Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Party

When we moved here, one of the things we brought with us was our collection of Christmas special VCR tapes and the VCR to play them. Every year, around the end of November, Tom starts planning a party with some local kids so he can show them what US citizens watch to get in the Christmas spirit. Really, Tom just wants to watch the tapes, but it sounds good to say he’s going to share our traditions with the local kids. This year, Tom decided that the event where the tapes would be played was the company party for the property he manages down the road, so he cleaned up the house, made sure the TV and VCR were still in working order, and invited Julio, the caretaker, and his family to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman. He also invited our friends Rich and Cindy from Belmopan, Marjie and Chuck, and some other friends who help Julio out at the farm when extra hands are needed.

Julio and the boys, except 2-year old Melbor, came to help Tom with some chores around here in the morning, while I made lasagna for dinner. Rich and Cindy showed up a little before noon, and we loaded everybody in the trucks and headed to the farm. Janet had been there since the morning making chicken burritos for our lunch, along with vanilla Christmas cake with caramel frosting. We ate lunch, and started the video marathon.

After the Peanuts and Rudolph, some eyes were starting to glaze over, and Rich, aka Mr. Entertainment, stepped up to the plate to get everybody moving. He sent the kids off into the jungle to collect cohune nuts, three per person, and then taught, or at least attempted to teach, us all how to juggle. Some got it better than others, and after only a half hour or so, Angel and Julio were well on their way to being jugglers, along with Eric. The rest of us got tired of chasing the cohune nuts we kept dropping.

We went back inside and sat down for the next couple of videos. Marjie and Chuck showed up with homemade brownies, everybody sampled the Christmas cookies Cindy and Rich brought, and I made popcorn while everybody watched Frosty and a Scooby-Do video Chuck and Marjie brought. Somewhere in the middle Tom, Angel, Janet and I ducked out to run back to Moonracer Farm to feed the animals, and then we got back just in time for the end of the Scooby-Do movie, and to see Melbor, already traumatized by the Abominable Snowman in Rudulph, get up and get re-traumatized by the monsters in Scooby-Do. The Scooby-Do movie was cut off just before the end to prevent a 2-year old’s meltdown, and Mr. Entertainment stepped in again to make everybody happy again.

We invited Rich and Cindy because they’re friends, but being new friends we found there are a few significant things we didn’t know about them – like the fact that Rich is an absolutely amazing magician. He did card tricks, and they were, in keeping with the Christmas spirit, real magic. First, he magically pulled all the aces out of the deck. Then he had four of the guys try to pick up stacks of ten cards each – and somehow had the ten of each suit appear as the top card in each of their stacks.

Then he showed Angel four cards and had Angel pick two and hold them between his hands – and somehow replaced the two he picked with the two he didn’t pick. He read Odali’s mind and had her pick a card and then had Eric pick it out of the deck. Around this time, everybody was getting really curious about how he did it, so he explained – magic, of course.

He then explained that everybody has some magic in them, like how Janet can make almost 50 perfect tortillas, all round, and all the same size. To prove that Janet is magic, too, he pulled cards out of the deck so she couldn't see the faces, she read his mind, and she directed him to put the unseen card into a red pile or black pile. Once she got the hang of it, he gave her the rest of the deck and, without looking, SHE put the face-down cards into a different red pile or black pile. All the piles were turned over and, amazingly, all black cards were in the black piles and all red cards were in the red piles. None of us had any idea as to how Rich did it – and I, at least, am perfectly happy to accept the explanation of magic!

It was a very interesting day for us, watching Christmas videos with people who had to ask what all the white stuff is, who the fat man in the red suit is, and why everybody is obsessed with toys and gifts. Here, Christmas is still mostly a religious holiday, and while some places decorate and people may exchange small gifts, the all-out commercialism that has become the US Christmas tradition isn’t really understood here. Still, everybody enjoyed the videos, and we all ate way too much. And spending the afternoon relaxing with friends was a great way to get in the Christmas spirit!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Busy Week on the Wildlife Cam

We had a busy week on the wildlife cam. I lowered it per Roni's suggestion, and while we still caught some tail ends, we got a few pictures of better quality. Let me know what you think!

