Paradise Tax and the Costs of Living in PR

    I’ve mentioned ‘Paradise Tax’ in past posts, but for those Gringos who don’t know what it is-  It’s the real costs of living plus the many little and ‘not so little’ hassles everyone puts up with to live in an absolutely wonderful place.

    Claro PRT Truck in Coamo, Puerto RicoJust to be clear, it IS wonderful living here and I have NO regrets about making Puerto Rico my retirement home.  NONE!  No place is perfect, but this is pretty close.

    That said, I thought a ‘Reality Check’ might be in order since
    I sometimes gloss over stuff.

    Writing about issues is not what I want to be doing, but here goes-

    Internet Issues- Claro/PRT (Puerto Rico Telephone)

    First and foremost is our continuing Internet provider issues.

    We rely heavily on  PRT’s hardline A/DSL service to maintain our many websites (18 at last count), keep 2 computers, a laptop and tablet updated and the rest of the software we use on a regular basis updated.  I also ‘like’ to stream the PBS NewsHour in the afternoons since it’s only shown on tape-delay at 11:30 at night here in PR, about my usual bedtime. This is the first thing to go when we start having issues with our ISP service. Dish Network removed PBS from our station line-up two years ago when the local station stopped supporting it.  Now it’s back on a new station (Ch. 40), but since the program is in English, it gets bumped from a prime time slot.

    We are not your average Internet user who accesses the Net from a cell phone or iPad.  We NEED unlimited access to get stuff done.

    Vine Mess Left Hanging in the Telephone Lines Along the Highway Outside Coamo, Puerto Rico

    Until last Friday, we had been without A/DSL for over 6 weeks.

    During that time, we were promised over and over that they would set us up with ‘Servicio Alternativo’, a wireless ‘Globe Surfer’.  They never showed up.  It never came.  After several weeks, we finally went into the Ponce Claro office and after some paperwork, we got the new wireless modem.  What was not explained is that it had a 10GB monthly limit.  That sounds like a lot until you realize we had not updated anything in over a month.  Detail of Vine Mess Left Hanging By the Power Utility in the Telephone Lines Along the Highway Outside Coamo, Puerto Rico

    Repeatedly, we were told there was no limit by one group only to be told by another that there was a 10GB limit and there was nothing they could do about it.

    We were even willing to pay for more Gigs, but since it was provisional, there was no way
    to do that.

    Here is the real issue-  Though Claro owns both the hard line A/DSL phone system (PRT) and the wireless phone company, they are run independently of each other.  So we got lost, somewhere in the middle.

    Nor was there any form of arbitration to work out our problems.  At least none that we were made aware of.  Me First Mate spent many, many days and many, many hours on the phone (AT&T iPhone), trying to get this resolved, only to be constantly redirected back and forth or simply hung up on.

    These issues with the A/DSL go back to the end of last year.

    Telephone Pole Cleared of Vines with Stray Wire Hanging Down, on Highway Outside Coamo, Puerto Rico

    Because of these ongoing problems, we purchased the only ‘pay as you go’ wireless Internet solution available (without a contract), on the island- Virgin Mobile’s Overdrive Pro (which is connected via the Sprint network). We would have been dead in the water, had we not scored the little thing.  Which BTW, works pretty darn good, but it has a monthly cap of 5GBs for $55, before you have to top it off again.  No roll-over, either.

    We’ve had to top it off every month since December because of the land line A/DSL service interruptions.

    A band-aid solution at best.

    We got real tired of PRT telling us they had no clue when we would get our A/DSL back “since they were going to have to run a new trunk line from the nearest town”, so me First Mate filed a second complaint with the FCC.  The first one was in writing, sent May 6th which PRT got a copy of as well, but the second one was filed over the Internet, early on Friday.

    Again on Friday morning, she called Claro/PRT to get an update on when the A/DSL would be restored.

    It’s interesting to note that when prompted to provide our account phone number to the automated service call center, we were automatically redirected to a real person.  That had not happened before.  After a few minutes of discussing the GlobeSurfer limits problem, she was put on hold and after quite a long wait, a repair tech answered, who just happened to be on his way to our house and would swing by shortly.  Water Mains Leak in the Road in Coamo, Puerto RicoOur ‘early warning system’, the dogs, starting barking about 20 minutes before we got a honk at the gate.  I assume he went up the pole out front to do something.

    Another 10 minutes here at the house and we got our A/DSL back!!

    WOO HOO!!!

    He was a very likable guy who knew me First Mate used to make domino tables (but no more).  We thanked him profusely and he was gone as quickly as he came.

