Wednesday, January 30, 2008


A lot was going on here while we were all at the Zoo last Friday. Ever since we’ve been living in this cabin, the generator has been living next to the camper in a redneck outbuilding made of spare zinc roofing panels, Tinkerbell’s cap, and some lumber scraps. Since you probably know my favorite excuse for not keeping up with computer stuff is that we didn’t run the generator, you’ve probably figured out that we run it as little as possible and try to run it only when we have at least two or three pressing reasons to turn it on and let it suck diesel and frazzle our nerves with the incessant noise.

Since we’re getting ready to open our doors to guests, we need to get it moved to a place where it isn’t an eyesore and where its noise won’t be quite so intrusive. A small cement pad was down near the shop, so we decided to get some block and turn that pad into a new generator hut. However, neither Tom nor Selwyn know any of the tricks to laying block, so we called Damion and Augusto and asked if they’d done it before. They had, so Tom got the block, concrete, and sand, and hired them to come and build it. They worked on it for a few hours on Friday and finished it on Saturday, and now it just needs to have the door hung and a roof put on top. We can use the spare zinc that’s in its current redneck hut, so Tom and Selwyn will probably move it tomorrow. I can’t wait for relative peace and quiet!

The other news regarding electricity is that we may get more peace and quiet than we expect even with the generator stowed away from the cabins. It looks like we really are going to get electricity, although we’re not sure where it’s coming from, and we’re not sure when it will actually get here. We had heard that the 7 Miles chairman had requested it for our neighbors and us, but 7 Miles village is two miles from here, so we didn’t have a lot of hope that it would be run from there to here. It’s only about a mile away in the other direction, but we hadn’t heard any rumors that we’d get it from that direction. But, over the weekend, Tom talked to Julio and was told that the grand plan was to run the lines the mile from the San Antonio to here to give us power relatively quickly, and then to run the line from 7 Miles to here because San Antonio is already about tapped out, and if that town could join up with the 7 Miles lines, everybody would have a better power supply.

From what we saw yesterday, that seems to be what they’re doing. The surveyors have put stakes all the way up the road from 7 Miles to here, and from the other direction the drilling truck was setting the actual utility poles between the end of the San Antonio line and here. We still have no feel at all for how long this will take, but it looks like the power company is not only putting in time, but also money to install the poles. A few people have asked us if we’ll get connected if/when it gets this far, and all we can say is “You bet!” We haven’t felt that we’ve been under any hardship living here for the past year without power. We have the generator, and we’ve figured out how to do most things without electricity, but it would be really nice to not have to eventually buy a solar system, and to use the generator just for backup – and to have lights, and computer use whenever we want it, and appliances, and…the list goes on.


Unfortunately, the snakes that were bothering us recently were the human variety rather than the reptile variety. While we were at the Zoo on Friday, the British Army was scheduled to come and remove the rest of the cage panels to deliver them to the Zoo. We didn’t see what could really go wrong with just loading up the caging and taking it out, so we didn’t really think much of it. However, after finishing the generator hut on Saturday, Tom, Damion, and some of the kids jumped in the truck and drove up the road to take a dip at Big Rock. As Tom drove by one of our neighbors, he noticed a whole pile of big cage panels stacked next to the neighbor’s car. He mentioned it to Damion, who told him that the neighbor had come onto our property on Friday and taken some of the caging. At this point, after saying the Zoo could have it and watching the Zoo work so hard for two weeks to cut it down and stack it, we don’t consider the cage material ours, but we weren’t going to stand by and let it walk away from here. So, after swimming and taking the neighbors home, Tom went to talk to the neighbor with the cage panels.

The story he got from the neighbor is that the British Army guys told him to take it because they didn’t want to move it. Tom explained that not only was it not the Army’s to give away, but that it wasn’t really even ours to give away, and that the Zoo crew had cut a specific number of panels needed for the tapir enclosure they’re building at the Zoo. The neighbor said he couldn’t bring it back because he didn’t have a truck, but Tom made arrangements to help him with our truck Sunday afternoon, which is what they did, and eight panels were returned.

Then, Sunday night, we were talking to our neighbors on the corner and told them what had happened, and they asked if the panels taken by another neighbor in the other direction had been returned. We didn’t even know that more panels had been taken, and the first neighbor didn’t even bother to tell us! So, Tom went to the other neighbor first thing Monday morning, saw the panels, explained the situation, and asked that they be returned, which they were – although that happened in two batches because five were returned, and when Tom confronted the first neighbor and asked how many panels had been taken, he said eight or nine, so Tom had to go back to the second neighbor to see if there were any more, and three more came back that afternoon.

The ringleader neighbor maintains that he wasn’t stealing and it wasn’t his fault because the British Army told him he could take the caging, but we’re not buying that story. As far as we know, British martial law has not been declared in Belize, and the British forces have no right to tell somebody they can do something with another private citizen’s property. We can’t quite figure out what the neighbor was thinking, thinking it was okay to take something off our property without our permission. And, the fact that he brought back his eight pieces and neglected to tell us that he’d delivered eight more to another neighbor is inexcusable – although when Tom confronted him about that, he said he was going to talk to the other neighbor and have them bring it back, but he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. My reaction was “My ass!” but fortunately Tom is a little more mature, so he just calmly expressed his displeasure with the neighbor and told him he thought he should be a man and accept responsibility, which I don’t think is going to happen. What is going to happen is that we’ll now lock the gate when nobody is here, and probably even when just Selwyn is here so he doesn’t have to be put in the position of protecting our property. And, the other thing that’s happening is that when we tell this story to people around here, and they tell us that they warned us that we can’t trust “these people,” meaning native Belizeans, we can deliver the punch line and tell them that the snakey neighbors are gringos, not Belizeans, and maybe they should just get over their racism. Gringos can be snakes too.

Driving licenses

Yesterday was a landmark day for us – we got our Belize driving licenses. We had asked about driving licenses last year when we first got here and registered the truck, and were told that our US licenses were good for a year, and after a year all we had to do was present our US licenses and we would be given Belize licenses. Tom had stopped at the Ministry of Transportation at the beginning of last week, just before our official one-year anniversary here, and had been told to come back when he completed the full year. So, we went yesterday, thinking that all we had to do was fill out the form, show our US licenses and passports, pay the fee, and we’d be good to go. But, it wasn’t that easy.

First, they needed proof that we’ve been here for a year, so we had to get our passports copied with all the pages stamped to show we haven’t left the country. Then, we had to get pictures to be affixed to both the licenses we carry and the paperwork filed at the Ministry of Transportation office. Finally, we had to go to the government hospital and get a doctor to sign that we’re physically fit to drive. Nothing happens fast here, and making all these stops took the better part of half the day.

