Monday, October 29, 2007

Progress update

Tom and Selwyn are making great progress on the second cabin. The plumbing is all ready to be hooked up, and Tom is working on tiling the shower. The middle wall is framed and the door is hung, so all that needs to be done is to finish the shower, hook up the plumbing, and make the middle wall.

The room will be done then, although it will still need to be furnished. Tom wants to build the furniture himself, and we don’t think that will take too long. After all, when we decided to move into this cabin, he made a bed for us in about two hours! The beds he makes for the guest rooms will be nicer than our slapped-together-in-two-hours bed, but still shouldn’t take too long. We’ll also have a lot of finish work to do, like screening in the porch, but the windows all have screens so that won’t need to be done immediately.

Tom and Selwyn hung two new gates for the pasture last week, and we strung some more wire around the fence, so the horses should be secure for the time being. Plus, we’re still tying them out in our neighbors’ field, which means they’re not hungry and breaking out to find food, and the pasture only needs to contain them at night. I’m still not nuts about tying them in the field, but they all look so much better after a couple of weeks of good grass, and Elphie, the filly, is actually acting like a healthy young horse, kicking and playing all the time, so I’m swallowing my horse principles and letting them drag us out there every day.

Dogs are all well, although on Wednesday Stout and Beli will undoubtedly be whining a different story since that’s the day they’re scheduled for being spayed and neutered. Here, it’s outpatient surgery, so we’re dropping them off at 9:30am and picking them up at lunchtime. But, it’s time, and with all the unsprayed and unaltered dogs running around here, we don’t think we can afford to not take care of both of them.

We’re living dangerously and letting our four chickens have the run of the yard now. El Negrito wasn’t growing as fast as we thought he should, so we decided to let them out to free range as well as eat the chicken feed we give them. So far so good with them not being eaten by Nock or Lou.

That’s about it. I’ll add some pictures later in the week, but we loaned out our camera to document a town trip from San Antonio to Chetumal, Mexico, and we don’t have it back yet. I’ll probably even be able to post pictures of the trip, of people and places we don’t even know!

No Time in the Jungle

This blog title doesn’t mean that we don’t have enough time to do what we want here, although we are plenty busy. What it means is that apparently the gods are conspiring against us, forcing us to slow down and stop watching the clock. Or, in our case, clocks. And watches. And stop watches.

In the past couple of weeks, all but two of our time keeping devices have stopped working. First, my wrist watch faded to nothing and couldn’t be revived with a new battery. Then the stopwatch I use when I Nordic Track, which I thought I could stick in my pocket to replace my wristwatch, decided to stop working. Then the battery powered analog clock we had in the main room stopped. Then the digital clock/thermometer I had on the windowsill in the kitchen faded away. Finally, Tom’s wristwatch started randomly beeping and changing the time displayed, and he was unable to fix that. So, we’re left with the travel alarm next to our bed, and one old wristwatch I found with my stuff, which sort of works, but the lens is scratched, the numbers are small, and the Indiglo doesn’t work, so when I want to use that to see what time it is I have to put on my glasses and stand near a window where the sunlight is coming in. So far the clocks on our computers still work, but they’re only good when the computers are on, which is as seldom as possible.

So, we’re learning to be less clock dependent. We get up in the morning and eat and start our day, and when one of us gets hungry, we find a clock and see if it’s anywhere close to lunchtime. Sometimes we’re dead on and it’s time for lunch, and sometimes we’re not. If it’s still too early, we have a snack, and if it’s too late for lunch, we plan an early dinner. When Tom and Selwyn get tired of whatever they’re working on, they check the clock and determine if it’s quitting time or just time to start another job. When we get tired at night, we generally go to bed, even if the clock tells us it’s early. We’ll probably at least replace our wristwatches before too long, but in the meantime, we’re sort of enjoying living life off the clock.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flora, Fauna, and Flooding

Tom and Selwyn made a lot of progress on the second cabin this week, although it’s not really photographable progress. The bathrooms are completely framed, including the showers. The plumbing and gray and black waste lines are in, and ready to be hooked up as soon as we get the toilets, sinks, and showers installed. Tom’s big purchase in Spanish Lookout last week was a new table saw so he and Selwyn can start making furniture. We may have somebody staying here in November, so our goal is to have a bed for them to sleep in, and a working bathroom. Other than that, it’s all decoration, right?

After finding the coral snake last weekend, Tom was very cautious when he spotted another snake as he and Selwyn were chopping a small path for the water line to the second cabin. We didn’t get a picture, but we looked in the snake book and determined that this week’s snake was a blunt headed tree snake. It was very thin, and its head looked like the head of a poisonous snake, but it was just because its neck was so skinny that its head looked triangular. Besides having a very distinct pattern, its body was elliptical, which made it look even skinnier. Unfortunately Tom had nicked it with the pick ax before he spotted it, so we released it into the jungle but we’re not sure if it will make it or not. Here’s a website with a good picture and description: Blunt Headed Tree Snake

We also found bats roosting (or whatever it is that bats do during the day) in the new bathrooms of the second cabin. After taking pictures, Tom and Selwyn chased the bats out and put up the screens so the bats won’t get used to roosting there.

We haven’t seen them again, so they apparently went some other place to sleep.

