Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Small Business Thrills

Sharon and The Belize Zoo staff thrilled us by putting information about Moonracer Farm on the Zoo’s website. We’ve been sending people back and forth, but the Zoo just did some website updates and expanded their Lodging page with Moonracer Farm information. See us becoming famous here!

Other Wildlife Sighting Thrills

Last night Tom went to close up the shop and realized the army ants were on the move. This is actually a very narrow stream of them; sometimes they move in a mass 10 or 12 feet wide, and it can take a swarm of them an hour to pass. With these narrow streams, it’s easy enough to jump over them, but if they’re in a mass too wide to jump, you have to either try to go around, or run through as fast as you can – and you’ll still get bit a few times. They’re actually sort of cool, because they swarm through the jungle cleaning up everything. You can tell when you’re near an army of ants on the move because you can here buzzing and rustling in the leaves on the ground as everything tries to get out of their way. We haven’t had them in the house because our house is up on metal-capped poles, but we’re told that if an accessible house is in their path, they’ll go right through – and that’s a good thing, because they’ll get rid of scorpions, spiders, other ants, and any other type of bug in their way.

We’ve seen a number of interesting birds around here in the past couple of weeks, although we haven’t had the camera handy for pictures. I was walking behind the guest cabin and heard big wing beats and breaking twigs, and turned around just in time to see a laughing falcon heading up through the canopy with a snake in its talons. It stopped on a branch so I could get a good look at it, and then flew deeper into the leaves with the still-wriggling snake. I (of course) looked the laughing falcon up in the bird book and found that their diet consists mainly of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous. Now we know why they sometimes sound so hysterical as they “laugh” in the jungle.

I also saw a collared forest falcon in the trees near the back pasture last week. I knew as soon as I saw it that it wasn’t one of the more common raptors we see around here, but I followed it through three flights and landings and got a good enough look at it that I could make a positive identification from the bird book. This website has a decent picture – which is actually a painting – and information about the bird. This website has a good audio of the very distinctive cry of this bird; click the first audio link. Tom and I had been hearing this cry for a while and didn’t know what it was because it’s somewhat like the laughing falcon’s call, but the laughing falcon’s call is much less extended.

One morning as we were eating breakfast we were watching the Great Kiskadees hopping around in the trees in the yard. They seem to be getting almost tame, and will perch on branches right outside the porch screening - no doubt wondering why the people are in a cage. This particular morning we were startled when one of the kiskadees suddenly launched itself off the branch right at the screening, and grabbed a clackety-clack butterfly right out of the air right in front of our faces. The Kiskadee took the butterfly to a nearby branch and enjoyed breakfast with us. By the way, we don't know the real name of the clackety-clack butterflies, but we gave them that name because they fly around the citrus trees and make a very loud clacking sound which sounds like a loud electrical short, presumably part of a mating ritual. Here's the mangoverde link for the Great Kiskadee.

As we were riding up the government feeder road between our two lots the other day, we saw a number of violaceous trogons in the trumpet trees. They’re fairly common in the area, but we don’t usually see them right around our house, and for some reason we consider the trogons an interesting sighting. We’re not quite sure why, except that they’re colorful and distinctive – sort of like the toucans, which we also see regularly, but which still give us a thrill. This website has pictures, information, and audio clips of the violaceous trogons.

Pet Photos…thrills a minute…

Not much has been happening around here this week. We’ve had a few pretty rainy days, but it’s still been nice enough for at least part of every day to get outside and do things – or get some pictures of the animals.

Lodo finally got comfortable with his halter, but it didn’t take him long to learn that when we were near him, we were going to hold on to it, and maybe even clip a lead rope to it, so he started playing “Catch Me If You Can” with us. That lasted all of about 10 minutes, and as soon as we caught him we put a catch rope on his halter so when he’d sneak up to nibble on our clothes, we could just turn around and grab the rope. He’s finally willing to let us then clip a lead rope to him…

…and sometimes even allow one of us to lead him. He’s still playing games, stopping and starting, threatening to run, or nipping at us, but for the most part we can walk up to him, grab the catch rope, clip on a lead rope, and he’ll follow as we walk away. He’s definitely a colt though, and he’s testing his boundaries. The other day I took Ness and Lodo out, groomed Ness, and then turned her loose in the yard to graze while I groomed Elphie. Lodo was running loose with Ness, but the temptation of a cute little filly tied to the fence was too much for him, and he quickly made a pest of himself. He’d sidle up to Elphie, nip at her, and try to mount her. Somehow he figured out pretty quickly that if he came up to her on the side where she can see, she’d kick him, not appreciating the pesky little brother’s antics. However, if he approached her on her blind side, he could get much closer – close enough to jump on her. Elphie gave him a couple of good kicks and became very aware when he was approaching on that side, and I grabbed a dressage whip and gave him a couple of good whacks on the nose when he got too close. He finally decided he’d go back to grazing with his mamma, but not before I figured out that he’s not at all head shy and he’s a pretty quick study.

