Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Too Busy to Blog, or We’ve Gone Completely Crazy

We’re out of the camper and in the cabin!
Warning: This is going to be a long one. We have a lot of pictures, but my lack of blogging in the last week is not due to nothing happening, it’s due to so much happening that I just haven’t had the time. Over the past week, we’ve even had three days that I can think of where we didn’t even turn on the computer and the satellite to check email or the online news, which is very unusual since we try to stay at least a little bit in touch with the rest of the world.

Not much happened last Thursday or Friday. Tom spent Friday in Spanish Lookout, getting some maintenance work done on Tinkerbell, and I stayed here with Selwyn and did a few little jobs. As of Friday night, our plan was still what I said in the last blog post – we were going to hang around here and work on the shower in our bathroom.

That all changed at 7:00 Saturday morning. Tom and I were still in bed, and we heard the sound of the bike tires on the driveway gravel. We sat up, and Selwyn was parking the bike. Tom yelled out and asked Selwyn if he realized it was Saturday; he did, but he said he had a favor to ask. Tom asked for a minute for us to get up and dressed, and then he went out to talk to Selwyn. Selwyn, it seems, had gone home Friday night, and had been awake most of the night thinking about how he had to get his life in order. He had worked for Blancaneaux for five or six years, but between the time he left Blancaneaux about a year ago and the time he started working here in late February, he just did odd jobs and he and his family scraped by. Since Selwyn has been working here, he’s starting to feel a little more settled. He has a steady paycheck, he repeatedly tells us he really likes the job and the work, and he realizes that with as much of his heart as he’s putting in the job, we’re going to stick with him and do even better for him when we’re up and running. The conclusion he came to at 5:00 Saturday morning was that he could start to do a few things that were extras he dreamt about when he didn’t have a steady, long term job.

He decided that the first thing he needed to do was get Junior and Ali their own bed, so he and Hilda aren’t sharing the bed with all three kids. He knew we were thinking of going to San Ignacio before too long to get a bed for ourselves, so the 7:00am visit was to see if we’d consider doing it that day. I’d already mentioned to Tom that I was thinking an unplanned trip to San Ignacio on Saturday might be in order so we could get a bed and a stove, so when Selwyn asked, we were already halfway to spending the day in San Ignacio anyway. The three of us ate breakfast (yogurt pancakes with papaya honey syrup, if you’re curious about breakfast in the jungle), then packed up to head out. We hit a minor snag when Tinkerbell wouldn’t start, but I realized that the “wait to start” light wasn’t lighting, and Tom put that together with the fact that the mechanic had replaced one of the glow plugs on Friday, so it didn’t take long for Tom to pop the hood, confirm that the glow plugs weren’t seated tightly, make the fix, and start her up.

We ended up spending most of the day in San Ignacio. Our first stop was Cayo Foam, where we bought a king size mattress, and Selwyn bought a double for the kids. In town, Selwyn bought a bouncy stroller thing for Kristalee, because he’d been thinking about it but had been putting it off, and suddenly realized that he could do it, and if he didn’t he was likely to miss the chance entirely since she’ll be walking before too long. We made the rounds of the market and stocked up for produce for the week, and then went to San Ignacio Commercial Supply, and we bought a stove. We had looked at a really nice Maytag with a convection oven in Spanish Lookout, but they’ve been waiting for their Maytag shipment since February, and it still hasn’t arrived. At this point they aren’t even telling us any estimate of when they expect it, so we decided to just get something else. We ended up with a Mexican made Whirlpool stove, and bought it based on a feature that would never have been on my list of requirements, but which I think I’ll really like in my very small kitchen – it has a tempered glass top which can be pulled down over the burners to increase counter space if I’m not using the stove, and which goes up and acts as a back splash when the stove is being used. It has six burners and a griddle which fits over the middle two, and a regular oven. The broiler is in the oven, so the underneath drawer provides much needed extra storage. The other feature which made us choose this stove over the Maytag was that this stove can be plugged in for the automatic ignition, but all the burners and the oven and the broiler can also be lit with a match or a sparky. The Maytag burners could be lit without power, but the oven needed power, and I was having second thoughts about having to keep a battery charged and the inverter on just so I could use the oven. The Whirlpool doesn’t even have a clock, so while we tested it plugged in with the automatic ignition, I think we’ll probably leave it unplugged most of the time.

We dropped Selwyn off at his house in town, and pulled into our driveway around 4:30. Wilton had seen us go by, so he peddled over to tell us to check our email because Sharyn, our neighbor, had left a message. I remember thinking that I’d do it in a minute, but then Tom and I became obsessed with getting the mattress in the cabin, and getting a frame built for under the mattress so we could sleep in the cabin Saturday night, and I never did check email. Neither of us could bear the thought of spending one more night on the barely double-sized air mattress in the camper when we knew we had a king size orthopedic bed on the property. We were definitely tempted to just throw the mattress on the floor and sleep that way, but the thought of scorpions gave us even more incentive to build a bed to get the mattress off the ground. I fed all the animals, and Tom went to work. He managed to design and build a bed with lumber we already had, and it took until 9:30, but we did it. Saturday was our first night in the cabin! We had a quick salad for dinner in the camper at 10:00, and then spent our first night in our new house. I found out the next day that Sharyn’s email had been a request to have dinner together on Saturday, so I felt a little bad about that, but most of the guilt went away when we both woke up Sunday morning with a lot less achy-ness than we’d become used to from sleeping on the air mattress for the past four months.

Because it felt so good to be out of the camper, we got up early Sunday morning and decided to continue the quest to get moved in to the cabin. No more “dos semmanes mas!” We spent most of the morning installing screens, and Tom went to work putting a temporary floor in the kitchen so we could put the stove where the shower will eventually be built. We moved the stove in, and Tom went to work on the gas. Everything went smoothly until we got to the test stage. The stove wouldn’t light. We tried it with matches, we tried it with the sparky, and we finally plugged it into the inverter to see if it would light with the electric ignition. Nope, even when we ran the battery out by clicking the electric ignition over and over. Tom took it apart, tested all the fittings, and tested the propane line, all with no success. He figured out that no gas was getting to the burners, but couldn’t figure out why until he fiddled with the safety switch on the top, which is designed to shut off the gas if the tempered glass top is down, and realized that it wasn’t moving. When he looked at the fittings, he realized that when the piece that hooked the propane line to the stove connection was screwed in, it blocked the safety valve and locked it in the closed position. Like a lot of safety features, it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but also like a lot of safety features, it’s easily bypassed, so Tom just took it out and hooked the propane line directly to the stove. Voila! The burners, the oven, and the broiler all lit without any problem, with and without the electric ignition. Of course the glass top – the deciding feature on purchasing this stove – is now sitting on the floor next to the wall, but I was able to cook dinner in the cabin on Sunday night, and yesterday we purchased a different fitting so Tom can reinstall the safety switch and we can put the glass top back on the stove.

Cooking dinner in the cabin on Sunday was a little more like camping than camping in the camper. We don’t have the plumbing hooked up in the cabin yet, so the water in the kitchen sink came from a garden hose fed through the floor, and at that point my storage and counter space consisted only of what’s around the sink. However, we uncovered our kitchen table and moved that into the cabin, and pulled out a few of our real dishes, and by the time we sat down to a cabin-cooked dinner on our dishes at our table, the cabin was feeling like home. Monday was my mother’s birthday, and even though she’s been dead for two years now, I clearly heard her voice as I was washing the breakfast dishes on Monday morning, saying “Margie, you’re too old to be living like this, but whatever makes you happy.” My mental reply was “Mom, I’m happy, and you don’t need to worry about me,” but I have to admit I did feel some guilt at causing my mother post-mortem anxiety, even though it felt great to be in the cabin! In any case, Tom and Selwyn finished the ceiling on Monday, and they are putting in the plumbing today, so by dinnertime I should have a sink where water comes out of the faucet when I turn the handles, and a toilet that will flush without having to fill the tank with a hose. The toilet is hooked to the septic system, but I might still be draining water from the sink into a bucket until the drainage lines are installed, but that’s not a big deal to me.

Horse stuff
While Tom and Selwyn were working on the ceiling on Monday, I decided to take Esmerelda out for a ride. We’d been so busy that it had been a week since we’d been out, so I figured that even though we have so much to do to get in the cabin, I needed to pay a little bit of attention to the horse. She isn’t gaining weight as quickly as I would like, so in addition to a lack of time, I’ve been hemming and hawing about riding her, afraid that work will work off the few pounds she manages to gain. But, I decided that a good long walk might put a little bit of muscle on her back and rump – and I just wanted to ride. I cleaned her up, de-ticked her, tacked her up, and headed up the trail that runs from the back of our property into the Pine Ridge. We came out of the jungle and into the scrub pine, and crossed the Pine Ridge Road, heading for a fire trail that runs back to the forest reserve gate not too far up the road from our property. Esmerelda had been very relaxed, and I had dropped the draw reins – which I’m still using, “just in case” – and had the regular reins on the buckle. We were heading through an overgrown field towards a ravine, and I was thinking that we’d trot a bit after we were through the ravine because the footing is nice packed sand and there are lots pine logs, downed by the beetles, and Esmerelda seems to like to trot through the poles, jumping anything over 18 inches or so.

