Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Horse and Nature Stuff

Things have been very quiet around here for the past couple of weeks, and while we’d rather be frenetically busy taking care of guests, I’ve made the best of a little bit of down time and some very nice weather to get out in the jungle on the horses. They need to be kept in shape anyway, so I’m working, not really goofing off…right? Really, the exercise is good for them, it’s good for them to get the complete grooming they seem to only get when we get them ready to ride – and, I love heading out in the jungle.

I have not been disappointed with wildlife sightings. I saw a snake the other day, although I’m not sure if it was a coral snake or a king snake. It was moving quickly to get out of my way (or out of the way of the horse’s hooves), the horse was moving along the jungle path, and I didn’t stop its crossing to see if red touched black or yellow, which is how I remember to tell the difference between the very venomous coral snakes and the harmless king, or false coral snakes: “Red touch black, friendly jack. Red touch yellow, dangerous fellow.” Whichever, it was pretty and didn’t cause any harm.

One day as I was out on Glinda with Recona, I heard a whole bunch of squeaking from the trail around a turn ahead of me. I first thought it was some kind of bird, but as I rounded the turn, I saw Recona leaping, spinning, running and generally dancing and having a wonderful time in the middle of a swarm of coatis. Coatis are like pointy raccoons, and they tend to run in groups, sometimes very large groups. This was a group of probably 20 to 25 coatis, and they were crossing the trail as Recona happened upon them. It was too much fun for a young dog to bounce around amid the coatis, who were intent on getting across the trail and into a grove of scrub trees and away from the annoying dog. They seemed to realize that she just wanted to play, and none of them got aggressive with her (nor she with them), and even as Glin and I came upon them, they just ran around us too, squeaking and hurrying towards their tree grove goal. Glin pricked her ears, got on her toes, and gave them a “What the heck…?” look, but within a few seconds they were well off the trail and in the trees, and Glin, Recona, and I continued down the trail.

On that same ride I saw a white hawk right on the edge of the Pine Ridge and the broad leaf forest. We see them occasionally, but they’re always impressive because they’re so beautiful, and it’s nice to see them in the pines because it’s so much easier to get a good look at them there instead of in the more restricted visibility of the broadleaf jungle.

I’ve also been seeing a lot of tapir tracks in the Pine Ridge. I haven’t yet seen the actual animal, but I’ve been keeping my eyes open, especially on a trail I ride that has a few stream crossings, and tapirs love water. While I’ve seen tracks around the water and on the mud trails, oddly enough the clearest tracks I’ve seen were where the trail crosses the road – but that’s probably just because the road was freshly graded and the mix of fine sand, gravel, and a bit of mud was perfect for imprints. I’m a little nervous about seeing one on the horses because their prints are huge – probably six to eight inches across – and the animals are big enough to be intimidating to a horse. Even our well-broke US horses didn’t like cows, and I’m not sure how our less well-broke Belizean horses would like coming face to face with a mountain cow – but I’d like to find out!

Just yesterday, I took off in the beautiful sunshine and headed out on what has become my normal route. It’s a route with hills and streams, it takes about two hours of walking and trotting with a few places where we can gallop, and it keeps us off the road so Recona can go. When I was about as far out as I get, the wind suddenly picked up and the temperature started to drop. Within a few minutes, it was pouring, which was completely unexpected because it had been so nice when I’d left home, and I’d been in the jungle long enough that I hadn’t seen the fast moving squall blowing in over the mountain tops. Recona wasn’t all that happy about getting wet, but I actually like being out in the rain in the jungle. The acoustics change with things being both louder as the rain beats on the leaves, and quieter as the dry groundcover gets wet and you can no longer hear all the little things scurrying around in the underbrush. The colors also change, with all the greens getting darker green and the grays turning black; it’s just as beautiful as the jungle in the sunshine, and you see and hear different things. Just as I came up a hill out of the jungle and onto the pine ridge, the sun broke through the edge of the squall and a beautiful rainbow appeared, hilltop to hilltop, ahead of me. It disappeared as we trotted towards it – which was fun in itself with Glinda seeming to get a kick out of splash-splash-splashing through the running water on top of the sandy trail – but we trotted back into the jungle and started heading down the hill towards home. Just on a hunch, I decided to take the small detour and check out the vista that looks over MET, a neighboring horse resort. My timing was impeccable! There was a beautiful rainbow rising out of the bottom of the bowl and off over the mountains we’d just traversed. I don’t think Glinda and Recona really appreciated it, but I thought it was well worth delaying all of our dinners for a couple of minutes!