The dogs are all well. Nock’s eyes are very cloudy, but she still loves to stand on the porch and look for lizards. Lou doesn’t seem to hear much, and the only ways to get his attention are to clap, really bellow at him, or stomp the floor. I think he made himself deaf by his constant whining. I never realized how annoying he could be until we came here, since he doesn’t whine when he’s around me; he whines because he’s not around me. In our old life, I’d go off to work or up to the barn or somewhere far enough away that I couldn’t hear him. Here, the doors and windows are always open, and the tack shed where I groom and tack the horses is close enough that I get most of the effect of the unceasing, annoying whining. Yikes. Thanks to everybody who put up with the annoying little creature for all these years!

The Ruckus Twins are still puppies. It’s hard to get pictures of them because they never stop moving. They chew on me, chew on each other, bark at Recona, and generally create chaos.

By standing up and twisting their collars, it only took five or six shots to get a picture of them being relatively still.

But then it takes no time at all for them to go back at each other. That’s Beli with Stout’s paw in her mouth.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Money Matters

As everyone in the US has been watching the financial markets, we’ve had our own money matters down here.

First, the matter of the coconuts. What I didn’t write about in the last blog entry was that the man tried to give me $37.50BZ, but because he only had a $50 and I had absolutely no money in the house since Tom was off shopping, he didn’t actually give me any cash. He asked where we banked, and when I told him Atlantic Bank, he said he’d stop by the bank the next day and deposit the money in one of our accounts. I figured he would try to do it, but wasn’t sure if the bank would let him. I also figured I didn’t really care if we never got the money because our coconut trees received a much needed pruning, and we weren’t planning to do much with the coconuts.

So, we were pleasantly surprised the other night when Tom logged on to check our bank accounts and saw that $37.50BZ had indeed been deposited in one of our accounts. This is Belize!

The second matter is was the case of the missing money. Tom had given a couple of guys on motorcycles a ride to San Ignacio on Sunday night, and they gave him gas money. He ended up meeting neighbors in town and going to dinner with them, so he got home later than expected and just threw the change on the table. We went to bed late, and Tom was up before me the next morning. I woke to the sound of ripping, sat up in bed, and saw Stout shredding a piece of paper. I jumped up to see what it was, and realized it was paper money. I rubbed my eyes to wake up a bit, and scrounged around on the floor to find the paper scraps to see if the bill could be salvaged.

When I started to put it together, I realized I’d rescued a $2 bill. I collected the other scraps, and then decided it wasn’t worth the effort. When Tom came in from feeding the horses, I told him what happened. He looked on the table where he’d left the cash, and asked where the other two bills were. Not knowing any other bills had been on the table, I had no idea, but Tom then told me that he’d left two $2 bills and one $20 bill on the table the night before. We took a closer look at the scraps and realized that they probably came from two different $2 bills, but we saw no signs of the $20, even after a search under everything in the house.

So, since I hose the dog poop in the dogs’ yard anyway, I decided I’d keep my eyes open for a change and see what rinsed out of the poop. A couple of days after Stout’s expensive breakfast, I found this scrap. Wasn’t it considerate of Stout to eat the $20, and then pass this scrap through his digestive system just so we’d know it was the $20 he decided to swallow rather than the $2s? And no, I didn’t carefully rinse the rest of the dog doo and try to reconstruct the bill. It would take more than $10US to pay me to do that job…and I don’t think any of the scraps were big enough to reconstruct anyway!

The third matter happened today. If you know Tom, you know he’s an accountant by nature as well as by trade, and he has always been completely meticulous about keeping organized and honest books. He always told me how glad we’d be if we were ever audited, but in over twenty years of owning his own business in New York, it never happened. Finally, today, here in Belize, the Social Security auditor pulled into our driveway at about 11:30 this morning. The auditor, Herbert, beeped and I went out to meet him. Tom and Selwyn were clearing brush in our new paddock, so it took the hot and sweaty Tom a couple of minutes to get to the house. Herbert explained who he was and why he was here, so we came in and sat at the table on the porch. Tom, in his glory, ran to get his records, and he and Herbert reviewed everything. No surprise, we passed with flying colors since everything was in order and the Social Security records exactly matched our records.

