Monday, February 25, 2008

Hi Janie!

Our friend Mark from Minnesota who owns property down the road was here in January with his daughter Janie and her friend Ali. Mark has since told us that Janie will be reading this blog as a way to keep up to date with what’s going on in Belize, so we wanted to say hi to Janie in Australia from Belize, as well as to the rest of the S.I.T. Study Abroad group!

Things I forgot to say in the last blog

Typically I post the blog stuff, then leave that webpage up so Tom can look at it while I make dinner. As we did that last night, Tom pointed out that I completely neglected to post our progress on the guest cabin and the property, which we do as much for ourselves so we can go back and track our progress as we do for everybody who wants to know what we’re doing.

Anyway, the progress report is that the front room is completely done, even down to the little piece of shower grouting that I needed to do, and the back room is done except for a few shelves, screening the porch, and putting up the steps. The generator is [finally] just about to be moved down near the road, and all the workshop stuff, like the table saw and lumber stock, is following the generator down to the shop. Our friend Mark from Minnesota is coming down this week and is going to spend his first night here rather than trying to get his house open when he arrives here in the evening, so it looks like we’re getting all cleaned up just in time for our first guest now that we’re legally open!

The other thing Tom got a kick out of that I neglected to mention is that we’ve had a few different people contacting us because they’ve been reading the blog. Most of these people – a couple from London, a man from Colorado, a couple from California – have contacted us via email, but one gentleman showed up at our gate because he drove to Belize and is just poking around for a couple of months, and since he’s been reading our blog he figured he’d stop by and say hi since we don’t have phone service here. We’re delighted to be contacted by all of these different people, and are glad people are reading and enjoying this blog, and hope people are finding it useful and informative.

New email address

If you haven’t caught the change on this website and you somehow missed our mass emailing, please note that we have new email addresses: and Selwyn also has a mailbox at, you guessed it: We will be shutting down our Compuserve account sometime in the not too distant future.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

We’re open…sort of

When I last wrote, we were planning to pick up our Police Records the next day, and then go to Belmopan and Belize City to deliver our residency and Belize Tourist Bureau (BTB) applications. It didn’t happen quite like that, because our Police Records, which were supposed to take two weeks, ended up taking more than four. They weren’t in Belmopan, we were sent back to San Ignacio, then San Ignacio told us to go to Belmopan, and they still weren’t done. We finally picked them up Friday a week ago in Belmopan, and took last weekend to put all of our paperwork together for both our residency applications and the BTB application.

We set out on Wednesday with a list of additional copies we needed for both applications. But, before we even made copies, we had to go to the attorney’s office to pick up our incorporation papers, which were done. We then got our copies, and put together a packet with each of our residency applications, and a copy of each application, and a copy of each to keep. We did the same with the BTB application and, all organized, we set off for Belmopan. We went into the Immigration office, got our number, and then got our passports stamped for another two months, a process we will have to repeat until we get our permanent residency approved. We had arrived at the office around 11:15, and at noon Tom asked if the office closed for lunch. We were told that they continued working, so we stayed, but it seems that a lot of people didn’t because four or five numbers were called for people who weren’t there right around noon, and then it was our turn. We handed our packets over to the Immigration officer, and she started through them. As it turns out, they didn’t want an application for each of us, and they didn’t want copies, so we added all of my paperwork to Tom’s packet, showed the officer a few originals so she could stamp the copies we submitted, put a whole bunch of unnecessary copies back in our bag, and were out of there before 12:30 with our interviews scheduled for May 14.

We grabbed a quick lunch at the market, and set off to drop a truckload of cage scraps at the Zoo. That took all of 10 minutes, and then we were off to Belize City. We hoped we had everything in order for the BTB, but figured they’d look at our application and send us away to get some more papers. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that we were wrong, and we were very much impressed with our experience with the BTB. I had emailed some things to a gentleman at the BTB last week, and had told him that we were coming in sometime on Wednesday, although we couldn’t say what time because we weren’t sure how long we would take at Immigration. We showed up, the receptionist called the hotel department to tell them we were there, and a very helpful gentleman came down and took us into a conference room. We spread our application out on the table and started going through it with him, and he gave us the spiel on the BTB’s role in the tourism industry in Belize, and what the BTB has to do with hotels and lodges. He told us that they recommend that people thinking of opening a lodge come talk to them early on in the process, and Tom and I both wilted a little figuring that was his way of saying we had a long way to go. But, he then continued that it looked like we had done our homework and had everything we needed, so if we would give him $90BZ he would get copies of our application, get a copy of our temporary operating permit, and provide us with all the forms we need to be a legally operating hotel in Belize.

