Looking at Dome's Beach from El Faro Park

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reducing Single Use Plastics in Puerto Rico

I've written about a few of the problems of waste on this island;  landfills filling up, more waste per capita than mainland US, recycling rates far below US and other countries, no bottle deposits and not enough equipment to recycle the amount of bottles and glass discarded, plastic being shipped off island to be recycled and an unwillingness of municipalities to tax or increase the cost of waste disposal, but all of these things pale in comparison to the overwhelming problem of single use plastics.

Everywhere plastic bags are being used as if they grow on trees, very low lying, high yield trees. A trip to the market of a small cart of groceries and you can come back with 20-30 bags, that is if you don't use re-usable bags, and very few people do here.  Ley 38, passed in 2010 was drawn up to require every retail establishment that used plastic bags to provide, carry out and document recycling og those plastic bags.  It also required those establishments to provide alternatives to plastic (re-usable bags for sale).  The law was in response to a "Ban the Bag" proposal that supposedly would have placed a burden on consumers and retailers alike by forcing them to provide other means to transport their purchases.  But Law 38 isn't being enforced.  Our local Econo used to have a bag recycling station, but that is gone, they used to sell re-usable bags, but those are gone too.  I see these bags on the streets everywhere, floating in the wind or spilling over the public trash cans at the beaches, installed by Surfrider Rincon.

Reduciendo la Huella Plastica Rincon is a group of concerned volunteers, myself included, who are working to reduce single use plastics in Rincon.  Their activities include raising awareness, increasing enforcement of anti-littering laws, educating the public and meeting with government officials, ministers and local business owners to work out solutions.  Key in this process is Ernie Alvarez, who circled the island of Puerto Rico on a stand up paddle board to raise wareness of the plastics problem in our ocean with a group called Plastic Free Oceans.  Ernie recently spoke to over 200 Rincon school kids as part of the Rincon Recycling Club, telling them that the plastic water  and soda bottles they discard are assassins, killing marine life at an alarming rate.  It is up to them to change the habits of their families and recognize the problems their generation will face if changes aren't made, immediately!

The plastic problem certainly isn't confined to Puerto Rico, but this is where I live and where I can make an impact.  I'd love to hear about things you've done to reduce your plastic imprint or if you have any ideas to expedite the process of reducing the use of single use plastic in Rincon.  Thanks!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Puerto Rico Surf History

Cindie Rice Collection
I've recently come across a great Facebook group, Aviones Boys, that has an amazing collection of photographs of Rincon and Puerto Rico from the sixties to the present. The page is dedicated to Puerto Rican surfing and seems to grow with added posts daily.  Of particular interest to me are the pictures of Rincon in the 1970s, pictures showing, palm lined beaches with very few structures, even the hills above the beaches are incredibly bare of development.  The surf pilgrims in the pictures are staying in ramshackle places and beachfront shacks, climbing the trees for coconuts and catching their own fish and lobsters.  We still do this here in Rincon, but mostly for fun, not for sustenance, the paved roads and well stocked colmados make life a bit easier, but when I hear people complain about the long drive from San Juan or poor cell phone coverage, it really makes me realize how spoiled we are here now.
The 1968 World Surfing Championships held in Rincon was the door that opened to bring the first wave of surfers to the island, but Puerto Rico already had a growing surf culture.  Jorge Machuca is the man most consider to be the first great Puerto Rican surfer and his legend started as a 14 year old boy in those 1968 World Championships in Rincon. He was featured in all the advertisements and articles leading up to the contest and did not disappoint, amazing the crowd and his fellow competitors with moves they had never seen,  floating on waves before anyone knew or even thought of doing it.  Jorge went on to be sponsored by Hobie and surfed around the world, but also influenced a new generation of Puerto Rico surfers including Edwin Santos and Carlos Cabrero.
Around the island, the surf culture has grown and the Aviones Boys group has great pics from Aviones to Jobos to Gas Chamber and Tres Palmas.   Photos showing Maria of Marias beach, cockfighters in Rincon, old pictures of the Rincon town plaza, the nuclear reactor being built, Surfer's Beach in Aguadilla with a sign stating that surfing was "only allowed under the auspices of the Surfer's Club Association by order of the base commander".  Looking at the size and shapes of the surfboards, the shorts and bikinis the people wore, it was a different world.
Nostalgia is often used as an argument against progress and I can see why as I look into the lives of the people who came to Puerto Rico in these days and found a place that was in a time warp when compared to the 1970s US.  The beaches were undiscovered and underused, the locals were kind and eager for contact with others, surfing had already happened in the states but here it was still a novelty, there were only a couple surf shops on the entire island.
Some may see a negative impact on Rincon from these tourists to what Rincon is today, but I believe it's been positive.  I would say most of the Puerto Ricans in Rincon have come to respect the old timer gringos who have been here awhile and made it their home.  The ones who have come and gone have brought their love of Rincon back to the states.  An unchanged Rincon is impossible, but a true appreciation of the beaches and water that are the lifeblood of this town is what these old timers brought and that has remained here and grown.  To the ones who stayed, Cindie Rice of Calypso, Dennis Rich at the Pool Bar and others who have the memories to look back upon, thanks for sharing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Puerto Rico Street Dogs - Satos

