Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hughesnet problems

Apparently there are many problems with the Hughsnet systems since we can barely send email, cannot attach anything to emails, and it is impossible to post pictures on our blog. We have been having this problem for over a week. Hughesnet says it is some sort of problem with their system but if anyone out there can get them to fix the problem, we may be able to communicate with the outside world again using the internet. Since this is our only means of communication from the jungles of Belize, it is especially frustratating during the Christmas season. So, if there is anyone out there that can help us out, please contact Hughesnet and tell them to get with it, some people are relying on the internet services that they provide for staying in touch with family and friends! And, after Hughesnet fixes the problems with their system, maybe they can hire some employees that can communicate with their clients in English. Or have all the jobs been been outsorced to Asia since the wages are about 1% of what quailifies Americans would be paid to handle communications?

Thanks for helping us out if you can.

Below is the email we sent to our rep here in Belize about our problem and the "response" we received:

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 10:51 AM
Subject: Something wrong with Hughesnet?

Hi Harry - For the past few days, we get this error every time we try to post a picture to our blog. Picture files are about 200K, and we've never had any trouble posting them in the past. We've also had some other minor connectivity issues, such as some web page requests timing out and resulting in an IE error, and Compuserve cutting out so we have to reconnect.

Any ideas?

Marge Gallagher

Web Acceleration Client Error (506) - Suspected Recent Satellite Link Outage The satellite link was operating properly up until the most recent web page request, but the last request could not be successfully sent across the satellite link to the Web Acceleration Server. Possible causes for this include recent changes in weather conditions or equipment problems in the HUGHES Network Operations Center. Trying again at a later time may result in restored service due to either improvements in the weather conditions causing the service outage or rectification of a network problem in the HUGHES Network Operations Center. If this problem persists, please contact your service provider for additional assistance.

This is what we received back from our rep here in Belize:

Response from our provider

Dear Harry

We are working together with Hughes in order to resolve all this problems. Some accounts have being changed of transponder because some of them are overcharged. Please give us a couple of days to go back to normality.

Once again, sorry for all inconvenient,

Best regards,

Even here we can't escape the idiocy of outsourcing!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Birthday Fiesta

Our neighbor Maria is the matriarch of the family next door, and all but one of her children live either with her or in their own homes on her land. One daughter, Antonia, lives with her husband John and two kids in San Antonio. Yesterday (Sunday), they had a party for their son, who recently had his first birthday. We were invited to the party a few weeks ago, and had figured it would be like many other parties of one-year-olds we’ve attended where the older kids run around out of control, all the kids eat too much cake and sugar, and the guest of honor generally gets overwhelmed by all of it and eventually cries and goes to sleep. That said, our plan was to put in an appearance and head home. Well, that was my plan anyway. Tom told me he doubted we’d be able to pull that off, and he was right. And that was a good thing, because we had a really good time.

A ton of people showed up for this party, and we found out after we got there that whenever John and Antonia have a party for any reason, everybody goes because their parties are always a ton of fun, no matter what the occasion is. Everybody was talking and laughing, with most of the adults sitting at tables on the patio, and the kids were playing games in the yard. I’m also not generally a fan of organized games, but these games were organized enough to keep the kids busy, but not so organized that the party was running like a business meeting, and everybody just had a really good time. Kids and adults played a game where we (yes, I played) had to get a balloon, run to a chair and sit on it and pop it, then go back and get a balloon (if you were a kid) or blow up a balloon (if you were a grownup), and do it again. The first to pop three balloons and run across the finish line was the winner. I didn’t win, but that didn’t keep me from laughing.

Then we watched the kids play musical chairs, and duck-duck-goose, and I don’t know what else, but just watching the kids was fun. Finally, the kids got to whack at the piñata, which is way more fun to watch than I ever would have expected. The little kids and girls just got to swing a stick at it, but the older boys really got into the game since they were blindfolded and spun around, and then John would yank the piñata up and down and back and forth, whacking the whacker with it if the kid was big enough and enough of a good sport to end up looking really silly. Finally one of the kids got in a really good whack, and the piñata burst open. At this point, there must have been 30 kids at the party, and they all swarmed the ground to get the candy. Everybody got some, even if they weren’t brave enough to head into the eye of the storm, and everybody was happy. We were actually disappointed that we had to leave before dark to get home and bring in the horses – but next time John and Antonia have a party, we’ll know to make plans so we can stay until the end!

Pork Fat Rules

We’re going to be eating pork for the next couple of days. Unfortunately I just filled my freezer with meat from Running W on Friday (including lamb chops!), or we could probably have pork for the next couple of weeks.

The Amaya family (Marta Uno) had a pig that they were planning to save and butcher when Dimas, Marta’s husband, returns from working in the US. This morning, the entire clan came over to see if we’d seen their pig, who had broken out of her cage sometime overnight. We hadn’t seen the pig, and promised to keep our eyes and ears open. Around lunchtime, Hector and Wilton came over, all wound up, asking to borrow the wheelbarrow because they’d found the pig, but it couldn’t walk. They told us it had something sticking out of its side, and it was all very dramatic. Mid-afternoon, we heard a God-awful screaming from next door, so we figured the pig had made its last trip home in the wheelbarrow. Around 5:30, Delmy showed up at our door, asking us how much pork we would like to buy. She told us that the pig had broken her leg, so her mother decided to butcher it rather than take care of a convalescent pig for however long it takes for a pig’s leg to heal. We’re still not sure what was going on with Hector and Wilton’s story about the pig having something sticking out of its side, unless it was just the pig’s leg at an odd angle however they found it – or it was just a Hector and Wilton dramatization. In any case, we now have about five pounds of pig in the fridge to be cooked tomorrow, and I squeezed another five pounds in the freezer, although we’re going to have to eat something out of that freezer before too long because it’s hazardous to open the freezer door.

We’re interested to see how this pig tastes, because it’s been eating mostly scraps rather than pig food from the feed mill. In a way, we’re looking forward to it and hope we like it, because we think the whole pig feeding system at the mill is a little, um, cold. When someone first gets a pig that they’re planning to butcher, they get Pig Starter feed. Then, it switches to Pig Grower as they try to get it as big as possible. A few weeks before butchering, it’s changed to Pig Finisher – how cold is that? I guess it’s a good thing pigs can’t read the labels on their feed bags, or they’d be heading for the hills when the Pig Finisher appeared.

The Christmas Cage

We’ve decided, we’re not going to get a tree here this year. Real trees are hard to come by, and we’d feel bad having a pine in our house when the Mountain Pine Ridge needs every pine that will grow in order to recover from the pine bark beetle blight. Neither of us really likes artificial trees, and they’re very expensive here. Actually, I don’t know how the prices compare to the US, but we’d spend over $100US on something we neither like nor want. And, we have Stout. Putting ornaments on a tree, real or artificial, anywhere below six feet above ground level is just asking for all the ornaments to end up in Stout’s mouth.

I pulled the Christmas box out of storage on Friday, and spent Friday and Saturday contemplating what to do with the Christmas decorations that meant enough to us to pack up and bring here. Sunday morning, I had a brainstorm – I decorated the bird cage. I still haven’t had the heart to put any birds in it when any bird I would cage could live just as happily here in the wild, so the cage has been on the porch collecting dust. And it was perfect for Christmas decorating – lots of places to hang lots of different ornaments at different levels. Best of all, all the ornaments are caged, so they’re at eye level for people, but safe from Stout’s mouth, at least so far.

Like the poinsettia tree, I’ll post a picture when I can. I’m not sure if it’s my computer, blogger, or our satellite connection, but I’ve tried every day and haven’t been able to post a picture. I’ll keep trying!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm trying to post pics!

I'm trying to post pics, but I keep getting a message that we're having a Hughesnet satellite uplink problem. I've been trying off and on since posting yesterday, and keep getting the same message. I'll get them posted ASAP!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quick Update, with Pics

Tom and I spent Sunday planting new gardens around our cabin, which also involved putting handrails on our front steps. It was a beautiful day, and as we were digging, turning the soil, planting, and working on defining the gardens, Tom pointed out that this was never something we never thought we’d be doing two weeks before Christmas. It doesn’t feel very Christmas-y to us here this year, between the fact that the weather is more like June in NY, and that we’ve developed nothing like our network of friends and family that we have in the States, so we haven’t been on our usual hectic Christmas party and travel circuit. In a way, it’s nice, because we’re able to take some time and we’re not missing the mad rush, but we’re missing friends and family even more than usual.

