Sunday, April 29, 2007

Two Sides to Every Story

The water finally made a comeback early Friday morning. It isn’t gushing out of the pipe 24 hours a day, but we’re getting decent pressure in the early mornings and evenings, which works for us. We refilled the 200 gallon gravity feed tank, and the pipe refilled the 1000 gallon tank. We’re not quite sure when that happened because we have a float valve so it runs whenever it’s running and then shuts off when it’s full, but in any case it’s full. The parts of San Antonio that are at the bottoms of hills have had some water, but the houses near the top of the hills still haven’t had enough pressure to get water into their houses. We got a little more information on the political situation with the water being shared between 7 Miles and San Antonio, and we found out that the farmers we’ve been calling water pigs really aren’t pigs at all. The pipe was originally put in with grant money meant to provide the pipe and hardware necessary to get water to 7 Miles. Water for San Antonio was not included in the grant, and the labor required to install the pipe was not included. The farmers from 7 Miles were either recruited or volunteered to install the pipe from the reservoir in the mountains down to 7 Miles. It ended up taking a month of their time, and they not only were not paid for the time, they lost a month of labor on their farms. They were told that their payment was that they would be able to irrigate their fields year round with the pipe water. When the next general election rolled around, somebody promised water for San Antonio, and the pipes were laid between 7 Miles and San Antonio. That’s when the trouble started, because there wasn’t enough water pressure to get the water to San Antonio if the farmers were irrigating – the same farmers who donated their time to work in a risky situation to get the pipe installed. When the water level is high and the pipe is in good shape, there’s plenty of water for everybody – the farmers from 7 Miles and people living in the village of San Antonio – but when conditions aren’t perfect, nobody is happy. Lesson learned: every story has two sides.

With Tom and Selwyn working on the water line from Monday to Wednesday, and with both of them being pretty tired when they were done, we didn’t make much progress on the property this week. They got all the boards measured and cut for the wall and ceiling inside the cabin on Thursday, and nailed most of the frame up on Friday morning. I had gone to San Ignacio on Friday morning and didn’t get home until almost 1:00, so I was in the process of unpacking groceries and making lunch when a truck pulled up at the gate. A couple of Selwyn’s neighbors hopped out, and said they had come to get Selwyn because Hilda, his wife, was sick. Hilda hadn’t felt well since Monday or Tuesday, and had been fighting a sore throat and an intermittent fever. She was hanging in there until midday Friday, when her fever went up and she said she had pains all over. So, Selwyn went home with his neighbors, and Tom did a quick cleanup and followed in our truck. They ended up taking Hilda to the hospital in San Ignacio, where they determined that the infection in her throat had spread through her system. The doctors at the hospital gave her six shots and some penicillin to inject at home, and sent her home. Tom and I did another US/Belize comparison, because Hilda’s total bill for the emergency room visit, the injections, and the penicillin to take home was $50US. The downside was that there was only enough penicillin in all of San Ignacio to last Hilda until Monday, so one of us has to run back into town to get more penicillin then. The other thing we have to consider is that while $50 for that treatment is very inexpensive by our standards, that’s two days of pay for a lot of the workers around here. We’re not sure how Hilda is feeling now (Sunday morning), but we’ll probably drive into San Antonio later today so we’ll see then how she’s doing.

Tom and Wilton measuring a board for the side of the shed under the roof peak.

Tom and Wilton cutting the measured board.

Tom and Wilton hammering up the measured and cut board.

I did get to do a little hammering Saturday afternoon!

Our Saturday project was to continue work on the tool shed. The plan was that we would both work on it, and try to get the front on, and the windows and door. I ended up not doing very much because when Wilton and Hector, two of the boys from next door, heard the generator and the hammering they came over to see what we were doing. Hector lost interest in a little while, but Wilton very enthusiastically jumped in and became the carpenter’s helper for the morning. I had the tough task of hanging the laundry on the line to dry, and sitting in the shade and drinking tamarind juice and trying to learn Spanish with Olmi and Daisy, Wilton’s mother and sister. Not a bad way to spend a morning! We didn’t get the shed done – it still needs two windows and a door – but we had a very pleasant day.

Tom had another diversion in the afternoon because Damion stopped by to see if he could use one of our propane tanks. Damion and the crew he works with have been way up in the Pine Ridge harvesting bay palm leaves to make thatched roofs for our neighbors’ cabanas. They harvest the palm leaves right out of the jungle, but that part of the jungle is a national forest preserve, and a permit is required to get the leaves. The permit specifies how many leaves can be harvested, sets rules about when the leaves can be taken, and dictates where the leaves should come from – and it’s usually not from anyplace where it’s easy to get the leaves out. So, they’d driven about 15 miles up into the Pine Ridge, and then another 15 miles on small fire roads to where they could get the leaves with their butane powered bus and trailer. After loading the trailer, and trying to start the bus, the bus wouldn’t start and acted like it was out of butane. This all happened on Friday, and the guys ended up walking all the way home – a five hour walk. They were able to make the distance a little shorter because they could take jungle paths rather than the roads, but it was still a long walk. So, on Saturday, they loaded a pickup with propane tanks so they could get the bus down. However, when they got there, they found that the butane tank wasn’t empty, but something was wrong with the fuel delivery system. When they tried to fix that, the end came off one of the hoses in one of the fittings, so they couldn’t change the fitting. So, they put the broken part in the truck and headed back down the mountain. Fortunately Tom had the tools to fix it – again! – and the guys plan to go up with the fixed part on Monday and hope they can get the bus running and down the hill.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The pipe is done...but no water yet

