Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

Thanks to everyone who emailed Happy Thanksgiving wishes to us! I’ll be catching up on emails over the next couple of days, so you should hear from me.

We had a great Thanksgiving. Cindy and John, a couple from south of Syracuse, New York, were here for the holiday, so even though it isn’t an official holiday here in Belize, it was a holiday for us. Tom, Cindy, John, and Selwyn spent the day exploring Caracol, Rio Frio Cave, and Rio On Pools, and I spent the day doing what I always do on Thanksgiving – cooking, which is something I really enjoy.

A number of people asked via email if the holiday was celebrated here, and as I was cooking I was thinking about how even though it isn’t officially celebrated, I think this is the first Thanksgiving, probably in our adult lives, when we’ve really had time to stop and think about how thankful we are for lots and lots of things. When we were kids, Thanksgiving was just a couple of days off from school, which was an event to be celebrated, but we didn’t think much about giving thanks for anything. When we got out in the real world, it was still a long weekend, definitely a good thing, but I don’t think we ever even took the time to think about the real purpose of the holiday. We were always too wound up about something else – work that didn’t get done before the holiday, travel plans for the long weekend, worry about the weather for whomever was traveling, the expense of traveling, deciding where and with whom the holiday would be celebrated, making food, fretting about other people making food, stressing because we couldn’t be in more than one place at a time, wondering if everybody would get along and behave themselves, worrying in advance about all the stresses associated with the holidays, and…all the rest of the things grown ups worry about on a regular basis, but probably more at holidays.

Here, in the quiet of my kitchen, I actually thought about all the things I give thanks for on a regular basis. A big one is that despite the great distance between our family and friends and us, we manage to remain close, thanks in part to email and modern technology, but mostly to all the people who matter and who make an extra effort to stay in touch with us like they do. Some have even traveled here to visit, for which we’re very thankful, and we’re thankful that we’ve both been able to travel and visit family and friends. On the subject of people, I’m also thankful for all the people we’ve met here who have become friends, and just for the people that regularly take a little extra time and effort to make things go easier for us and everyone else. I’m thankful that we found a place where can live happily with our animals in a beautiful warm spot in the world, and share that place with others. I’m happy that our business is going well, and that I was spending Thanksgiving not just cooking, but doing a job that I love to do at the same time, and that Tom was out sharing Belize with our newest friends and also working and having fun. For the first time in my life – no offense to former employers intended since I’ve always liked my jobs – I was able to understand how people could say that even if they won the lottery, they’d keep doing their jobs. In fact, we feel sort of like we’ve won a lottery living and working here in Belize, and we’re thankful for everything everyone has done for us over the years that enabled us to get here, including Tom’s parents who sent us here on vacation. Little did they suspect what would come of their kind action! We can only hope that those around us can find as much to be thankful for as we do – and if they can, we’re truly thankful.

Congratulations to Selwyn!

It’s been a long haul with a lot of paper chasing, but Selwyn finally has his tour guide license from the Belize Tourist Board. He’s taken all the classes, done all the internships, snipped through all the red tape, and he’s finally a tour guide. We received notice that his application was approved, and the next day had him do his first tour, taking our guests Cindy and John to Caracol and then to Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools. Nothing like jumping right in! John and Cindy said he did a great job – of course! – and Selwyn is now brushing up on all he needs to know to tell our next wave of guests all they want to know about Belize.

What’s New?

The answer around here, not much. We’re continuing work outside, landscaping, planting, and trying to get good grass in the pastures for the horses.

Speaking of horses, we haven’t had any Lodo pictures lately, so here’s the newest.

We call him the little Beach Boy because his mane, forelock, and tail are black, but he gets bleached blond tips from being out in the sun all the time. You might have to blow up this picture to see it.