Today was the annual ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) Rincon Dog Health Day.  For those of you not aware, ARF is Rincon's non-profit Animal Rescue and Education Organization, they have an office in the Balneario park that is open MWF 9-12pm.  Their office does great work such as these dog and cat health days offering low cost vaccinactions and neutering services for Rincon residents, as well as creating a network of fostering dogs and cats for adoption.  We adopted our dog, Uno after first fostering him in the ARF program.

It's important to know that ARF doesn't have facilities to house any animals, so it's fostering program is key and they could always use more foster volunteers.  We have 3 dogs and do no/cannot have any more, but we are willing to foster puppies that get in the ARF program because they will get adopted, either here or sent off the island for adoption.
My wife, CC has worked with so many great people outside the ARF organization to do things that ARF cannot, including fundraising to send dogs off the island to new homes and gaining access to donated food and supplies for the fostering families to reduce the burden of fostering homeless pets. 

The animal population problem in Rincon is relatively minimal relative to the rest of Puerto Rico and its because of ARF and many other folks around toen who have worked to keep puppies off the streets and to get them neutered and adopted into good homes,  Calypso Cafe, Mango Beach Shop, Green Room Surfboards, Pools Beach Cabanas are just a few of the local businesses that have taken in strays (satos) and either found homes for them or adopted them themselves. 
The amount of dogs and cats run down that you encounter while driving is disturbing.  On a recent rip 10 miles away to Aguada I saw 2 dead dogs and a dead cat dead in the road.  It may be one way to control the animal population but it certainly isn't a humane one.  Laws protecting animals have recently been enacted and they are enforced where possible, but it still is a society as a whole where cockfighting is celebrated and animals are seen more as working tools than as parts of the family.  So it was rewarding to see so many local Puerto Ricans at the Dog Health Day today, spaying and neutering their pets, doing the right thing to keep the animal population down and keeping satos off the streets.  Gracias ARF and all those who volunteer!
For more info:

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Businesses in Rincon

Inspired by the latest issue of the El Coqui magazine, I started looking around and realized we do have a number of new businesses here in Rincon.  I try to support most of the new endeavors here because I know it's difficult to succeed as anew business anywhere, let alone a place like Rincon where the seasonal aspect of the town can wreak havoc on the budget of a place just starting up.  Also Rincon can use some new places, we lost a few last year including Surf's Up Coffee and Happy Burger (we think).

So here's an uncomprehensive list of some new things around Rincon.

In the plaza downtown, a coffee shop kiosk has opened and they serve GREAT coffee, lattes and espresso.  They are Saludos & Cafe, owned by a guy named Joe who is passionate about, well, Joe.  It's a top class place that looks like it could be a franchise, but no it's all original and the food is great too.  Stop in and say hi to Joe and his family who help him run things.

There's a new sandwich shop in the plaza by Angelo's Car Rental, it's called Sandwich Delight and it too looks like it could be a franchise, very clean, organized and fast. They have probably about 40 sandwiches on the menu and the few I've tried, the Cubano and the Media Noche and Huevo con Jamon have all been very good.

The Black Eagle restaurant has opened up again in the location where The Spot at the Black Eagle was.  They've redone the interior, it's always had such a great location and view, now it's nice.  But the food is mediocre at best, cold beer helped, but serving hamburgers on cold, untoasted buns isn't going to cut it.  Than again in Rincon it just might, better to drink here and get a burger at the Rum Shack later.

The Wine Cellar opened a few months back in the space below Ode to the Elephants and it's really nice inside, classy.  The wines are different and not over priced, everyont that works ther knows what they are talking about and Ish, the owner is usually around to tell you about his food and wine .  Nice place for a late nibble or dessert.

A few months ago a great little art gallery opened just south of the Plaza, Tres Puertas has only Puerto Rican made items and also has art workshops and Bomba lessons and Kids Summer camp.  It is such a great addition to downtown Rincon, check it out.