I took Tony out for a ride last week and really wished I’d taken the camera. First, we were up on one of the sandy trails in the Pine Ridge and I saw a set of just about perfect puma tracks. It was very cool but a little bit scary because I’d ridden Glinda on the same trail the day before in the very wet sand, and the puma had followed the trail for quite a distance so it looked like the puma was tracking the horse. Then, on the way back down the mountain, despite the fact that it was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a blue sky, there was a perfect rainbow segment in the sky. The angle of the moisture in the air and the sun must have been perfect to create it, and I was in the perfect spot to see it as it was framed between the trees growing on the side of the road. At least the pictures are in my head!

When Tom went to Spanish Lookout last week, he came home and told me that the Iguana Creek bridge was closed because the river was over it. The ferry has been closed for a few weeks because the water has been too high, but this was the first time since we’ve been here that the bridge was also closed, which means that to get to Spanish Lookout from here we have to drive through San Ignacio and go through the hills to get to Spanish Lookout from the other side.

When we went to Belmopan to get our passports stamped on Thursday, I asked to take a small detour to see the water-covered bridge. From the pictures, you can see that we weren’t the only sight seers. Some people were there placing pebbles at the edge of the water on the road to see if it was going up or down, but I think most people were just there to see who was going to try to drive over the bridge despite the high water and what could happen. While we were there, a small truck came from the other side, stopped and looked, and then drove through. The water was over the truck’s door panels, but it made it. Then an oil tanker came from the other direction and didn’t even slow down before crossing the bridge, although after the small truck made it across, nobody had any doubts that the tanker would make it without any problems. That was enough for us, since it really wasn’t safe and we didn’t want to have to face an ethical dilemma about whether or not we should help if someone was swept off the bridge and into the river, since with the low railing and slick steel grate of the bridge, a vehicle being swept off the bridge was a very real possibility.

We spent a lot of time at the end of last week and over the weekend visiting with some neighbors we met from about three miles down the road towards Georgeville. Mark and his wife live in Minnesota right now, and split their time between Minnesota and Belize. This trip, Mark is down here with his father-in-law Don. Mark found our blog when he was looking for information on one of the hurricanes that was threatening Belize, and realized that we lived right up the road from their Belize house. We started exchanging emails, and we were all happy to meet in real life last week and determine that none of us were freaks posing as normal people on the internet. We’ve been comparing notes on living in Belize, and sharing information on where to get what we need to live and build here. Mark’s philosophy of living here is much like ours, so we’ve spent a couple of late nights just talking.

We’ve had to laugh a few times because of how our perceptions have changed since we’ve been here. There were a few things that we noticed the Belizeans doing when we were here on vacation that we could never figure out. One of these things was always using weed whackers to mow their lawns. We figured they just couldn’t afford lawnmowers. Now, we too mow our grass with a weed whacker, because we’ve found that there are so many rocks sticking up from the soil that we’d kill the blade on a real lawnmower in no time flat and it’s easier to just do the whole thing with a weed whacker. We also wondered before we moved here why something was always being burned. We too now always have a burn pile ready to light, and it’s because things grow so fast that if you don’t burn what you can, you’d be overtaken by piles of vines and brush.

Finally, we had to make sure Mark didn’t make too many cracks about Belizeans and their rubber boots, since both Tom and I practically live in ours, just like the rest of the people who live here. When the grass is always wet and itchy, rubber boots are the nuts to slip on your feet if you have to go outside for any reason. I’ve always been a fan of rubber boots, and in New York I called them my outside bedroom slippers since that was about how I’d use them; they lived by the back door, and if I had to go out to the barn I’d just slip them on and I was good to go in snow, rain, or mud, whether I was wearing riding clothes, jeans, a skirt, or a nightgown. When we moved here, I was riding in them one morning and met one of our neighbors on the road. He made a remark about how it looked like I was being assimilated since I had the standard issue Belizean footwear, and I had to confess that I’d brought them from the States. Now Tom has them too, and Mark finally admitted that he too has them to use when he’s here. We’ve all learned not to laugh at how things are done around here, since it usually turns out that they’re done how they’re done for a reason!

When we feed the horses, we tie up Tony, Es, and Glinda so they don’t snort their feed as quickly as possible and then go to try to eat everybody else’s feed. Nessa and Elphie aren’t tied because neither of them would dare to challenge one of the other horses. However, every morning, as soon as they finish, they head over to Tony’s are and take a nap with Tony standing guard.

They generally stay there and rest until we come out to untie everybody and take them out to the grass field.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wildlife Abounds

Compared to how long it took to get the cabin we’re living in completed, Tom and Selwyn are flying on the second cabin. The bathrooms are completely enclosed except for the wall one bathroom shares with the utility area, which Tom has left down intentionally in order to get big things into the bathroom.

The plycem is up for both showers, so those just need to be tiled, which we won’t do until the bathroom ceilings are done.

Tom has one of the sinks installed and the vanity partially built, and he spent part of the weekend getting the gutters up on one side of the cabin. Early this week, they’re going to work on the plumbing, and Tom is making a run to Spanish Lookout tomorrow for whatever plumbing supplies are needed and for some of the lumber needed to finish.

I have a good start on our webpage, and I’ve figured out most of what I need to know to get the pieces built. That’s a project a lot like building the cabins; the bulk of the work is pretty straightforward, but I know I’m going to run into a few walls as I try to get it finished – details like deciding on our rates so I can publish them on our rate pages. Tom and I will probably be spending a few late nights sitting at the table with our computers and spreadsheets, trying to agree on how to price everything from breakfast to rooms to guided horseback rides or hikes. It’s not that we haven’t talked about it and don’t have some ideas, but we have to run the numbers and make sure that the numbers we’re thinking about now are realistic. In any case, I’ll let everybody know when we have a web page appropriate for public viewing.

