Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Another week flies by...

On Friday afternoon, Bol stopped by to see if we wanted to go explore the large hole we found on our back lot. We had found it when we were fighting the fire a few weeks ago, and couldn’t tell from the top if it went anywhere. Bol loves exploring caves – hoping, I think, that he’ll someday find a piece of priceless Mayan jade – and we had been talking about hiking back to try to find it again ever since we’d seen it. We pulled out the CamelBak and loaded it with a headlamp, the DeWalt 18v flashlight, a gallon of water, and about 100 feet of good rope and headed up the hill. We initially couldn’t decide whether to go up the feeder road and in the back line, or to hike in on the property line and go up and over what Tom had suspected – correctly, as it turns out – was some sort of Mayan mound. We decided to do the property line despite the steep up and down climb to see what Bol thought of the mound.

Tom set a pretty good pace up the hill. Right near the top, there’s a bunch of deadfall that we’ve been gradually making a path around, just by chopping through on basically the same detour every time we’re up there. When we got to the deadfall, Bol went in front because he has a lot more chopping experience, with Tom and me following. Bol got through the deadfall and back on the trail, and started darting in and out of the jungle, muttering “Ooooh, Tom. Ooooh, Marge. There’s something up here.” We had no idea what something he was talking about – animal, plant, or something inorganic – until he stopped a few feet off the trail and started hooting. Tom and I pushed through the underbrush and found Bol kneeling by a hole in the ground, about the same diameter as a 55 gallon drum, and about 2 feet deep. The hole is almost perfectly round, and goes through six or eight inches of rock, and then there appears to be a larger space under this opening. According to Bol, this is a man made hole, made by the Mayans, and is the top of a chamber they used for safekeeping of their valuables. He said that the holes are usually found in sets of three. We didn’t see any more when we briefly kicked through the underbrush, although we found a number of depressions that could be caved-in holes. We were tempted to stop and see if we could see anything in the hole, but Bol reminded us that we’d come to explore the cave, and we could always come back and poke around in the hole some other time. I didn’t think to take any pictures when we were there, but next time we’re up there I’ll try to remember to take the camera.

We started down the backside of the mound, where Bol again detoured into the underbrush with us following obediently behind, and he pointed out a few more small Mayan mounds, identifiable by the stonework facing. We didn’t investigate these, although Bol did peel a couple of Golden Cascade orchids off a couple of trees so I could carry them back and put them on trees where people will be able to see and enjoy them near the cabins. When we got about to the point where I thought I had gone into the jungle to work along the fire line, we picked three potential paths in, and set out. Tom was the furthest down hill, I was in the middle almost exactly where I had gone off the path to pursue the fire, and Bol was the highest on the hill. I quickly realized I was on the same trail I had been on before, but I’d barely had that realization when Bol started hooting again. He had made a beeline through the brush and gone right to the cave; I swear the man has some sort of cave radar. I picked my way through the brush, and got there just as he was getting back to the hole after taking a quick look around the area to see if there were any other cave openings. Tom fought his way up the hill and joined us pretty quickly, which was a good thing since he had the rope and the lights.

Bol took a light and looked into a crevice off a little ledge very near the top. He then got down on his stomach, hanging over the edge of the hole, and shined the light down into the hole and as far under the overhangs as he could see from the top – which wasn’t a lot, because the hole is probably 30 to 40 feet deep. He threw a few rocks in to make sure he wasn’t disturbing any dangerous living thing – either a snake or a big cat – and he and Tom set the rope up so Bol could rappel into the cave with Tom on one end of the rope at the top.
Just as Bol started down, there was a big rush of wings. Initially we all thought “Bat!” and cringed, then Tom thought it was an owl, but we quickly realized the bird was a brilliant blue with a very long tail. It flew a short way through the trees and perched on a limb.
The picture isn’t the best, but when we got back Nelmarie was able to identify it as a blue-crowned mot mot, chiefly because of its stripped tail and the fact that the brilliant blue can be seen even in the mediocre picture.