But, everything happens for a reason, and apparently the reason was that I was supposed to see a doctor. On Saturday night, I had stepped on Mel in the dark, and he bit me on the shin. It hurt when it happened, and it was sore on Sunday, but dog bites always hurt, and I’ve had enough dog bites while breaking up fights that I know they hurt a little more than other types of punctures. On Monday it was still pretty sore, and that part of my leg was a little puffy. By Tuesday, my leg from the knee down and foot were swollen, and the middle and lower parts of my shin were red and hot. Tom suggested that I see a doctor even before we picked up the driving license applications, but I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I didn’t want to take the time and didn’t think I needed to take antibiotics. But, since we had to see the doctor anyway for the license signoff, I told Tom I’d show the doctor my shin.

I was wearing a skirt that went down to mid calf, so when I sat, my lower legs were covered. The doctor at the government hospital is Cuban and speaks mostly Spanish, so we were answering her questions for the license certification in fits and starts, and we assured her that our sight was good, we weren’t epileptic, and we were physically sound. As we were getting ready to leave, I lifted my skirt to show her my leg and said in Spanish, “This is okay?” Her eyes got big and she said “No, that is not okay! It is infected! You need pills!” She tsked and shook her head, yelled at Tom and asked him if he had any infirmities he needed to show her, and wrote me a prescription for Cipro. We had it filled and I started taking it last night, and while my leg is still pretty swollen, the hot red area is smaller and I don’t think it hurts as much, although that’s hard to say since I’m sitting and typing with the leg propped up rather than running around town like yesterday. The only good thing about the bite is that it’s almost on top of my machete scar, so I won’t be adding another really obvious scar to the collection on my legs.

And, by the way, we returned to the Ministry of Transportation with our stamped, signed, and witnessed paperwork with pictures, and were given our licenses, good until our birthdays in July 2009.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Zoo News

The British Army removed most of the cage material from our property this week. That turned into a little bit of a fiasco, but it looks like it will work out okay in the end. Originally, the Army was scheduled to come on Monday, but lines were crossed and they didn’t make it. They rescheduled for Thursday, and I stayed home and waited for them to arrive. A little before noon, an Army guy in a regular SUV pulled up the driveway to make sure he was in the right place, and when we assured him that he was, he directed the truck accompanying him to pull into the driveway – one truck, with one driver. The SUV driver told us that they’d left their base camp with two trucks, but one had broken down on the Western Highway, so they had to call their recovery unit and wait for help to arrive. He didn’t explain how he ended up with just one other soldier to help, but that was probably because he didn’t seem to really believe me when I told him that I was worried about two men doing the work because the cage material is so heavy. Selwyn and I went on about our business, and about 45 minutes after starting to load the truck, the soldier came to the door to explain that he didn’t think he and his buddy could do this alone, so they were going to take what they’d managed to load and come back the next day with more trucks and more men. He was a little humbled by the fact that he hadn’t believed either me or Sharon when we’d tried to explain how heavy this stuff is, but was willing enough to admit that he was in over his head and replan the pickup. He left with a bag of grapefruit I was picking while they were here, and, even better, took a look at our room and said he’d get in touch so he could some stay with us with his wife and three-year-old son so they could explore the Mountain Pine Ridge.

While the reinforcements came back to pick up the cage material on Friday, Tom and I visited the Zoo with Selwyn, Hilda, and the kids. Before Christmas we’d made plans to take them to the Zoo for the day as a Christmas present, but before Christmas we were all sick with the cold or flu that everybody seemed to have, then Tom’s parents were here, then the Zoo crew was here working on the cages, and suddenly it was the end of January. So, when Sharon was here last weekend, we made arrangements to go to the Zoo and get a behind-the-scenes tour on Friday.

The Zoo tour was great! Blad, who had been in charge of the work crew here, gave us the tour.

We started with Blad getting the boa out of the cage for us to hold.

Junior and the boa

We all got to hold the boa, even if some of us didn’t look too sure about it.

Even me! I was allowed to touch this one, and didn’t get yelled at like I did when I touched the one at Caracol.

Tom and I saw more animals than we’d ever seen at the Zoo, because the animals all know Blad because he feeds them.

When we couldn’t see one in a cage, Blad would call and the animals would come out from where ever they were.

Blad also told us the stories behind all the animals; some had been injured in the wild, some were pets that were either confiscated by the government or turned into the Zoo by the pet owners themselves when the wild animal started acting more like a wild animal than a pet. This tapir was picked up because he was blinded by some kids with slingshots. The cage material we’re donating to the Zoo is going to be used to build a new, larger tapir enclosure.

Blad said they get a fair number of coatimundis because they’re cute and affectionate as babies, but when they grow up they get very protective of their owners and their owners’ things, and start attacking anything that comes into their territory.

The highlight of the visit was when Blad called Wild Boy out of his lair. Wild Boy is a jaguar who was killing cattle in the southern part of Belize, and instead of being destroyed, he was captured and taken to the Zoo where he was put into the Jaguar Rehabilitation Program. Blad had us climb up on a stump one at a time so we were face to face with Wild Boy, who snarled, roared, spit, bit the cage, and whacked the cage with his very large paws. However, he’d calm down after he got a good look at whoever was looking at him, and very gently took chicken feet from our hands through the bars of the cage.

He also rolled over on command when we moved our hands in a circular motion in front of him, and would give us a “high five” when we held our hands up to the cage. His breath was really bad – worse than Nock’s, Tom says – and as he snarled he’d spit, but it was worth being close enough to get a good look at him because he is absolutely beautiful, with a shiny coat and beautiful well defined spots. We also got to meet Junior the Jaguar, who was born at the Zoo in February 2007. We were laughing because Selwyn’s oldest son is called Junior, and he also has a birthday coming up.

We left the Zoo and went to Amigos for lunch, then went to Old Belize. Tom and Selwyn had been there before, but neither Hilda and the kids nor I had been there. It’s definitely a tourist trap, but the walk through museum is a good overview of Belize’s history and culture, and the man-made beach is great place to let the kids play in the water. We had the beach all to ourselves, which is great, but I guess it’s pretty busy when a load of cruise ship tourists are there. Besides the beach, which is on a man-made lagoon that breaks the waves from the Caribbean Sea, they have a zip line and a water slide, and they’re in the process of finishing a snorkeling/diving pool.

On the way home we stopped at Hilda’s parents’ house. We were all a little surprised, because between the last time any of us, including Hilda, had been there, and Friday night, they got a new house. It’s a very big wooden Mennonite house, and everybody who is still living at home will get their own bedroom. They’re still in the process of finishing the inside, but it will be quite roomy and comfortable when they’re done. After a quick visit, we left there and grabbed chicken barbeque for dinner in Santa Elena, and then headed back up the hill and home. We were all pooped, but it was a great day.

