Friday, July 24, 2009


In the "Mango and Avocado Season" post below, I said that some of the mangoes we're picking "probably weigh almost a pound each." I was wrong. I just got out the scale and weighed one, and it was a little over FOUR pounds. I can make a pie out of one mango!

That is, of course, provided I don't just devour them. The other night I made some mango salsa from fresh mangoes and lime right off the trees, intending to put it over chicken breasts. I had to replan after I ate the whole bowl of salsa with a spoon before dinner. Oops.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Progress around the property

Tom said I should do a blog entry of what we’ve been doing around here, and when I started making the list, I realized why I haven’t been blogging lately. We’ve been busy!

Since I’m unable to grow anything, Tom has started wearing the Head Gardener hat. He’s planted some of the cuttings we’ve had growing in our gardens, and started some new cuttings in plastic bags. He’s also started paying attention to everything already planted, and has been ministering to our baby banana and papaya trees, and nursing a chayote (chocho) plant that accidentally sprouted from a chayote that got lost in the back of my refrigerator.

We’ve been fascinated watching this thing grow. From the time it sprouted, it started sending out tendrils, so when Tom planted it, he gave it some sticks so it could find those and crawl up the cage next to where he planted it. Tom will spend hours waving his finger in front of the tendrils and watching the tendrils follow it, and then monitoring its progress as it attaches to a stick and coils to draw the vine closer to the stick it will use to climb. We’re not sure if it will ever bear any chayotes, but it’s certainly been entertaining!

And we’re amazed at how fast papaya trees grow. Some of the trees, which started from seeds I dried out of a papaya I liked, are now close to six feet tall and have itty-bitty baby papayas on them. We didn’t believe it when people told us a papaya seed could become a tree bearing ripe fruit in a year, but now we’re changing our minds. We’re finding that everything grows faster and better with water, so now that the dry season is gone and we’re getting occasional rain, and because Tom waters when it’s dry since we’re not so worried about using water from our tanks, the things that get the most water grow the best. (doh!) All the papayas were planted at the same time, an some that haven’t received enough sun and water are only a foot or two high – midgets compared to the well sunned and watered ones.

I am, however, still allowed to do lawn maintenance, since that involves cutting down rather than trying to encourage a plant to grow up. For some reason, lots of people around here get a big kick out of the fact that I like to use the weed whacker. Some of the locals call me “the gringa who works.” Little do they know that I actually enjoy weed whacking; it’s very satisfying to look behind me and see the swatch of lawn next to what still looks like horse pasture. When we first came to Belize, and even when we first moved here, we kept asking people why everybody weed whacks their lawn rather than mowing. We now know the simple answer – the ground is just too rocky and rutted, and would kill a lawnmower blade in no time flat – just look at the rock in this picture!

New Gate
We had a three-wire gate to the paddock where we keep the mares at night, and not only was it a bother to open and close it and not let all the horses out, but Elphie and Glinda learned to lean right through it and break it. So, Tom built this snazzy new gate.

Gravel path to the back room of the guest cabin
Once the rain started, we were reminded of the need for a gravel path to the back room in the guest cabin. We’ve had a rock-lined walkway, but it was only dirt, and when the dirt around here turns to mud, it’s wet and sticky and gets tracked in everywhere. So, one day when we had to go to Spanish Lookout, we took Tinkerbell and got a load of gravel. We’d been going to get a truckload of gravel since we have lots of muddy spots that could use a little fill, but we didn’t want to go overboard yet, so we just got one truckload – which was perfect for the path!

Another one of those things we’ve been waiting to get around to is finishing the back cage near Tony and Lodo so we have another dog kennel. We’ve fixed up a few of the cages around the house so they’re suitable as kennels, but the back cage has a very nice (by dog standards) concrete shed that just needed to be cleaned out and re-roofed. So, we cleaned it out, put the roof on, made sure all the doors are secure, and we’re ready for guests. It’s in a good spot because it’s not too far from the guest cabin, so it’s convenient for guests, and it’s right near Tony and Lodo, so we’re back there pretty often during the day. It’s far enough from the house that strange dogs in that kennel won’t get in a barking contest with our dogs near the house, but close enough that if those dogs bark, we’ll hear them and can check on them. Although we already mention the dog facilities on our business website, I’m going to add a Kennel page and post our rates – and we’ll see what happens!