The guys worked on the pipeline all day yesterday, and finished just before the sun started to set. They were home before dark, physically and mentally exhausted, but quite pleased with themselves since the water should be on by tonight, and they know they played a part in fixing it for the whole community. The guys who actually work for the Water Authority are going to bleed the pipe and check all the fittings today, but since they were doing some of this as they went along for the past couple of days, they don’t anticipate any problems. I’m still not going to do my laundry until I know we can get water from the pipe, but it looks good. Tom’s DeWalt saw became known as “el gringo saw” but the guys all enjoyed using it, and Selwyn had to make sure they all took turns. They still let Tom do the sawing for the thick metal pipes since he has the most practice, but Tom and Selwyn said most of the guys were getting good at it. Tom must have explained to them that the saw was part of a set, because he’s probably going to go walk the pipeline over the weekend with Julio, the crew chief, and his DeWalt battery drill so they can install breather tubes. Tom said if I’m good, he might let me tag along so I can see where they were working.

These falls run about 600 feet down the mountain. The reservoir that feeds the pipe that runs down the mountain is at the top in the trees.
The feeder tube is in the concrete casing to the left of the picture. The pipes sticking out the front of the cement retaining wall are used to adjust the water level in the reservoir.

You can see how steep this hill is by looking at the different levels of the men’s heads. They’re all standing, just a few feet apart on the trail. The vertical PVC pipe is filled with concrete and is used as a support for the galvanized pipe.

The pipe reinstalled heading down the hill, waiting to be hooked up to the feeder. The section of pipe after the one in this picture heads straight down the mountain about 800 feet so the water has enough pressure to make it up and over the mountain you can see in the background of this picture.

To make sure they’re getting more water pressure through the pipe, they would periodically open the valve and time how long it took to fill a five gallon bucket. Tom said it took less than 3 seconds.

It takes lots of hands to get the two ends of the pipes lined up to be reconnected.
Tom said there was only one guy strong enough to use the wrench to get the pipes hooked together so they wouldn’t leak, and even he didn’t always get it on the first try.

To soften the PVC pipe to bend it, they built a fire on the hillside. This fire worked, Tom said, but another one ended up splitting the pipe.

Tom had the honor of sawing the heavy metal pipe. He said the guys were very concerned that the cut was straight.

The pipe was heavy enough and the hill was steep enough that even a partial section of pipe required one guy pushing it up the hill while another pulled with a rope. If the pusher slipped, they didn’t want to lose the pipe down the hill, partially because it would be difficult to retrieve it, but also because it could hurt somebody on the way down. Julio, the crew chief, was very proud that they did the whole job without any injuries.

One of the sections of pipe they bent.
A long section of bent pipe curving away through the trees.

Job done, the men retraced what Tom and Selwyn figure is 2 ½ to 3 miles of pipe through the jungle and back to the reservoir at the top, carrying their tools and extra supplies.

Tom said it took a little bit of coaxing to get the tired men to carry out the pipe bending apparatus, which they called “the sponge.”

The whole crew back at the top of the mountain, job done. Doesn’t this remind you of some of those old CCC photos displayed at parks like Watkins Glen where the CCC did such an incredible job making the natural wonder accessible to everybody? The job these guys did on the water line was of the same caliber.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Happy Birthday to Mel!

Today is Mellow’s eleventh birthday. We find it hard to believe that “small Mel” is now a geriatric eleven year old, although we’re really glad he’s made it this far. We never intended to get Mel, except I called his breeder the day our old borzoi Bonnie died, and she told me that she had a bitch that was due to whelp that night and she would save a pet puppy for us. I figured it was kismet, and said okay, let us know when we can pick up the new puppy. We ended up with Mel because he got sick when he was five days old. Because it’s still chilly in upstate New York in the end of April, his breeder had to take him away from his mother in the kennel and bring him in the house to stay warm while she nursed him back to health. When he was better and she returned him to the kennel, his mother didn’t want him, so he was essentially hand raised by humans. We figure this is why he’s never really acted like a dog, and has always seemed to put himself on an equal footing with us status-wise – as far as he’s concerned, he’s human. And, this is why Cathy gave him to us as pet, since she didn’t think he’d be very happy as a show dog with his attitude.

Mel on the beach on the Costa Esmerelda (Emerald Coast) in Mexico.