    So the big question-  What did he do on Friday that could not have been done 3 weeks ago or 6 weeks ago when all this started?  I doubt this is a final solution… we are not holding our breath.

    Water Utility Backhoe Digging up Driveway to Fix Water Mains Leak in Coamo, Puerto RicoVery coincidentally (small town), we ran into one of our neighbors across the road later that day at Walmart and she said they had been without their PRT phone for a month and it was still out.

    Things that make you go- ‘Hmm’.

    The shots of the road out front were taken the day the A/DSL failed.  The AEE power utility company cut down trees and left a vine mess hanging from the lines at the exact spot our power and phone hook up to it.  I wish I had gone up there to photograph them while they were doing the cutting.

    Bottom line- We have A/DSL back, for now.  As of the date of this post, we have formally withdrawn our 2nd complaint to the FCC.

    Our own Fresh Water Spring

    At the top of our driveway, part way into the road is a ‘man-made spring’.  In the few years I have been here, it’s ‘sprung’ at least 3 times and each time the water utility comes out and digs it up and ‘fixes’ it.  At one point it was so bad it looked like a little stream coming down our driveway.  The last time they dug it up was a few weeks before the paving crew came by.

    I’m not sure when we got it, but we now have a 3rd water meter.

    Cast Iron Water Utility Meters Next to the Highway in Coamo, Puerto Rico

    It has to qualify as a road hazard as it sits just inches from the roadway.  It’s made of cast-iron and stands a couple inches inches tall.  At some point, somebody is going to run over it. Since they installed this baby, we have only gotten ‘estimated’ water consumption bills.  No actual water meter readings.  That might sound like no big deal, but they could read it at some point in time and then demand an ‘adjustment’ to the bill which we would have to immediately pay or face being cut off.

    The other meter, number 2, is well out of the ‘right of way’.

    We have also had extremely high water pressure.  We now monitor the pressure via a gauge up by the main feed.  We have had several things fail (a water tank and faucets), but I cannot say conclusively that high water pressure was the problem.  When I mentioned the water pressure to the guys digging the hole, they all got real quiet and just looked at each other.

    What did I leave out?  OH!  Electricity!

    I do not know if it’s because of where we live or not, but our power goes out pretty much once a week.  It is seldom off for more than 30 minutes to an hour, but it’s a real pain.  The real issue is ‘brown-outs’ where the power drops to 40 or 50 volts.  An Asphalt Truck Dumping its Load During the Re-Paving of Highway 150 in Coamo, Puerto RicoThis will ruin the compressor on a fridge or freezer so we have power strips with switches that are easy to get to.  All of our electronics are on battery backups.

    Battery backups are a must in Puerto Rico.

    Our next major expense will be to set up for solar electric.  Not to save money, but to ensure we have electricity all the time.. stable electricity.

    One of PR’s main generation plants is in Salinas on our side of the island.   In a positive move, the utility has installed several dozen wind generators next door in Santa Isabel.  You can’t miss ’em.  I love it and wish there were more.

    The day we took our latest doggy rescue to the vet in Santa Isabel, I took the opportunity to get a few shots of them.  In the process, I stumbled onto some old sugar mill ruins I had not seen before.  Re-Paving a Section of Highway 150 in Coamo, Puerto RicoYea.  Living with the hassles is worth it!

    Real costs have gone up as well

    Cost of Living issues is something politicians seem to avoid talking about these days.  The US Economy was going downhill well before the Stock Market crash of 2008 and things are still not improving for us working class stiffs.  (I might be retired now, but I did work for a living.)  This is having an effect on lots of other places too, like Puerto Rico.  The exodus of skilled labor and professionals continues at a rate such that the population continues to shrink.

    There are no small business opportunities here, so they leave.  Empty homes number into the 100’s of 1,000’s.

    Less users to cover the infrastructure costs means rates on both water and electricity have gone up dramatically to cover the offset.  Everybody here, is complaining about the spike in utility rates.  Giant Wind Generators on a Farm in Santa Isabel, Puerto RicoIronically, the electric rate per watt/hour in Alaska is less than half of what it is here, but Alaskans use a lot more of it, so it’s kind of a wash.

    Couple that to the Feds trying to redefine how Social Security increases are to be calculated and it puts a real squeeze on us retirees.

    Throw away pets

    Some folks find this more disturbing than others.