About halfway through the field, I felt Esmerelda starting to suck back a little bit. Then she stopped, planted all four feet, and looked into the brush with her neck up and her ears pricked, snorting. I scanned the brush and didn’t see any movement, or anything remotely scary, even to a horse – and Esmerelda generally isn’t spooky anyway, and we use this trail fairly often. If she sees something she thinks is scary – which could be a tire on the side of the road that wasn’t there the last time we rode by, or a chopped off stump, or an oddly moving palm frond – she may tense a little and bend away from it, but she doesn’t spook or freeze. I patted her neck and gave her a good thump, and she didn’t do anything. I took another look in the brush, and all of the sudden she reared back, spun 180 degrees, and took off back up the trail in a full out gallop. I gathered up my regular reins and pulled, and I don’t think she even noticed. I bridged the reins, braced my feet in the stirrups, and pulled for all I was worth, and she just took the bit in her teeth, pulled back, and kept galloping. I grabbed one rein and tried to pull her head around to my knee, and she just veered off into the bushes, still galloping, so I let her straighten her neck and get back on the trail – which she was following – before she fell or I was scraped off on a tree trunk. I was thanking the horse god that Karin had taught me how to ride the runaway Ricky, because after living through Rick’s runaway stage, I don’t generally panic when a horse runs away with me, and if I’d panicked on Esmerelda, I’d have been in trouble. The road was coming up fast, and I knew there was a spot where the trail takes a 90 degree turn to the right, goes about 20 feet up a pretty steep embankment, and then takes a 90 degree turn to the left, so I figured that if I could get the draw reins straight, maybe between the reins, the turns, and the embankment I could get a little bit of control. The draw reins were almost up to her ears, and hanging pretty low under her neck and chest, but I managed to grab them in a spot where I could get enough even pressure that she had to respond, and fortunately the short side was on the side where we had to turn. She made it up the embankment in one leap, but between the leap and the draw reins, she unbalanced herself enough that she stopped galloping, and I was able to pull her around and stop her.

I put us back together, took a correct grip on both sets of reins, and headed back up the trail. I didn’t really occur to me to do anything else; why would I let her think she gets to go home if she runs away with me? We minced back up the trail at a walk, and as we got closer to the spot where she’d spun, she started sucking back again, and again planted her feet. I kept a good grip on the reins, but kicked her, smacked her with my whip, and didn’t let her turn. She was quivering all over, and she kept trying to rear and spin, but didn’t get any further than the bushes on the side of the trail. After about 10 minutes, I decided to get off and lead her through the ravine; I thought maybe she’d think the horse eating monster would get me first. She followed me, but was completely unwilling and I felt like I was dragging a horse that wouldn’t move her legs. At one point she stopped again and I ended up giving her a good slap with the whip to get her moving, but I kept a good grip on the reins and after we were through the ravine she started moving forward again as we climbed up the other side. At the top, I got back on and she was fine. We walked 25 yards or so, and then started trotting the poles, just as I’d planned. We even did a little bit of cantering on the sand fire road, where she really impressed me by jumping a pretty deep ditch across the road, completely effortlessly and right out of stride. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking there, since she hasn’t been trained to jump, and when we first taught our event horses to jump ditches we always trotted up to the well marked ditches before we expected them to just canter over, but she’s been so willing and able to jump little logs, I guess I just assumed she would figure it out, which she did. The whole ride back, she was completely in control, and didn’t even threaten to run away again.

I got back and told Tom and Selwyn what had happened. I was in the midst of saying I had no idea what came over her, and Selwyn said, “Um, Margie, making her go through that field and the ravine might not have been the smartest thing to do. From what you said, I think she probably smelled a cat. Probably a puma, since the jaguars aren’t out during the day.” I sort of shrugged and commented that a small cat wasn’t going to hurt us, and Selwyn – who tries really hard to be nice and polite – did another “um” and explained that pumas, here at least, are what we call mountain lions, which have been known to attack horses and people. Oops.

I didn’t have long to dwell on my recklessness, because as I was changing out of my riding pants I heard a “halloo” at the gate. Our clothes are still in the camper, so I looked out the window and saw three horses at the gate. I figured it was our neighbors from the equestrian lodge down the road stopping to say hi, so I put my riding pants back on and went down to open the gate for them. It wasn’t our neighbors; it was a Mennonite farmer from Barton Creek and his two sons. They were trying to sell one of their six horses, and they’d heard that we had been looking for horses, so they stopped by on their way home from San Antonio. They were riding two greys and a bay, and told me that the bay was for sale. He was a nice looking horse, and the son was riding him with a rope bridle and a saddle pad, so I yelled for Tom and Selwyn to come and take a look and gave the Mennonites a drink of water.

We looked him over, and they told us they wanted $800BZ for him. Tom jumped on with the saddle pad in his shorts and sneakers, and rode him up around the second cabin. He happily rode away from the other horses. I wanted to see him move because he has a little bit of a puff on the inside of his front left tendon, but Tom didn’t want to trot or canter him without a saddle. So, the farmer got on, tapped him with a stick, and trotted and cantered him up and down the driveway. He looked sound at all three gaits, and he looked and acted extremely gentle. They said the reason they’re getting rid of him is that he’s so laid back they can’t pair him with any of their other horses when they drive him because he slows them down too much. We had a quick conference, since we weren’t really looking for another horse right away, and decided that if they’d come down a little in their price, we’d take him. He’s not a horse we’d buy in the US – he looks and acts like he’s probably some sort of draft/quarter horse cross – but for here, where Tom isn’t riding enough to work with Glinda regularly and where we may have guests who don’t ride as much as we do who would like a simple, safe horse, we figured he’d work. And, getting this horse would keep us from buying the stallion we looked at, which we know would be an investment in time and training and maintenance. The farmer came down $50BZ, and said he’d leave the horse if we gave him a ride home, and we could stop by on Tuesday after getting the money out of the bank, since Monday was a bank holiday. So, that’s what we did, and ten-year old Tony the Pony has joined the herd. And I think he’s actually big enough that some of my US horse tack will fit him!

My brother Tim, in California, sent a note out to the rest of our family telling us that he’d been surfing Monday morning, and had paddled out away from some of the other surfers. He suddenly realized that they were all paddling like mad towards him, and he looked around and saw the perfect wave heading in his direction. The other surfers didn’t get there in time, so Tim took a solo ride. In his email, Tim said that he considered the wave a gift from my mother on her birthday. I didn’t put two and two together immediately regarding the horse, but as soon as Tom read Tim’s email, his comment was that Mom sent Tim a wave, and she sent us a horse. We don’t know what Matt and Pete got, but we hope it was good! Thanks, Mom.

Dog stuff
We were supposed to get passports stamped on Monday, but couldn’t because it was Commonwealth Day, a national bank holiday in Belize when all government offices are closed. We didn’t realize Monday was a holiday until Friday, and we thought briefly about going to Belmopan then, but Tom had already planned to take the truck for work in Spanish Lookout, and we read news reports that protests were planned at government buildings in Belmopan for Friday, and anyone who had business that could wait was being discouraged from going to the capitol city that day. So, we had the previously described exciting Monday at home, and headed for Belmopan on Tuesday morning. On the way to Belmopan, we stopped at Beli’s breeder’s place to tell her that we would pick the puppy up on our way home. We got our passports stamped for the fifth time, did some errands and ate lunch in Belmopan, and headed back out the Western Highway to pick up the puppy.

When we got to the breeder’s house, she met us at the gate, and before we could even say hello, she said that she would like to sell us two puppies, for a discount, and proceeded to give us the spiel about why it would be better for us to get two puppies rather than one. Tom and I hadn’t even talked about getting more than one puppy, besides an offhand comment Tom made at one point about how if we got two puppies, one would be named Belikin and one would be named Stout, since that’s what he likes to drink. We stood and listened to Lena. Tom looked at me and asked me what I thought, and I told him that he knows I’ll always take more dogs since I enjoy having a pack, but that I hadn’t even thought about getting more than one now. Tom asked Lena what the second puppy was like, listened, and then…said we’d take him. So, we came home with two seven week old puppies, Beli and Stout. They’re completely adorable, and rode home on our laps. We were worried about how Mel, Nock, and Lou would receive the new arrivals, and while none of them acted like we would have predicted, all three of them were fine with the new puppies. We were afraid Mel might roar at them or bite them if they bothered him, but he’s just very interested in them and prances around trying to play with them. We thought Nock would probably want to play with them, but she seems to have put herself in the role of mama dog, and she sort of supervises them and barks or growls if they do something she considers inappropriate. We were afraid Lou would be jealous of them, but he seems to think his role is to protect them from Mellow, so as Mel is prancing around and trying to play, Lou is stalking around putting himself between Mel and the pups and grumbling.

