Monday, February 23, 2009

Water Woes, Again

Our challenge for the past couple of weeks has been to keep our guests happy while trying to conserve as much water as possible since we didn’t get water from the public water supply for about three weeks. A new house is being built on the road into 7 Miles, and a few weeks ago the drivers of the heavy construction equipment very conscientiously dug up and unhooked the pipe running down the side of the road so they wouldn’t break it with the weight of the equipment. It was a good plan, but it backfired. With the pipe capped so close to the beginning of the line, the pressure was too great and the pipe broke somewhere up in the Mountain Pine Ridge.

As Tom knows from working on it back in April of 2007 (click here to see the post and pictures), the water pipe traverses some pretty rough ground, and it can be difficult to get to, much less to fix. A crew went into the Pine Ridge to attempt to repair it, and about a week and a half after it broke, they fixed it – or so they thought. The water was on, and everybody was happy. However, it lasted one night before it broke again up in the Mountain Pine Ridge.

Fortunately, our tanks mostly filled the night it was on, because it was off again for another week and a half. However, the weather has been beautiful so we haven’t been able to collect any rain water, and with a full guest cabin our water usage has been pretty high. So, we joined lots of other people in getting water out of one of the small rivers up the road, but with an extra 400 gallons and with us conserving water however possible, we managed to make it until the pipe was back on yesterday afternoon.

We’re a little distressed at the response time of the repair crew. Tom knows how difficult it can be to find and fix a break, but it’s frustrating and somewhat frightening to realize two villages – 7 Miles and San Antonio – and everybody in between don’t have any water. For us, it’s a huge inconvenience, but we’re actually lucky because we have the means to get and store water from other sources, namely the river. But, we have 2 1000-gallon tanks on the property, and 2 200-gallon tanks which we can put in Tinkerbell’s bed, drive to the river, fill, then bring back and empty into the lower 1000-gallon tank from which the water can be pumped up the hill to the upper 1000-gallon tank to gravity feed both our house and the guest cabin. If you don’t know we’re running around like crazy to get water on the property, you don’t even realize anything is wrong because you turn on the faucet and water comes out.

Most of the people in 7 Miles and San Antonio aren’t so lucky. Few have storage tanks, and even fewer have trucks they can use to haul water from the river. Neither village is located on any sort of natural water source, so a vehicle is necessary to move any significant amount of water. San Antonio has its old Maya well which supplied the town with water before the water system was installed, but since the town has been receiving water from the 7 Miles water line, the town has grown and some townspeople have started using the well as a dump. So, a significant number of people were hauling garbage-polluted water to their homes, one bucketful at a time. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve watched all sorts of dilapidated pickup trucks run up and down the road from San Antonio and 7 Miles to the river, loaded down with 55-gallon drums, 5-gallon buckets, and anything else that will hold water on the way home.

Yesterday afternoon, we got back from a horseback ride at about 4:45, and Tom realized water was running into our lower tank. We shifted into high gear and pumped the water already in the tank up the hill, and Tom carted the 200-gallon tanks back up the hill and re-connected them so they can be used to store water to gravity feed the house and cabin. I started about three weeks worth of laundry – we were down to rags for towels since we’ve had so many guests whose towels couldn’t be washed – and we spent the evening restocking our water supply. The water ran all last night and into this morning, when I did another couple of loads of wash and we made sure all tanks are filled, but now, Monday afternoon, the pipe is again dry and silent. We’re just hoping that the water supply is just low because everybody was trying to do all the water jobs they haven’t done for the past few weeks, and that the pipe isn’t broken – again. But, if it is, at least we’re caught up on laundry and all the tanks are full, although that won’t be much consolation for the people in San Antonio and 7 Miles.

Aviv, Barack, Eliad, Eliana, & Bob

Last week we enjoyed a visit by Bob and Eliana and their three sons, Eliad, Barack, and Aviv. Bob grabbed plane tickets to Belize during the fare sale last fall, and managed to put together a week-long family vacation for the Presidents’ Day school break. They arrived on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Selwyn took them to Barton Creek Cave, then came back to the Farm for lunch, saddled Tony, and took a wander down to the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch. The boys are 7, 5, and 3, which is very close to the ages of Selwyn’s kids, so we had dinner here on Wednesday night with Selwyn’s family. The kids hit it off, so dinner was quite chaotic, but lots of fun for everybody.

