Monday, March 31, 2008

The Cicadas Say the Hot Season is Coming

While the temperatures have still been relatively cool, in the mid 80s, and we’ve still had some rain, we can tell the hot and dry season is coming. We’ve been hearing the cicadas at night, and just this morning Tom noticed that the yellow-flowered Cortez tree is in bloom again. I swore the Cortez trees were blooming earlier this year than last, but Selwyn assured me that this is when they always bloom, and the past year has just flown by.

This is a strangler tree. Small strangler vines take root in the branches of another tree, and start sending shoots down the host tree’s trunk and into the ground. The strangler vines grow and grow and surround the tree, and eventually the host tree is killed. In time, the dead host rots away and leaves a hollow tree of strangler. The holes you can see here aren’t rot, they’re just gaps in where the vines didn’t connect as they formed their own trunk.

Medical Systems

Tom and I have gained a little more insight into Belize’s medical system over the past few weeks and have had a chance to directly compare how some things are done in the US and how they’re done here. A little over a month ago, I found a lump in my breast. This happened twice before while we were living in NY. In NY, I’d waited a week or so to make sure it wasn’t something that would disappear, then called my doctor. The doctor in NY always had me come in immediately, and then I’d start the rounds of “we don’t think it’s anything, but because you’re in the high risk group, we’d better do a mammogram.” Then the mammogram people would say they didn’t think it was anything but I’d better get an ultrasound. Then the ultrasound people would say they didn’t think it was anything, but I’d better get a needle biopsy. Then the surgeon would say he didn’t think it was anything, but it would really be best if he just took it out. So then, in both cases four to six weeks after finding the lump, it was gone and that was that.

Here, I found the lump and waited a week or so, then walked into the local hospital, told the receptionist what was happening, and asked if I could either see a doctor or make an appointment for a mammogram. She told me that the mammogram machine they used to have at that hospital broke a few months ago and they couldn’t get the parts to fix it, so if I wanted a mammogram I’d have to go to Belize City. I asked if they had an ultrasound machine. They do, but I said I guessed I’d like to see a doctor first. So, she had me sign in and I had to wait for the doctor. Before seeing the doctor, a nurse takes your vital signs. We were chatting and she was looking at my chart (which only had that visit since I’d never gone there as a patient), and she suddenly looked at me and said “YOU found a lump?” I said yes, and she asked how often I checked, and I told her once a month or so, and she asked how I found it. I told her that because I know I’m in a high risk group since my mother had breast cancer and I’m in my 40s with no kids, not to mention all the carcinogenic chemicals I’ve had my hands in because of the horses, I do monthly self exams. She couldn’t get over the fact that I found it, no matter what I told her.

The doctor, a Russian woman, was also surprised that I found it. I pointed out to her that it’s really pretty big, and if I did any sort of self exam, it would be hard not to find it. She agreed that it should be checked, and asked if I minded getting an ultrasound. I figured I’d have to make an appointment and come back in a week, but she took me out of her office to the cashier where I had to prepay $55BZ for the ultrasound, and then took me to the ultrasound technician. He found and measured the lump in the ultrasound, and also registered surprise that I’d found it myself. He then walked me back to the doctor’s office, then went and developed the film, and then met with the doctor, and they called me into the office. This all happened on a Tuesday afternoon, and the doctor was a little upset that I wasn’t there in the morning, because she thought I needed to talk to the surgeon, and he’s only at that hospital on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so I had to go home and come back Thursday morning to see him. I had waited about 45 minutes to get in to see the doctor, but once I was in her office, the rest of this happened within about another 45 minutes – an hour and a half for what would have been a couple of weeks of running around in the US. The only unfortunate part of the whole visit was that while I was waiting I was trapped in front of a TV tuned to CNN and broadcasting one of President Bush’s press conferences. Fortunately, they’d already taken my blood pressure before I was subjected that stress.

I went back to the hospital on Thursday morning and met with both the doctor I had originally talked to, and the surgeon. The surgeon said that I could go to Belize City for a mammogram, but he felt that he’d end up doing a biopsy anyway, so he recommended that we just do it then. So, with both doctors and a couple of nurses, they got out their biopsy tool – a thing that looks like a sparky that pokes in and grabs a piece of tissue – and did the biopsy right there. The surgeon, who went to school, trained, and practiced in the US before moving to Belize, was then full of apologies because the biopsy results take two weeks, and he was sure I was used to much faster turnaround in the US. I told him that the biopsy results might be faster in the US, although not definitely, but that so far I’d found the Belize process to be a whole lot more efficient than in the US.

