Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hughesnet problems

Apparently there are many problems with the Hughsnet systems since we can barely send email, cannot attach anything to emails, and it is impossible to post pictures on our blog. We have been having this problem for over a week. Hughesnet says it is some sort of problem with their system but if anyone out there can get them to fix the problem, we may be able to communicate with the outside world again using the internet. Since this is our only means of communication from the jungles of Belize, it is especially frustratating during the Christmas season. So, if there is anyone out there that can help us out, please contact Hughesnet and tell them to get with it, some people are relying on the internet services that they provide for staying in touch with family and friends! And, after Hughesnet fixes the problems with their system, maybe they can hire some employees that can communicate with their clients in English. Or have all the jobs been been outsorced to Asia since the wages are about 1% of what quailifies Americans would be paid to handle communications?

Thanks for helping us out if you can.

Below is the email we sent to our rep here in Belize about our problem and the "response" we received:

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 10:51 AM
Subject: Something wrong with Hughesnet?

Hi Harry - For the past few days, we get this error every time we try to post a picture to our blog. Picture files are about 200K, and we've never had any trouble posting them in the past. We've also had some other minor connectivity issues, such as some web page requests timing out and resulting in an IE error, and Compuserve cutting out so we have to reconnect.

Any ideas?

Marge Gallagher

Web Acceleration Client Error (506) - Suspected Recent Satellite Link Outage The satellite link was operating properly up until the most recent web page request, but the last request could not be successfully sent across the satellite link to the Web Acceleration Server. Possible causes for this include recent changes in weather conditions or equipment problems in the HUGHES Network Operations Center. Trying again at a later time may result in restored service due to either improvements in the weather conditions causing the service outage or rectification of a network problem in the HUGHES Network Operations Center. If this problem persists, please contact your service provider for additional assistance.

This is what we received back from our rep here in Belize:

Response from our provider

Dear Harry

We are working together with Hughes in order to resolve all this problems. Some accounts have being changed of transponder because some of them are overcharged. Please give us a couple of days to go back to normality.

Once again, sorry for all inconvenient,

Best regards,

Even here we can't escape the idiocy of outsourcing!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Birthday Fiesta

Our neighbor Maria is the matriarch of the family next door, and all but one of her children live either with her or in their own homes on her land. One daughter, Antonia, lives with her husband John and two kids in San Antonio. Yesterday (Sunday), they had a party for their son, who recently had his first birthday. We were invited to the party a few weeks ago, and had figured it would be like many other parties of one-year-olds we’ve attended where the older kids run around out of control, all the kids eat too much cake and sugar, and the guest of honor generally gets overwhelmed by all of it and eventually cries and goes to sleep. That said, our plan was to put in an appearance and head home. Well, that was my plan anyway. Tom told me he doubted we’d be able to pull that off, and he was right. And that was a good thing, because we had a really good time.

A ton of people showed up for this party, and we found out after we got there that whenever John and Antonia have a party for any reason, everybody goes because their parties are always a ton of fun, no matter what the occasion is. Everybody was talking and laughing, with most of the adults sitting at tables on the patio, and the kids were playing games in the yard. I’m also not generally a fan of organized games, but these games were organized enough to keep the kids busy, but not so organized that the party was running like a business meeting, and everybody just had a really good time. Kids and adults played a game where we (yes, I played) had to get a balloon, run to a chair and sit on it and pop it, then go back and get a balloon (if you were a kid) or blow up a balloon (if you were a grownup), and do it again. The first to pop three balloons and run across the finish line was the winner. I didn’t win, but that didn’t keep me from laughing.

Then we watched the kids play musical chairs, and duck-duck-goose, and I don’t know what else, but just watching the kids was fun. Finally, the kids got to whack at the piñata, which is way more fun to watch than I ever would have expected. The little kids and girls just got to swing a stick at it, but the older boys really got into the game since they were blindfolded and spun around, and then John would yank the piñata up and down and back and forth, whacking the whacker with it if the kid was big enough and enough of a good sport to end up looking really silly. Finally one of the kids got in a really good whack, and the piñata burst open. At this point, there must have been 30 kids at the party, and they all swarmed the ground to get the candy. Everybody got some, even if they weren’t brave enough to head into the eye of the storm, and everybody was happy. We were actually disappointed that we had to leave before dark to get home and bring in the horses – but next time John and Antonia have a party, we’ll know to make plans so we can stay until the end!