Finally - a good picture of an agouti!
No idea whose tail this is. A coati? Tayra? Any other ideas?
A little better picture of our spotted cat. The same ocelot?
The neighbor's dog. Grrr.
A ground dove. Woo hoo.
The hind end of something. I suspect the neighbor's dog again.
Hmmmm...whose legs are these? And I wonder if he knew he was photographed...
Hind end of an agouti, I think.
Tail end of our favorite grey fox?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kate & Simon - Travel Writers

Last week, we were very honored to be visited by Kate Joynes-Burgess and her husband Simon. Kate is in Belize for almost two months gathering information for a Belize travel guide to be published by W.W. Norton & Company. They’re trying to cover the whole country in this time, which means they have to do a bit of picking and choosing about where they want to stay, and we were very glad that they decided to spend a little bit of time at Moonracer Farm.

Tom picked them up at Jaguar Paw and made stops at Banana Bank and the Jungle Dome on the way back here. After a quick lunch, they headed into the Mountain Pine Ridge to visit Rio Frio and hike on the trails in that area, stopping at the Pine Ridge Lodge on their way back here for dinner. We made an early night of it, because they had to meet Selwyn early the next morning for a hike from San Antonio through the Elijio Panti National Park, with a stop at Sapodilla Falls, then on to Five Sisters Jungle Lodge. Tom picked them up there and took them to Blancaneaux, where they spent the next evening.

They had intended to go to ATM with Gonzo the next morning, but plans were changed because ATM had been closed due to flooding a couple of times earlier in the week. Instead, Tom picked them up early and made a quick stop at Big Rock, then came back here for a tour of our grounds which we’d skipped the previous day. They then went down to talk to Jackie about camping at the Barton Creek Outpost, and then on to Mike’s Place to see Barton Creek Cave.

By this time is was lunchtime, and despite having had upset stomachs the night before, they ate a typical Belizean lunch with Julio’s family in 7 Miles before taking a tour of the Ka’ax Tun Park and Education Center. Tom got them back to Blancaneaux by late afternoon so they could get massages in Blancaneaux’s spa – a very welcome Belize experience after two long, strenuous days of seeing the sights in the Mountain Pine Ridge!

Wildlife Cam pic of the week

The Cuddeback wildlife camera only got one good picture this week, of this grey fox.

If you don't follow the comments on old posts, you probably don't know that we got more information on the previous set of pictures posted. The spotted cat is an ocelot - you can tell by the length of its tail. The two small animals are agoutis, and there are two in the picture, not only the one I identified initially. Nobody is positive about the dark cat, but everybody (including me) thinks it's probably the feral domestic cat we see around here.

Thanks to Roni Martinez's comment, the camera is now mounted a little lower, and I've tried to point it more directly towards the center of the trail. His comment came in just as I was downloading this week's pictures, so I took the camera right back out and tried to use his tips. Thanks, Roni!

Friday, November 27, 2009

In July, Erik and Rhea gave us a wildlife camera to use on our property because Erik is trying to collect data about cats in this area, and the animals the cats eat. We've had the camera in a couple of different spots, and until the last two weeks we hadn't managed to shoot anything other than a couple of birds, a squirrel, and an agouti. Perhaps it's the cooler, wetter weather, but whatever the reason, we finally had some results in the past week and a half.

We think this is a ground mole, although it's difficult to see and if anybody has any better ideas, we're willing to listen. The animal is just outside the middle of the picture, towards 2:00.

This is a fox.

A chachalaca - sort of like a skinny wild chicken.

This is the hind end of some cat, either a jaguarundi, or possibly a black domestic cat we've seen around here.

We don't think this is big enough to be a jaguar, but we finally got a spotted cat!

Hollis Update

We’ve had Hollis three weeks now, and he’s fitting in quite well. In some ways he’s easier to have around than Recona, because Nock doesn’t see the need to kill him since he isn’t a female. He’s achieved his goal and now sleeps on the bed – although still ON TOP of the covers – and Lou and Nock actually seem to appreciate his company. The three off them are able to go out and wander around together, and we frequently find Hollis and Nock curled up together on a blanket on the floor. He sometimes uses grumpy old Lou as a pillow at night, and Lou doesn’t even seem to mind having Hollis’s head resting on his rump. Due to weather, business, and a general lack of motivation I still haven’t taken him out on a horseback ride, but I should have time to do that in the next week or so – and I think I’m getting over Cona’s death enough that I won’t burst into tears when I turn around to look for her plumy tail on the trail behind me and realize she isn’t there. I’m sure I’ll get used to Hollis’s white-tipped curly pig tail quickly enough.