Those two weeks were a fairly long two weeks. In the US, I was always more aggravated than worried with the US habit of saying “we’re pretty sure everything is okay, but…” However, I apparently found that more reassuring than I’d realized, because the doctors here didn’t do that, and I was more than a little worried. The doctors here said exactly what they thought – it felt like a fibroadenoma, but was more attached. It also felt like a cyst, but the ultrasound showed that it was solid. It’s in a spot where over 70% of all breast cancers occur. And, I’m in that damned high risk group. Plus, between the surgeon and the doctor, they’d spent about four hours with me, which has not been my experience in the US, so I was worried that they were spending so much time talking to me.

Despite my worries, it’s benign, another fibroadenoma. However, the talk with the surgeon here was very different than with the surgeon in the US. In the US, he’d asked if I wanted a needle biopsy or to have it removed. I said a needle biopsy would be fine, and he said no, he’d rather remove it. When I mentioned this to the surgeon here, he sort of grimaced, and said something to the effect that even removing a smallish lump is surgery, and elective surgeries in Belize generally aren’t a good idea. He also suggested a different long term plan since we’re living in Belize. When we left the US, I figured I’d schedule an exam and a mammogram for whenever we were in the US. The surgeon here suggested that in addition to that, I should think about the genetic test and find out what kind of cancer my mother had so that if this happens here in the future, they’ll know if I’m in the high risk category, or the really high risk category, and if I’m in the really high risk category they may handle it more aggressively. And, he said, I may want to do an MRI rather than a mammogram in the US, just to be more thorough when I am checked.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about all of this. I can get all this stuff done in the US, but because our insurance is just catastrophic coverage, and because all this stuff in the US is so expensive, it could cost me a fortune to do what the Belize surgeon recommends. Here, the ultra sound, the biopsy, and the hours with the doctors cost me just a little over $100US, probably less than I would have paid in co-payments even when we had good insurance in the US. I also got the impression (although we didn’t directly discuss it) that if the lump had been malignant, the surgeon would have recommended shipping me back to the US for treatment, even though he remarked numerous times how seldom he saw women who found their own lumps, and that Belizean women could learn from me. Tom and I also spent a lot of time talking about what we would do if…and didn’t really decide anything, so I guess it’s a really good thing that it’s just another benign lump.

Hooky and Hammocks

Because Selwyn was on vacation all week, Tom and I took a little time to play hooky too. On Thursday afternoon we quit work at about 1:00, and drove up to Rio On Pools. It takes about a half hour to get there, so we were there for a good hour before the Caracol tour traffic started coming in, and it again amazed us that these beautiful spots are right off the road, and we go so often and nobody is there. Of course the rocks filled with sunbathers when the Caracol convoy came, but by then we’d had plenty of sun and had warmed our bones on the sun-baked rocks after taking a dip in the cool clean pools.

The other thing we did while Selwyn was off was to buy hammocks, which we’ve been talking about doing ever since we moved into this cabin ten months ago. We decided we needed hammocks for the guest cabin porches, so a couple of weeks ago we picked up a string hammock in San Ignacio. We hung it on the porch to the back guest room, but it wasn’t very comfortable. The center seemed to be too tight, and you couldn’t just relax in it, you had to balance so you wouldn’t roll out. We thought we were just being dumb gringos who didn’t know how to hang a hammock, so we had some of the neighbors come over to look at it, and they assured us it was defective. When we bought it, the guy at the store said it was his last one, so we were hoping to get our money back. We’ve also been looking at some folding wooden suitcase stands most of the furniture stores around here carry, and had been thinking about buying one so Tom can use it as a model and build some. When we took the hammock back, as we expected, the guy just offered to give us our money back, but he’d just been to the bank and didn’t have a lot of cash. Another customer was in the store and was just about to buy stuff, so we said we’d wait until she checked out and then figure out what to do. As we were browsing in the store, I spied one of the folding suitcase stands holding a stack of placemats. Tom, always the dealer, offered the guy an even exchange for the hammock with the used suitcase stand, which the guy was happy to accept. We’d already bought two new hammocks which cost a little more than half what the original had cost, so without shelling out much more cash we had two hammocks instead of one AND a used suitcase stand to use as a model.