He’s been a challenge from the beginning. When we took him to the vet for his puppy shots, she got down on the floor to talk to him – and he jumped up and humped her arm and shoulder. She raised an eyebrow, and commented that we might have a few dominance issues to deal with as we trained him. We did some marginally effective obedience training at home, and when he was about a year old he and I went to obedience school. Having had a few other dogs go through obedience school before Mel, when I showed up the trainer asked why I was doing it with Mel. I told him that we were having a few issues with Mel because he was so dominate, and Bill was in the middle of pooh-poohing my concerns when he looked down and realized that Mel, who was standing between us, was taking a leak on his leg. He stopped his reassurances mid-sentence, and for the rest of the class whenever he needed to illustrate how to deal with a difficult dog, Mel was the sample pupil.

At some point, Mel seemed to accept that Tom and I were his superiors, although our position has always been tenuous, and we’ve never been able to trust Mel around other dogs. His attitude is that he’ll grab them by the throat, flip them on their backs, and establish his superiority over them before the doggie sniffing rituals can even start. However, he’s been a marvelous companion for us, and I can’t even count the number of times we’ve laughed at him – or ourselves – as he’s attempted to outsmart us, and frequently succeeded. And Mel has shaped our pack, since the only reason we now have Jack Russells is because Mel wanted one. The one he really wanted was Fiver, who belongs to our friends Del and Vicky. He didn’t get Fiver, and Lou has never been acceptable to him, but he and Nock used to play all the time. As he’s gotten older, he spends more time sleeping on the bed by himself and less time running and playing outside, but we still occasionally see him with his front feet splayed out in front of him as he invites Nock to play, then he jumps in the air, twists, twirls his tail, and takes off. He’s pretty weak at this point, so he doesn’t jump as high as he used to or run as far or as fast, but he’s still getting around, and seems as sharp mentally as he’s always been. He’s the reason we drove rather than flew here, so we have him to thank our wonderful adventure on the way down. We joked that if he died on the way, we were going to strap his carcass to the top of the truck since he was going to make it to Belize, dammit, but we’re really glad he arrived still breathing and is still breathing three months after we arrived. I hope to be writing a tribute to Mel next year for his twelfth birthday, and it’s very possible, but since ten is old for a borzoi and eleven is very old, we’re just glad he’s made it this far with us and has managed to become a well-traveled expat dog living in Belize!

Tom and Selwyn spent another long day working on the water line. Tuesday morning, they had about a dozen sections of pipe, which they all thought they could do in a day. However, the first four of those sections were about 25 feet up in a tree, so by the time they got them down and rerouted, that was the day. They hope to do the last six or eight sections on Wednesday so the water can be back on by Thursday. No new pictures since they didn’t take the camera yesterday, but they took it today so I will post pictures of the finished pipeline tomorrow.

Tom has been exhausted the past two nights, but overall he seems to actually be enjoying the work they’re doing. He said he’s having a little bit of a hard time not jumping in and managing the project, but since the San Antonio town supervisor is managing the crew, Tom is managing to keep his mouth shut, and said he’s actually learning a lot about managing this type of work crew by watching Julio, the supervisor. Tom is pretty impressed with Julio’s leadership skills; he says he even moves like a leader, and Tom has noticed that all the men, himself included, automatically look to Julio if they’re not sure what they should be doing. Tom feels good about what he’s doing on the project because he said he’s not only managing to do his share of the work, but they’re using many of the tools Tom brought here from the States. Every day, he and Selwyn pack in a backpack full of wrenches, mallets, and ropes, and yesterday they even lugged in his battery-powered DeWalt equivalent to the Sawzall. The ropes have been especially useful, since everything – men, equipment, and pipe – has to be tied up so it doesn’t go down the hill. The men were very impressed with the nylon rope that Tom’s dad gave us to tie the piano in the moving truck when I flew down a few years ago and drove the player piano from Florida to New York in a Ryder moving van. Both the length and the strength of the rope were probably more than we needed to move the piano, but they’re definitely coming in handy now! And Tom said all the guys loved the saw. At one point, he said they had to cut a steel cable out of a tree, and were worrying about how to do it with a hacksaw, and the guys were amazed at how easy it was with the battery powered saw. Tom doesn’t think he’ll have any trouble finding someone willing to carry it in and out today!

Augusto came over to get water last night, and was telling us about some of the things he’s learning in guide school. He told us that just behind our property is a stream that runs into a cave, so next time Tom and I are looking for a place to hike, that will be our destination. He also said there are a number of very large caves up behind Caracol. He said they’re difficult to reach, which is why they haven’t become tourist destinations, although he also said they were told at guide school that this will probably be changing since Belize is becoming known as a caving site. As he was explaining the light went on in my head for another Spanish word. When we were driving to Caracol a few weeks ago, we saw a sign pointing off to the left for Las Cuevas. I thought it was just the name of another small village out in the bush, but I realized as Augusto and I were talking that it means The Caves. Doh. So there’s one more place to go explore, although that’s definitely a trip where we’ll be taking a cave guide with us.

