Thursday, July 26, 2007

Big Catchup

Sorry for the long delay without a blog entry! We were so busy the week before Tim and Kelli arrived that I didn’t have time to even answer email, much less write in the blog, and once they were here we were going at top speed. As it is, Tim and Kelli didn’t get to do all of what they heard about, and they’re already planning their next trip to Belize to check a few more items off their “gotta do” list. So, here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve been doing. I’ll post some pics from our camera, and then I’ll post a few more when I get them from Tim and Kelli.

The week before they arrived, we were in a big push to get things cleaned up for our first guests. Not only did we not want Tim to go home and call Matt and Pete for a rescue mission to get their sister out of the jungle, but we wanted to see how people felt about our place, the area, and Belize in general on their first visit. Tom got sick and we didn’t get as much done as we’d planned, but we got enough done that Tim and Kelli liked our property, and really liked this area of Belize.

The beginning of that week started well, and Tom and Selwyn worked on a lot of land clearing and cleanup around the property. We hadn’t done much about clearing brush away from the south side of the driveway, so Tom ran through that with a machete and his weed whacker, and it’s starting to look more like the grove of fruit trees that it is rather than a bunch of fruit trees growing out of the jungle. He and Selwyn also finished clearing the back pasture. As they chopped, they found that the pasture has been planted with mombasa, a fairly palatable grass for horses, and although it wasn’t growing especially thickly or evenly, enough had managed to grow in the underbrush that the horses should have good grazing for at least a few weeks.

This pasture clearing, however, turned into the beginning of the end for Tom. They cleared for half a day, and when Tom came in for lunch, resting didn’t get rid of the overheated, tired feeling. We had been invited to a barbeque that evening to celebrate Ofelia’s 18th birthday, but walked over and gave our regrets that afternoon because I wasn’t feeling quite right. Tom said that he might stop by anyway, but by evening I was feeling tired but better, and Tom wasn’t feeling well, so we both went to bed around 8:30. I slept like a baby that night and felt great in the morning, but Tom had a fever, and ended up being up and down all night, first being cold and then being hot, and soaking the bed with his sweating. He stayed in bed Thursday morning – which he never does – and was up and down all day, trying to get the shower tiling underway and helping Selwyn figure out what had to happen next, and then going back to lie down when his fever would spike again. Fortunately Gilroy was home and was able to work with Selwyn, and they managed to build a platform on the hill behind the cabin and get the 200 gallon water tank up the hill so we could find out if our water pressure was better – and it is, so we now have enough water pressure for the shower, and even to run through an on-demand water heater so there’s a hope of hot water in our future! Selwyn also put heavy ¼ inch screening around the bottom of the porches, ruining Nock’s lizard hunting platform, and poured the cement in the holes for the footers for the addition to the second cabin.

Tom had another rough night on Thursday, but decided to go with me to shop in San Ignacio and Spanish Lookout on Friday. We did our errands in San Ignacio, and then took off to Spanish Lookout for the rest of our supplies. On the way home, around 2:30, Tom said he was feeling pretty crappy, and I felt his head and realized he had a fever. We decided that we’d better stop at La Loma Luz, the hospital in Santa Elena, to see if they could help. Like many things in Belize, we found that the hospital emergency room is a little different from what we’re used to in the US, where unfortunately we’ve had a fair amount of experience visiting emergency rooms. First, we arrived there around 3:20pm, and found that it closes at 3:00 on Fridays. No problem, however; they’d just call in one of the docs. After sitting in the waiting room for about 15 minutes, they put Tom in one of the emergency bays and took his temperature, which was 103. They decided this was high enough to merit a blood test, so they called in the lab tech to draw and analyze his blood. Shortly after that was done, another patient with kidney problems came in, driven by a woman who needed stitches in her finger. These two patients were paraded through the room where Tom was resting, with the man explaining his kidney problem, and the woman showing us the gaping wound on her finger (which ended up with five stitches, which she also showed us). Then everybody disappeared. Around 6:00, one of the doctors came to talk to us. He apologized for the delay, and then said that there had been an emergency in another part of the hospital. Apparently he felt that that explanation wasn’t sufficient, so he went on to explain that one of the patients in the regular hospital wing had had a problem. That problem was an emergency and required all the nurses in the hospital, and all the docs that were in the hospital. It was a very serious emergency. In fact, (at this point he whispered) the patient died. At this point, to avoid any further explanations, I jumped in and assured him that we understood and that the delay wasn’t a problem. A nurse came and gave Tom an injection to reduce the fever, and we waited a while longer for blood test results.

At some point, we had a very interesting conversation with two med students from New Jersey, who were doing a month-long internship at the hospital. They came to Belize with some sort of medical mission group, and while they ended up in a good hospital and had a good time in Belize, they weren’t very impressed with the organization of the medical mission group, since they weren’t at the hospital where they had planned to work, and when they first arrived in Belize, they found that no arrangements had been made for them for either their internships or lodging. They said they knew they were in trouble when nobody met them at the airport, and when they called their contact for a ride, he appeared in a small beat-up pickup truck, and they had to ride from the airport in Belize City to Santa Elena (approximately 1.5 hours) in the open back of the truck with their luggage. However, they found their experience at the hospital rewarding, and said that they got to do and experience things that they wouldn’t have if they had been at a bigger hospital in a more developed country. One of them had served a short term in Iraq, and he said that medicine in Belize was sort of like medicine in a war zone, although when we told him that I had a brother who had been in Ramadi in a medical capacity, he was quick to say that he was sure his experiences were much less traumatic than Matt’s. That Friday was their last day at the hospital, and they had the weekend to be tourists, and they were flying out on Monday. We were bummed because they really hadn’t seen much of the area, and if they were staying longer we would have loved to have shown them around. As it was, we gave them our card and told them that when they come back to Belize they should look us up and we’ll show them the jungle and the Mountain Pine Ridge.