    Dogs and cats are not much better treated here than a plastic toy at Christmas.  They are cute and fun when they are kittens or puppies, but the issues of dealing with an adult pet seems to overwhelm many people.  Or they ditch them by the side of the road when they have puppies or get a job in the States.  So there are way too many abandoned dogs and cats in PR.  Some  consider it epidemic. Little Annie, an Abandoned Dog After a Trip to the Vet, in CoamoThere are ‘shelters’ at a few locations – too few, too far to be considered, and quick to euthanize probably because of the numbers.

    We do what we can…

    We have ‘adopted’ 4 dogs and 2 cats at this point.  That’s our limit.  They all managed to wander into our yard out front.  One dog and one cat both suffer from being hit by cars racing by.  The cat moves at about half-speed from a head injury.  CammiCat is functional, but not all there.  Reminds me of ‘Bill the Cat’ from the cartoon strip ‘Opus’.  The dogs ignore her.  Guinness, the big girl has a messed up hip, but still gets around good.

    Our latest addition is Annie.  She was about a year old when she showed up weighing 8lbs. A patchy coat and near starvation.  That was a few months ago.

    All our rescues have been to the Vet and given a clean bill of health.  We do what we can, God help those we can’t.

    Computer Maintenance Issues

    Me First Mate’s iMac hard drive failed a while back so we decided to try and deal with it ourselves.  There is 3rd party service available here in PR, but I’ve always had good experiences dealing with Mac repairs myself.  This is NOT something I would suggest one attempts on their own unless you are mechanically inclined.  Do-It-Yourself iMac Hard Drive Swap in Coamo, Puerto RicoWe scored the drive from Best Buy in Caguas, a few weeks before it closed it’s doors for good, in a ‘reorganization’ effort.

    Besides the specialty wrenches and drivers I already owned, I had to score a pair of suction cups at Auto Zone for grabbing the front panel and pulling it off.

    Full details of the process are available online as a YouTube vid and PDF file.

    Everything went well and after a bunch of software installs and up dates, she was back in business.

    The real icing on the cake came a couple months later when Apple was issuing a service notice to replace or refund hard drives that had failed prematurely and had been replaced or needed replacing.  Even though we made clear we had done the work ourselves, Apple still refunded the cost of the drive AND gave us the equivalent of what it would have cost for a repair shop to do the switch.  Oh Snap!!

    Old Sugar Mill Ruins of Santa Isabel in Puerto Rico

    So my one suggestion is to get gear that will last and has a good service track record.  Sony comes to mind as well.  If we lived in San Juan, I’m sure we could have found an outfit to do the work.


    One last ‘pet peeve’.  Very few roads outside the metro areas or main highways have guardrails.  I’ve lived here for most of 4 years now and there have been 3 cars veer off the road and onto our property.  One actually ended up on the front lawn.  Interior View of Sugar Mill Ruins of Santa Isabel in Puerto RicoNot an easy thing to do.  Fortunately, they just missed our Lemon Tree.

    No one was hurt.

    Most roads are a real patchwork of covered potholes and utility corridors.

    I should not complain too loudly as they re-paved our road the day before the San Blas Half Marathon.  I thank them for that!

    Sure, crime is an issue, especially in San Juan where work is scarce and drugs are plentiful.  We don’t see too much of that out where we are, but it happens.  Most Puerto Ricans are fun loving people with a fierce pride for their little piece of paradise and for good reason.

    Now that I have this rant behind me, I can go back to doing what I like the most… Writing about the Puerto Rico I respect and love.

    The Scurvy Dog.. Arrg!

    Please Note: Larger images that show much more detail may be seen over on the Scurvy Dog’s FaceBook Page.

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      6 Responses to Paradise Tax and the Costs of Living in PR

      • Erin says:

        The stray animal problem breaks my heart! Every time we are there I buy huge bags of dog food and save all our leftovers and walk the neighborhood feeding the strays. I also keep a bag of dry kibble in the trunk to feed the strays I see in parking lots in my travels or else I end up spending a fortune buying pinchos or other food from roadside stands for them. Locals often laugh at me or look at me like I’m loco, but I can’t walk by a hungry animal and ignore it. I know I’m not helping the problem in the long term, but its all I can do for them:-( There is a guy in Rincon I believe that started a not for profit organization to help stray dogs and get them healthy and adopted. I would love to do something like that if we move there permanently,but the problem is so widespread I think it would take a large scale project with lots of government funding to put a dent in the problem (Funding the gov’t doesn’t have). In the mean time, every little bit helps! (S. Dog- Yes, the stray dog and cat issue is a real problem.. we relate! Our 4 dogs and 1 cat were all rescues from the road out front. There is a limit as vet bills add up quickly. Thank you, Roberto)

      • Maggie McMahon says:

        Just happened upon your website/blog… love your post about “Paradise Tax”. Moved to Isabela in December and I/we LOVE being in Puerto Rico but, OMG, there are some mighty steep learning curves. We adopted a stray pit bull two days after moving in and she then whelped 8 puppies two weeks later. Spanish lessons took a back seat to puppy concierge duties.