Augusto also told me last night that he’s enjoying guide school because guiding is a lot like teaching, and he had originally gone to school to be a teacher. We found that he and I are both teaching school dropouts for the same reason – both the Belizean and American teaching schools expect teachers in training to pay the schools for their initial teaching experiences. Both of us were at points in our lives where we needed to be making money for working, not spending it to work, so both of us did all the coursework for teaching degrees, but never became teachers in the public schools. I taught at Finger Lakes Community College, where the teaching degree wasn’t necessary, and Augusto is now going to guide school, where the teaching degree also isn’t necessary. It’s good to know that the systems in both countries provide options so people like us can teach even without the certification, although it’s a little disappointing to know that both countries have set up a system that in many ways discourages people from becoming teachers if they can’t afford to not work for a period of time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More catching up

Saturday, April 21, 2007, Sunday, April 22, 2007, Monday, April 23, 2007, and Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Life here in the jungle continues to be excessively busy. As most of you know, we didn’t plan to retire and we knew we’d have plenty to do here, but we didn’t expect to get to this point so quickly, where we have to make decisions every day about what will and will not get done, when it seems like it all needs doing. That said, it’s a good position to be in, the days always fly by too quickly, and we’re so exhausted that we sleep like babies every night.

Our latest trauma with the land involves our deed. When we went to Belmopan last week, Tom attempted to pay our land taxes, a whopping $60BZ for the year, which are due in April. We’re in the computer system as the owners of this property, which is made up of two lots; however, when the tax collector cross referenced the computer record with the actual deed, he found that the deed had been incorrectly written, switching the acreage amounts between the two parcels. So, he did not accept the tax payment, and advised us to have the deed corrected so everything matches before we pay the taxes. We’ve talked to the selling agent, whose broker is the one who made the mistake, and he says it will be no problem to correct it, but it’s just one more thing before we can have everything in order for our land ownership. Fortunately, we’re tired enough at night that worrying about this doesn’t keep us awake!

Tom and I spent most of our weekend time working on the tool shed. Tom and Selwyn put the roof on a few weeks ago, and the siding boards had been stacked under the roof. Tom noticed that they were drying and warping in their stacks, so he decided that we needed to get them nailed up ASAP before they became too warped to fit together. His timing was good, since many of them already required all the weight of one of us hanging on them while the other hammered to get them in place. They fit together, one on top of the other, so if one is warped it can affect how they all fit together. Fortunately none of them were too bad, and we finished most of three sides of the shed. Tom needs to build a frame for the door for the front, which means all the front boards will be shorter, so it doesn’t matter so much if we wait a little and the boards warp since it will be fairly easy to find straight sections in the lengths we’ll need.

As planned, we saddled both horses up to go for a trail ride on Saturday morning. Glinda, however, had other ideas. Selwyn had told Tom that she was a little cold backed, and Tom had noticed that she was a little cinchy when he was tightening the girth, so Tom was very quiet and cautious about getting into the saddle. He got up, and said that he could feel he putting her back up, so he sat very lightly and called me to come stand at her head and lead her forward a couple of steps. I walked about two steps, she took one, and had a bucking, rearing fit. Tom kicked his feet out of the stirrups and slid off the back of her rump as she was rearing. Tom landed on his feet, and she went bucking into the bushes, and then just stood. Tom elected not to go on a long trail ride, and instead spent the time while I was riding doing what Karin taught him to do with Kris Kringle, who was also very coldbacked, and just got on and off her and made her move around a little with his weight in the saddle. He’s done that for the past couple of days, and has managed to have her walk off quietly with someone beside her. Our next step is to take her out on a short ride, following Esmerelda, so he doesn’t have to do a lot of fussing with her to get her to move and be steered. It didn’t help that she seems to be in heat, so her back may be a little sore, so we’re hoping she’ll be over whatever was bothering her when he rides her next.

I noticed a funny thing while I was out on the road with Esmerelda recently. In Canadice, even though it’s a friendly rural town, the reaction of drivers on the road when they encountered someone on a horse was never very positive. The occasional horse crazy little girl would smile and wave out the back window, but other than that most people acted like they would prefer not to have the inconvenience of slowing slightly or moving over a little for a horse on the shoulder of the road. Many would whiz by at top speed, never giving an inch even though the whole road was clear, and some would even swerve at me, throw something, or honk the horn as they went by, trying to scare the horse. Here, it’s another world. Almost every car or truck passes at a safe speed, and if possible pulls as far to the other side of the road as they can. The drivers and passengers all smile and wave, sometimes even leaning out of the windows or the back of the truck to make sure I see them smiling and waving. A lot of people actually make positive comments as they go by – “pretty horse,” “nice ride,” or just a friendly “yee ha, girl.” I asked Selwyn if it was because I was a woman out alone on a horse, which is an oddity in itself, but he said no, everybody is always friendly to people on horseback. I guess horses just get more respect here since they are so much more than just expensive recreation.