They finished up just as I was about to get lunch out, so we invited Herbert to stay to lunch, and he accepted. He said he’s only been invited to stay for lunch once in his years of doing this job, and explained that sometimes employers don’t realize he’s actually helping since good employer records are necessary if an employee or ex-employee makes a false claim. We understood that, of course, and the two of us, Herbert, and Selwyn sat at the table until almost 2:00 talking. So, thanks to money matters, we now have another friend in Belize!

Just for the record, I’m not trying to make light of the financial disaster happening in the US right now. After working there for all of our adult lives before we moved to Belize, all of our retirement money is, as we see it, right in the middle of the mess so we’re being impacted too – and pretty seriously impacted by our standards. And, after visiting the US this summer I noted that the general anxiety level about life and standards of living is much higher there than here, so I can only imagine that tension level cranked up another few notches. But, when we’re not being assaulted with the bad news everywhere we turn, it’s much easier to take some pleasure in minor money matters – and to recognize that we’re being assimilated into the Belize culture and way of life. It’s only money…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Good Excuse

This week I have a good excuse for not blogging. A week ago we sprayed the house with Dursban, a powerful insecticide, and while we toughed it out and came in the house to check email, we didn’t spend a second in here that we didn’t have to.

This is one of the drawbacks of living in a wooden shack in the jungle. The termites, along with a variety of other creepy crawlies, will take over given the chance. We’re told that we should spray at least once a year, and we’ve been closer to a year and a half, so we weren’t doing too bad. We still haven’t seen any signs of termites, but we were definitely finding more of the other types of creepy crawlies in the house, from spiders to ants to roaches to scorpions to geckos. We were starting to talk about the creepy crawlies as though we were developing our own little ecosystem in here – don’t kill the geckos, they eat the scorpions; don’t kill the spiders, they eat the ants, and so on. Plus, we’ve been fighting fleas with Recona, so we figured a good dousing with Dursban will help with that problem.

The only problem is, it’s a major pain in the butt to spray. Tom only sprayed the outside and the crawl space, not our living space, but we still had to move and cover everything. Nothing is insulated, so what gets sprayed on the outside seeps through the walls, spraying underneath the house seeps through the floors, and spraying the crawl space seeps through the ceiling. And, this stuff is toxic. I get an almost immediate headache if I smell too much of it, and many people get sick to their stomachs. It also sticks around; we expect to find dead scorpions popping up here and there for at least the next month.

That means that even though we took everything off the wall shelves and the floor and covered everything, EVERYTHING still had to be washed before it could be put away. That means every serving utensil, eating utensil, cooking utensil, pots, pans, dishes, bottles, cans, mixing bowls…everything…must be washed. And, the walls, floors, and ceilings had to be washed on the inside before we could move back into the house. It was sort of like moving in here again, with all of our stuff spread out on the table and needing to be cleaned before it could be put where it belongs. And, it took a few days of airing the house out before I could even start to think about coming in to put things together, although it bothers Tom less than it bothers me, so he had a couple of days in before I would come back.

Fortunately, we have the guest cabin, so we just moved in there for the week. That worked pretty well, although we didn’t have a kitchen, and we didn’t want to take the dogs in there in case we get guests who are allergic. We did cave and take the Jack Russells, but the Ruckus Twins had to stay in the big cage behind the house and they weren’t very happy since they’re used to sleeping with us too – and they weren’t too discrete about expressing their unhappiness with all night barking.

But, as of this morning, almost everything is back where it belongs, we’re sleeping, cooking, and eating here again – and we’re catching up on all the correspondence we’ve neglected for the past week. The plan for the future is to spray around and under the cabin every three months or so and see if that keeps the creepy crawlies away without driving us out of the house. But, if that doesn’t work, we’ll be doing this again in another twelve to eighteen months.

Coconuts for Money!`

Our property has tons of fruit trees. We don’t have enough of any single kind to do a reaping and sell the fruit, but we always have some trees with ripe fruit which we enjoy, and which we share with neighbors, friends, and pretty much anybody who asks if they can pick a few fruits.