When Karin was here, we talked to some Americans who have lived near here for three years now, and I asked how their first Christmas in Belize was. The response: “We cried. But then it got better, and now it’s good.” I suspect that’s about what Tom and I will be feeling this Christmas, although we know our mood will be lifted because Tom’s parents are scheduled to arrive here on New Year’s Day, so we will have family here for at least part of the holidays.

This beautiful poinsettia tree (pic to follow) is blooming near our front gate. It makes us think of Christmas every time we drive in or out. We planted another small poinsettia in one the new gardens, and we’re looking forward to seeing how long it takes it to get this big.

In other news, Tinkerbell is off getting her transmission rebuilt. It’s been slipping more and more lately, so Tom took Tinkerbell to a transmission place in Spanish Lookout, where they confirmed that the higher gears weren’t working any more. Yesterday Tom drove to Spanish Lookout, and then came home the local way – hitching rides and walking between rides. He left at around 7am, did a few errands, dropped off the truck and left Spanish Lookout around 10am, and was home shortly after lunch. He decided that hitching isn’t a bad way to travel around here, since it’s fairly easy to get a ride, you don’t have to pay for gas, and you get to talk to a lot of different people in the backs of the pickups.

And, by the way, Selwyn’s finger is better. He says the tendon running up his arm is a little sore, but that’s to be expected since he wasn’t using the finger and just kept it curled for two weeks. The wound is healed and new skin has sealed where the incision was, so while he’s still trying to keep that hand clean, the biggest risk of infection is gone. Now he can get back to dirty work!

Saturday, December 8, 2007


A month or so ago, in preparation for building the furniture for the rooms in our cabins, Tom bought a table saw. He gave Selwyn the whole safety lecture, and we told Selwyn of all the gory accidents we’d seen with table saws, all with good friends and family. In fact, we told him, just about everybody we know who uses or has used a table saw at all regularly has had some sort of mishap.

But, despite being safety conscious and careful, accidents happen anyway. Last Wednesday when Karin and I were in Caye Caulker, Tom and Selwyn were making the drive to the emergency room. Selwyn was feeding a short board through the saw, and because the board was so short, he wasn’t holding the back end down. It kicked up, and basically popped his middle finger, which the doctor very neatly put back together with eight stitches. Tom was pleasantly surprised to find that the Social Security payments he’s been making every month really are worth something, since Social Security paid for the medical expenses and would pay Selwyn some disability compensation. However, Selwyn could still do some work with his left hand, and could definitely ride Tony one-handed, so he declined on the disability and elected to work here anyway, which was great for us.

This accident pointed out another difference between the US and Belize to us. In the US, this would be considered a painful but not all that serious injury. Here, until the wound is completely healed, both Selwyn and the doctor are concerned about the threat of infection, which would probably lead to the finger being amputated. With our American sensibilities we want to say this is an overreaction, but when we thought about it we realized that you can’t drive through a town of any size without seeing people missing body parts. So, Selwyn has been very careful about keeping the hand clean and dry, and has been diligent about taking the antibiotics prescribed by the doctor. He had the stitches out yesterday (Thursday), and the doctor said everything looks good, but Selwyn was instructed to keep the hand clean and dry until the scar is completely dry.

A week of vacation

Our friend Karin from New York arrived last Tuesday and left yesterday. Her husband gave her plane tickets to Belize to visit us for her birthday, so Karin, Tom, and I all had a week of vacation. Karin’s and mine started a few days before Tom’s because we picked her up in the late afternoon at the airport, and then Tom took Karin and me to the water taxi which took us out to Caye Caulker. We were a little worried about getting out to Caye Caulker because it had been raining for a few days – all the streets in Belize City were under water – and because Karin’s flight arrived so late, we couldn’t make any of the air taxis, so we had to go on the water taxi which is only partly covered. But, the rain gods paid me back for always raining on my laundry by stopping the rain shortly before we got to the water taxi station, and keeping it away for our two days on Caye Caulker.

On Wednesday, we started Karin’s vacation by going out with the dive company which had taken Tom, Tim, Kelli and me diving in July. Their dive that day accommodated snorkelers as well as divers, so I was able to dive while Karin snorkeled. We both managed to avoid getting seasick, although I was starting to get a cold, which made me a little anxious about being able to equalize on the dive. However, I took Sudafed, and was able to equalize with less trouble than I had in July, although I made a startling discovery – when blood comes out of your body and isn’t exposed to air, it’s a bright leaf green. With the beginnings of a cold, my sinuses started bleeding while I was down, but I didn’t realize what it was until I returned to the surface. At one point I saw a splash of green on my mask, thought it was algae, but it didn’t wipe away when I rubbed the outside of my mask. I realized more of the green stuff was pooling in the bottom of my mask, but since I was more concerned with breathing, keeping track of the dive master and my buddy, and checking out the underwater flora and fauna, I didn’t really think about it. I was really surprised when we surfaced, and when I lifted my mask the “algae” turned to red blood. Who knew?

On Thursday both of us went out with Tsunami Adventures and snorkeled on the reef. I really like diving because you see more different things, but I also love snorkeling because the colors and visibility are so much better near the surface that you get a much better look at what’s there. We had a great guide, Rene, who led us through the coral reef and pointed out moray eels, picked up hermit crabs in conch shells, and took us to three different snorkeling sites. The third site was an area where the snorkeling boat captains feed the sting rays, so as soon as the rays heard our boat engine, the were heading in and we could see their dark shadows flying over the white sand under the very shallow water. Rene threw some fish out to the rays and had us jump out with just our masks and snorkels so we could swim around with the rays, who had no fear of us, although we were all a little cautious of them. Karin and I were back on shore in time to get lunch and the last water taxi to Belize City, where Tom met us and took us home.

On Friday, we had planned to go on a trail ride but it was raining. The other complication was that Hilda’s grandmother had died, so Tom and Selwyn had to take Hilda and the kids to Hilda’s family’s home for the funeral. So, Tom went to get Hilda and the kids, then came back and picked up Karin and me, and took us to Barton Creek.

The river crossing was still a little high, so Karin and I had to walk over a very narrow suspension bridge with a number of rotting planks, reminding us that part of the adventure in Belize is just getting where you’re going. The sun had come out by this time, so we had a very pleasant walk on the Mennonite road through the farm fields back to the Barton Creek Outpost. Unfortunately, due to the weather, no guides had made the trek to Barton Creek that day, so Karin and I were unable to go in the cave. But all was not lost as we had a nice lunch and a nice chat with Jackie and Jim, the owners of the Outpost. We had agreed to meet Tom and Selwyn on the other side of the river at about 2:30, so we timed our walk out to get us there around that time. They weren’t there yet, so we started up the hill towards the road Tom would be taking in to Barton Creek. It took about 45 minutes for us to reach the top of the hill, when we heard Tinkerbell heading in our direction. Even in the truck, we could see the relief on Tom’s face when he realized that he didn’t have to drive back down the muddy, rutted, steep, twisting road to the river, and he thanked Karin and me profusely for making the hike up the hill.

Saturday turned out to be a very nice day, so we took the trail ride to Big Rock Falls. Tom and I didn’t even try to give Karin the jungle tour, partly because we wanted to save it for Selwyn to do when we rode to Sapodilla Falls, and partly because we knew neither the jungle information, nor the best route to the falls. Our jungle information goes something like, “Um, somewhere around here there’s something that Selwyn talks about, but I’m not quite sure what it is, and I don’t really remember what he says,” and we were hard pressed just to find our way to the falls since there are all sorts of loops off the trail up there, and we’d only ever been there with Selwyn and hadn’t really paid attention to the route. We managed to find the falls, finally, and had lunch on the rocks. We planned to go home by the fire road, but we couldn’t find that, and ended up retracing our steps. The route we took up was longer than the route we’d planned to take home so we ended up heading down the last hill on the Misty trail in the dark, but we made it back without being eaten by any predators.

Sunday was another nice day, and we took the drive up to Caracol. The Mountain Pine Ridge Road between here and Caracol makes the road between here and Georgeville look good, so the ride up was a little tense and we took 2WD Tinkerbell through some pretty muddy and rutted sections of road. We walked around Caracol, had lunch, and headed back to the ranger station with the convoy.

Only four vehicles, including us, had made the trek up to Caracol that day, and when we went to Rio Frio Caves and Rio On Pools, we found that none of the other three vehicles had elected to make those stops so we had those sites all to ourselves. We waited until almost dark to leave Rio On and head home, where we heard the news of the demise of our rooster, and then had Roadkill Rooster Recado for dinner.

We took another ride on Monday, this time to Sapodilla Falls with Selwyn. He did the jungle tour for Karin, and we spent almost two hours sitting on the rocks below the falls eating lunch, watching a white hawk soar overhead, and enjoying the scenery.

