Bare Necessities

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Last year when we downsized (sold our cars, home, furniture, business and personal belongings) to travel the world as house sitters, we thought we were trimming our lives down to the bare bones. We kept only what we thought we needed to exist in the world. Two carry-ons and two suitcases each of our “stuff” is pretty basic, right?


Now that we are in survival mode after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we’ve shed even more that we previously thought we couldn’t live without. For example, yesterday, as I was hanging clothes on the clothes line, I thought about when I was a little girl, how much fun I’d had helping my grandmother hang out clothes. It wasn’t a chore then, so why on earth is it a chore now? Who really needs electric clothes dryers anyway?

Advancements in technology have definitely spoiled us.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been a “kept” woman or a foo-foo girly girl when it comes to worldly stuff. But, likewise, I’ve never been a pioneer woman or much of a camper. I’m somewhere in between. I’m learning to be an island girl and I’ve just about gotten most of the hurricane survival skills down pat.

So here’s a few things that spoiled me into thinking that I couldn’t live without them:

1) Hair Dryer and Curling Iron

I used to think that unless I washed, dried and curled my hair, I wasn’t presentable. I haven’t touched either device in months, and even though I know I’m in dire need of a color and cut, John tells me daily how natural, healthy, shiny, and uh, sexy my hair looks now. Go figure.

2) Make Up

I come from a long line of Southern women. Going out without “fixing your face” is just not done. As pre-island Anel, I would always feel guilty about being seen in public without make up. Maybe it’s age, island life or hurricane survival, but those days are gone!

3) Washer and Dryer

Buckets of water and clotheslines worked great for cleaning our ancestors clothes, and you know what, they still work great. It’s taken me a while to get the knack of thoroughly rinsing the soap out, but I’m getting better at it!

4) Showering

Since the hurricanes we have had no running water (except for 4 days between Irma and Maria). We have two methods to get clean daily. The first is what we call the “spit bath.” It involves using a bucket of water that we keep filled in the shower (from our rain water cistern, of course), a bar of soap and a wash cloth. Since we also don’t have electricity for lights and there are no windows in the bathroom, the spit bath is always done to candlelight. This method may not get us entirely clean, but we don’t stink… as much.

The second method involves an outdoor shower/bath area, a rain barrel and a long garden hose. Sometimes, when we have time and finish daily chores early enough, we fill the outdoor tub with rain water and enjoy a good soak. Of course, the water is never really warm, but we’re on a tropical island and it feels pretty dang good, especially after sweating all day.

5) Flushing

We have three large water cisterns in addition to the rain barrel. They are located near the street on a hill near the front of the property. The municipal water trucks and fire engines come around weekly to pump water and fill the tanks if we need it. We have several large plastic buckets that we fill up, carry down the hill and then keep handy in the bathroom for showering, as well as flushing. We now thoroughly understand what our ancestors meant by hauling water.

6) Washing Dishes

Also, we use our hauled water in the kitchen for washing dishes. We put a bit of bleach in each bucket before we use it. I keep a pitcher of rinse water to pour over each dish that has been washed. Our dishes may not have the heat cycle to kill germs that a modern dishwasher provides, but they are pretty dang clean.

7) Cooking

I realize how really spoiled we are with kitchen devices, when it comes to cooking. Without a microwave, oven, blender or mixer I’ve gotten very creative when it comes to preparing a hot meal. We do have a propane-fueled gas range. On it I can boil water, toast bread, cook most meats and warm up just about anything. Our meals are definitely not contenders for any Betty Crocker culinary prizes, but we’re not starving. Considering most of our food is refugee food, we work with what we have.

8) Refrigerator

Even though we don’t have electricity, our refrigerator is in use 24 hours a day. The freezer portion keeps things cold (not frozen) with the bags of ice we buy daily. The refrigerator section is a dry goods pantry that keeps our food safe from bugs and vermin.

9) Light

There is a reason our pioneer ancestors went to bed so early – once the sun went down (about 6:30 pm here), they couldn’t see to do anything! John has his own flashlight, and I have mine. Around 5 pm we make sure we know exactly where they both are located. We have candles in each room and when I need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night I use the light from my Fitbit to lead the way!

10) Phone and Internet

Right after Hurricane Maria letting our families and friends know that we were okay was critical. A wonderful man, named Robert, brought in some satellite phones and made them available for people to call loved ones.

Of all of the “necessities,” this has been the hardest for me to do without. Communication. Three weeks past Maria and we can get sporadic cell reception on certain spots on the island. There’s still no joy when it comes to the Internet.

11) Air Conditioning

We knew, going into this house sit, that the house has no air conditioners. We did have oscillating fans that we kept going at night, mainly to keep the bugs off. Now, that we have no electricity the fans are useless, and frankly, we’re sleeping well, if not better than before. The house is up on a hill and most nights there is a steady breeze coming in the screened windows, and, the breezes flow more freely with no leaves on any of the trees. Ahhhh!

12) Television

This was an easy one for us. We’ve never had cable TV. We get our news from the Internet and entertainment from Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Before we left Dallas, John archived hundreds of our movie DVDs onto one of his hard drives. I gave him a really hard time about doing this. My thinking was that we could stream all of them online with better quality, so why take the time and disc space to make a copy of each one? Again, my man was right on this one. Thanks Honey!

Since we’ve gotten a generator (thank you Larry!), we keep our laptops charged, which means that, in the evenings, we have the option to watch one of our favorite movies. Of course, prior to the generator, we just sat outside and watched the stars while feeding the mosquitoes.

And, it’s weird, but more often than not, we find ourselves outside in the evenings gazing up at the universe, rather than glued to a 17” laptop screen. Hmmm…

As Baloo sings in Disney’s The Jungle Book,

“Look for the bare necessities,
the simple bare necessities,
forget about your worries and your strife.
I mean the bare necessities,
That’s why a bear can rest at ease,
With just the bare necessities of life…”

Mother Nature – 12 Technology – 0

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2017,House Sitting,Puerto Rico

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