Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I missed sending out a Merry Christmas greeting to everybody last week, but this week I have the time to post our Happy New Year wishes. We can’t believe we’ve been in Belize almost two years, but it’s been two good years, and we’re hoping for the same for everybody in 2009. Happy New Year!

New Wheels

We finally had to suck it up and do something we’ve been putting off for too long – buy a companion for Tinkerbell. Before Christmas, Tom was leaving San Ignacio with our guests, and Tinkerbell quit. Tom managed to get her into San Ignacio, drop her off at the repair shop, and rent a SUV to get everybody home. No harm done, but it can’t happen again, and Tinkerbell just isn’t completely dependable any more. So, Tom did some quick research, visited a few car dealers, and managed to find a good deal on a new 2007 Isuzu D-Max, which is a small, four-door, diesel, 4WD pickup truck. It hardly seems like a truck since we’re so used to Tinkerbell, but it has a much better suspension, and a four door cab that can hold four comfortably, with seatbelts for six. It seems like a car, but that’s probably a good thing since it’s easier to get in and out and passengers don’t bang their heads on the ceiling as we traverse the rough roads around here. Tom picked it up the day before Christmas and picked up our Christmas week guests, Mike and Stacie, on its maiden voyage, and then took everybody for a Mountain Pine Ridge tour to Rio Frio Cave, Rio On Pools, and Big Rock as a Christmas outing.

Mike & Stacie

We just had an incredibly eventful week with Mike and Stacie from Santa Clara, California. They spent the first part of their Belize vacation diving from Caye Caulker, then spent a night at the Belize Zoo where they pronounced the night tour “awesome” but delivered the sad news that Ellen, the black jaguar, had just died of cancer. From the Belize Zoo they went cave tubing at Jaguar Paw, and Tom picked them up there in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. They met the very tired, muddy, and happy CheChem Ha adventurers in San Ignacio, and then we all returned to the farm for dinner. On Christmas, everybody went to Rio Frio Cave, Rio On Pools, and Big Rock, and then came back for our traditional standing rib roast prime rib dinner with twice baked potatoes.

On Friday (Boxing Day here), Mike, Stacie, Dave, and Tom all went to Actun Tunichil Muknal, aka the ATM Cave, and spent a good day exploring the Mayan underworld with Gonzo. Saturday we saddled up Tony, Es, and Glin, and Stacie, Mike, and I packed a lunch and went on a trail ride to Sapodilla Falls. We had the usual pleasant ride through the jungle, and then arrived at the falls to find, for the first time in my experience, two other horses already tethered in the “parking lot” at the top of the falls. The horses were from Blancaneaux, and as we were hiking down the trail, the Blancaneaux guide and his guest were hiking out, so we had the falls all to ourselves for lunch and a swim. As we were getting ready to leave, a group of local people came in and were sitting downstream for us. We waved and said hi as we walked by, and didn’t think any more of it until we were almost at the top of the trail when I heard “Mrs. Tom, Mrs. Tom” behind me. It turns out one of the men in the group was Antonio Mai, the chairman of San Antonio’s water board and warden of the Elijio Panti National Park. He worked with Tom on the water line up in the hills near Hidden Valley in March 2007, and when one of the men with him told him that I was “the girl from Chac Mool [the previous name for our property], Mr. Tom’s wife,” Antonio ran up the hill behind us to meet us. He told us all sorts of things about the park and its history, invited us to ride with him sometime to a cave in the park, and taught us a little bit of the Mayan language – how to say “white man” (Mike), “white girl” (me), and, when Mike pointed out that Stacie is Chinese and not white, “yellow girl” (Stacie). He also told us a few myths of the jungle about beings who lure people into the jungle for various mischievous reasons, and we spent a half hour laughing together.

Early – and I mean early – Tom dropped Mike and Stacie off in San Ignacio and they left for an overnight tour to Tikal, Guatemala, where they had a good time exploring the park and archeological site. They took a zip line tour Monday morning, did some shopping, and we met them in San Ignacio Monday evening. We all went to dinner at Benny’s, a restaurant that serves Belizean food in the town of Succotz. We had empanadas, tostadas, garnaches, and salbutes as an appetizer, and then sampled each other’s dinners. Mike ordered chilmole, a black soup with chicken and a boiled egg, Stacie had cow foot soup, and I had pibil, which is a sort of pulled pork. All were delicious. Tom, not being an overly adventurous eater, ordered fried fish, so he got to eat his dinner without having to share!