The only problem we’re having is that with his brindle coat, he disappears. We’ve nicknamed him Camo Dog, because he can be in the jungle right behind the house, and if he doesn’t move so we see a flash of the white spot around his neck, he’s invisible. We think he thinks we’re crazy because we’ll stand in the driveway and call him, and then realize he’s just inside the trees looking at us. We’ve also found that he’s a quick study. When Scott and Elizabeth first came, he barked at them as intruders. They returned here for a night after they went to Guatemala, and he then accepted them without any problems. We just had another couple stay here last night, and not only did he not bark at them, but he was all snuggly with Kate and made her feel right at home – so he seems to be learning his job as watch dog at an inn, where intruders are bad but guests are good.

Another Trip to Guatemala

Tom and I returned about a week ago from another trip to Guatemala. This one was something of a good deed, although it was also a fact finding trip for us. Our friend Julio’s mother was in the hospital in Flores, Guatemala, a couple of months ago, and she needed to go back to the doctor at the hospital for a follow-up visit. Nobody in Julio’s family has a car that they trust to make it to Flores and back, and Tom and I have been wanting to investigate driving one of our vehicles into Guatemala, so we decided that taking Julio’s mother to the doctor in Flores would give us a chance to see what was involved in getting our car over the border – with the help of people who speak Spanish and have lived in both countries.

After a bumpy start, it turned out to be a good experience for all of us. We left here around 8AM on Tuesday morning and picked up Julio and his son Eric at the farm. We headed into San Ignacio to meet Scott and Elizabeth, who were planning on driving their rental car to Tikal, and who could also benefit from Julio’s help with the process of getting a car out of Belize and into Guatemala. We met them on Burns Ave, and stood chatting in the sunshine while Julio cleared the first obstacle on the journey; he had to get a temporary passport because he just had to turn his in and get a new one because the old one was full and he is going to a conference in Costa Rica next week. He picked up all the necessary paperwork and was told to get the actual temporary passport at the border.

Eric and I jumped in the rental car with Elizabeth and Scott and we followed Tom and Julio to Julio’s sister’s house, where we were meeting Julio’s mother and two of his sisters. That was where we encountered our second obstacle. Julio’s mother lived in 7 Miles prior to her hospital stay in Guatemala, but when she returned to Belize, she decided to stay with her daughter in San Ignacio because she would be closer to the hospitals there if she had any emergencies. However, she had left her passport in 7 Miles and told Julio to bring it with him – and he forgot. After a quick conference, we decided that Julio and I would go to the border with Elizabeth and Scott so that Julio could get his temporary passport and then help Elizabeth and Scott with the border crossing with the car. Tom and Eric would make the run back to 7 Miles, and then pick up Julio’s mother and sisters on the way back to the border.

As it turned out, this timing was just fine. Julio got his temporary passport, and then helped Scott and Elizabeth with the border crossing. While it’s not a super complicated process to get a car into Guatemala from Belize, it can be a little difficult for people who don’t speak Spanish – and Scott and Elizabeth don’t – because on the Guatemala side, that’s all they speak. The Guatemalan officials want copies of some documents, and want all of their instructions followed, and that’s tough if you don’t understand the instructions. Plus, one of the printers was broken, which meant that they had to go out of the Immigration building, across the bridge, and into Melchor to get some of the copies, which isn’t a big deal except Elizabeth said that she wouldn’t have even known what they were asking her to do. I waited outside the Immigration building on the Belize side, and when Tom returned with Eric and Julio’s sisters and mother, Julio hadn’t yet come back to the Belize side. He had Eric’s passport with him on the Guatemala side, so they sent me through to find out what was going on and get Eric’s passport. I crossed to the Guatemala side just as Elizabeth and Scott were getting their money changed and getting on the road, and asked if everything was okay since by this time they’d been working on crossing for about an hour. Elizabeth assured me that it was, but also said that if they hadn’t had Julio’s help, they probably would have just figured out where they could park the car and they would have taken some form of public transportation to Tikal. We exchanged good-bye hugs – again – and Scott and Elizabeth hit the road to continue their adventure in Guatemala. I informed Julio that Eric needed his passport; Julio looked shocked, rifled around in his bag, found Eric’s passport and headed back towards Belize to get Eric, Tom, and the truck across the border.

