Monday, March 5, 2007

Thursday, March 1, 2007 to Sunday, March 4, 2007

We seem to have settled into a rhythm here, and nothing too exciting has happened over the past few days. Selwyn and Tom have been very busy clearing jungle away from the buildings, which is not only an inexpensive task, but it’s also very rewarding since at the end of the day we can all see a big difference and know exactly how much progress was made. The fenced yards of both cabins are now cleared, as well as six to eight foot borders around both cabins. All of the external moldings around both cabins have been removed, and the chicken wire has been removed from the fenced yards. The gutters have been taken down and are waiting to be cleaned with bleach so we can use them to catch rainwater when we re-hang them. Both cabins look very neat. On Sunday, we had the first cabin sprayed again for termites and other creepie crawlies. We hope to close by mid-week, which is when we’ll be able to get into the first cabin again, so then we can start getting that cabin ready so we can move into a permanent structure and out of the camper.

Tom and I spent some time walking around the empty first cabin before it was resprayed, coming up with plans for walls, decks, bathrooms, plumbing, electrical outlets, and the general layout and furniture we’ll need. Our ultimate plan is to divide each cabin into two guest rooms, so we’re going to use the first cabin as a prototype and make half of it like a guest room with bedroom and bathroom. In the other half, we’ll put kitchen appliances in what will eventually become the bathroom since that will be plumbed, use the rest of the room as a dining room/living room, and add a deck off the front. When we’re moved in to that cabin, if we like how it’s working, we’ll finish stripping the second cabin, have it sprayed for termites, and turn it into two guestrooms. In addition to working on the cabins, we’re going to get the water system set up by getting a tank near the road, then tanks on stands for each cabin, and a water pump to pump water into the tank by the road and up into the tanks on the two cabins. We’re planning to set the generator up near the cabin by the road, and put a roof back on that cabin so we can use it as a utility house for the water works, electrical breakers and inverters, a shop, a tack room, and a laundry room/linen closet. Then we’ll need to get enough PVC and wiring to run electric and water to both cabins, and eventually to a house.

The grand plan is to get a separate house, so all these systems will be installed with that in mind, although we’d like to concentrate on getting a place for us to live and two guest rooms within the next couple of months without the distraction of a house, which we know will become our focus once it’s started. We’ve already walked around the property and we think we know where we would like to place the house, although we have to get an excavator in to make sure that the rocks will allow enough of a flat place to be cleared. We’re thinking of placing it between the two cabins, so when we get a satellite for internet access, we’ll be able to put it on the first cabin while we live there, and then move it when our house is complete, and set up WiFi repeaters so the entire property will have wireless access. We’re surprising ourselves because we’re in as much of a hurry to get the satellite as we are to get more permanent and stable electric and water, since between email and Skype, the internet is our link to the world. Right now we feel like we’re on vacation, being out of touch most of the time, but we really don’t want to feel this remote for the long term.

As far as more mundane things go, Esmerelda is now confined to one of the pastures. She kept getting out, and nobody is quite sure how, and it didn’t matter until she met George in San Antonio, three miles away, and he had to ride her back. The kids had told us that they saw her running past the school bus when they were on their way home, and Tom met George riding her shortly after that, so apparently she was making pretty good time. Clearing the rest of the fence line is on our list of things to do, but for now one pasture is enough for one horse.

The weather has been sunny, and warm enough that even the Belizeans are commenting on the heat. I actually love it, and if I ever start to think I’m too warm, I think of the cold and snow in NY and then I enjoy the heat. Tom is a little less tolerant of it, but the fact that the Belizeans say it’s hot makes him feel better. The heat did, however, convince Tom that a haircut was in order. I think he’d planned to express his mid-life crisis by letting his hair get long, but it was just too hot for him, and I was encouraging him to get it cut. We’ve been asking all the men where they get their hair cut, and they all say George did it, so when George came over we got out the clippers and George went to work. He did a great job; I told Tom that if we were back in the US he could put on a button shirt, dockers, and loafers and go to visit any of his clients without feeling disreputable.

Tom before his haircut

George the artist at work

The final results. Tom looks like Tom again.
On Friday, Tom went with Honduran Marta into San Ignacio. He met the local director of the corporation selling this property, and found that she and her fellow board members are eager to sell the property, and the delay is basically that papers have had to be sent all over the world. We’ve been worried that something was really wrong with the deal because so many people had told us that closings happen so quickly, and we’re now more on the timeline of a US property closing, but Tom returned from San Ignacio feeling better about the deal – still impatient, but slightly less worried.