We now have our liquor license

Thanks to Tom’s tenacious nature and the fact that he’s willing to approach lots of people and ask lots of questions, we now have our liquor license. When Tom talked to the liaison on Monday, he was told that he had to get an ad in a paper to announce to the public that we were applying for a liquor license, and he had to prepare to appear before the liquor board. He called around Monday afternoon and got an ad in a paper, and got home on Monday with the understanding that there was a Thursday night meeting in Georgeville that he needed to attend. We did our errands on Tuesday, spent Wednesday working around here, and Tom planned to go out Thursday afternoon to get the paper, then attend the meeting, and come home after that. I had to stay here because the Army’s cage pickup date had changed from Monday to Thursday. Thursday morning, Selwyn caught the school bus to work, so as he got off the bus at the corner, he met our neighbor Lilly who had walked her son to the bus. I usually talk to Lilly when I’m out riding, but between bad weather and too much to do, I haven’t been out riding as much as usual, so Lilly asked Selwyn where I’ve been. Selwyn told her what was going on, and then suggested that she come up to the house with him and catch up in person, which she did. Lilly and her husband Mick own a bar about a half mile up the road, and as we were telling her what we’ve been doing about getting the business up and running, her eyes suddenly got big. As we were talking, she had suddenly remembered that Thursday was the liquor board meeting, and she and Mick also had to attend to get their license renewed. We told her not to worry about it, because the meeting wasn’t until that evening, but she insisted it was that morning in San Ignacio, and took off up the road to get Mick out the door to the meeting.

Tom was already moving as fast as he could, so there was no way he was making a 9am meeting in San Ignacio, although at that point he still thought the meeting was that evening in Georgeville. But, he took off, did a few things he had to do in San Antonio, San Ignacio, and Santa Elena, and then headed towards Spanish Lookout. As he was driving down the Western Highway, he realized he was following the Georgeville town chairman, so he followed him to his house to confirm the meeting that night. Not entirely to Tom’s surprise since we’d talked to Lilly that morning, the town chairman informed him that the meeting had in fact been that morning in San Ignacio. Tom prepared to hear what hoops he had to jump through next, and was pleasantly surprised when the chairman told him not to worry, he’d pushed our application through despite not seeing either the newspaper notice or Tom. Tom thanked him profusely and got directions for where he had to go pay, and when he got there he was even more pleasantly surprised. Because we only want to be able to serve alcohol to our guests, we don’t need the full bar license, just the restaurant license – which is half the price of the full bar license. So, that’s done, and all we have to do is pick up the paper certificate next week, which we can copy and submit with our BTB application. One more hurdle cleared!


Last Monday, while Tom was out running down the liquor license, I was home with a sick pup. Nock had been off her feed since the end of the previous week, and on Monday she started vomiting. She wanted nothing to do with food Monday evening or Tuesday morning, so we decided that we’d add a trip to the vet to the errands we planned to run together on Tuesday. We took her to the vet who spayed and castrated Beli and Stout. He couldn’t find anything wrong with her, so he took some blood and sent us off to the lab – the same lab that tested our blood the previous week.. The vet was picking up some of his own bloodwork at the lab that afternoon, so he had us tell them that he’d pick up Nock’s results when he picked up his.

Wednesday morning, we had a very detailed email from the vet explaining the results of Nock’s bloodwork. She seems to be having a problem with her liver, and is having trouble processing protein – something called cholestasis. In the email, the vet explained that it’s impossible to tell what’s causing the problem unless we do a liver biopsy, which the vets aren’t prepared to do here in Belize. The good news, however, is that no matter
what’s causing the problem, the treatments are the same, so he gave us a list of what medications to get for her, as well as details on the dosages, what each medication does, and the best form to buy the medicine in Belize. Vets here don’t seem to buy their own pharmaceuticals – they just send their patients’ owners to the people pharmacy, where the owner goes over the vet’s recommendations with the pharmacist and the pharmacist figures out what the animal needs and how the medication should be administered, and provides a prescription label just like we get on people prescriptions in the US.

We started Nock on the medication yesterday, and this morning she ate her breakfast and didn’t throw it up for the first time in a week. She has to stay on an antibiotic and anti-nausea medication for two weeks, and on a liver pill and a vitamin pill for a month, and then we’ll get her blood tested again. So, we’re hoping for the best. We figure that even if we were in the US, we wouldn’t put a ten-year-old dog through surgery just for diagnostic purposes, and would probably be handling this just like we’re handling it here – although we’d probably be paying a whole lot more for the vet supplied drugs. We’re not sure if it’s good for the animals that they’re treated just like human patients here, or if that’s bad for the humans that they’re treated just like animal patients, but we’re just glad that Nock got almost immediate relief, and we hope she licks whatever is bothering her.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Property and Paperwork Progress

The first guest room is just about done, and Tom and Selwyn are in the process of doing the finishing touches like screening in the porch and making the towel racks and shower curtain rod in the bathroom look finished and polished. We picked out fabric for curtains so Olmi can make curtains for the room this week, we have to buy a few linens since we didn’t bring and queen bed linens with us from New York, and then we’ ready to go.

Well, we will be ready to go as soon as we complete all the necessary paperwork, which, as expected, involves a bit of a run around. We spent Friday running around in Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio, and actually got farther than we expected. We managed to talk to the Georgeville town chairman about our liquor license, and he referred us to his secretary to tell us about the process, and she referred us to somebody else who is the liaison between Georgeville and San Ignacio. The liaison was supposed to be at a meeting at 7:30pm in Georgeville on Friday, so after running around all day Tom brought me home to feed the animals, then he went back for the meeting, and found that the guy wasn’t coming. They were, however, able to reach him on his cell phone, so he made an appointment for Tom to meet him in his San Ignacio office Monday at 9:00am, and that’s where Tom is now. Hopefully things will go smoothly there, and we’ll get on the agenda for the Georgeville meeting which is this Thursday night, and we will have our liquor license by the end of the week.

I now have my food handler’s license, and am certified to be worm-free. This license has to be renewed every three months, and after talking to the doctor we found that I can either submit a sample every three months, or I can just get wormed, and then the doctor will renew the license. Right now, I think I’ll probably opt to just get wormed every three months, since the medication supposedly doesn’t have any side effects, and since I worm the horses every two months and the dogs every month here, I figure it probably won’t hurt to worm the humans four times a year as well. If I get any help in the kitchen, those people will also need food handlers’ licenses, so I’ll give them the option of getting tested or just getting wormed. It will be interesting to see which option they take.

The next thing we have to do is submit our application to the Belize Tourist Board, and we’re ready to go. We need our liquor license in order to do that, and it looks like we may have to incorporate, but we’re definitely getting close.

Right now Olmi is first on my list as kitchen help when we start having guests. When Tom’s parents were here, Olmi very graciously made them two Belizean dinners, chicken, rice, and beans, which we ate at Olmi and Damion’s house with Wilton and Daisy, and then escebeche, which Olmi made at home and then brought over here to eat after teaching me how to make the traditional corn tortillas served with the escebeche. Escebeche, by the way, is a sort of onion soup made from poultry stock, and the stock is especially good because the chicken is freshly killed, boiled, then roasted on the wood hearth, then returned to the stock pot to finish the soup. As we were working on the corn tortillas, Olmi asked if I knew how to make empanadas, and I told her that although I’d had them made by a friend’s mother in the US, I had no idea how to make them. So, the next week, I got everything we needed and Olmi gave me an empanada making lesson. She can make them about ten times faster than I can, but I’m getting the hang of it, and they’re so yummy they’re well worth the time they take to make.