The trails were really muddy and the footing was somewhat difficult for the horses, but fortunately all three horses are getting pretty surefooted on the trails, so even when a hoofed slipped off a crumbling embankment, everybody was okay. However, it made for slow going, so we ended another ride after dark on the Misty trail.

On Karin’s last day here, we went with our tour guide/friend Gonzo to Actun Tunichil Muknal, aka the ATM Cave. This is the cave where you must swim and wade up an underground river to a site above the water where numerous archeological artifacts are found, including a number of human skeletons. After touring ATM, we went to a nearby cave where we saw ancient cave paintings and carvings, including Mayan handprints on the walls of one of the internal chambers, reached by crawling and slithering on our bellies.

We asked Karin if she ever anticipated doing this on the day before her 60th birthday, and she admitted that when she was thirty, she figured she’d be about done for at sixty, and doing something like this never crossed her mind. We got back to San Ignacio around 6:00, hungry and tired, and went with Gonzo, his girlfriend Becky, and Esa, a friend of theirs, to Sanny’s Grill, a restaurant we had tried to find and failed on the night Karin and I came inland. We had a great dinner recounting the cave trip, and didn’t make it home until almost 10:00…another late night for us!

Karin flew out on Wednesday, a sad day for all of us. Tom and I had a friend leaving, who we probably won’t see at least until the summer, and Karin was heading home to cold and almost 15 inches of snow. I guess we all wish vacations were longer, but we had a great time while it lasted.

And then there were none

Or, Feeding your guests roadkill
This past week was a bad week for chickens around here. After the death of El Negrito, I was thinking about getting a few more pullets to expand the flock. Now, however, whatever pullets I get will be the foundation hens for the flock. Our friend Karin came down to visit from New York last Tuesday, and she and I spent a couple of days on Caye Caulker. Tom left home mid-morning last Thursday to do a bunch of errands, and then to pick us up at the water taxi in Belize City late Thursday afternoon. By the time we drove to San Ignacio, ate dinner, and got home, it was after 10:00, and we forgot to shut in the chickens.

Tom went out Friday morning and discovered that the two hens were dead in the cage. Initially, we thought something got them in the night, and both of us were kicking ourselves for forgetting to shut the cage. When Selwyn showed up for work, he made us feel slightly better because he informed us that the hens were murdered by Louie, who had come out of the house for his last rest stop before Selwyn left for the day, and who, instead of resting, ran back to the chicken cage and murdered the two hens. We have Louie because he annihilated his first owner’s flock – we’ve heard any number between ten and twenty-something for that massacre – so we weren’t entirely surprised that he’d decided to take care of our chickens.

That left the rooster by himself. During the day, he continued to wage his rooster wars with the neighbor’s rooster, but at night he would put himself away in the coop, all alone with his hens gone. On Sunday, we let him out and he was patrolling his property, and Tom, Karin, and I went up to Caracol, the Rio Frio Cave, and Rio On Pools with Ofelia and Iris from next door, not returning until shortly after 5:00. When we pulled up in front of the neighbors’ houses, Olmi gestured for Tom to get out of the truck and talk to her. She told him that the rooster had been killed in the road while we were gone, but the carcass wasn’t badly damaged so she had recovered it and Maria and Lucy were plucking and gutting it.

We had been discussing what we wanted to do for dinner, but the questions were resolved when Lucy and Olmi showed up a short time later with a bucket containing the rooster’s carcass. So, we had Roadkill Rooster for dinner, stewed up with recado. Olmi was worried that I would be upset and wouldn’t be able to eat him, but after years of telling my neighbor Diane that “they’re only chickens,” I found that I must have brainwashed myself since I had no trouble at all eating him. I felt slightly guilty for feeding Karin, our guest, roadkill, but it didn’t bother her either and we had a very nice dinner.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You never know how people see you…

The resort around the corner had its grand opening reception Sunday afternoon, so Tom and I went both to see their progress, and to meet some of the people who live around here. Everybody around here keeps pretty busy, so there’s not a lot of visiting between neighbors, especially since the distance between us is measured in miles rather than feet. Apparently everybody wanted to meet new neighbors and catch up with old because most people who live around here showed up for the reception. Tom and I were laughing because they all knew who I was but didn’t know Tom, and the reason they knew me was because they’ve all seen me out on the horses and had figured out that the tall woman with the long blond hair was one half of the new owners of the cat farm. Lilly, our closest neighbor to the south was laughing when she realized this was how people identified me, because she said that she’d initially thought “Poor Tom” when she got to know me because I was always out on a horse while he was slaving away on the property – until she walked by one day and saw me weed whacking, when I suddenly became “the gringa who works.”

This image was reinforced when we met one of our neighbors to the north, the owner of a nearby equestrian resort who is currently living in Washington State while his adult son and daughter-in-law manage the business here. His son and daughter-in-law were visiting her family in the States for Thanksgiving, so Jim came down to manage the resort for a couple of weeks, just in time to get an invitation to the reception. Tom shook Jim’s hand and introduced himself, and then I shook his hand and introduced myself. I began to take my hand back, when he reached out and said “Give me that hand again.” I held my hand out, and he took it, squeezed it, turned it over, looked at my palm, rubbed one of my calluses, and said “I love it. This is the hand of a woman who works.” Lilly was still there, so she, Tom and I all laughed, and then had to explain to Jim that Lilly calls me “the gringa who works.” After years of keeping my unmanicured farmer hands folded under the table at corporate meetings, it was kind of refreshing to have my hands be my business card and explain what I do!

Spanish is easy, as long as you don’t mind the occasional gaffe…

Since Monday was a holiday and Tuesday is Iris’s birthday, Olmi and I spent yesterday afternoon baking a birthday cake for Iris. Most of the women around here don’t have ovens, which seemed strange to me initially since I’d never even considered having a kitchen without an oven. But, they all have gas ranges in their inside kitchens, and wood hearths in their outside kitchens. Because it’s frequently so hot, most of the women around here use their wood hearths far more than they use their inside ranges, and they can cook and bake almost anything on a hearth, moving pots and burning wood around to get the right temperature in the right place for whatever is cooking. They make great bread on the wood hearths, but have found that cakes are just a little too delicate, which is why Olmi talked to me about making the birthday cake here.

Yesterday turned into a very rainy day, so as we were waiting for the cake to bake and talking, I remarked to Olmi that it was a good day for baking…or at least that’s what I thought I said until she started to giggle. Olmi is as seriously trying to learn English as I am to learn Spanish, so she usually quietly corrects my mistakes and doesn’t laugh. But even I had to laugh when she explained what I’d said.

“To bake” in Spanish is “hornear” with a silent “h.” What I said was that it was a good day for “orinar,” which, in Spanish, means “to urinate.” So, instead of saying “It’s a good day to bake,” I said “It’s a good day to pee,” which Olmi explained through her giggles, and then had me practice saying the two words slowly after her to make sure I understood. I got it, eventually, and I’ll try not to make that mistake again!

Sick kids

I spent half the day last Friday at La Loma Luz hospital with Selwyn’s wife Hilda and their three kids. Selwyn was dragging all week because he was trying to get rid of a cold, but having a hard time because all three of his kids had it, and nobody in the house was getting any sleep. Thursday evening, he came in the house and sat at the table after work because he wanted to talk to me before he left and I was out feeding the horses. When I came in the house, he had his head down on the table and was almost asleep – very un-Selwyn-like behavior. Friday morning he showed up looking like he had a pretty rough night, and when we asked him what was wrong he explained the situation at home, and said that he was afraid they were going to have to take the kids to the doctor over the weekend. Selwyn didn’t ask, but we asked him if it would help if I took Hilda and the kids on Friday, and Selwyn was very accepting and appreciative of the offer. I left mid-morning and picked up Hilda and the kids, and we went to town. Junior was actually on the upswing and feeling a little better than he had for the rest of the week, but Ali was extremely quiet, and poor little Kristalee was having a hard time breathing.

She didn’t look too bad, and didn’t seem to be running too much of a fever, but when I lifted her up to hand her to Hilda in the truck, I could feel her breathing rattling under her ribs. To nobody’s surprise, the pediatrician said that they had bronchitis and sinus infections, and both kids came home with a bag each of antibiotics, cough medicines, and other medications to make them more comfortable as well as vitamins to boost their immune systems. Hilda was a little upset because between the office visit - $15BZ per child – and the medications, she spent almost $250BZ. We were both shaking our heads on the way home because I thought $125US was dirt cheap, especially considering I probably would have spent that much just on deductibles after shelling out hundreds of US dollars a month for insurance, but to Hilda, that was a lot of money to drop in a quick visit to the doctor. However, the doctor had made it clear to her that bronchitis can be pretty serious for one-year-olds, so both he and I assured her that she did the right thing in taking the kids to the doctor. As of today, Tuesday, the kids are better but not back to normal, and now Selwyn is home sick with a cold which I suspect is bronchitis and a fever. I guess the winter colds come even in the tropics.