We also met the hospital director, a man from California who moved here about a year ago with his wife for a five-year appointment at La Loma Luz, which he said will probably turn into an eight-year term. He knew Americans were at the hospital because on our way in we ran into the manager of the feed store in Spanish Lookout, who is also an EMT and was visiting La Loma Luz to consult with them about the new ambulance bay they are building, and he had told Grant (the director) that we were there. Grant likes Belize and is finding his job very rewarding, but said his wife misses her American social life. Unfortunately, we made a few more trips to the hospital over the course of Tom’s illness, and each time Grant made a point of stopping to say hi and talk to us. He said he and his wife love to visit 1000 Foot Falls, which is only about five miles up the road from here, and we made him promise that they’ll stop by and see our place the next time they venture into the Pine Ridge. Maybe we can provide a little bit of American socializing for his wife – although she may find that we’ve gone native!

Finally, around 6:30, a mere three hours after we arrived at the emergency room, a doctor arrived with the results of Tom’s blood work. He had no sooner opened his mouth to speak when we heard a rush in the hallway, and an EMT burst in and said they needed the room. The doctor herded Tom and me into a room behind the room we’d been in as a crowd of people came rushing into the room. Since we were barely out of the room before they came in, and the room we left and the room we went to were only partially separated by a curtain, we had front row seats for the unfolding drama. The patient had taken too many of some kind of over the counter pills, and then drank a bottle of rum and a bottle of vodka. Unfortunately the people with her weren’t very helpful about providing the EMTs with any details on what the pills were, or how big the bottles of alcohol were, so the doctor we were talking to was called off to see if he could get any more details. He talked to the people with the patient, told the medics how to proceed, and returned to us, rolling his eyes – not exactly the professionalism we’d expect from a doctor in the US, but under the circumstances, completely reasonable. He then talked to us about the results of Tom’s blood test, which were inconclusive, and prescribed some pills to control the fever. He then had to usher us out, past the intoxicated patient who was retching into a bed pan, so we could sit at the bench in front of the pharmacy, listening to other patients’ lists of symptoms and reasons why they were at the hospital. Finally, around 7:15, only four hours after arriving, we left the hospital and drove home.

Tom had a rough weekend. Even with the pills, his fever was up and down, and he was up four or five times every night to add or remove clothes and bedding depending on whether he was burning up or freezing. His blood tests had been negative for malaria, dengue, or a bacterial infection, so the doctor had told him that it was probably a virus and would run its course in three or four days. We managed to get our clothes moved out of the camper and into the cabin so Tim and Kelli would have room in the camper, but that’s about it. Our wonderful neighbors were so concerned about Tom that I had to put a sign on the gate – no molestar, por favor! – explaining that Tom was sick but sleeping, and really needed rest, because they all wanted to check on him. Maria brought over a branch with leaves from the gumbo limbo tree, and instructed Tom to bathe with the leaves once or twice a day to reduce the fever. Tom did it, but since the fever was up and down it was difficult to tell if the gumbo limbo baths helped.

Tom still wasn’t feeling well on Sunday, so we decided to change our plans with Tim and Kelli. The original plan had been to pick them up at the airport Monday morning, and then head out to Caye Caulker for a few days. Because Tom didn’t feel up to traveling, we decided that I would pick them up and bring them home, and we would make the trip to the cayes at the end of their visit. Their flight arrived on time, a little before 10am, and they were through customs in a matter of minutes. We piled them and their stuff into Tinkerbell and headed for Cayo. I had a few errands to run in San Ignacio before heading home, and we were all hungry, so we hit Erva’s for delicious fish burritos. We then went to the produce market, where I got everything on my regular list, as well as a few of the more exotic fruits that caught Tim and Kelli’s eyes like pitahaia and sapodilla fruits.

As we turned onto the San Antonio road in Santa Elena, I noticed the usual group of people waiting for a ride up the road. I recognized some of them as San Antonio residents who’ve hitched with us before, and they apparently recognized the truck as a truck that goes to San Antonio and is willing to take on passengers because they all stood up before I was even around the corner. Tim and Kelli weren’t quite sure what was going on as I stopped and the hitchers and I said “San Antonio” to each other, and they jumped into the back of the truck. On the way up, I explained that people just give each other rides in Belize since most residents don’t have cars, but there’s always somebody heading whatever direction you want to go. When we got to San Antonio, we drove through town dropping the hitchers off near their respective houses. As we rounded the corner by Marleny’s store, I spotted Maria and Ronald, who always seem to pop out of a store in San Antonio or San Ignacio whenever I drive by. I stopped and asked if they needed a ride home, since they live on the corner, and Maria said yes, but we had to go back to Antonia’s house to pick up George and a bucket, and then we had to stop to drop the buckets off at another house on our way out of town. This was the first time I used Kelli’s proficiency in Spanish, since Maria doesn’t speak much English, and Ronald was happy to be relieved of his usual role of translator. We made Maria’s pickups and deliveries, and then headed home with Maria and Kelli talking a mile a minute. After dropping them off at their house, Tim remarked that he now understood what I was writing about in the blog when I talked about giving people rides, and having everything take longer than expected, and how even though it could be viewed as an inconvenience, it’s definitely a pleasant, positive inconvenience as we make friends with the people around us. When we got home, Tom was well enough to give Tim and Kelli the property tour. Their first taste of Belize was ripe mangoes right off the tree, incredibly sweet and juicy – definitely a good first taste!

Tim and Kelli brought a bag of goodies for all the kids – little purses and hair thingies for the girls, little cars and finger rockets for the boys, and coloring books and crayons for everybody. This, on top of the fact that Kelli speaks Spanish fluently, made her an instant favorite with the neighbors. Wilton had accompanied us on the property tour, climbing up the mango tree to get the fruit that was out of our reach, so he was the first to get his gift, a package of three finger rockets. The shooting started immediately, and within 10 minutes all of the finger rockets were on top of the roof. So, before Tim had even really been in the house, he was up on the roof retrieving rockets.