In the meantime, Julio’s mother and sisters had crossed, so they and I sat in the shade and waited for Julio, Eric, and Tom. Even though Julio had just gone through the process of getting the vehicle over with Elizabeth and Scott, it still took time just because you have to go from line to line. After exiting Belize, the vehicle has to be sprayed. Then the driver has to get stamped into Guatemala in the people-stamping line. Then he has to go to another line to get a stamp for the vehicle in his passport. Tom realized at this point that he could have saved a little bit of time if he had photocopies of the vehicle’s title and registration, but it didn’t make much of a difference because they also wanted a photocopy of his stamped passport before they would issue the temporary permit. So, Tom and Julio had to take another walk into Melchor to get all the copies, then go back through the line to submit the copies and get the permit. They changed some money, and we were on the road right around noon – which seems like a long time considering we left our house at 8AM and the border is only about 20 miles from our house, but considering all the running around we did, it really wasn’t too bad.

The drive to Flores was fairly pleasant and uneventful, except for one roadblock as we headed out of Melchor. Like many border towns in Mexico and Guatemala, road blocks are sometimes set up at the non-border edge of town to make sure that anybody proceeding further into the country has the correct paperwork. All of our paperwork was in order, except the guard insisted that Tom and I had to pay a tourist fee. Julio and his sisters argued very loudly with her in Spanish that Tom and I obviously weren’t tourists and we were just giving his mother a ride to the doctor in Flores, and that we were permanent residents in Belize, and it was our Belize-registered car we were in, but she wasn’t having any of it. We were white, we owed her 50 quetzales – about $15BZ each – and she wasn’t giving us our little slips of paper and lifting the gate until we paid. The money really wasn’t the big deal, it was the fact that it was obvious racial discrimination – but, we were in Guatemala, so that was that, and racial discrimination isn’t such a big deal there. Tom and I didn’t really understand all of what was happening until it was over, and then Julio and his family were actually more upset about it than we were. But, we didn’t let it ruin our trip and we headed on to Flores.
As we pulled into town and drove towards the hospital, we saw three nicely dressed people, a man, a woman, and their teenaged daughter, walking down the street. Julio’s mother and sisters started yelling at us to stop, and we had no idea why. Tom pulled over and looked at Julio, and Julio just laughed and said, “My brother. On the way to the hospital to see my mother.” So they piled into the truck, Tom and Julio switched places so Julio was driving since he knew where to go, and we cut through a narrow back street in Flores to get to the hospital.

We got to Flores in the mid-afternoon and went right to the doctor’s office. Julio’s mom had some blood tests done, and was told to come back the next morning for the results. While she was in the doctor’s we wandered around Flores, a very picturesque town which is an island in the middle of a large lake. When she was finished, we all piled back in the truck and went into Santa Elena, the town on the shore of the lake, to look for a generator part that Julio was trying to find for his church’s generator. Santa Elena isn’t big, but it’s a very busy town with lots of shops, and we spent until the 5:00 closing time looking for a shop that had the part. As Julio walked out of the last shop he tried, he ran into a friend who was working in a neighboring storefront. When he told him what he was looking for, the friend said he thought he knew a place where they could find it, but we’d have to come back the next morning so he could take us there since it was on a back street that we’d never find on our own.

As Julio was talking to his friend, he looked up and saw Tom talking to a man on the sidewalk. He told us later that he didn’t know if Tom knew the man, or even if Tom was speaking English or Spanish since Tom’s mouth was moving so fast. We laughed when Julio told us this, because the man was just an inebriated Guatemalan who thought he could practice his English on the white people, not knowing that Tom would torture the drunken Guatemalan by practicing Spanish on him! Tom thought, if you are drunk and want to bother me on the sidewalk, you have to suffer through me practicing Spanish!

At this point we were all starving since we’d neglected to eat lunch since we wanted to get to Flores so Julio’s mom could get into the doctor’s that afternoon, so we found a cafeteria style restaurant and had what turned out to be a delicious dinner – chili rellano (stuffed peppers, sort of, although – go figure – they’re deep fried before they’re roasted) and rice and stewed vegetables.