We had no idea it would be that easy and figured we’d get way more of a runaround. We probably made our lives more difficult than necessary by doing our permanent residency and BTB applications at the same time, but the flip side of that is that the applications required some of the same documentation, so submitting both applications at the same time prevented us from having to redo some of the forms. We’d heard horror stories about both these processes from other gringos, but we're starting to think that in a lot of ways it's way easier to do business here than in the US, which wasn't what we expected. The only problem is that there aren't any clearly defined processes so you sort of have to feel your way, but that's the hard part and once you know what you're doing, it's cake. There's a huge difference in attitude between here and the US, because here the government officials seem to feel that they're here to help you, not just give you the run around and show you how important they are which seems to be the attitude of a lot of US officials. That may just be our experience, and we still have a way to go before we get our permanent residency and we’re really not ready to open yet, but so far so good doing business here.

The other thing that made us laugh is that because we want to offer tours, we should get a Tour Operator license. While we were at the BTB, we met with the Tour Operator coordinator and reviewed the application with him. We don’t yet have everything we need for that application so we aren’t ready to turn it in, but we had to laugh because he told us that they technically only grant the license to Belizean citizens and permanent residents, but since we are a Belizean corporation, if we want to give them the application money and bring money into Belize by offering tours to travelers, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be granted the license. Anybody who knows me has heard me rant up and down about how I sometimes wonder if my money isn’t any good because I’ve had so many experiences where I’m trying to do or get something which involves paying somebody to do something for me, and the person or organization I’m supposed to pay gives me the runaround until I can’t figure out why I’m even bothering to try to do business with them. So far, that isn’t how it works here.

The other thing that has made us go “hmmm” a few times is the differences in the legal systems between here and the US. We’re opening our property to the public, and will be offering activities that could be dangerous, such as horseback riding. In the US, we would expect to be insured to the eyeballs with liability insurance for the hotel, for the horseback riding and other tours, for our vehicles, and for anything else somebody could theoretically decide they wanted to sue us for, including errors and omissions. Here, we’ve questioned the attorney, multiple insurance companies, and the BTB, and have been told that we really don’t have to worry about it because we are a Belizean corporation, so if anybody wanted to sue us it would have to be done in Belize courts, and the Belize courts simply don’t try cases where the person bringing the suit to court could be at fault. This kind of insurance simply isn’t offered here, with the exception of liability insurance for our vehicles, which we have increased in case a tourist is injured in our truck. We were told that we could get a standard waiver for activities like horseback riding if it made us feel better, but we really don’t need it. We probably will have people sign something for those activities just because many people don’t realize how dangerous it can be, and providing a waiver is a good way for us to communicate the danger to our guests – but I’m always going to hear the attorney in my head saying “do you feel better now?” every time I pull out the form.

Silly Gringa

When I realized that I was going to have to learn some Spanish to get along here, I was partly excited that I’d learn something new, partly scared that it would be hard, and partly just resigned that I’d either learn it or I wouldn’t, and that would be that. I expected that it would be a little difficult and a little fun, but I had no idea it would be as funny as it’s turned out to be. It’s funny partly because of the mistakes I make, like mixing up peeing and baking, but the other funny part is how our Spanish speaking friends handle us and help us.

Of the families next door, the only household where neither of the parents speak English is Julian and Marta (Marta Dos). However, all of their kids are more or less fluent in English, so when we talk to them we usually have one of the kids around who will translate as we speak. What’s funny is that as we’ve learned more and more Spanish, more and more of the conversation happens in Spanish – and if we say something in English the translating kid will say it to the parent in Spanish, and if we say it in Spanish, the translating kid will just repeat what we said, usually word for word. I’m not sure if they even know they’re doing it, but it usually gets me laughing, and Marta Dos has the best laugh and it doesn’t take much to get her going, so by the time we’re five minutes into a conversation Marta Dos and I are usually laughing hysterically, and Rosa, Ofelia, or Iris is usually completely perplexed about what we think is so funny.

