq. foot up to whatever level of luxury you want. I would think you could build a pretty nice place for $ 300/ Sq. foot. but $ 250 would not be a dirt floor hovel, either. Its in the type of flooring, doors and window quality, roofing, appliances, etc. The basic house structure and building methods will be similar for any house, due to the new building codes. Its gonna be CBC and poured concrete. Do you want a pool?

We hired an architect. I don't think we would do it again if we built a second house. We would find the right builder ( and we know several) and sit down with him and come up with the plans we wanted. But I know quite a bit about construction, so it wouldn't be too hard for me and a good builder to design a house. Would save a lot of money that way.

Figure a year to get the permits and build the house after you have bought the land. If you can swing it, I would recommend staying in the US while its being built, and flying down once a month for a few days. Find someone local to keep an eye on it for you, until you get a feel for the builder. Some builders you could trust to handle the whole thing. Others you might want to keep on top of, not because they are dishonest, but because they might have a lot going on and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Hiring the architect definitely did help with that, and that may be worth it to most people. But I have found myself doing a lot of the "job foreman' aspect of what we paid the architect to do. That's just me. I couldn't keep my fingers out of the day-to-day aspect of it even if I tried.

Gas money and food, well, gasoline is currently $ 4.30 a gallon here. But the whole island is less than 20 miles long. A tank lasts a long time. We spend more on gas for the boat by far. Food will cost you about 30% more than you pay at grocery stores in the US. Conch is essentially free if you get it yourself. Restaurants are on the pricy side, but it varies a lot. You can still get $ 12 lunches. A really good pizza, large, with ground beef, pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and extra cheese runs right around $ 25. if my sources are correct ( we do that every Friday night when we are on Provo). A bit more if you wait for it at the restaurant and knock back a few drinks while catching up on the local gossip at the bar. Beer is expensive here ( shipping costs based on volume), Rum is way cheap.

2.) "Visas". When you come into the airport immigration here, they will stamp your passport for permission to stay up to 30 days without any hassle at all. If you need to extend that for another 30 days, you can do it by going down to Immigration and asking, essentially. Minimal paperwork. You can do that every time you visit, but you gotta leave the country between visits.

If you want permission to stay here for longer than that, you get into the whole Resident Permit thing. There are several types. The ones we got are Temporary Resident Permits, which we renew on a one year basis. Costs us about $ 1000 per year to renew, and the renewal is essentially a rubber stamp process after the first year if you keep your nose clean. Initial permit was more of a hassle. Needed letters from the police in the US stating we had clean records, you need to prove ( via financial paperwork) that you can support yourself while you live here without working here. You have to get a blood test for AIDS. That $ 50 locally, no probs. They also check for syphilis while they are at it. Kind of a two-for-one deal.

There are other permits you can get. It depends on whether you want to buy a business here. Permanent Resident Permit is the same as a one or three year renewable, its just more money up front for a lifetime permit. Other permits apply if you want to buy and existing, or start a business here. What kind of business. Whether you have a job working for someone else here ( that's complicated). The best situation is if you have investments in the US that produce enough income for you to live here. Or if you are a writer, or can work online, something like that. But if your source of income is not here, its very workable. They are most concerned about you competing with locals for existing jobs. They are happy if you want to risk your money to start a business and hire locals. Its complicated. Check out this site:

Its way more info that you need, and concentrates more on citizenship, which a lot of Haitians are seeking, not Americans. but look at the application forms PDF files and some of the links.
Well,I see I spelled "rehearsal" wrong...but I must have read it somewhere. I'm not that deep. If I knew, I would have certainly credited it.

Maybe its a paraphrase of Charles DuBois' "The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become." applied to making big changes in general. Without getting too much into our own situation, I would say that La Gringa and I individually had our own experiences in fire-hosing off the decks of our lives and making course changes. When we got together, some philosophies fell into place with positive reinforcements for both of us this time. Neither of us had that before. When striking off in a major new direction like this, if you've got a partner, its absolutely GOT to be a like-minded partner or somethings doomed.

That, and some more recent life experiences, tipped the scales and we decided to go for it. We've never looked back. We wish we had done it years ago.

We truly didn't know if it would work, when we arrived here to see if we could live in a foreign country, and on a small island. It's definitely NOT for everybody. It was different than we had imagined, but not worse. The first time we had to deal with Immigration people was daunting. The first time we imported something and had to go through the ocean freight, customs experience. Getting a TCI driver's license...buying and registering vehicles.... buying property, building a house, arranging cable tv and internet and telephone just keeps getting easier. And the more friends we make, the easier it gets. And as pretty as the water is here, the people are really the beautiful part.

We meet a high percentage of like-minded non-native people here, of course. Some live here, and some we meet passing through on catamarans. We typically strike up a conversation about the boat, and get invited on board. We have also seen people come down here and decide to go back to the US/UK/Canada/Australia/etc. after a few months. You have to be able to get through those first months when its all alien and strange, intimidating, and frustrating. Driving all over the island on the left without any brakes while looking for a tube flaring tool to patch a piece into a corroded brake line while lying in the dirt on the side of the road is way different from sitting in Club Med perusing menus for a week. We laugh about that now.

It could all turn bad tomorrow, of course, but can't you honestly say that about any place, at any time in your life?

Unfortunately, today has been slow. We did scoot out to the best grocery store on the island for a few things, and I took the camera thinking I would get some typical grocery store photos, with lots of empty shelves. But it was not to be. They just got some containers of food in yesterday, and the shelves are full again.

We have become hoarders. We go to the store shopping for groceries with a totally open mind, because we cannot plan on what we will find in stock. We have seen them run out of milk for two weeks at a time. Bottled water several times. Frozen orange juice. Every kind of meat. Sometimes there is no bread. And we are coffee fanatics, we use espresso and brew it in a normal drip coffee maker, and we have our favorite brands. And they change every couple of weeks because we have to adapt to whatever is in stock. The upside of that is that most of the stuff we do get is better than the finest Starbucks you can buy in the US. We usually get beans and grind them ourselves, but we are coming to know a lot of different coffees. And in general, they are better than the shelf stuff in the US grocery stores by far.

So, my plan to get some photos of empty shelves didn't pan out today. I did snap a couple shots just to have SOMEthing to this one in the dairy section:

Note the little tags with nothing stocked above them. And note what stuff there IS stocked, is only a few varieties, and its only stocked one row deep. And this was a pretty good day, actually. Most shelves were filled.

On another note, just curious, but what do you guys pay up north these days for your raw White Yam (not the yellow), Boniato, Malanga, and Yucca root?

The shipwrecks and the caves both fascinate me a lot. Pirates were very very active around here. These islands were essentially un-inhabited, and not patrolled by other nations back in the day. These little caves have been around hundreds of years. People had to have used them for shelter.

This one, for example. Its a better angle of one I posted earlier. That entrance is big enough for three or four people to sit in, and it goes back into the hill. And these are all over the place.

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