We left the restaurant and headed for Julio’s aunt and uncle’s house, where we were all staying. They live in a small town off the main road about 45 minutes outside of Santa Elena/Flores, and the road leading to the town isn’t marked. Although Julio’s mom and sisters knew how to get there in the daylight, it was dark by this time so we had a little trouble finding the road, compounded by the fact that Tom was driving and the three women in the back seat were arguing with each other about where we were going and giving Tom conflicting directions – in Spanish. At one point Tom said to me that he didn’t understand what they were saying and what should he do, and I replied “Stop!” So he slammed on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road, only to be told that he just needed to proceed straight ahead for another mile or so. Shortly after that Julio got out to ask directions from some people on the side of the road, and then instead of Tom trying to figure out the translation of the directions, Tom just jumped into the pan of the truck with Eric and let Julio drive. That worked much better!

The aunt and uncle live in a house fairly typical of this area in Central America. The “house” is actually a series of small separate buildings connected by cement walkways and some overhangs. The kitchen is one building (very practical in the heat, and Tom and I are planning to do this here), there are a couple of sleeping buildings, and a building set up as a living area, all surrounded by beautiful gardens. The family caught up on all the family gossip, and while Tom and I caught some of it (Tom more, me less) we realized that we still need to speak baby-Spanish. However, somebody made sure to translate for us so we could understand what we needed, and we were fine with just letting the family catch up and letting the talk wash over us. Actually, we probably caught about as much from them in Spanish as we would have if we were with English-speaking friends visiting family we didn’t really know, and we sort of appreciated the break in not even having to try to understand. Before too long, they told us that our room was ready, and we found that they’d given us a whole building with a bed and a bathroom. We hope that somebody didn’t end up sleeping on a concrete sidewalk somewhere so that we could have the bed, but we couldn’t really say this in Spanish, so we had to settle for just be super-appreciative and thanking everybody over and over.

We had a great night’s sleep, and woke up to the sounds of roosters and turkeys – just like home, with the addition of the turkeys! We got up and dressed and found everybody gathering in the kitchen building, where we had a breakfast of rolls and fresh made corn tortillas and cookies and fruit and coffee and tea and juice, and pretty much whatever we wanted. There was more talk and a tour of the garden, and then we got ready to head back to Flores to pick up the blood tests.

The ride back into Flores seemed a whole lot quicker in the daylight than it had on the way out the night before, and we got to the doctor’s office shortly before the blood tests were returned. We left Julio’s mother and sisters there, and Eric, Julio, Tom and I went back into Santa Elena to pick up Julio’s friend to find the generator part. He was right – we never would have found the parts shop without his guidance. But, we found it, and although they didn’t have the part there, they could get it and ship it to Melchor so somebody from the church could pick it up in the next few days.

We went back into Flores and found Julio’s family waiting for us on the waterfront. We took the time to get a couple of pictures – one of them, one of us – and then we headed back towards Belize. We made one stop at the Maxi Bodega – a big grocery store, sort of like a Sam’s Club – to look for cream of tartar, since I had no idea what it was called in Spanish and it was needed for the Snickerdoodle (cookie) recipe I’d given to Julio’s sisters, cousin, and aunt. We found it – it’s “Cremo Tartar” – and after buying it, we walked through the big mall they’re building just outside of Santa Elena (the Maxi Bodega is one of the anchor stores), and then got back on the road. We stopped for lunch in El Remate, which was delicious but took a long time. We took a quick side trip to the shopping area in Melchor on the way back since Tom and I had never been there, and then headed for the border.

Getting back into Belize was much simpler than getting into Guatemala. Tom just turned in the permit, we all got stamped out of Guatemala, got stamped into Belize, Tom drove the truck through, and we were ready to go. Julio’s mother didn’t even have to get out of the truck this time – everybody was okay with one of her daughters taking her passport to be stamped, and she was able to just remain in the back seat. We dropped Julio’s mother and the sister she lives with off at their house, and then took Julio’s other sister to her home in a different section of San Ignacio. Then we dropped Julio and Eric in 7 Miles, and Tom and I made it home – tired, but glad we were able to help Julio’s mother and figure out what’s needed to get a Belize vehicle into Guatemala, and glad we could have such a good time doing it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Furniture Construction - Bookshelf

I found time a couple of weeks ago to make a bookcase for some friends, Rich and Cindy, who live in Belmopan. They had some ideas that they wanted me to work with but left the style and design completely up to me (kind of scary since I am an accountant). Some of their thoughts were:

1. Have the ability to put books on the shelves from either side.
2. Make all the shelves see through (this meant no back for structural integrity).
3. About seven feet tall, three feet wide and a total of one foot deep (to accommodate 2 rows of books).