RIP El Negrito

Alas, El Negrito is no more. He still walked with a limp from being hit with the rock, and after the Nock incident he was having trouble using his wings. He seemed to find it too difficult to keep up with the big chickens while he was recovering from his ride in Nock’s mouth, so he’d come out of the chicken cage after the other chickens, and peck around on his own. Friday morning, he was pecking around at the edge of the yard, and I didn’t see him and let Mel out when Mel asked. Mel did his business, and then spied El Negrito. Despite charging the big chickens occasionally, Mel hasn’t been fast or strong enough to catch them, but El Negrito wasn’t able to get himself out of Mel’s way fast enough, and Mel picked him up in Mel’s signature scoop-double-chomp. Like Nock, Mel dropped him when I yelled, but unlike Nock, Mel’s jaws are a little bigger and were enough to be the end of El Negrito in his weakened state. He breathed his last breath just as I picked him up, so instead of taking him to the coop to recover, he went to the chicken graveyard in the back field. Rest in peace, El Negrito.

Nock is not adjusting well to wearing a muzzle when she’s in the house with the rest of the dogs. She mopes around and looks at us like she’s been severely injured, and crawls under the shelves in the kitchen. We’re hoping she gets used to it, but if not there’s not much we can do about it since even with the muzzle, she’s in Beli’s face as soon as she realizes Beli is in the same room with her. Between Nock and the boys next door, we’ve been doing a lot of soothing of hurt feelings lately.

Cabin Progress & Life with Neighborhood Boys

After finishing the first room in the second cabin just in time for Marjie and Chuck’s visit, Tom and Selwyn got right back to work when Marjie and Chuck left for southern Belize. Tom has started tiling the shower in the second bathroom, and has been working on installing the sink. Tom and Selwyn dismantled the quickly assembled bed, and those two and Wilton have been working on finishing the rest of the pieces and sanding it.

Wilton, by the way, is over being Bad Wilton. According to Olmi, he avoided Tom for most of the week because he was ashamed of having lied to him. But, we had lunch here with Damion and Olmi and the kids on Sunday, so Wilton could no longer avoid Tom. While he was here, Wilton realized that Tom wasn’t mad enough at him to not let him work, so he agreed to work with Tom on Monday, which was Garifuna Settlement Day, a national holiday in Belize. Before starting work, Wilton apologized, and we talked to him a little bit about trust. We also told him that we’d been kids once and might have even possibly lied to our parents or other adults so we could do something we wanted to do that we knew wasn’t allowed. We ended the discussion with smiles all around, and Tom and Wilton spent the morning working on the bed and other carpentry work in the second cabin. We had to laugh, because a few months ago when the BDF was doing military maneuvers up the road and the road had lots of military traffic, Wilton wanted to be a soldier when he grew up. More recently, he’s been studying how governments work in Social Studies, and he’s wanted to be somehow involved with running the government. Now, after a morning of sanding, he wants to be a carpenter when he grows up. Being ten, I guess he has a few years until he has to make up his mind.

While Wilton has been avoiding Tom, Hector has been avoiding me. Hector, a year older than Wilton and the only boy in the family with five sisters, has the habit of moving around very quietly, probably for good reason since none of his sisters would hesitate to let him have it if he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Around here, there have been a few times when he’s come up behind me and startled me, at least partly intentionally, so Tom and I have both talked to him and told him that we don’t like him sneaking up on us. We understand why he does it, but we don’t like it, and don’t want him doing it around here. He’s been pretty good, until the end of last week, when I was riding Glinda down the road, and he snuck up behind me and Glinda, and then jumped at us and shouted my name. I jumped and Glinda spooked – fortunately to the left and not back onto Hector. I was mad, mostly because I’d been scared – not only did Hector do something I’ve asked him a few times not to do, but he did it behind the horse, who could easily have kicked out at him, and one or both of us could have been seriously hurt. So, I yelled at him, in the street in front of his house, and explained in both English and my version of Spanish that what he did was not only bad because I don’t like it, but because it was dangerous and one or both of us could have been seriously hurt. Julian, Hector’s father, came out from behind the house, and I suspect Hector was further reprimanded after I went on my ride. In any case, I haven’t seen Hector in a few days, and should probably go over and talk to him and his parents so he knows that I don’t hate him, I just don’t want him to get hurt.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

No, we haven’t been eaten by jaguars

Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I’ll try not to let it happen again…but we’ve just been so busy that blogging has been the last thing on my mind, and answering email has been a close second to last thing on my mind. We haven’t been doing anything earth shattering – if we had I probably would have blogged about it – but we’ve been pretty busy with the day to day stuff of living. But, I’ve now received enough worried emails from people who are either wondering why the blog hasn’t been updated or why I haven’t answered their emails, that I finally decided it’s about time to update the blog.

A few weeks ago, I started corresponding with a woman online about moving to Belize with horses. The woman, Marjie, and her fiancé, Chuck, were planning a fact finding visit to Belize from November 10 to 18, so I invited them to spend some time here, thinking that Tom and Selwyn would have at least one, if not both, rooms done in the second cabin before then. Of course everything still takes longer than we expect, and we were all busting our butts last week to get everything done. Tom and Selwyn were working on the ceiling in the room, and I grouted the shower and did a lot of the clean up and finish work in the bathroom. And, Tom and Selwyn got to work on a bed. Tom decided that he’d use the sapodilla posts he purchased the week before for the legs of this bed, even though he’ll probably choose a softer hardwood for the next bed. But, he wanted to make the rest of the bed out of milady, a beautiful hardwood which is either a light beige or yellowish background with a very pretty pink grain. So, he purchased to wood he needed, and he and Selwyn made admirable progress on the bed.

We weren’t exactly sure when Marjie and Chuck were arriving, which was fine, but Tom considered every hour that they didn’t show up a bonus so they could get just a little more done on the bed. Fortunately for Tom, Marjie emailed with the exact time they were leaving Caye Caulker on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Tom, when I told him of Marjie and Chuck’s ETA, he had about three hours to get the bed into some sort of usable condition and get the room, bathroom, and porch cleaned up and ready for guests. Saying Tom looked like a deer in the headlights when I gave him the ETA is probably an understatement, but despite his look of utter shock, he and Selwyn sprang into action and got the bed put together and stable. I showed up with my bucket of soapy water, a broom, and an armful of linens, blankets, and pillows, and the three of us must have looked like some sort of speeded-up video as we got to work making the room look like it was ready for guests.

Marjie and Chuck arrived right on schedule, and Marjie said exactly the right thing when she looked at the room: “Wow, did you guys get a lot done in the past week!” She had been reading the blog, and even with what she could see from the little blog pictures, she could see that a lot of work had been done. It definitely helped with our peace of mind that she knew what was going on, and wasn’t expecting five-star resort accommodations!

We spent the next 24 hours or so talking, talking, and talking. Marjie and Chuck are planning to do pretty much what Tom and I did, so they had a ton of questions for us about things we did that we think really worked, things we would do differently if we did it again, and about what it’s like making the move from the US to Belize. We were really glad they came, because besides really enjoying getting to know them, Marjie, who is a farrier who does a lot of therapeutic work on horses’ feet, spent most of Wednesday morning working on Nessa’s feet. Nessa wasn’t exactly cooperative, but Marjie is both patient and persistent, and works pretty quickly, so she managed to get Nessa’s feet looking like normal horse feet, and she trimmed the hoof on Nessa’s bad leg so that she can actually use the foot and stretch the tendon, which should help with both Nessa’s comfort and healing. Marjie flew down here with some of her tools, and when she and Selwyn were talking and she realized how difficult it is to get good farrier tools here, she very generously left some of her tools for Selwyn, along with nails, pads, and a few specialty shoes. She also brought fly masks for the horses because she had read about the problems Nessa was having with her eyes because of the bugs, and some toys for the dogs, along with a few other things that are difficult to find in Belize.