Lodo’s First Pedicure

Little Lodo is now seven months old, and he’s been put in Tony’s care and seems to have adjusted to being separated from Nessa and Elphie, mom and sis. We noticed a couple of weeks ago that his little baby foal feet were starting to look like horse feet, and that they needed a trim. Tom decided that he’s going to make Lodo his project, and since filing off a little bit of Lodo’s toes seemed pretty simple, he could do it. So, we caught Lodo and Tom did it. Just like that. Catching Lodo is the toughest part of the job because he thinks it’s a game to play Catch Me if You Can whenever we try to get him, but once he’s attached to the lead rope, he’s actually a fairly tractable little fellow. He gave Tom all four feet (one at a time of course) without any protests or kicking. Tom said it was easier than trimming the dogs’ nails!

Symbols and Fairy Tales

I can’t help it. I spent too many years studying literature, and when a trail of symbols is set in front of me, I’m compelled to follow. And, I was once again amazed at the commonalities of symbols, myths, and religions across cultures, time, and far flung parts of the world, and well as by the synchronicity in our life.

When we explored the cave (which we now know is called Cuevas de las Ofrendas, or Cave of Offerings) we found a couple of different carvings of jaguars. The carvings were in different styles. One was like a child’s drawing of a jaguar, with a roundish head, roundish body, roundish genitals, and line legs and tail. The other was a stylized representation of a jaguar’s face with eyes, nose, and teeth. Gonzo explained that the one more like a drawing represented an actual jaguar, or the Mayan god Chac, while the more stylized one was like Tlaloc, who was the Aztec equivalent of Chac, with both being rain gods represented by jaguars.

So, at some point over the past couple of weeks I pulled down my The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya by Mary Miller and Karl Taube, and looked up “jaguar,” Chac, and Tlaloc. The book confirmed that both Chac and Tlaloc are gods represented by jaguars, or were-jaguars, and that both are gods of rain and lightning. In addition – and this is where it became interesting to me – Tlaloc’s paradise is known as Tlalocan, which is where “the deformed – dwarves, cripples, and so forth” go as the “special charges” of Tlaloc.

When we bought this property, it was known as “Chac Mool,” which, according to the book, is what the statues and carvings of Chac discovered at Mayan temples were called. We toyed with leaving that name, but then decided that we’d carry on with our farm name from New York, and call the property and business Moonracer Farm. We came up with that farm name years ago because we had a whole bunch of rescued dogs and horses, misfits and outcasts, and because King Moonracer is the King of the Island of Misfit Toys in the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Christmas story, we called our farm Moonracer Farm.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. We bought a property named after a Mayan god represented by a jaguar whose Aztec counterpart had as his special charges the misfits of that time in Aztec history. A thousand years later, whoever crafted Rudolph’s Christmas story put a bunch of misfits under the care of a godlike lion. We chose to use the caretaking lion’s name as our farm name, and then moved to a property already named after a caretaking feline god. Who says we’re in charge of our own destiny?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cheri and Geoff

Our last set of guests to date was Cheri and Geoff from the Yukon, who are spending three weeks in Belize to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. They spent a week with us, and are now spending two weeks kayaking and canoeing with Island Expeditions, a Canadian company that runs kayak and canoe tours throughout Belize’s mainland and on the cayes. We had been in frequent contact with them for the past month or so helping them to plan their stay here, and had a little bit of an anxiety attack when Cheri emailed a couple of days before they were supposed to arrive that she wasn’t sure if they’d be getting out since it was -40 degrees in the Yukon. Before you run to your thermometers (like I did) to see if that’s Celsius or Fahrenheit, I’ll tell you that it doesn’t matter; -40C is almost the same as -40F, and whatever you want to call it, it’s cold enough to ground planes. They managed to get out despite the cold, and arrived at the airport a little ahead of schedule where Tom met them and transported them back to the farm.