Today, Monday, is another Belizean holiday. As I understand it, it’s “American Day,” but I’m not sure what that means, mostly because it doesn’t seem like the Belizeans we’ve talked to really understand what it is. Some say it’s really “Pan-American Day,” where Belizeans are celebrating being part of Central America (everything between Panama and America), and some say it’s just “American Day,” celebrating Belize’s relationship with the US, in which case I guess Tom and I should be celebrating too. We've also heard that it's the same as the US Columbus Day, and that the holiday has something to do with Columbus. But, since nobody really seems sure, we’re just treating it like any other day.

Selwyn will be working, although we’ll pay him time and a half, and we may take a couple of hours this morning and go for a horseback ride, but other than that it’s just business as usual.

The reason we’re really going for a horseback ride this morning is the weather. It has been very, very wet and rainy and this morning, so far, it’s only cloudy. Until the middle of last week, we had sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, but Friday through Sunday were pretty much wall to wall rain.

From what we’ve read about the weather on line, it seems to be the result of a “sleeping giant” of a very wet low pressure system that parked over Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The sleeping giant is supposed to move up through the Yucatan in the next day or two, but the rain may not be over since another tropical depression had formed in the western Caribbean, as of yesterday. There’s really not much to do about it, so we’re just not making weather dependent plans, and we’re trying to get things to stay dry. Except our water tanks, of course, which are staying full.

I finally gave up waiting for sunshine yesterday and did a couple of loads of laundry. They’re hung on the line now, but there’s no telling how long it will take everything to dry; we’ll just have rainwater rinsed clothes! We’re also dealing with very muddy dogs, which is just annoying. Our bed sheets have muddy dog prints all over them since we can’t train the Jacks to stay off the bed, and we always have brown blotches on our legs where muddy dogs have rubbed us. One day last week I wanted to stay clean as I fed the dogs, so I suited up in my full rubber raingear outfit, boots, rubber pants, and rubber slicker; I’m sure I looked more like I was going to try to feed some dolphins rather than a pack of dogs. The good thing about the rain is that everything is growing. The coconuts we planted on the driveway months ago have suddenly doubled in size, and my latest batch of lettuce and basil is growing way faster than the first batch.

The puppies are growing like weeds too. We give them their monthly flea and worm treatments mid-month, so we weighed them yesterday to see how much wormer we need. Stout is up to 65 pounds, and Beli is a little over 60 – and their feet still look a little too big for them, so they’re still growing. They’ve both become good scorpion hunters, which we appreciate. When they see a scorpion, they stand at a good distance and bark at it, and we’ve learned that when they’re barking at a spot on the floor or the wall, the best thing for us to do is lock the Jacks in another room and get a machete.

Mellow is hanging in there, although he’s getting stinkier and stinkier from sleeping in his wet bed.

Lou and Nock are still working on keeping the puppies in line. They’re terrified of Mel, but as soon as Mel goes outside they start to run amok.

We’re going to be even more cautious than we have been about letting Nock out to hunt after our latest wildlife encounter. Tom went out to fill the generator yesterday, and saw a very colorful snake trying to get out of his way by crawling under the generator. Tom took a look at it, and came inside for the snake book. He determined that it was some type of coral snake, so he called for me, the camera, and a machete, and we went outside for a snake hunt. Coral snakes are very dangerous because Belize hospitals don’t have any antivenin for their bites. However, they’re also very shy, so unless you surprise it, you probably won’t get bit, and there are also snakes known as false coral snakes around here that look like the coral snakes, but are not poisonous. After consulting the snake book, we decided that this snake was definitely a coral snake, and its behavior supported that conclusion.

When we went back out to the generator, it had moved under the camper and was hiding behind the rolled up camper waste hose. Tom tried to chop at it with the machete without chopping the hose, and it didn’t strike at the hose, but just tried to crawl away. As it went behind the camper tires, Tom got a couple of good chops in, and it then went in a bigger hole under the camper. Because we didn’t know if it was dead and could no longer see it, Tom sprayed it with hornet spray to stun it, then got a stick and fished it out of the hole. It was still alive, but not in very good shape. Using the stick to help it along, Tom managed to get it over to the other side of the camper, where he was able to deliver the coup de grace and make it become a multi-part snake. We put it in a glass jar and Tom took it to the neighbors, who confirmed that it was indeed a coral snake. It’s very beautiful, with brilliant yellow, red and black rings, and being the mush I am, I didn’t like killing it because it was so non-aggressive. However, it was a dangerous snake in our living space, and I have no doubt that Nock would go after it if she saw it move, and if it was being killed by a dog, it would no doubt try to bite the dog to escape. So, the snake had to go.

On a happier wildlife note, the toucans are back. A couple of times in the past week we’ve had six or more toucans in the tree right over our cabin. With a whole flock croaking like frogs, we know they’re there and run out to look. They hop around in the tree for a while, feeding from the fruits, then fly away. We’ve also had a flock of aracaris, which are small toucan-like birds, stopping in our trees for a meal. And, we saw a black headed trogon in our pasture. We’ve seen glimpses of them through the trees in the jungle this morning, but this is the first one we’ve seen in a place where it was clear enough to get a good look.