I told this story to Tom’s mom because she worries about us using enough sunscreen, and since a few other people have mentioned that, I’ll share the story on the blog. Tom and I frequently shop at the San Ignacio outdoor produce market, but we rarely do it together. We’ve both gravitated to the same vendor, a woman who always has nice produce for good prices, and she’s very helpful answering my questions about what to do with the fruits and vegetables I haven’t seen before, and, for Tom, with picking out good produce. I had gone a couple of weeks ago, and with my full bags had forgotten my bag of bananas on the counter when I left to load the truck. She picked them up and followed me across the street. Tom shopped last week, and was asking for help picking out a papaya. She took a look at his list, and asked him if he was married to a Belizean woman, since she said the list had all the produce that the native Belizean women use. Tom said no, his wife is a white woman, and told her that she probably knows me since I also buy produce from her. Tom described me, and then she asked what I drove, so he pointed out the truck. Her response was, “Oh yes, I know her. She’s a really white woman.” And I thought I was getting a good tan after three months of summer!!

Tom spent all day yesterday and today working on the water pipe. As I’ve mentioned before, we are on a public water pipe, but our water has been intermittent since we've been here, and the village of San Antonio has had long periods of time when they have no water at all. They haven't had any water at all since, I think, the week before Easter, and possibly even a week before that. So, since the beginning of April, the water guys have been walking the entire pipeline, from the source up in the mountains near Hidden Valley all the way to San Antonio, trying to find leaks or farmers who are using excessive amounts of water to irrigate their fields. They've found a few of each and fixed them, which is why we've had water off and on here, but they still couldn't get enough water and enough pressure in the line to get the water up and over the hill from here to San Antonio.

The pipe starts near where this picture is taken, runs down into the valley, and up over the mountain to the left in the picture. The village of 7 Miles is behind that mountain, below the white cliffs you can see in the distance.

They've determined that the problem is there's so much sediment in the pipe between the source and the village of 7 Miles, the water doesn't have enough pressure for much to get up and over one of the mountains it has to cross between Hidden Valley and 7 Miles. They're taking down each section of galvanized pipe - some of which are threaded through the trees - and running a knotted rope through it to clean it out, and putting them back together. While they're doing this, they're lowering the pipe where ever possible so they can get more water and more pressure in it to push it up and over the hill between Hidden Valley and 7 Miles so more pressure goes into the system. They're planning to do the whole stretch, from source to reservoir, except for one part that runs straight down the mountain. They want to be done today or tomorrow, and Tom said yesterday that they had about 10 more sections to do, so he thinks the water will be back on by Wednesday or Thursday since they have to go through and bleed all the lines after they get it all cleaned out and put back together.

This is the pipeline running through the trees. It’s tied up with rope, and propped with sticks cut from trees. This is how it was originally run; it’s not just a make-do situation until they do something better.

Here you can see one section down for cleaning, and to be repositioned so the water gets lower faster.
To lower the pipe, some of it has to be bent so they’re using this device where they position the brace on the pipe, then use a 20-ton jack where they want the pipe to bend. Tom recommended that the jack be tied to the brace so it wouldn’t fall 500 feet if it slipped. The first picture is positioning the brace, then positioning the jack in the brace, then reinstalling the bent pipe.

They put together a group of volunteers from 7 Miles and San Antonio to work on it, and worked over the weekend. Selwyn was part of the group and when he showed up Monday morning he told us what was going on and said he was worried that most of the work crew would disappear because they had to go back to their weekday jobs, and he was afraid it could take them another week to finish. So, Tom decided that he and Selwyn would go help, and apparently a bunch of other guys did too, since he said there were about 25 of them working on it yesterday, and four truckloads of guys went up today. He said the work is a little frightening, since they’re working with heavy pipe that’s running through the trees over their heads, and the trees are growing out of a very steep mountainside so it’s difficult to get any traction. They took a lot of rope with them, and they’re tying themselves off, and tying all of their tools, because if anything falls it’s likely to go 500 feet down the mountain.

Tom is the only white guy working on the project, and he said a few of the guys he’s working with questioned why he was there – not questioned in a bad way, but just wondering what motivated him to come out and help. That made us think, since when Tom and I talked to Selwyn yesterday morning, it just seemed like a natural thing that Tom would go help. Our community has been without water for too long, and since the water authority is accepting community volunteers to help, why wouldn’t you go help if you can? Tom and I actually aren’t that desperate for water since we have our big storage tanks, but it bothers us to know that most people in the village are getting by on 10 or 15 gallons a day for all of their water needs for their whole families. We’ve been rationing our water between us and our neighbors, and none of us is using any more than we have to, but the reality is that if Tom and I chose not to share we could use as much water as we wanted and would probably have plenty of water to last until the officials could fix the pipe without any help. I guess Tom and I didn’t realize that our “Of course we’ll help if we can” attitude was so rare, and it makes us more than a little sad. The other benefit for us – besides restoring water for us and the town – is that people from town are realizing that Tom is a good guy and a good neighbor, not just the rich American gringo who bought Chac Mool. This will undoubtedly make our life here a little more pleasant, but that’s not why Tom did it, and it’s nothing that can be measured. And, of course, Tom was curious about how the water system works here – but he doesn’t need to volunteer a couple of days of risky work to answer those questions.