The Kiosko is a used bookstore selling Spanish and English books amid the Rincon Cultural Center, where you can see photographs of old time Rincon and artifacts from Taino Indians.  The bookstore has plenty to choose from on its overstocked shleves and great prices.  It's located on Rt. 413 behind the Balneario. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where to Stay in Rincon

When we first came to Rincon on a vacation we didn't know anything about where we should stay.  We found a flyer for the Lazy Parrot at EC bakery and decided to check it out.  Luckily that turned out to be a great decision, the Lazy Parrot gave us pool view room with a balcony and mini fridge, great bed and bathroom for about $120/night.  I don't know their prices now, but that I felt that was a great deal for what  we got.  Of course some people have other standards and in the mantra of Knowledge is Power, I'll try to semi-objectively write about a few lodging options in Rincon.

On the  website we break the town of Rincon into 4 areas and I think it's helpful to know what makes these areas different.  The North Coast is mostly Puntas and is the heart of the surfing scene.  It's hilly, so traveling can be rough without a car, but the beaches are some of the best for surfing.  There are also alot more vacation rentals here,  homes and apartments that are owned by snowbirds, available for rental mostly by the week.  The aforementioned Lazy Parrot is here too as is Casa Islena, a nice guest house on the beach near Antonio's that I would describe as classy.  A little further down the beach are Tamboo Beside the Point, which is on the beach and Casa Verde Guesthouse, both nice, but because they are in the heart of the action, can be noisy.  Pool Beach Cabanas are a little further down the road and to be honest, I haven't seen the rooms, but the pool and sushi bar is great.  As far as vacation rentals on North Coast, I am preferential to the Apartments at Pools Beach, because of the great location and  also because I help market the property.  But there are so many different properties for all sizes of groups.  Casa Grande is 2 huge properties side by side with a pool, walk to Sandy beach.    Pelican Point has a great location, but once again noise can be an issue, Rincon Surf Rental is in a townhome complex within walking distance of the beach and has a pool, nice and comfortable, sleeps up to 8 for a good price.  We manage their website as well as Oceanview Rentals which are up the hill further, 2 studios and a main house, the owner takes good care of the property.  Right next door is Vista del Mar apartment, nice budget places run by the Mayor of Puntas, Elier Lopez.  Elier and his daughter, Jennifer, also have many other properties in the Puntas and Ensenada areas.  The Surf House Apartments rent more longer term and are very nice, Suites at 413 is on the 413, very cool, with a small pool.  Casa Azul is a big property on the hill with 3 levels of villas and the Boarding House is a guest house with 3 apartments and a built in surfing school.

Just down the hill from Puntas toward the downtown is the Sunset Coast, mostly Ensenada, Tres Palmas Marine reserve to Maria's Beach and the hills above, great beaches for surfing and snorkeling.  No hotels, mostly vacation rentals as well, but one of the best properties in Rincon, The Villa at Maria's Beach, a beautiful beachfront complex, great for weddings.  I also like Casa por Fin Tres Palmas because it is beachfront, secluded with a pool.  These place are pricey, but sleep large groups and do it right.  Up the hill from the beach are The English Rose, known for its great breakfasts, but a nice property with a pool and Villa Quiles, a gay-friendly guest house with several nicely furnished apartments.

The 3rd of's area of Rincon is Downtown and the Marina, better known for restaurants than lodging.   The Blue Boy Inn is a very nice guesthouse near the Marina with a pool and from what I hear very good breakfast.  There are several condo developments near the Public beach, but I don't know much about their rentals. 

This brings us to the Rincon's Caribbean Coast, where the beaches are calmer and better for swimming than surfing.  There are no hills, so walking or cycling can be your mode of transportation.  8th and Ocean is a modern, new property on the beach that has 4 villas for 4-22 people.  Nearby with a pool is Beachside Villas, a classic beach house that gets great reviews.  The Pineapple Inn is a guest house with a pool where service is excellent.  Casa Vista del Mar is up the hill with beautiful views and 5 small, comfortable apartments.  Villa Orleans is a secluded house with beachfront and a small pool in a tropical landscape.  Tres Sirenas is a nice guest house with a great location on the beach near Rincon of the Seas, a resort property with a great swim-up bar, but rooms that don't quite measure up.  The Rincon Beach Resort is a beautiful property with great rooms, but pretty far away from everything else, maybe good if you don't want to leave the property.  Likewise for the Horned Dorset, Rincon's most famous hotel (and most expensive).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eco Tourism in Puerto Rico