We’re also getting close to applying for our permanent residency. The lab and the doctor we went to for our blood tests and physicals made it very simple, and we accomplished both within about an hour and a half on Friday afternoon. We’re free from any sexually transmitted diseases – the only thing immigration cares about for the blood tests – and we found that Belize is apparently agreeing with us since we both had lower blood pressure than we can ever recall having in the US; Tom’s was 110/70, and mine 100/65. Tom is stopping at the police station this morning to see if he can get our police reports, which basically just need to say that we haven’t been arrested since we’ve been here. He’s also going to see if our marriage license arrived in the mail from Florida, and then we’re ready to make the trip to Belmopan and either submit the applications or see what else we need.

More Ferry Tales

Besides running around and getting supplies and paperwork done on Friday, Tom managed to help a couple of people in need. Around 2:00, as we were leaving FTC in Spanish Lookout, Tom realized that La Loma Luz hospital, where we planned to inquire about the food handlers’ license and our residency physicals, closes at 3:00 on Fridays. We took off for the ferry, and when we go there found a longer line than we expected for that time of day. We looked to see where the ferry was, and realized that the line was growing because the ferry wasn’t moving, and the ferryman was trying very hard to keep it still because the first vehicle getting off had apparently misjudged when it was okay to go, and had fallen off the end of the ramp. The KIA van’s hind wheels were still on the ferry ramp, but the front wheels were off the ground and the nose of the van was resting in the weeds on the riverbank, with the van’s frame rocking on the ramp. People were crowded around the front of the van, with some people trying to lift it, some trying to rock it back up with long sticks, and others shouting instructions and encouragement. Tom walked down, took one look, and returned to Tinkerbell. He pulled out of line, turned around, and backed down to the ferry ramp, where he unloaded our chain and tow strap. Seeing that help had arrived, the crowd cleared around the front of the van, somebody hooked the tow strap to the van while Tom hooked the other end to the truck’s trailer hitch, and with instructions to the crowd to stand back in case the tow strap broke, Tom slowly and carefully pulled the nose of the van out of the weeds, got its front wheels on the ground, and pulled it safely off the ferry and on to the concrete ramp on the riverbank. The van’s passengers got in, and the van took off none the worse for its ordeal, and the other two cars were able to get off the ferry. But Tom’s job as Good Samaritan wasn’t done yet – when the first car in line went to start to drive onto ferry, the driver found that the battery was dead and the car wouldn’t start. So, Tom backed up so he was hood to hood with the stalled vehicle, hooked up the jumper cables, and got that car going. He then turned around where he went back to our original place in line, just in front of a Mennonite in a two-horse wagon which we had passed on our way to the ferry.

Since we had to wait for the ferry’s return, Tom got out to talk to the Mennonite and to make sure that we were in the proper place in line for the safety of those in the horse-drawn wagon. The Mennonite, after remarking about how quickly Tom helped two people, assured us that being third in line was fine with him. He said that he doesn’t like to be first because he doesn’t like the horses standing on the open ramp which goes into the river on the ferry’s way across, and if he’s in back it’s good because he’s usually the lightest vehicle, so it’s easiest for the ferry to take off from the riverbank if the wagon is on the back. This was how we loaded the ferry, and it worked fine, although I was still a little nervous about the horses on the ferry because they weren’t the best behaved pair I’ve ever seen, and they’d been rammy and fidgety the entire time they were waiting in line. However, the horses ended up being quite happy on the ride across the river because one of the passengers in the wagon, a man in suit pants and a dress shirt who was only getting a ride on the wagon, took a five-gallon bucket from the back of the wagon, knelt on the ramps as the ferry crossed the river, scooped up a bucket of river water, and gave the horses a drink. The horses were pretty thirsty, and the first bucket was gone in a flash, and this kind man went back and got them another bucket of water. That was all he had time to do on the way over, and when we got to the other side he got in the other car to ride into San Ignacio rather than continuing his ride in the wagon, but the horses had a good drink before continuing to Barton Creek.

It’s a little bit less like a zoo around here…

The other busy-ness around here last week was the crew working for the Belize Zoo. They cleaned up all the spikes in the back field, as well as all the spikes from the one complete cage they dismantled. They left one of the cages that they planned to take, because by the time they were done cleaning up the entire property and removing the second to last cage, they only had one day left to work, and Blad, the Zoo foreman of the crew, didn’t think they could get the cage down and clean it up in one day.

So, a big pile of cage material is ready to be picked up, and one cage remains standing. Sharon Matola from the Zoo stopped by yesterday to see what had been done, and she said that they are going to start working on the new tapir cage this week, and depending on how that goes, they’ll determine when they’re going to get the remaining cage.

Crazy Lady Reflections

Sometimes I think I’m a little nuts and that I’ve turned into a real crazy dog lady. I had one of those moments last week, when I realized I was feeding the dogs carrot peels and yogurt along with their kibble. What kind of dog food is that??? Actually, the dogs love both yogurt and carrot peels, and I figure they’re both probably good for them, so if what’s probably considered human health food makes the dogs’ food taste better to them, what the heck?

In the category of “Things I didn’t know I miss,” I learned that while I’m not consciously in withdrawal from my old newspaper habit, I’m missing newspapers nonetheless. Our neighbor from Minnesota, Mark, was down here for a week and a half with his daughter and a friend of hers, and along with bringing us his usual selection of things we can’t get here, he came with the most recent Sunday New York Times. Ah, heaven! I limited myself to a section a day, and finally polished off the remaining sections sitting in the sun one afternoon last week. The only hard part was that although I was itching to have a go at the Sunday Crossword, I knew that I wouldn’t be getting the NYTimes delivered the next week so I’d never know the answers I missed, and I figured that after not doing any crosswords for the last year, I probably wouldn’t be sharp enough to finish it and get everything right. What was really funny was that when Sharon was here from the Zoo yesterday, she saw the Times sitting on the horn box, and when I told her I was done and she could take it, she was as thrilled as I was. As she was leaving, she slipped and dropped some of her things on the wet steps, but all she was worried about was getting the newspaper picked up and back in order.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Critter Tales

Belize Zoo Cage Donation
While Tom and Selwyn spent the week continuing progress on the guest cabin, we’ve also had a crew of men here working on removing some of the cages on the property because we are donating them to the Belize Zoo.

When we came here for our last look at the property before we put in our purchase offer, we found a crew from the Zoo removing cages from the back field. At the time, the seller’s agent got us a little worked up about it, because he claimed that the Zoo did not have the seller’s permission to come onto the property and take anything from it. He decided to instigate a law suit on the seller’s behalf, which held up our closing for over a month. He tried to get us involved, but since we didn’t own the property at the time, we stayed out of it, except for telling him that we would like the back field cleaned up so the metal spikes where the cages had been removed weren’t sticking up from the ground. As is probably the case almost everywhere, the courts move slowly in Belize, so we ended up closing on the property with the cage issue still unresolved, and we didn’t worry too much more about it.