On Tuesday we took our first trail ride to Big Rock, a waterfall near Blancaneaux and Five Sisters Lodges. Selwyn was our guide on Glinda, Tim rode Selwyn’s horse Burrito, Kelli rode Tony, and I rode Esmerelda. Selwyn was an excellent trail guide, setting a comfortable pace and stopping occasionally to explain things about Belize’s flora and fauna, and pointing out how the vegetation changed as we went up and down the mountains and through bands of broadleaf jungle and pine forest. The ride to Big Rock took about three hours, and we covered some trails that I hadn’t yet explored since they’re further from home than I usually venture on my own. Tom and Gilroy met us at the falls with our lunch, and we spent about two hours eating and swimming.

Big Rock is beautiful, with a very high waterfall pouring into a deep hole which is surrounded by large, high rocks – perfect for jumping and diving into the pool. Tim and Kelli echoed the feeling that I have so often here – it’s still unbelievable that places Big Rock are virtually in our backyard, just a short horseback ride from home. We left Big Rock and took a more direct route home, so our return trip only took about 2 hours. It helped that the horses knew they were heading home and were a little more agreeable about hurrying, although at one point we started cantering up a long hill and both Burrito and Tony decided that cantering up hills isn’t in their contract. Selwyn and I waited at the top on our feisty mares as the boys ambled up the hill, and then we were again on the road home.

Wednesday was really our only rest day during Tim and Kelli’s visit. They were tired because the trip here had taken most of two days, and the previous day’s horseback ride had been long, especially for people not used to riding. They slept in, and we did laundry and hung out around the house, looking at tour books and maps and making plans for how to see as much as possible during their visit. We took another trip into San Ignacio in the afternoon for more produce, and to pick up some fish to make fish tacos, and some of Trin’s pork chops, which are so good that I love them even though pork isn’t my favorite meat, and which Kelli ate, even though she eats virtually no red meat.

On Thursday, Tom still wasn’t feeling better, so we decided to drop Tim and Kelli at Barton Creek so they could tour the cave while we went back to La Loma Luz. We made the trek back into Barton Creek, just in time for them to join a group about to head into the cave. We headed out through Cool Shade and into Santa Elena, where Tom saw another doctor. This doctor reviewed Tom’s blood work and did a complete physical, but the results were no more conclusive than his first visit. However, this doctor said that his symptoms were typical of malaria, so we left the hospital with instructions to get back to the hospital as soon as his fever spiked, since the rising fever is a sign that the red blood cells are emitting the malaria parasite, and that is the only time the malaria will show up in a blood test. By this time it was after 1:00, so Tom and I grabbed lunch before heading back to get Tim and Kelli, who were having a great time eating lunch with the owner of the Barton Creek Outpost, and enjoying rum and cokes on the deck overlooking the swimming hole. Jim, the owner of the Outpost, had managed to intrigue Tim and Kelli about La Ruta Maya, an annual canoe race that goes from San Ignacio to Belize City every March. Jim and his wife have done it twice, and are now in the business of helping teams from out of Belize enter the race. When we got there and heard what they’d been talking about, Tim, Tom, and I immediately started bickering, as only family members can do, about how many teams we’d have, who’d be on whose team, and who got to sit in the back. All, of course, assuming that Matt and Nicole and Pete and JB would drop whatever they’re doing in March to fly to Belize for a grueling four day canoe race…

We tabled the La Ruta Maya discussion, I thanked Jim for taking care of my little brother, and we headed home with Tim and Kelli still exclaiming over how cool the Barton Creek Cave tour was. When we got home, Selwyn taught Tim to knock coconuts out of the tree, and to use the machete to put a hole in the top to get the coconut water out for rum drinks. We had our usual late dinner, and as we were cleaning up around 9:30, Tom started to wilt. He took his temperature, and it was 102.5 and heading up, so Tom and I jumped in the truck and headed for La Loma Luz. We arrived there about 10:15, and they called the lab tech who draws and analyzes blood to come in to test Tom. She got there about 15 minutes later, took the blood, and went to analyze it. By the time she had the results, it was about 11:30, and it wasn’t all that encouraging for us to hear that the bloodwork looked about the same as it has looked all along, with no sign of malaria, dengue, or a bacterial infection. She said that Tom should talk to a doctor about possibly being treated for malaria despite the lack of positive results, but she couldn’t do anything because only a doctor can prescribe the malaria treatment. We got back in the truck and headed home, which is a long slow road on a dark night.

We slept in a little on Friday, and did more laundry, trip research, and hanging out for the morning. In the afternoon, we took a tour of the three caves on Bol’s land. I’d been in his Museum Cave, but hadn’t visited the other two. It was interesting for Tim and Kelli to see all the artifacts in the Museum Cave, and interesting for all of us to see how different caves can be. All three contain pottery artifacts, but other than that they’re amazingly different. One can only be accessed by climbing into a hole in the ground by going down a ladder. The other two can both be entered by walking in at ground level, but one is mostly granite, with large boulders on the floors, walls, and ceilings, while the other has dirt floors and red rock on the sides and ceiling. Because the three caves are scattered around Bol’s property, the walk from cave to cave on the paths Bol has cleared through the jungle was also very interesting.
Bol’s caves

On Saturday, Tom was still sick, so we decided to take yet another ride into Santa Elena to visit the hospital. We stopped there around 11:00, and were told that a doctor was coming in at 12:30, so we went into San Ignacio and went to the market and went to Mayawalk Tours to book a trip to the ATM Cave for Tim, Kelli, and me. On the way back into Santa Elena, we stopped at a roadside barbeque stand and had chicken and pork BBQ and tortillas for lunch. The guidebooks say to avoid eating at the roadside stands, but none of us seem to have any problems with roadside food. We spent another couple of hours at the hospital for Tom and his blood to be analyzed. Malaria and dengue tests were still negative, and both the doctor and the lab tech agreed that their best diagnosis was that Tom had a virus, which should have been gone within five days to a week, but which apparently was a little longer lasting than that. They sent him home, but arranged to have him come in for blood tests and X-rays on Monday.