I thought about the structural part a lot since a backing is used so there is strength if you push on one side and decided that I could make it strong enough if I used two pins for a support for each shelf. I also added a challenge for myself since I wanted to make this a little unusual: make the entire unit without using nails, screws, and glue.
(Top bracket to keep the side boards together)
(Bottom bracket to keep the side boards together)

Rich and Cindy picked a local hardwood, milady, for the project. I had a stack of it in the shop that I purchased about a year ago and have never used. Not being a professional cabinet maker, I was surprised at how much lumber I used – ALL of the milady that I had!

After a lot of sanding, lining up dato joints, lining up doweling pins, and figuring out the logistics of how to assemble the unit, this is what I came up with.
Luckily, on the day I was doing the final assembly, two friends, Alex and Angel stopped by on their motorcycle just to say hi. It took all six of our hands to piece it together. It is nice when everything fits just right when you are all done with a project!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Elizabeth & Scott

Our last guests – and newest new friends, to continue the theme from my last couple of posts – were Scott and Elizabeth from Tennessee. They are spending two weeks in Belize, and when they started planning their trip last winter, they decided to spend their first two nights with us.

Although they were only here for two nights, we squeezed a lot into a couple of days. They arrived late in the afternoon on Saturday, and after dinner and a few “welcome to Belize” Belikins, they were off to bed to get ready for a very busy Sunday. They started their day with a tour of Ka’ax Tun. Melvin, a guide from 7 Miles, gave the tour. Two of Julio’s sons, Eric and Jonny, went along to make sure nobody got lost and to demonstrate their vine climbing skills. Tom tailed along too because he wanted to get some pictures for the Ka’ax Tun website he is putting together so Julio’s park and education center will have a web presence.

After lunch with Julio’s family – chicken, rice and beans, what else? – Elizabeth and Scott returned to Moonracer Farm. At dinner the night before, we had talked about what they wanted to do while in Belize, and Scott had mentioned a long-standing interest in archeology and anthropology, and said that while he was eager to see the well-excavated sites such as Tikal, he was also interested in seeing some of the lesser known sites in Belize. Ka’ax Tun fit the bill, as does Pacbitun, a Maya ceremonial site about a mile down the road from here towards San Antonio. So, while Scott and Elizabeth were touring Ka’ax Tun, I ran down the road and asked our neighbor Joe, whose family owns the land where Pacbitun sits, if he’d be willing to give them a tour in the afternoon. He was happy to do it, so I scheduled them to pick up Joe at 2PM – which they did, after a quick drink here and after refilling their water bottles.

They really enjoyed the tour for a number of reasons. First, they liked being shown around the site by the land owner, whose ancestors are Maya. Second, they were interested to see how quickly the jungle overtakes the site, since portions of Pacbitun had been excavated by archeologists just this summer, but Joe still needed a machete to clear a path for them to get around the site. They said they were amazed to realize that if they didn’t know what they were looking for they could have walked up a small hill, never knowing it was a temple ruin, but that once Joe pointed out to them what to look for, it was very clear and they could even see individual rooms in some of the structures. Third, they really liked the contrast of a man-made site in ruins as compared to Ka’ax Tun, which shows lots of evidence of Maya activity both in artifacts lying around and in modifications in the rocks, but which is based on natural structures. They also got a good dose of natural history at both sites, so they had a good introduction to the broad leaf jungle here in Belize.

Scott unintentionally gave us a huge compliment that evening, so huge he probably didn’t even realize how huge it is. He said that if something happened and he and Elizabeth had to cut their vacation short and return home the next day, he wouldn’t care because he’d already seen what he came to Belize to see, and had done what he wanted to do. We were delighted that this area of Belize made them so happy, and that we had listened well enough to suggest activities that exceeded their expectations. Now we just have to keep living up to that!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

James – A New Friend!