Olmi has confirmed that La Negrita is in fact El Negrito. She said that this batch of chicks was strange because of the seven chicks, only two are hens and the other five are roosters, which is backwards from the usual ratio. This means I’ll probably eventually use another cage as a chicken coop, leaving El Negrito with the two hens we have now, and getting some new unrelated hens to coop with our white rooster. It doesn’t look like this is anything I’ll have to do right away, since El Negrito is taking full advantage of being a chick. He can now get himself up into the coop at night, but once he’s there he nestles under the white hen’s wing, and they both seem pretty happy with this arrangement. It’s very funny, because when we look in the coop we don’t see El Negrito, but if we call his name, his little head pops up out of the top of the space between the hen’s wing and her back, and he peeps at us. During the day the white hen keeps track of him, and clucks and purrs to keep him close. Olmi was in the house one day and asked which hen was setting on eggs, and was surprised when I told her neither, because she said that’s the noise a hen makes when it’s setting and is disturbed. When she went out to the cage yesterday to see El Negrito, she realized that the noise she was hearing was the white hen talking to El Negrito – and the white hen isn’t even laying eggs yet. There’s always something fascinating in the world of chickens!

We’re sure this week will fly by, since we have a long list of things we want to get done. Tom and Selwyn have work to do on the second cabin, I’m working on the web page, and there’s always the day to day maintenance. Tom is going to Spanish Lookout tomorrow for supplies, and we both have to go to Belmopan on Thursday or Friday to get our passports stamped again – already! If we get the two months’ of stamps we’ve been getting, that means we won’t have to go back until the week before Christmas, and then we’ll only have one more month until we’ve been here a year. Then we’ll be able to apply for permanent residency, although we’ll also have to figure out what to do in the time between applying and hopefully being granted permanent residency, which could be six months to a year. With any luck, we’ll be open for business during that time, which means we’ll probably have to get a work permit, which is more expensive than the monthly passport stamps, but we won’t have to go to Belmopan every other month. Whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to do to keep busy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Chop Chop, Puppies' rabies shots

On Wednesday, Tom and I had a day out in San Ignacio. The puppies, Beli and Stout, were due for their rabies shots a couple of months ago, but somehow we never quite got around to getting it done – probably because it wasn’t as easy of a task as it sounds like it should be. We got them in May, and the only time we’ve had them in the truck is when we brought them home from their breeder. We’ve leash trained them here, but leash training in the middle of the jungle doesn’t teach them about walking down a street in town when there are other people and – gasp – other dogs on the street. And, we just don’t take the dogs out in the truck much here because it’s always hot, so we can never just leave them in the truck for even a short time while we go do something else. Knowing that taking them for shots was going to be a 2-person job was one of the reasons we kept procrastinating.

But, we finally decided that Wednesday was it, and we were going to take them for shots. We loaded two very hesitant puppies in the truck, where they cowered and crammed themselves on the floor of the back seat as we went down the Georgeville Road. Fortunately, neither of them was carsick. We stopped first at BAHA (Belize Agriculture and Health Association, or something like that) to ask where we should take them, and were told to take them to a private vet. The problem then became finding a private vet, because it seems that most of the vets here have other day jobs, and we don’t get out much at night. We then stopped to talk to Gregg, the owner of the campground where we stayed when we first got to Belize, who is an animal nut and frequently rescues stray dogs. He said that his vet wasn’t in for the day, but told of us a place to go get the rabies shots where the vet also wasn’t in, but where the vet tech could do it.

So, that’s what we did. The vet tech was very helpful, gave the puppies their shots, gave us the paperwork, and told us what vaccinations we should get for Mel, Nock, and Lou. He also told us a few things we didn’t know, but that could be helpful in the future, like the fact that instead of having to get import permits for the dogs again if we take them out of the country and then bring them back, we can go to BAHA and get each dog a passport which will allow it to travel in and out of Belize without reapplying and paying for the import permits. We’re not planning any trips out of Belize with the dogs yet, but we have no doubt that at some point if we go back to the States for an extended period of time, we’ll drive and take the dogs.

The other thing the vet tech told us which sort of made us laugh is that although the three white dogs got 3-year rabies shots just about a year ago, they should get a booster every year while in Belize because rabies comes over from Guatemala every year so the dogs should be immunized every year. We were laughing because the vet tech made it sound like it’s all Guatemala’s fault that rabies outbreaks occur, and if we weren’t so close to the Guatemala border rabies wouldn’t be a problem in Belize – as though the path of a rabies outbreak somehow recognizes international boundary lines. Needless to say, when we talk to a vet we’ll get the vet’s opinion on whether the dogs should be boostered more frequently.

Overall for the day, the pups did quite well. After a few times in and out of the truck, they were a little more willing to jump in and out and didn’t have to be lifted like sacks of potatoes. Neither drooled too much or got sick, and after we made it clear that they were to stay in the back seat, they sat quietly. We ate lunch at Erva’s, where we could eat on the porch right next to the parked truck. We tied the pups in the bed of the truck while we ate, so they were able to stand at the rail and watch us eat and drool over our food. They were funny, because they quickly became possessive of the truck, although they weren’t consistently possessive. Some people were allowed to walk by and got nothing but grinning pups with wagging tails, and some people got barked at before they even got near the truck. One group of three people parked a few spaces down and then walked into the restaurant, and the puppies greeted them like long lost friends. Tom and I remarked on it, and one of the guys admitted that he works in a butcher shop and dogs always like him! When we got home, but puppies were delighted to be back in their yard with their friends, and they were exhausted that night, as you can see from the picture.