Now the only thing we have to decide is if it’s a good thing to have a hammock on our porch, since both of us have noticed that it seems to call our names every time we walk past.

How Big is Easter in Belize?

A few people have asked if Easter is a big deal in Belize because the country as a whole is so religious, and because Central America in general is known for big Easter celebrations. I can’t answer for the whole of Belize because we’re sort of isolated out here and even when we go to town we don’t see that many people, but from what we’ve seen, it’s widely celebrated, but not as overtly religious as you might think. Good Friday and Easter Monday are both national holidays, so of course everybody appreciates a four-day weekend. And it is definitely a religious holiday, but I think because people in general are more religious all the time, it doesn’t seem like such a high religious celebration. In the US, we know a whole bunch of people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter, so these holidays seem like big religious celebrations. Here, most people go to church regularly – weekly or even more frequently – so not that many more people get revved up for Easter services, and Easter week isn’t any different than every other week of the year. Personally, I find it’s sort of a let-down here, and I didn’t realize until I started thinking about it this year that I apparently celebrated the pagan aspects of the holiday, getting hope that because it was already Easter, spring must be on the way, and winter will be over. Yes, I know that’s symbolically the resurrection anyway, but here where the weather is always nice and warm, the holiday just doesn’t seem so much like a cause for celebration.

Speaking of Easter symbolism, we had a sort of morbidly funny conversation about chicks with Olmi and Damion. We see all the new batches of chicks because they come to eat the grain when we feed the horses, so we know how about how many little chicks are running around at any given time. We noticed that one hen’s chicks all disappeared, so we asked if they’d been killed by a snake, or foxes, or ‘possums, or some other wild animal. No, we were told, it was Eduard, Marta Uno’s one-year-old, who killed that batch of chicks because he’d pick them up to play with them, squeeze them too hard, and pop their heads (really, that’s what they said). Tom and I were horrified, but Damion and Olmi assured us that all the little kids, even the too-cute Zulmi, occasionally kill chicks if they’re not being watched closely enough. Now we know why they’re so nonchalant about our concern that Louie and Nock will go on a chicken killing rampage.

Victims of the Government (she said with a smirk…)

Part of the reason we were able to get as much done as we have over the past week and a half is that our nine guests for Easter had to cancel the week before. Everybody around here likes to blame the government for all of their woes, so now we can jump on the bandwagon since the government is to blame for our cancellation. The woman who was bringing eight other people was planning to be in Belize to close on some property she is buying in the north of Belize. After the elections in the beginning of February, the Lands Department put a hold on all title transfers for land that has been titled in the past five years during the previous party’s term in office because the current party suspects that land that should not have been titled was titled in return for political favors. Some of the land in question is conserved land or forest preserves, and I guess the theory is that if somebody was granted the title in return for a political favor, and the land should have remained in the country’s possession, the title will be revoked. I have no idea how much land the current party is de-titling, but our friend says she isn’t worried about her parcel, it’s just an annoying and expensive delay since she had to change her flight reservations to the end of April, when the Lands Department should have this all finished. This should work out better for us; we were a little anxious about our first big booking being for so many people, and now we’re just hoping we can get a few smaller parties in here to practice before we have so many people at one time. What we’re really hoping is that Marjie’s land deal goes through without any further difficulty or delay.

Progress Update

Selwyn was on vacation from the Thursday before Easter and all last week, so while we didn’t move quite as quickly as we do with a third person, we still got a lot done in the past week and a half.

The screen door is hung on the front room in the guest cabin, and that room is all finished, cleaned, made up and ready for guests. The back room is also finished, but only has one bed because Tom is still working on the second bed for that room. When he finishes this bed, we’ll have four very sturdy beds made by Tom and Selwyn, using the local hardwoods. The first bed they made was a mix of sapodilla and milady, and then they made another two beds using only one of those kinds of woods per bed. Sapodilla is a very red hardwood, and is Tom’s favorite. Milady is very pretty; it’s a pale almost creamy yellow wood with a pink grain.

The bed Tom is making now is jobio (pronounced ho-BE-oh), which is a light wood with a grain of a light and dark brown; it reminds me of chocolate and carmel on coffee ice cream. When the jobio bed is finished, Tom is going to make a bed for us out of purple heart, a very dramatic wood with very light stripes mixed with very dark purple. The grain is very fine, and the color changes, which are very distinct, don’t seem to really follow the grain so a 2x4 can start at the bottom being all purple, then mix through part of the board, and then be all light at the other end. I’ll post pictures when it’s done.