Pork Fat Rules

We’re going to be eating pork for the next couple of days. Unfortunately I just filled my freezer with meat from Running W on Friday (including lamb chops!), or we could probably have pork for the next couple of weeks.

The Amaya family (Marta Uno) had a pig that they were planning to save and butcher when Dimas, Marta’s husband, returns from working in the US. This morning, the entire clan came over to see if we’d seen their pig, who had broken out of her cage sometime overnight. We hadn’t seen the pig, and promised to keep our eyes and ears open. Around lunchtime, Hector and Wilton came over, all wound up, asking to borrow the wheelbarrow because they’d found the pig, but it couldn’t walk. They told us it had something sticking out of its side, and it was all very dramatic. Mid-afternoon, we heard a God-awful screaming from next door, so we figured the pig had made its last trip home in the wheelbarrow. Around 5:30, Delmy showed up at our door, asking us how much pork we would like to buy. She told us that the pig had broken her leg, so her mother decided to butcher it rather than take care of a convalescent pig for however long it takes for a pig’s leg to heal. We’re still not sure what was going on with Hector and Wilton’s story about the pig having something sticking out of its side, unless it was just the pig’s leg at an odd angle however they found it – or it was just a Hector and Wilton dramatization. In any case, we now have about five pounds of pig in the fridge to be cooked tomorrow, and I squeezed another five pounds in the freezer, although we’re going to have to eat something out of that freezer before too long because it’s hazardous to open the freezer door.

We’re interested to see how this pig tastes, because it’s been eating mostly scraps rather than pig food from the feed mill. In a way, we’re looking forward to it and hope we like it, because we think the whole pig feeding system at the mill is a little, um, cold. When someone first gets a pig that they’re planning to butcher, they get Pig Starter feed. Then, it switches to Pig Grower as they try to get it as big as possible. A few weeks before butchering, it’s changed to Pig Finisher – how cold is that? I guess it’s a good thing pigs can’t read the labels on their feed bags, or they’d be heading for the hills when the Pig Finisher appeared.

The Christmas Cage

We’ve decided, we’re not going to get a tree here this year. Real trees are hard to come by, and we’d feel bad having a pine in our house when the Mountain Pine Ridge needs every pine that will grow in order to recover from the pine bark beetle blight. Neither of us really likes artificial trees, and they’re very expensive here. Actually, I don’t know how the prices compare to the US, but we’d spend over $100US on something we neither like nor want. And, we have Stout. Putting ornaments on a tree, real or artificial, anywhere below six feet above ground level is just asking for all the ornaments to end up in Stout’s mouth.

I pulled the Christmas box out of storage on Friday, and spent Friday and Saturday contemplating what to do with the Christmas decorations that meant enough to us to pack up and bring here. Sunday morning, I had a brainstorm – I decorated the bird cage. I still haven’t had the heart to put any birds in it when any bird I would cage could live just as happily here in the wild, so the cage has been on the porch collecting dust. And it was perfect for Christmas decorating – lots of places to hang lots of different ornaments at different levels. Best of all, all the ornaments are caged, so they’re at eye level for people, but safe from Stout’s mouth, at least so far.

Like the poinsettia tree, I’ll post a picture when I can. I’m not sure if it’s my computer, blogger, or our satellite connection, but I’ve tried every day and haven’t been able to post a picture. I’ll keep trying!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm trying to post pics!

I'm trying to post pics, but I keep getting a message that we're having a Hughesnet satellite uplink problem. I've been trying off and on since posting yesterday, and keep getting the same message. I'll get them posted ASAP!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Quick Update, with Pics

Tom and I spent Sunday planting new gardens around our cabin, which also involved putting handrails on our front steps. It was a beautiful day, and as we were digging, turning the soil, planting, and working on defining the gardens, Tom pointed out that this was never something we never thought we’d be doing two weeks before Christmas. It doesn’t feel very Christmas-y to us here this year, between the fact that the weather is more like June in NY, and that we’ve developed nothing like our network of friends and family that we have in the States, so we haven’t been on our usual hectic Christmas party and travel circuit. In a way, it’s nice, because we’re able to take some time and we’re not missing the mad rush, but we’re missing friends and family even more than usual.