We’re still watching him grow, although we’re a little distressed about Elphie, since she’s almost two years and he just turned five months, and there’s not a whole lot of difference in their sizes. Because of the perspective of this photo he’s not quite as big as he looks in comparison to her, but he’s still way closer to her size than he should be given her age. Plus, he’s a solid little fellow; when we pat him, we don’t feel any ribs or even fat, just a solid little guy.

The only thing that happened of any interest is that Tom broke his thumb, just in time for needing to get ready for guests we had over Thanksgiving. Tom is really embarrassed, because he didn’t even get a good story out of the happening. He was in San Ignacio and met two people he knows in front of the police station. They were walking in front of the station, right in the middle of town, talking, and he just slipped and fell into the two-foot-deep cement ditch that runs in front of the station. And it was on a Thursday morning, a week before Thanksgiving, so he couldn’t even pretend it happened when he was out partying in town!

He went behind the police station to hose himself off – he knew where the hose was from working there – and then rounded the corner and ran into our friend Escandar. He said Escandar took one look at him and asked what was wrong, and as soon as Tom showed him the thumb Escandar whipped out his cell phone and called his orthopedic doctor in Santa Elena, who took Tom immediately. He then sent Tom for x-rays, which showed that he’d completely broken the bone in the first joint of his thumb, which turned out to be a good thing because his thumb nail acted as a splint so a cast wasn’t necessary. He sent Tom home with some pain medication and instructions to keep the hand elevated. Tom, of course, had to finish his errands, so he came home with a very swollen, bruised, and sore-looking thumb, but he was then pretty willing to follow the doctor’s orders (except take the pain pills – they messed up his stomach). A week and a couple of days later and it looks a lot better, although it’s still bruised and swollen.

The only other “exciting” thing to happen is that we got a good long look at a male green honeycreeper in one of the tangerine trees. We hadn’t seen one before, and when we looked it up in the bird book it says it’s another uncommon sighting. It looks like what the Joker from Batman would look like if he were a bird. This website has some good pictures.

We also seem to have a hooded warbler nest right outside the kitchen window since we’ve had lots of baby hooded warblers fluttering around, and Dad seems to be in the habit of perching on the cage right outside the window and checking out what I’m doing in the kitchen. Aren’t they striking?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NBC Today Belize video link

Here's the link to NBC Today's videos. The one called "Wildlife in Peril in Belize" is the Belize Zoo feature, but there are also a number of other pieces about Belize. Look for the Matt Lauer "Ends of the Earth" segments.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Driving Pony

Thanks to the great weather for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot with the horses. I’ve taken all four saddle horses on long trail rides almost every day for the past couple of weeks, and one day even managed to convince Selwyn and our friend Gonzo to ride with me. That was a funny ride for a couple of reasons. First, as we were riding through the jungle chatting, Selwyn started to laugh. I asked him what was funny, and he said he’d explain later. The next morning I asked him what was so funny, and he asked me if it had registered how the three of us were talking. I was puzzled, but when Selwyn asked what language we’d been speaking, it registered that Selwyn had been speaking Creole, Gonzo was speaking Spanish, and I was speaking English…and we were talking to each other. I’m definitely the weak link of the three of us since those two are fluent in all three languages, but I’ve learned enough Spanish and Creole relating to things we frequently talk about – like things in the jungle – that I had no trouble keeping up. The funny thing was we didn’t even realize we were doing it for quite a while, and then only Selwyn realized. The other funny thing with that ride was that we ended up doing a short stretch on the road right at the time people were driving home from their jobs at the resorts. Since Gonzo and Selwyn are guides and have lived in this area for their whole lives they knew most of the people in the vehicles passing us, and I’m out on the horses enough that most people know who I am. We could see a lot of people doing double takes when they realized who we were, no doubt wondering why the gringa who’s usually out bombing around in the jungle on the horses all by herself suddenly needed not one, but two guides!