Yesterday little three-year-old Zulmi had me laughing. We’ve found that the little preschoolers are some of the best teachers, so while Tom was talking to Marta and Julian, I was playing with Zulmi and talking to her. She had a little plastic dog doll which she was pushing around in a little plastic wheelbarrow, and I just recently learned that the Spanish word for wheelbarrow is “carreta.” So, I pointed to the wheelbarrow and said to Zulmi, “Esta carreta?” She looked at the wheelbarrow, looked at me, picked up the wheelbarrow in one hand, pointed to it with the other, and looked me right in the eye as she very clearly and slowly said in completely un-Spanish-accented English “w-h-e-e-l-b-a-r-r-o-w.” I repeated “wheelbarrow” back to her, and she very solemnly nodded. She then picked up the little plastic dog, pointed to that, and again very clearly and slowly said “c-h-u-c-h-o,” which is the local Spanish word for dog. I repeated that back to her, she nodded again as the silly gringa proved to be a good student, and then she went on with pushing the dog around in the wheelbarrow, or the chucho in the carreta, or vice versa…whatever mix of languages we’re learning that day!

A Dilemma

We were faced with a bit of a dilemma this week, and we did what we think was right, even though it wasn’t really what we wanted to do, although we think it will turn out okay. Most of the men we’ve met around here have questioned us about working in the US. Because so many gringos, like us, come down with enough money that they can buy property and don’t have to work too hard if at all, the perception is that if you go to the US you can get a job, make huge money, and return to Belize a rich man. Plus, most Belizeans know that it’s not hard to make $10US an hour, which is half a day’s work for many Belizeans. Whenever our friends have asked us about this, we try to explain that it’s not that simple in the US, and that the cost of living is higher, and there are all sorts of expenses a Belizean would encounter in the US that would chew up that $10/hour very quickly. So, even if a Belizean would make a whole lot more money in the US, getting most of that money back to his family while he was living any sort of a reasonable life in the US – away from his family – isn’t as simple as it looks.

Anyway, a friend of a friend in the Rochester area owns a landscaping business and gets work visas for Mexicans and Belizeans so they can legally come to the US and work for him for eight or nine months of the year. He contacted us and asked if we know of anybody who might be interested. We laughed because just about every man we’ve spoken to in the year we’ve been here would be interested at some level, and then we got some more information and asked if the prospective employer wanted us to talk to anyone. He sent us his list of qualifications, and told us to go ahead and ask our friends. This is where the dilemma came in, because Tom and I looked at each other and realized that because this deal sounded so good – and is good, really, for the right people – we really didn’t want to tell our friends about it for fear they’d jump at the opportunity. But, we then counseled each other in our grown-up voices, our friends are adults who can make their own decisions. And, are two people who chucked their established life and successful careers in the country where all of their friends and families live to go to a country where they only casually know a handful of people and have no jobs qualified to make a decision like that for somebody else? No, of course not [we said in those grown-up voices]. So, we wrote down the information and trotted off to our neighbors to give it to them.

And they’re interested, and may know other people who are interested. We talked for a good hour, and warned them of other expenses they might encounter, and told them of some of the differences between here and there that might surprise them – April snowstorms, for example. We also told them about some of the things they might like, and let them know that part of the reason we would try to talk them out of taking a job in the US is purely selfish on our part, because we don’t want our friends and neighbors to go away for a long time. Yes, I know, that’s what we did to our friends and families in the US, but that’s also how we know that it is difficult and hurts, and the hurt may not be worth what they’d be paid. So, now we wait and see what they decide, and if any of them are offered a job and decide to go, we load their suitcases with the fleece and wool socks we’re not wearing, give them hugs goodbye, and say we’ll see them in eight or nine months. Olmi has already come to tell us that she’s pretty sure Damion wouldn’t do it because they don’t want to be apart from each other for that long, but we’re not sure what anyone else is thinking. And, we’ll tell a few more people we know about the chance, and then just see what happens.