They had told us they wanted to do a lot of hiking while they were here, so we figured the best way to get them started was to send them out on the horses with Selwyn right away so they could cover a bit of ground and get a little bit of an orientation on both the area and the jungle. They visited Sapodilla Falls, and by the time they rode home they were ready to get out of the saddles. The next day was Saturday, so Tom took them into San Ignacio so they could see market day in the morning, and then in the afternoon we all took a ride up to the beautiful Big Rock Falls for a swim. Sunday they took a day trip to Tikal, which entailed a very early start, although they were back and ready to be picked up at the border at just a little after 4PM.

We had originally planned to take them to Benny’s for Belizean food that night, but that morning Tom and I had a brainstorm (despite the early hour) and decided to see if Gonzo wanted to join us for a hike to the cave Antonio, the Elijio Panti park warden, had told me about when I was riding with Mike and Stacie. We had arranged to meet Selwyn and Antonio in San Antonio early Monday morning (7:30 early, NOT 4:30 early), so instead of dinner at Benny’s on Sunday night, we picked up Gonzo in San Ignacio and all came back to the farm for a steak dinner and an early night to get ready for the hike.

I’m not sure if Antonio thought I would take him up on his offer to show me the cave so quickly, but whatever he expected, he was more than ready to show us the park. Tom and I were a little worried about hurting Selwyn’s feelings because Cheri, Geoff, and I were the tourists, and we had Antonio, the park warden, as a guide, plus Gonzo, a very experienced guide, and although he was on this trip as a spectator, it could have looked to Selwyn, our “official” guide for the hike, that we were putting him under the supervision of the big guns. Selwyn, however, took it all in stride and saw it as the opportunity it was to learn from more experienced guides even as he was doing his job as this tour’s guide and making sure Cheri and Geoff were comfortable and safe and giving them all the jungle information, one of Selwyn’s specialties, as we hiked. We figured the hike is about six miles each way, through the farm fields behind San Antonio and then through the jungle. Monday was the beginning of what turned out to be a very rainy week, although for a long hike, the drizzle was actually more pleasant than the hot sun would have been. We took a rest at the park’s visitors’ center, where Antonio told us more stories of the beings that haunt the park and the pranks they’ve pulled on his family, and then hiked up to the base camp set up near the mouth of the cave. We took a break and had a snack, and then headed into the cave.

The cave is huge. It has multiple entrances to different rooms, although the passage to the main part of the cave is fairly small and is smaller because the Maya had built a wall to block it. Antonio knows his way through the cave, and has been there enough times to show us lots of interesting things – where the pottery “trash piles” are, stones that were polished by the Maya, burial sites, and geologic features of the cave. We were also glad Gonzo was able to join us, since he put his archeological knowledge to use and found lots of fascinating things Antonio hadn’t noticed before, such as rock formations modified by the Maya, which weren’t clear until Gonzo pointed them out because while we aren’t quite sure what they are supposed to be, the same shape appeared in three or four formations, and it is too much the same to be a coincidence of nature. He also found charcoal writing on the walls and some of the formations, bones and teeth in the burial site, stairs carved out of the rocks indicating the path the Maya used through the cave, and carvings in the large rock at the entrance to the cave. We turned what Antonio says is usually a one hour tour through the cave into a two hour plus tour, but we were all fascinated by the learning investigation. We finally decided that we have to go back, camp for a night, and spend a couple of days in the cave, minus Cheri and Geoff, unfortunately, and that intention finally got us out of the cave and back to the base camp where we had lunch before hiking six miles out and back to Tinkerbell parked at Selwyn’s house. We all came back to the farm to shed our wet clothes and warm up with showers, then headed into Succotz for the dinner at Benny’s that had been planned for the night before – much hungrier than we would have been if we’d had the early dinner on the way home from Tikal.

Tuesday was another drippy day, but Cheri and Geoff made the best of it by taking a hike around our property with Selwyn in the morning, and then visiting Barton Creek Cave in the afternoon. On Wednesday they toured Caracol, and stayed mostly dry despite occasional drizzle. They were scheduled to meet their Island Expeditions group at the Zoo’s TEC Thursday afternoon and had planned to go hike at St. Herman’s Cave and see the Inland Blue Hole, but because of the rain that was abbreviated to a tour of Belmopan and a search for a machete and sheath for Geoff to take home to clear land in the Yukon, and an early drop off at the Zoo for the day time tour. It’s continued to rain for the past two days, so we’re hoping that Cheri and Geoff are staying relatively dry and warm…although whatever the weather, it must be better than -40!