Last week, a pickup truck with four men pulled into the driveway and one of the men asked what we do with our coconuts. I told him that we occasionally get some down for the coconut water, or we crack open a brown one to make coconut rice or coconut milk, and we share them with the neighbors…but other than that, not much. He asked if they could pick some to resell to one of the juice companies in San Ignacio. I said sure, and to my surprise he told me that they’d pay me. I went back in the house and got the camera to get a picture of the man climbing the trees with his machete to chop them down, and about an hour later the man came over, told me they’d picked 250 coconuts, and gave me $37.50BZ. Woo hoo! Tom, Selwyn, Ronald, and Wilton are just glad that those trees will be dropping fewer leaves and dried coconuts that would need to be picked up and burned!

The man also asked if I wanted to sell any avocados because our two trees are loaded and just starting to ripen…but I declined that offer since I’m not sharing my avocados, even for money!


Lodo is getting bigger every day, and he’s a solid little pony. He’s finally big enough that the foal halter fits, so we’ve been leaving it on him to make his leading lessons a little less traumatic – we’ve found it’s much easier to start by just clipping the lead rope to his halter, rather than having to wrestle with him to get the halter on in the first place. Tom started out pushing him backwards since he didn’t want to follow, then he’d go forward after Tom if I walked behind and poked him, and now he’s leading pretty well for the most part, as long as he’s going somewhere he wants to go.

He’s also starting to interact more with the other big horses, so we think we’ll start to rotate the other horses through the pasture with Lodo and Nessa so that when we turn them out in the pasture where we’ve been growing grass they can all work on the same paddock together rather than having to shuffle them in and out in shifts. Selwyn also put up fence poles to make a small paddock near the barn where Ness and Lodo spend the night, so we can put anybody who doesn’t get along in there and leave the middle pasture open so we can plant that pasture.

The grass here really does seem to grow in about three months, and since we have three more months of rainy season we’re hoping to get the other two pastures planted very shortly.


Tom has been working hard on getting our trails chopped and cleared. We want them wide and easily navigable for night hikes, and just so people who stay here can go out for a walk in the jungle without having to suit up in too much jungle gear. Tom impressed both of us yesterday when he starting cutting a trail in from another trail towards a dead end, and ended up about ten yards away from the dead end after winding up and down through the jungle.

I’m impressed that he cleared the trail well enough that I could walk on it in shorts and Crocs and not worry about tripping or getting scratched!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Our continuing aspirations as birders...

I’m afraid it’s happening…I’m turning into a birder. Besides carrying my Birds of Belize book with me along with a camera and small pair of binoculars, I now do things like suddenly yell at Tom as we’re driving down the Georgeville Road, “Stop! Laughing falcon!”

Tom, the well trained spouse of an aspiring birder, slams on the brakes, takes a look, and jumps out of the truck with the camera to take pictures. We’re probably a good team for birding because since Tom is colorblind I’m better at spotting the birds, but Tom is much steadier and patient with the camera.

The Beautiful Rainy Season

The emails asking if we’re still alive have started, so we know we’re overdue for a blog entry. Nothing is wrong here; the only problem is that despite being in the rainy season, the weather has been wonderful. Temperatures have been quite pleasant both during the day and at night, and even though we’re getting a shower every day or two, at least part of every day is beautiful. On the day we took this picture we were intending to take a ride to visit the Barton Creek Outpost, but after touring Mark’s orange grove to see if anything was new there, we heard rumblings of thunder and saw dark clouds moving up from the south. We hightailed it home instead of going to Barton Creek, but it never rained. That’s been happening frequently enough that we ignore the storm clouds and stay outside playing rather than working on the computer to do things like updating the blog.

Last week however, Selwyn and I did that and had a bit of a scare. The group from Dangriga was coming to trial ride on Saturday, so we were trying to get a head start cleaning up the horses. I was grooming Tony, and had found a spot on his ear that I wanted Selwyn to look at, so I called him as he was walking down the driveway with the bolt cutters in hand. The sky had been rumbling for a while, but I just ignored it as usual. As Selwyn was looking at Tony’s ear, I was combing his tail with a metal comb. Suddenly there was a simultaneous flashboom, and I saw the lightening strike somewhere between where we were standing outside the tack shed and the road. Selwyn dropped the bolt cutters, which had zinged him, and jumped back about three feet, I dropped the comb, which had zinged me, and jumped back about three feet, and Tony jumped back about three feet, no doubt attempting to drop his metal shoes which had probably zinged him. Scary! Needless to say Tony was off the hook for the rest of the grooming job and Selwyn and I found things to do inside.

The Dangriga Riders!