Then, shortly after Thanksgiving, we received an email from Sharon Matola, the Director of the Belize Zoo, asking us if we would be interested in donating any of the remaining cages to the Zoo. If you know us, you know that Tom and I both love animals, and the Zoo here in Belize is especially nice by zoo standards because the animals are caged in a very natural, jungle-like setting, and the animals on display always seem content. So, we decided that we’d be happy to donate some of the cages to the Zoo, and invited Sharon out here to talk to us to see what could be arranged.

Our only request was that before any more cages were removed from the property, the spikes from the already-removed cages needed to be removed from the ground. Sharon gladly agreed to this, as well as agreeing that she would put a link to our webpage (when it’s done) on the Zoo’s website. This will be great PR for us, because the Zoo website gets a lot of hits, and the Belize Zoo is a popular tourist attraction here, so this will get Moonracer Farm a lot of name recognition both in Belize, and from Belize tourists.

So, Selwyn rounded up a crew of three guys from San Antonio, and Sharon sent a crew foreman from the Zoo to supervise the cage cleanup and removal, and they worked all of last week. They accomplished an amazing amount of work this week, removing the spikes from all but two out-of-the-way rings in the back field, and removing one of the two big cages we’re donating. They plan to be back next week to remove the remaining cage and to dig up the rest of the spikes before the BFD comes on January 21st to transport the pile of cage panels to the Zoo where they’re going to assist in putting it up as part of the Zoo’s Jaguar Rehabilitation Program. And, we have another couple of small areas of jungle cleared, which will help us in our barn building effort.

This is the cage just behind the guest cabin. Nobody has done any work in or around this cage yet, so next week they’ll clear it, cut down the cage, and then remove the spikes from the ground.

Everything is done here except for making a brush pile in the middle of this ring and burning everything that was chopped down in order to clear enough space to cut the cage down and get it out of the jungle.

Barn Building
Before Sharon Matola came to talk to us, we had already decided that we are going to convert one of the three big cages behind the guest cabin into a horse barn. It will be a very unconventional barn, even by Belize standards, but we think it will be relatively easy to build and will be a safe shelter for the horses who currently have no shelter at all other than a few trees in their pastures. The cage structure is very solid, so we’re going to put a metal roof on the top to reflect the sun and provide a means of catching rainwater for the barn’s water supply. We’re going to put in a few more doors, and then build five stalls in each side by attaching stall walls to the cage structure and adding support posts inside the cage/barn. The total cage is composed of two rings, and we’re still deciding if we’ll put five stalls in each ring, or leave one ring open for hay storage. We don’t need extra room for tack and feed because we’ll be able to use the two-roomed concrete structure between the rings for this purpose. Plus, these concrete structures will remain for the two cages being removed by the Zoo, so we’ll have extra storage not far from the barn. We selected the middle cage of the three because it has the best access to the horse pasture, although since the Zoo cleared the area where the third cage was located, we may even have room to expand our pasture.

While Tom was out getting supplies, Selwyn cleared the area in and around the barn cage, which is near the cage where the Zoo guys were working. While they were working, they saw an anteater they’d disturbed heading for the hills.

Selwyn also found this red-eyed treefrog as he was chopping around the cage. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, and its eyes looked much bigger and redder than they do in this picture.

Well, it happened. Tom got a botfly, also called a beefworm. We’ve heard a couple of different versions of how you get them, but the general theory is that somehow some bug gets its eggs under your skin, the egg turns into a larvae, and the larvae creates a nice little home for itself. We have a neighbor who had one in his back that apparently got quite large and required a trip to a dermatologist when he returned to the States, but because we’ve been getting them off the horses, especially Tony, ever since we’ve been here, we’ve learned what they look like and how to tell a botfly from a regular bug bite before it goes too far through its larvae lifecycle phase. Tom confirmed with Selwyn that the suspicious spot on his arm was a botfly, so Selwyn found a tree with sap that sticks to the skin and covers the larvae’s breathing hole, got a glob of the sap, and stuck it on Tom’s arm with instructions to leave it there for 24 hours. The theory is that the worm will stick its head out to breathe, get stuck in the sap, die, and be able to be pulled out, and as far as we can tell, that’s what happened. The next morning, Selwyn picked the sap off of Tom’s arm, and was able to grab the larvae’s head with a pair of tweezers and pull it out. It was very small – Tom and I both needed glasses to even really see it – but Tom said that when Selwyn was pulling it out, it felt like it was being yanked out the bone in his arm. Now, a few days later, the spot on his arm, which had been less than a half inch in diameter, is probably less than an eighth inch around, and Tom said it stopped hurting or itching as soon as the larvae was out of the skin. And, I even managed to watch the extraction without fainting!

Miscellaneous Other Things

One of the good things about rainy weather the entire time Tom’s parents were here visiting us was that they became convinced that we needed a clothes dryer. We’ve become used to everything smelling slightly damp and moldy, but Mom and Dad correctly pointed out that our guests probably won’t like sleeping on smelly sheets. So, they went out and got us a dryer. Selwyn built me a gate so the dogs can’t make a mess of the new dryer like they did with the washer, and now I have a laundry room. We haven’t found out yet how the laundry gods are going to deal with this!

Ronald seems to have become the strangler fig removal expert. He removed it from our almond tree, and then from the sapodilla near the tack shed, and he spent this morning working on one of the mango trees in our yard. Most of the top of the tree had to be removed, and Ronald did a lot of it with just a machete, but towards the end he used the gringo saw, with Tom coaching. Unfortunately all of our batteries ran out, so the job will have to be finished after we run the generator and charge the gringo saw batteries.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bits and Pieces

I’m still in the process of catching up, so I’m going to include a somewhat disorganized blog entry with all the notes of things I intended to write about over the past couple of weeks.

Selwyn was off for the week between Christmas and New Years since he worked a couple of weekends before Christmas and banked some days. It was kind of quiet but the local kids being off from school kept us on our toes with wanting to visit. Wilton came over to chop so that he could buy fire crackers for Christmas, which is kind of like July 4th here with fireworks for the holiday. I’ve read that the firecrackers are intended to scare off the evil spirits, but somehow I don’t think that’s what’s going through the boys’ heads as they light the firecrackers and wait for the bang. Wilton also buys good clothes to wear to church with the money he earns here, so he’s not totally frivolous with his money. We like to see the kids be proud of what they buy with their hard work.

With Tom and Wilton both working at it, more chopping is getting done. The place looking a bit more inviting, and we’ve cleared further up the road so hopefully people can see our driveway a bit better as they are heading out of the Pine Ridge.

We started clearing back towards the cage we intend to use as a barn, and found some more fruit trees we have to de-vine so we get more mangoes and citrus. We’d been told some fruit trees were planted back there, but the undergrowth has been too thick to walk through until now, much less get close enough to the trees to see what they are. We’re hoping that if we get the vines cleared off now we’ll get some fruit from the trees this year.

We’re not, however, lacking for fruit right now. The big grapefruit tree that I mentioned before is still bearing an incredible number of grapefruits, so we’re eating at least one or two grapefruits a day, making juice, and giving them to anyone who will take them. And, the three grapefruit trees in the horse pasture look like they’ll have even more grapefruits this year than last, and they’re starting to ripen. We also have a couple of orange trees that didn’t bear last year loaded with fruit this year, so we’re looking forward to lots of citrus in a few weeks.