After dinner, a very brave Selwyn led all seven children, plus Bob, Eliana, and Ilda, on a night hike. Eliana was a little stressed about kids disappearing off the edge of the trail into the murky jungle (as I would have been, which is why I didn’t go!), but Selwyn calmly lead the group around our trails and everyone made it back safely.

On Thursday, Selwyn took them to Caracol, where they toured the archeological site. Selwyn said he was even able to occasionally grab the boys’ interest and teach them a little bit about the Maya! On the way home they stopped at Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools, and returned home in time for a brief rest before dinner. They left us on Friday morning to spend the rest of their vacation out on Ambergris Caye in San Pedro – a big change from the jungle!

Shane & Monique

We just said goodbye to Shane and Monique, who were our guests here for two weeks. Shane and Monique own 50 acres of land down the road, and they try to come visit it a couple of times a year and make whatever improvements can a) be made in a couple of weeks, and b) have half a chance of remaining until the next time they’re in Belize. They’re in a bind right now because they can’t move here until their house in Missouri is sold, but they want to get as ready as possible to make the move. So, they do some chopping, make contacts with people and businesses who they’ll need when they get here, and try to get some rest and relaxation in beautiful Belize. This trip they managed to get some chopping done on their land, and they’re getting a better understanding of the options for putting in a road to where they’d like to build their house. We have a great time visiting with them when they’re here, and we try to share whatever we’ve learned about building and living here since their last visit.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Karen & Janice

We just had a great weekend with two visitors from Massachusetts, Karen and Janice. They had spent a week kayaking on the cayes, and because Janice is an avid birder (Karen birds but slightly less avidly), they wanted to spend a few days in the jungle and do some bird watching. When we communicated via email prior to their visit, they requested a real birding guide, not just a tour guide who knows birds. Selwyn’s uncle, David, is a professional birder who works with Birds Without Borders, and who lives in San Antonio, so we asked him if he’d be interested in doing some birding with our guests. He likes to do bird surveys in different areas anyway, so he was happy to do it – and it was a great success.

He came here at 6:00 Saturday morning, and he and Janice started right on our porch. Tom and I had a chance to see how birding works, and were a little surprised to see that it’s not just a hike through the jungle. It starts where ever you are, listening to the various bird calls close and in the distance, and then you just follow the sounds and go where your feet and the birds take you. They wandered off the porch, through the yard, past the shop and pasture, and up the road. They were gone for about four hours, and when we came back they told us that they’d gone less than a half mile, but they’d seen lots of birds. We took a lunch break, and then David came back and they went on some of our trails into the jungle in the afternoon, and then around some of the farm fields and down the feeder road.

At the end of the day, they had documented 108 birds by sight or by sound, with almost 70 seen, and Janice said she had seen between six and ten “life birds.” This, she said, is a very successful birding day, and she was very pleased both with our location, and with David’s skills both for finding the birds, and communicating with her about how to see and hear them. She had a boatload of brilliant ideas for us about how we can get the word out to birders and make Moonracer Farm a birding destination, all of which are easily doable and virtually free. I need to start by typing up the Birds of Belize list and documenting what they saw and heard, and I’ll publish it both on this blog and on our website. And, before they left on Sunday morning, Janice took her own bird walk around the property and turned two of the “only heard” birds from the day before into “seen” birds. Woo hoo!

As an added note, we unknowingly got a good start with the birding effort a week before they arrived, when we met Wayne, a gentleman from Alaska who spends a month or so a year in Belize watching and videoing birds all over the country. I had made contact with him online, by offering to help him get in touch with the people he needed to talk to about birding in the Elijio Panti National Park. When he arrived in Belize, he met the Park contacts and, after camping for a night in the Park, came out to meet us. He returned Sunday a week ago with Antonio and a nature photographer from Caye Caulker, and spent the afternoon stalking birds around here. He also left us with a Birds of Belize DVD he made with video and calls of about 175 birds he videoed in Belize’s Mayflower Bocawina National Park. We showed the DVD to Janice, and she was thrilled because it’s so much more enlightening to see the birds in a video than to see the artist’s sketches in the bird books, plus each bird was associated with its call, which is invaluable. She watched about five minutes of the DVD, and then had Tom in the truck driving her to the Garcia Sisters’ Gift Shop so she could purchase a DVD for herself. David also liked it and, although we haven’t watched the whole thing yet, our copy is now in David’s hands so he can show it to some people. Who knew we’d plug into the birding network like this?