One thing she brought isn’t very popular, but unfortunately has become necessary over the past couple of weeks: a muzzle for Nock. A couple of weeks ago, Nock decided that she was going to kill Beli. Every time the two bitches crossed paths, Nock ended up attached to some part of Beli, biting and shaking and growling for all she was worth. Beli is a real sweetheart, and didn’t get the little dog in her mouth and shake her to death, but that meant Tom and I would have to wade in and try to pry Nock off, which resulted in multiple bites for both of us. We had been keeping the two bitches separated, but every once in a while Nock would shoot through a door and get in the same room as Beli, or they’d run across each other outside, and the fight would begin again. We had been trying to keep Nock outside more, which worked until Nock decided that El Negrito was also on her hit list. That wasn’t any huge surprise; the surprise had actually been that the chickens were roaming around the property and the dogs really hadn’t been bothering them. But, Nock was outside with me and I was rinsing some grapefruit off with the hose, and I looked up and she was trotting across the yard with El Negrito in her mouth. I yelled at her to drop him, which she did. I put Nock in the house and went to pick up the carcass. To my surprise, he wasn’t dead. He was laying there like he was dead, on his side with his neck out, one wing up and one down, and his feet just sticking out in the air, but when I picked him up he righted himself and sat in my hands with his head up. I put him in the coop for a couple of hours, and when I brought him out he ran to join the rest of the flock. This happened three days ago, and he’s still not really keeping up with the other chickens and he doesn’t appear able to fly, but he’s eating and it looks like he’ll be okay. Nock, on the other hand, is not okay with the new muzzle. It’s nice for us that we can muzzle her and not have to keep her separate from all the things she wants to bite, but from the way she’s moping and looking like she’s being abused, it’s not nice for her. Oh well is all we can say about it.

The other dogs are all fine. We removed the stitches from the puppies, which didn’t exactly go as we had expected. When we left the vet’s office after their surgery, he gave us a couple of syringes filled with what he said was a mild tranquilizer so we could calm the puppies down enough that we could get the stitches out without dealing with wiggly puppies. I’ve taken stitches out of un-tranquilized dogs before, so I took the syringes even though I didn’t think we’d use them. When the stitch removing day arrived, however, the puppies seemed to be feeling especially good, so we decided to stick them with the needles to keep them quiet. Whatever was in the syringes kept them quiet all right – we had them outside where the light was better, and they both dropped in the driveway within about a minute, and were completely out. We removed the stitches and figured they’d be up and around in a few minutes. Nope. Those two dogs were unconscious for about three hours, and were pretty quiet for the rest of the day. It was a nice break from our usual raucous puppy mornings, but the only downside was that after we decided they weren’t going to come around too quickly, we carried them onto the porch, where they both wet themselves while they were sleeping. But, the puddles cleaned up and the puppies were fine the next day, and now everything is back to normal.

In addition to our bad dogs, we had a Bad Wilton last week. Wilton is the ten-year old from next door, and he is always a perfectly delightful kid. He usually comes over and works with Tom for one morning over the weekend, and he came over last Saturday morning. His parents were both working, and his sister had gone with his mother, so Wilton was home alone. Damion and Olmi knew he was working here, and knew we’d feed him and make sure he was okay, so they didn’t worry about him. After Tom and Wilton finished working, we had lunch and were chit-chatting. After lunch, Wilton said he was going to go home. We asked if he wanted to work any more, or if he just wanted to hang out here rather than going home to an empty house, but he told us that he was going to ride his bike into San Antonio to his aunt’s house, where his grandmother was staying for the weekend. Tom asked him point blank if he was allowed to ride into San Antonio by himself, and he assured us that he was. We know that he sometimes rides towards San Antonio to get ice for his mother, so we didn’t think that much of it. But, we got the real story from Damion and Olmi on Sunday. It seems that Wilton only rides about a mile towards San Antonio to get ice, to the last house on the electric lines. He is NOT allowed to ride all the way into San Antonio by himself. And, he didn’t even leave a note, so when the rest of the family got home, they didn’t know where he was. Elizabeth told them she’d seen him heading towards San Antonio, so they figured out what he did, and Olmi was so mad that they left him there over night and didn’t pick him up until they met at church the next morning. Bad Wilton!

We didn’t find any of this out until late Sunday afternoon, because we spent Sunday in the village of Buena Vista with Selwyn’s wife Hilda’s family. Her very elderly grandmother is quite sick, bedridden and not eating, so Hilda wanted to take the kids to see their great grandmother for what is probably the last time. We volunteered to provide the wheels, so everybody loaded up, including Selwyn’s mother Petranela and sister Nellmarie. Busses don’t run from San Antonio into San Ignacio over the weekend, so as we drove down the San Antonio road, we picked up a whole truckload of people trying to get into town for the day. We arrived at Hilda’s parents’ house just as lunch preparations were beginning, so although Tom and I had planned on amusing ourselves for a couple of hours, we ended up hanging out and visiting and eating with Hilda’s family. It was just like the Sunday afternoons we’ve spent with our families and many friends’ families, except we were trying to understand what was going on in Spanish, which is all Hilda’s parents speak. However, most of the kids are bilingual, and plenty of kids were running around. Despite the reason for the visit, everybody had a good time and we got home in the late afternoon, relaxed and stuffed full of yummy chicken, rice, and beans.

Although last week was absolutely gorgeous weather-wise, this week it has been raining, raining, and raining. Everything is mud, and the trees drip pretty much continuously on our metal roofs, and we’re finding leaks we’ve never had before. We were a little surprised yesterday morning to look out the window and see that Tinkerbell had been attacked by the banana tree. The big banana leaves were holding so much water they became too heavy for the roots in the very muddy soil, and three of the shoots fell on the truck. No harm was done to the truck, and there are still plenty of shoots to provide us with lots of majunches in the future.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fixed Cabins and Fixed Dogs

Another week has flown by with a lot of progress around here. Tom had the shower to the first guestroom about half tiled when he ran out of cement, so he and Selwyn transferred their attention to the wall and ceiling in the guestroom.

The center wall is done, and they were done with part of the ceiling when they moved some insulation and discovered a termite nest and a badly eaten, untreated, pine two by four.

They knocked down the nest and are replacing the board, and then they can finish that part of the ceiling. They’re going to check the other three corners of the building, and hope that they don’t find any more nests. The termites were all dead from the Dursban treatment we did on the building, but the bug spray doesn’t fix the damage.

Tom is out today getting the ceiling board they need to finish the ceiling in the bedroom and bathroom, so that should be done early next week, and I picked up more cement yesterday, so Tom will probably finish the shower this weekend.

Tom is also buying most of the lumber he needs to make the bed for that room. Tom loves working with the hardwoods that are so readily available here, and he and Selwyn are both looking forward to a change from the big construction job to the finer job of furniture making. Tom knows it will be a learning process, and has already found that his original design of a bed with sapodilla legs isn’t practical because it takes each side of a sapodilla three by three four runs through the table saw and a lot of sanding to get it anywhere close to furniture quality smooth. So, he’s looking for a slightly softer hardwood today, or a mill that would be willing to plane the lumber for him.

The big event around here this week was the spaying and castration of Beli and Stout. We had an appointment with a vet in Belmopan for 9:30 Wednesday morning, and we knew they’d come home that day, but we figured we’d drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, but that’s not how it works around here. We took them in, and the vet got to work sedating Stout right away. He doesn’t have a kennel at his Belmopan office, so we quickly realized that we were going to be waiting since one of us needed to hold Beli, but we didn’t realize that we’d also be assisting in the surgery. We waited for Stout to get logy, then the vet and Tom lifted him onto the pre-op table, where the vet administered the general anesthesia, and then we all went to work scrubbing him. The vet is a really nice, funny guy, and we were all laughing a little because I asked him if he did an open castration, and he said no, and then proceeded to explain, using himself as a model, what he was going to do. He left his pants on during the demonstration, of course, but it was still pretty funny and reminded me of how my horse friends and I talk about horses, using ourselves as models to illustrate how they’re moving, or where and how they’re injured.

When Stout was out and scrubbed, the vet had Tom help carry him into the surgery room, and to Tom’s surprise he seemed to be expected to stay and to hold Stout in position on the table while the vet did the castration. Tom was a trooper and watched the whole thing. I stayed in the pre-op/waiting room with Beli, and suddenly heard Tom and the vet laughing. When they were done, Tom explained to me that the vet had pulled a tube of Super Glue out of his surgical supplies, and when Tom asked what it was for, the vet, in his Belizean accent, said he put it on the knots. He meant the knots of the stitches, but the way he said “knots” it sounded like “nuts” to Tom, so Tom was questioning why he was going to put Super Glue on Stout’s nuts which were, by this time, in the garbage. It didn’t take too long for them to understand each other, but they were both still laughing when they carted Stout out of surgery and put him on a mat on the floor, still out, while we got Beli ready.