Bol rappelled down into the cave, stopping and looking at each ledge. When he got to the bottom, he worked his way slowly towards the back. At first he expressed disappointment because he realized that the hole is only a very large sink hole, and not a cave. Then, as he was shining the light around the bottom, he started hooting. Tom and I were afraid he’d seen a snake and wanted to know if he wanted a quick ride up, but he just yelled “No, no” and started scrabbling around at the bottom.
Suddenly he held something up, which we at first thought was just a large rock since it was difficult to see details since we were so far away, and it was pretty dark at the bottom of the hole. We shined the spotlight down, and realized he was holding a large piece of a Mayan earthenware bowl or jar. As Bol dug around a bit more, he found a seashell – like, seashell from the ocean which is about 50 miles away – as well as a very well preserved bead and a piece of crystal which is not indigenous to the area. As he stood back and looked at the bottom of the hole, he realized that the rocks were arranged roughly in a circle, probably as a fire ring, even though at first glance they looked like they had just landed in the bottom of the hole in a jumble.

Bol asked us what we wanted him to do with the things he found, and we had a quick shouted discussion about how Mayan artifacts are supposed to be treated. In some respects, we thought that they should be left as they’re found. However, we wanted a better look, so we lowered the knapsack and Bol loaded the things into it. We figured that we’re not excavating the hole and pulling out everything we find, but that it will be interesting for people to see a few of these ancient things that we’re finding on our property. Tom and I did not go down into the hole on Friday, but we figure that we’ll go back later and see what’s down there. Since it’s apparently been left untouched for over a thousand years, we don’t think there’s a big hurry.
Bol is Mayan, and we asked him how he felt about people taking these artifacts away from where they’re found so people can see them. His opinion is that we shouldn’t take them to sell them or profit from them – which is not our intention – but as long as we’re removing them so people can become more enlightened about the Mayan history and culture, it’s perfectly acceptable.

On the way back, we walked the burned property line, and Tom showed us where he and Selwyn had found some small Mayan burial mounds. Bol confirmed that this is what they are, and we found a few more pieces of pottery. Tom and I came home, and were talking about how we spent our afternoon, and realized that as adults in our mid-forties, we’re finally doing what we dreamed about and pretended to do as kids. Both of us grew up in New Jersey, which is (or was in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s) surprisingly rural. We both spent most of our childhoods running around in the woods, looking for Indian artifacts and fossils. We may have found a few arrowheads and trilobites, but that’s about it – and here we are, all grown up, finally really doing what we pretended to do as kids. Just one more thing to love about Belize…

These two pictures were taken with me standing on the same spot, just pivoting 180 degrees. The first is of the jungle on the burned side of the fire line.

The second is of the jungle on the unburned side. There’s no in between; it burned as far as the fire went, and then stopped.

This is the same field as is in the picture I took a few weeks ago, immediately after the fire. Nature recovers very quickly!

The adventure continued on Sunday, when we went to see another cave entrance. It’s on the property next to us, which coincidentally is owned by Noah, our real estate agent. Bol has known the land for years, and some years ago discovered the large cave, which he says is composed of two huge chambers filled with Mayan bones and relics. When we told him that we know the owner of the property, he had us arrange a meeting between them so Bol could get permission to take people into the cave. Noah also wanted to meet Bol, because he’d heard that there was a large cave on the property, but had never seen it and had no idea where it was, and he wasn’t too keen on bushwhacking through 78 acres of jungle to try to find it. So, Noah and his family (wife Marayla, her son Fred and her sister Mercedes) came up here on Sunday to pick up some cage panels (part of Noah’s commission for selling us the property), have a meal, and hike back to the cave.

We set off through the jungle, and found that the cave is only a short hike, and isn’t far off a trail I ride regularly on Esmerelda. It’s set into the hillside, which is sort of terraced by huge boulders, and the entrance is a large crack under one of the boulders. When we shined the flashlight into the hole, we could see that it went down about three big steps, for a total of about thirty feet. We could also see bats flying back and forth below us in the beam of the flashlight. It had been threatening to rain for most of Sunday, and started to rain just before we set out on the trail, so we didn’t even bother to take rope with us. However, we received permission from Noah and Marayla to go back to the cave with Bol and rappel down into it. We think we’ll save this adventure for when my brother Tim and his wife Kelli visit us from California in a few weeks.

