Friday, March 16, 2007

A Full Day

Tom and I both set out early Friday morning for San Ignacio and Spanish Lookout with a long list of people we needed to talk to and supplies we needed to get to continue the work on the property. Our first stop was CCET, the Cayo Center for Education and Training, where we needed to pick up a schedule of the tour guide courses for Selwyn, who has only a few modules to complete before he can get his guide license. From the looks of the schedule, Selwyn thinks he should be able to complete the course work by November. We then stopped at the Inglewood Camping Grounds to pay Greg for the electricity we used after we paid for our stay since we had left in a hurry and hadn’t paid the full day’s electric bill. We found that Greg had gone to their home in California, and his wife is now doing the campground duty. I sat in the truck with the dogs while Tom talked to Mrs. Castillo, and he said she’s as nice as Greg, and as nice as we would expect Greg’s wife to be. She didn’t know anything about the electric bill, but she went in the house and Skyped Greg, who told her to tell us not to worry about it since we didn’t use enough electricity in one day to make a difference.

When Tom was in Spanish Lookout earlier in the week, he had found that there is a shortage of hardwood 2x6s, which he needs to frame the bathrooms and decks he’s building off the cabins. On the way down the hill into San Ignacio, we decided to try the San Ignacio lumber yard to see if they had any hardwood 2x6s. They did, and were more than happy to sell Tom as many as we could fit in the back of the truck. Not only do they have the 2x6s, but they have all the other lumber Tom needs, and they’re about 40 minutes closer than Spanish Lookout, and are accessed by the San Antonio road, which is in much better condition than the Georgeville Road, which is the most direct route to Spanish Lookout. Plus, they deliver, so Tom thinks he’s found his new source of lumber.

With a full truck, Tom dropped me off in front of Noah’s office, where we were scheduled to meet a gentleman who owns a company specializing in alternative energy solutions. Since the property is off the grid as far as electric goes, we need an alternative solution, and this gentleman, Thomas, is not only a great source of information, but also sells all the parts needed to get us set up. Thomas advised us on how to build the system from the bottom up so we can expand if necessary, and so we can start with a minimal cash outlay and get more parts as we can afford them. We’re looking specifically at solar power, and it isn’t cheap. We did a rough estimate of the size of system we’d need, and it came to somewhere between $15K and $20KUSD, although we can reduce the initial cost by getting fewer solar panels and adding as we can afford them, using the generator, which we already have, to charge the batteries if the solar panels aren’t collecting enough juice. We can’t do anything until we have the buildings in a condition to install the system – the building where Thomas suggests we put the solar panels is currently roofless, and solar panels need to be installed on the roof – but in the meantime, we’re coming up with a detailed list of everything we can think of that needs or will need electric power so we can determine the exact size of the system we’ll need.

After this meeting, we went down to the market so I could buy some produce. Tom parked on the grass in the shade, so he stayed in the truck with the dogs while I shopped. While he was waiting, Tom decided to check fluid levels in the truck, and noticed that the alternator belt had a few chunks out of it. He called Noah, who recommended a mechanic in San Ignacio, so as soon as I finished shopping we backtracked up the hill to have the truck checked. The mechanic said that it looked like normal wear, but it needed to be replaced. We had a brief debate about whether or not we should go to Spanish Lookout, but since the mechanic said that with a diesel engine the engine will keep running without the alternator, we decided to chance it. If we heard the belt go, we’d have to get ready to dash home without everything else that uses electricity in the truck – no electric brakes, no power steering, shut windows since they couldn’t be shut after the battery runs down, and no lights.

The deciding factor on chancing it was that the top item on our Spanish Lookout list was a washing machine. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, we’ve been quite vexed over the cost of laundry and our alternatives. The majority of women around here hand wash all of their families’ laundry with a bucket and a washboard. I’ve really resisted that because I don’t want to end up doing it forever, and if we end up having a lot of guests, all I’d be doing every day is washing linens. On top of that, it’s really hard work. I’ve washed a few things by hand, and I usually end up gimping around with a sore back and sore knees for a day, and I’ve dispensed ibuprofen to the neighbor women after they’ve done a particularly large load. So, even though they’re very expensive and there’s virtually no selection, we agreed we needed a washer. The place where we’ve been buying most of our big ticket items, and which has been very fair with us, only had one of the top of the line Maytag front loaders – but it’s a front loader that loads from the top. It’s the top of the line, and very, very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that the sales manager said it’s more washer than he’d advise anybody to buy, so he sent us down the road to the LP Gas place, which also sells appliances. We ended up with the large capacity agitator Whirlpool washer, which still has more bells and whistles than we need – we don’t even have hot water right now, so the heat sensor is a little useless for us! – and loaded it in the truck, almost $1000USD ahead of where we’d have been if we bought the toploading front loader Maytag.

We ran around Spanish Lookout getting the rest of the items on our list until the stores closed at 5:00. Then we started home. Our crossed fingers and pleas to Tinkerbell to make it all the way worked, and we had a very slow but uneventful ride, although we had to stop the truck every mile or so for Tom to reposition the lumber and tighten the straps so we didn’t leave our load of hard-to-find 2x6s in the middle of the Georgeville Road. As we were heading southwest, we were surrounded by beautiful blue skies, but we could see a roving thunderstorm ahead of us. It was a big black cloud, all by itself in the otherwise blue sky, with a sheet of grey rain between the cloud and the ground. We couldn’t hear thunder, but we could see flashes of lightening, and we could see a beautiful half rainbow coming out of the cloud and down into the mountains. The sun was setting as we arrived home, and it was very dark by the time we fed the dogs and started unloading the lumber and the washing machine. By then, the storm had circled around behind us, and although we still couldn’t hear thunder, we could see flashes of lightening in the north that looked like they were coming from the ground, and which lit up the whole sky. About an hour later, as we were eating dinner, we heard the thunder to the west. The storm had continued its circle, and soon after we heard the thunder, the rain started. It was just a quick heavy downpour, and then it cleared up. When we talked to people the next day, we found that only a narrow circular track of people had received rain; we got the rain here, but in San Antonio, less than 3 miles away, it was dry.

The only other excitement on Friday was another living in the jungle lesson. We generally hang our bath towels out on the line during the day since they stay damp if we leave them hung in the tiny camper bathroom, and if they’re hung out in the sun they’re deliciously dry and fresh. We usually bring them in before the sun goes down, but since we didn’t get home until dusk and didn’t think to bring them in until the rain was threatening, they’d been hung out for an hour or so in the dark. Tom showered while I made dinner, and all of the sudden he shouted an obscenity and started thrashing in the bathroom. I turned around just in time to see a scorpion fly out the bathroom door and land on the floor of the camper. Since I was making dinner I just happened to have a knife in my hand, so I flicked the scorpion back in the bathroom where the dogs wouldn’t be tempted to investigate, Tom took the broom handle and held it down, and I chopped it in half with my knife. As it turned out, it didn’t sting Tom, just gave him a big surprise as he went to dry off his body and ended up with a scorpion on his chest. When we mentioned the incident to our Belizean friends, we found that everyone we talked to who has been stung by a scorpion has been stung because the scorpion was in some item of clothing which they had put on after it was hung out to dry. It seems to be common knowledge that you always shake out shoes and boots before putting them on, but even Belizeans sometimes forget to shake out ALL of their clothes.

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