We didn’t get home until six last night, so we took two of the cat cage gates and propped them against the wall, put some boards and cardboard (cartoon boxes, as Bol calls them) on the floor, and made a little puppy corral in the cabin. So far, they’ve been very good about not making a mess inside other than a few little puddles, and every time we’ve taken them out they do something. We went to bed around 9:30, took them out at 2:00, and they woke us up at 5:00, but we think that’s pretty good for little pups. Since Tom and Selwyn have been working on the plumbing in the utility room, which is right next to the cat cage that I cleared for the dogs, Stout and Beli have spent most of the day in the cage. We took them inside with us when we ate lunch, and they just played a little bit with each other and with the big guys, and then took a nap under the table with Lou. I dumped the 100 gallon horse trough and gave the horses water in a big bucket, so tonight we’ll drag the trough inside and that will be the piddle proof puppy pen. They’re big enough that it probably won’t be too long before they’re able to climb out of the trough, but if things go as well as they’ve gone last night and today, they should be house trained by then. We’re finding that it’s much easier to house train a puppy when there are two or three people around 24 hours a day!

Being a puppy is hard work.



The Chicken News: Not Good
We gained two puppies, but we lost two hens. We held steady with the three hens until Monday night, the second night we spent in the cabin. Nock was very restless that night. We’d found a scorpion before we went to bed, and around midnight Nock jumped out of bed and headed for the door. When Nock jumps out of bed, even I wake up. Fifteen pounds of Jack Russell manages to hit the floor like 150 pounds of rocks. Tom put the flashlight beam on the door, and saw another scorpion in the corner, so he grabbed Nock, gave her to me to hold in bed, drew his machete on the scorpion (scorpion lost) and threw it out the door. We figured the combination of moving scorpions and sleeping in a new place for only the second night was making Nock restless, and we know she’s appointed herself our night time guard. Then she hit the floor again around 3:00 am. I woke up and heard the chickens squawking. I shook Tom awake, and when he heard the chickens he took the light and his machete and headed for the chicken cage. He was only gone for a few minutes, and I saw the light heading back towards the cabin. He came in, muttering about wishing he had a gun, and got the keys to get his wrist rocket sling shot out of the camper. He said another hen was dead, but the killer, a possum, was still in the cage. He went back out, and I could hear rocks zinging off the cage wire, but Tom came back in a little while and said he couldn’t get the possum to come down to meet his maker. He took the two remaining hens and put them in one of the rabbit hutches for the night, shut the door, and propped another door in front of that to try to keep the possum in the cage.

In the morning, he went out to try his luck with the possum again, but couldn’t find it in the cage. We put the two hens back in the cage for the day, planning to get them out and keep them in the hutch at night, and headed off to Belmopan. When we got home last night, he went to get the hens, and another had been killed during the day. We don’t know if the possum came back, or if it was well hidden in the cage all along. In any case, the lone hen is now living in the rabbit hutch, and we’ll probably give her to Hilda, Selwyn’s wife, when she gets back from visiting her parents for a few days with the kids. Before we get more hens, we’ll build a chicken wire hutch to keep in the cage so the chickens can be locked in that at night, and so they have a safer place to go during the day. We can’t just use the rabbit hutch and let them run loose during the day because the dogs would kill them, but we can’t leave them in the cage at night because the possum will get them. In our effort to get the cabin up and running we don’t have time to do it right now, but we’ll probably try again in a few weeks.

Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones losing chickens right now. Our neighbor Elizabeth came by with her mother on Sunday to see if we had any more scrap chicken wire because her mother’s 15 chickens had been killed and she needed to reinforce her chicken coop. We gave her some wire, so I guess we’ll both be building reinforced chicken coops. And I thought all I had to worry about with chickens in the cat cages was that they’d get out and our dogs would get them! Elizabeth’s visit solved a mystery for me however. I’d ridden Esmerelda past their house last week, and Anthony, her three-year old, stood in his yard and was yelling “something something something caballo!!” over and over again. I understood “caballo,” but between the fact that the baby was crying, other kids were yelling, dogs were barking, and I don’t always understand three-year olds no matter what language they speak, I couldn’t figure out what he was saying, but I could hear him shrieking it as I rode all the way up the hill. I asked Elizabeth if he’d wanted something from me, and she started to laugh. Yes, she said, he did. Abner, the baby, was crying, and apparently it was getting on Anthony’s nerves. He was yelling at me to take the baby away on the caballo! I asked Elizabeth if he thought Abner would stop crying if he had a horse ride, and Elizabeth laughed again and said no, he just wanted me to take the baby away, and he figured on top of a horse was as good a way as any to get rid of his crying brother.

Other Random Bits
Selwyn’s brother Gilroy made Tom and I laugh the other day. He’s going into the Belize Defense Force and is starting four months of boot camp this weekend. Tom asked him how long he’s wanted to be a soldier, and his answer was “As long as I’ve known myself.” How’s that for a cleverly ambiguous non-answer?

The fire in the Pine Ridge is out, according to the news, which is probably right since we haven’t been smelling smoke. The news story also said that the fire was devastating because it burned parts of the Pine Ridge that have only recently been reforested after the devastation of the pine bark beetles, and the trees that were burned weren’t mature enough to be producing pine cones, which would have helped reseed the pines after the fire. As it is, the rangers say it could take up to 25 years for significant regrowth.

I’ve referenced the cabin over and over, but here’s the progress summary: The main room is just about done. The chopped up last board still needs to be fitting into the ceiling, but other than that the ceiling and walls are done, and we have our bed and kitchen table in that room. The kitchen has a sink and a stove, and Selwyn built me a sturdy counter with a shelf for next to the stove yesterday, so I actually have a little space to cook. Tom and Selwyn spent today working on the plumbing, so I have real running water that drains down the drain and out of the cabin. Tomorrow or Friday I’ll work with them to put in some shelves so I can move all the food and cooking stuff out of the camper, and maybe I’ll even have enough room to get a lot of my pots and dishes out of the boxes in the second cabin. They also got the plumbing run to the bathroom, so we have running water in the sink which we can’t use because the drain isn’t quite hooked up, and we can flush the toilet without filling the tank from a garden hose. I think we’ll carry last weekend’s plan over to this weekend, and work on the shower then. And, somewhere in there, they’ll get the gray water lines hooked up to the soakaway so we’re not running the drains into the jungle. The other room in the cabin is still a workshop, and needs to have the wall and ceiling installed before we move our bed to that room, but before the wall goes up, Tom wants to get the electrical wiring done so we can put the batteries and the inverter in the utility room between the bathroom and the kitchen to run the cabin electricity, and we’ll move the very noisy, very annoying generator out from under the cabin and just feed the batteries with an extension cord when we run it. We also have a ton of other stuff to do, like getting both 1000 gallon water tanks moved to the old chicken coop and plumbed so they feed the 200 gallon gravity feed tanks, and eventually running electrical wire from the utility house where we’ll put the generator, after the utility house has a roof, and…you get the picture. We're living with five dogs in what's basically a studio apartment in a shack with only the water and electricity we create. We have a lot to do, but we’re making progress - but go ahead and call us crazy!

This picture doesn’t do the view down our driveway justice. The white flowers are very impressive (and also, we’re told, good to eat when they’re fried, of course), and they’re the national flower of El Salvadore, although I don’t remember their name. The red tree is a flamboyan, and they’re brilliant orange and really stand out along the road or on the hillsides. We have three of them along our front line.

This is a flamboyan tree up close…

…and this is a closeup of the flamboyan flower

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Still 3 Hens

The big news is that the three hens have survived the past two nights. We checked on them before we went to bed, and they roost on the highest branches in the cage. We’re not sure if whatever got the rooster and the laying hen has moved on, or if it’s still around but can’t get the three hens because they stay at the top of the cage. We didn’t check on them late at night before the other two were killed, so we don’t know how high they roosted while they slept. The mystery isn’t solved, but at least we’re not still losing a chicken every night.