We took advantage of the fact that we were in San Ignacio and went with Tim and Kelli for our first visit to Cahal Pech, a small Mayan ruin right on the San Ignacio town line. Cahal Pech means “place of ticks,” a name given to the site in the 1950’s when the land was used as cow pasture. Although the ruins themselves are small compared to Caracol or Tikal, the visitors’ center is excellent, with artifacts and displays that provide a good background on Mayan life and culture at the time the cities that are now ruins were thriving. It was very pleasant to tour the ruins since we had the entire site almost to ourselves, with the exception of a gentleman from California named Pat, who was travellling with his two teenaged daughters. We chatted with him for a while, with Tim and Pat discussing hockey – not exactly what I’d expect two Californians to discuss in July in the middle of the jungle, but they were both pretty passionate about it. We then headed home, with a stop at Sak Tunich, a museum/gift shop between Cristo Rey and San Antonio, where the owners do slate carving. Tim and Kelli bought a carved Mayan calendar, and Kelli and I each got slate medallions carved with animals to be worn as necklaces. (Tom still wasn’t feeling well so he was trying to help a guy with a broken down vehicle in the parking lot get his car started.)

On Sunday, we did the Caracol day drip with Augusto and Elizabeth and their boys Calvin, Anthony, and Abner, along with Lucy and Iris. That meant getting us and the neighbors ready and in the truck by 8:45 so we could make the 9:30 convoy to Caracol from Augustine. Not an easy task, but we got there right on time, and drove up to Caracol with a 10 vehicle convoy. On the way, we were driving through flocks of butterflies, yellow and white and brown, all fluttering in the open space over the road and between the trees on either side. We toured Caracol, which is an interesting comparison with the much smaller Cahal Pech.

In addition to soaking up the history of the Mayas, Tim and Kelli enjoyed playing with the boys, and racing the girls up and down the temple steps. We had a picnic lunch, then got in the convoy for the trip back down to Augustine. From there, we made a quick stop at the Rio Frio Cave, and then went to swim in the Rio On Pools. The boys splashed in the pools near the path, and Tim, Kelli, and I climbed a few levels down the rocks. That was fun until Tim went through a slide and picked up a mess of leeches, which sort of quelled our enthusiasm about playing in the water. After de-leeching Tim, we climbed back up the rocks, only swimming where we had to, and only in the pools.

On Monday, we did the tourist trip that’s probably the highlight of every tourist’s visit to Belize – Actun Tunichial Maknal Cave, better known as ATM, where you need to swim, wade, and climb up a river in a cave to an underground Mayan ceremonial site. Tom couldn’t go because he had to go talk to the doctors even though he hadn’t had a fever since Saturday night (and the docs told him that he probably had a virus which had run its course, which seems to be the case since he’s been better since then), but he dropped off Kelli, Tim, and me at Mayawalk Adventures in San Ignacio. There we met up with our guide, Gonzo, and two of the other people who took the tour with us, a couple of women just out of college and getting the travel bug out of their systems by busing through Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize before starting grad school in the fall. We picked up our lunches and took off in a van, stopping on the Western Highway at the ATM turnoff to pick up another couple who had traveled in from Ambergris Caye just to do the cave. The tour is everything the guide books say it is; Tim and Kelli, who have done quite a bit of traveling, said it’s possibly the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen, and even though I’ve done the tour before, I was still awestruck by both the physical features of the cave, and the Mayan artifacts it contains. We went in to the cave at around noon, and didn’t come out until after 4:00, but it seemed like we were only in the cave for a little while.

On the way home, Tim had to yell at Gonzo for putting ideas into my head. Somehow the topic came up that I have an empty birdcage, which was my frivolous item to bring to Belize. (Tom’s was the eight-foot steer horns now hanging on the wall of the cabin.) I thought I’d use it for small parakeets or parrots when we got here, but after watching the parakeets and parrots fly around in the wild, I haven’t had the heart to look for any to keep in the cage, and I figure that sooner or later I’ll find a small orphaned bird that needs saving and rehabilitating before being returned to the wild, so I’ll use the cage for that. I explained this to Gonzo, and he informed me that if I found a baby chachalaca, it would stick around the property when I turned it loose, acting as a guard bird, and even following me through the jungle when I’m out riding. I, of course, resolved to begin hunting for a baby chachalaca, while Tim reprimanded Gonzo and asked if it wasn’t enough that I already had five dogs and a few horses trying to follow me where ever I go. But how cool would it be to have a guard bird accompanying Esmerelda and me on our rides through the jungle? For pictures, a video, and some sound clips, look up chachalaca on

Tuesday was Tim and Kelli’s last full day at our place. The three of us and Selwyn left bright and early on the horses for a trail ride and lunch at Sapodilla Falls. We rode on a trail that Selwyn made when he worked at Blancaneaux, and he pointed out the spots where he’d encountered fer-de-lance snakes when they were making the trail. Fortunately, we didn’t see anything more exotic that a blue-crested mot mot (a large bird). Sapodilla Falls is different from Big Rock, but in some ways even more impressive. It’s sort of like the Five Sisters Falls, where a series of small waterfalls work their way down over the boulders and through pools as the river level drops by a good 600 feet or so. We climbed up the rocks and swam in the pools, and then dried out on the rocks before getting back on the horses for the ride home. Kelli pointed out when we got home, that until the last mile or so that we rode on the road from the Forest Reserve gate, we didn’t see or hear any people. Before the ride, Selwyn said that he likes Sapodilla Falls better than Big Rock, and we were all so impressed with Big Rock that we didn’t believe him. However, after seeing Sapodilla Falls and having it all to ourselves, we all agreed with Selwyn by the end of the ride. The downside was that because the falls are accessible only by foot or on horseback, Tom couldn’t meet us for lunch, but we decided that when our friends Matt and Stephanie are here next week, Tom can accompany them on their ride to Sapodilla Falls and see it then.

After a long day on horseback, we planned to have an early dinner, get to be early, and get up and on our way to Caye Caulker early Wednesday morning. Naturally, that didn’t work out as we planned. First Damion, Olmi, Wilton, and Daisy stopped by, shortly followed by Maria, Lucy, George, Ronald, Iris, and Zulmi. The second group ended up staying for dinner, and by the time we said our goodnights and cleaned up, it was after 11:00pm.

