Monday, May 16, 2016

Moving to Puerto Rico: Local Food

Locally grown food is pretty important to me and it has taken a while to find good resources in Puerto Rico. You can easily find tree and shrub fruit, like mangoes, avocados, papayas, citrus, and bananas. These are sold from trucks at many street corners and you will probably have a tree or two in your backyard that you can pick from. But, finding food that is grown in farms/gardens locally, like tomatoes and cucumbers, is a bit harder. Many of the road-side trucks are selling imported food - don't let them fool you! They will have the local tree fruit, but if you see eggplants, onions, tomatoes and other things like that, they are probably from central America. Here are a few sources that you'll be sure to find local food:

Organic Produce
  • Sana Farms: we get a large box of organic produce from Sana every week. I can't tell you how this has made my life more content and full in Puerto Rico. My refrigerator is full of good food, grown without chemicals and I am supporting a local family doing good things for the land. You can pick up in Cabo Rojo, Mayagüez and Rincón. They also have a Farm Stand in Rincón across from the Post Office. Here is a post that will tell you more.
  • Rincón Farmers' Market: Sunday mornings
  • Aguadilla Farmers' Market: Saturday mornings

Local Coffee
  • Mis Abuelos Coffee: this coffee farm is up in the mountains of Mayagüez. See this post for more information.
  • Sandra Farms: I haven't made it to this coffee farm, but I have enjoyed their coffee at BD Cafe in Rincón. (Facebook Page)
  • The best whole bean coffee that we have found is sold at Erik's Bakery in Maricao. I'm not sure what local farm it is from in Maricao but it is very good and a great price ($5 something/lb).
Imported Produce
  • El Viandon: this is a restaurant supply warehouse in Mayagüez. It is located just behind the VA building off of Route 2 in a warehouse. The public is welcome to come in and shop. If you are feeling hot, this is the place to go to enjoy 40 degree temps while you shop. While not local, you might be looking for something that never shows up in grocery stores or farmers' markets. I go here for special items, like artichokes, fennel, hot peppers and organic milk. 
Local Meats/Eggs
  • UPR-Mayagüez sells meat (beef, chicken, rabbit) through the Departamento de Industria Pecuaria at the Food Science building and at the finca on campus. 
  • CaboRojo Steaks sells grass-fed beef.
  • Friends! Get to know friends that have free-range chickens and you'll have the best eggs ever. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Moving to Puerto Rico: Education

So you've decided moving to Puerto Rico is going to be a lot of fun, but what about moving those kids? What about school? I don't have any first hand experience about schools here because I homeschool my kids. But I can give you a few ideas on the public and private schools in western PR.

I haven't heard many good things about public schools. I only know a couple families that use them, so there must be one or two that are good. Everyone else I know uses private schools. We haven't thus far because of a few reasons: the expense (seems to be about $5K a year at most places - usually $500 a mo and $1K registration fee), I like to be flexible with traveling or putting kids into camp and don't want to take a kid out of school that I'm paying for, and I'm enjoying homeschooling so far.

Private schools in Western PR

Mayagüez: SESO, WALKS, Montessori, Escuela Ubuntu
Añasco: MASIS
Rincón: Mama Mel's, Semillas, Without Walls Academy
Aguadilla: Borinquen Bilingual School, First Bilingual Preparatory School

I've know people to like all the private schools in Mayagüez. SESO and WALKS are your traditional Puerto Rican bilingual private schools. I've heard from locals that the children often come out of this experience only wanting to speak English. The Montessori is also bilingual and is very well respected and has been around for a long time. Escuela Ubuntu is a k-2 Waldorf school and is just completing it's first year. I've visited at an open house and it seems like a really nice little school. It seems like it is mostly Spanish speaking. MASIS in Añasco is cheaper than the Mayagüez schools and I know of a few Americans that live in Rincón and send their kids there. If you use these schools you are guaranteed to have your kids speaking Spanish. That is my one problem with homeschooling. Mama Mel's in Rincon is very popular with many Americans in Rincón and is also bilingual. I don't know anything about the schools in Aguadilla. See comments below for reviews from people that live here and use these schools.

Homeschooling in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico does not regulate homeschooling, so you don't need to fill out any paper work to start schooling at home (see Puerto Rico Homeschool Laws and T'CHERS FAQs). Here are a few resources:
Right now we are mostly homeschooling by ourselves with an occasional field trip with WREACH. I think our favorite trip of the year was seeing El Galeon Andalucia while it was in the port at Mayaguez this spring. We also have been taking advantage of different day camps that are offered in Rincón throughout the year, like Rincon Sailing and Rincon Riding Club.

Biblioteca Juvinel de Mayagüez is the nicest children's library you are going to find on the west coast. It is a private library on Plaza Colón in Mayagüez, located on the third floor above Banco Popular. It costs $15 a year for a membership. It has both English and Spanish books. And while it is a children's library, it also has adult literature. I have found that the best time to go is at 9am on Saturday. You are guaranteed to find a very close parking spot at that time and the library is pretty quiet then. They also frequently do special activities for kids on Saturday mornings. Friends Cafe has a small coffee booth on the plaza and is a nice place to pick up a coffee if you are waiting on the kids and a spouse in the library (at least that is what Ben does while I'm with the kids!)