A funny thing happened on our way home. We drove through San Antonio just as school let out for the day, so the kids were all in the school yard waiting for the bus. As we drove by, some of the kids starting yelling “Chop, chop,” which is what they always yell to us when we go by their houses. It’s sort of shorthand for “hurry up,” and has become a running joke. I leaned out the truck window, yelled “chop, chop” back to them and made a chopping motion with my hands – and all the kids in the school yard, our neighbors and kids we don’t even know, broke into cheers! Tom and I laughed all the way home.

The only other big news this week is that El Raton seems to have succumbed to poison before Nock could put him out of his misery. As we were unloading our stuff from the truck, Tom called me to come to the front of the truck – and there was stiff, dead El Raton. Nock hadn’t been hunting in the kitchen for a day or two before that, so either he was already dead and we didn’t find him, or he was in the process of dying in the space under the house. However, we think he may have left survivors, so we’re continuing to secure the fruit and vegetables every night.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Big steps, little steps

Last week we had no holidays, no sick days, no emergencies, and our biggest distractions were shopping in Spanish Lookout and getting some work done on Tinkerbell, which are both really just part of progress around here. One of the things we had done to Tinkerbell was to get the exhaust fixed AGAIN, but like I said, truck maintenance is just part of the routine. Tom and Selwyn made a lot of progress on the bathroom addition on the second cabin, and as of this morning (Monday) they had the showers framed and the plycem on the floor of one and were working on the outside walls.

They plan to finish putting up two of the three sides on each of the bathrooms, but will leave the middle walls open where the utility room will be to make it easier to get the big sheets of plycem in when they’re ready to finish putting the plycem in for the shower walls.

Tom also finished hooking up our water system, so the only thing that remains to be done now is to bury pipe. We now have more options with water than we can figure out. We can fill either the tank by the road or the tank on the hill from the pipe if we have sufficient pressure, we can pump water from the bottom tank to the top tank, I can run a hose to my garden from the pipe via the fill pipe on the bottom tank, and the rainwater collection system is still working. Fortunately water isn’t really an issue for us right now, but I’m sure we’ll be glad of the various ways to get water when the next dry spell rolls around.

The animals are all fine. I finally managed to get a picture of Beli while she was awake but not moving. She’s already becoming a very good watch dog, and she spends a lot of time sitting in this corner of the porch where she can see down the driveway. If anyone comes, she gives a few warning chuffs, and if that doesn’t get any reaction from us she starts barking. That, of course, gets all the other dogs barking which is a little annoying, but we’re glad that she’s doing her job. Stout is more interested in following us around and drooling all over us so we’ll love him, but I’m sure his protective instincts will kick in sooner or later. The big dogs are all fine. Nock hasn’t yet captured the kitchen rat, although she’s still working on it. Mel has been feeling better, and although his hind end is weak and he sometimes wets his bed at night, he’s doing okay. Lou is Lou, doing his best to keep me in sight at all times and annoying the hell out of everybody when he loses sight of me.

George told us last week that if we wanted to we could tie our horses out in his mother’s field, which is adjacent to our pasture. While I’m not nuts about tying horses, the grass in the field is too good to resist, so we got some long ropes and we’ve been tying the horses out every day for four or five days. So far we haven’t had any problems with the horses getting tangled in the ropes, and they’ve all gained noticeable weight in less than a week. Glinda is even getting fat. Elphie’s ribs still show, but I guess while she’s growing at this age we’ll just have to live with that. We still have a dozen or so bales of hay in the shed, but we’ll save that for when we don’t have any more grass for the horses. The star grass that we put in the front pasture last week hasn’t taken off due to a mini-dry spell which started last Wednesday and just ended this afternoon (hence the reason I’m inside updating the blog), but we’re still hoping that a little bit of moisture will help it take root.

We haven’t found any exciting creepie crawlies this week, other than a couple of scorpions which, as I said last week, have become routine. We also haven’t seen anything exciting when we’re out riding in the jungle, although last week the three of us were out for a ride and we found Selwyn’s Uncle David, who is a professional birder, out on the trail. David works for various birding societies, mostly Birds Without Borders which is based at the Minneapolis Zoo but has an office down here where they study bird migration patterns. The Belize Government is working with the organization to get a better idea of what birds are in Belize, and is trying to get landowners to make their properties more bird-friendly. David was mapping a trail mostly on National Park land so some professional birders (and even he says this with a sort of sheepish grin) can walk on the three-mile stretch of trail he flagged twice each day, stopping every 250 yards to catalog the birds they see and hear. When we ran into David, we were on a trail I ride all the time, but David wasn’t quite sure where he was. This really surprised Tom and me, but Selwyn said that many people grow up around here and never set foot in the jungle, so they don’t know any of the trails. David admitted to us that he was glad we ran across him because he wasn’t sure how far out in the middle of nowhere he was, and he was glad to see people. He also said that he’ll make sure we get the results of the bird survey, and he’ll give us a copy of the pamphlet they’re creating about how to make our property more bird friendly.

On Friday night, Olmi and Daisy, followed by Wilton, followed by Damion, came over to talk. We do this once or twice a week, and Olmi works on her English and Tom and I work on our Spanish. Olmi and I talked about it, and decided that this is the best way right now for us to learn each other’s languages. We’ve both thought about doing it the traditional way, with classes, where you learn to read and write as well as speak, but decided that for now what we both need the most is just to be able to speak. I’m finding that I can read Spanish okay, although I have trouble writing it since I can’t tell a hard “c” from a “qu” phonetically, among other things, so my spelling is bad on top of my wretched grammar – which, being a former English teacher, really really bothers me. Doing what we’ve been doing for a few months now, we’ve found that we’re all getting better. We used to use Wilton and Daisy, who must learn and speak English in school, as translators, and they used to have to translate just about everything for us. Friday night, we talked for about two and a half hours, and I don’t think we had to turn to Wilton and Daisy more than two or three times. And, we’re learning all sorts of things that wouldn’t be taught in a formal class, like the fact that the Belizeans use the word “wishar” to mean urinate, which is really a Mayan word commonly used here, although not in other Spanish-speaking countries.