When Karin was here, we talked to some Americans who have lived near here for three years now, and I asked how their first Christmas in Belize was. The response: “We cried. But then it got better, and now it’s good.” I suspect that’s about what Tom and I will be feeling this Christmas, although we know our mood will be lifted because Tom’s parents are scheduled to arrive here on New Year’s Day, so we will have family here for at least part of the holidays.

This beautiful poinsettia tree (pic to follow) is blooming near our front gate. It makes us think of Christmas every time we drive in or out. We planted another small poinsettia in one the new gardens, and we’re looking forward to seeing how long it takes it to get this big.

In other news, Tinkerbell is off getting her transmission rebuilt. It’s been slipping more and more lately, so Tom took Tinkerbell to a transmission place in Spanish Lookout, where they confirmed that the higher gears weren’t working any more. Yesterday Tom drove to Spanish Lookout, and then came home the local way – hitching rides and walking between rides. He left at around 7am, did a few errands, dropped off the truck and left Spanish Lookout around 10am, and was home shortly after lunch. He decided that hitching isn’t a bad way to travel around here, since it’s fairly easy to get a ride, you don’t have to pay for gas, and you get to talk to a lot of different people in the backs of the pickups.

And, by the way, Selwyn’s finger is better. He says the tendon running up his arm is a little sore, but that’s to be expected since he wasn’t using the finger and just kept it curled for two weeks. The wound is healed and new skin has sealed where the incision was, so while he’s still trying to keep that hand clean, the biggest risk of infection is gone. Now he can get back to dirty work!

Saturday, December 8, 2007


A month or so ago, in preparation for building the furniture for the rooms in our cabins, Tom bought a table saw. He gave Selwyn the whole safety lecture, and we told Selwyn of all the gory accidents we’d seen with table saws, all with good friends and family. In fact, we told him, just about everybody we know who uses or has used a table saw at all regularly has had some sort of mishap.

But, despite being safety conscious and careful, accidents happen anyway. Last Wednesday when Karin and I were in Caye Caulker, Tom and Selwyn were making the drive to the emergency room. Selwyn was feeding a short board through the saw, and because the board was so short, he wasn’t holding the back end down. It kicked up, and basically popped his middle finger, which the doctor very neatly put back together with eight stitches. Tom was pleasantly surprised to find that the Social Security payments he’s been making every month really are worth something, since Social Security paid for the medical expenses and would pay Selwyn some disability compensation. However, Selwyn could still do some work with his left hand, and could definitely ride Tony one-handed, so he declined on the disability and elected to work here anyway, which was great for us.

This accident pointed out another difference between the US and Belize to us. In the US, this would be considered a painful but not all that serious injury. Here, until the wound is completely healed, both Selwyn and the doctor are concerned about the threat of infection, which would probably lead to the finger being amputated. With our American sensibilities we want to say this is an overreaction, but when we thought about it we realized that you can’t drive through a town of any size without seeing people missing body parts. So, Selwyn has been very careful about keeping the hand clean and dry, and has been diligent about taking the antibiotics prescribed by the doctor. He had the stitches out yesterday (Thursday), and the doctor said everything looks good, but Selwyn was instructed to keep the hand clean and dry until the scar is completely dry.

A week of vacation

Our friend Karin from New York arrived last Tuesday and left yesterday. Her husband gave her plane tickets to Belize to visit us for her birthday, so Karin, Tom, and I all had a week of vacation. Karin’s and mine started a few days before Tom’s because we picked her up in the late afternoon at the airport, and then Tom took Karin and me to the water taxi which took us out to Caye Caulker. We were a little worried about getting out to Caye Caulker because it had been raining for a few days – all the streets in Belize City were under water – and because Karin’s flight arrived so late, we couldn’t make any of the air taxis, so we had to go on the water taxi which is only partly covered. But, the rain gods paid me back for always raining on my laundry by stopping the rain shortly before we got to the water taxi station, and keeping it away for our two days on Caye Caulker.

