Saturday, June 20, 2009

Steve and Marcia are powerless

In a way we’re right back to square one. When we moved into our house on Middleside in late October of last year we had no power supply. About a week later we had a six KVA diesel generator (genset) delivered. The genset is extremely noisy and expensive to operate if you run it 24 hours a day.

Most of the island is powered by large gensets. The one that powers the hotel and the administration building runs 24/7. Others, such as the one for the Malinta Tunnel Light and Sound Show, run only when needed. The one that powers the housing areas runs only at night, from about 5:30 PM to 6:00 AM. So if you live in those areas you will be without power all day. A refrigerator or freezer will only run at night.

In our case, about three weeks after moving in, we had a solar system installed, which provides power day and night, noise-free. The only problem is when there is no sun. Then the genset has to be run an hour or two every day to charge the solar system’s batteries. For the past six months we were in good shape. That was until the control panel on the solar system went haywire, which is what happened this week, just days before our scheduled departure for Manila in anticipation of catching our flight to the U.S.

Without the control panel, we have no electricity to the house without running the genset. The second problem is that the genset came with a non-maintenance-free battery which has not been dependable since we got it, and it decided that now was the time to fail. The genset has a manual starter, but no one has been able to start it manually. So that left us totally without power just days before leaving Corregidor for eight weeks.
Basically we use electric power for just a few things: power for the refrigerator, clothes washer/spinner, lights, and charging batteries.

Fortunately we had already been cutting down on the amount of foods that needed to be refrigerated or frozen. It meant eating all our frozen meat the next day or transferring it to another freezer, but we only had two dinners worth of meat, so that in itself was not a major problem. Losing the washer/spinner was only a minor inconvenience, since Marcia had our laundry pretty much up-to-date. But it meant hand washing and hand wringing whatever clothes needed to be laundered before departure, and then hoping that they would dry out without the use of the spinner, which is amazingly effective at removing most of the water. Lights are usually no big deal, because it is a small house and we can find our way around easily, although when it’s very dark a flashlight is handy. We had brought hand-cranking flashlights from the States for just this purpose. The only problem is trying to read in bed when we each have to crank our flashlight every few minutes.

The biggest inconvenience in having no power is in recharging the batteries. Besides the big flashlights, handheld vacuum cleaner, electric shaver, and camera batteries, which seldom need recharging, we rely daily on charging the batteries for our cell phones and computer. Since we almost never receive a phone call – 99 % of incoming calls are text messages – we had to resort to turning on the phones every hour or two to check for messages, respond to any, and then turn them right back off. The computer was more inconvenient. A laptop with a large screen, it runs less than one half hour on a full charge and we have no spare batteries. This means that every time we wanted to check email, which we do once or twice a day, we would have to drive down to the administration office and plug the computer into their power source. The computer battery would recharge at least partially while we were reading our emails. Then we could at least sit at our house and do something, like compose this newsletter, for a few minutes before we would have to turn off the computer and wait until the next time we would be able to go to the admin office. You truly don’t appreciate things you have, until you don’t have them.

On the other hand, you truly realize what are necessities – or at least near necessities – compared to things that are niceties but are not at all required to live, such as newspapers or television, both of which we have been surviving without quite nicely for the past seven months. But on this basically remote island, if we are going to communicate with the outside world, such as all of you, we need our cell phones, computer, and a way to connect the computer to the internet. It seems that there was a song in the 70’s that contained the lines,

“Blow up your TV
Throw away your paper
Go to the country
And build you a home”

Not bad advice if you want to simplify your life.

We are being well taken care of, and we have been assured that both the solar system and the generator will be in perfect working order when we return in mid-August.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

PS A new subscriber has sent four beautiful pictures of Corregidor which are interspersed in this newsletter. The first one shows a wide angle view looking north from just past the Coast Guard station. The second, also a wide angle view, shows Topside Barrack and Topside Parade Grounds. The third wide angle shot shows Topside Barracks and the cinema. The final shot shows Tailside as seen from the overlook at Kindley Field. These photos were sent by Meo Remalante and we present them to you with his compliments. Thank you, Meo.

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