Months and months ago, a couple from Pennsylvania who has been living in Dangriga doing some missionary outreach work stopped at our place to see if we’d be willing to work with them so they could take a group of boys they’d been working with for a trail ride. We didn’t hear from them and figured they’d either decided not to do it or had gone elsewhere, but then we received an inquiry email from Dale and Mary Ann a few weeks ago. We worked out the details and last Saturday the whole group – Dale, Carlos, Carlito, FuBu, Phillip, Kevin, and Tevin (in no particular order) – came for a ride to Big Rock.

Selwyn did his usual brilliant thing matching boys to horses, and we set out. Mary Ann and I rode at the rear of the group, and Dale stayed at the Farm with Tom so they could drive the bus up to Big Rock to meet us for lunch. On the trail, we ended up splitting into two groups, with one group being the madly galloping boys and Selwyn, who made it to Big Rock in the record time of just over an hour, and the other being Mary Ann and me riding at a more leisurely pace.

As planned, Tom and Dale met us and we had a picnic at the falls while everybody took a swim. Those under 20 gave those over 20 a few more gray hairs as they attempted to scale the falls above the big rock that gives the place its name, but Selwyn managed to wave them down, and they jumped off the Big Rock rather than the top of the cascade. Dale and Mary Ann switched places after lunch so Dale could ride home, and a couple of the boys who had had enough time in the saddle elected to take the bus back to the Farm with Mary Ann and Tom. We split up again on the ride home, with Selwyn leading the fast group and me ponying the two now riderless horses home. When we all got back, the boys got a little bonus ride as Selwyn, Dale, and Mary Ann agreed that it was a good idea for the boys to ride the horses back to our neighbor, Joe Tzul, who had let us use them for the ride. The horses were a lot more tired and sweaty than they usually are after a ride, and it’s probably safe to say that the boys and Dale and Mary Ann were a little more tired than usual, but in the end everybody had a great day and memories to last a lifetime.

The week of plumbing problems

The past week has been a week of plumbing challenges. We found the first problem in the middle of last week when I hiked up the hill to make sure our water tanks were filling. We have our water system set up so we have a 1000 gallon tank near the pipe by the road which is filled either from the pipe or from rainwater off the shop roof. We then either pump water from that tank up a 60 foot hill behind our house, or, if we have sufficient water pressure, let the three tanks on the hill fill directly from the pipe.

As I approached the top, I realized that the stand was sagging. I told Tom and Selwyn about it, and Tom made this temporary fix, but decided that we needed a new sturdier water stand so we didn’t have 1400 gallons of water washing down the hill when the stand broke and the tanks burst.

Here you can clearly see the break. Good thing the 1000 gallon tank was emptied and moved!

Tom and Selwyn emptied the tanks and took them off the stand. It may be a good thing the stand broke, because all three tanks up on the hill were due for a good cleaning.

Tom and Selwyn poured some new concrete footers and built a bigger, sturdier stand. Lucky for us we’ve had enough water pressure the past week that the tanks are refilled and water is flowing into the house just as it should!

The problem was that at this point the gray waste line clogged, and water was not flowing out of the house properly. Fortunately the toilet is on its own line with a real septic tank, so all Tom and Selwyn had to do was dig up the pipe from the house into the soakaway.

Every segment of pipe, from the drains in the house all the way into the soakaway, was clogged to some extent. Between a snake (the plumbing kind, not the living kind) and the hose, we cleaned out the pipes.

After living with septic systems my whole life, I’d like to say that we’re very good about not washing anything down the drain that shouldn’t be, but after seeing and smelling what came out of the pipes, I have to wonder if I need a better system. Yuk!

Tom is now in the process of inventing some sort of waste trapping system, probably by running the water through a barrel with a stone filter shortly after it leaves the house to prevent the pipes in the soakaway from getting so badly clogged again.

As we were in the middle of this project (I helped with the cleaning out part), a truck drove up the driveway. Three men from the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) got out and said they were in the area so they stopped by to see what we were doing. Two of the three had helped us when we registered in the BTB, so we did a little catch up on progress we’ve made since February as we gave them the tour. They said they really liked the rooms and the furniture, and the only suggestion they made was to decorate the guest rooms with Belize/jungle art – a good suggestion which we can now start to think about since the basics are done. They were intrigued by the cages, and snapped a lot of photos both inside and out, and were brainstorming about what we could do to turn the cages into an attraction since we’re lacking any natural attractions beyond the jungle on the property. Camping for security conscious back packers? A haven for parents with out of control children, or for spouses who literally want to lock one another in the dog house? We haven’t come up with anything brilliant yet, but we’ll keep thinking!