One thing Tom discovered while working in the bush is that his sore elbow is the result of a bug bite. Both of his elbows have been stiff and sore, and he figured it was from hammering with his almost 45-year-old arms. Just over the past couple of days, his left elbow was very sore and swollen – the elbow version of my bad knee on a bad day – which we found odd since he does most of the work with his right arm. One of the guys working on the line noticed it, and asked when the fly bit him. So, the good news is that he isn’t suffering so much from arthritis and tendonitis, which is what we thought and which does probably play some role in his discomfort, but the bad news is that this type of fly bit me on the Achilles tendon when we were hiking here last spring, and it took a good three or four weeks until all of the pain and swelling were gone.

For people who have been trying to figure out what a Turkish Shepherd is, it’s basically the AKC equivalent of the Anatolian Shepherd. The real breed, in Turkey, is known as the Kangal Dog, which distinguishes it from a couple of other types of Turkish Shepherd Dogs. I’m afraid the AKC Anatolian Shepherd/Kangal Dog distinction is similar to the AKC Parson Russell Terrier/JRTCA Jack Russell Terrier distinction, where the AKC has bred for looks rather than working ability. Don’t get me going on that topic; I’m pretty anti-AKC for working dogs, since the AKC has almost managed to ruin borzois as well as many other breeds that have been losing their working ability as they’re bred for looks. Anyway, we didn’t even inquire as to bloodlines and registries for Beli’s father, since she’s basically a mutt anyway with her German Shepherd mother.

A few people have asked how to mail stuff to us, and we’ve sent the address that is posted at the top of the blog page. I wouldn’t suggest trying this on mail coming from the US, but here are a couple of pictures of envelopes that have reached us from the post office via the Selwyn special delivery service.

The majunches continue to ripen quickly. They’re very yummy, and we like them better than regular bananas since they’re sweeter and firmer, but we’re not sure if that’s because of the type of banana they are, or if it’s because we’re eating them right off the stem, or whatever you call the thing the bananas grow on. Fresh off the tree produce is always better than produce picked green to ripen while it ships.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Real Dog and Pony Show

Tuesday, April 17, 2007, Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Thursday, April 19, 2007. Friday, April 20, 2007

Sorry for the delay in blogging this week. We’ve been too busy to blog, so this will be a long one as I try to catch up, but I promise lots of pictures.

The bathroom and kitchen of the first cabin are walled in, and are ready for Tom to do the plumbing. Tom and Selwyn finished framing the walls without any difficulty, and then started hammering up the hardwood. I went out and tried to help one day, and I think I bent three of the first five nails I pounded. I thought I was just being a useless girl, until I watched Tom and Selwyn and realized that they were also creating pretty big piles of bent nails. They finally changed tactics and predrilled most of the holes, which saved a lot of nails. The man at the FTC in Spanish Lookout where we bought the nails admits that they’re not good for hardwood, but that’s all they have. So, we buy more than we need, and spend extra time drilling the holes, and eventually all the walls are up and solid!

Tom and I had to get our passports stamped yesterday, so we went to Belmopan to do that and then went to Spanish Lookout to get more supplies. Tom picked up everything he needs (he thinks) for the plumbing for the first cabin, so that will be his task for the weekend. Even if he doesn’t get it in, he wants to get it set out so he knows if he needs anything else. He did the most important plumbing job this morning, when he climbed the water tower to add a few reinforcements. He noticed that when the tank is full, the 2x4 platform sagged a bit, so we used all the water in the tank and Tom climbed up and added some reinforcements. We hope that will keep the tank where it belongs when it’s full!

Our other big acquisition in Spanish Lookout yesterday was the boards for the walls and ceiling in the first cabin. Tom had ordered them last week, but shortly after he placed the order and left, the man who operates the machine that mills the wall boards cut his arm and was out for a couple of days, and then was back but wasn’t working as quickly as usual. So, when Tom went in the beginning of the week to pick up the boards, he found they weren’t done. They were done yesterday, but after a full day of Belmopan and a bunch of other errands in Spanish Lookout, we didn’t get to the mill until about 4:30. Tom looked at the pile, and realized that they hadn’t cut the boards in 10 foot lengths as he requested, so we had to load a combination of 10’, 12’, 14’ and 16’ boards into poor Tinkerbell’s bed since there wasn’t time to cut them before the mill closed at 5:00. It wasn’t good. We drove a couple of miles to the Western Highway, pulled over, and tightened the straps on the boards. We drove into Georgeville, and stopped and tightened the straps before we turned onto the Georgeville Road towards home. We turned onto the Georgeville Road, hit a few bumps, and stopped and tightened the straps again. After the first big uphill, Tom got out and looked, and the whole pile had slipped back over a foot. So, he got back in the truck, and on the next downhill, he counted down from three and jammed on the brakes. That put the boards where they belonged – until the next hill. We went through this cycle for a few more hills, and then realized when we were almost to 7 Miles that the boards were dragging on the ground and had bowed the dropped tailgate. It was dark by this time, but nonetheless, we pulled over, took all the boards out of the back of the truck, and reloaded them.

