Since I’ve already rambled on forever, here are a few random things that Tom and I have seen or ended up discussing and that we’ve been asked about multiple times. Nothing major – just little things about life here in Belize that are different than life in the US.
Many of you have asked where we are in Belize, and I’ve given you directions for finding us if you have a Belize roadmap. I finally took the time to look online and found a fairly good map, and I’ve drawn a circle and put a small arrow to where we’re located. The map is probably difficult to see as it’s displayed here in the blog, but if you click on it, it displays in its own window. The map is not entirely accurate; the village of Barton Creek is not really at the intersection where we’re located, it’s about 5 miles down the road towards Georgeville. The nearest town to us is San Antonio – the Cayo District’s San Antonio, since there are also San Antonios in other districts – but we are technically in the village of 7 Miles, which is a little further away, isn’t on the way to anywhere, and doesn’t have as many shops as San Antonio.
Bugs: A lot of people have asked us about bugs. Yes, we’ve found more biting/stinging/annoying bugs here than in NY, which is to be expected since the frost never kills them. If we’ve been clearing land or out in the jungle, we can expect to find ticks on ourselves, but we’ve become used to them and they don’t freak us out quite so much as they did in the Northeast US. I’ve decided that I almost like ticks better than mosquitoes and flies, because when a tick bites, you can always catch it and kill it, where the mosquitoes and flies get away at least half the time, and some of the flies numb you when they bite so you don’t even know you’ve been bit until the fly is long gone. The other good thing about ticks here – good being a relative term – is that they don’t carry Lyme disease or any of the other rheumatic fevers that ticks in the US transmit, so a bite is just a bite, and as long as you get the tick off it’s almost always no big deal. We have, however, learned about chinch bugs, which look like your average run of the mill bug, and which apparently bite people and animals at night while they sleep.
These bugs can transmit a disease called Chagas disease which sounds like a lot of the tick diseases we get in the US – swollen joints, intermittent fevers, and eventual heart problems. Like Lyme disease, people frequently don’t even know they have it, so doctors have no idea how many people are walking around carrying the disease.
Besides the biting and stinging bugs, most of our bug encounters have been good. We have lightening bugs here, but they’re different than the ones we’re used to because their light is very big and bright, and it doesn’t flash. One night I thought there was a glowing eyed monster in the jungle because I looked out the camper door and saw two brightly glowing spots in the jungle. I watched it for a few moments, wondering what it was, and then one of them flew away so I knew it was just two lightening bugs which had landed on the same leaf at the same angle to me.
I also had a gigantic grasshopper land on Esmerelda’s head as I was riding her through the jungle. It was at least three or four inches long, and it just jumped out of the bush and perched on her bridle for a few moments. It didn’t seem to faze Esmerelda, and when it hopped off it spread its wings, which were a brilliant orange on the inside.
And speaking of colors inside wings, I had the most amazing experience yesterday while riding. As we walked along a section of path, I looked down and realized a whole flock of butterflies was resting on the ground. With their wings closed, they were a very nondescript brown.
As we walked through them, they opened their wings to fly away, and they were all a brilliant blue on the inside. I had seen these Blue Morpho butterflies on other rides, but only in the air, and only one at a time. Having all that brown transformed to blue right under our feet was breathtaking.
I’ve also seen some beautiful birds while out riding. As I was going over the tops of one of the mountains on my way home, I heard a very hoarse “screeee.” I looked up, expecting to see a hawk, which I did, but not what I expected. Instead of a black hawk, which are very common around here, or one of the other more common hawks, it was a white hawk, and it looked just like this picture. I mentioned it to Selwyn and he said they’re seen more in the isolated valleys closer to Guatemala, but they’re not seen very often around here where it’s more populated. Tom and Selwyn saw one when they were working on the water line last week, but we don’t know if it was the same one or a different one.
I also came back from a ride all excited because I’d seen what I thought was a Pileated Woodpecker, which I used to see occasionally when riding in the woods around Canadice. I mentioned this to Selwyn (my wildlife information source), and he said that they don’t have Pileated Woodpeckers around here, so we consulted the bird book, where I identified it as a Lineated Woodpecker.
And, just in case you’re wondering, the toucans seem to be making the rounds again. Tom and I heard a croaking while we were eating breakfast yesterday, and got out the binoculars and looked in the tall tree across the road. What looked like just a splash of yellow from a distance was a toucan, and what we saw through the binocs looked very much like this picture – which I swiped from the internet, as I did all of these bug and bird pictures.
My last random thoughts in relation to lots of questions are about food. Tom and I are eating pretty much like we ate in the US, although “fat free” and “reduced fat” are not in the culinary vocabulary around here, and non-sugar sweeteners are non-existent. However, since we’re eating a whole lot of fresh produce, fat and sugar really aren’t an issue anyway. The difference with how we’re eating now is that we eat what’s in season rather than what’s on sale at Wegman’s. I found fresh mangoes in Spanish Lookout on Monday, so we’ve been eating something mango with every meal. Bananas and plantains are everywhere all the time and are very cheap, so we eat a lot of those. Good lettuce isn’t always available, so I’ve rediscovered cabbage, which is usually available and which seems to ship and store pretty well even if it isn’t refrigerated, and which we’re starting to really like because it can be eaten cooked or raw, and I find a lot of different ways to prepare it. Tamarind trees are producing right now, and I’m finding lots of uses for tamarind. I shell the seeds and turn them into a paste. We can put the paste in water and make yummy tamarind juice, I’ve added it to tomato sauce, and I’ve made a yummy salad dressing of tamarind paste, ginger, and citrus juice.
I’ve also figured out why people in this climate eat so many tortillas. First, they’re functional. A tortilla can be a plate, a napkin, and silverware all rolled into one. Second, they’re simple and quick to make, so fresh tortillas can be made with every meal, and if a few are left over, they keep pretty well and are sometimes better than fresh when they’re reheated a day or so later. Third, they’re way more practical than bread. Bread seems to mold here within about three days. So, if you buy bread, you’re probably already getting a loaf that’s a least a day or two old, so you only have a day or two to eat it. I’ve started making bread rather than buying it, which gives me a couple of extra days. I figure that if bread from a bakery is made today, it ships tomorrow and gets to the store shelves at the end of its second day, so it’s probably not purchased until it’s almost three days old and ready to mold. When I make it, we start eating it right out of the oven, and then I wrap it and put it in the fridge, so we then have two or three more days to eat it instead of one. But, bread is a whole lot more time consuming to make, and you have to heat the oven for an hour or so rather than heating the stovetop for 15 minutes or so to cook the tortillas. And, most women around here have their outside Mayan kitchens with wood hearths, so they don’t even heat up the house when they cook tortillas. Tom and I have joined the Belizeans in wrapping just about anything edible in a tortilla and calling it a meal – pork chops, vegetables, chicken with the bones, and our current favorite, mashed potatoes, cassava, or coco root, which are all pretty similar. It sounds very strange, and we resisted trying it for a while, but there’s just something very satisfying about a mashed potato burrito, especially if you melt a little bit of cheese in it. I guess it’s not too different from a pierogi, but the pocket is tortilla instead of pasta. Anyway, it’s really yummy, and will definitely help us keep the meat on our bones.