bed and breakfast

A Sundial in the Rainforest

The lawn in front of the rainforest inn villa overlooks the Caribbean sea. Because it's often too muddy to walk on Curtis Humphrey, who volunteered with us a couple of years back, built some amazing brick paths. He designed them to spiral out from the center. This design, like the rays of the sun, called for something interesting for the focus. We found an old stone carved bird bath at an importers and installed it in the center. 

Normally that would be the end of it. Beautiful bird bath and lots of birds in the rainforest.  But the birds never visited our welcoming bath.  And we are lucky to have plenty of birds. Lizard cuckoos in the tree by the driveway, the monkey call of the Puerto Rican screech owl, Guaraguas high overhead, humming birds, vireos, Puerto Rican todies visiting every tree and bush, hovering over the pond, everywhere you look except the bird bath. Our rainforest birds weren't  the least interested in our bird bath. It rains here constantly, there's water everywhere, so a bird bath in the rainforest is completely useless. 

It's pretty sunny on the villa front lawn (when it's not raining) and it seemed ideal for a sundial. They're not available in Puerto Rico (I didn't consider that there might be a reason you don't see sundials here) so I started searching eBay for sundials. They are plentiful on eBay. Lots of choices, different materials, brass, ceramic, cast iron, and different styles: horizontal dials, vertical dials, equatorial dials, polar dials, analemmatic dials. We settled on horizontal dials as thats the one you most commonly see in a garden with the wedge shaped gnomon pointing north. You see I was learning the nomenclature. Sundials aren't that simple. Ebay had lots of horizontal sundials for sale and I measured the birdbath to see what size it should be.

Next I filled in the birdbath with concrete and tiled it with a nice compass dial pattern of Travertine (limestone) tiles. I cut them to size around the edges and glued the vertical ones on with epoxy and later set the surface ones in thin set. Then I grouted it with a nice bronze colored sanded grout. It looked great, ready for the sundial.

Luckily I didn't buy one of the factory made sundials on eBay. They would have looked good but they wouldn't have told time. It turns out that bird baths aren't the only thing that doesn't work in the rainforest. Sundials, the factory made variety, are setup with a gnomon and face markings for the northern latitudes. Down here in Puerto Rico, near the equator, they have to be custom designed. So now the whole sundial project was in question. As you can see in the photo though the bird bath did look good with a tiled face and it certainly wasn't a bird bath anymore.

I kept looking at sundials on eBay and then I saw the perfect one. The eBay listing said: "Working sundial custom made for your location." jamisonwatt@yahoo.com would design the sundial based on my latitude and cut it out of steel using a plasma torch. He had an example of his work shown (held by a goat) and it looked like exactly what we wanted. I sent Jamison the PayPal purchase and a couple of phone calls later (turns out he's from Maine like my wife) he built our new sundial and mailed it down to us in Puerto Rico. He powder coated it with bronze paint baked in an oven so it wouldn't rust in the constant rains and I mounted it slightly raised so it would drain off and stay as dry as possible.  And it tells time. 

Who’s Who at the Rainforest Inn

Hi. My name is Pedro. I’m writing Bill’s Bed and Breakfast blog this week because Bill is busy entertaining visiting relatives in addition to running the inn during peak season and opening up a new five bedroom villa. I’ve been living here at the El Yunque Rainforest Inn for about eight months now.

This is the first time I’ve had the chance to hang out “behind the scenes” at a B&B guest house and it has been very interesting. Small places like this get their personality from the owners and Bill & Laurie certainly have some personalities. Bill is from the west coast and Laurie is from the east coast. Bill grew up in a large family which raised their children absolutely laissez-faire. He basically did whatever he wished with no adult supervision. He has stories about inventions he made as a child (one of which blew up his bed). Laurie, on the other hand, grew up in a strict organized environment working as a very young girl in her parent’s business. So you can imagine that they don’t always agree about how to run the bed and breakfast. Bill is busy running his ship’s agency which leaves Laurie in charge at the inn. But Bill still has time to interject free-style inconsistencies which keep things interesting.