In preparation for guests, Tom and Ronald and Wilton, the boys next door who work here once a week, have been clearing trails. We can now walk around the bottom of the hump that holds our water tanks, and can climb from our back property line up the backside of that hump. They also cut a trail through the jungle and around the pasture from where our barn will be, and have cleared off a big part of the property line. The trails still need some work since they cover some pretty rough terrain, but I managed to walk them in my rubber boots and shorts, which is an improvement from the jeans and hiking boots outfit that was required to cover that ground before.

While Tom was working on the bed and on the final details in the guest cabin – things like putting siding boards around the bottom to hide the plumbing and floor joists – I’ve been working on our web page. I think I have most of the content down, and now I have to make it look pretty, which is very slow going. I’m leaving it out there at if anybody wants to take a look, although you have to remember that IT ISN’T DONE AND IT WILL LOOK NICER. If anybody has any comments or if anything that’s there leaves questions in your minds, please drop me a line and let me know. I’m far enough away that it’s probably even safe for you to be critical. ;-)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wild Life in the Jungle

While we’ve made a lot of progress on the guest cabin and the property, the interesting stuff this week has been the animals around here, both wild and domestic.

The night after I last posted on the blog, Tom and I were playing cribbage – which we do almost every other night on the nights when we’re not playing dominoes, barely able to tolerate the excitement of living out in the jungle – we suddenly heard a roaring. The dogs all pricked their ears and started barking, and Tom and I looked at each other and…smiled.

It was the howler monkeys, which we hadn’t heard since the dry season last year, and I don’t know if we’ve ever heard them this close to the cabin. They sounded like they were just on the other side of the road. They raised a ruckus for fifteen or twenty minutes, then either calmed down or moved on to feed somewhere else. But, they were back at about 4:30am, waking both us and the dogs. We get all out of sorts if the dogs bark and wake us at night or early in the morning, but we both thought it was sort of cool to have the howler monkeys wake us. We seem to like thinking we’re waking up in Jurassic Park, which is how the howler monkeys sound. This is what they sound like: Howler monkey sound

Although we like the howler monkeys, we like the kinkajous less and less. Actually, it’s not the kinkajous themselves we dislike – they’re pretty cute and sometimes entertaining to watch with a spotlight in the tree over our cabin – it’s the fact that they throw stuff onto the metal roof in the middle of the night and wake our dogs, which always results in a five dog howling concert, with two cranky people yelling “Shut up!” at the top of their lungs. We’ve asked, and so far our neighbors say we haven’t disturbed their sleep. If I remember correctly, the kinkajous, also known as nightwalkers because they only come out at night, won’t be around much longer because they’ll eat all the fruits off the tree, so then we’ll get a good night’s sleep again.

Tom found this little hummingbird nest with babies in it in the little tree just outside his shop. We’ve been watching them, and sometimes they all lie in a row sleeping, and sometimes they’re all up with their mouths open. They don’t “peep peep peep” like other baby birds, they just sit there silently waiting for their mother. I have no idea what kind of hummingbirds they are since the Birds of Belize book has about six pages of hummingbirds that all look the same to me, but they’re bigger than the ruby throated hummingbirds we saw in NY.

We’ve also had a lot of other wild bird sightings. We saw an ocellated turkey on the road near San Antonio, which was about the same general size as the wild turkeys in NY, but a little taller and thinner with a very blue head. We’ve had so many toucans in the trees lately that we’ve stopped running out to look at them every time we hear them. The parrots are also back and very busy. I spent about ten minutes one day just watching two large green Amazon parrots feed in one of the trees. They acted like a couple of Sumo wrestlers. One would start pulling at the fruits, and the other would slowly waddle sideways along the branch with its wings puffed out, and would try to bump the eating parrot away from the fruit. The eating parrot would push back, and then instead of eating they’d start waddling back and forth bumping at each other and yelling. Eventually one of them would remember that they were on that branch to eat, and they’d start eating again.

I’ve also seen green jays in our yard, which are much more stunning than the blue jays we’re used to.

We saw a crimson collared tanager on the road near here. We seem to be turning into amateur birders, and the binoculars and the Birds of Belize book are almost always out on the table.