While we were getting Beli ready, a Mennonite farmer came in and asked the vet if he had any snake antivenin. His favorite dog had been bit by a snake, and the Mennonite didn’t know what to do. The vet very calmly explained that he does not stock the antivenin, but if the man went to the Belmopan hospital and explained what was going on, the hospital would give him the drug, which he could bring back for the vet to administer. And that’s exactly what happened. The Mennonite was gone and back within a half hour, so before Beli went in for surgery, the vet injected the drug into the vein on the dog’s foreleg. The dog, an Australian shepherd, was acting very shocky, just lying on the ground and panting, with her tongue, throat, and lips swelling, and bleeding from the inside of one of her back legs where the snake bit her. However, the vet said she should be okay, and gave the Mennonite a needle and instructions so he could inject a second dose of the antivenin later in the day. We don’t know how the dog is doing, but we were sort of glad to have been there to see this. We now know exactly what to do if one of us is bit, and seeing how calm the vet was about the dog makes a snakebite seem like a little less of a death sentence – just get the antivenin, get it injected IV, and get better. The vet also told us that living where we live, we might want to consider getting a couple of doses and keeping them in our fridge, since it’s a long ride to the hospital, the drug has a fairly long shelf life, and after years of horse and dog care, Tom and I could figure out how to do an IV injection in a pinch. And, the same drug works for people, horses, and dogs, so at the very least it would give any of us a little better chance of getting into town and into the care of a medical professional, be it a people doctor or a veterinarian.

We were, fortunately I think, not required to assist with Beli after she was secured on the operating table. Stout was still out on the floor, so the vet told us to go get some lunch and then come back to get the dogs. That’s what we did, and when we got back to the vet’s office both dogs were completely unconscious on the mats on the floor. We paid the bill, which was, I think, comparable to spay/neuter prices in the US, although it’s been a while since we had a dog spayed/neutered there – Beli was the equivalent of $100US, and Stout was $50US. Tom and I were a little surprised that it costs as much as it does, since it would be really good if more dogs were fixed here. Everywhere you go, you see skinny, mangy, sick-looking dogs wandering the streets, and there are always a few bitches wandering around with their teats dragging on the ground because they’ve had so many litters of puppies. None of our neighbors fix their dogs, and dogs will have litters of puppies where only a few live because they’re so malnutritioned and their mother is so sick when they’re born. Plus, there’s some sort of doggie venereal disease that’s an epidemic here, and it seems like most of the dogs have it since they’re all trying to breed. There’s no shortage of dogs, so there’s no reason not to fix the dogs, except that it costs more than most people have, and, we’re told, some people’s religious beliefs make them feel that it’s wrong to fix animals, and if they breed, it’s God’s will. I have a little trouble with that since I can’t image a God that wants sick, starving animals all over the place, but since we can’t afford to collect up all the animals and have them neutered, there’s not much I can do about it besides make sure our animals don’t contribute to the problem.

Anyway, we carted the two unconscious dogs home, although I ended up riding in the back seat to hold Beli in place, and we put Stout on the floor in front of the passenger seat. By the time we got home Stout was alert enough to walk, but we had to carry Beli in and she didn’t really come around until some time in the middle of the night when she got up and took herself outside. Stout made a very quick recovery and once he was up, he was up, looking for attention, things to chew on, and his dinner. They both seem pretty much back to normal now, although Beli is still a little quieter than usual. It’s amazing how quickly dogs recover!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Progress update

Tom and Selwyn are making great progress on the second cabin. The plumbing is all ready to be hooked up, and Tom is working on tiling the shower. The middle wall is framed and the door is hung, so all that needs to be done is to finish the shower, hook up the plumbing, and make the middle wall.

The room will be done then, although it will still need to be furnished. Tom wants to build the furniture himself, and we don’t think that will take too long. After all, when we decided to move into this cabin, he made a bed for us in about two hours! The beds he makes for the guest rooms will be nicer than our slapped-together-in-two-hours bed, but still shouldn’t take too long. We’ll also have a lot of finish work to do, like screening in the porch, but the windows all have screens so that won’t need to be done immediately.

Tom and Selwyn hung two new gates for the pasture last week, and we strung some more wire around the fence, so the horses should be secure for the time being. Plus, we’re still tying them out in our neighbors’ field, which means they’re not hungry and breaking out to find food, and the pasture only needs to contain them at night. I’m still not nuts about tying them in the field, but they all look so much better after a couple of weeks of good grass, and Elphie, the filly, is actually acting like a healthy young horse, kicking and playing all the time, so I’m swallowing my horse principles and letting them drag us out there every day.

Dogs are all well, although on Wednesday Stout and Beli will undoubtedly be whining a different story since that’s the day they’re scheduled for being spayed and neutered. Here, it’s outpatient surgery, so we’re dropping them off at 9:30am and picking them up at lunchtime. But, it’s time, and with all the unsprayed and unaltered dogs running around here, we don’t think we can afford to not take care of both of them.

We’re living dangerously and letting our four chickens have the run of the yard now. El Negrito wasn’t growing as fast as we thought he should, so we decided to let them out to free range as well as eat the chicken feed we give them. So far so good with them not being eaten by Nock or Lou.

That’s about it. I’ll add some pictures later in the week, but we loaned out our camera to document a town trip from San Antonio to Chetumal, Mexico, and we don’t have it back yet. I’ll probably even be able to post pictures of the trip, of people and places we don’t even know!

No Time in the Jungle

This blog title doesn’t mean that we don’t have enough time to do what we want here, although we are plenty busy. What it means is that apparently the gods are conspiring against us, forcing us to slow down and stop watching the clock. Or, in our case, clocks. And watches. And stop watches.

In the past couple of weeks, all but two of our time keeping devices have stopped working. First, my wrist watch faded to nothing and couldn’t be revived with a new battery. Then the stopwatch I use when I Nordic Track, which I thought I could stick in my pocket to replace my wristwatch, decided to stop working. Then the battery powered analog clock we had in the main room stopped. Then the digital clock/thermometer I had on the windowsill in the kitchen faded away. Finally, Tom’s wristwatch started randomly beeping and changing the time displayed, and he was unable to fix that. So, we’re left with the travel alarm next to our bed, and one old wristwatch I found with my stuff, which sort of works, but the lens is scratched, the numbers are small, and the Indiglo doesn’t work, so when I want to use that to see what time it is I have to put on my glasses and stand near a window where the sunlight is coming in. So far the clocks on our computers still work, but they’re only good when the computers are on, which is as seldom as possible.

So, we’re learning to be less clock dependent. We get up in the morning and eat and start our day, and when one of us gets hungry, we find a clock and see if it’s anywhere close to lunchtime. Sometimes we’re dead on and it’s time for lunch, and sometimes we’re not. If it’s still too early, we have a snack, and if it’s too late for lunch, we plan an early dinner. When Tom and Selwyn get tired of whatever they’re working on, they check the clock and determine if it’s quitting time or just time to start another job. When we get tired at night, we generally go to bed, even if the clock tells us it’s early. We’ll probably at least replace our wristwatches before too long, but in the meantime, we’re sort of enjoying living life off the clock.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flora, Fauna, and Flooding

Tom and Selwyn made a lot of progress on the second cabin this week, although it’s not really photographable progress. The bathrooms are completely framed, including the showers. The plumbing and gray and black waste lines are in, and ready to be hooked up as soon as we get the toilets, sinks, and showers installed. Tom’s big purchase in Spanish Lookout last week was a new table saw so he and Selwyn can start making furniture. We may have somebody staying here in November, so our goal is to have a bed for them to sleep in, and a working bathroom. Other than that, it’s all decoration, right?

After finding the coral snake last weekend, Tom was very cautious when he spotted another snake as he and Selwyn were chopping a small path for the water line to the second cabin. We didn’t get a picture, but we looked in the snake book and determined that this week’s snake was a blunt headed tree snake. It was very thin, and its head looked like the head of a poisonous snake, but it was just because its neck was so skinny that its head looked triangular. Besides having a very distinct pattern, its body was elliptical, which made it look even skinnier. Unfortunately Tom had nicked it with the pick ax before he spotted it, so we released it into the jungle but we’re not sure if it will make it or not. Here’s a website with a good picture and description: Blunt Headed Tree Snake

We also found bats roosting (or whatever it is that bats do during the day) in the new bathrooms of the second cabin. After taking pictures, Tom and Selwyn chased the bats out and put up the screens so the bats won’t get used to roosting there.

We haven’t seen them again, so they apparently went some other place to sleep.