Tom and Selwyn finished the sapodilla bed just in time for Mom and Dad. It still needs a few more boards for the back of the headboard which Tom is picking up in Spanish Lookout today, but that’s only cosmetic, and it worked just fine. Those hardwood beds are solid, and everybody who comes in tries unsuccessfully to shake them. We’ve even had a few people ask if they’re bolted to the floor!

Fuel here is now $BLZ8.20/gallon ($US 4.10) and regular gas is still hanging in just under $BLZ10.00/gallon ($US 5.00). With no jobs/income we wish we still had Shawn and our road cart to go to town and back since it costs so much to drive.

Tom finally got his 4th haircut since we have been here just in time to look respectable for his parents’ visit. It’s not so bad when he lets his hair grow since he gets it cut pretty short each time.

I’ve been working on getting the 2 mares to work more like horses from the US – bending and listening to the riders aids other than just yanking their heads around. Many thanks to Karin for coming down and giving us pointers on what to start working on with the 2 pasture queens that can get quite opinionated at times. We will need her to return in about a year (or less) to keep our horse program under control.

With the cabin getting close to complete – the list of things to do is now down to one page – we working on the official things we have to do to open our doors to the public. I have to apply for a food handler permit which involves acting like a dog and submitting a stool sample. We also have to talk to our neighbors and the town chairmen around here about getting a liquor license, which has taken a bit thinking on our part. A full liquor license is relatively expensive, and we only want to serve alcohol to our guests, so we questioned whether it was worth the price. We have the option of a “mountain cider” license, which is about half the price and allows us to serve only beer and wine. We also considered operating on a BYOB basis, but right now we think we’re going to bite the bullet and just get the full license. We know that a lot of our guests will want to sample the local rums, and if we want to serve them, we need the full license, and we’re nervous that if we did the BYOB thing the authorities wouldn’t believe that the alcohol in the bottles that would inevitably be left here wasn’t being sold. Plus, there aren’t any liquor stores in the Mountain Pine Ridge, so our guests couldn’t just run to the corner for a six pack of beer or a bottle of something. When we have the food handler license and the liquor license, we can register with the Belize Tourism Board, which helps both us and them since it allows Belize to track how many tourism businesses are operating, and it offers all sorts of public relations opportunities, including links directly to our website – which is still in process since our internet problems brought all work on that to a dead stop over the holidays.

We’re also getting very close to being able to submit our application for permanent residency since we’ve been here continuously for 1 full year as of the 20th of this month. We have all the forms, including forms which must be completed by a doctor who gives us physicals. The only thing that may hold us up submitting the applications before the end of the month is that we found that we need a certified copy of our marriage license, which currently lives in Tom’s parents’ safe deposit box in Florida. Since they were here until Monday, we didn’t have access to it until they got home. Then, they have to get it out, get the certified copies, and snail mail it to us, and there’s no telling how long that will take. We’re going to try to have everything else ready to submit when that piece of paper gets here. The only fly in the ointment is that we read the fine print, and found that although the number of days we’re permitted to be out of the country between when we submit the application and when residency is granted is unlimited, we can’t be gone for more than fourteen consecutive days. This isn’t a big deal, except we figured we’d be heading north sometime over the summer, and we weren’t planning to be limited to two weeks – but we’ll see when we get the cards and maybe it won’t matter, and even if we don’t get the cards, two weeks will give us enough time to at least visit some of the many people we want to see.

Right now we’re told that the application process is taking six to eight months, but that’s likely to change after Belize’s general election, which is scheduled for February 8. Lots of people have been applying for citizenship so they can vote in this election, and that’s been keeping immigration pretty busy. You’d think this would mean that the processing time would be faster after the election, but we just don’t know because we know that immigration has been pressured to get as many citizenship papers as possible processed so more people can vote, so they might just want to slow down and take a break after the election, or they may have a backlog of permanent residency applications which have been pushed aside in favor of citizenship applications. Only time will tell, and it will happen when it happens, as we’ve learned is the case with many things here.

The other thing that’s happened around here that we believe has been influenced by the election is that plans for running electricity to this area have been on and off. Surveyors came out and planted poles and were surveying individual properties in 7 Miles, but then we heard that the surveyors have disappeared. So, right now it doesn’t look like electricity will get here any time in the near or not so near future, and most of the long time residents around here aren’t getting too hopeful.

The road has also been pretty regularly graded lately, which is probably due to up coming elections. It’s nice to have “smooth” roads that we can go about 35mph on! The only problem is that with all the rain and the fact that they don’t/can’t roll the roads after they grade them, the same holes appear in the road in a week or two after the road is graded. But, we enjoy it while we can, and we’re glad it prevents a little bit of wear and tear on Tinkerbell.

Missed Pictures

Here are some of the pictures I intended to post when our internet connection wasn't cooperating. They're a little out of date now, but better late than never.

Here's the decorated Christmas Cage.

This is the little garden we planted in front of the cabin where we live.

And this is the one on the side of the cabin.

This poinsettia tree held its leaves through Christmas, barely.

Catching up on the holiday weeks

Selwyn worked over time to get some comp time for the holiday weeks, so he worked his last day of the year the Sunday before Christmas, and didn’t start back until January 3, 2008. This left Tom and me on our own, but we found plenty to do to keep us busy. Because Tom’s parents were coming into Belize the Sunday before New Year’s and were planning to spend New Year’s Eve at Five Sisters Lodge just up the road, Tom and I wanted to make plans to have dinner with them and their tour group up there on the 31st. We didn’t have any email, and we don’t get cell reception here, so we decided it would be worth a few hours to ride the horses up to talk to them in person. We packed lunch, saddled up, and hit the trail. We went up the long way, and found Five Sisters via the trails with only one wrong turn, where we fortunately met a couple of women who were guests at Five Sisters and who were kind enough to tell us we were going the wrong way before we had too much backtracking to do. We talked to the concierge at Five Sisters, made our plans, and lunched down at Big Rock, all by ourselves. We rode home via the fire road, and were shocked at how much quicker it is than the road. If you don’t count the time it takes to take care of the horses before and after the ride, it’s almost quicker to ride up there on horses than to drive!

The Sunday Tom’s parents arrived, we parked our truck at the end of the driveway so we could at least wave as they went past in the tour bus. Tom had been doing some garden work down by the road even before they were expected, just in case they came by early, but about 15 minutes before we thought they’d go by, I grabbed a couple of chairs and a beer for Tom and went down to set up camp at the end of the driveway. Damion came over from next door, and the three of us were talking when we heard the bus rounding the corner at the Junction. As they got close to our driveway, the driver braked, and we saw the whole busload of tourists peering at us out of the bus windows, with cameras flashing. Tom’s parents jumped out the door on the far side of the bus, and we had a very happy reunion right in front of the bus – we weren’t going to risk moving and having the bus drive away without them! We then reloaded them onto the bus, stuck our heads in so their fellow travelers could see what these crazy kids who moved to Belize who they’d been hearing about for two weeks looked like, thanked the driver and their guide for stopping, and waved goodbye with promises that we’d see them the next afternoon.