Tom had a tough day on Monday. He had made an appointment with a mechanic in Spanish Lookout and showed up there at 8:00 Monday morning with a long list of things on Tinkerbell that needed attention. However, the truck had started making a funny noise Sunday night, and Tom said it got worse and worse as he drove to Spanish Lookout. By the time he got there, it was bad enough that the mechanics met him in the driveway and told him that they didn’t think they could help him, and he’d have to go to Crooked Tree, which is almost all the way to the coast near Belize City, for transmission work.

Tom headed out the Western Highway, and noticed that the power steering didn’t seem to be working. He checked the dash, and the dummy lights were on, the battery gauge was heading down, and the temperature gauge was heading up. He remembered that Beli’s breeder wasn’t too far up the road, so he shifted the truck into neutral, turned it off, and coasted as far as he could. He took a look under the hood, and found that Tinkerbell had broken all of her belts. He was within 200 yards of Beli’s breeder, so he knocked on her door and explained what he needed. She has a relative who is a mechanic in Belmopan, so she called him and he promised to head out to see if they could get Tinkerbell going again. While he waited, Tom had a good visit with Lena, the breeder, and Beli, although he said that the puppies were filthy. Lena was in a bad car accident a few weeks ago and is still pretty beat up, so she’s doing what she can, but it’s not as much as usual. Tom said Beli is really cute, and Lena said she’ll be ready to pick up next week; I guess the puppy shot schedule was moved up so Lena can send the pups to their new homes and cut down on the work she has to do in the kennel. We really want to be in the cabin before we bring her home, but given the circumstances, I guess we’ll figure something out since we have to go to Belmopan to get our passports stamped next week anyway.

Tom went back to the truck and waited for the mechanic, who didn’t show up two hours after the call. So, Tom hoofed it back to Lena’s, she called again, and the mechanic promised to leave that minute, which he apparently did since he showed up at the truck less than a half hour later. They put the belts on well enough to get the truck to the shop in Belmopan, where they put them on more permanently, and Tom was back on the road to Crooked Tree.

By the time he got to the transmission place in Crooked Tree, the truck was making enough noise that everybody in the shop came out to see what had just arrived when Tom pulled into the driveway. The owner of the shop was yelling at Tom not to shut off the truck because he was afraid they wouldn’t be able to get it started to get it into the shop, but Tom couldn’t hear him so he shut the truck off to hear better. Oops! But, it started, and they pulled it in at about 2:30 pm. Tom was amazed at their efficiency and speed. They found that it wasn’t what the mechanic in Spanish Lookout had said, but it was transmission related because the fly wheel needed to be replaced. Because the broken fly wheel was causing the engine to vibrate, all the belts that had just been put on in Belmopan were loose again and ready to break. They had the truck taken apart within 45 minutes, and had it fixed and back together by 5:30, despite the fact that Tom got there about 3 hours after they had planned from the original phone call in Spanish Lookout.

In the meantime, I’d been working around the property all day, and figured Tom would be home by 6:00, since as far as I knew he hadn’t left Spanish Lookout, and all the stores there close at 5:00, and it takes about an hour to get home. Tom still wasn’t home at 7:00, so I figured he may have had problems hauling the load of wood he was planning to get, so I went about my business as usual, took a shower, and made dinner. When 7:30 rolled around, I was starting to get a little bit worried. Even on the day when he and I reloaded the load of lumber in the road, we’d been home by shortly after 7:00. I couldn’t even get mad at Tom because the cell phone doesn’t work here, so he had it with him, but he couldn’t call me. At 8:00, I decided to turn on the battery for the satellite and check to see if he’d left me a Skype message or an email, and I looked up our cell phone number so I could borrow a neighbor’s phone and try to call him if he hadn’t left a message. He pulled in the driveway just as I was putting away the cell phone bill and heading to the cabin to turn on the inverter.

It hadn’t occurred to us to come up with an emergency contact plan when one of us is home and one is out, but fortunately we’re used to thinking each other’s thoughts, so Tom had tried to do exactly what I expected. Unfortunately, the international minutes on our phone needed to call our Skype number had expired, so Tom had no way to leave a message. But, he had left the phone on, so if I had gone to a neighbor’s to call the cell phone, he would have answered. Our plan now is to get a phone card and keep it with the phone in the truck, and not activate it unless we need it. Then, if we need to contact the other while we’re out, we can leave a Skype message, which the one left at home can retrieve from the computer. This doesn’t help with things like me not knowing what sized screws to buy when I’m at the hardware store since we don’t usually have the computer on all day, but it will at least give us a way to leave a message so whoever is at home doesn’t have to worry about the other being dead on the road somewhere. Ninety percent of the time I’m really enjoying life without a phone, but in situations like this one even I miss the convenience of always being somehow wired and able to communicate anywhere at any time.

Having spent the day in Crooked Tree, Tom didn’t do any of the errands he’d planned to do in Spanish Lookout on Monday afternoon. He had left Monday morning with our neighbor’s trailer so he could haul back the long wall and ceiling boards from the lumbermill. When he left for Crooked Tree, he left the trailer at the mechanic’s in Spanish Lookout, so he was off again bright and early Tuesday morning to retrieve the trailer, get Tinkerbell’s exhaust system fixed, and do the rest of the Spanish Lookout errands. That was good for the entire day, but at least Tom came home last night with everything had had planned to get on Monday, without any further trauma.

Although Tom missed two days of work, Selwyn kept himself very busy here and got a lot done. He finished most of the one-person carpentry jobs, and did a little bit of digging in the soakaway. I scrubbed three sides of the second cabin, so at least the outside of that is ready for construction as soon as we get our stuff into the first cabin. Today, Tom and Selwyn are planning to finish the ceiling in the front room of the first cabin, so the number of tasks needed to make that cabin inhabitable is down to what can be counted on one hand. Tom is, of course, a little wound up about missing two days – and he has to miss another on Friday when he takes Tinkerbell back to Spanish Lookout for her original appointment which was rescheduled from Monday to Friday – so I’ve agreed that our recreational activity this weekend will be to put the shower in the first cabin. It won’t be a “tourist activity” but it should be fun because we got tile we really like and we’re both eager to see how it looks when it’s done. Not to mention, of course, that we want out of the camper.

We’re really psyched to get out of the camper, but Nock will miss her driveway lizard hunting opportunities. She watched one sunning itself on the stones outside the camper door, and when I let her out it ran down a hole. Like a true terrier, Nock wasn’t going to let it get away without trying her best. Unfortunately for her, the lizard won this one.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Mystery

I wrote yesterday that the rooster had been killed. What Tom didn’t tell me until after I posted the blog entry was that the rooster had been decapitated and his head was missing. This morning, the laying hen was dead and gutted, with a bite mark on the back of her head. This is a real mystery to us, since the chickens are in one of the cat cages which should be secure enough to keep predators out since it was secure enough to keep wild cats in, so we have no idea what is getting in there – or how it’s getting in – to kill the chickens and then disappear. With the rooster, we thought that he might have stuck his head out of the cage despite the chicken wire around the bottom, but the hen was obviously killed in the cage. We didn’t touch the “scene of the crime” this morning so Selwyn could take a look, and he is as baffled as we are. We blocked what could be an animal hole with a big rock, and put roosts in for the three remaining hens, and we’ll check the hens right before we go to bed tonight. If any of these hens disappear tonight, Selwyn says he’s going to camp out by the cage and solve the mystery.

The three remaining hens on the Chicken Survivor series. Which one will get voted out of the cage tonight?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The weekend

We left here around 3:00 on Friday to take Selwyn home and pick up the chickens. Our first stop was Selwyn’s neighbor, where we got the rooster and the laying hen. The chickens are all free range “local chickens,” which means the whole flock just roams the yards in Selwyn’s neighborhood. That meant that the woman who owned them pointed out which ones we were supposed to take, and the chase was on. Once the chickens realized we were after them, they took off in all directions, and we had to herd the ones we wanted back to their coop area so Selwyn could catch them. This effort took the chicken’s owner, Selwyn, Hilda, Tom, me, and Ali and Junior filling in the gaps, and the chickens spread over about six of the yards in the neighborhood. We finally rounded them up, Selwyn tied their legs, and we asked the woman how much we owed her. She shrugged, and said they were $2.50BZ per pound, and had to be weighed. There’s a house across the street from Selwyn that doubles as a small store, so we took the trussed chickens over there, passed them through the louvers in one of the windows, and had them weighed in the vegetable scale. When I saw this process, I was really glad that I make it practice to always wash my produce before I use it, since you never know if the same scale that weighs your tomatoes is also used to weigh a dirty live chicken!