Marjie’s visit

A week and a half ago we had a too-short visit with our friend Marjie from North Carolina. She and her fiancĂ© were our first not-previously-known guests back in October 2007, and given all we have in common, we’ve since become good friends. We’ve moved to Belize; they’re working on moving to Belize. We have Jack Russells; they have a Jack Russell. We’re passionate about horses; Marjie is a professional rider and trainer, as well as a super farrier. Plus, we all just get along and really enjoy each others’ company.

Anyway, Marjie was in Belize to do some business with land they’ve bought in the northern part of the country, but she put aside a few days to visit us and vacation a little bit in Cayo. However, it turned out not to be much of a vacation, since I think she worked harder here than she probably does at home. We met in San Ignacio a little before lunchtime on Monday, and after lunch at Erva’s (super burritos!) and a few errands we came back to the farm. We were ready to sit on the porch and have a drink, but I’d been asking Marjie some, well, lots of questions about horse feet, and she wanted to see what we had before dark. So, we delayed the horses’ dinner and she went to work. She and I had planned a ride on Tuesday, and Esmerelda’s feet were really long, so she was the first victim. By dark, all four feet were trimmed and Marjie declared her good to go. We had dinner, and then Marjie started talking about things she could do in Belize, and one of the things is equine and human massage. She and I have similarly beat-up 40-something horsewoman bodies, and she’d noticed me wincing a few times when I’d reached up for something with my twingy right shoulder. She said she’d take a look at it, and ended up giving me the best massage I’d had in a long time. Then she loosened up a few of Tom’s tight spots, and the next day both Tom and I felt better than we’ve felt for ages.

On Tuesday, Marjie helped get Glin and Es saddled while I packed a lunch, and the two of us took off for Sapodilla Falls. We gabbed all the way through the jungle, and I was delighted to hear her say how much she like Esmerelda, who I think can be a difficult witch. Marjie, however, found her willing and responsive, so maybe some of my work with her is finally paying off. We swam and lunched at the falls, and then headed home, with Marjie commenting on how well adapted these local Belizean horses are for the terrain and the work here. Despite four hours on horseback, Marjie trimmed Glinda when we got back, before another relaxed dinner and some more massage to rub out the kinks.

Marjie was leaving on Wednesday, but before going she wanted to take care of the other three horses. Tony was easy since Selwyn shoes him, and Marjie said he’s doing a good job. Then we wrangled little Lodo, and he had his first trim by a real farrier. Tom had shortened his toes a little a few weeks ago, but didn’t want to do too much and hurt him. Marjie knows exactly how far to go, so she gave him four perfect feet. As a bonus, after being handled and worked with for close to an hour, he’s been a much more agreeable little fellow about us handling him since then – which is good, since Tom is going to have to keep up with his little hoofers.

We saved the best for last with the horses, and Marjie’s final project was Nessa. Nessa was the reason she’d come here in October 2007; Ness has a bad tendon on her front right, and was very lame when we got her. Her front feet don’t grow evenly because she spent so long barely walking on the bad foot, and in 2007 Marjie had evened her up as much as possible. It was difficult then because the feet were so different, and because Ness, who hasn’t always been treated nicely, was difficult to handle and did a lot of kicking, rearing, and pulling away, which made Marjie’s job almost impossible – although not quite impossible, since she managed to give her a good enough trim that we were able to start riding her a few months later and she’s been relatively sound ever since. Between late 2007 and early 2008, we’ve done a lot of work with Ness, riding her and handling her, and generally teaching her that people are here to help her, not hurt her, and she’s become a much more agreeable horse. However, since she had Lodo and he was nursing, we’d been unable to do anything with her back feet, although we have managed an occasional trim on the front. Anyway, Marjie worked on her front feet with very little difficulty, and then decided to move to the back. Last time, she worked with her for about three hours and still couldn’t do both back feet, and we didn’t want to keep her all day this time.