        “Battery Backup”! Brown outs are a pervasive and chronic problem in our barrio. I can live with unplugging electronics BUT the fridge only can be backed out from its super tight spot with major effort and for some reason it only properly resets itself when unplugged, flipping the breaker doesn’t work. We have a generator, but the noise, heat and fumes make it a choice of last resort.

        Battery backup sounds like a too good to be true remedy. I jumped on Amazon and while I can find battery backup products there is no real information. The wickipedia site under a google search made my head hurt. Could you point me in the right research direction?

        THANK YOU!

        (S.Dog- We have our fridge and little freezer on power strips we can get to for that very reason. Brownouts are very bad for compressors. Thanks.)

      • gary says:

        Nice blog! I recognize many things you write about.. Question: could you remove the background from the part where the text is? It makes reading sorta difficult… (S.Dog- Thanks for the complements! Regarding the background, I tested this design on both Mac and PC’s, iPad and iPhone and one Android tablet, but I have not seen it on other smart phones. Taking out the background would mean re-editing every Post so that’s not practical, but I could make it slightly darker or lighter if that would help. Can you send me a ‘screen grab’ of it?. Thanks.)

      • Fran and Steve says:

        Where we live in Humacao, we hardly ever get blackouts, only when there is a major storm. Same with water outages. We never have internet issues (Liberty Cable provides our internet + landline). Heat and humidity will wreak havoc on electronics, so we mitigate by using A/C a lot. We use inverter technology air conditioners, which are much, much more economical to run than old technology, or even fans. Yes, they are more expensive to purchase, but IMO cheaper in the long run, considering the high cost of electricity. So, it seems not all problems affect all parts of the island. Also, although we are always wary, we don’t seem to be affected by the volume of serious crime prevalent in San Juan. Our biggest gripes are the #@@!@! potholes everywhere! And we do see abandoned pets, but not really as many as Roberto and Katrina describe (although even one is too many!). And, as a Puerto Rican, I must admit I am often disappointed at all too-frequent “bad behavior”. — Fran (S.Dog- Yep, your experience will vary depending where you are. I have heard good things about Liberty Cable from others. Humacao sounds like a sweet spot :). It’s unfortunate, but we live near a popular ‘dump site’ for unwanted dogs. Thanx for the input. ARRG!)

      • The mystery of the empty houses comes down to archaic property laws. If you die your wife will not get your half of the property if you have living parents or kids. Because everyone who has a legal “right” to a property has to agree to a sale all it takes is one person to not want to sell (maybe because they know their kid will inherit rights to it at some point) and then it just sits there. It can take many many (like 20) years to solve probate issues regarding houses and land. (S. Dog- True. Spanish Law as practiced here, is nothing like US States Law. I need to look it up, but I think the inheritance issue was recently changed. I have warned off several people from buying cheap FSBO because of these very issues. You could easily find yourself owning the house, but not the land it’s on. Best bet- A bank repo and ALWAYS involve a lawyer. They are cheap insurance against claims made years later. OH! And it’s imperative you keep notarized hard copies or original documents as most government offices do not. You could find yourself paying the same taxes over and over again with penalties added each year. It happens. Thanx, Arrg!)

      • Ah, “services”…those things you pay for here and don’t get! It isn’t just Claro/PRT. It is also Sprint. Tv is a problem because the guides are all messed up so you can’t record stuff and watch it later. (I think we had Direct TV and now have DISH or vice versa which is accurate but expensive). Power is out for everyone everywhere for no reason (my theory is that it is rotating brown outs they just don’t tell any one about or workers vandalizing things). Water – you need a PRESSURE REDUCER. We had major fountains and water coming out of our icemaker in our other house until we got one! This house has just a trickle of water going into our cistern which we pump out of. Rincon hardly ever has water it seems! The animal problem is what is making us leave (and garbage). To say it is a “problem” doesn’t even begin to describe it. As for failing equipment? This is probably the only place where getting an extended warranty accually may make sense (depending on what it costs – sometimes it costs what buying a new thing costs which contributes to all the roadside garbage. Try planting a fast growing line up of coconuts as a living guard rail to mark your territory! (S. Dog- ARRG!)

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