On the domestic animal front, I got on NessaRose last week. We were told she was broke to ride, but when we got her we didn’t think she’d ever be sound, so we didn’t really care. For the past month or so, she’s been walking sound in the pasture, and has even started trotting and cantering and kicking up her heels a little with the other horses, joining them in their Terrorize the Chickens game, led by Elphie, her yearling filly. So, I decided to see if she was rideable, and she is. She’s a little squirrelly when she’s being handled on the ground, so I wasn’t expecting much, but as soon as I put the saddle pad on her she calmed down and just acted like she knew what was happening. I saddled and bridled her, walked her around for a minute, and then got on, and she was a perfect lady. She felt a little short, but not lame, and she did exactly what I asked. I have to do a little research and make sure walking her under saddle is the best thing to do to help the leg continue to get better, but it looks like we’ll have another tourist horse.

Tom did a “first” today. He took a 1500 pound bull to the butcher. The bull belonged to Mark from down the road, and he realized when he was here a couple of weeks ago that prices for bulls on the hoof were going down as we get closer to the dry season, so he asked Tom to try to sell him ASAP. Tom asked around, and the best offer he got was from a butcher near Iguana Creek on the way to Spanish Lookout. Yesterday we took Tinkerbell over to Iguana Creek to pick up the butcher’s trailer, and then towed it up the very bumpy Georgeville Road and left it at Mark’s place, so Pepe the bull could contemplate it for his last night. Tom left early this morning, a little worried both about loading the bull and about pulling the loaded trailer down the Georgeville Road, but everything went fine.

Tom said Pepe was on the trailer in about two minutes, the trip down the road was slow but uneventful, and they had no trouble unloading him onto the scale at the butchers. I didn’t want to go because I felt bad taking Pepe to be butchered, which makes no sense because a) I eat meat, b) I’m not all that fond of cows in general with their snotty noses and diarrhea butts, and c) nobody really liked Pepe because he was sort of scary and not at all friendly. Fortunately Tom did not experience any of my qualms, and it didn’t turn into too much of an adventure – although next time I buy beef I’ll be wondering whom I’m eating.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


We now have new steps on the guest cabin. The steps on our cabin are okay, but they get slick when they’re wet or muddy, and they’re a little steep. The new steps are 12x2 sapodilla planks, and they’re very solid. We joked that if a hurricane ever hits here, the entire cabin will be gone, but the steps will still be stuck where they’re mounted to the front porch. Tom has ordered the wood to build a similar set to the back porch of that cabin, and if we ever get enough ahead that we’re not in a panic trying to finish things to get ready for something, we may replace the steps on our cabin.

Sharon Matola of the Belize Zoo wishes that we already did that job. She was here a couple of months ago on a cool rainy day to talk about the cage donation, and as she was leaving she slipped on the steps. She went down fast and landed with her back on the steps, and did some nerve damage, which she just figured out last week after a visit to the doctor to find out why she was still in pain after a couple of months. But, she was here today with Tom Pascarello from SUNY Cortland to talk about SUNY Cortland interns coming here, and she told us that she’d written a song about falling down and getting old and not healing as quickly as she used to. After lunch, Tom P pulled out his harmonica and Sharon got out her guitar, and they played the song for us. Sharon and Tom have done a CD of some of the music Sharon plays for and about the animals at the Zoo, so we can now say that Moonracer Farm has had live entertainment by international recording artists!

Shawn (don’t worry, he’s fine!)

One of the hardest things for us about leaving NY was leaving our horses, especially Shawn, who we bought as a four year old, lived with for 16 years, and who taught us more about horses and horse sports than any single horse should be capable of doing. He got both of us started in eventing, took us on lots of great trail rides, and he and Tom were a very successful driving team. When we moved, we sold him to a friend who is involved in the Granger Homestead driving program, knowing he was going to a good home. Well, he’s doing even better than we could have expected, and we have to thank Geoff, his owner, Denett, our friend who runs the Granger driving program and keeps her horses at the barn where Shawn is boarded, as well as Dawn for working with him as part of Denett’s herd, Kim, who owns the barn where he lives, and probably a bunch of other people that I’m forgetting, including the supportive spouses of everyone mentioned above. Denett just emailed us this picture, which she photographed from the front page of the Geneva, NY, Sunday newspaper, of Shawn giving sleigh rides to students at Granger, with Geoff driving and his daughter Serica riding beside him. Tom and I now think that we were meant to move so Shawn could go where he belongs, since if he stayed with us we’d either still be working him competitively, probably too much for a 20+ year old horse, or we’d be ignoring him in favor of bringing Patrick along. Being owned by Geoff and living at Brock Acres with the rest of Denett’s herd, he’s still working, but not too hard, and he’s still being admired – which anyone who knows Shawn, knows means a lot to that horse!


