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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Our ‘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!!
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.
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.
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. This 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. Yea. 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. Ironically, 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. There 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. We 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!!
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. Not 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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