Olmi and I did, however, turn to one book. We’ve found that one of the topics where we both learn a lot about the other’s language is cooking, and we’ve both learned enough that we can talk about cooking pretty much indefinitely in Spanish or English or a mixture of the two languages without getting lost. My friend Vicky’s father, Jack, recently sent me a cookbook about Mexican and Central American food, and in addition to being a recipe book, it’s a reference book for all sorts of Mexican cooking methods, spices, and dishes. I showed it to Olmi, because although the text is written in English, everything with a name is named in both Spanish and English, so we were able to clarify a few things that had confused one or both of us, like the difference between a tostada and a sopa, which Olmi knew but didn’t have the vocabulary to explain to me. Olmi was very excited to find a whole chapter on tamales, so she could explain to me the different types of tamales and tamalitas. She had been trying to explain one specific kind and I wasn’t getting it, and she picked up the book and the exact thing she was talking about was explained over about three pages – no wonder I couldn’t get it! But once we went through the book it was perfectly clear.

Anyway, as we were talking about different things being cooked with different types of breads, pizza came up and we found that Olmi and Daisy had never had it, Wilton had only had it once – here – and Damion had only tasted it a couple of times. So, Tom and I invited the four of them over for a Saturday pizza lunch, and Daisy and Olmi came early so they could help out and see how pizza is made. It turns out that Olmi’s tortilla making skills were useful, since when I split the dough and tossed half to her to put on the pizza pan, she had hers stretched, spun, and spread out evenly before I could even get it shaped to the pan. We made a ham pizza and a sausage pizza with homemade sauce, and the six of us had a good lunch. Now I’m waiting for Olmi to start experimenting with pizza at her house, where she will no doubt give it a delicious Belizean twist!

Our only other big activity was trying to get a start on a web page. Since we’re getting close to getting the other cabin ready for guests, it’s probably time to start thinking about how we’re going to find the guests to fill the cabin. Much business in Belize’s tourism industry is generated on line, so while we’re hoping that word of mouth and walk-ins will provide some of our business, a web page is necessary. Our friends Karl and Kristen do marketing web pages for a business, so I contacted them last week and actually asked if they would do the page for us. Karl responded to me within minutes, with the information that Tom and I know enough to do the web page ourselves, with some guidance from Karl and artistic help from Kristen if necessary. He very graciously told us where and how to get the tools we need, set up a host for us, and has been available to answer our many questions. So, Tom and I spent yesterday with the generator running and the satellite on, sitting at our two computers at our dining room table and trying to figure out what we want to do and how we want to do it. We’re a long way from having a web page that anybody can take a look at, but we’ve hammered out a few design concepts and started to figure out what’s possible, so we’re on our way.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The second cabin and property progress

The second cabin is starting to look like it may some day be habitable. Tom and Selwyn installed all the doors, so it looks good from the outside. They also pulled all the nails out of the walls, and, since Selwyn finished tearing out the ceiling, they were able to remove most of the wiring. They installed the framework for shower floors, and plan to build the showers with plycem before they put the outside walls on the bathrooms. The final activity of the week was to spray the cabin with Dursban to kill all the creepie crawlies that have been living in there, and shut it up for the weekend. Selwyn is taking off on Monday, so Tom sprayed Friday morning and shut it up for four days. Tom finished his materials list for what’s needed to finish the cabin, and between a trip to San Ignacio yesterday and a planned trip to Spanish Lookout tomorrow, we should be able to get most of what we need to turn that cabin into two real guest rooms. We ordered the remaining tile we needed for the bathrooms yesterday, and that should be here in about two weeks, so with any luck we’ll be down to the final job of tiling the showers two or three weeks from now. Just like with our first cabin, “dos semanas mas!”

After spraying the cabin Friday morning, we decided it was time to go out and collect star grass for the front pasture. We’ve been buying star grass hay and the horses like it, and star grass grows all over on the sides of the road here, and Selwyn says that if you cut it and spread it in a pasture it will grow. Most of the weeds in the front pasture died after Tom sprayed them last week, so Selwyn cut us some crotched sticks, and we took our machetes and headed for a star grass patch on the road to San Antonio. It’s not hard to collect. You just take the short arm of the crotched stick and hold the grass, which grows in mats, up enough to get the machete under and cut it. You hack around in a circle and make a big pile of grass, then roll that up and throw it in the back of the truck. It was funny because it only took us about a half hour to fill the back of our pickup, but in that half hour Selwyn, who used to do this for Blancaneaux, did about twice as much as Tom and I combined. We brought it home and spread it in the pasture, and now we’re just waiting for it to grow. Selwyn says we should see it starting to turn green in about a week, and he said it will start to spread and grow within two to three weeks. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it works so we can start to have our own hay source for our horses.

Rainstorms this week filled the 1000 gallon collection tank next to the shop; and Tom is finishing the plumbing today so we can pump that water up the hill to be gravity fed to the house. We were amazed at how quickly a few good showers can produce 1000 gallons off a metal roof, but fairly small showers added about two to three inches of water each in the tank, and then one big one filled it the rest of the way. Lots of people around here drink rain water they collect, but since none of our tanks look all that clean, we think we’ll continue to drink bottled water. We’ve scrubbed the tanks with bleach and keep them closed, but somehow leaves and twigs and little bits of dirt and bugs get in there, so all the tanks have things floating on the top of the water or sitting on the bottom of the tank.