Since people always ask, I’ll just say up front that the weather here has been beautiful. We had a run of perfect, sunny, 80 degree days, then a few days when it was cool and rainy, and now we’re back to 80 degrees and sunshine. The cool rainy days were actually kind of refreshing, and let us get caught up on inside stuff that we don’t like to do since we both still want to be outside when it’s nice. Of course, when it goes down in the high 50’s at night we now sleep with a sheet, a thermal blanket, a quilt, and two Jack Russells because we’re so cold, but that’s kind of …nostalgic. And then it warms up again. We are heading into the hot and dry season, when we’ll have more than our fill of 100 degree days and we’ll be wishing for rain, so we’re enjoying this in-between weather while we have it. And, I still check the weather reports for NY, so I’m feeling bad for everybody up there with that nasty, cold, icy, snowy weather. I started out gloating, but now I just feel bad – but I’m still glad to be here instead of there.

New front gate

We now have a new front gate, set back from the road. The old gate was not only falling apart, but also didn’t look very welcoming as you drove up the road. Tom and Selwyn set the cabbage bark 6x6 10 foot posts (approximate weight of 300lbs per post) last week, and Tom built the gates in his “spare time” after Selwyn left from work at the end of the day and on the weekend.

Tom set four fence posts Sunday evening towards the shop side of the gate and we are planning on training the hibiscus onto the barbed wire fence to make a nice natural visual block of the water tank and generator shed. We’re putting a people and horse gate to the side of the driveway gate, and we hope the area that’s now open at the end of the driveway will allow the birders who frequently stop on the road to pull in and get out of the road on our blind curve.

Our next scheduled guests…

We have an official booking for Easter weekend – for NINE guests! Our friend Marjie who came here with her fiancĂ© Chuck in October (and who used her awesome therapeutic farrier skills on NessaRose, who is now so sound I’m considering putting a saddle on her to see what she knows) is coming to Belize for Easter, and is going to bring a Belizean family she has befriended to our place. Lots of stuff is going on in Belize on Easter weekend, so we’re planning to go to the horse races in Burrell Boom, watch a bike race, and I don’t know what else. It will be busy, but lots of fun.

So, we’re again in a mad rush to get ready for guests. I can’t wait to get to the point where we’re not rushing to get ready for every next guest. But, for every guest that comes, we see things that we can do better for the next guest, and those things frequently involve undoing or redoing something we’ve done, which takes time we haven’t really accounted for in our mid-range plans. For example, when Mark was here and we were trying to keep the room clean, we noticed that a line of sawdust reappeared across his pillow after I dusted. When we looked, we realized that one of the boards – directly over the headboards of the beds, of course – was infested with pinworms, which would leave their little trails of sawdust. So, although the first room in the guest cabin was “done,” we stripped everything out of it, including curtains and bedding, so Tom could spray the whole cabin with Dursban again. It’s not a bad idea to do it anyway once in a while since it keeps the creepie crawlies out, but we would have rather not had to do it after just one guest was there, but we had to do it right away so the smell would be gone before Marjie’s crew comes for Easter.

The smell is already waning, and Tom and Selwyn should be able to get in the cabin in a day or two to finish the final touches on the back room. And, they can build the back steps, and put up the screen doors, and put up the toilet paper holder, and…did I say that cabin was almost done?!?

Camper moved

In addition to getting the generator out of the middle of the property, we’ve finally moved the camper. Tom hooked it to Tinkerbell and backed it in behind the shop, where it’s still visible, but not right in the middle of everything. Our neighbors are building a new house, and we offered to tow the camper to their place to use as a bunkhouse while they build, but they declined. That’s probably a smart move on their part, since once we got it out of here, we wouldn’t want it back, and then they’d have to figure out how to dispose of it. So, for the time being, it’s still a storage locker until we have more place to put stuff, and until we figure out how to get rid of it.

And, we figure the grass will grow pretty quickly so pretty soon we won’t even be able to tell that the camper was parked in the middle of everything in the last owner’s barn for over a year!