I want to tell you about the girls, my favorite subject. Lizzy is a platinum blonde beauty. She has been with Bill & Laurie the longest. Although she is popular with the guests she proved her unreliability last year in a spectacular fashion. She took a hiatus (without either Bill or Laurie’s approval) for nine months. I worried about her whereabouts all that time but remembered also that the workers are often not on time and have been known to take off from a job sometimes for weeks without notice. In Puerto Rico it is more important to stop and help someone who is in need then to be on time for a job. Lizzy came back very nonchalantly one day after her vacation with some excuse about how she was kidnapped. Laurie was relieved to see her again but by that time she had transfered much of her affection to Bella, one of the younger girls (but not the youngest). Bella is always a real angel around here, a little prissy and whinny and not as popular with everyone like Lizzy (the blond) but admired for her extreme (and completely self aware) cuteness. Sometimes Bella will show up in the kitchen wearing some boutique get-up that only her and Laurie can appreciate.

The newest girl is Maya. She has only been here a short while but acts like she owns the place. She leaves her belongings out in the public areas for the rest of us to pick up. She doesn’t know how to behave around guests. She is usually being disciplined by Laurie and always forgiven by Bill. She thinks she is the one in charge and often pretends to supervise. She is into everyone’s business. She tries to make sure that everyone is where their supposed to be and lets us know if someone shows up unexpectedly. Sometimes she reminds me of an SS officer on patrol of the rainforest perimeter.

I hang out in the kitchen which is the center of the bed and breakfast. I am probably the one who spends the most time with Laurie as she not only prepares the incredible gourmet meals here but also all the rest of the meals for the volunteers. One of the guests took pictures of me because I’m a real Puerto Rican. I felt like the native Americans must feel when tourists photograph them as if they were part of the scenery. I was reluctant but Bill assured me that it would do no harm and that my photo would end up on an interesting web site and anyway it would only take a few minutes. Well, a few minutes turned into hours. I was never quit sure what was expected of me because the photographer and I didn’t speak the same language. After that everyone was “where’s Pedro”? I had disappeared for a couple of days to let them know what I thought of that whole deal. This island is full of Pedros like me and please guys choose someone else next time. After I returned Laurie assured me that I would never have to do that again. So now I’m back with my favorite girls and in my place of honor in the kitchen.

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rainforestinn coqui

You may have guessed by now that Lizzy is an eleven-year-old silky terrier mix, Bella is a four-year-old mini Yorkshire terrier and Maya is a one-year-old Belgian Malanois. But did you figure out that I’m not who I seem to be? I am the resident coqui who lives in a crystal vase in Laurie’s kitchen. You can read about me in an earlier post and see pictures of me in my vase.

Oh! Don’t let me forget to mention Heather my newest favorite volunteer who sports a drawn on Luigi mustache sometimes to liven up the kitchen work place. And she’s a "Real" girl.

Thank you Bill for letting me do the blog -- Pedro, aka Laurie.

Mañana – The Fifth Time Zone

Sometimes I think we live in the fifth time zone. At The Rainforest Inn the housekeepers have us on a schedule. We wish we had them scheduled around our guest’s breakfasts, check-ins and check-outs. On our schedule today is today, on their schedule, today is sometimes mañana. The guests want their breakfast today not mañana. Their rooms need to be ready for check in today before they arrive not mañana.

I hired a mom and her daughter. Both of them part time. I figured between the two of them somebody would show up when I needed them, today. Not mañana, after I have completed their work. You’ve heard the old saying "all the good men are already taken". Well, all the good housekeepers are taken too. Maybe they are living somewhere with all the good men. Anyway, it is fifteen minutes to nine today and I have 8 hungry people waiting for my gourmet breakfast (which should be served at nine today not 9:00 Mañana) and I am all alone.  Normally, Bill helps me when I need it but he had to go to San Juan early this morning and is not here to help me. If I was into strangling the help, today would be their unlucky day.

Puerto Rico has a very laid back culture. That is one of the great draws of the Caribbean islands. But, I have to admit that when I depend on my help and they don't show it doesn’t seem such a great feature. The other day neither housekeeper showed because the grandmother had a dental appointment.  What?!  And before that neither came on time because they had to go and buy some school supplies for one of their kids. "Oh". I told them,  "My guests didn't want to wait until 11:00 for breakfast so I went ahead and prepared it without you".  Tardiness is right up there with the no shows. Showing up at 8:00 a.m. to help with breakfast does not mean that is the time you set your alarm to wake up. Hence, mañana – the fifth time zone.  Regaton is one of Puerto Rico’s latest cultural innovations and has become very popular stateside. Puerto Rico’s long-standing fifth time zone concept has taken a little longer to catch on.

