Monday, March 30, 2009

We're on the Toucan Trail!

The Toucan Trail is an association of hotels which the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) helps to promote through a special website and other promotions. Hotels and lodges must offer at least one rate below $60US, and we've just been accepted as a Toucan Trail member! The Toucan Trail general website is, and our listing is here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Autumn in the Spring

As the snow is melting and everything is dripping in the US Northeast where we came from, everything here in Belize is in the process of drying out. Everybody here says that the hot and dry season is late this year since we’ve still had relatively cool temperatures and intermittent rain up until the past few days. Suddenly, we realized it hasn’t rained in close to a week, and the temperature has been turned up dramatically – like from the low 70s up to the high 80s to mid 90s. That’s a shock to the system, even for people like me who like the heat! We heard the cicadas for the first time this year last week, and the leaves are falling off the trees and everything is turning brown. Of course we don’t get the brilliant change of colors that we loved in NY, but we can suddenly see farther into the bush and different bird species are being sighted in the area as the migratory birds head north and our summer residents move back from where ever they’ve been.

We even have a nest of Golden Olive Woodpeckers in one of the trees just outside the yard, so we’re keeping an eye on them as the babies grow. I’ve seen them a few times, although never with camera in hand – but I intend to keep trying to get a picture. People sometimes ask if we miss the seasons here, and the answer is honestly “no” because even though we don’t get the same seasons as we had in the Northeast, we still have seasons. It will be hot and dry and brown now until the end of May or beginning of June, then it will rain and everything will turn green overnight. The seasons are sort of out of order – we’ll get fall, then summer, then spring – but the refreshing feeling of moving into a new season and watching Mother Nature change her clothes is still here.

We had a reminder of what we’re in for with the dry season earlier this week. The Belize Defense Force and the British Army have been doing maneuvers with live rounds up in the Mountain Pine Ridge for the past week, and they started a forest fire that got out of control. One day last week it looked like the sun was setting at about 1:30 in the afternoon as it was shining through a yellow-orange smoke cloud. The next morning, the first sense that registered as I woke up was the smell of pine smoke because the smoke settles with the dew in the morning, and everything looked misty. The smoke seems to have dissipated over the past couple of days, so we’re hoping the fire is out and that we won’t have any more at least until the end of the dry season.

Stefanie & Clemens

We had our first real referrals email us last Monday evening, and we then spent the rest of the week with Stefanie and Clemens, Germans currently living in London. They looked us up when they were in San Ignacio because friends of theirs from London, Leanne and Craig, told them that they would enjoy staying with us. We’ve corresponded with Leanne and Craig for quite a while, and met them when they were in Belize at the end of last year, and we were delighted that they liked our place enough to refer friends.

Stefanie and Clemens went to Barton Creek with Selwyn the day they arrived, and then did a Mountain Pine Ridge tour with Tom and Selwyn on Wednesday. On Thursday they hiked from Moonracer Farm to Big Rock, so over the two days they managed to see most of the waterfalls in the area, as well as a good chunk of jungle and pine savannah.

We really enjoyed comparing notes with them about being expats, and were surprised how similar our experience as expats from the US in Belize is to their experience as expats from Germany in London. Despite the vast differences in cultures, we found that both the things that make it pleasant to live outside your homeland and that sometimes make it difficult are very similar. From food to money to just ways of doing things, we all noticed that the things you take for granted and don’t even think about in your homeland are suddenly viewed differently in another country. But, by being flexible and open to new ways of thinking, we all find it a very rewarding experience.

Horseback riding to Sapodilla Falls

A couple of weeks ago we had a free Sunday, so our friends Karen and Omar and their three kids Kimara, Dylon, and Venisha from Roaring Creek came up for a horseback ride. We took off in the morning and rode through the jungle and the Mountain Pine Ridge to Sapodilla Falls where we had lunch and a swim before heading home. It was a great day, and Tom and I found that we were really able to relax because Omar has trained race horses and has worked at some of the ranches in the area, so he was as comfortable on and around the horses as we are, and more comfortable than we are making sure their kids were okay. He did the tack check, picked a suitable horse for each kid, and made sure everybody’s stirrups were the right length before heading out. The kids were troopers about two hours each way in the saddle, and despite the frequent repetition of “Soon reach?” (Kriol for "Are we there yet?") everybody had a good time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Karen, Charlie, and Brendan

Tom and I were very excited to finally meet Mark’s wife Karen and the rest of the family. In the almost two years we’ve known Mark, we had never met Karen or his son Charlie. Tom had been teasing him that Karen didn’t really exist, but now we know that she is a living, breathing person, as is Charlie. The man really does have a family! Unfortunately for Mark, Janie and Kelly’s spring break was the week before Charlie’s, which is why Mark came down for almost three weeks and the rest of the family has been in and out. While Janie and Kelly were horseback riding on Friday, Mark went to the airport to pick up Karen, Charlie, and Charlie’s friend Brendan. The whole family went for a great Zoo tour with Sharon on Saturday, and then Tom and I went horseback riding with Karen, Charlie, and Brendan on Sunday while Mark took Janie and Kelly back to the airport. Karen spent the past couple of days working on decorating the house, while the boys explored Belize. They went with Tom and Selwyn to Barton Creek and some of the Mountain Pine Ridge places on Monday, and then went to Tikal with Gonzo on Tuesday. Today they all took off for San Pedro until Saturday, when Karen, Charlie, and Brendan have to fly home. Mark will then be back at his house and here for a couple of days before he flies out early next week. We’re teasing Mark that he’s spending his whole vacation driving back and forth to Belize City, but he doesn’t seem to mind and we’re having a great time getting to know the rest of the family.