Tom paid the woman for the two chickens, and we took off for the next chicken stop. This man didn’t have any laying hens, but he has a whole flock of half grown hens that he was willing to sell for $2BZ per pound. We had another chicken roundup, and while one of the man’s daughters took the three trussed hens off to the nearest scale to be weighed, we talked to the owner of the property. When he realized where we live, he asked if we were interested in a horse. We told him that we already have two that we’re not doing much with anyway at the moment, but that since we might be interested in another horse later, we’d see what he had. We headed out the back of his yard and up a little field on a hill at the edge of town and found a very nice three year old stud colt tied to a tree by a rope around his neck. Tom and I don’t need another horse right now, and we really don’t need a stud colt with the two mares, but he’s seems like a very nice horse both temperamentally and confirmation wise, so we’re actually thinking about it. The man said his kids take the colt out riding with groups of mares, and there isn’t any problem, but we’re still not sure about keeping him in a pasture next to two mares.

We took the chickens home and put them in their coop. Everything seemed fine until this morning (Sunday), when Tom went to feed them and found that the rooster is dead. We’re really bummed, because he was a really pretty rooster, and we’re not sure if we’ll be able to find another. Plus, we don’t know why he died, so we’re worried about the hens. He was fine last night when I fed them, but dead this morning. I’m feeling like we’re not doing too well with animals here because we’re also having trouble getting weight on Esmerelda. She was thin when we bought her, but we thought if we started giving her hay and grain she’d probably fatten up pretty quickly. She seemed to be gaining a little weight for a while, but over the past week or two I think she looks even skinnier than she did when we bought her. We’re not sure if she’s stressed out because she’s sharing the pasture with Glinda, or if she just looks gaunt because she isn’t drinking enough with the hot dry weather. We upped her feed, and bought her some special horse grower feed, so we’ll see if that works. I also haven’t been riding her much in the heat, but it doesn’t seem to be making a difference, so we’re crossing our fingers that the horse grower feed works.

Tom cut down some trees that will make perfect jump poles, and I’d really like to start trotting her over little fences, but I don’t want to do too much with her until I feel like she’s able to at least maintain her weight. I’ve always been proud of myself because I was always told that our horses in the US looked good, so I’m a little embarrassed to have the mares in the front pasture by the road looking like starvation cases. But, I’m really glad we made the decision to sell our horses in the US before we moved here, because if I’m having this much trouble keeping local horses in the shape I like them, I’d never be able to do it with imported horses.

We spent yesterday running around San Ignacio and Spanish Lookout getting supplies for the next phase. In San Ignacio, we went to the tile store and bought all the tile for the first bathroom, flooring for the bathroom that will be a kitchen first, and we ordered the wall tile for that shower when it becomes a shower. Our neighbor, Sharyn, is down here by herself trying to get their lodge project going in overdrive because Jim, her husband, had an offer for a few months of work in the US that he couldn’t refuse. Since she’s there alone, we combined forces and she also took the day to go to San Ignacio and Spanish Lookout, and she too picked out tile for their cabanas and lodge. We hit the San Ignacio market, and headed out to Spanish Lookout where we each bought a 1000 gallon tank. We both figure that with the water shortage that apparently happens every year around this time, we’ll need more water on hand when we have guests. Tom and I weren’t planning to get another tank for a few months, but since Sharyn wanted one too, and since they stack, we could bring two home with no more effort that it would take for one.

We came in the Georgeville Road, and had a brief panic attack because we suddenly ran into a wall of smoke about a mile from here. As I said before, we’ve been able to smell smoke for a couple of days, but from Friday night through last night, the smoke has been visible as well, and sometimes quite thick. We thought it was cloudy yesterday morning, but soon realized that it was just smokey. We had a brief rain shower while we were out yesterday, so we think the increased smoke in this area is probably because the fire got wet and created more smoke. This morning we can see blue sky again, but we don’t know if that’s because the fire is lower or if it’s because the wind shifted. The fire is still about 10 miles from here, and the smoke blows a long distance, so we’re not worried, although it’s a little stressful to constantly smell the smoke – what would be a good smell if you were sitting around a campfire, but much less of a good smell when you know the fire could ruin everything you have.

I took a quick walk around on Friday and took pictures of all the fruit that’s coming ripe on the property.

A couple of weeks ago, Bol gave us some bags that are supposed to keep the ants from ruining the sour saps before they’re ripe. I bagged everything I could reach on the tree, and Bol says that if the fruits in the bags don’t fall down within about 2 weeks, they’ll probably be good to grow to maturity. We had sour sap juice at Bol’s and Petranela’s last week, and it was delicious, so we’re anticipating a few ripe sour saps.

One of our avocado trees has a few avocados on it, and the other one is loaded. I tried to take a picture of a section of the tree so you can see how many are growing, but it’s hard to see green on green, so just picture this density of avocados all over a pretty big tree. I’m going to eat avocados for every meal in a few weeks!

The other thing I’m really looking forward to is the mangoes coming ripe. I’ve been able to get a few at the market for the past few weeks, so they’re just starting to come into season, but ours, as you can see, still have a little way to go. Mangoes are my absolute favorite, so we’ll be eating them with every meal too.

There are also lots of very small mangoes that have a lot of growing to do, so I’m keeping an eye on them as well.

Every once in a while when we’re clearing pasture or brush, we come across a pineapple plant. We’re not sure how long it will take for this pineapple to get full sized, but it seems to grow a little every week.

Dos semanas mas

Sorry for the delay in blogging. It’s been an uneventful but productive week for us since we’ve been able to focus on getting what needs to be done in the first cabin done so we can move in, probably within two weeks – really!

As of this morning (Friday), both sides of the ceiling in the front room of the first cabin are done. The boards that run parallel to the floor across the peak aren’t in yet because electrical wiring needs to be run; we’ll probably do that this weekend so the ceiling can be finished early next week.

Every morning, Tom and Selwyn have been getting an early start so they can go out and dig the soak away before it gets too hot. We obviously don’t have public sewers here any more than we had them in either Honeoye or Canadice, and it seems to be our destiny that every place we buy needs work done on the septic systems – although we’re suffering here because this is the first system Tom has had to do without Chuck and Stanley!. Septic systems here are completely unregulated – the joys of no building codes – and because things break down very quickly the jungle, they don’t need to be too complex. Each cabin already had a small septic tank, and Tom is re-running the PVC pipe from each of the 2 toilets in each cabin to that cabin’s tank. Other water is being run through pipes directly into a soakaway for each cabin to prevent too much water from going into the septic tanks. This is more than the cabins had before, and more than many people do with either the black or gray waste water, so we feel pretty comfortable that this is a safe and environmentally sound solution. When we build a house, we’re going to investigate a composting toilet instead of installing another septic tank. Besides saving us money and labor on a new tank, it will also help with our water shortage since water isn’t required for flushing. However, we’re glad the two cabins already had septic tanks so we didn’t have to make that decision for the cabins, since we think guests will probably prefer “normal” flush toilets.

As far as other building progress goes, we have the boards ready to put on the cabinet under the bathroom sink, and Tom and Selwyn have been working on framing in the shower. We’re going to get tile for the shower on Saturday in San Ignacio and boards to finish the wall and the ceilings in the first cabin on Monday. The only thing we’re waiting for that could delay our move into the cabin is a cook stove for the kitchen, which has been due to arrive “in two weeks” for as long as we’ve been saying it will be two weeks until we can move into the cabin. However, our two weeks are looking pretty real at this point, but we’re not sure how real the two week projection on the stove is. If it doesn’t come in by the time we’re ready to move, I may just have to settle for a slightly less nice stove which will, undoubtedly, do the job, although I’d rather have the nice Maytag with five burners and a convection oven.

While Tom was in Spanish Lookout on Tuesday, I took my machete and cleaned up another cat cage for use as a chicken coop. We had been planning to rebuild what was the chicken coop when this place was a cat farm, until Iris, one of the girls next door, asked why we didn’t just put chickens in a cat cage since it would be a great place to keep the chickens in while keeping the predators – including our chicken-killing Jack Russells – out. So, I cleaned out all the stuff that had grown up in the cage, raked out all the leaves, repaired the door, and put chicken wire around the bottom of the cage to keep chicks in and snakes out. One day Tom and Selwyn were working in the cabin and I dragged in boards and sticks to make a nest box. I must be a female Tom Sawyer, because within about 10 minutes I was just telling Tom and Selwyn what I wanted and THEY designed and built the nest box. Selwyn has had the homework every night this week of finding out who has chickens for sale in San Antonio, so we’re taking a field trip this afternoon to pick up three or four hens and a rooster to populate the cage. Oddly enough, after all the years of threatening all sorts of dire consequences if I got chickens, Tom is more excited than I am about getting them. Part of that may be that they’re going in an existing cat cage rather than a discarded schoolbus, which was a plan Don Melville and I had hatched at one point when we were neighbors, but which we eventually discarded in favor of keeping our marriages intact. The other part of it is that we have neither the Hersheys and their hens as neighbors, nor a nearby Wegman’s with “guaranteed fresh” eggs, so some of the eggs we get are good, and some are really bad. Eggs aren’t sold in date stamped cartons; many of the produce vendors and most of the small grocers just display flats of eggs, and you pay per egg and take them home either in a carton you provide or in a bag. They’re not refrigerated, and there’s no telling how long they’ve been sitting out in the heat. So, while we occasionally get beautiful fresh eggs, we also occasionally get eggs that may not be spoiled, but that are long past the point where they can be used for a couple of nice easy-over eggs with intact yolks. Selwyn says one of the hens we’re getting is already laying, so we’ll probably eat her eggs until one of the others starts, and then let one of them sit on a clutch of eggs to get more chicks, and then we should have plenty of eggs. Selwyn also says we’ll be eating the hens when they stop producing eggs, but I’m not sure about that yet.