On Wednesday, it turned out that the late night didn’t really matter. We were still up and packed and on the road at a little after 9:00, and we decided to stop and let Tim and Kelli say goodbye to all the neighbors, who are now good friends after visiting with Tim and Kelli for over a week. The quick goodbye turned into over two hours by the time we went to everybody’s houses, Kelli distributed the remainder of the grab bag, Tim played with all the kids, and the women who speak only Spanish took advantage of Kelli’s last few minutes here and used her as a translator. We took a quick stop to see the progress at Sharyn’s lodge, and Tim and Kelli got the tour so they can see how the nicer resorts in Belize are built. While there, we remembered a few things that we wanted to take to Caye Caulker, so before we hit the road, we made a quick stop back at the farm, and we were on the road shortly before noon.

We had a good lunch at Amigo’s on the Western Highway between Belmopan and Belize City, and then drove into Belize City to the Municipal Airport to catch a flight to Caye Caulker. We pulled into the airport parking lot, an attendant told us where to park and came out to help us with our bags. We went into the terminal and told the woman at the desk that we wanted to go to Caye Caulker. She made a gesture out the window, told us that a flight was just about to leave but she’d get us on it, and took our information and fares. Another attendant put our bags on the plane, we followed, and less than 10 minutes later we were on the ground in Caye Caulker, which probably wasn’t 15 minutes from when we pulled into the Municipal Airport parking lot. A Tropic Air employee met us as we got off the plane and gave us our receipts and official tickets for our return trips, and that was that.

Very few cars are on Caye Caulker, but we were met right on the runway by a golf cart cab. The cab driver asked us where we wanted to go, and when we didn’t know he took us to a hotel called Tropical Paradise. We were initially turned off because the girl at the desk gave us higher prices than what the cabbie had quoted, and when we started to walk away, cheaper rooms suddenly became available. We still walked away, and had the cabbie take us to another hotel, but that hotel was booked for the night so we ended up back at Tropical Paradise – and Paradise it wasn’t. The rooms were okay though, so we dumped our stuff and took off to find a dive shop to arrange a few dives for Thursday and Friday. We went to Belize Diving Services, and met Dawn, one of the owners, who was extremely helpful. She asked where we were staying, and when we told her, she told us to carry our valuables with us because things tended to disappear from rooms at Tropical Paradise. We arranged our Thursday dive, and went back to the rooms to collect anything of value, and then headed out for drinks and dinner.

We ended up at the Sports Bar per Dawn’s recommendation, and had a great time. The drinks were good and cheap, with an all night two-for-one special on rum punch (we were thinking of you Mom). We ate fresh lobster, which was really good, and were having one more drink when one of the employees picked up a microphone and announced that the Wednesday night trivia contest was about to begin. It didn’t cost anything to enter, and the first, second, and third prizes were $50, $30, and $20 off your bill. Tim and I figured that after being raised by a trivia-crazy mother, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more drinks and play, so we registered as Team Moonracer, collected cards and a pen for recording our answers, and waited for the questions. Some of the questions seemed obvious to us, and for some we had no idea, but we played with about a dozen other teams and ended up in third place, and pretty proud of ourselves! What was funny was that for the bonus question, we made a complete wild-ass guess at the answer – and got it right, giving us enough points to get in the ribbons. Or bar credits, in this case.

We got back to our rooms about 11:00, and Tom and I decided to shower before bed. The shower was clean and the water pressure was good, and Tom and I were enjoying our first hot showers in seven months, when the temperature control started to get sort of funky. The shower had one of those single knob controls, and Tom started to move it around to try and stabilize the temperature. Much to our surprise, it came off in his hand, sending a fire-hose like spray of water from the front of the shower where the knob was to the back tiled wall, spraying all over the bathroom. There was no way to stop it, so Tom donned a towel and headed out of the room to find somebody in management. Nobody answered his yells, and the water was still flooding the bathroom and starting to seep into the room, so he crawled under the floor of the raised rooms to find the valve to stop the water. He found it, but unfortunately it cut off the water to one or two rooms down the line from us. I then came out and started yelling, and finally a man came out of one of the buildings to see what was going on. Tom showed him the shower knob, which he’d been carrying in his hand the whole time, and he told us to go back to bed and they’d deal with it in the morning.

That was great, except we now didn’t have any water in the room – no tooth brushing, no toilet flushing, no nothing. Nor did our downstream neighbors. We brushed our teeth with bottled water and went to bed, figuring that the hotel managers would apologize to us in the morning. However, morning came pretty early – like around 4:00am – when our neighbors apparently realized they didn’t have any water and crawled around under the building to find the valve, which they turned on, which turned on the wall-to-wall fire hose in our shower, waking us up. They must have realized what was happening, because after turning it off and on a few times, they turned it off – but we were already awake. About this time we’re thinking that maybe it would be a nice gesture for the hotel to comp us our room for the night, since we had no water and not much sleep. Tom waited until the girl opened the office at 7am, and walked in and told her what had happened. She took the knob, and said she had to go talk to the owner. She was back a few minutes later, and approached us and asked Tom to show her how he broke the shower. We thought the slightly offensive wording might just be due to her lack of fluency in English, but it wasn’t. When Tom showed her what happened, she said no, she wanted to see what he hit the knob with to knock it off the wall. About that time the top of my head blew off, and I asked her what she thought happened, and she said she thought we banged the knob off the wall. Somewhere along the line the owner joined the conversation, and he echoed the office girl’s opinion, despite the fact that Tom was showing them that the metal on both sides of the break was completely corroded and crumbling under his fingertips. The owner then said that he wanted us to pay $100 to replace the knob that we broke, which sent both of us over the edge, and we told them that we thought we should be comped for our night’s stay since their worn out equipment caused us a rather uncomfortable night. However, they apparently felt that the gringos should pay, and kept insisting that we owed them $100, so we packed up our stuff, Tim and Kelli packed up their stuff, and we told them our stay at their hotel was over, when they would have had another night with us and two more nights with Tim and Kelli. This worked okay for Tom and me since we’d paid cash for just one night, but Tim had paid for three nights with a credit card, and they said they couldn’t reverse the charge. That had all of us yelling, but fortunately Tim was level headed enough to explain to them that they could either reverse the charge or give him the cash back for the additional two nights, or he could call his credit card company and cancel the whole transaction. For some reason they saw the sense in this, and gave him cash back for the other two nights.