Generator is finally in the shed

The good thing about the generator breaking and needing to go to Spanish Lookout for repairs is that it got it out of its redneck generator shed between the cabins. When it came home, it went directly to its new hut near the shop by the road. It’s much quieter in the cabins, although we can still hear it. Our neighbors also say they can’t hear it as much, so everybody seems happy with the move. Now we just have to dig the trenches and lay the cables, since both the electric and the water systems are pretty much where we think we want them.

The view from the front steps of the guest cabin is much improved without the camper and the generator right in the middle of everything.

First guest since we’re official!

We have had a couple of very eventful weeks. Shortly after getting our BTB license to operate, we found out that Mark, our neighbor down the Georgeville Road, was coming to Belize for a little over a week, and last week he became our first official guest. He now has two houses, plus an orange grove (which we put an offer on before we bought the property we are on now), down the road, but since his plane didn’t get in until after 4:00pm, he would arrive after dark, and he decided to stay here his first night rather than having to open his house and get it up and running in the dark – and without electricity, it would be very dark. So, we decided to use him as a practice guest and fixed the room up just like we would for “real” guests, aka people who don’t already know us.

The gods apparently decided to test us. We got everything cleaned up and all the linens washed, and had the beds made and the towels hung in the clean room. Mark was due to arrive Wednesday night, and late Wednesday afternoon I was in the room taking pictures for our website. Suddenly the generator made a weird snapping sound, Selwyn ran over to it, yelled for Tom and turned it off. The belt that runs the cooling system had snapped, so the generator was out of commission until it could be taken to the shop. This wasn’t a huge big deal, except for the fact that Mark has sleep apnea and has an electric machine that he uses at night. It will run off an inverter and battery, but since we hadn’t planned to shut down the generator right then, none of us was quite sure the battery was completely charged. Nonetheless, we got 3 neighbors, Selwyn and Tom to all lift the generator into the pickup so I could take it to Spanish Lookout Thursday morning.

Then, after that drama, as I went into the bathroom to take photos, I noticed a big puddle on the floor in front of the toilet. At first I thought the toilet had started leaking, but then I noticed that water was running down one of the studs behind the toilet, so we figured out that we’d sprung a leak in the roof, and water was running down inside the ceiling and coming down the wall. It took us a little while to figure this out because Tom’s parents stayed in that room when they were here in January. It rained the whole week they were here, and there weren’t any leaks then, but apparently the storm we had Wednesday afternoon had enough driving rain to push the water under the roof cap and into the building.

Fortunately for us, Mark wasn’t a “real” guest, and he had a little Honda generator at his house down the road. He ran down the road to get it, and we used that to finish charging the battery needed for his machine, so he didn’t suffocate during the night. Unfortunately for us, that weekend was the Spanish Lookout 50th anniversary community celebration, so everything was closed from Thursday afternoon until the following Monday morning – which means we didn’t get the generator back until the next Tuesday. So, it was a real good thing for us that Mark was in town and we were able to borrow his generator for the basics like getting our batteries charged, even though we couldn’t run any of the big tools or appliances. I’m sure we could have borrowed it even if Mark wasn’t in town, but it was nice that he was around so he knew why we were using it. And the leak in the bathroom worked out okay since Mark fell into the friend guest category – we just told him not to wear his socks in the bathroom, which are the same instructions I used to give Tom’s mom when we traveled together in the camper, where the bathroom floor became the shower floor and so was always wet at night!

Despite the challenges of our first guest night, we had a really fun week with Mark in town. He was busy closing on the orange grove property, but we did a lot of stuff together. Mark and Tom went to the Spanish Lookout celebration, where they experienced their first Belize tractor pull, which is a little different than tractor pulls in the US. In the US, the tractors try to pull big weights, and the tractor that pulls the most weight wins. Here, a tractor pull is more like a tug-of-war; a big rope is tied to the back of a tractor, the tractor pulls as hard as it can, and the object of the game is to see how many people it takes to keep the tractor from going forward. I didn’t see it, but Tom and Mark said that a small 20HP tractor can be stopped by about 20 people, but the big tractor they had, a 9300(?) John Deere with something like 400HP – with 8 wheels higher than your head – takes over 200 people. The people are volunteer spectators so they’re of all sizes and strengths, but Tom and Mark said it was fun to watch, especially since it was raining and it was a very muddy event. Spanish Lookout is a Mennonite Community, so they didn’t have events like female mud wrestling, but I guess this came pretty close.