Besides riding the saddle horses, I put Elphie back to work. Our training philosophy is to just do a little with the young horses from the time they’re babies, so that nothing we do really surprises or scares them when we start training them. Since we’ve had Elphie we’ve been doing things like putting a saddle and bridle on her, ponying her on trail rides, and over the past few months I started ground driving her. She had a month or so off between the rain and a cut on her eye that we were watching, but she’s been doing great with everything, so after ground driving her around for a little while, I decided to see what she would do if she had to pull something.

We didn’t bring much driving tack with us when we came here, and she’s so small I don’t think most of it would fit anyway, so I’ve been, umm, creating tack as we go. We use an old trail bridle with rope for the long lines, and I’ve tied some baling twine on an old English saddle where the stirrup leathers would go. That keeps the lines at about the right height so they run along her back rather than tangling around her neck. When I decided I wanted her to pull something, I put another baling twine loop below the long line loop, took one of our longish English girths and rigged that up as a breast collar with the ends through the baling twine and another piece of baling twine running over the saddle to keep the “breast collar” at the right height. As a drag, I found a five gallon bucket with a lid, and put a chunk of coconut palm log in it for weight and noise. I put a piece of rope through the handle, and I dragged it up and down the driveway a few times while leading Elphie. She shied away at first, but quickly got used to it dragging beside and behind her on both sides, the side where she can see as well as her blind side. Then I hooked the rope without the drag to the two ends of the girth/breast collar and leaned on it to see if she minded having weight on that. She was great about that too, so I tied one end of the rope to the buckle on the girth, ran it through the handle on the bucket, and then ran it through the buckle on the other end of the girth with a long tail sticking out which I could hold as I drove her so I could let go and let her get away from the bucket if she panicked.

She was great. She dragged the bucket all over the property, walking and trotting, and never even spooked. Tom was working on the computer in the house, and when he heard the big noise he came out and was surprised to see me driving Elphie around with her very calmly pulling the very noisy bucket behind her. It was a little hard for me because the bucket would bounce and roll as we hit rough spots, and I kept having to jump it as we turned – although next time I’ll know to adjust the lengths of the long lines and the rope holding the bucket so the bucket stays ahead of me. We’ll probably pony Elphie into Barton Creek at some point and see if we can find a Mennonite to make a simple driving harness for her. She’s almost two so we don’t think she’s going to grow a whole lot more, but we’ll wait a bit and then Tom can build a little buggy for her to pull. We’re bummed that she’s so small because she’d probably make a great little trail horse since she’s so quiet, but we think she’s too small for me to even get on and ride. There’s a guy in town who works with horses and who is very small, so we may talk to him about backing her so kids could ride her, but we’re not sure he’d want to work with us to do it (cowboys don’t take advice from girls), and we don’t know if he’ll believe us that since we’ve been working with her since she was a baby, backing her will probably just be a matter of getting on and riding. We’re afraid that he’ll want to “break” her Belizean style, which means a big-ported curb bit with three inch shanks instead of my big fat eggbutt snaffle, lots of kicking and whipping and yanking on her mouth, and the general philosophy that you need to scare the sh*t out of a horse to break it. It might be a good test to see if she’s as quiet as we think she is, but we don’t want to do it to her; she’s just too sweet. We’ve even considered just finding a kid to see what she does, but horse accidents happen because people do stupid things, and putting a kid on a never-ridden horse probably counts as a stupid thing.

Hidden lines

Finally, after more than a year and a half in this cabin, we’re getting rid of the hoses and extension cords that have been running over the ground supplying us with water and power. The water is now running up and down the hill in a 2” pipe with valves to keep it where it belongs and moving in the right direction, and the extension cords are being replaced with real electric cable run through PVC. Tom and Selwyn dug the trench mostly with a pickax and shovel, although they had to pound through a few good hunks of limestone with the sledgehammer. The white spot you can see on the side of the trench near the house is pulverized limestone. I think they wanted to take the sledgehammer to me a few times because I got great pleasure out of yelling off the porch and asking them if they were sure the trench was deep enough to get the water pipe below the frostline. Then I’d go in the house and giggle and leave them pounding the rocks. Seriously though, both Tom and I are getting great pleasure out of being here right now since we’ve had an exceptionally beautiful week, and we’ve talked or emailed a few people in the US who have told us that the weather in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states has been awful.