Ronald and Wilton worked Sunday morning, and part of Ronald’s job was to get the strangler fig vine out of one of our almond trees.

Ronald says he likes climbing way up in the trees and doing this, although everyone else was content to watch and shout instructions.

They also picked up and bagged the rest of the coconuts from the front and middle pastures and distributed the good ones to our neighbors, who will undoubtedly be eating lots of coconut rice over the next few weeks. The three of them also planted about 20 more coconut trees along the road and replaced 2 that died along side the driveway.

We’re getting lots of produce from our trees. Midweek, I picked enough ripe grapefruit to last us until sometime this week, and enough avocados for us, Selwyn’s whole family, and all of the neighbors. We’re also getting a few tangerines and limes, and I’m getting lettuce and basil and a few tomatoes out of my garden. The citrus trees are all loaded with fruit, so when they get ripe I think we’ll be providing everyone we know down here with citrus for a few weeks.

On Saturday, we finally went to Angie’s restaurant in Santa Elena. Angie is a friend of Frank, who works in Noah’s real estate office, and Angie, Frank, and Angie’s kids came out here to visit us a few months ago. They’re the ones who showed up just in time for escabeche and tortillas for lunch one day and after I’d spent weeks avoiding making tortillas for Belizean cooks, I found out that Angie not only cooks, but owns and runs a good restaurant. Anyway, ever since then, Tom and I had been meaning to go to her restaurant for lunch, but never had the time until yesterday. We had a great lunch, and a couple of hours of very enjoyable conversation with Angie, Frank, and Angie’s daughter Becky. Angie remarked on how much our Spanish has improved in a couple of months, and in addition to giving us a free lunch, she sent us home with a box of plants which she saw we needed when she saw our just started gardens when they were here.
Besides being a whiz of a cook, Angie is a whiz of a gardener. The walls of her restaurant are concrete halfway up, and the top half is cast iron lattice with flowering vines and hedges just outside, which makes the restaurant a delightful shady place to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s coffee and peanut season here, and the neighbors have all been busy working and picking the crops. As I’ve ridden the horses around the farm roads outside of San Antonio, fields that looked deserted a few weeks ago are now busy with peanut pickers. It’s all done by hand, so one crew goes through and pulls up the peanut plants, laying them back on the ground root side up to expose the peanuts. Another crew comes through and pulls the peanuts off the roots, and then a third crew goes through and picks up all the peanut tops to be dumped in a compost heap somewhere. The buckets of peanuts are then spread out on blue tarps to dry in the sun, and everywhere you go around here right now it looks like people have just graveled their yards because they have tarps full of peanuts everywhere. It appears that peanut season is a little trickier than bean season, because while the beans are dried in the same way, they were harvested in the dry season so they could be left out for days at a time. Now, it rains almost every afternoon, so somebody has to run out and cover up the peanuts.

We’re not quite sure what happens with the coffee, but all of our neighbors have been going up to the farm associated with the Hidden Valley resort and picking coffee. It grows on small trees, and they pick the ripe beans and put them in buckets. The farm dries them and keeps some to grind for the resort’s restaurant, and sells the rest, either ground or whole. We’re not coffee drinkers so we haven’t tried it, but we’re told the coffee is pretty good. Our neighbors are getting us some coffee tree seedlings so that we can eventually serve our guests home-grown coffee provided, of course, that my black thumb doesn’t take over and kill the coffee trees. And, we’ll just have to hope that if the coffee is awful somebody will tell us so we can stop serving it since neither Tom nor I would know a good cup of coffee from a bad one.

Animal News

We thought Mellow had reached the end of his days last week. He had diarrhea and a very sore neck or back. He would need to get up to go out, but he would just lay on his bed and cry because it hurt to move. Tom and I would help him get up and out, and he’d do his business and then go back t bed and cry. If we still lived in NY, we’re pretty sure we would have taken him on a one-way trip to the vet, but fortunately we’re here since he seems to be okay now, or at least as okay as an almost 11 ½ year old borzoi can be. He’s still spending a lot of time stretched out in his bed, but the diarrhea is gone and he gets up and goes out and runs around and doesn’t appear to be in any pain. He’s back to snapping at the puppies and parading around when he thinks things get out of hand.

With the horses, I spent all last week working with Esmerelda, who had decided that rearing and bolting was the solution to anything she didn’t want to do. We began the week with her being longed, and after rearing and falling over backwards in the mud while on the longe line, she’s a little more hesitant to rear since she really didn’t like thrashing in the mud. Fortunately I was longing her in our synthetic saddle. By the end of the week, her resistance had waned to planting her four feet and refusing to go forward, but it isn’t hard to kick at her and outwait her, and eventually she goes. I didn’t ride over the weekend, but I rode her again this morning and we rode around the property with only a few threats of misbehavior and she seems to remember how to go, stop, and steer, so I think she’s ready to go out on the trails again. George broke her just to ride through the jungle, and I’ve been pretty happy doing the same, but it’s apparently time to teach her how to be a riding horse with all the nice features like steering and brakes.

All the other horses are doing fine. Glinda is doing really well, getting to be more and more of a pleasure to ride. She’ll probably always have a little bit of a spook, but she tries really hard to please and hasn’t even attempted to buck me off.