Monday, February 11, 2008


When I last posted, it looked pretty definite that power was coming this way. It may still be heading in our direction, but now we’re not so sure when it will actually get here, and if it will happen in our lifetime.

The poles that were put in between here and San Antonio have gone as far as they’re going for now, so we’re not getting it from that direction, although it’s now less than a mile away from here on the San Antonio Road.

From 7 Miles, they’ve chopped and put survey markers for the poles in all the way to the Junction, but other than that, we haven’t seen any activity in a couple of weeks. Poles have been erected on the side of the road to within about a half mile of 7 Miles, but no more poles have been dropped. It would seem that they’ve done enough work that the power company should at least erect the poles the rest of the way into 7 Miles and string the wire from Maya Ranch at Mile 5, but we haven’t heard anything about when that might happen, and we have no idea if poles and wire for the two miles to the Junction will ever appear.

We should know soon, however, since the General Election was held on Thursday, and the party that had been in power for the last 10 years was ousted, and the other major party is in, which means Belize has a new UDP Prime Minister and a bunch of new area representatives. Whether this administration will finish what the previous administration started is anyone’s guess, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.


We’re at the point in this project where we’re not seeing any giant steps in progress, even though everything we’re doing needs to be done before we can open. Tom and Selwyn have been doing the finish work in the second room of the guest cabin, and the devil is, as they say, in the details. The walls and ceiling of the second room are complete, most of the shelves are up, the bathroom vanities are finished, and Tom has just a little bit of tiling to do in the shower and then I can grout it. Selwyn needs to screen the porch to the second cabin, and they need to build stairs for both rooms, and they have one more bed to finish…and that’s about it.

We’re taking a trip to Belize City tomorrow to drop our paperwork off at the BTB, and we’re hoping to pick up the last piece of paper we need for our residency applications in Belmopan. It’s taken longer than expected to get our police records back, which may have been a good thing because while we’ve been waiting I met a woman who lives with her husband in Succotz, a village on the other side of San Ignacio near the Guatemala border, whose blog explained to me that the income tax form required for our permanent residency applications is really a form that must come from the government’s income tax division saying we’ve never filed income tax in Belize. We just weren’t going to submit anything for that requirement, but I think Kay’s blog has probably saved us a return of the applications and a couple of trips to Belmopan.

Miscellaneous Updates

Nock seems to be doing fine. We’re still giving her the pills for her liver, but she’s been off the anti-vomit medication and the antibiotics since the end of last week, and she seems to be back to her normal self, jumping in the air higher than the counters while she’s waiting for her food bowl to be put on the floor. We’ll take her back to the vet for blood tests in a couple of weeks, and see what’s going on with her then.

My leg is also healing, but slowly. I spent much of last week limping around, which seems ridiculous for a wound caused by a simple puncture, but in the last couple of days it’s been draining and seems to be less annoying. The worst of it is that it’s right where the tops of my rubber boots rub the front of my calf, so I haven’t been able to wear my favorite footwear in over two weeks! Fortunately it hasn’t been raining too much so I haven’t had a serious need for rubber boots, but they’re still convenient to slip on to go out in the horse pasture or walk through tall wet grass in the morning.

We’re Well Protected

Our bedroom opens onto our back porch, which opens onto the fenced dog yard. We never put a screen door from the porch to the yard, and at night we generally sleep with the bedroom door open so the dogs can go in and out as they want. Usually, that works just fine. However, a couple of nights ago, Tom and I were startled awake by a big ruckus in the yard of barking, snarling, snapping 80 plus pound puppies. Tom sprang out of bed and grabbed a flashlight, and ran to the door. He could see the puppies fighting with each other with something between them, so he ran back into the bedroom for his slippers so he could run out and see what they were doing. As he was heading in for his slippers, Beli followed him in and Stout stayed out in the yard. From the porch, Tom could see Stout hunched over something, worrying it and still snarling. Tom went into the yard, and pulled Stout off his quarry…a sock one of them must have stolen from the laundry hamper!

It’s good to know that if any miscreant socks with bad intentions scale the seven-foot dog fence and try to get into our house, our guard dogs will take care of the problem!