While we were doing this, a couple who had just flown in from Canada and were driving a rental car to the Pine Ridge Lodge stopped to ask us how far they’d come on the Georgeville Road, how far they had to go, and if the road was this bad all the way. We couldn’t do anything but laugh. We told them they’d come about 6.5 miles, they had another six or seven to go, and the last two or three would be better, but they had a bit more rough road to cover. They asked if the road was always like this, and we said no, when it rains, it’s worse. They asked if we lived up here, and we told them yes, and they asked how we coped. We told them we just plan on doing things like reloading a truckload of lumber in the middle of the road at night, and it’s no problem. They then realized that bouncing around in a rental car really wasn’t that big of a deal, so we just chit chatted for a few minutes as they asked us about when and why and how we moved to Belize. They’ve never been here before, and are at the beginning of a two week vacation, and we assured them that we loved it here enough to move here and tolerate the roads, so they’ll probably have a great vacation. We also told them that they can spend the whole week on the Mountain Pine Ridge and not have to take the bumpy Georgeville Road out to the Western Highway again, so they could just relax and enjoy their vacation. They told us they’d stop by and see what we’re doing sometime in the next week, so we’re looking forward to their visit. We left Spanish Lookout at about 5:15 after trying to get the load tied down, and we pulled into our driveway about 7:30, twelve hours after we left. Selwyn had very kindly stayed until we got home because he knows we worry about leaving the dogs alone, so we gave him the day off on Friday since he’d already worked at least a 40 hour week.

The other big project of the week was fixing the burned water line. Tom and Selwyn managed to cut out one section of pipe and replace it without any problem, but the other section continues to leak. We’ve dubbed the leak “Pinocchio” because there’s a Pinocchio statue with a fountain at Blancaneaux, and Tom and Selwyn joke that they’re trying to put Pinocchio to sleep so he doesn’t wet the bed. It’s taking a long time to fix because the water supply has been off more than on, and only on at odd hours like the middle of the night, so it’s a bit of a guessing game in the morning trying to figure out if the ground around the repaired section of pipe is wet.

Marge’s Sapodilla kitchen – all the reddish colored boards are Sapodilla. That means that ALL the nails had to be predrilled; there is no chance of driving nails through this wood. And if you bend one when you are trying to drive it, you have to cut it off near the board and just pound it flat, you can’t pull nails out of it, the heads break off. Very pretty, tough to work with. It’s “Ford tough.” [Note from Tom]

Both the kitchen and the bathroom are completely enclosed. The bathroom boards weren’t sorted so they’re all the same like the kitchen, but they were all very hard to hammer.

Tom put the last window in on Friday. He’d left it open in case any large pieces of wood had to be put in the cabin, but the wall wood we picked up was the last big thing, and that will go through the door without any trouble.

This is the load of wood, reloaded in the road. After unloading and reloading it in the dark on the road, we waited until morning to unload it onto the deck.

Marge spent a couple of mornings cleaning out this cage behind the first cabin. The only trick was finding a door that fit, since all the doors had been removed, without any note of which door went with which cage, and they’re all hung just a little differently.

The cage was a secure and nice kennel for the dogs while we were gone to Spanish Lookout for 12 hours on Thursday. Selwyn worked that day, but we didn’t think he needed to spend the day being a dog sitter and walker.

This is the brand new American Embassy in Belmopan, Belize. To get to it, you have to drive on streets that aren’t finished yet, dodging backhoes, rollers, and dump trucks. We stopped because we’d been told that we should sign in and let the American Embassy know that we’re Americans living in Belize, which we did. We also reported our experience with the mechanic, because he is trying to get a visa to work in the US, and we think it isn’t a good idea to let someone who thinks it’s okay to steal from Americans go to the US. Why turn a chicken killing dog loose in the hen house?

Speaking of the mechanic, we finally did something we’ve been thinking about since that incident. Unfortunately, the mechanic isn’t the only one who thinks that it’s okay to steal from Americans. After all, all Americans have so much money they won’t even miss whatever the poor Belizean steals. However, we’ve been told and we’ve noticed that most people around here who are up to no good are very afraid of dogs. We’ve had people come to the gate and not come in because they see Mel walking around, and we don’t tell them that if they bumped into him he’d probably fall over. The Jack Russells are actually more of a threat than Mel, and probably would do their best to protect us and our things. However, they’re only about 20 pounds each – or less – and while most people are respectful of them, they really don’t inspire us to feel secure. So, we’ve been talking about getting a big dog that not only looks threatening, but that will actually be protective.

We’ve been asking around, and it’s actually been harder than you’d think to find a dog with all the dogs running around here. In the US, we would have gone to the pound. Here, there are a few pounds, but they’re full of street strays, and most of them are in pretty rough shape, so we didn’t want to get a stray and have it bring its diseases and parasites to Mel, Lou, and Nock. We also thought we should get a puppy rather than a young but large dog because we’re afraid that if Mel got into some big puppy physical games, he could really get hurt at this point. And, because there’s already some tension between our two boys, we thought we should get a bitch. It seemed like all the dogs we inquired about were either male or older than we wanted, until one of the people Tom talked to referred us to a woman on the Western Highway who breeds German Shepherds and Turkish Shepherds, and occasionally crosses the two breeds because she thinks the cross produces a heartier dog.