We made it to the dive shop, just a few minutes late, and when we explained to Dawn what had happened, she assured us that everything was fine and all we had to do was get on the boat and go diving. We were all a little nervous because of the four of us, Tom was the one who had been diving most recently, and that was two years ago. It was more like three years for Tim and Kelli, and four years for me. We had told Dawn that we were a little rusty and nervous when we signed up for the dive, and she assured us that we’d be well cared for and that we had nothing to worry about, and she proved true to her word.

Only the four of us were diving, and we had our very patient dive master, Ricardo, our boat captain who is also a dive master, Major (or Minor or Fatboy, since we heard him called all three names), and a dive master in training, John. They took us on a couple of fairly easy dives, helped us brush up on our skills, and Ricardo served as a great guide underwater. We saw many amazing coral formations, lots of colorful fish, two turtles, and a shark. We all felt much better after two dives, and headed back for the dive shop to sign up for another couple of dives on Friday.

When we got back to the dive shop, Dawn met us and booked our Friday dives. She then told us to go get some lunch and come back to the shop, and she would drive us around in her golf cart and help us find another hotel. That’s exactly what we did, and we ended up in the very nice Barefoot Beach Inn, a hotel right on the ocean with very nice rooms, and Susan, the very nice owner. We thanked Dawn profusely, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the beach and the hotel’s dock. Tom and I took a walk because we had seen a woman walking five Jack Russells on the beach, and had been told that she was the owner of one of the other hotels. We had in the back of our heads that we might take Lou with us next time we go out to Caye Caulker (he makes house/horse/dog sitters crazy with his whining), and we thought a Jack Russell owned hotel owner could probably give us good advice about traveling on the cayes with a dog. We were right, and Doris not only told us where to stay with a dog (not with her since her Jacks would fight with other Jacks), but also asked where we lived, and when we told her she gave us a big pep talk about how Belize needs a reputable dog boarding place, and since we have all the cat cages she thought we should do it. She offered all kinds of assistance and advice and people to contact, so we came away from the conversation with slightly more homework than we had expected, but it was good to hear that we might be able to get a successful business started. Coincidentally, Doris’s hotel and kennel name is Tree Tops, which is very close to the kennel name of Lou and Nock’s breeder Catherine, which is Tree Top, and Lou and Nock are actually Tree Top Louie and Tree Top Nock. What are the chances of that?

We were all tired so we had a fairly early night, and managed to show up at the dive shop a little bit early, with enough time to make a quick run to the Caye Caulker Bakery for their famous cinnamon rolls. They’re certainly not Philadelphia cinnamon rolls, but they’re good and provided some calories for us to burn off while diving. The dive boat was a little more crowded on Friday, with a group of three divers doing their open water dives for their certification, a woman, Kerri, who teaches in Costa Rica in an International Baccalaureate program, a couple from California, Matt and Sarah, and a guy from Germany, Jerg. Matt, Sarah, and Jerg went with one dive master, and Kerri went with us with our dive master, Eugene.

Our first dive was a canyon dive, which I hadn’t done before, and we again saw lots of interesting sea life and coral formations as we swam through the canyon. Our second dive was a shelf dive, which was also a first for me, and we saw even more undersea life.

That dive was especially interesting because Major had used Eugene’s tank during our surface/lunch break, and while Eugene was leading us along the shelf, he ran out of air. He swam over to Tim and used his extra regulator to breathe to take us to the other group to finish our dive. After he turned us over to the other dive master, he headed for the surface, and apparently still had enough air for his safety stop because he was safe in the boat when we finished our dive.

We were back on the surface around 2:00, which gave us plenty of time for another drink before going to shower in Tim and Kelli’s room before catching our flight back to Belize City. We said our goodbyes with Tim and Kelli, started planning their next trip to Belize, and got on the plane for the hop back to the mainland. We had an uneventful ride home, and returned to find Selwyn and five happy dogs. Tim and Kelli had another half day on the beach before heading back to California Saturday afternoon.

We spent the weekend catching up on all the stuff we didn’t do while Tim and Kelli were here – cleaning, laundry, animal care, and sleep. We’ve spent this week doing all the final touches on the cabin we’re living in, like putting shelves in the bathroom and screening the back porch. Selwyn has been doing a little remedial work with Glinda since she was a little jumpy on our two trail rides, so he and I have gone out for a few two to three hour trail rides with me on Esmerelda. The big progress news is that Tom finished grouting the shower, and he picked up a water heater in Spanish Lookout today, so we may have our first showers in the cabin – with hot water – tonight. This is happening just in time, because the mornings have started to get a little cooler, and since I’ve been exercising in the morning I shower in the morning, and it’s been a little on the chilly side lately.

And, we’re picking up our friends Stephanie and Matt from New York at the airport in Belize City tomorrow, so we’ve been getting ready for another week with good friends. So don’t expect any regular blog entries, because I’m sure I’ll be so busy having fun that blogging won’t even be on my radar.

Tom was clearing up some brush and heard a munching sound, and saw these grasshoppers/locusts chowing down this plant. They chewed on it for a few minutes after I took the picture, and then left.

Nock and Beli are two sweet girls. You can see in this picture how much bigger Beli is than Nock.

Augusto noticed this mass of caterpillars on a tree at Caracol. We don’t know what they’ll be when they turn into either butterflies or moths, but there were a lot of them on this tree and they were big.