Bella with her maid outfit on ready to help

We have tried everything here at the Inn to get the housekeepers to meet our  schedule. We have scolded them and we have tried rewarding them.  Wouldn’t you like $50.00 extra at the end of the month just for showing up on time? When that didn't work it really surprised us! Holidays and the weekends are their free time, period. I will schedule them and even beg them to please come once in awhile on a Saturday. But they will not show and come mañana instead. I needed them Saturday of course, not mañana. Here in the islands (not just in Puerto Rico) the workers train their employers well. We don't schedule them during these times anymore.   Bill and I wish we could have grown up in a fifth time zone. Can you imagine never having to worry about being late for work or even showing up on the right day?

Fortunately, for us there are young people who have the mind frame and the freedom to take time from their regular life and graciously volunteer for a few months at a time, with only room and board as payment. And I do mean graciously volunteering. They work hard and do a great job too. They always show up and are on time because they live here with us. Can't beat that. For the past year, Peter, one of our volunteers from the states who is now moving on with his life, was my best assistant cook (and always showed up on time and on the right day). He often did the whole breakfast himself to give me a break. It will be hard to replace him.  He was always pleasant and my best worker and trust me I am not the easiest person to work for.  Sometimes I can be a little brash and I have some perfectionism stuff going on, so I have been told.

Maya_feather_duster

As of today, I have given up. I’ll never ask either housekeeper to work on a weekend, holiday, today or even mañana, again. They are now free to live in the fifth time zone. ( I may regret this mañana) Now I no longer have my housekeepers or my assistant cook but I do have one of “the last good men out there”.  Many thanks go to Bill, for all the times he let me drag him into my kitchen to help me with the breakfasts (which is my job not his) and didn’t complain, well maybe he did a little. Now if I could only get him to show up on time, could it be he may be slowly slipping into the fifth time zone too?

All and All I think I will survive. Every day I have the sunshine, warm, mountain breezes and the serenading song of the coquis here in El Yunque to remind me that this is just one of life's minor annoyances. I’m afraid though, *-I sometimes feel the calling of the fifth time zone too. Mañana.

Making an Iced Coffee - Puerto Rico Style

Laurie’s daughter Cher has been visiting us from Maine. She stayed in our new suite which overlooks the stream and is just below the jungle suite. Her back porch is right on top of the jungle where our trail goes out to the waterfall swimming hole. She said that sometimes the jungle sounds were so loud (in the evening) that when she called her friends and family back in Maine they would ask her what the sound was, and later could always tell immediately where she was calling from. It isn’t just the coqui’s, of which we have eleven varieties all with distinctive notes to their calls, but also the katydids which harmonize the cacophony. We also enjoy the calls of the night. My favorite is the Puerto Rican screech owl (a pair lives in the tree a short distance away). The screech owl call sounds like a raucous chattering monkey.

Cher said that besides lounging in the new suite and going to the beach with her mom her other favorite activity was going shopping with her and stopping at Starbucks for a frappuccino. Cher decided that she wanted to make one here so she could combine her two favorite things, enjoying a frappuccino and lounging on the back porch with the jungle view. So the first thing she tried is brewing some fine Puerto Rican coffee, adding ice, and mixing it in the blender. It turned out nasty tasting so Cher asked Laurie to help come up with something that tasted like Starbuck's secret formula. The first thing Laurie tried was some internet searches. She had no luck with that as the recipes didn't achieve the flavor she was looking for.

Laurie said, "So then I got thinking that those small kioskos in the malls must use ingredients which keep and are easy to deliver and are simple to make. So I knew it couldn't be fresh milk."  Laurie knew she had to start with strong coffee flavor as the coffee shops had that in abudance. It didn't take her long to come up with the most delicious frappuccinos.

Her recipe:

Brew fresh coffee or use instant. If you use instant be sure it is an instant made for the Puerto Rican market (most cities have Nestle Puerto Rican style or get someone in Puerto Rico to mail you a couple jars). The Puerto Rican instant coffee is so much better that it makes all the difference. It can even be decaf with very little difference in the flavor. Use 3 3/4 cups cold water and about six slightly heaping teaspoons of Puerto Rico freeze dried instant coffee (or the same amount of chilled fresh-brewed espresso, double strength). Then add one can of sweetened condensed milk. This is the secret ingredient. Put plenty of ice in the blender, pour in some of your liquid and frappe away.

This summer we have been enjoying a tall glass almost every afternoon.