The Veranda
Last week, Tom and Selwyn had framed in the deck off the front of the cabin. Tom and I had planned to get the roof up on Saturday, but Tom wasn’t feeling well and spent most of the day taking it easy (for a change). We hammered a few nails in before Noah and company arrived on Sunday, but didn’t really get back to work on it until Monday. Monday morning, Selwyn’s brother Derrick showed up and told us that Selwyn was home in bed with a crick in his neck, so Tom and I managed to get the zinc roofing panels up on our own. We attached the nailers in the morning, then waited until after four o’clock pm for the sun to move past the point where it was beating down on the roof of the cabin. We wrestled the edges of the new panels under the panels on the existing roof of the cabin, got everything straight, and Tom put a few nails in to hold things in place. Tuesday morning when Selwyn arrived, feeling better, he went up on the roof and nailed and caulked. We’re not waiting for a rain so we can see where it leaks and where more caulk is needed. It’s amazing what a difference a covered deck makes to the whole feel of the place. It no longer feels like a cabin where we’re camping; it’s starting to feel like a house. We’re going to get screening and a door when we go into Belmopan tomorrow to get our passports stamped, and when the porch is completely enclosed, we’ll move our table out there and use that room as our dining room since it’s usually five to ten degrees cooler than the cabin, especially now that the roof provides some shade.

By the way, we’ve learned that the locals distinguish between porches and verandas by whether or not they’re covered. The deck was a porch before we put the roof on, and now it’s a veranda. We’re not sure if it will change name again when we put up the screening and make it more like a room, but we expect that our neighbors will let us know.


The other thing that’s starting to make the cabin feel like home just happened last night, when Olmi delivered the curtains. I had talked to her a month or so ago, and she told me that she has a sewing machine and would be glad to make curtains if I bought some fabric. I got the fabric last week in Spanish Lookout, showed Olmi what I wanted and gave her the fabric on Sunday night, and she delivered the curtains last night. They make the cabin much homier from both the inside and the outside. I still need to get fabric for the bedroom curtains, but I’m going to wait until the bathroom construction is done. The lack of curtains had been bothering me, because in both of our other houses and the apartment we lived in when we were first married, my mother had come up shortly after we moved in to make curtains. She’d come up with her sewing machine, and we’d spend a weekend measuring windows, picking out fabric, and then Mom would make the curtains, grumbling at me the whole time about how she couldn’t understand why I was so inept at sewing and so unwilling to learn. My response was always that I didn’t learn because I didn’t have to, because she’d make the curtains for me, and she and Tom’s mom, who is also an accomplished seamstress, would sew anything that needed sewing. Between the two of them, they visited often enough to keep my mending pile at a reasonable level. Now, with my mother dead and Tom’s mom not exactly a weekend’s trip away, I have to do some of the mending myself, but I still don’t have a sewing machine, and probably wouldn’t use it even if I had it. So, it’s a huge blessing to us that Olmi lives next door, has a sewing machine, and is happy to make curtains for us!

Sour saps

We’ve harvested all the sour saps off the sour sap tree. The fruits, which are very large now, started falling off in the middle of last week. I’d check them every day and try to figure out which one was going to fall next so I could pick it, because when they fall they’re usually either smashed or the animals start munching on them before we can get to them. A few more fell, some of which were salvageable and some of which weren’t, and I decided yesterday that we should just pick the rest of them. Selwyn went as far as he could up the ladder and picked a couple, then climbed into the tree and picked a couple more. I gave a few of them away, put a few through the food mill and froze the pulp for juice, and am waiting for the last two to ripen so I can squeeze the juice out of them and put it in the freezer. They’re very large; that’s a gallon jug sitting next to them. They’re also a royal pain in the butt to process, because the skin crumbles and tries to get squashed in with the pulp rather than just coming off when you peel it, and they’re filled with large seeds. The food mill helps, but I still have to hand pick the seed out and mush things around because there are so many seeds they make the mill hard to turn. I finally figured out how to make the juice, after a few false starts. Petranela told me to mix the pulp, which is a lot like very ripe mashed bananas, with milk. I did that, and it didn’t taste like hers, so I added some sugar. It still wasn’t right. Selwyn didn’t know how to fix it, and then Nelmarie asked what kind of milk I’m using. It turns out that I’m supposed to mix the pulp with sweetened condensed milk and water – and now it’s right. It tastes sort of like a very refreshing smoothie when it’s made right, and the only problem is we all tend to drink too much because it’s good, and then we all get stomach aches. Gluttony is definitely a sit that you can pay for immediately.