As planned, we went up to join them and their group for dinner, and had a great time. It was a little strange because the rest of the tour group – about 15 people – all knew us, but we had to really work to remember their names. We were Exhibit A at dinner, and spent a lot of time fielding questions about how a couple of gringos are adjusting to life in Belize after spending our lives in the Northeast US. By the end of the evening, we had remembered all the names and felt like we knew everybody, and came home hoping that everybody would keep their promises of staying in touch with us via email, and having some of them come to visit when we’re up and running.

A little before 8:30 the next morning, New Year’s Day, the bus dumped Mom and Dad out at the end of our driveway. Actually, the driver was going a little fast and missed the end of the driveway, but finally got the bus stopped about halfway down our pasture fence line. We had brought their big suitcase home the night before, so Tom only had to lug the little suitcase up the road. We took them to their room, showed them around the cabin, gave them a few minutes to get settled, and then they came over to see our house. They were halfway through the two-room tour when Ofelia from next door showed up, asking if we wanted to live spontaneously and take a trip with her family to Xunantunich. Mom and Dad, after a two week activity intensive tour of Central America, were sort of looking forward to a quiet day, but we figured we’d better seize the opportunity, so we cleaned up and headed down the road. We ended up with 18 people loaded into Tinkerbell, heading down the San Antonio road and through San Ignacio to Xunantunich. It wasn’t exactly the 18 passenger bus they’d been riding for the past two weeks! Mom and Dad got to experience the ferry crossing, then we drove up the hill and explored the site, which they could appreciate since they’d been visiting Mayan archeological sites throughout Central America. Best of all, the family had packed a lunch, so when we got back to the parking and picnic area, we had a great lunch of tamales which the women next door had spent the entire previous day making, and yummy yellow cake. We loaded our stuffed bodies back into Tinkerbell, and headed home. We weren’t sure what we were going to have for dinner that night, but that problem was solved when we dropped everybody off because we found out that Olmi had stayed home and made chicken, rice, and beans for us for dinner so Mom and Dad could sample some traditional Belizean food. We really appreciated this not only because it solved the problem of not having anything defrosted for dinner, but because Olmi did this despite having made an emergency run into the hospital the previous day because of a nail puncture on her foot which had become infected. Her foot was better than it had been on the previous day, after a tetanus shot and a day of antibiotics, but it was still pretty swollen and red – but that didn’t stop her from making a delicious dinner and inviting the four of us into her home to share it!

We haven’t done a whole lot since then, since the weather has been really crappy – very cool, and very rainy. Mom is even wearing her long underwear, and the rest of us are in long pants and long sleeved shirts! We have, however, managed to drag Mom and Dad around so they can see how we live, shopping in Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio, and walking around some of our property. We’ve had to can the idea of going to Barton Creek since we don’t think we could drive in across the bridgeless creek, and we haven’t gone swimming at Rio On Pools as we planned because it’s been too cold to swim, but we’re having a fun visit anyway, trying to catch up on not seeing each other and talking face to face for over a year.

Blog Friends

Tom and I have been amazed at the number of people who have contacted us because they read this blog. Apparently it pops up fairly close to the top on a number of search engines when people are looking for information about Belize. Besides being amazed at the number of people reading the blog, we’ve been amazed at how much we like the people who have contacted us.

The first unknown blog reader we met was our neighbor Mark from Minnesota who owns a property about two and a half miles down the road. We met the last time he was in Belize, and we’ve kept in close contact him via email (when we’ve had email, of course) and we’re now eagerly anticipating his next visit to Belize with his daughter and one of her friends. He has a caretaker for his property here so he doesn’t need much, but we’ve tried to fill in a few gaps for him by doing things like acting as the go between for him and the caretaker since the caretaker does not have a computer. Both Mark and the caretaker are glad that the caretaker now knows when Mark is planning to arrive in Belize, rather than just having him show up at random times during the year. Our neighbors are also glad we met Mark, since we borrowed his TV to show Christmas specials at our house over the holidays, and all of the neighbors enjoyed lining their chairs up like a movie theater in the finished room in the second cabin, eating popcorn and cake, and watching American Christmas specials.

We also met a couple named Shane and Monique who found our blog shortly after their last trip to Belize last spring. Like Tom and me, they’re planning a move here, so they put us on their itinerary for their trip here in the end of December. Via email before they arrived, we told them to stop by some day when they got here, and sure enough they did. The four of us immediately hit it off, we jabbered away the morning, and arranged for dinner here the next night. As we did with Marjie and Chuck, we ate dinner, and talked and talked and talked. We all thought it was about 9:00 and started talking about wrapping up the evening since Shane and Monique had to drive back to Santa Elena, and when we looked at our watches we found that it was after 11:00! It’s funny to us that Tom and I are having our brains picked and are considered authorities about moving to Belize, and even we were shocked at how much we have to say about what we did, both the good things and the bad over the past couple of years regarding our move. Shane and Monique left Cayo and spent a few days near Placencia, just to see how they liked the rest of the country, but came “home” to Cayo for the last couple of days of their trip. They stopped by to say goodbye on their way to the airport – just a little bit of a detour! – and we can’t wait to see them again when they’re here planning the next phase of their move after selling a bunch of their stuff in the US.

Probably the funniest encounter we had with a blog reader was with Blayne, who had contacted us months and months ago because he already had land not too far from here, and, like us, was moving family, pets, and stuff down here with an RV driven through Mexico. He ended up flying to Belize ahead of the RV, and contacted us when he got to San Ignacio. We went back and forth with email quite a bit over the next week or so, but never managed to get together. We told him exactly what we told Shane and Monique, to just stop by, but we told him that we wouldn’t be around the Thursday before Christmas because we had to go to Belmopan to get our passports stamped. That Thursday, we went to Belmopan as planned, parked in the Post Office parking lot, and were walking towards the Immigration building. We heard someone calling our names from the BTL parking lot, and looked around but didn’t see anybody remotely familiar. Then this gringo called our names again, so we ‘fessed up and went over to see who he was. It was Blayne, who recognized us from the picture on our blog, and who had been waiting to see if we walked past since we told him of our plans that day. He was in Belmopan on business with one of his new neighbors, so he was just hanging out in the parking lot and waiting for us to walk by. Like the other blog readers we’ve met, we were amazed at all we have in common – ranging from things like all being IT professionals in our past lives to all being owned by Jack Russells – and plan to get together soon. Blayne said his mother, who was driving the RV through Mexico, really wanted to meet us, so we told him to contact us when she gets to Belize so we can all get together and compare notes.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