However, Ness very willingly let her do one back foot, and then, with Marjie’s incredible patience and magic touch with horses, she let her do the other with only about 15 minutes of unwillingness which, unlike last time, was just pulling away and unbalancing rather than kicking and running backward. She even finally let Marjie have the foot when Marjie was backed up to the custard apple tree, so Marjie was able to sit on a knot on the tree trunk with Ness’s foot in her lap and make the fourth foot as beautiful as the other three! Success! And, the best thing is, Ness is now letting us pick up and clean all four feet!

We had to laugh with Marjie because her Belize property is on the coast, and she came here saying she had no interest in living in the jungle, she just wanted life on the beach. She said she had no interest in getting back into horses in Belize (except for helping people like us!), and she thought about as much of the local Belizean horses as we did when we first moved here – why would anyone bother to keep these rough little horses who eat a lot and still stay skinny? However, after working with our six horses and spending a day on horseback on the jungle trails, her change in attitude was far quicker than ours. By the time she left she was not only raving about how good their feet are, how tough they are in general, what nice attitudes and work ethics they have, how perfect they are for jungle trail riding, and how they really are the perfect size for her, but she’d made a comment to Lodo as she was working with him that he’d better be nice to her because she’d probably be the first one on his back. Tom and I grinned, and openly laughed a few minutes later when she asked if we’d sell him to her when she moved to Belize. She initially thought we were laughing because we’d said we weren’t planning to sell him (which we’re not, but we’ve learned you never say you’ll never sell a horse since we’ve sold at least two we swore we’d never sell), but when we explained that we were laughing because SHE’D said she wasn’t getting back into horses in Belize, she had to laugh too. Leave it to horses to make you break your word!

To improve or not to improve?

The big buzz in the neighborhood lately has been a movement to try to get the government of Belize to improve one or both of the roads into the Mountain Pine Ridge. Both the San Antonio/Cristo Rey Road and the Georgeville/MPR Road are in deplorable shape. Rarely do we top 30mph, and most of the driving in and out of here is done in second and third gear. Recently, a group of business owners banded together and circulated a petition requesting a meeting with the appropriate ministers to discuss when and how road conditions can be improved.

Tom and I have done a 180 on this issue, for what it’s worth. When we originally saw the petition, we agreed with everything on it and signed. It basically said that improving the road would improve the tourism potential in the area, and cited a few examples of incidents where tourists had a bad experience due to road conditions. The examples were true, and, in fact, we’ve had tourists stop here asking how much further to locations in the Mountain Pine Ridge, not wanting to go any further if they had too far to go.

However, after Tom put his name and the name of our business on the petition, we chatted with the gentleman who was soliciting signatures. In the course of the conversation, he said that when he and his wife first moved to Belize, they thought all Belizeans were stupid, but lately they’ve revised that opinion and decided that they’re not all stupid, but it’s unfortunate that the intelligent ones are criminals. Upon hearing this remark, I had to get up and leave the house, and fortunately for Tom the gentleman continued blathering long enough that Tom could pick his jaw up off the floor, utter some platitudes, and end the conversation. After he left, Tom and I agreed that we probably made a mistake in signing the petition since these people would be representing our voice to the ministers, and what and how they think about Belize and the Belizean people is completely different from how we think.

Given this representation, we’ve also decided that since the road is what it is, and is exactly what it was when we bought our property and, as far as we know, when most of the petition signers bought their properties, we really have no right to ask the government to spend money to fix it. Like most governments, the Government of Belize is working on limited funds, and it would take millions of dollars to get this road into any sort of shape where it could be maintained in good condition. Many, many projects exist in other parts of Belize where the government could spend their limited funds on roads, and benefit many more people. Yes, it would benefit tourism if the Mountain Pine Ridge lodges, archeological sites, and natural attractions were more accessible, but it would take a long time for that benefit to pay for itself, and few individual Belizeans would see any difference at all. And yup, we’ve had people who have elected not to stay here because of nine or ten miles of bad road between us and “civilization” – but, we’ve also had guests who have extended one or two night stays into three or four night stays because they had more they wanted to see and do in the Mountain Pine Ridge, and they didn’t want to drive back and forth to San Ignacio.