After living in the same area for well over 20 years in New York before moving to Belize, Tom and I had made a lot of friends. We’ve always appreciated our friends, but it was still a little unsettling to us to move here and realize that we didn’t always have a houseful of friends at our fingertips at any time, and that we had to go about the process of making new friends – something that I’m not sure either of us really even remembered how to do since we never really thought about it before coming here.

But, we’ve been slowly and steadily making friends since we got here, and it hasn’t been difficult since we meet a lot of nice people in our day to day travels. The hard part is the same thing that was difficult in NY – having everybody be able to make enough time and get together to do the things that friends do. We’ve been talking to James, who works at the mill where we buy our horse feed and dog food, since he started working there a little over a year ago. James moved to Belize from Uganda, so he’s also in the process of settling in Belize, meeting people and making friends. We’ve been talking to him for quite a while and saying he’d have to come out to visit us, and finally a couple of weeks ago when we threw out the offer, he said “Fine – how about next Tuesday?”

So, a couple of Tuesdays ago he came out after work. We had dinner with James and Marjie and Chuck and sat talking at the table until none of us could keep our eyes open. James stayed overnight, and in the morning we saddled up Ness and Es and Tom and James took off for a ride to Big Rock. James hadn’t been on a horse before, but he’s naturally athletic and strong – that’s what tossing around 100 pound feed bags will do for you – and he and Tom had a very enjoyable day. James hadn’t been into the Mountain Pine Ridge before, and the route to Big Rock is a nice mix of broadleaf jungle and pine savannah, so Tom said they talked some, and sometimes just rode along quietly looking at everything there is to see out here as you go up and down the hills and in and out of the different types of forest. James went home Wednesday night so he could be back at work on Thursday, but promised to come back for another visit before too long.

Another New Friend – Hollis

Moonracer Farm’s newest misfit is Hollis the potlicker, Recona’s successor. Tom and I have had enough dogs die on us over the years that we know the best way to get over the grief of losing a much loved pet is to get another. The new pet isn’t a replacement, but when you already have four dogs, adding another to the pack is a definite distraction.

Hollis is a very good distraction, and a very good boy. We weren’t expecting much since he pretty much just lived loose with Julio, and with our neighbors and their chickens we don’t want to risk having a dog that will wander and “kill” the chickens like Recona did – and we worry that the death warrant our neighbor had on Cona might have been transferable to Hollis. We started keeping him on a rope outside until we rid him of fleas, and then we let him in the house. He’s been perfect in the house so far, and even though he was never house trained, he hasn’t had one accident and he asks to go out. And, when we take him out and watch him, he doesn’t need to be leashed. He’s so delighted that he gets to come in the house and hang with the people and the Jacks that he really doesn’t seem to want to go too far from the door.

He’s not very big – only 24 pounds – and he’s very gentle. Even at eight months, he’s the master of sitting quietly beside you with his head on your leg and just gazing at you like you’re the most wonderful thing he’s ever seen. He doesn’t fight with Lou and Nock – which is part of the reason that unlike Recona he can be in the house – and he’s great about just staying in the dog areas of the house. I haven’t taken him out on a trail ride yet – too rainy with the passing of Ida – but he’s been helping us take the horses down the road to graze every day, and he seems to understand that it’s his job to just stay with us and the horses. I just gave him his monthly ivermectin to prevent heartworm, so we’re crossing our fingers that he doesn’t already have it and the ivermectin will make him sick or kill him, but at his age we figured it was worth the risk, and most of the vets here consider this the test to see if a dog is infected. He doesn’t quite have the joy of life that Recona had, but he’s such a happy pup that he’s already secured a place in our hearts.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

“Jack Of All Trades”

Yesterday’s chores involved most of the skills that we need to live down here. First thing in the morning I (Tom) was feeding the horses and making sure they were ok.

Monthly reports to the Belize Tourism Board had to be completed and I had to fill out Social Security reports for the farm down the road.

Next on my task list, tear down the diesel generator:
• Replace a broken belt
• Check out the bearing on the electric unit (yup, making noise again, probably needs to get replaced, again)
• Clean the air filter
• Change the oil
• Fix the exhaust pipe
• General cleaning

Then I had to work on the small generator:
• Replace the pull start cord (which meant taking the entire housing apart)
• Change the oil
• General Cleaning

Gathering up dropped oranges and grapefruits was accomplished between downpours, hurricane Ida was passing by off the coast of Belize so we were getting heavy rain on and off over the course of the day.