On Wednesday, we started Karin’s vacation by going out with the dive company which had taken Tom, Tim, Kelli and me diving in July. Their dive that day accommodated snorkelers as well as divers, so I was able to dive while Karin snorkeled. We both managed to avoid getting seasick, although I was starting to get a cold, which made me a little anxious about being able to equalize on the dive. However, I took Sudafed, and was able to equalize with less trouble than I had in July, although I made a startling discovery – when blood comes out of your body and isn’t exposed to air, it’s a bright leaf green. With the beginnings of a cold, my sinuses started bleeding while I was down, but I didn’t realize what it was until I returned to the surface. At one point I saw a splash of green on my mask, thought it was algae, but it didn’t wipe away when I rubbed the outside of my mask. I realized more of the green stuff was pooling in the bottom of my mask, but since I was more concerned with breathing, keeping track of the dive master and my buddy, and checking out the underwater flora and fauna, I didn’t really think about it. I was really surprised when we surfaced, and when I lifted my mask the “algae” turned to red blood. Who knew?

On Thursday both of us went out with Tsunami Adventures and snorkeled on the reef. I really like diving because you see more different things, but I also love snorkeling because the colors and visibility are so much better near the surface that you get a much better look at what’s there. We had a great guide, Rene, who led us through the coral reef and pointed out moray eels, picked up hermit crabs in conch shells, and took us to three different snorkeling sites. The third site was an area where the snorkeling boat captains feed the sting rays, so as soon as the rays heard our boat engine, the were heading in and we could see their dark shadows flying over the white sand under the very shallow water. Rene threw some fish out to the rays and had us jump out with just our masks and snorkels so we could swim around with the rays, who had no fear of us, although we were all a little cautious of them. Karin and I were back on shore in time to get lunch and the last water taxi to Belize City, where Tom met us and took us home.

On Friday, we had planned to go on a trail ride but it was raining. The other complication was that Hilda’s grandmother had died, so Tom and Selwyn had to take Hilda and the kids to Hilda’s family’s home for the funeral. So, Tom went to get Hilda and the kids, then came back and picked up Karin and me, and took us to Barton Creek.

The river crossing was still a little high, so Karin and I had to walk over a very narrow suspension bridge with a number of rotting planks, reminding us that part of the adventure in Belize is just getting where you’re going. The sun had come out by this time, so we had a very pleasant walk on the Mennonite road through the farm fields back to the Barton Creek Outpost. Unfortunately, due to the weather, no guides had made the trek to Barton Creek that day, so Karin and I were unable to go in the cave. But all was not lost as we had a nice lunch and a nice chat with Jackie and Jim, the owners of the Outpost. We had agreed to meet Tom and Selwyn on the other side of the river at about 2:30, so we timed our walk out to get us there around that time. They weren’t there yet, so we started up the hill towards the road Tom would be taking in to Barton Creek. It took about 45 minutes for us to reach the top of the hill, when we heard Tinkerbell heading in our direction. Even in the truck, we could see the relief on Tom’s face when he realized that he didn’t have to drive back down the muddy, rutted, steep, twisting road to the river, and he thanked Karin and me profusely for making the hike up the hill.

Saturday turned out to be a very nice day, so we took the trail ride to Big Rock Falls. Tom and I didn’t even try to give Karin the jungle tour, partly because we wanted to save it for Selwyn to do when we rode to Sapodilla Falls, and partly because we knew neither the jungle information, nor the best route to the falls. Our jungle information goes something like, “Um, somewhere around here there’s something that Selwyn talks about, but I’m not quite sure what it is, and I don’t really remember what he says,” and we were hard pressed just to find our way to the falls since there are all sorts of loops off the trail up there, and we’d only ever been there with Selwyn and hadn’t really paid attention to the route. We managed to find the falls, finally, and had lunch on the rocks. We planned to go home by the fire road, but we couldn’t find that, and ended up retracing our steps. The route we took up was longer than the route we’d planned to take home so we ended up heading down the last hill on the Misty trail in the dark, but we made it back without being eaten by any predators.

Sunday was another nice day, and we took the drive up to Caracol. The Mountain Pine Ridge Road between here and Caracol makes the road between here and Georgeville look good, so the ride up was a little tense and we took 2WD Tinkerbell through some pretty muddy and rutted sections of road. We walked around Caracol, had lunch, and headed back to the ranger station with the convoy.