If you didn’t figure it out…

…we’ve been without any internet connection at all since the Saturday before Christmas. Tom stopped at the place in Spanish Lookout where we purchased the dish, and discovered that we’d have to switch billing companies for more satellite bandwidth (or something like that, anyway), which involves reprogramming the modem. The resident expert said that he’d check our billing so it happened as close as possible to the end of our billing cycle, which, it turned out, was apparently that day since by the time Tom got home we had no internet connection at all. So, we took the modem over to be reprogrammed on Christmas Eve Monday with the understanding that it could be done while we waited, but found that it couldn’t be done until Thursday. Tom waited until the Friday after Christmas for them to finish it, and it still wasn’t done when he went to pick it up. It seems that somebody was complaining louder than we were, so we didn’t get it back until just a couple of days ago. And, Tom’s parents arrived on New Year’s Day, so even though we picked it up we haven’t had time to do anything with it until now. Now to the task of catching up with all the people who probably think we’ve been eaten by jaguars…

Christmas Cookies

Christmas in Belize is very unlike Christmas in the US. It’s much more of a religious holiday, and Christmas decorations aren’t widespread, we didn’t see anybody with a decorated tree in their house (a few – like 2 in people’s yards in town), and gift giving is kept to a minimum. We didn’t want to look like gringos throwing our money around, but we wanted to let all the people that we’ve become friends with this year, and who have helped us get settled, know that we really appreciate what they’ve done for us. So, I decided to make cookies. I spent the Friday before Christmas baking, I think, a dozen batches of cookies, or maybe more, since many of them were doubled. I made all the cookies that were the traditional cookies in Tom’s family and mine: butter spritz cookies, Christmas M&M cookies, chocolate chips, snickerdoodles, peanut butter kiss cookies (better known as “chocolate boobs” in Tom’s family), oatmeal raisin, and a couple of batches of different kinds of brownies. We bought a couple of bags of the ubiquitous white Styrofoam boxes and some red and green ribbon, and we packaged the cookies up and started distributing them. I took them to our neighbors, and Tom made a Saturday run to Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio where he gave them to all the merchants and business people who have helped us get on our feet here this year.

We were shocked at people’s reactions; nobody let it go at a simple “thank you,” and Tom heard from a number of different people that nobody had ever done anything like that before for them. I went back to Spanish Lookout with Tom on Monday, Christmas Eve, to drop off the modem, and in every place we went, the merchants came out from their offices and behind their counters saying “So this is the lady who made those delicious cookies” so they could personally thank me. Tom went back to Spanish Lookout yesterday (in a failed attempt to retrieve the modem) and he said that in one of the hardware stores, one of the workers followed him up and down the aisles for fifteen minutes raving about how good the cookies were and how that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for them. I find that a little bit hard to believe, but apparently the guy meant it because he asked Tom if we’d be doing it next year, and when Tom said we probably would, he said that was incentive to keep the job for another year!

The comment that made me go “Awww…” and get a little teary-eyed came from our realtor, Noah, who came to Belize from the American Midwest almost 20 years ago. He said he opened the box of cookies, saw and smelled them, and was immediately transported 40 years or more into the past, into his mother’s kitchen at Christmas time. He said he thought he was used to the Belizean traditions by now, and he didn’t realize how much he missed Christmas cookies until he had them in his hands. Tom had given them to Noah at his office, and Noah, being honorable, decided to take them home to share them with his family. Noah also invited Tom and me to join them for Christmas dinner, which we did, and we spent a wonderful afternoon sitting in their breezeway looking out over the farm, talking and eating. Noah’s wife Marayla is a wonderful cook and an extremely gracious hostess, and she was the one who told us that on Saturday, when Noah told her about the cookies and realized he’d left them in his office, he jumped back in his truck to drive the four miles back into town to retrieve them. When he got them home, Marayla took each cookie and divided it into four sections so she, Noah, her sister Mercedes, and son Fred could all have some of each cookie.

When we had dinner there, we were treated to Christmas baking Belizean style, which is yellow cake and black cake. The yellow cake is like (or maybe is) a pound cake, and the black cake is delicious rum-soaked fruit cake, but it’s still cake-y, not that un-food-like texture of American fruitcake, and the fruits are still recognizable as fruits, not bits of bright red and green sugar that may have been fruit at some point, or maybe not. When we were talking about Christmas food traditions with Noah, Marayla, and Mercedes, we realized that cookies probably aren’t made because unlike in the US, ovens aren’t standard kitchen equipment, and while a cake can be carefully cooked on/in a woodhearth, cookies are just a little too delicate and would probably burn on the bottoms. In any case, we had a great time visiting and learning about Belizean Christmas traditions, and thanks to good company and great people, we made it through our first Christmas here without any tears.

Yes we have no flour today

I know those are lyrics to a song and that “flour” should be “bananas.” But, the unthinkable has happened here, and Belize is in the midst of a flour shortage, which seems just as unlikely as a banana shortage, although it’s equally inexplicable, and a lot more inconvenient. Belizeans deprived of their white flour tortillas are not happy people. And the fact that it happened the week before Christmas meant that a lot of yellow and black cakes didn’t get made. I was lucky; I had purchased ten pounds of flour the week before, and still had a little from my last bag when we realized that all the stores were out of flour, so I was able to conserve so I had enough to make a day’s worth of Christmas cookies. Not everybody was so lucky, and lots of people are just doing without, and are less than thrilled. I use whole wheat flour or oats for bread anyway about half the time, and I’m now also using them for tortillas, but they just aren’t the same. Some of the women are cooking with ground white corn, and I think a lot more rice and potatoes are being eaten. It’s funny, because even in restaurants all the sandwiches have been taken off the menus because the restaurants can’t get bread or flour either.

We thought this was normal Christmas shortage but we have been told that a flour shortage has never occurred here in Belize except for when Hurricane Mitch went through and prevented the ships carrying the wheat from docking here. My theory is that the gods know that Tom’s mom, who recently found out she has celiac disease, is scheduled to enter Belize on Sunday, so they just rid the country of flour. Other theories are that the only flour mill in Belize is broken, and nobody knows when it will be fixed. Of course with the elections coming up sometime before March, political conspiracy theories abound, and the word is that the out party disabled the mill to discredit the in party, and to assure the people that if they’re elected, Belize will never suffer another flour shortage. Without our internet connection we’re pretty well cut off from the news, so I have no idea what the real story is or when we’re likely to have flour again. Tom was able to get enough flour for us and our neighbors at one of the Chinese stores in Santa Elena yesterday, but he said that he took half the store’s stock, and when what’s on the shelves is gone, they’re out again until they don’t know when.

I think everybody, including me, is keeping a little stash of white flour, just in case. My just in case happened the Sunday before Christmas, when Tom delivered cookies to our neighbors Damion and Olmi. The day he delivered them was Daisy’s ninth birthday, and when she saw the wrapped box of cookies, she was thrilled that I’d remembered her birthday. Of course I hadn’t remembered her birthday – I never remember anybody’s birthday, including mine, until at least a day or two after the fact – but Olmi told me this later that afternoon. I, of course, had to mix up a quick birthday cake for Daisy, just so she wouldn’t feel forgotten, and we sang Happy Birthday in Spanish and ate the cake while the whole family was over here watching Christmas specials on our neighbor Mark’s TV with our VCR and Tom’s collection of Christmas specials.