Since Tom was away for most of the day, Selwyn continued the effort to clear around the cabins, and I decided to hike some of the trails on the property to see where they go. I walked into the jungle with Selwyn’s “Don’t forget your machete, Margie” ringing in my head, and started hacking my way through the paths. I found that we had cleared the back property line almost to the point where the cabins sit on the property, and that when we walked back to pick up the weed whacker last week, we could have just hiked a couple of hundred yards up the trail through the jungle, rather than hiking more than a half mile down the road, up the property line, and back again. As I was exploring paths on the property, I also discovered the other property line, so I’ve now walked the entire property line for the front parcel. We still have to find the markers and walk the line for the back parcel on the other side of the feeder road, but that can wait. On Saturday, Tom and I went out together to see the trails and property lines, which allowed us a much better perspective when we started trying to figure out where we’d like to put the house.

We’re also continuing the effort to get the vines out of the fruit trees. A Jamaican lime tree is near the camper, and I thought it was almost done bearing limes. I decided to hack the vines away from it, and found that it’s covered in limes that couldn’t be seen for all the vines. I now hate vines almost as much as I hate ants, especially the sticky thorny vines that stick to everything, scratch, and are hard to cut. The problem with both the ants and the vines is that they’re everywhere, and getting to close to either of them has unpleasant consequences as you’re either bit by the ants or scratched by the vines. On the other hand, some of the vines are very rewarding to cut, since they can be an inch or two in diameter, but the wood is soft, so you can chop them off with one good swing of the machete.

For Sunday lunch, we went to Bol and Petranelus’s house in San Antonio to celebrate Selwyn’s son’s fifth birthday. Selwyn had planned to have lunch at his house, but decided that he wanted to make a “real” rice and beans, which requires cooking on a wood hearth, so the party moved to his parents’ house, which is right across the street from his grandfather’s house, so he had access to not one but two wood hearths, one for the chicken and fried plantains, and one for the huge cast iron cauldron of rice and beans. Lunch was delicious, served with cabbage and potato salads, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Junior, the birthday boy, informed me that his birthday wasn’t until the night, but he was glad we were there. Tom and I realized how we’re making friends so quickly here – when you meet one person and get along, you aren’t making one friend, you’re making friends with that person’s entire network of immediate and extended family and friends. Families are big, complicated, and from what we’ve seen, tend to live together, or at least very close to each other. At Junior’s birthday party, we met all but one of Selwyn’s siblings, a cousin, and a few other people who passed through, and the same thing happens when we go to our close neighbors’ houses. Now we’re just waiting to get into the cabin so we have a table that seats more than two, and I have a stove big enough for big pots, and then we’ll start to return the invitations for all the families who have invited us to join them for meals. And, Selwyn and Petranelus have promised to help me build a Mayan kitchen with a real traditional wood hearth so I can make big pots of chicken, rice, and beans, which really do taste better when cooked over the open wood fire.

Tom is becoming quite the jungle mechanic, and is really glad that Aaron made sure he had the tools and the knowledge to take care of mechanical things. He’s changed the oil in the generator, which he figures will be a monthly task. It’s been slightly less than a month, but it was supposed to be changed earlier the first time, and we think we’ve been running the generator more now than we’ll need to in the future when we have a battery bank and inverter. Then we’ll only need to run it to top off the batteries when the solar doesn’t work, or when we need to run big appliances like the washing machine or the water pump.

He also helped Damion change the U-joints in his Toyota pickup. Damion had borrowed some tools and attempted to do it himself on Saturday, but gave up when he couldn’t get the old U-joints off the drive shaft. While Damion was spraying the cabin on Sunday, Tom got out the WhisperLite backpacking stove, his mallet, and a crow bar, and went to work. When Damion was done spraying, the two of them heated and hammered and finally removed the bad U-joints, then installed the new ones. Olmi and the kids came to watch the repair, so I used Olmi’s knowledge to tell me which of the two coconuts I’d picked up was better for making coconut rice, which I’d determined I was going to try again without trying any shortcuts. Olmi picked out the coconut, then she, Damion, and the kids had a laugh watching Tom split it for me. After Tom did that, Damion showed Tom how to use a pickax to get the outside shell off the coconut I didn’t use so it will keep for a few weeks. I picked out the coconut meat from the split coconut, then grated it to make coconut milk, and made the rice – and it come out right!

Then Tom had to go to work on our truck, which is taking a beating on the bumpy roads. When we returned from Junior’s birthday party on Sunday, I got out of the truck to open and shut the gate, and told Tom to drive up the driveway without me so I could check the water. As he pulled away, I noticed something bouncing up and down on the bottom of the truck. We took a look, and it was the exhaust system hanging on by a thread. Tom reattached the exhaust system, and added a roll of heavy wire to our emergency repair kit in the truck so that if we’re out around here and we realize the exhaust system is dragging, we can wire it up to get where ever we need to go.

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