As I sat here typing…

I’m writing this blog entry sitting on our screened porch. I heard a flapping and looked up, and this Blue Crowned Motmot had just landed on a branch right off the porch. He looked at me, I looked at him, I grabbed the camera since I was in the process of downloading pictures for the blog anyway – and managed to get this shot of him getting a good look at me. Sorry for the graininess – the picture is taken through the screen with our crappy old camera. This bird’s name comes from the hooting “mot mot” call he makes in the early morning just before the sun rises, which is our wake up call every morning. You can’t see it in this picture, but these birds also have distinctive “racket tails,” so called because they pull all the quills out of their tail feathers except for a “racket” right at the end.

Belize to appear on NBC’s Today Show

Tom stopped by the Zoo last Tuesday, and everybody was buzzing because NBC’s Today Show had just been there over the weekend filming for a feature scheduled to air on Monday, November 17 or Tuesday, November 18. From what our friends at the Zoo said, the feature was about the Zoo, but now the whole country is buzzing because the spot is on all of Belize, so the Today Show crew were spotted all over the country – which is even better.

So tune in to the Today Show this Monday and Tuesday, and if you miss it then, I’ll post links on our websites, and I know a link will be posted on the Zoo’s website – and probably on every other Belize website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bye-bye, C-Zero!

The camper, also known as C-0 since our cabin is C-1 and the guest cabin is C-2, has made it to its new home. It’s silly, but we were a little sad to see it go. It definitely didn’t owe us anything. We packed all of our belongings in it to make the two-month road trip from New York to here, lived in it during our trip and for the first four months we were on this property, used it for our shower for a little while after we moved into the house, used it as guest quarters until the guest cabin was habitable, loaned it to our neighbors for shelter while they were tearing down their wooden house and building a cement house, and used it for storage until the shop was done.

Four or five months ago I responded to a query on line about whether anyone had a camper in Belize that they were willing to rent or sell. A couple from Oregon, Gale and Art, are in the process of moving to Belize. They own land in Bullet Tree, which is just the other side of San Ignacio, and they were looking for something they could put on their land to live in until they have another shelter built, and which they could then use for storage. The camper isn’t much, but everything works and the price was right, so we made a deal that made us all happy. We were just about to move it when the rains came, but Gale and Art were happy to go with the flow, and finally yesterday Tom got it out of here and situated where Gale and Art want it on their land. We were worried about getting it out of here to the Western Highway, and about getting it back to and parked on Gale and Art’s land, but Tom took his time and made it, with everything intact. We hope Gale and Art find it as comfortable and useful as we did, and that they appreciate the fact that they just bought a camper that is on at least its third incarnation. Not bad for a 32-year old tow behind!

Things We Ponder in Belize

Maybe this is a sign that we have too much time on our hands, but here is an example of the types of things we ponder here.

Why do bats arrange themselves so neatly when they sleep during the day? Whenever we look at these bats, they’re always parked almost equidistant from each other. Sometimes the line goes around the corner, and then the bats around the corner are arranged with the same distance between them.

I don’t want to take my boot trees out of my good tall dress riding boots, but these boots need trees so the ankles don’t break too much. So, for the past week or so, I’ve been trying to figure out which liquor bottle is the best size for my boots. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the Caribbean White Rum. The One Barrel bottle is too fat, and the Bel-Mer wine bottle is too thin. It figures that the Caribbean White is the right size, because that’s the one type of bottle that we don’t save for the local beekeepers since it has one of those stupid dribble tops that don’t detach. Guess we’ll just have to finish another bottle of Caribbean White.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Drying Out

The Flooding of 2008, as the Belize media is calling it, seems to be over for the Cayo District, although serious flooding is still occurring in the Belize, Orange Walk, and Corozol districts to the north and east of here. Tom made it home on Saturday, and by the beginning of the week we were able to get in and out to the Western Highway without any trouble. The road crews have been very busy repairing washouts all over the country, from washouts like the ones between here and the Western Highway, and major washouts on the Western and Northern Highways. Spanish Lookout became accessible Thursday afternoon over the Bullet Tree Road, and just this weekend most of the low lying bridges are expected to finally be above the levels of the rivers.