I took Tony out for a ride last week and really wished I’d taken the camera. First, we were up on one of the sandy trails in the Pine Ridge and I saw a set of just about perfect puma tracks. It was very cool but a little bit scary because I’d ridden Glinda on the same trail the day before in the very wet sand, and the puma had followed the trail for quite a distance so it looked like the puma was tracking the horse. Then, on the way back down the mountain, despite the fact that it was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a blue sky, there was a perfect rainbow segment in the sky. The angle of the moisture in the air and the sun must have been perfect to create it, and I was in the perfect spot to see it as it was framed between the trees growing on the side of the road. At least the pictures are in my head!

When Tom went to Spanish Lookout last week, he came home and told me that the Iguana Creek bridge was closed because the river was over it. The ferry has been closed for a few weeks because the water has been too high, but this was the first time since we’ve been here that the bridge was also closed, which means that to get to Spanish Lookout from here we have to drive through San Ignacio and go through the hills to get to Spanish Lookout from the other side.

When we went to Belmopan to get our passports stamped on Thursday, I asked to take a small detour to see the water-covered bridge. From the pictures, you can see that we weren’t the only sight seers. Some people were there placing pebbles at the edge of the water on the road to see if it was going up or down, but I think most people were just there to see who was going to try to drive over the bridge despite the high water and what could happen. While we were there, a small truck came from the other side, stopped and looked, and then drove through. The water was over the truck’s door panels, but it made it. Then an oil tanker came from the other direction and didn’t even slow down before crossing the bridge, although after the small truck made it across, nobody had any doubts that the tanker would make it without any problems. That was enough for us, since it really wasn’t safe and we didn’t want to have to face an ethical dilemma about whether or not we should help if someone was swept off the bridge and into the river, since with the low railing and slick steel grate of the bridge, a vehicle being swept off the bridge was a very real possibility.

We spent a lot of time at the end of last week and over the weekend visiting with some neighbors we met from about three miles down the road towards Georgeville. Mark and his wife live in Minnesota right now, and split their time between Minnesota and Belize. This trip, Mark is down here with his father-in-law Don. Mark found our blog when he was looking for information on one of the hurricanes that was threatening Belize, and realized that we lived right up the road from their Belize house. We started exchanging emails, and we were all happy to meet in real life last week and determine that none of us were freaks posing as normal people on the internet. We’ve been comparing notes on living in Belize, and sharing information on where to get what we need to live and build here. Mark’s philosophy of living here is much like ours, so we’ve spent a couple of late nights just talking.

We’ve had to laugh a few times because of how our perceptions have changed since we’ve been here. There were a few things that we noticed the Belizeans doing when we were here on vacation that we could never figure out. One of these things was always using weed whackers to mow their lawns. We figured they just couldn’t afford lawnmowers. Now, we too mow our grass with a weed whacker, because we’ve found that there are so many rocks sticking up from the soil that we’d kill the blade on a real lawnmower in no time flat and it’s easier to just do the whole thing with a weed whacker. We also wondered before we moved here why something was always being burned. We too now always have a burn pile ready to light, and it’s because things grow so fast that if you don’t burn what you can, you’d be overtaken by piles of vines and brush.

Finally, we had to make sure Mark didn’t make too many cracks about Belizeans and their rubber boots, since both Tom and I practically live in ours, just like the rest of the people who live here. When the grass is always wet and itchy, rubber boots are the nuts to slip on your feet if you have to go outside for any reason. I’ve always been a fan of rubber boots, and in New York I called them my outside bedroom slippers since that was about how I’d use them; they lived by the back door, and if I had to go out to the barn I’d just slip them on and I was good to go in snow, rain, or mud, whether I was wearing riding clothes, jeans, a skirt, or a nightgown. When we moved here, I was riding in them one morning and met one of our neighbors on the road. He made a remark about how it looked like I was being assimilated since I had the standard issue Belizean footwear, and I had to confess that I’d brought them from the States. Now Tom has them too, and Mark finally admitted that he too has them to use when he’s here. We’ve all learned not to laugh at how things are done around here, since it usually turns out that they’re done how they’re done for a reason!

When we feed the horses, we tie up Tony, Es, and Glinda so they don’t snort their feed as quickly as possible and then go to try to eat everybody else’s feed. Nessa and Elphie aren’t tied because neither of them would dare to challenge one of the other horses. However, every morning, as soon as they finish, they head over to Tony’s are and take a nap with Tony standing guard.

They generally stay there and rest until we come out to untie everybody and take them out to the grass field.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wildlife Abounds

Compared to how long it took to get the cabin we’re living in completed, Tom and Selwyn are flying on the second cabin. The bathrooms are completely enclosed except for the wall one bathroom shares with the utility area, which Tom has left down intentionally in order to get big things into the bathroom.

The plycem is up for both showers, so those just need to be tiled, which we won’t do until the bathroom ceilings are done.

Tom has one of the sinks installed and the vanity partially built, and he spent part of the weekend getting the gutters up on one side of the cabin. Early this week, they’re going to work on the plumbing, and Tom is making a run to Spanish Lookout tomorrow for whatever plumbing supplies are needed and for some of the lumber needed to finish.

I have a good start on our webpage, and I’ve figured out most of what I need to know to get the pieces built. That’s a project a lot like building the cabins; the bulk of the work is pretty straightforward, but I know I’m going to run into a few walls as I try to get it finished – details like deciding on our rates so I can publish them on our rate pages. Tom and I will probably be spending a few late nights sitting at the table with our computers and spreadsheets, trying to agree on how to price everything from breakfast to rooms to guided horseback rides or hikes. It’s not that we haven’t talked about it and don’t have some ideas, but we have to run the numbers and make sure that the numbers we’re thinking about now are realistic. In any case, I’ll let everybody know when we have a web page appropriate for public viewing.

Today, Monday, is another Belizean holiday. As I understand it, it’s “American Day,” but I’m not sure what that means, mostly because it doesn’t seem like the Belizeans we’ve talked to really understand what it is. Some say it’s really “Pan-American Day,” where Belizeans are celebrating being part of Central America (everything between Panama and America), and some say it’s just “American Day,” celebrating Belize’s relationship with the US, in which case I guess Tom and I should be celebrating too. We've also heard that it's the same as the US Columbus Day, and that the holiday has something to do with Columbus. But, since nobody really seems sure, we’re just treating it like any other day.

Selwyn will be working, although we’ll pay him time and a half, and we may take a couple of hours this morning and go for a horseback ride, but other than that it’s just business as usual.

The reason we’re really going for a horseback ride this morning is the weather. It has been very, very wet and rainy and this morning, so far, it’s only cloudy. Until the middle of last week, we had sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, but Friday through Sunday were pretty much wall to wall rain.

From what we’ve read about the weather on line, it seems to be the result of a “sleeping giant” of a very wet low pressure system that parked over Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The sleeping giant is supposed to move up through the Yucatan in the next day or two, but the rain may not be over since another tropical depression had formed in the western Caribbean, as of yesterday. There’s really not much to do about it, so we’re just not making weather dependent plans, and we’re trying to get things to stay dry. Except our water tanks, of course, which are staying full.

I finally gave up waiting for sunshine yesterday and did a couple of loads of laundry. They’re hung on the line now, but there’s no telling how long it will take everything to dry; we’ll just have rainwater rinsed clothes! We’re also dealing with very muddy dogs, which is just annoying. Our bed sheets have muddy dog prints all over them since we can’t train the Jacks to stay off the bed, and we always have brown blotches on our legs where muddy dogs have rubbed us. One day last week I wanted to stay clean as I fed the dogs, so I suited up in my full rubber raingear outfit, boots, rubber pants, and rubber slicker; I’m sure I looked more like I was going to try to feed some dolphins rather than a pack of dogs. The good thing about the rain is that everything is growing. The coconuts we planted on the driveway months ago have suddenly doubled in size, and my latest batch of lettuce and basil is growing way faster than the first batch.

The puppies are growing like weeds too. We give them their monthly flea and worm treatments mid-month, so we weighed them yesterday to see how much wormer we need. Stout is up to 65 pounds, and Beli is a little over 60 – and their feet still look a little too big for them, so they’re still growing. They’ve both become good scorpion hunters, which we appreciate. When they see a scorpion, they stand at a good distance and bark at it, and we’ve learned that when they’re barking at a spot on the floor or the wall, the best thing for us to do is lock the Jacks in another room and get a machete.

Mellow is hanging in there, although he’s getting stinkier and stinkier from sleeping in his wet bed.

Lou and Nock are still working on keeping the puppies in line. They’re terrified of Mel, but as soon as Mel goes outside they start to run amok.