Mark ate a lot of meals here rather than cooking for himself in an unused kitchen, so we had a lot of time to visit. He was demonstrating his Polaroid camera taking a picture of Tom and Nock. I just happened to have our camera on the kitchen shelf, so I caught this live action scene of Tom trying to hide behind the devil dog instead of being photographed.

Mark’s new property backs up to the Barton Creek Mennonite Community, so on the Sunday he was here we took a ride into Barton Creek to see if he could see his back property line. It turned out that we couldn’t, but we decided at the last minute to stop and talk to the family who farms a few acres of Mark’s property, which, coincidentally, is the same family who sold us our horse Tony. When we first pulled up, the parents weren’t home, and the whole pack of kids came out to meet us, with the eldest son toting a shotgun. The son recognized Tom and realized we were friends, and disappeared around the back of the barn and returned a few moments later without the shotgun. We talked to the kids for a few minutes, introduced them to Mark as their new neighbor, and were on our way down the driveway when the parents came home. They invited us up on their porch, where we discussed the area and Mark assured them that they were welcome to continue farming what they’d already cleared and planted, as long as they didn’t clear any trees. The porch faces west, so we were sitting in the hot afternoon sun, and one of the younger sons came out with a pitcher of water and a glass. Yes, one glass. The mother poured some water in the cup and asked if I wanted it. I declined, mostly because I’d drunk most of a pot of tea for lunch and wasn’t thirsty. Tom and Mark also declined, but then Franz, the father, assured us that it was well water and was safe to drink. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that we were a little confused over the ritual of sharing a glass, and none of us wanted to do anything offensive. After being told that the water was good, Tom felt that they wanted us to drink, so he had a drink of the well water – and said it was very good water. He didn’t get sick, so I guess it was.

Since we hadn’t been able to see the back property line on Sunday, on Wednesday Selwyn and I saddled up the three horses and ponied Tony down to Mark’s place so Mark could tour his back acreage on horseback. He’d never ridden a horse before, and we were delighted to find that Tony was a complete gentleman to the non-rider, and was very well behaved. Mark actually did extremely well for a first-time rider; he was very well balanced, and he wasn’t afraid to give Tony a kick and point him where he wanted him to go, so Tony wasn’t getting any of the mixed signals that non-riders sometimes give horses, kicking them to go and pulling on their faces to stop at the same time. And, Mark actually had enough fun and thought it was such a great way to tour his property that he asked us if we thought we could find a good horse for him to keep at his property when he’s in Belize! We haven’t looked too hard (yet!) so the rest of the Beckwiths don’t need to worry!

Mark left for Minnesota on Thursday morning, and left us as messengers for some more business for his Barton Creek neighbors. When we drove in with Mark (in his rental car!) on Sunday, we got stuck in some mud, so we were a little nervous about taking Tinkerbell into Barton Creek. The government re-graded and re-rocked the road that leads from the Georgeville Road to the Barton Creek Cave, but has not done anything with any of the other roads in the Community, and we needed to drive on other roads to talk to the people we needed to see. So, on Saturday afternoon we saddled up Tony and Glinda and headed down the road to Barton Creek. We hadn’t yet gone in the back way through 7 Miles, but figured we could find it on horseback, and we did. Unfortunately, in our opinion, it was a little too easy to find because the Community is expanding its farmland, and is in the process of clearing jungle. I had ridden on part of the road before, and it was a nice path through the jungle. Now, almost all the way from 7 Miles to Barton Creek, it’s a pile of downed trees and chopped brush. When we were in Barton Creek, we talked to one of the Mennonite men we know, and he asked where we lived. We told him, and told him that we have 50 acres. He said that he hoped we were leaving it as jungle, because he thinks that’s how Belize should be. Tom and I stood there with our mouths open, until Tom finally made a comment about how apparently all Mennonites don’t think like that since we just rode through a long stretch of destroyed jungle. The Mennonite kind of winced and agreed, but said that people need more land to farm. I guess that’s why the Belize government has created areas like the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve that can’t be cleared for farming, because even if individuals may think it’s not good to clear too much jungle, if individual property owners want to raze their forests, they can – and once it’s chopped, it’s gone, at least for the long time that it takes for the trees to grow again.