On Tuesday we headed down the Hummingbird Highway to Caves Branch, where we’d signed up to do the Black Hole Drop. The four of us had signed up, but Stacie woke up in the middle of the night with a strong feeling that she shouldn’t do it, so it ended up that they went to the Inland Blue Hole and St. Herman’s Cave while Tom and I did the Black Hole Drop on our own, mostly because we hadn’t done it before and thought we should do it so we can advise our guests. Stacie was very wise to trust her instincts, because it was an awesome trip, but difficult for a few different reasons. The hike to the Black Hole, which is a 300+ foot sinkhole in the middle of the jungle, was tough. It takes over an hour in good conditions because the terrain is very hilly and rocky, and the hike is mostly up hill. On Tuesday, it was raining off and on, so the hike was made even more difficult because the trail was very muddy, and very, very slippery with lots of steep drop offs at the edge of the trail. It reminded Tom of working on the water pipeline, and he was glad all he had to carry was a day pack with water and rappelling gear and he had two hands to climb up some of the steeper portions of the trail. Not counting guides, there were nine people in the party, and by the time we got back to the bus at the end of the day, five of the nine had fallen on the trail and were covered in mud. Tom and I were luckily not among the fallers, but we were also pretty muddy because doing the drop itself meant sliding backwards off a mud-covered limestone overhang. After getting buckled into the rappelling gear and clipped to the ropes, my stomach was in my mouth and I was shaking despite my pep talks to myself about how people much less athletic than I am had done this. I informed the guide that I was NOT going to look down, and he just said, “That’s fine, now lean back, push off the rock, and feed the rope up.” I did as instructed, swung down below the overhang, spun a 180 on the rope, and forgot all about being nervous. It was an incredible experience to be hanging out in space, basically at ground level, looking up in one direction at the jungle rising above me, and looking down at the top of the canopy below me. I slid slowly down through the canopy to the bottom of the sinkhole, not because I was afraid to go fast, but because I wanted time to absorb what I was seeing as I dropped from one world to another. Tom had descended on another rope at the same time – although a little more quickly – so we landed almost together at the bottom of the sinkhole. We joined those already down and watched the rest of our party descend, with everybody, without exception, awed by the experience. The guides fed us a great lunch, and then we hiked around the bottom of the sinkhole, climbed up the side where it was a little shallower – but still a very tough climb which included a very rickety ladder – and hiked down the muddy hill and back to the point where we met the bus to take us back to the Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. Click here to see a description of this trip – sorry, but we forgot our camera, so we can’t wait for more guests who want to do this so we can go again and remember the camera!

By the time we got back to Caves Branch, Mike and Stacie had caught a ride to Belize City, where they were going to catch the water taxi to go back to Caye Caulker for a couple more days of diving and snorkeling. Stacie had completed her diving certification before they headed inland, but the certification dives focused more on skills than on seeing fish and the beautiful coral formations on the reef off the coast of Belize, so they wanted to try to get a couple of more days of reef time before they had to head home. We’re sure Mike and Stacie will be back to visit Belize!

Dave & Tamis & kids

In the last blog entry, I briefly mentioned what we’d been doing with our friends from Seattle, Dave, Tamis, and their kids Mia (5), and Evan (9). After that entry, we had another week of adventures before they had to leave the Saturday after Christmas. Although Tom took them to the airport while I went with Mike and Stacie on a trail ride to Sapodilla Falls, we both found that evening that we really missed hearing kids’ laughter coming from the cabins. We were amazed how attached we could get in just a little over two weeks!

Although we’re still really missing them, we can look back on the time they were here with nothing but pleasant memories. We did so much I can’t possibly go into detail for all of it, but Dave is an awesome photographer, so I’ll just include a few of their pictures.

We found that when the adults wanted to hike somewhere, the best thing for Mia and Evan was to put a saddle on Tony and toss them up. They liked riding, the adults liked walking a little more quickly, and Tony is always a good sport.

One day we saddled up and headed down the road to the Butterfly Ranch, where we saw many beautiful butterflies and learned a lot – more than we knew there was to know – about butterflies.

Another day we took a hike through the jungle and to the vista overlooking MET and the road to 7 Miles.

It’s a nice hike through the jungle to get to the vista, and the view is gorgeous once you get there.

Tom and Selwyn took everybody to Barton Creek Cave, where they paddled into the cave and then swung on the rope swing at the Barton Creek Outpost’s swimming hole.

Late one afternoon, the boys – Dave, Evan, and Tom – took off for Big Rock. They swam, jumped off the rock, and then hung out and watched the sunset, hiking back up the trail just as it was getting dark. Mia was distraught that she had missed an adventure, but fortunately she got to visit Big Rock on Christmas Day and see that she hadn’t missed all that much, at least as far as she was concerned.

Mia was much happier at Rio On Pools, where the Pools are kid friendly and the slides between pools are adventure enough for a small person. The whole family went there twice during their stay, and would have gone again if they had been able to stay longer.