Since the road is so bumpy I had to adjust the passenger’s door on Tinkerbell again. Now that the Georgeville Road is regraded, hopefully we will not have so many things falling off our vehicles.

At the end of the day, since I still had about an hour of daylight, I decided to make a coat rack for our front porch. Yup, the carpenter’s house always needs fixing.

Then, once the sun went down, I turned on the small generator so that I could fix my computer. It stopped booting up so I had to reload windows. Ugh, I think that my computer is dying a slow death and I may have to replace it. Luckily we have Marge’s computer as well. Now I have to move the accounting system to her computer to stay in business and figure out how to print from hers as well.

And to finish off the night, I worked some more on the website for – an education center in the Village of 7 Miles. Marge and I are helping Julio with the administrative stuff and setting up the web presence, something that will help volunteers and tourists find the park.

There is always something to do out here in the jungle!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Adios, Amiga - The Sweetest Recona

We had a very sad weekend here at Moonracer Farm. On Friday evening, Recona died.

We’re not sure what happened. She went for a ride with Es and me, and she was breathing hard when we got to the top of the hill near the vista. I walked out to the road, thinking we’d just walk home, but by the time we got to the road she was having a very hard time breathing and just wanted to lay down. I hailed a passing car and they very kindly stopped at the farm and asked Tom to drive up the road to pick her up. Tom was there about 10 minutes after the car left me, and he brought ‘Cona home and gave her a Benedryl. Her breathing got a little easier, but about an hour later she started having seizures, and she died shortly after that.

The locals say it sounds like a snake bite, but we’re not sure. We didn’t find any signs of a bite on her, and we know other dogs who have suffered from snake bites, and the site of the bite was always swollen and sometimes bloody. Plus, she was with me for the entire ride up the hill, and I never heard her yelp or saw her jump away from anything. We’re leaning more towards a heart problem, especially because she had an episode in the spring where she was out for a ride with us, became short of breath, and had to be carried home by Tom – exactly how this started, except in the spring she got better after the Benedryl and was back to her normal self within a couple of hours.

Her death has made us even sadder than we would have expected. It’s partly because she was so young – only about two according to the vet who spayed her – but also because she was such a sweet, smart, happy dog. Once she decided to stay here, we were her people and she was involved in everything we did outside. She always went riding with me, and when we walked the horses down the road to graze, she went with us morning and evening to drop them off and pick them up and always romped and played in the field while we were getting the horses together.

She went on most of our guests’ rides to Big Rock and Sapodilla Falls, and had learned to swim and jump off the rocks. She preferred Sapodilla to Big Rock because Sapodilla has a large shallow pool that she could run and jump in, and rocks just the right height for jumping off into the pool.

She even went caving with us one time, sticking with me for our entire route through the cave even though we thought she’d stay near the entrance where she could see daylight.

We’re in day three of no ‘Cona, and it’s really hard to feed the dogs without looking forward to seeing what whoop-de-doos she would do for us. I also didn’t realize how much she talked until I’m not hearing her whistles and yodels and whines and barks, and now it’s just too quiet. Every second of life was a celebration for her, whether she was out on an adventure with us or doing something routine like eating or getting rubbed and doing butt bumps with Louie before bed.

We’re contemplating getting another potlicker. Our friend Julio showed up here on Saturday with one of his dogs to give to us. We’ve known the dog since he was a puppy (he’s about 8 months now), and have always liked him; I once told Julio that if Hollis disappeared, the first place he should check would be our house, because I might have stolen him. Julio said that he wanted us to take Hollis so I have somebody to ride with me, but we’re hesitating both because we don’t want to take one of Julio’s family pets (and unlike some Belizeans, Julio and his family do get attached to their dogs), and because ‘Cona can’t be replaced. However, another young dog would be a good distraction, and Julio is starting to worry about having Hollis around since he also has his littermate Chulita, and neither of them are neutered; if we took Hollis, Julio knows he would have a good home and Julio wouldn’t have to worry about inbred puppies. We sent Hollis home with Julio on Saturday, but we’ll probably decide in the next couple of days – and right now I have no idea which way we’ll go.

In the meantime, we know we all had fun during her too short time with us – but we’re really missing ‘Cona.