There is only one art museum on the west coast and it is located at UPR-Mayagüez: Art Gallery, Department of Humanities. While not a traditional museum, the Tropical Agriculture Research Station, run by the USDA, is a great place to visit and learn about tropical plants. It is located right next to UPR in Mayagüez and has parking and is free to visit. You just need to sign in and get a visitors badge. Here are a few posts of our visits to this beautiful place.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Moving to Puerto Rico: Housing

So, you want to move to western Puerto Rico. Where will you find a house? Well, it is really hard to find a place to rent without being here. We tried so hard to find something before coming, but the landlords really want to just show the house in person. We arrived and looked at several places we had seen online and just jumped at one that was relatively close to where Ben works in Mayaguez.

You can look for housing online at several sites:
Renting a house is a good way to start figuring out where you want to live in Puerto Rico. It takes at least a year of looking and living here to really get an idea of what you'll like and what properties are worth if you want to buy a home. One problem that you'll see is the property taxes have not been reassessed here in Puerto Rico since 1950s. That has made for some very low property taxes and quite often no taxes if the home has the exemption/reduction for it being a primary residence. With so many Puerto Ricans moving to the US now due to the bad economy, there are a lot of houses on the market. If the owner does not need the equity in the house, they leave it priced much higher than it is worth (probably what it was worth ten years ago). They aren't paying taxes on it, so it just sits there. We've seen many vacant houses while we've been here. There is no way they are going to sell at what they are priced at. And the real estate agents don't seem to be able to convince their clients to put an appropriate price on the house Looking at many homes and seeing what is selling is the only way to figure out what a fair market price really is. If you are looking to buy a house in western PR, the housing market is more stable in Rincon with so many Americans buying, but that means it is also more expensive. You can get much more for your dollar in Mayaguez.

If you are serious about looking for a home to buy, here are two sites that are helpful:
  • CRIM (Centro de Recaudación de Ingresos Municipales): you can zoom in to any property in PR and find information on the property, like taxes, lot size and owners. Many times the properties are not updated, but it is still a great place to find information and see lot lines.
  • another site to find information on individual properties. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Moving to Puerto Rico: Shipping Your Belongings

{Our first beach day in Puerto Rico, July 2014}

My kids appear a lot on this blog, so every now and then I get inquiries on what it is like to move to Puerto Rico with a family.  So, I thought I would do a series of posts on what I have found. Hopefully it might help some others out there to make the move.

We moved from western South Dakota to western Puerto Rico. Ben came to Puerto Rico on a plant collecting trip once in graduate school in 2005 and once to interview at UPR-Mayaguez in 2013. We decided to come without any more visits or arranging housing ahead of time. So, yes, I never set foot on the island until we arrived on one-way tickets with the whole family.

Some folks are exemplary and get rid of all their belongings and just bring luggage. Others, like me, decided to bring the household. I figured if I was going to move to an unknown place, I wanted familiar toys and goods around the house. I'm so glad I made that decision. For example, I really value sleeping on beds that are not toxic. There is no way that you will find organic cotton and wool mattresses on the island. And shipping a mattress here from a distributor would be prohibitive. Anything sold on the island is imported (there is very little industry here making anything), low quality, and the sales tax is quite high (currently 11.5%). Once piece of good news is that IKEA is on the island, so that is one way to purchase furniture if you choose to not bring much with you.

I looked into several moving companies and we ended up using UPack, otherwise known as ABF Freight. They get a five star rating from our experience. They brought the container right to our home in SD. The norm is to leave it for three days before picking it up. They left it on Friday and didn't pick it up until Thursday, so we got a total of five days to pack it. Then we paid to have the container stored for two months in their yard in South Dakota while we were busy driving around the mid-west. They said to call them two weeks before we wanted it to start it's journey south. We gave them the heads up and it took a total of two weeks transit time. I was quoted 10 days. Not sure if that was ten working days or ten anytime days. Either way, it was pretty much right on time. The ABF employees in San Juan took care of the paperwork at the Customs House to get it out of the port and then had it delivered to our home on the west side of the island the next week. Nothing was amiss in the truck. And we were never charged more than what was quoted to us. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Flower-Fed Buffaloes of the Spring


{Pieter, 11 months}


{April 26, 2011}


{Pieter, 2 years}

{Juliana, 9 months}

{Pieter, 2 years}

{Pieter, 3 years}

{Juliana, 13 months}


{September 28, 2013}

{Juliana 20 months, Pieter 3 years}

{Pieter 4, Juliana 2}

{Juliana, 2 years}

{Pieter 4 years}

This poem made me remember all our fun times in South Dakota. We loved going to Custer State Park to see the bison roaming the hills there. This is a collection of photos from all of our visits to the park over four years. Oh, these cute little ones...

The Flower-Fed Buffaloes of the Spring

The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low:—
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by the wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us, long ago.
They gore no more, they bellow no more,
They trundle around the hills no more:—
With the Blackfeet, lying low,
With the Pawnees, lying low,
Lying low.

~Vachel Lindsay

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Snuggles with Daisy

This little doggie loves Juliana! Daisy is starting to settle down. She definitely did not have a very good life before she was dumped. She is very friendly with the kids and starting to warm up to me. She just shakes if Ben walks into the room. Maybe because he was there at the zoo when they pulled her out of the cage? Or more likely a man in her past life was pretty bad to her. Well, then maybe being dumped was the best thing that could happen to her. Because she is headed to a home full of love for little doggies!
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