Aspen, Rachel, Tatiana & Todd

While Janie and Kelly were here, our other neighbors came for a stay. Todd and Tatiana bought about 75 acres of jungle behind us about a year and a half ago, and this was their first trip back to Belize since their land purchase. They were excited to show the land to Aspen, their daughter, and Rachel, Todd’s mother, and what better place to stay than right next door? They spent the first part of their Belize vacation on Caye Caulker, and then came inland. The land still looks great to them, but they shared Shane and Monique’s frustration at how much they have to do and how little they can do in a short visit. Despite that, they were able to hike around on the land enough to decide on a tentative house site and to walk a possible path for a driveway. They also visited San Antonio to get to know the village a little better, and took a day to see the Mountain Pine Ridge sights and do things like play in Rio On Pools. Before they left on Saturday, Tom and I took a walk around their property with them and were delighted to see that what they want to do actually looks doable.

Janie, Kelly, and Mark

The day Marty’s party left, Mark from Minnesota arrived to get the house ready for the rest of his family to come to Belize in waves. Mark stayed with us the first couple of days he was here, and then picked daughter Janie and her Lafayette College roommate Kelly up at the airport. They stayed at their house a few miles up the road, but were in and out of Moonracer Farm taking tours we set up for them. They went to Caracol with Selwyn one day and went riding to Sapodilla Falls another, and toured Chechem Ha Cave with Gonzo. They were here for dinner a number of nights, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching the girls have an exciting spring break in Belize. Kelly wants to come back to learn to ride better, we told her to come any time.

Marty, Janice, Penny & Wentworth

We did a quick room flip after Evida and Diana’s departure to get the cabin ready for our next guests. Marty owns a hotel up in Corozol, and she was spending a few weeks traveling through Belize from top to bottom and back again with some friends from California, Janice and Penny and Wentworth. Marty was the first one to book on line with us way back in the beginning of October, and after postponing their visit once due to a medical emergency in one of their families, we finally got to meet them. We initially weren’t sure what we were going to do with this group because while most of our guests so far have been young to middle aged (although middle aged admittedly gets older and older every year), this group had, as Wentworth told us, a combined age of 300 years and we weren’t sure they’d be up to the usual adventures. But all four of them are in great shape, and the problem wasn’t finding activities they could do, but choosing from the many things they were able and willing to do. They were here for two days and three nights, and they spent one day touring with Selwyn visiting Barton Creek Cave and the Mennonite community. The next day they toured San Ignacio on their own, shopping and visiting archeological sites.
Their visit was incredibly enlightening for Tom and me. First, Marty has lots of good first hand experience running a hotel in Belize, and was happy to share her knowledge. She not only answered our many questions, but offered lots of good advice and insight based on her observations. Second, since my mother trained me to be a good hostess and since this group was my mother’s age, I was more conscious than usual of doing things “right” – not putting the butter and jelly containers right on the table, using the proper serving dishes, and that sort of thing. I’ve found that my generation tends not to care so much, so I’m a little sloppy about it sometimes, but I put on the polish for this group and they noticed! I was thinking a lot about my mother that weekend anyway since it was the anniversary of her failed surgery, and all the thoughts were good ones as at every meal somebody would tell me that something was served in the perfect bowl, and I said “Thanks, my mother gave me that” I don’t even know how many times. It’s a little thing in the grand scheme, but that connection made me enjoy the time they were here even more than I would have otherwise. After photos under the blooming heliconia, they took off heading for San Pedro for the last leg of their trip.

Evida and Diana from Hungary

March seems to be International Month here at Moonracer Farm. We barely had the room cleaned up from Pete’s departure when a car pulled in the driveway with Evida and Diana, two Hungarian women looking for a place to settle in Central America. They had spent a night in San Ignacio and wanted to explore the Mountain Pine Ridge for the day, and they were heading for 1000 Foot Falls. We gave them directions to the Falls and sent them off, and they were back for an early dinner and an evening of interesting (to us, anyway) conversation. Because 1000 Foot Falls can only be viewed from a distance, they weren’t overly impressed with it even though it is the highest waterfall in Central America, and we were all disappointed that they couldn’t stay another day to go to Big Rock or Sapodilla Falls. However, they did manage to take a tour of Barton Creek Cave on their way out the next day as they headed for the airport to fly to Honduras, the next leg of their exploratory trip.

Pete from England

We started March with a three-night visit from Pete, a physics teacher from England spending two weeks traveling around Belize and hiking. Pete has traveled and hiked all over the world, so he’s quite comfortable going out in the bush on his own, armed only with a GPS. Fortunately Tom and I have finally tracked some trails and set some waypoints on our GPS, so we were able to recommend three different hikes for Pete and send him off without worrying that he would end up in Guatemala. He helped us on a couple of the trails because now is the time when the leaves are falling from the trees, and the weather has been remarkably clear, so Pete was able to create new, more complete tracks with more accurate mileage since the GPS could make more constant contact with the satellites.

Pete also impressed us because he’s doing this trip entirely under his own power and only using public transportation. He took the bus from Belize City all the way to San Antonio – not San Ignacio – and walked the last couple of miles to get here. We’ve had a number of guests using public transportation rather than renting a car, and it works well since public transportation here is very efficient since so many Belizeans don’t have their own cars. However, everybody else has had us transfer them to and from San Ignacio, and Pete was the first to do the whole thing on his own. When he left, he had to get the 7AM bus out of San Antonio, so Tom and I decided to have a little compassion and Tom made the 10-minute drive into San Antonio so Pete could catch the bus rather than having him leave here at 6AM to walk into San Antonio.