The title of this blog post may be misleading as I won't be writing about the latest Eco-resort if such a thing exists in Puerto Rico, but I will be writing about ways that tourists here can help minimize the impact of their visit to this island, whose natural beauty, beaches and coastline draw millions (yes millions) of visitors each year.  It seems to be a bit of a catch-22 as these beautiful natural resources can only stay that way if they are managed properly, bringing in millions of people who create trash and waste and consume can only be a negative, but there aren't many alternatives for the Puerto Rico economy; manufacturing and agriculture can have as much if not more negative environmental impact.  A growing tourism industry relies on keeping Puerto Rico's natural resources clean and beautiful and hopefully the Puerto Rico tourism Company and the visitors to Puerto Rico understand this.  To see a report from the Puerto Rican Tourism Company from 2006, click here.  But I don't see a lot of this in action here on the West Coast.
Sometimes people go on vacation and take a vacation from their responsibilities as citizens as well, using bottled water just because you're on vacation doesn't make sense, but it happens.  I'm hoping to reach some of the people coming here to let them know that as a group, things will not change, its up to individuals to think about what the impact of their lives is on the planet and how they can lessen that impact.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico doesn't have very good public transit, I know in Old San Juan it is ok, but generally the Publicos are unreliable and a mystery to tourists.  So a rental car is probably the only option, but before you think about getting a nice big sedan, try a smaller vehicle and realize that alot of the roads in Puerto Rico are small 2-lane roads. you'll be saving gas and not be reduced to playing Chicken with the oncoming cars.
Very little of the plastic consumed on this island gets recycled here.  Most ends up in landfills, some gets shipped off the island and some make it to the plastic recycling centers on the island, please read about the misconceptions of recycling here.
Water is a big issue nowadays and bringing a water bottle with you, instead of buying bottled water will make a huge difference, but also asking the hotel if they filter their water and letting them know that that is important to you as a consumer. 
When you go out to eat, once again bringing your own water or asking if the restaurant filters their water keeps restaurant owners accountable.  If a bar serves you a drink in a disposable plastic cup, ask if they have a reusable cup or for your next drink, request to use the same cup.
Trash - Very little glass get recycled on Puerto Rico 7-10%, most gets ground up and put in landfills, so the best environmental  material is aluminum.  While Puerto rico does not have a bottle bill like many states requiring a deposit for all bottled beverage or aluminum can sales, many individual collectors still make aluminum and cardboard the most recycled materials on the island.
Asking if bars, restaurants and hotels recycle will help get these operators on board.
Try to buy local food and remember to seek out eco-friendly businesses on the island, make your tourism dollars count by giving it to those that care about keeping Puerto Rico natural and beautiful.  Find more info on 2006 PR Recycling Report.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Updates, The Season is Almost Over

As the surf season in Rincon winds down and we near our second year in Rincon, we've come to appreciate the seasonal aspect of Rincon as a tourist town and the impact it has on local business.  Many business owners leave town during the summer months and up until November, especially surf-related businesses.  Generally the surf season is November to April, but July is a big month for Puerto Ricans to vacation and Rincon is a big wedding destination, so the early summer months can be worthwhile for local hotels and restaurants, dive shops and other activity providers.

We work with so many tourist related businesses to promote Rincon as a tourist destination, but find ourselves looking forward to the days when the beaches are less crowded.   I can only imagine how the local Puerto Ricans surfers feel about it.  I've heard grumblings in the water and on the beaches before, but the tourism isn't going away and the town of Rincon and its residents, with some exceptions, seem to have embraced the tourist dollars.  I suppose Rincon is similar to the rest of Puerto Rico in that tourism is one of its fastest and only growing industries.

Lately I've been hearing about problems with local businesses on the beach wanting to monopolize the beaches, so that only 1 business could rent surfboards or give surf lessons on a particular beach.  The Department of Natural Resources issues permits for these businesses and is responsible for finding abuses.  If only one surf instructor can operate at Maria's Beach for instance, that is bad for tourism.  Competition fosters better service and more accountability.  I believe in regulating the businesses at the beaches, surf instructors should know CPR for example and food vendors should be responsible for keeping the beaches clean, but the permits issued by the DRNA don't address these issues, they just hand the key to the beach to the person with the most influence or connections. 

Permits should be required for businesses to operate, especially near the beaches where dangerous conditions and environmental concerns need to be addressed.  The process of getting those permits needs to be fair and transparent, the permits themselves should be limited, but should not create monopolies on the beach.  Rincon has many qualified, long-time residents who make their livings from the beach and enough tourists to support them,  it would be a shame to see small-town politics and petty jealousy spoil those tourists' experience.