Now that the weather is wetter, we’re fighting more ticks on the horses. I need to spray and wipe them with tick spray at least twice a week to keep them from getting ticks all over. Yuck. The ticks don’t seem to bother them, but they bother me, so all the horses are being treated.

Lou and the pups are fine. The pups continue to grow and nobody, including us, can believe how big they are. This is Stout, looking like a real dog. I managed to get this picture where he’s awake, but sitting still in one place long enough for me to snap a picture. I was not able, however, to get a picture of Beli, who was very busy trying to get Lou to love her.

Nock has been intent on catching the rat that comes into our kitchen at night. I make sure anything edible is put away, but it still comes and takes the rat poison, and chews on anything that smells at all like food. Nock spends part of every day sitting at the back of one of my open cupboards on the floor waiting for El Raton to show his ugly face. She’s made a couple of mad dashes through the backs of the cupboards, but so far El Raton has managed to escape.

Nock was stung by a scorpion one evening last week and had a cough and very red throat for about two days, but she’s fine now. We’d been told that a scorpion would kill a dog, but we’ve been told lots of things that we’ve discovered aren’t true, including things like the poisonous lizards around here (which aren’t poisonous) are the mothers to the very deadly fer-de-lance snakes (biologically impossible). In fact, we now like having these lizards in the house because they eat scorpions. I’m not sure if it’s a language issue or just a way of thinking, but people here tend to take things very literally, and if they hear it, they interpret whatever is said as the truth. For example, Wilton heard on the radio that on Independence Day there would be parades from Orange Walk to Belize City to Belmopan to San Ignacio to the south of Belize. He didn’t hear this as “many parades will happen in geographically diverse locations,” he heard “parades are going from Orange Walk to Belize City to…” and reported to us that these major parades would be marching from point to point in Belize. Of course, Wilton is nine, and he also heard the Hurricane Dean reports and told us that Dean was also marching down the Western Highway and would be stopping in the Pine Ridge, but it’s not uncommon to hear stories like this even from some of the adults, who don’t always question the viability of some of these things. Anything is possible in Belize!

But, back to Nock. I saw all the dogs scurry to a corner in the main room of the cabin, and got there just in time to see Nock jump back. She didn’t yelp or anything, but did a quick reverse. I grabbed Lou and Stout before they could get to it, and put my foot on top of it while I yelled for Tom and a machete. He killed the scorpion, and we noticed that Nock was doing a lot of licking. In about a half hour, she started coughing, and coughed all night. In the morning, her throat was red and swollen, but she didn’t act sick. She coughed for the next couple of days, but now she’s fine. We’ll still try to prevent the dogs from interacting with scorpions, but we’re much less worried now than we were a few days ago.

Creepie crawlies

A friend asked why we haven’t posted anything about the creepie crawlies lately and wondered if they’ve disappeared, or we’ve just become so used to them that they’re mundane and not worth mentioning. The answer is option B. I didn’t think it would happen, but we’ve reached the point that when we see a scorpion, whoever spots it just keeps an eye on it and shouts “Machete!” and the other knows to come running with a machete so the scorpion can be dispatched. We’d been very worried about what would happen to the dogs if they got too close, but after Nock’s encounter, we know that while a sting (probably minor, but still a sting) might lead to a couple of days of discomfort, it’s not serious. We still carry flashlights and/or wear slippers if we get up to use the bathroom at night because we don’t want to step on one, and we shake our towels and don’t stick our hands in dark places, but we’ve learned that the scorpions are generally slow moving and not at all aggressive, so we just don’t worry too much about them. Also, Petranela told us that this is “scorpion season” and that we’re likely to see more now than at any other time of the year, so if this is as bad as it gets, it’s not too bad.

News flash from Tom – Tom just got nipped in the thumb by a scorpion in a basket that he was looking through when it was dark and he got stung. It just felt like a pinch and that was all. No swelling, no pain, nothing else to report (except the odd twitch in his neck that pitches his head 90 degrees to the left every 12 seconds – only kidding). The little rascal – the scorpion that is – was quickly dispatched after locking the dogs in the other room. Marge grabbed a machete, while Tom stood watch over the basket for signs of an escape attempt by Sir Scorpion.

Another creepie crawlie encounter that I debated not posting was my meeting with a snake in my kitchen. I was making granola in the kitchen in the mid morning, and suddenly both Jacks were at attention looking into the space between the corner counter and the sink. I glanced down, just in time to see a tail disappearing in my appliances as the snake headed towards the stove. All I knew from this first glance was that it was a dark-colored snake, so I grabbed the dogs and threw them out of the kitchen, quickly following them and slamming the door. I yelled for Tom, calmly, I thought, and said I needed him NOW. He came running, I told him what was going on, and we went back in the kitchen each armed with a machete to see what we were up against. We quickly determined that it was just a rat snake, nothing dangerous or poisonous, but I also quickly determined that I didn’t want to share my kitchen with him. We moved all the pots and pans and Tom stayed inside with a machete to try to steer him out through a crack in the floor, and I went under the house to watch and make sure he made his exit. He ended up under the stove where Tom couldn’t reach him but I could see him through a crack, so we finally made him move by spraying him with bug spray. It may have been a mistake since the rat Nock has been hunting was back within a couple of days after an absence of a few weeks, but still, I don’t want to start on the slippery slope of sharing my kitchen with the jungle critters. And, I decided that I might as well post this since we also had snakes occasionally in both of our New York houses, so this isn’t something that happens only in the jungle.