We were not invited to the meeting with the ministers, but we’ve heard that the group was basically told that they knew the conditions when they started their businesses, and the government doesn’t have the resources to do much on these roads. The group is apparently trying to continue the movement, and the thing about this that we think is very ironic is that they’re trying to use the three big Mountain Pine Ridge lodges as the front for the effort, and their chief spokesperson is the only Belizean who started and owns any of the lodges (another is owned by Belizeans, but was started by Americans). We’re just wondering whether the Belizean front man is stupid or if he’s a criminal, and why the petition pushers would want either a dummy or a criminal as their spokesperson. Maybe we’ll ask the Belizean – whom we know and respect, and consider to be an honest and intelligent man – which he is and how the effort is going next time we run into him on the road.

Benefits of a drop in Belize tourism

While everybody in the tourism business in Belize is feeling a little unsettled due to the drop in tourism, we’re trying to look at the bright side. First, we only have two rooms, so we don’t need to have as many people stay here as the lodges with six or twelve or more rooms. We don’t need the numbers for our occupancy percentages, and we don’t have the overhead that we need to support. When we’re not full, we use the extra time to catch up on things, make improvements, and sometimes just kick back and take a little time off so we’re rested and ready for the next wave of visitors.

Last weekend, we found another benefit to slow business here. Blancaneaux has a magnificent organic garden where they grow all the produce for their three lodges, Blancaneaux in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Turtle Inn in Placencia, and La Plancha in Peten, Guatemala. Since they haven’t had as many visitors as usual, they have a surplus of produce, and last Saturday a small pickup pulled into the driveway, loaded with produce and men in Blancaneaux shirts. Instead of dumping the excess produce, they suggested that they load it up and peddle it to nearby businesses and residents, and we were one of their first stops. The produce was gorgeous, and very inexpensive. For $7BZ, we bought two bunches of broccoli, a beautiful head of cauliflower, a giant cabbage, about two pounds of perfect cilantro, and a whole grocery bag full of perfect red and green bib lettuce. Needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of vegetables lately, and no doubt the vendor where we usually get our produce in the San Ignacio market is wondering where we’ve been!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jungle Hiking/Horseback Riding/Caving/Camping

After my intro to my excursion in my previous post (yes, they are rare, but I am not a very fast typist compared to Marge), you by now know that I went camping in the Elijio Panti National Park (EPNP). Marge went a few weeks ago with our previous guests, Cheri and Geoff, as well as Selwyn, Gonzo, and Antonio Mai, the Park Warden.

Selwyn, Marge, and I had been talking about new and different things for guests to do at the lunch table and we are working on providing a unique adventure to those tourists who are physically fit enough to hike through seldom visited yet maintained park trails and scramble through some caves. While admiring the beauty as well as maintaining the sanctity of the caves, we see the caves here in Belize as both natural wonders for their formations, and cultural places of worship that were used by the Mayans (from over 2000 years ago, up through current times). We all decided that the hike to the caves and back from San Antonio was a bit too far if you wanted to spend more than about 2 hours in the cave. So, we needed to come up with an overnight option; and we decided that Selwyn and I could work out some of the details by doing a “pre-tourist” trial run.

The day before we left, Marge spent a bunch of time in the kitchen putting together meals for Selwyn, Antonio Mai – the Park Warden, and me. She decided that she would cook for all three of us to make sure we had enough to eat (that is SO Marge, nobody can be hungry). I packed up on Thursday evening so that I could just head out the door first thing on Friday morning. I packed all the food in my pack, and figured I could just hoof it all in without much problem.

Friday morning dawned, a beautiful sunny morning. I drove to Selwyn’s house, got out of the truck and was immediately greeted by all the kids, like usual.
They all wanted to see what I had, since they had not seen my backpack before – and they LOVE bags of all types. So, what else could I do but take a picture of them all before we headed out to the jungle.

Selwyn and I walked over to Antonio’s house, and found that Antonio was packing up his horse. Antonio had been out in the park on foot the entire day before and said he wanted to ride instead of walk. I said to Selwyn, “Why aren’t we on horses? What are we thinking, we both LOVE to ride.” since I was carrying a bit more weight than I really wanted to. Well, we wanted to see how it would go hiking in with packs anyway, so off we went.