Selwyn found this scorpion when he was clearing a space for the water tank up on the hill. He says these scorpions are mostly found in the jungle rather than around where people live, and they’re more poisonous than the common spider scorpions, which are what we get in the house occasionally.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Just a few neighbors over for dinner...

On Friday, we managed to pull off dinner for 32, including Tom, me, and a few babies. As I mentioned in the last blog, we wanted to invite the families next door over to see the graduation pictures, best viewed on one of our computers. My plan for the day was to run to San Ignacio first thing to go to the market, since I needed a lot of produce that I didn’t want to store, and I wanted it to be fresh. After my Wednesday trip to Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio, I planned to make a quick run into town, and then head home. Ofelia had asked if she could go along for the ride, which was more than fine with me since we always have a good time together, and she’s a really useful shopping resource since she shares cooking duties for their big family with her mother, so she knows a lot of tricks for feeding big groups, and was feeding work crews of 11 men all by herself before she started working at Hidden Valley. When I pulled up in front of their house, she came out with Lucy and Iris, and asked if we could stop and pick up Elizabeth, since her six month old baby, Abner, had been running a fever for a day or so, and she wanted to take him to a doctor in town. Of course I can’t turn down a sick kid, so the quick trip with Ofelia and me turned into a fairly sizeable outing. Add to that the fact that Tom and I were out of cash, and everything we do here is on a cash basis, so I had to make a side trip to Spanish Lookout to cash an American check. We left as planned shortly after 7:30, but when I got to the check cashing place, the manager who approves the checks wasn’t planning to be in until 10:00. I must have looked distressed, because the receptionist asked me if that was a problem. I stuttered something about how I was having dinner for more than 20 people, I had to do some shopping in Spanish Lookout and then get to San Ignacio to go to the market, and then I had to get home in time to make said dinner – and I had about $40 in my pocketbook. She very kindly called the manager at home, and said he’d be in within a half hour, so we took off to get a few things ($25 worth) at FTC.

When we were loading the truck in the parking lot at the Farmers’ Trading Center, I had one of those small world experiences. A friend of ours from New York produces and sells horse training videos, and she had contacted me because she has a customer in Belize. She gave me his name, and asked if she could give him our names and contact information, and of course we agreed. He just happens to be the grocery manager at FTC, so we knew we must have seen him even if we hadn’t officially met. I had asked for him when I was there on Wednesday, but he wasn’t in, and on Friday I was in too much of a hurry to look for him. However, one of the girls who knew I had asked about him on Wednesday alerted him that I was in the store, and he ended up following me out to the truck to introduce himself. We had a very nice chat, and I was delighted to meet him despite the fact that the clock was ticking. We finished talking, he went back in the store, and I heard a truck beep next to mine. It was Noah’s stepson and sister-in-law, out for their day of shopping. So, I talked to them for a few minutes while the girls waited in the truck, caught up on what’s been going on with them since they were at our house a couple of weeks ago, and then got in the truck. One thing I’ve learned down here is that it just doesn’t pay to ever be in a hurry. Something is always going to slow you down, and the kicker is that whatever is slowing you down is almost always something worth the time, whether it’s meeting new people or just keeping up with the friends we’re making here. And, in this case, it didn’t really matter because when I went back to get my cash, I ended up following the manager into the building as he arrived – so if I hadn’t taken the time to talk to Bernard and Fred and Mercedes, I would have ended up just sitting in the other parking lot anyway.

We didn’t pick up any old ladies this trip, just made a straight shot to San Ignacio. I had to go to the market, the bank, and one of the grocery stores, Elizabeth had to take Abner to the doctor, and Ofelia and Lucy had some film they wanted to drop off to be developed. It was just about 10:00, and we agreed to meet back at the truck in about an hour. I did my shopping, and then went to the bank, where I was dismayed at the long line. I had forgotten how busy the bank can be on a Friday. However, the line moved quickly and I was out at just about 11:00, and made it back to the truck. Iris came back, and said that Ofelia and Lucy we’re waiting in the square for Elizabeth, so we decided to pick them up and drive to the doctor’s office so Elizabeth wouldn’t have to walk with the baby. That sounded good in theory, except that Elizabeth had finished at the doctor’s office and was trying to get the medicine the doctor had prescribed and couldn’t find it at any of the pharmacies. So, she was walking around to all the pharmacies, and didn’t even see that we’d parked the truck by the doctor’s office. It must have looked a little like a Keystone Cops routine, because the four of us were running around trying to find Elizabeth and Abner, I was moving the truck back and forth between where we’d originally parked in case Elizabeth went there and the doctor’s office since that’s where Ofelia, Lucy and Iris thought I was parked, and everybody was losing everybody else. Iris and I finally hooked up, and I was having a panic attack because it was now almost noon, and I had a dinner to cook. We then found Lucy and Ofelia, and Iris told them I was having a panic attack, and they said we could just leave Elizabeth to catch the bus, but even the threat of a late dinner wasn’t enough to make me want to leave a woman and a sick baby in town to catch a bus to San Antonio and walk the three miles from there. I finally figured out that if dinner was late, so be it, and since all the women with me were guests, everyone would know why we were late. Finally we found Elizabeth, she explained what was happening, and that she had one more pharmacy to try. Fortunately, that pharmacy had the medication, so we got everybody loaded up and headed home right around noon.

Ofelia and Lucy saved my butt that afternoon. While I was throwing together a batch of brownies and a couple of pumpkin pies so they could cook before I had to put the turkey in, those two women peeled and chopped and peeled and chopped. They peeled 15 pounds of potatoes for mashed potatoes, five pounds of sweet potatoes, three or four pounds each of carrots and broccoli, and a couple of pounds of chochos for the stuffing. They also washed and dried all the dishes, dusted the table, and swept the floors. Somehow, we had everything either cooked or cooking by about 5:00, the kitchen was clean, and they were able to go home to shower before coming back for dinner with their families, and I was able to sit on the deck and have a drink with Tom without stressing about what was going on in the kitchen.