On Christmas Eve, I went with Dave, Tamis, Evan, Mia, and Selwyn on a tour led by Gonzo and his friend Becky, a ceramics archeologist (sorry if the title isn’t quite right, Becky!) on a tour of Chechem Ha Cave.

We saw lots of fascinating artifacts, tons of cool cave formations, and got to climb through some very narrow passages in the cave.

I, unfortunately, used Selwyn as a crash landing pad on one of the descents (thanks, undependable knees), but Sewlyn was okay and I was just muddy. What’s new? It wouldn’t be an adventure is I wasn’t covered in mud!

When we got out of the cave, we had a delicious lunch. It wasn’t the main course, but we got to sample a freshly roasted armadillo – which was surprisingly good. It tasted like chicken, of course.

Although we had a lot of other adventures, we also had some welcome downtime. Here’s Evan snoozing in the hammock with Nock.

To read about the adventure from Evan and Mia's point of view, visit their blog at

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Busy Season

The past week has been crazy busy, and a whole lot of fun. We’ve had three separate parties of guests, and we’ve had – and are having – a blast with all of them.

First, we had Jon, Karen, and their son Myles from Philadelphia here for a couple of days. One day they went to Barton Creek and canoed into the cave, and on their second day they packed a lunch and visited Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools.

Then we had Bobby, Andy, and Steve, all from Ohio, here for a couple of days. One day they took a horseback ride through the jungle and the Mountain Pine Ridge to Big Rock Waterfall with Selwyn, and on the other day they went to ATM.

The day they left, Tom picked up Dave, Tamis, Evan, and Mia at the Zoo and took them shopping in Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio – a real taste of life in Belize. Since then, they’ve toured Xunantunich and Barton Creek Cave, stopped at the inland Blue Hole on their way to Hopkins, and spent an overnight at Jungle Jeanie’s By The Sea in Hopkins. They have another whole week of adventures lined up before they head back to Seattle.

About the only bad thing that’s happened lately is that poor Recona was “attacked” by army ants. We always tie her under the house by the steps at night because she’ll spend the whole night patrolling for and barking at the multitude of armadillos around here, and because we don’t want her to be jaguar bait. We woke up at about 5am one morning to Recona shrieking by the door. Tom grabbed a machete and ran outside and found that her entire area was overcome by army ants, which were biting her just because she was in the way. Tom unclipped her and got both of them out of the army, and Recona rolled in the mud while Tom sprayed her with bug killer. She was a muddy, stinky mess, but after a bath later in the day she didn’t seem to be any the worse for the wear. Phew!

We have a couple of busy weeks lined up with more guests coming in on Christmas Eve and staying for a week, and a steady line of guests expected through January and February. We’re having a blast running our business and taking care of guests – it doesn’t even feel like work!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Belize Zoo 25th Anniversary

Tom spent this past weekend at the Belize Zoo's 25th Anniversary Celebration. While there he...

...saw the unveiling of the harpy eagle statue donated to the Zoo.

...watched the harpy eagle wedding.

...helped John, the Tropical Education Center Manager, Wilford, an assistant at the Zoo and TEC, and Miss Murial, the Cook at the Zoo.

...and had an up-close encounter with Junior Buddy, the Jaguar Ambassador at the Zoo, with Sharon and guests who stayed at the Zoo for a night and then drove Tom home, Jon, Karen, and their son Miles.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Great picture!

John and Cindy, our guests over Thanksgiving weekend, emailed this picture of two aracaris in the give-and-take palm right outside our cabin. It's too good to not post! Thanks, John and Cindy!


As I was standing in the kitchen making dinner last night, I felt something go plop onto the top of my head. And move.

My first thought was that it was a bat, which we occasionally get in the cabin. I didn’t want to put my hands to my head to brush it off because I was afraid it would bite me and I really don’t want rabies shots for Christmas, so I didn’t move and very calmly (I thought, given the circumstances) said loudly to Tom, who was working on the computer in the other room, “Tom. Come here. Immediately. You need to get this bat off my head.”

I pulled my collar tight around my neck so it couldn’t go down my shirt and bent over so Tom could see the top of my head. He started to laugh, and then brushed at the “bat” and I felt it jump to my shoulder. I turned my head to look just as this turnip tail gecko jumped to the kitchen door and scurried up out of the dogs’ reach. It paused long enough at the top of the wall for Tom to get the camera and take this picture, then disappeared back into the ceiling where it can continue to do its job eating scorpions and spiders.


It’s been very cool here the past couple of days. The high temp has been in the 60s, and every night has been in the 50s. We know it’s nothing like what all of you in the Great White North are enduring right now, but it’s very cold to us. Even the dogs are feeling it; Louie managed to make me wrap him in my shirt which kept us both warm, and all the dogs have been doing their best to get into our skins.