Only four vehicles, including us, had made the trek up to Caracol that day, and when we went to Rio Frio Caves and Rio On Pools, we found that none of the other three vehicles had elected to make those stops so we had those sites all to ourselves. We waited until almost dark to leave Rio On and head home, where we heard the news of the demise of our rooster, and then had Roadkill Rooster Recado for dinner.

We took another ride on Monday, this time to Sapodilla Falls with Selwyn. He did the jungle tour for Karin, and we spent almost two hours sitting on the rocks below the falls eating lunch, watching a white hawk soar overhead, and enjoying the scenery.

The trails were really muddy and the footing was somewhat difficult for the horses, but fortunately all three horses are getting pretty surefooted on the trails, so even when a hoofed slipped off a crumbling embankment, everybody was okay. However, it made for slow going, so we ended another ride after dark on the Misty trail.

On Karin’s last day here, we went with our tour guide/friend Gonzo to Actun Tunichil Muknal, aka the ATM Cave. This is the cave where you must swim and wade up an underground river to a site above the water where numerous archeological artifacts are found, including a number of human skeletons. After touring ATM, we went to a nearby cave where we saw ancient cave paintings and carvings, including Mayan handprints on the walls of one of the internal chambers, reached by crawling and slithering on our bellies.

We asked Karin if she ever anticipated doing this on the day before her 60th birthday, and she admitted that when she was thirty, she figured she’d be about done for at sixty, and doing something like this never crossed her mind. We got back to San Ignacio around 6:00, hungry and tired, and went with Gonzo, his girlfriend Becky, and Esa, a friend of theirs, to Sanny’s Grill, a restaurant we had tried to find and failed on the night Karin and I came inland. We had a great dinner recounting the cave trip, and didn’t make it home until almost 10:00…another late night for us!

Karin flew out on Wednesday, a sad day for all of us. Tom and I had a friend leaving, who we probably won’t see at least until the summer, and Karin was heading home to cold and almost 15 inches of snow. I guess we all wish vacations were longer, but we had a great time while it lasted.

And then there were none

Or, Feeding your guests roadkill
This past week was a bad week for chickens around here. After the death of El Negrito, I was thinking about getting a few more pullets to expand the flock. Now, however, whatever pullets I get will be the foundation hens for the flock. Our friend Karin came down to visit from New York last Tuesday, and she and I spent a couple of days on Caye Caulker. Tom left home mid-morning last Thursday to do a bunch of errands, and then to pick us up at the water taxi in Belize City late Thursday afternoon. By the time we drove to San Ignacio, ate dinner, and got home, it was after 10:00, and we forgot to shut in the chickens.

Tom went out Friday morning and discovered that the two hens were dead in the cage. Initially, we thought something got them in the night, and both of us were kicking ourselves for forgetting to shut the cage. When Selwyn showed up for work, he made us feel slightly better because he informed us that the hens were murdered by Louie, who had come out of the house for his last rest stop before Selwyn left for the day, and who, instead of resting, ran back to the chicken cage and murdered the two hens. We have Louie because he annihilated his first owner’s flock – we’ve heard any number between ten and twenty-something for that massacre – so we weren’t entirely surprised that he’d decided to take care of our chickens.

That left the rooster by himself. During the day, he continued to wage his rooster wars with the neighbor’s rooster, but at night he would put himself away in the coop, all alone with his hens gone. On Sunday, we let him out and he was patrolling his property, and Tom, Karin, and I went up to Caracol, the Rio Frio Cave, and Rio On Pools with Ofelia and Iris from next door, not returning until shortly after 5:00. When we pulled up in front of the neighbors’ houses, Olmi gestured for Tom to get out of the truck and talk to her. She told him that the rooster had been killed in the road while we were gone, but the carcass wasn’t badly damaged so she had recovered it and Maria and Lucy were plucking and gutting it.

We had been discussing what we wanted to do for dinner, but the questions were resolved when Lucy and Olmi showed up a short time later with a bucket containing the rooster’s carcass. So, we had Roadkill Rooster for dinner, stewed up with recado. Olmi was worried that I would be upset and wouldn’t be able to eat him, but after years of telling my neighbor Diane that “they’re only chickens,” I found that I must have brainwashed myself since I had no trouble at all eating him. I felt slightly guilty for feeding Karin, our guest, roadkill, but it didn’t bother her either and we had a very nice dinner.