Generator woes

Right in the middle of a crazy busy few weeks, the big generator broke down last Monday. We had just finished running a load of laundry through the washer and dryer, when the engine kept running but the lights in the house suddenly started going on and off. Tom ran down and unhooked everything and turned it off, but because we were done the laundry and we had about a gazillion things to do with our guests, and because we can use the small generator for charging batteries and running lights and the satellite, he didn’t get time to take a look at it again until yesterday. It was raining yesterday morning – it’s been raining all week – but Selwyn, who has been working hard and who is suffering from a mild case of the flu, dragged his butt to work because he knew Tom was planning to get the big generator out of its hut and take a look at it, and although it has wheels, it takes at least two men to carry/drag it over the rocky ground from the hut to the porch of the shop. The two of them wrestled it into the shop, and then Tom took Selwyn home.

When he returned from San Antonio, Tom took a look at it but couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t generating power. At lunchtime, he took the cell phone up the hill to call Elvis – a very good electrician in San Ignacio, not the late singer. Neither of us has gone that far over the deep end yet. Elvis said that if Tom could bring it in, Elvis could take a look at it. So, Tom and I wrestled it up some hardwood ramps and into the back of the new truck, and Tom took off through the pouring rain to San Ignacio. He came home with not-so-good news; the motor needs to be rewound (whatever that means) so he has to take some part to Spanish Lookout on Monday to be drilled out, and then Elvis will rewind it. We’re not sure when it will be done – hopefully sooner rather than later – but until then we’re hoping we don’t have too many guests so we don’t have to do any laundry, and we’re hoping we get enough water pressure from the pipe to fill the tank on top of the hill, because we don’t think the little generator will run the water pump. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Tinkerbell’s list of woes

Not that we have to justify anything, but Aaron, our wonderful mechanic when we lived in NY, sent us an email saying he liked the new truck, and was surprised that Tinkerbell had lasted as long as she had as our only vehicle. Tom responded and started listing all the things that are wrong with her at this point, and was amazed at how long the list was. So, we’re posting it here just so you can all see how much can be wrong with a vehicle and it’s STILL on the road in Belize!

From Tom to Aaron:
The roads down here are taking their toll on Tinkerbell. The body is literally falling apart:

• left fender is breaking off
• the doors don't shut right all the time
• the electric windows don't always work
• I had to disconnect the electric locks
• I helped a welder remount the drivers side of the cab back up off the frame
• the tailgate falls off if not strapped onto the back
• the exhaust has been reattached 6 times
• one of the gears in the differential had to be replaced
• the automatic transmission is a bit tricky to drive with since you have to work the gas different ways to get it to shift up and down
• the gear shifter indicator on the dash is broken so you have to count clicks to figure out what gear you are in
• the windshield wiper knob is broken
• the inside door panels keep popping off the door frames
• the passenger door has to be shut with the button pushed in to keep it locked
• the screws holding the plastic trim in the cab have broken the plastic mounts
• the seats are whooped
• we can't get the inside rearview mirror to stick to the windshield anymore
• the light for the radio and clock is burned out
• the headlights are starting to shake loose out of their sockets
• she needs her fuel injectors cleaned and fixed up to get better than 10mpg (that would be about $400US)
• the windshield has a couple of rock chips in it
• the backseat is uncomfortable to ride in for more than a quick trip
• the drivers seat doesn't always latch back on the sliders after pulling if forward to get into the back seat
• the front gas tank has some rust holes and some cracks from rubbing on brackets so we can only use the rear tank
• etc.
You get the idea? It is still usable but I don't let Marge take it out for fear of it falling apart while she is driving it. I have gotten so that when I go out to town in Tinkerbell and wear a specific shirt, I am almost guaranteed that I will have to crawl under the truck to do some work on her to keep her going - it has happened about 10 times with that particular shirt now and if it is a rainy day, I refuse to wear that shirt since I don't want to crawl around in the mud! Tinker is still good for hauling loads up our road and we will keep her for farm use for a while, at least, until we have to put some major money into her, which at that point, we will not have any problem selling her as a parts truck since the engine is still running great.

By the way, even though we’d never named our vehicles prior to Tinkerbell, we think we’re going to have to give the new truck a name since we won’t be able to call it “the new truck” forever. We’re leaning towards Bluebell since it’s blue (even though it looks more brown in this picture), the name would be in keeping with the bell theme, and we see the bluebell flowers all over down here. However, we haven’t yet decided if it’s a he or a she…

Not much time off – Hooray!