We rounded our first corner, only about 100 yards, and Antonio asked us if we wanted to have him carry any of our stuff on his horse.
Selwyn immediately said ok and handed his pack to Antonio, which he strapped onto the saddle horn. Around another corner we went to start heading out the back end of San Antonio and Emir, Selwyn’s friend and Antonio’s nephew hailed us from his yard. As we were walking, the three of them were going back and forth in Creole and Spanish but I understood that Selwyn and Antonio were trying to get Emir to come along on his horse, but I didn’t understand what the final decision was

It was a beautifully sunny morning.
But, being the gringo that I am (I do like the cold), I was sweating profusely but it felt great; healthy exercise and in the jungle, you just can’t beat it.

We stopped for a short break for the horse at the visitor’s center at the edge of the park.
Trek Force had built a nice cabin complete with flush toilets for the public to use. What I didn’t realize, we were actually waiting for Emir, since I didn’t understand all the Spanish, Creole, and Mayan as we went by Emir’s property. After a few minutes, up gallops Emir on his horse and pulls up while we got ready to go again. Emir offered to carry my pack on his saddle, similar to the way Antonio was carrying Selwyn’s, so I handed him my pack and told him to hook it on with the shoulder straps, not the handle at the top. As he did this, and I let go of the pack, the saddle started to slide around the horse due to the weight. I caught the pack and Emir righted himself while everyone was laughing.
I then explained that he should WEAR the pack, to keep the balance on the horse, and helped him adjust the straps so the weight was on the horse, not on Emir. So, off we went, I feeling about 70 pounds lighter!

After about 6 miles we arrived at the base camp for the cave, we dropped packs, tied horses and headed up the hill for the cave. Now for the real adventure, heading into caves that very few people have been in before (well, at least in current times).

I took camera, headlamps, water bottles and we all took a ton of enthusiasm; up the hill a little farther. As we got close to the cave, we all smeared copal on our hands as a ritual required by the Mayans prior to entering the cave. For me, it also reminded me to be careful and thoughtful of everything that I touch in the cave. These are sacred burial grounds and offerings were made to the gods for rain, sunshine, harvests, strength of the community, fertility, etc.

As we were entering we viewed the artifacts and carvings from the Mayans. The carvings are too faint to get a good picture but there is a
view to another cave in a distant hill/mountain by lining up 2 holes in the rock face.

Entering the Cave of Offerings is not a stroll in the park.
For this cave you really need to be limber and agile. It always amazes me that the Mayans could enter the caves, make offerings, and carry these huge pots,
intact into the caves as offerings.
The pots were broken after they were carried into the cave to release the spirits (of the pots) as offerings.

We use headlamps and can directly light our paths but I can’t even image trying to climb around in this cave using torches or other types of fire to light my way.

There were lots of pots, tight pathways, bones, and hidden rooms in the cave. We could have spent the entire day in the cave learning about how to just get from room to room, let alone look at all the artifacts that were left behind by the Mayans.
But, we had to remember that we only had enough batteries for a limited amount of time (doubled since I packed in spare batteries for everyone), and we had to get out during daylight so that we could set up our camp before dark.

After exiting the cave and getting our eyes adjusted back to regular daylight, we ventured back down the hill to set up camp. I set up our backpacking tent we got for a wedding present almost 25 years ago,
Emir, Selwyn, and Antonio had jungle hammocks. For one person, the hammocks are ideal, they are easy to setup and you are completely off the ground.

After I set up my tent Antonio said I was going to get carried away in the night by a tapir (the national mammal, locally known as the mountain cow) since I was right at the end of one of their trails. I laughed it off as a joke and said “Nothing is going to carry me away, I have my machete with me.” However, in the middle of the night,
a mole came up under the floor of the tent, bumped me in the head to wake me up, then proceeded to go around to my side and keep running in my arm trying to figure out how to join me in the tent – I now see why
hammocks are the preferred abode for camping in the jungle – stay off the jungle floor at night if at all possible. I kept striking at it with my left hand while I was trying to find my flashlight with my right. In my mind, I was thinking “I could just get out my machete and end this right now, but what about the floor of the tent for the next trip?” After about 2 minutes of flailing about, the little critter scurried away, ran under Selwyn’s hammock and then off into the bush.

Early in the morning, we all awoke to very light rain. However, this did not dampen our spirits to have a nice breakfast, complete with granola (from Marge),
tea, and muffins. We then broke camp, and were on trail at 8am. It was drizzling, about 60 degrees, and Emir was cold since he had not been planning on spending the night, so I gave him one of my 3 t-shirts I was wearing, so I only had a short sleeved t-shirt and a long sleeved t-shirt for hiking out.