Here are pictures of the washouts that prevented Tom from getting home last Friday night.

This is the culvert that washed out in Cristo Rey. You can see how far the water has eroded the road bed under the roadway.

This is the view from the top. The road drops off on the side that is flooded, so you can see that the washout under the road took out a pretty good chunk of support.

Just outside of Georgeville, a private road goes up the hill. The water came down that road and down the Georgeville Road in the flash flood mentioned in the article in the previous blog entry, and washed big rocks into the road, as well as a lot of loose gravel and a significant amount of mud.

Even when the flash flood subsided, water was still running down the road, covering it in many places. Tom said a lot of water must have been running down the hills to move the rocks he saw in the road.

The wet weather was pushed out of this area by a front that moved in from the north. We’ve had a very nice week with lots of blue sky and pleasantly cool temperatures only in the low 70s during the day, and the high 50s at night. We’ve had a little more rain just last night and today, but we’ve been able to get lots of outside stuff done this week. Tom and Selwyn finished putting up the fence to divide the back pasture into three paddocks, and we’ve started turning all six horses out to graze for a few hours every day since the ground is now dry enough that their hooves won’t do too much damage. Tom and Selwyn have also been nipping off the tops of the grass in the new pasture so we can get enough seed to plant the second half of the middle pasture and the front pasture. Selwyn seeded half the middle pasture before the rain started, and while the rain washed some of the seeds to low spots in the ground, it looks like some of it has taken and the front half of that pasture is starting to get green.

Selwyn also weed whacked the grounds, so it doesn’t look like we’re being overtaken by the jungle again. The camper is due to disappear this week. We sold it to some people in Bullet Tree and we were just about ready to deliver it when the rain started. We hope it’s finally dry enough this week that we can get it to where it should be.

A few weeks ago we planted coco in front of the guest cabin, and that has really taken off and makes it look like we’ve made at least a feeble attempt at landscaping. We’ll have to dig it up eventually, but then we can either plant something else, or, since it grows so quickly, plant some more coco. We planted it this time just because it does grow so fast, it will make the place look nicer for this year’s tourist season. I also planted a row of papaya seeds behind the coco, and to my surprise they sprouted.

Selwyn’s mother gave us a really good papaya a few months ago, and when I said how good it was she told me to save the seeds, dry them, and then plant them. When she gave us another papaya, I took out the seeds, washed them, and then put them on a plate on top of the refrigerator for a couple of months, stirring them around when I thought of it. They looked all moldy and dusty and I didn’t think anything would happen when I planted them, but they sprouted. We left some in front of the guest cabin, gave some of the seedlings to neighbors and friends who wanted them, and moved some of them to this spot where one of the big cages used to be and where we’re now planting different kinds of bananas along with the papaya seedlings.

Tom hasn’t worked with the boys from next door for a few weeks between being busy with guests and the wretched weather. Today, however, was dry enough that they’re out chopping property line. Tom says the boys (Ronald in the back row, Wilton and Hector in front) are doing a great job, and it’s a much more economical way than the way we originally got the line chopped through a very expensive contract with Bol, Selwyn’s dad.