After Mike and Stacie left just before New Year’s, we thought we were going to have five or six days without guests. We were sort of looking forward to a little time to catch up with ourselves and do all the things that don’t get done when we’re taking care of guests, but we were pleasantly surprised to have two sets of walk-up guests. One, Max and Marinda from Switzerland, stayed only one night, but we enjoyed each others’ company over dinner and breakfast, and they left with promises to contact Lonely Planet – where they say most of Europe gets travel advice – and give us a good review.

The next set was Kristi and Ray from Utah, near Moab, who were traveling through Guatemala and Belize and making plans as they went. They wanted to do a few things in the Mountain Pine Ridge and didn’t want to make the drive in and out of San Ignacio every day, and also didn’t want to pay what the big resorts in the Mountain Pine Ridge charge, so they said they were very glad to find us. They ended up spending three nights here, taking a drive up to Rio On Pools for a swim and a hike the day they got here, then spending a day at Caracol, then spending another couple of days hiking in the area. They left here and took an ATM tour with Gonzo on their way to hike in southern Belize, and Gonzo told us they were pleased with the accommodations and were planning to return at some point – good news for us since in addition to being glad to hear that we’re doing a good job with the business, we really enjoyed their company.


I debated whether or not to put this in the blog, but finally decided that since everybody who reads this blog knows the dogs live with us, it wouldn’t be much of a shock and even potential guests hopefully won’t think they’re coming to a pit if I explained our latest business hurdle.

All restaurant and bar licenses issued from San Ignacio are issued in January of each year. In the beginning of the month, the business owners must have a notice put in one of the local newspapers, then the Department of Public Health makes an inspection, then the owners all have to attend a meeting in San Ignacio, and then the restaurant and liquor licenses are issued. Last year, we didn’t find out about this until the last minute, so everything was rushed through and we never had the Public Health inspection. This year, Tom started the paperwork flow a few weeks ago, and on Wednesday the Department of Public Health pulled into the driveway. I was home alone and eating lunch on the porch, and the four inside dogs were sitting on the porch with me. Before I could let the Public Health people in the house, I had to put the dogs out, of course with much noise and ruckus. The inspector took out his checklist, asked a few questions, then asked to see the kitchen and dining area. He gave me a very serious look, and informed me that we were in violation of the Public Health rules because the dogs had been in the kitchen and dining area.

Honestly, we knew this, but had considered it sort of like speeding – a law that lots of people break, and for the most part no harm comes to anybody from it, and as long as you don’t hurt anybody and/or don’t get caught, nobody really cares. I don’t think we’ve eaten out in Belize where dogs haven’t wandered through the dining area, and most kitchens are also open with dogs wandering around. Our kitchen and dining area are in our house, our dogs are house dogs, and of course they were in those two rooms. I don’t ever want anyone to get sick from eating anything from my kitchen, and I’m probably a little nuts about making sure everything is clean and food is safely prepared – but I hadn’t yet swept that day so dog hair was obvious on the floor throughout the area, and of course the inspector had seen the dogs sitting with me when they pulled into the driveway. He was actually very fair, and passed us on all the inspection points, and then wrote down three “recommendations” on the back of the form, which isn’t part of the officially submitted carbon copy – pets out of kitchen and dining areas, clean the areas, and remove dog bowls from the areas. I signed that I understood the “recommendations,” and promised that I would comply by the meeting on Tuesday.

And, I have. The dogs are now very unhappy and making us a little crazy with their whining because they are blocked from the dining room and kitchen, where we spend a fair amount of time and where they used to hang out with us. The dog bowls are in the bedroom, where the dogs now eat and have their water. I washed all the dishes stored at dog level, did the daily sweeping (I didn’t tell the inspector that he was looking at only one day’s worth of dog hair – I really didn’t think that would help my cause!), and gave the whole kitchen a good scrub, which it was due for anyway. Nock protested by peeing on the bed, which didn’t accomplish anything for her other than that she now has to be outside with the Ruckus Twins rather than locked in the bedroom if we’re not in the bedroom with her. Our dogs are probably cleaner, less pest and disease ridden, and better immunized than most people, but the rules are the rules, and since we’ve been busted, we’ll comply.