We were completely soaked within ½ hour of hiking.
We turned onto the shortcut trail and Selwyn and I started chopping a bit to enable Emir and Antonio to ride through without knocking into ALL the trees and making more rain fall on themselves as we made our way out.

We stopped at another cave hidden in the jungle that Antonio had just found out about. There was no real trail to the cave off the regular trail. We just made our way through the bush looking for a chop here, a knick in a log there to point the way. Emir decided to forego the second cave tour though and ride home since he was freezing, so he dropped my pack and galloped the rest of the way home.

Selwyn, Antonio, and I toured the cave, which was smaller than the other cave but still interesting with some pots and artifacts. The terrain in the cave was very easy to negotiate, the cave being much smaller than the other cave. There were pot shards and cave formations that made the side trip well worth the detour.

When we got back onto the main trail, Selwyn and I carried out packs all the way back to town in the rain. We had sticky mud from the farm road we were hiking on weighing down our boots, and as we got closer to town, felt like we were wearing weight boots for walking on the moon!

As we got to town, the rain started breaking up. We were all a bit chilled and wet but we had a great trip. Now we just have to work out some details to be able to put it together for guests. Like I said before, “Man, this job is tough, but someone has to do it!”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Marketing 101 – Know Your Product

Or, how hard can this job be if you have to figure out trips like this?

Well, Marge and I have been talking to a lot of other people down here that have some sort of connection with the tourism industry and we find it very surprising that we keep coming up with the same comments from other business owners, tour guides, and local residents here in Belize: “Business owners (especially foreigners) do not go out and try all their tours before selling them to their guests.” We figure the only way to really figure out if a tour is right for someone is to actually do the tour, and in some of the adventures we are setting up for our guests, we have to actually “make” the tour since it doesn’t currently exist. Sounds pretty easy/hard, depending on what you are trying to do, doesn’t it? Well, here are some examples.

Caves Branch Black Hole Drop: Marge and I were interested in doing this tour when we first came here as tourists in 2005 but we did not have the time to do everything so we had to put that adventure on the back burner for a future visit. On our next couple of visits to Belize, as tourists, we just didn’t seem to fit it into our schedule. However, since we are now promoting the tour (it really is awesome – and I am scared of heights – sshhhh, don’t tell anyone), we knew we had to do it so that we knew what expectations the tourists should keep in mind, AND what the expectations of the tour guides are that are taking out tourists. While on the tour, I talked with our guide from Caves Branch to find out how many of the companies that provide accommodations for tourists actually come out to try the tour since they are the ones that are usually in contact with the tourists PRIOR to their arrival here in Belize, and he said that he knows of very few, and he has been at Caves Branch for years.

Blue Hole and St. Herman’s Cave: We had some tourists that wanted to stay with us and we had not been to that site yet so we personally took them there and went on the tour. As we were getting instructions about the sites from the park attendant, I asked how many other business owners they have seen coming out to tour the site to check it out for future tourists, and the gentleman replied that he rarely sees any business owners there in the park.

Elijio Panti National Park (EPNP): New destinations or interesting twists to current adventures currently available here in Belize are what we are trying to put together here at Moonracer Farm. With that in mind, and knowing that there is a lot more to see and do in the National Parks, we have been researching what would draw tourists to the EPNP, since it is just minutes away, walking. Horseback Riding, Hiking, Waterfalls, and Caving are what we found – isn’t that what most people come to the jungle to experience? In talking with one of the park rangers, Antonio Mai (a friend of ours that I met while helping to fix the town water supply in April 2007 - click here to see this post)

he said that the EPNP only registers a handful of tourists each year, and the park has so much to offer.

So, since we are all about setting up something new and different for our guests, we decided that Moonracer Farm can start offering tours that no other companies that we know of offer at this time here in Belize. Our goals here are to provide our guests with personalized tours, have them experience beauties of the jungle in a private setting, and challenge our guests physically and mentally while learning about the nature, history, and culture here in Belize.

After a long preamble, I guess that is why I could justify going for a hike, exploring two caves, and camping for the last 2 days, and still call it WORK! Our current motto is now: “Man, this job is tough, but someone has to do it