Tuesday, February 20, 2007


We saw our first toucan in the custard apple tree this morning, although we later found out that it’s not a toucan. Selwin told us the name, and it is in the toucan family, but it’s smaller than the keel billed toucan or the emerald toucan. The keel billed toucan is the one you think of from the Fruit Loops box, the emerald toucan is smaller and very green, and this one is even smaller than the emerald toucan, but more colorful, with a yellow belly and red stripes. It’s very entertaining to watch them eat the custard apples, because they turn their heads upside down so the fruit falls into the top of their beaks, which are bigger than the bottom. Then they turn right side up and make a big mess as they chew. Ripe custard apples are a big draw for many birds. We watched the tree with Selwin at lunch, and he identified two types of woodpeckers, a couple of different types of orioles, finches, tanagers, cat birds, and probably a few I’m forgetting.

In addition to birds, we talked about Belizean food and cooking with Selwin at lunch. We went through a Belizean cookbook I bought on my first trip to Belize, and Selwin pointed out the “have to try” recipes. I’ve had the cookbook for a couple of years, but have made very little out of it because many of the uniquely Belizean recipes use Belizean ingredients that are difficult to get in the US, even at Wegmans. Cassava, for example, is becoming one of our favorites. It’s a root which can be used like a potato, but it’s long and sort of brown and shaggy, so it looks dirty; Tom calls it the dog poop vegetable, if that helps, although that description is based solely on looks. The thing with cassava is that it spoils within a few days of being dug out of the ground, so it’s just not practical to ship it to the northern US. It’s widely used down here because it can be used just like potatoes, plus it can be used to make a bread which Selwin says is delicious, and it can be used in soups and stews to make them thick and creamy. It makes the most wonderful creamy mashed “potatoes,” and when it’s baked or fried, it gets a nice crisp outside and it’s light and airy inside. I looked it up, and found that it’s also called yucca or manioc, and tapioca is made from cassava. Anyway, next time I get a cassava, I’m going to try making cassava bread, which takes a few days since the cassava needs to be grated and dried. I’m planning to follow the recipe (very unlike me) and not try any shortcuts!

We also learned a little about caring for horses in the jungle – Esmerelda has a spot on her stomach which looks like a girth rub, but Selwin told us it’s a reaction to some bug bite. It’s a hard welt about two inches in diameter, which sticks out from her skin by a good half inch. She also had a cut on her poll, which could be from hitting a tree, but Selwin said it could also be a bite from a vampire bite. He said it’s not harmful to the horses unless the bat has rabies, and horses should be immunized. We have to check with George since we don’t know if she’s had shots, although Selwin said the shots are inexpensive and you don’t need a vet to get them, so he said that most people do immunize their horses. In any case, we got out the hose and the betadine and cleaned her up, and sprayed her stomach with some Scarlex we brought with us. We told everybody we saw later in the day to tell George what we did so he wouldn’t see the red smear on his mare’s belly and think she was bleeding; we’ll have to get some of the blue stuff so we don’t scare people when we spray the horses, since it looks like they’ll probably be getting lots of spraying with all the bugs around here.

In the afternoon, I was on the porch of the second cabin cleaning my tack, which was dirty and moldy since it was packed three months ago in a less than perfectly clean state, and it was just unpacked in the past few days. It’s cleaning up just fine, and is oh-so-easy to oil since it’s about 85 degrees in the sun, so the oil I rub into it is nice and soft. Anyway, as I was doing that, Marta, Olmi (we found out how to spell her name correctly), and Elizabeth showed up with their machetes and asked if they could collect dead wood for their cook fires. Of course we said yes, and they went into the woods and started pulling out dead sticks and logs. They were going to drag them home a few pieces at a time, when it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be any trouble to have them throw the wood in the back of the truck, and I could drive the truck to their houses to unload it. They loaded the truck, and we took off. We pulled into Olmi’s driveway first, and I got out of the truck to help. They started to giggle and look at each other, and Elizabeth, the only one who speaks much English, told me I couldn’t help them. I insisted I could, thinking they just didn’t want to take advantage of me, but then Elizabeth and Marta also stepped back to let Olmi unload on her own, and Elizabeth explained that each of them knew which sticks were theirs, and they were only going to take their own sticks out of the truck to pile by their houses. I couldn’t really argue with that, so I let Olmi unload HER wood. We then drove to Marta’s house, and she unloaded her wood. Elizabeth was the lucky one because her house is the farthest from ours, so when we got there I could help since I knew all the wood that was left was hers. We all ended up laughing because a few trucks with British soldiers were parked at the intersection, and the soldiers had watched this whole unloading process. They managed to stay out of the way until I began to back out of Elizabeth’s driveway, which is very rutted. Finally they couldn’t stand it any more, so they blocked traffic for me, and one stood behind the truck directing my wheels around the biggest holes, and telling me when it was safe to back up. All of this was totally unnecessary because there wasn’t any traffic to block, and I’d pulled straight in through the holes and was perfectly capable of pulling straight out back through the same holes, but I guess the men had to feel useful.

While I was watching Marta unload her wood, Ofelia and Rosa (her daughters) came out of the house and asked if Tom and I would like to go to their house for dinner at seven. They had asked the previous evening, but I already had dinner in the oven, so I figured since they had asked twice they really meant it. I made some coleslaw, and we went over for dinner. Elizabeth’s and Salvadorian Marta’s families were not there, but Marta, her husband Julian, Olmi, and her husband Damion were there, with their kids. Tom had the kids take a head count, and there were 13 for dinner, including the two of us. They get their power from a couple of batteries which they usually charge either in San Antonio or at Jim and Sharon’s, where Damion works, but the batteries had gone dead, so the house was lighted with kerosene lamps. Rosa, Ofelia, and Marta did the cooking, and made a delicious dinner of empanadas, mashed potatoes, and chicken, rice, and beans. We all ate around a huge round table, and it felt really good for Tom and me to be out of the cramped camper. I think they were a little surprised that we appreciated what they had, because they think we have a lot of nice stuff (Americans are made of money, after all), but although their houses are simple, everything they have is well cared for and nice. After dinner they showed us their photographs, which included a few of the cat farm when it was a cat farm. We didn’t even recognize it, because what’s now underbrush used to be mowed lawn and pasture; we obviously have a lot to do.

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