The puppies are getting bigger every day. Tom says that sometimes when he goes to work outside in the morning after breakfast and then comes back for lunch, that he can see that they’ve grown just in a few hours. They’re also starting to act like big dogs, and they don’t need to be supervised every second. They both go to the door when they need to go out, and Stout will actually scratch, and sometimes rings the sleigh bells we have hanging from the door knob. That’s a little spooky, because we didn’t teach him to do that, and they only dog we’ve had that did it was our Doberman Midge, who has been dead for four or five years. The pups are both happy to sleep in the bathroom now, even when it’s not bedtime, and if I can’t find them during the day, that’s where they usually are. We frequently leave them in the cage behind the cabin for a few hours during the day so they can play without the big dogs or the people trying to make them calm down, but they’re always happy to come in and hang with us. Unfortunately, besides the bathroom, their other favorite hangout is still the kitchen floor, and two growing puppies and two Jack Russells on that floor doesn’t give me a whole lot of room to move when I’m cooking. But, my feet have pretty well developed doggie radar, and so far I haven’t been nipped for stepping on anybody’s paw or tail.
The reason all the puppy pictures are of the puppies when they’re sleeping is that they’re either ON or OFF. When they’re ON, they play like mad, and it’s really hard to get a picture because they don’t stop moving. When they’re OFF, they’re crashed, and that’s that.

We’re also making other animal related progress on the property. Tom, Selwyn, and I took down the remains of one of the cages in the back field to get panels to make a dog fence for the back yard of the cabin.
The supports are already there, and there’s a 2x4 embedded in concrete all the way around the yard because the previous owner had a fully screened yard for her house cats (so they wouldn’t be a meal for the caged wild cats), so all we have to do is get panels of the right size and put them up. Not having a fenced yard hasn’t been a big deal because Lou, Nock, and Mel are pretty happy in the house, and if they need to be out for a while we can put them in the cat cage behind the cabin, and when they just need to go out to do their business they’re pretty good about sticking around and it’s not too difficult to keep an eye on them. The pups have added a complication because they gambol off into the jungle without even realizing that they’re running away, and then when we go to retrieve them, Nock will wander off, and it’s just gotten to be a big pain to watch five dogs with four eyes. Now we’ll be able to just leave the bedroom door open, and all the dogs can go in and out as they please and we won’t have to worry about them wandering off, and we won’t have to worry about the pups spending too much time outside in the cat cage where they’re not being socialized to people.

Tom, Selwyn, and Bol have been clearing the big pasture in the back. It’s even bigger than we thought, probably three to four times as big as the other two pastures combined. And, it looks like grass was planted in it before it was deserted and the brush started growing up. They’re going to finish chopping it and make sure the fence is okay, then we’ll turn the horses loose in it while we plant the other pastures so they can eat down the grass that’s there. Then we’ll put the horses back in one of the other pastures, burn the big pasture, and replant grass to supplement what gets seeded when we burn.

We still have the single chicken living in the rabbit hutch, but that’s going to change on Saturday. I’ve been talking about getting some more chickens, and just found out that it was apparently divine intervention that kept me from doing something about it, rather than inertia or laziness. Elizabeth came over with her sisters on Monday, and told me that her mother wants to give us some chickens as payment for the chicken wire we gave her a couple of months ago. Her mother had wanted her sisters to deliver the chickens to us on Monday, but they hitched a ride with the tortilla man from their home in 7 Miles to Elizabeth and Augusto’s house, and apparently the tortilla man doesn’t accept chickens as passengers. But, Tom is going to 7 Miles on Saturday morning to pick up Julio, the 7 Miles Chairman who is in charge of the water supply, so Tom and Julio can take Tom’s gringo drill up on the pipeline and install pressure relief valves – which are much needed since we’ve been mostly without water for a week and a half because the high pressure of the newly run pipe has been blowing the pipes apart. So, Tom will pick up Elizabeth to go visit her family in 7 Miles on Saturday morning, go to 7 Miles and pick up Julio, go up and do the work on the pipeline, then stop back here to pick up some cage pieces which Julio needs to build a cage for his gibnuts (aka agoutis or Royal Rats), then take Julio and the cage pieces to 7 Miles, where he will retrieve Elizabeth and get the chickens. Things always work out when you give them time!

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