Animal Update

I finally got brave enough to take Tony out for a ride. I correctly predicted that things would have fallen in the trails with all the wet weather, so despite the fact that he’s slow as mud, I took Tony rather than Glin or Es because it’s easier to chop with him than with either of the mares – I can actually chop high stuff from his back if I’m careful, and if I have to get off, I don’t have to worry about him turning and running for home (Es) or sticking his nose out to see what I’m chopping (Glin). Plus, when Tony gets stuck in vines he stops and does what I tell him to get out of the tangle, where both of the mares tend to go straight up when that happens. The mares’ method is actually more efficient as far as getting unstuck, but Tony’s way is definitely calmer and safer. The trails were still pretty wet, and some of the trails seem to have turned into hopefully-temporary streams even though it hadn’t rained in a few days. Seeing the condition of the trails after a few days without rain made me feel less like a wimp for not going out before this – part of me had wanted to ride and was telling the other part that I was being a wimp for listening to Selwyn’s caution about flash floods, but it looks like the caution was well founded. It was really nice to get back out in the jungle, and a few good wildlife sightings enhanced the ride. I saw a flock of aracaris feeding in a trumpet tree, which I haven’t seen for a while, watched a collared forest falcon fly through the canopy, and was accompanied for a short way along one of the trails by a hollering troupe of howler monkeys. I was looking for big cat tracks since we’ve heard more rumors of a jaguar in the neighborhood, but the ground was actually too wet to hold any tracks. The birds are reminding us that while it’s getting cooler here, it’s getting much cooler in the north and we’re seeing a lot of the migratory birds. We’ve had a noticeable increase in warblers, thrushes, and tanagers, and the Birds of Belize book has been well used as we try to identify the new arrivals.

Recona dressed up as a purple-eyed dog for Halloween. Really, what happened was that she got a botfly infestation right around her eye, and her eye was looking more and more swollen. Fortunately we’ve learned to recognize the symptoms, and we’ve come up with what seems to be an efficient way of treating it. I’m not sure if it’s available in the US, but here we can get a purple spray that is an antiseptic, antibiotic, and insecticide. It’s great for all the little scratches the horses and dogs get because it cleans the wound and keeps the bugs off the wound. It’s really great for botflies, because it kills the larvae in the animal, and keeps the breathing hole from getting infected. We just spray it or wipe it on the infected spot, and in a day or two the larvae dies and the breathing hole scabs over. All we have to do is pull off the scab. Sometimes the dead larvae are attached to scab, and sometimes we have to squeeze the spot and the larvae come out in a gob of pus. It must feel good to the animals to get it out because they never complain or try to pull away. We squeezed five very small larvae – about as long as a grain of white rice, and about a quarter of the diameter – out of Recona’s face, and she never pulled back or snapped at us. Fortunately, we haven’t yet had the need to try this method on people, but it’s certainly easier on the animals than the way Selwyn removed the one from Tom’s arm.

This weather has been tough on the animals. Recona and Ness both had botflies, and I feel like I spend half the morning running around and taking care of the rest of the animals. Elphie cut half the eyelashes off the eyelid of her good eye, so I’ve had to treat that carefully. Lodo has a scrape on his leg and a cut on his nose, both of which require purple spray at least once a day, which involves both of us getting purple spots all over since he hasn’t learned to just stand still yet. All the horses have rain rot, and have little clumps of hair peeling off their rumps, and I’m just waiting for them to get scratches or thrush, which they’ve somehow managed to avoid so far. Recona has a swollen foot, and we’re not sure if it’s another botfly, or if she has an out of joint toe. Good news for the dogs is that we’ve found that Frontline Plus does kill Recona’s fleas, so all five of the dogs are scratching a whole lot less than they were a month ago.

We feel very badly for people with lots of animals, because if we’re having this range of difficulty with animals that are basically our pets, we can’t imagine what the farmers with herds of cattle, sheep, and pigs need to do. We have heard that lots of farmers lost crops or pasture – which quickly adds up to tens of thousands of dollars for them – but as far as losing animals in the floods or needing to provide extra veterinary care, the news seems to be mostly good. The government is telling farmers that they should vaccinate their livestock against black leg disease, an infection that seems to be more prevalent when the weather is wet, but we have not heard of any big livestock losses due to this disease.