We pulled up on our way from Belmopan to Spanish Lookout and were met by two of her Turkish Shepherds in the driveway. The bitch was a total sweetie – she bypassed hand sniffing and had us get right down to business scratching her ears – but the dog didn’t approach us, and just went and blocked the gate and barked – exactly the type of behavior we’re looking for in a guard dog. The breeder came out, found out what we wanted, and told the dog it was okay, and he then came over for some attention. We found out that the rumors were true, and the breeder did have a two week old litter, a cross of a German Shepherd mother and a Turkish Shepherd father, and there were two girls in the litter, both still available. The breeder, Lena, showed us the one she thought we’d like better and which she thinks will make the better guard, and it was a done deal. We put down a deposit, were told that we can stop and see the puppy any time we drive by, and were told that we can pick her up when she’s somewhere between six and eight weeks old, depending on when they get their puppy shots and what Lena thinks of us as she gets to know us on our puppy visits between now and then. As we drove away, Tom had a brainstorm for her name, so she’s already named Beli, short for Belikin; we’re going back to our previous beer name convention and she can join Bud, Weiser, and Molson (Molly) on the list of Gallagher dogs.

Beli at two weeks

Beli at two weeks, top pup in the pile of pups

Beli and her parents

This is Beli’s mother, a German Shepherd named Princess.

And here she is with her dad, a Turkish Shepherd named Diego.

Speaking of dogs, we also got our second horse this week, and we’ve decided that she’s more dog than horse. When Selwyn had mentioned to his neighbor that he was going with us to Barton Creek to look at horses last Saturday, his neighbor had mentioned that he had a horse he wanted to sell because it had been tied in his yard for a year and he never rode it because he didn’t have a saddle. He said at this point he was afraid to ride it because it wasn’t used to being ridden any more, and he wanted $600BZ for it. Selwyn went out on her on Sunday, and said when he first put the saddle on and got on, she crow hopped a little but that was about it. We didn’t get to see her until Monday evening when we took Selwyn home, and the neighbor dragged her over by the rope around her neck. She’s a little thin, but not in bad shape, and she was a little skittish about being looked at and handled. She’s a palomino mare, no special breeding although she looks like there’s some Arab in there somewhere, about five years old. We decided that for the $1400BZ difference between her and the Barton Creek mare, we’d spend less money and have a horse we can use now, rather than spending $2000BZ and having a horse that really wouldn’t be much use until September, and a baby to take care of that wouldn’t be much use for at least a couple of years.

We arranged for Selwyn to ride her to work on Tuesday – more of his overtime activities for the week, which all seem to be animal related. We figured that if he could get on her and ride her the three miles from town to here, she’d be okay – and she was. When he got here, about 7am, I rode her around a little, and she’s green, but seems like she’ll be very nice. We’ve been so busy this week that we haven’t ridden her at all, but we plan to take the two mares and do the vista loop early tomorrow (Saturday) morning, before it gets too hot. It’s probably bad luck to say it, but we’re not anticipating any problems because she’s become such a different horse just in the few days she’s been here. We put a grab rope on her halter on Tuesday because she was so skittish, but we find that we can’t get rid of her, and if we walk around in or near the pasture, she’s right behind us with her nose on us. The first couple of times we fed her, we had to lure her over near us and then she’d eat, but now she stands in the corner of the pasture whinnying at us whenever she sees us. Esmerelda stands in the background, and we can just about see her eyes rolling at what a suckup this new mare is. We named her Glinda, because she’s a very shiny gold palomino with a very blond mane, and she made us think of Glinda, the good witch in The Wizard of Oz, who always seems shiny and gold and bright. Plus, I believe Esmerelda is the name of Samantha’s mother in Bewitched, and since most of the mares I’ve known have been witches, witch names will work even though it was sort of an accident. If anybody had told me I’d move to Belize and end up with two Arabian cross mares, I’d have told them they were crazy. These two certainly aren’t the brown thoroughbred geldings I’ve always preferred, but they’re probably a whole lot more useful around here. And Selwyn and I drove back to Barton Creek on Wednesday to tell the Mennonites that we’re going to pass on the very nice $2000BZ mare.

This is Glinda. She has the kindest eyes, without looking vacant. I’ve never loved palominos, but she’s really very pretty, and I think when she’s fed and groomed and shiny she’ll be almost too bright to look at on a sunny day.

Esmerelda says her eyes are beautiful too (and they are), even when they’re rolling at Glinda’s fawning.

While we were in Spanish Lookout on Thursday, Selwyn noticed that the majunches were starting to get ripe. He cut the bunch down from the tree and put them in the first cabin so the birds don’t get them before we do. We’ll probably try the first couple on Sunday or Monday, which is when Selwyn says they’ll be perfect for eating.

All the yellow flowers that were in the beautiful tree are now all over everything under the tree. If the area around the first cabin didn’t look like a construction zone, it would have looked like a place decorated for a wedding with the blossoms strewn on the ground. This is a picture Tom took of all the yellow blossoms on the cabin roof.