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.

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