We’re going to be even more cautious than we have been about letting Nock out to hunt after our latest wildlife encounter. Tom went out to fill the generator yesterday, and saw a very colorful snake trying to get out of his way by crawling under the generator. Tom took a look at it, and came inside for the snake book. He determined that it was some type of coral snake, so he called for me, the camera, and a machete, and we went outside for a snake hunt. Coral snakes are very dangerous because Belize hospitals don’t have any antivenin for their bites. However, they’re also very shy, so unless you surprise it, you probably won’t get bit, and there are also snakes known as false coral snakes around here that look like the coral snakes, but are not poisonous. After consulting the snake book, we decided that this snake was definitely a coral snake, and its behavior supported that conclusion.

When we went back out to the generator, it had moved under the camper and was hiding behind the rolled up camper waste hose. Tom tried to chop at it with the machete without chopping the hose, and it didn’t strike at the hose, but just tried to crawl away. As it went behind the camper tires, Tom got a couple of good chops in, and it then went in a bigger hole under the camper. Because we didn’t know if it was dead and could no longer see it, Tom sprayed it with hornet spray to stun it, then got a stick and fished it out of the hole. It was still alive, but not in very good shape. Using the stick to help it along, Tom managed to get it over to the other side of the camper, where he was able to deliver the coup de grace and make it become a multi-part snake. We put it in a glass jar and Tom took it to the neighbors, who confirmed that it was indeed a coral snake. It’s very beautiful, with brilliant yellow, red and black rings, and being the mush I am, I didn’t like killing it because it was so non-aggressive. However, it was a dangerous snake in our living space, and I have no doubt that Nock would go after it if she saw it move, and if it was being killed by a dog, it would no doubt try to bite the dog to escape. So, the snake had to go.

On a happier wildlife note, the toucans are back. A couple of times in the past week we’ve had six or more toucans in the tree right over our cabin. With a whole flock croaking like frogs, we know they’re there and run out to look. They hop around in the tree for a while, feeding from the fruits, then fly away. We’ve also had a flock of aracaris, which are small toucan-like birds, stopping in our trees for a meal. And, we saw a black headed trogon in our pasture. We’ve seen glimpses of them through the trees in the jungle this morning, but this is the first one we’ve seen in a place where it was clear enough to get a good look.

Olmi has confirmed that La Negrita is in fact El Negrito. She said that this batch of chicks was strange because of the seven chicks, only two are hens and the other five are roosters, which is backwards from the usual ratio. This means I’ll probably eventually use another cage as a chicken coop, leaving El Negrito with the two hens we have now, and getting some new unrelated hens to coop with our white rooster. It doesn’t look like this is anything I’ll have to do right away, since El Negrito is taking full advantage of being a chick. He can now get himself up into the coop at night, but once he’s there he nestles under the white hen’s wing, and they both seem pretty happy with this arrangement. It’s very funny, because when we look in the coop we don’t see El Negrito, but if we call his name, his little head pops up out of the top of the space between the hen’s wing and her back, and he peeps at us. During the day the white hen keeps track of him, and clucks and purrs to keep him close. Olmi was in the house one day and asked which hen was setting on eggs, and was surprised when I told her neither, because she said that’s the noise a hen makes when it’s setting and is disturbed. When she went out to the cage yesterday to see El Negrito, she realized that the noise she was hearing was the white hen talking to El Negrito – and the white hen isn’t even laying eggs yet. There’s always something fascinating in the world of chickens!

We’re sure this week will fly by, since we have a long list of things we want to get done. Tom and Selwyn have work to do on the second cabin, I’m working on the web page, and there’s always the day to day maintenance. Tom is going to Spanish Lookout tomorrow for supplies, and we both have to go to Belmopan on Thursday or Friday to get our passports stamped again – already! If we get the two months’ of stamps we’ve been getting, that means we won’t have to go back until the week before Christmas, and then we’ll only have one more month until we’ve been here a year. Then we’ll be able to apply for permanent residency, although we’ll also have to figure out what to do in the time between applying and hopefully being granted permanent residency, which could be six months to a year. With any luck, we’ll be open for business during that time, which means we’ll probably have to get a work permit, which is more expensive than the monthly passport stamps, but we won’t have to go to Belmopan every other month. Whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to do to keep busy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Chop Chop, Puppies' rabies shots

On Wednesday, Tom and I had a day out in San Ignacio. The puppies, Beli and Stout, were due for their rabies shots a couple of months ago, but somehow we never quite got around to getting it done – probably because it wasn’t as easy of a task as it sounds like it should be. We got them in May, and the only time we’ve had them in the truck is when we brought them home from their breeder. We’ve leash trained them here, but leash training in the middle of the jungle doesn’t teach them about walking down a street in town when there are other people and – gasp – other dogs on the street. And, we just don’t take the dogs out in the truck much here because it’s always hot, so we can never just leave them in the truck for even a short time while we go do something else. Knowing that taking them for shots was going to be a 2-person job was one of the reasons we kept procrastinating.

But, we finally decided that Wednesday was it, and we were going to take them for shots. We loaded two very hesitant puppies in the truck, where they cowered and crammed themselves on the floor of the back seat as we went down the Georgeville Road. Fortunately, neither of them was carsick. We stopped first at BAHA (Belize Agriculture and Health Association, or something like that) to ask where we should take them, and were told to take them to a private vet. The problem then became finding a private vet, because it seems that most of the vets here have other day jobs, and we don’t get out much at night. We then stopped to talk to Gregg, the owner of the campground where we stayed when we first got to Belize, who is an animal nut and frequently rescues stray dogs. He said that his vet wasn’t in for the day, but told of us a place to go get the rabies shots where the vet also wasn’t in, but where the vet tech could do it.

So, that’s what we did. The vet tech was very helpful, gave the puppies their shots, gave us the paperwork, and told us what vaccinations we should get for Mel, Nock, and Lou. He also told us a few things we didn’t know, but that could be helpful in the future, like the fact that instead of having to get import permits for the dogs again if we take them out of the country and then bring them back, we can go to BAHA and get each dog a passport which will allow it to travel in and out of Belize without reapplying and paying for the import permits. We’re not planning any trips out of Belize with the dogs yet, but we have no doubt that at some point if we go back to the States for an extended period of time, we’ll drive and take the dogs.

The other thing the vet tech told us which sort of made us laugh is that although the three white dogs got 3-year rabies shots just about a year ago, they should get a booster every year while in Belize because rabies comes over from Guatemala every year so the dogs should be immunized every year. We were laughing because the vet tech made it sound like it’s all Guatemala’s fault that rabies outbreaks occur, and if we weren’t so close to the Guatemala border rabies wouldn’t be a problem in Belize – as though the path of a rabies outbreak somehow recognizes international boundary lines. Needless to say, when we talk to a vet we’ll get the vet’s opinion on whether the dogs should be boostered more frequently.

Overall for the day, the pups did quite well. After a few times in and out of the truck, they were a little more willing to jump in and out and didn’t have to be lifted like sacks of potatoes. Neither drooled too much or got sick, and after we made it clear that they were to stay in the back seat, they sat quietly. We ate lunch at Erva’s, where we could eat on the porch right next to the parked truck. We tied the pups in the bed of the truck while we ate, so they were able to stand at the rail and watch us eat and drool over our food. They were funny, because they quickly became possessive of the truck, although they weren’t consistently possessive. Some people were allowed to walk by and got nothing but grinning pups with wagging tails, and some people got barked at before they even got near the truck. One group of three people parked a few spaces down and then walked into the restaurant, and the puppies greeted them like long lost friends. Tom and I remarked on it, and one of the guys admitted that he works in a butcher shop and dogs always like him! When we got home, but puppies were delighted to be back in their yard with their friends, and they were exhausted that night, as you can see from the picture.

A funny thing happened on our way home. We drove through San Antonio just as school let out for the day, so the kids were all in the school yard waiting for the bus. As we drove by, some of the kids starting yelling “Chop, chop,” which is what they always yell to us when we go by their houses. It’s sort of shorthand for “hurry up,” and has become a running joke. I leaned out the truck window, yelled “chop, chop” back to them and made a chopping motion with my hands – and all the kids in the school yard, our neighbors and kids we don’t even know, broke into cheers! Tom and I laughed all the way home.

The only other big news this week is that El Raton seems to have succumbed to poison before Nock could put him out of his misery. As we were unloading our stuff from the truck, Tom called me to come to the front of the truck – and there was stiff, dead El Raton. Nock hadn’t been hunting in the kitchen for a day or two before that, so either he was already dead and we didn’t find him, or he was in the process of dying in the space under the house. However, we think he may have left survivors, so we’re continuing to secure the fruit and vegetables every night.