My other job this week was to prepare the garden for planting my seedlings. I turned over the soil in part of the garden a couple of weeks ago, and this week Tom and Selwyn have been dumping the dirt they’ve dug out of the hole for the soakaway in the garden to use as topsoil, so I don’t have to do any more digging. They dumped the dirt in long piles, so I flattened out the tops, soaked the dirt down, and I’m planning to plant the zucchini tonight, after the sun goes down so the seedlings won’t be burned. None of the other seedlings are big enough to transplant yet, but the garden should be ready when they are. In the meantime, our neighbors gave us one of the first avocados from their tree, so while ours still aren’t anywhere near ripe enough to pick, we should be getting fresh avocados before too long.

Our only mini-crisis this week happened yesterday when I went to get breakfast stuff out of the fridge, and found that it wasn’t running and had warmed up to about 60 degrees overnight. Fortunately, Tom had purchased a new, full butane tank in Spanish Lookout on Tuesday so he could install it in the first cabin, so instead of refilling the existing tank or putting the new tank with the fridge in the second cabin, we just moved the fridge to where it will go in the first cabin. It took it most of the day to cool down, but this morning it was back to about 40 degrees, right where it should be.

One of the consequences of the empty butane tank was that we didn’t have any ice yesterday. I seem to have put myself in the middle of neighborly disagreement because I have been making ice for Olmi for a couple of weeks. We were talking one day and she asked if I use ice, and I told her rarely, since I usually drink hot tea, Tom usually drinks either orange juice or beer, and when either of us drinks water we prefer it cool, but not ice cold. So, she asked if she could have some ice once in a while, and I said sure. Her son, Wilton, stops by before dinner every three or four days, asks if we have ice, and I put it in a bag, make more, and Wilton takes the ice home to his mother. If, for some reason like an empty butane tank, I don’t have ice, Wilton smiles, says thank you, and goes home empty handed. Somewhere along the line Honduran Marta’s family realized that I was giving Olmi ice. With their “if there’s something to be had, we must have all of it” attitude, they’ve launched a campaign to try to get me to provide them with ice. First Cindy came and said her mother would like some ice. I said I didn’t have any to give her mother, because I save it for Olmi. Then Marta sent Thelma over to ask for ice, and I gave her the same answer. Then she tried sending pre-school age Giovanni over, with a few coins and the phrase “I buy ice” drilled into him since he doesn’t speak English. Tom, who knows the deal, just said “no tengo,” and Giovanni went home. So, Marta has tried almost all the kids at all different times of the day, even offering to pay so I’ll give the ice to her before Wilton can pick it up for Olmi after school.

You’re probably thinking, Marge, why are you such a bitch? Just give the poor woman the ice. That’s not the point. As I’ve written before, their “we must have” attitude really wears on me, and if I were to start giving them ice, I’d never have any for Olmi – or us – because I would be giving or selling them all I had every day. I know they figure that I could charge them and it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s not the piddling amount of money I’d make on the ice, it’s the fact that I’d have to make the ice every day, and with my 2 cubic foot freezer, I’m not going into the ice business. When I told Olmi she could have some ice, Tom warned me that this would happen, and when it happened, he asked if I thought I was being fair, since he thought it would be better just to not give anybody ice. So, I have declared myself the Ice Queen, and I grant ice only to those whom I like and think are deserving of it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s fair, because I’m the Queen.

Just to tie up a few loose ends, the water seems to be working. We sometimes have it even in the middle of the day, and it’s been running almost every night.

According to Iris, Rafael and Rosa are “going out.” That was all we could get out of her – she suddenly forgets that she can speak English and doesn’t understand our Spanish when we ask questions she doesn’t want to answer! But, we don’t blame her for not wanting to fill in the nosy neighbors about her sister’s social life!

The weather continues hot and dry. The rain last week briefly slowed the fire in the Pine Ridge, but it’s picked back up and is supposedly burning as strong as ever. We’re told that 25,000 acres have burned, and it’s still spreading. We can smell smoke sometimes, which we thought was from the cahoun palm we’re burning, but someone pointed out that the smoke smells like pine, and you can smell it everywhere on the property, not just downwind from the cahoun tree. In the evening, we see a pinkish haze to the south, which we think is the smoke from the fire. Nobody is worrying yet about it getting as far north as we are, but everybody is keeping track of it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

More Progress Pictures

Friday, May 4, 2007, Saturday, May 5, 2007, and Sunday, May 6, 2007

After Tom and Selwyn finished the slow work of the wall on Friday, they took a couple of hours to get something tangible done, and built the brace so the bathroom sink can be installed. They’re planning to put the wall board horizontally on the sides, and put a door in the front to finish it, but they won’t do that until after the plumbing is installed.

Tom was so inspired by the good feeling of progress after finishing the bathroom sink stand that he did the same thing for the kitchen sink on Saturday. After the plumbing is installed under this sink, he’s just going to put in a couple of shelves and leave it open. That’s my request – I don’t want to reach into a dark cabinet after a pot and grab something that moves and that isn’t made of metal. Plus, we’re planning to build a house and turn this kitchen into a bathroom for a fourth room, so there’s no sense doing anything fancy since the sink will have to be pulled out of here and installed more permanently in the house.

Tom and I built and hung the door to the shed on Sunday morning. Now we can move the horse feed out of the cabin and lock it in the shed where it should be safe from marauding pigs from next door. When we finish the two remaining windows and make it so we can lock them from the inside, the shed will actually be somewhat secure – just in case the pigs grow hands with opposable thumbs.

In his free time over the weekend, Tom took the circles they’ve drilled out of the doors for the locks and turned them into car wheels, and some scrap wedges became car bodies. Monday is Ali’s third birthday, so we were invited to Bol and Petranela’s house, where Hilda, Selwyn, and the rest of Selwyn’s family made a great barbecued chicken dinner. We were invited for Junior’s fourth birthday shortly after Selwyn started working here, and we weren’t sure what the local customs were for dinner guests. At that time, Selwyn told us not to bring anything, so we didn’t, but we knew this time that little gifts for the kids and a tray of brownies were acceptable contributions to the birthday party. Plus, we’ve found that everybody around here is very accommodating about our customs, and we’d probably have to work really hard to do something culturally taboo that would cause our hosts to gasp and whisper behind their hands. Showing up naked with our bodies spray painted in fluorescent colors might do it, but I’m not even sure if that would be enough.

We think that we’re learning about the local customs, but we’ve also noticed that the friends we’ve made here are, like our friends in NY, very considerate about accommodating everybody’s schedules. The birthday meal was planned for the evening, so we’d all have time to do everything else we wanted and needed to do on Sunday, just as dinners with horse friends were always planned for after everybody’s horses’ dinnertime. Here, Tom’s Energizer Bunny attitude has affected Selwyn, who is working hard to improve a piece of land near San Antonio so he can apply to the government for a long term lease on the land; Selwyn wanted as much of Sunday as possible so he could get a good start clearing the boundaries. It’s funny, because we noticed here that people don’t talk about land in lot sizes, it’s always referenced by its boundaries. For example, Tom and I walked our entire property line all at once for the first time on Saturday, and it took us two hours. That’s more significant than saying we walked the boundary of a 50 acre lot, and just saying the time to walk it tells people who know anything about the land here that our lot is longer than it is wide, and that it covers some hilly terrain. Selwyn showed us some pictures of his land, and explained how it lies by telling us that certain lines in the pictures took a certain time to walk. Now we just have to see if the images conjured in our heads by Selwyn’s description match what it really is when we see it.

On Monday morning, Tom and Selwyn got a good start on the ceiling in the first cabin. I actually got to help. It takes the two of them on ladders to fit the boards together and keep the lines straight as they hammer in the nails, so I had the task of cutting the boards and handing them up. This is all we got done because all the nail holes have to be pre-drilled, and they broke the last of the drill bits that were the correct size. Tom is going to Spanish Lookout tomorrow, so he’ll get enough drill bits that we can hopefully finish the rest of the ceiling, at least in this room of the cabin.