Almost everybody showed up by about 7:00, which was perfect timing for the turkey. We were only missing Maria, who had spent the day in San Antonio with her daughter Antonia and with Elizabeth and Augusto’s two older boys, the two boys, and Augusto, who had gone to pick them up. He missed picking them up, because while he was on the way there he passed Antonia, her husband John, and their two kids, who were bringing Maria and the boys to our house. But, that all worked out great because we could then include Antonia and John in the party, and Augusto was back before too long and was able to get a hot meal.

As I said before, we ended up feeding 32 people that night, and everybody was very happy with the American Thanksgiving menu. All of the women from next door are great cooks, so I wasn’t even going to try Belizean food because there’s no way my attempts would be anywhere near as good as what comes out of their kitchens. Everybody was a little funny about the American food, and there were a few things, like stuffing, that weren’t touched until some brave soul tried it and convinced everybody else that it was okay, and then they tried it too. It also helped that our American neighbor Sharyn was here, because she could tell the Belizeans what she liked, and that helped to convince them to try some of the strange food. The desserts were a hit, of course, and we went through two containers of ice cream in a flash. The kids held their Jenga tournament on the floor, where it was a little bit cooler, and we had a great time and think that everybody else did too. We ate off paper plates, but still had all the silverware and serving dishes, and Ofelia and Lucy again jumped in and helped me clean up the kitchen, so we had another night of Tom and I being able to just blow out the candles and go to bed.

As we were cleaning up, I was looking for a bag big enough for the picked-clean turkey carcass, and Ofelia and Lucy asked me what I was going to do with it. I told them I’d probably make soup, and they immediately said that I had to make escabeche, which is basically onion soup with poultry stock, with the onions soaked in vinegar before they’re cooked. Most of the women in the room must have heard the word, because they were all suddenly in the very small kitchen and giving me instructions on how to make escabeche, in English and Spanish and some combination of the two languages. I was just trying to track well enough to get a general idea of what I needed to do (which I did) when Ofelia touched my arm and whispered that the recipe is in one of my Belizean cookbooks which I had loaned to Ofelia a few months ago. I made the escabeche yesterday, and was a little bit panicked because a turkey carcass makes a whole ton of soup. I was just about ready to make the tortillas to go with it for Sunday lunch, wondering how Tom and I would ever manage to even make a dent in the pot of soup before it went bad, when we heard a “hello” from the driveway. It was Frank, who works with Noah, who was out driving around with his girlfriend, her two kids, and a cousin. I saw them arriving at lunchtime as salvation, and insisted that they come in and join us for lunch.

The gods do have a sense of humor, because after my refusal to try anything Belizean for the women next door, I found out that Angie not only cooks, but owns and operates her own restaurant in Santa Elena, which we’ve heard is very good. I don’t think she would have told me, but her daughter asked if we had anything else to eat, because she said her mother had made a big pot of escabeche for the restaurant on Thursday, and they’d been eating it ever since. It was no problem to pull out ham and cheese for ham and cheese quesadillas for the kids, and everything turned out okay. Angie said the escabeche tasted like it’s supposed to taste, and my tortillas came out relatively uniform and round. Of course Tom picked up the one with a hole in it and was compelled to hold it up to his face and peek through it, but overall they were presentable and at least resembled the homemade tortillas that the women around here make. Again, nobody left hungry, although Tom and I still have a pretty sizeable pot of escabeche to eat in the next few days.

In between food fests, we spent the weekend working on tiling the shower. Our goal is to have a working shower in the house before Tim and Kelli arrive a week from today, and we have a little way to go.

Tom and Selwyn took time out of the shower today to dig the holes for the footers for the second cabin’s additions because Tom is getting worried that if it starts raining, we’ll never get those footers poured. But, the floor of the shower is almost done, and Tom will start on the walls tomorrow. We’re not sure if we’ll have enough water pressure, so getting a working shower might involve getting a tank up the hill, filled, and getting piping so the water can come back down, but we’ll worry about that later in the week. We would also like to at least clear around the edges of the rest of the big pasture so we can get the fence up so we can turn the horses out there next week when we’re planning to take a few days off with Tim and Kelli. And, we have to figure out how to keep Nock from going through the screen on the porch, and I have some gardening work to do. I also don’t want to get behind on email and blogging again, since I’ve now spent an entire day at the computer, and not liking to do that is part of the reason we moved to Belize – although I guess I can’t complain about one day every two or three weeks, and if I did a better job of keeping on top of it, I could probably do it in an hour a day rather than having to spend a whole day.

Stout loves to sleep near Lou, and do whatever Louie does. You can see how big he’s getting in this picture. When we got them about five or six weeks ago, they were a little bit smaller than the Jack Russells.

Here’s another picture where you can see how big Beli is compared to Lou and Nock.

Here’s Stout, Mr. Innocent, sleeping in the wallow he created from the dogs’ drinking fountain. I think I’d only slapped him 10 or 12 times over the course of the day so far when I took this picture. Even though he’s bad, he makes us laugh because even as we’re charging over to give him a whack on the butt when he’s digging in the water, he gives us a look like he really can’t help it and his paws are doing it all on their own.

We’ve determined that Esmerelda isn’t pregnant, but even though nobody said anything about the possibility of Glinda being pregnant when we bought her, Selwyn and I independently noticed in the past week that she seems to be developing a somewhat belly-heavy profile. We put our heads together to try to remember if she’s been in heat since we’ve had her, and none of us can remember her showing any signs of being in heat, even when Esmerelda was.

Selwyn says –with a laugh – that he thinks we’ll have a “local plug” on our hands within a few months. I asked how she could be pregnant when she lived in his neighbor’s yard, and he said that she did occasionally get loose, and there are a few stallions who occasionally wander through San Antonio. None of them, Selwyn says, are stellar examples of horse flesh, and Glinda certainly isn’t the be-all end-all dream horse, but at this point I guess we’ll take what we can get and be happy with a healthy mom and foal. Unless we luck out and it IS just a hay belly…

And if any horse breeding experts out there can tell anything from these pictures – like if she really does look pregnant, and if she is, how far along she might be – please let us know!