Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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.

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