One day while Tom and Selwyn were working on the waterline, I took a pick ax to the garden plot and broke up the dirt. I bought some seeds when I was in San Ignacio last week, and planted them in these cardboard boxes towards the end of the week. The zucchini started to sprout within a day, and now the tomatoes are also sprouting. I’m still waiting for the peppers and watermelons, but I can see bits of green sprout in the dirt when I look closely at the peppers, and I’m sure the watermelon won’t be far behind. I guess I’ll be doing a little bit of transplanting towards the end of this week, and probably a bit more digging since my quarter ounces of seeds seem to have created a lot of baby plants.

Friday, May 4, 2007


This is the peak of the roof in the first cabin, with the insulation on the inside. Tom and Selwyn drilled holes in either end of the peak to provide a space for air to flow through after they put up the ceiling.

A few people commented on the insulation in the ceiling that you can see in the pictures of the wall in the cabin. It’s obviously not to keep the house warm, which is its general use in the north. Here, it’s used to keep the heat out, as well as to deaden sound. The metal roof gets so hot that Tom actually burned his finger badly enough that it blistered when he was working on the inside of the roof inside the insulation and brushed the hot metal. One day he was up on the roof working on the water tank and he burned his eyes. Plus, rain on a metal roof is REALLY loud, so the insulation deadens the sound to some extent. A lot of people around here actually prefer thatched roofs to the metal because of the heat and the sound, but both Tom and I don't really like the thought of all the things that live in the thatch always being over our heads.

This is what the metal roof looks like from the inside without insulation. This is in the kitchen addition, and we’ll probably insulate it and install a ceiling eventually, but we won’t bother for now since it’s on the back of the building where it doesn’t get a lot of sun, and it’s only for us, not guests, at the moment.

The other day I wrote about the food we’ve been eating here in Belize. We were talking about it with Selwyn at lunch the other day, and I commented that the default food here is rice and beans, and the default method of cooking anything is to fry it. Belizeans fry anything, and any time I’ve asked someone how to cook something I haven’t cooked before, the response is invariably a shrug and the instructions “fry it.” When I made this observation to Selwyn, he started to laugh, and said that’s very true. When we asked why he was laughing, he said “Never fry an avocado,” and told us that he had been making something one day, and he was cutting up an avocado. The frying pan and the grease were out, so he sliced the avocado and threw it in the frying pan. He said the outside of the slices got a little brown, but the inside turned into a bitter mush. It’s never occurred to me to try to cook an avocado, but leave it to a Belizean to see what happens when you fry it!

Tom and Selwyn have been fighting with the door in the interior wall of the cabin for the past couple of days. Most of the wood here is sold green, so it twists and warps as it dries. When they tried to hang the door, they found that the door had warped one way and the frame another, and the door didn’t seem to be cut exactly square. I’ve heard lots of cursing as well as the sound of the power planer and sander for the past two days, but they finally got the door hung this morning. We put a handle with a lock and a deadbolt on this door even though it’s in the interior because we plan to eventually use both rooms as guest rooms, and this setup will allow either side to lock the other out. The deadbolt will have to be turned around from how it appears in this picture, but one side will get the lever lock for the handle, and one will get the lever lock for the deadbolt, and neither side will be given keys unless the same guest takes the whole cabin.

Tom also did a little bit of after hours work this week and made saddle and bridle racks, so I was able to take all of our tack out of the heaps in the second cabin and hang it in the tool shed, which is now a tool/tack shed. I’ll probably eventually move the tack to the little house by the road, but that building needs quite a bit of work before it will be ready to shelter anything. I figure that moving tack into the tool shed will give Tom incentive to get the utility house done, since I’m sure I’ll take over the whole shed given the time and the opportunity.

The only other thing going on around here has been a fire up in the Pine Ridge. The weather has remained very hot and dry, and when I rode by the ranger station the other day the fire risk indicator was set to “excessive.” Damion, Augusto, Julian, and their crew have been gathering the palmetto sticks, and they said a fire was burning, and then Selwyn told us yesterday that some guys had been wandering around San Antonio trying to put together a team to go up and fight the fire. Selwyn declined, by the way, since he figures he did his civic duty with the water line. Anyway, we’d been able to see the black clouds of smoke to the south, and we’ve smelled the occasional whiff of burning pine. Yesterday, finally, it rained. The black clouds of smoke melded with black rain clouds, and the heavens opened. I was in San Ignacio at the time, but Tom and Selwyn said that as the rain came down, the burning pine smell became stronger as the fire began to smoke more from the water, and the black rain/smoke clouds were tinged with red from the reflected fire – very dramatic. We haven’t heard yet today if the half hour storm managed to extinguish the fire, or if it will flare up again when things dry in the sun today.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Fair and the Wall

This past weekend was the Belize National Agricultural Fair and Trade Show. The fairgrounds are located in Belmopan, and Tom and I had never seen anything happening at the grounds when we’ve been in Belize. The fair is only open one weekend a year, and we were lucky that this year we were here and had the time to go on Sunday. Our neighbors Rosa and Iris went, along with Selwyn and his family, and while we were in San Antonio picking up Selwyn’s family, a friend of Rosa and Iris decided to ride along. The friend, a young man named Rafael, had to ride in the back of the truck because the front was jam packed with the rest of us, but he didn’t seem to mind. Tom asked him if he was the boyfriend of either Rosa or Iris – leave it to Tom to ask those questions – and Rafael replied that he wasn’t yet, but he’d like to be. We don’t know if that meant he’d like to be Rosa’s boyfriend, Iris’s boyfriend, or the boyfriend of both or either of them, but even Tom didn’t have the nerve to ask that question.

Hilda is feeling better, so when we got to the fair, Rosa, Iris, and Rafael went off to do their thing, and Tom and I wandered around with Selwyn’s family. Tom and I were amazed at how similar this fair is to the fairs we’ve enjoyed attending to in the US. It’s nowhere near as big as the New York State Fair, but it’s very comparable to one of our NY local fairs, like the Hemlock Fair or the Ontario County Fair, or to the way the Flemington Fair was when Tom and I were growing up in New Jersey. There was one barn each for horses, cows, and small stock, and lots of agricultural exhibits, which of course included a John Deere dealership, with shiny green tractors ranging from a smallish lawn tractor/lawn mower to the big, air conditioned cab, giant wheeled, do everything farm tractor. The fair had a midway, which we skipped in favor of the rodeo, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The rodeo began with an exhibition of “English riding,” which the announcer repeated ad nauseaum. The announcer was a lot like the announcer who frequently announces for the Spring Horse Trials in Geneseo. He seemed to feel that quiet airtime was something to be avoided at all costs, so he’d prattle on, saying all sorts of inane and inaccurate things, which was entertaining at times just because it was so silly, and frequently really annoying. Anyway, the English Riding Exhibition was very entertaining. There are apparently three jumping thoroughbreds in all of Belize, and they came out and trotted and cantered around the ring carrying three students of “The Maestro,” who is apparently Belize’s only jumper trainer. The students were a very young girl, probably only five or six years old, and teenaged girl, and a teenaged boy. Four jumps were set up in the middle of the ring – the very middle of the ring, arranged like a plus sign with all four jumps originating from the center of the ring. One other set of standards was a little further out, and was set so the horses could do a three stride combination to one of the jumps in the middle. This would be a whole lot easier to explain if we had taken the camera, but we forgot it, so this description will have to suffice.

After all three horses cantered around, the English Riding Exhibition began with the little girl doing the jumps, which might have been set at eighteen inches. Her horse just trotted over them at The Maestro’s voice commands, and the little girl hung on and performed bravely in front of the crowd. Then they raised the jumps to two feet or maybe 2’6”, and the teenaged girl came out and actually cantered over the jumps. Then they put them all the way up to three feet, and the boy came out and cantered around. His horse seemed to have a problem taking jumps off a right lead, and we spent quite a while watching the horse slide sideways past the jumps. Tom and I were both mouthing “outside leg,” and apparently The Maestro had the same advice since he called the rider into the center of the ring for a little conference. The rider still couldn’t take the jumps from the right, but the horse was perfectly willing to jump off a left lead, so they did a few jumps and the boy cantered back to the center of the ring. Tom and I were all ready to pooh-pooh the English Riding Exhibition, when the boy got off the horse and The Maestro climbed aboard. The ring hands put the jumps up – probably in the 3’3” to 3’6” range, and The Maestro cantered around in both directions and jumped the jumps. Then the ring hands put them up again, probably in the 3’9” to 4 foot range, and The Maestro jumped them all again. Then they went even higher, and The Maestro once again piloted the horse around the small course. Tom and I were impressed, and Selwyn, who is an excellent horseman but has never done anything out of a Western saddle, was really wowed. Then Tom and I were even more amazed, because The Maestro swapped horses, and got on the horse the teenaged girl had been riding. Without any warmup over smaller fences, he cantered this horse around and jumped all the jumps as they had been set for the first horse, and a few of them were close to five feet with a couple of pretty wide oxers. I’m not sure who The Maestro is – those details were lost in the announcer’s patter – but he apparently works out of Banana Bank, which is about an hour from here, so maybe an occasional jumping lesson will be a possibility in Belize!

The rest of the rodeo was just like rodeos in NY, complete with the same cast of characters. We watched bronc riding, calf roping, bull riding, and the keyhole race in the arena, and in the grandstand we watched the wannabe cowboys slouching back and forth in their boots, jeans, Western shirts and cowboy hats, mostly black, in the 95 degree sun. We even had a little girl in back of us vomit and splash us – which has happened a couple of times to us at the Hemlock Fair. Rides, hot sun, excessive sugar, and ice cold sugary drinks do the same thing to kids’ stomachs no matter where they live. What was funny to us about the rodeo was that they apparently only had four bucking broncs, and four calves, so those events were done in alternating sections so the four horses could rest while the four calves were roped, and vice versa. I know some animal rights people think calf roping is inhumane, but at least in this competition, the only one who got beat up was the rider. One horse and rider team had the whole crowd – which was pretty big – in hysterics because the horse didn’t seem to get the part about standing still while the rider jumped off to hog tie the calf. The rider had to grab onto the rope to go hand over hand to the calf, but both the horse and the calf were wandering around, so it took him a while to get to the calf. Then, when he got the calf down, the horse was still wandering around the arena, so the rider kept losing his grip on the calf, who would start to get up after dragging the rider around for a while. The rider finally managed to sit on the moving calf as it was being dragged by the horse, and after a bunch of failed attempts, got the rope around the calf’s legs. Needless to say, that rider didn’t win the calf roping competition, but he was the crowd favorite, and he did better than the many riders who didn’t even manage to get a rope around the calf.

Selwyn thought the bull riding was pretty cool, although we had to listen to the announcer and really pay attention to the gate where the bull and rider were supposed to enter the arena, because most of the riders were off the bulls in a fraction of a second. A few didn’t even get through the gate, and only one got more than five or ten feet into the arena. The bulls were real bulls, and they would throw their riders and then turn around and try to stomp or gore them, but the decoy cowboys did their jobs well, and only one bull made any contact with the rider after the rider was on the ground; it wasn’t enough to hurt the rider any more than he was already hurt after hitting the ground, and as soon as the cowboys had the bull contained, the bull rider walked out of the arena without any help. Selwyn, for some reason, thinks this looks like fun, but Tom and I, with Hilda’s blessing, told him that if he wants to try it next year, he’s fired. We told him that we know a few men who have done it, and they all walk around like old men even when they’re barely middle aged, and we don’t want to have to worry about him. He decided that maybe he’d learn to jump, since he now has access to our English tack, and we told him that he could do that with our approval. Now I just have to either get Esmerelda jumping so he has something to learn on, or go out and find a suitable thoroughbred!

We were all hot and thirsty from the fair, so we stopped at the Cayo Twist for ice cream on the way home. We then dropped Selwyn and his family off at their house in San Antonio, and continued towards our place with Rosa and Iris. All the way home, we had been playing reggae from Selwyn’s MP3 player through the truck radio. Rosa had been listening to Belizean cultural music on her MP3 with earphones in the back seat. When we lost Selwyn’s MP3, Rosa offered hers so we could listen to the Belizean music between San Antonio and home. Rosa explained that one of the songs was a favorite for Belizean dancing, and told us that she had done a dancing exhibition to that song at her graduation. We, of course, asked her if she’d show us when we got home, and she said she would, under the condition that Tom and I would try to learn the dance. The dance lesson proved to be as entertaining as the fair, since the dance is basically shaking your tush in time to the music, without moving any other part of your body. We could see why Rosa had been selected to demonstrate this dance at her graduation; she has a perfectly shakeable little booty, and she can wiggle in perfect time to the music while smiling and looking at the audience like she couldn’t be doing anything more fun than dancing. She was also dressed nicely for the fair, and was wearing a cute little short flared skirt and strappy sandals that made the dance look even better. When it came time for Tom and me to try, we found that we just don’t keep the rhythm as well as Rosa, we don’t have cute little shakeable booties, and our J. Crew and Talbot’s shorts and Teva sandals just don’t have the same effect as Rosa’s outfit. However, our efforts provided a lot of entertainment for all of our neighbors, who left their dinner preparations in their kitchens to come out and watch the show and cheer on our efforts. Tom finally told Rosa that he’d rather just watch her than do the dance himself.

On Monday, Damion came over again after work, with the same part of the bus’s butane system in hand as he and Tom had worked on Saturday. They had taken the fixed part into the Pine Ridge to retrieve the van, and still couldn’t get it started. So, he and Tom took it apart again, and found lots of residue in the butane filter mechanism. Tom said it wasn’t something he would have normally taken apart, but since they had to disassemble it to get the broken part off, they looked at it and learned more about how propane/butane fuel systems work. Tom found that you need a special screwdriver bit to get it apart, but he had one in the collection he acquired from Lowe’s in the US. Tom loves figuring out how things work, and using the tools he brought with him so he can justify their purchase. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no justification needed, but Tom is pleased that he didn’t waste any money with the tools he purchased to bring to Belize. Damion and the crew also found on Monday that the loaded trailer had a flat tire, so after determining that none of our spares would fit, Tom loaned them our WalMart tire repair kit that we used a number of times in Mexico – another $10US well spent! The palmetto collection crew ended up working yesterday, which was the Labor Day holiday in Belize, in order to get the bus and the trailer running, but it apparently worked since we saw them driving the rig back up to the Pine Ridge this morning.

Nobody except word freaks will care about this, but I was quite proud of myself when I figured out that the “pimento” sticks I’ve written about before are really “palmetto” sticks. I also have to correct my previous blog posting, where I said that the guys were collecting palmetto leaves – it’s the sticks they’re getting, and talking to Damion about that is what made me pay attention in the jungle to see if the palmetto leaves grew out of the hairy sticks. When the guys are talking about them in their accented English, it sounds like “pimento,” but while talking to Damion, who tries extra hard to speak English without an accent, I realized he was saying “palmetto,” so I watched for the trees when I was riding in the jungle. One more linguistic mystery solved!

The Spanish language has solved a long running problem Tom and I have had with our names. Over the years, many little kids have decided that we are one unit, and both parts of the unit are named either Tomandmarge or Margeandtom. Most people who know us can probably think of a little kid who did this, and some readers may even be one of those little kids. In any case, I was listening to the little kids from next door talk about us, in Spanish, and realized that they have no problem determining which Tomandmarge/Margeandtom is being discussed because they just put “la” in front of the name if they’re talking about me, and “el” in front if they’re talking about Tom. English needs some gender-specific articles!

Today is a catch up day, with me working on the blog and answering email that I haven’t attended to since Saturday, and Tom and Selwyn finishing the wall in the first cabin. Tomorrow, Tom and Selwyn will start working on the ceiling, which will be made of the same boards as the wall. I’ll be heading down the road into San Ignacio with Hilda again tomorrow, because they still didn’t have enough penicillin for her entire antibiotic course at the hospital when we went to get it on Monday. Hilda and I had a very enjoyable morning shopping in Spanish Lookout, and I’m sure tomorrow we’ll have an enjoyable morning going to the San Ignacio market, but it’s a little frightening that some of the medical supplies we take for granted in the US are so hard to get in Belize. I may be doing a little research and putting in orders with our friends and family in the medical profession before they visit us.

This is the wall just about framed. The door between the rooms will be at the far side near where Selwyn is kneeling.

Tom and Selwyn are putting the finishing touches on the wall. Wall boards like these will also be nailed to the other side of the frame, with insulation in the cavity to provide a little bit of soundproofing between the rooms. The only things that need to be done before we can move in are putting the boards on the ceiling in both rooms, doing the wiring, doing the plumbing, and getting our stove from the store in Spanish Lookout, whenever their Maytag order arrives. We may still be showering in the camper after we move in until we tile the shower in the cabin, and we may end up moving furniture around so Tom and Selwyn can put the boards up on the other side of the wall, but we’re close. We’ll also need furniture, which Tom and Selwyn want to build, but we figure we have a table, a mattress, and the drawers we keep our clothes in from the camper closet, so we won’t let a lack of furniture keep us from moving out of the camper.