Our biggest time sucking activity over the past few weeks has been the upgrading of our website. I went in to make a few changes, and realized that the version of the authoring program we were using was due to become unsupported at the end of this week. I emailed an SOS to our friend Karl, who had installed and set up the original version of Joomla, and he very kindly offered to do the upgrade for us – a big relief for me since backing everything up, reloading, and upgrading with our sometimes spotty satellite connection could have been a nightmare. After some mucking about with us via email getting all the right passwords matched up with all the right user names for everything he had to touch to do the upgrade, Karl did the bulk of the work over the weekend and the new Joomla version was running by Sunday night with little or no downtime for the website. Unfortunately, the template we’d been using wasn’t compatible with the new version, so we had to find a new template with a look similar to the old one, apply it, and then go though the website page by page to fix all the things that weren’t quite right with the new template. I’m actually still working on that, so if you look at our webpage and notice funky formatting, it will probably be fixed in the next few days. I’m also making a few content changes, and adding things like pop-ups from the Adventure Rates page with more detailed descriptions of each adventure, what’s included for the price, and what the guests need to bring and know for each tour. We’re also adding another FAQ – “Why are your tour rates sometimes more than the rates advertised by tour companies or adventure sites?” – and changing the Meals page since just about everybody who has stayed here has said that the existing page doesn’t do our food justice. Now I just have to hope we have a couple of more rainy days this week so I’m not lured outside to sunshine and horses…

Mango and Avocado season

It’s that time of year again – mango and avocado season! We’ve been buying both at the San Ignacio market for a month or so, but just in the past couple of weeks our mango trees have started to bear fruit. This is the first time in the two and a half years we’ve lived here that we’re getting much of anything from our mango trees. When we moved here, they were overgrown with vines, and we didn’t get all the vines chopped out of the trees until well after the first year when the trees should have been bearing. Then, last year was an avocado year – the local lore says that bumper crops of mangos and avocados rotate so every other year you get a good crop from one or the other – so we didn’t get too many mangoes from our trees.

This year is different. It’s a mango year, and our trees are finally healthy enough to bear some fruit. We’ve seen some trees around that are just loaded with fruit, and ours aren’t like that yet, but we have about half a dozen mango trees, and they’re all different varieties, and they are all bearing some fruit. I never realized there were so many types of mangoes. They vary in size from the little black mangoes, which are only about two inches long, to the big red ones, which are about six or eight inches long, very fat, and probably weigh almost a pound each. They all have different textures, from very stringy to very pulpy, with pits of different sizes and shapes. And, they all taste a little different, from very sweet to tangy and almost citrus-like. Tom and I like them all, and keep rating the different trees, and as each new tree bears, that’s the one we deem the favorite of the day.

Being an off-year for avocados, our trees aren’t as loaded as they were last year. However, they have some avocados growing, and we just have to wait until September or so for them to ripen. We’re told our trees are late bearers, which we always enjoy in October when all the other avocados are gone, and we’re still getting them fresh from the tree in our pasture.

Terdal visit

Just before US Independence Day, Tom and I had a great day’s visit with Rhea and Erik Terdal from Oklahoma. We’ve been communicating regularly with them via email since we first made contact with Erik because of our mutual interest in the well being of the Elijio Panti National Park in San Antonio, and then because we found out that they share our passion for horses. When they got here and we started talking, we found that also like us, Rhea has always been the horse fanatic, and like Tom, Erik found that playing the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” game with Rhea and the horses has also given him a new passion. We talked, ate lunch, talked, showed them the property, talked, introduced them to all the horses, talked, looked at each others’ pictures (mostly of horses), and talked some more about horses in general and horse keeping in Belize since even though they don’t live here [yet], they’d like to help Antonio, the warden of the Elijio Panti Park, keep the Park’s horses in good health.

Towards the end of their visit, we did manage to sit down and look at the motion sensing camera Erik left with us to try to get pictures of the wildlife in this area. He’s a biology professor at University of OK, and he’s trying to get a grant to study the wildlife in this area – but to do that, he has to prove that the wildlife he wants to study is here. Since we’ve seen lots of the animals he wants to study – cats and their prey – we’re hoping we can get some good pictures both for Erik’s grant proposals, and for our blog and website. It took us over a week to get the batteries for the camera, and now we have to try to get it positioned where it will get photographs of the wild animals around here – so we should have pictures to post soon, with any luck!

We’ve also heard from them since they returned to their home in the US, and Erik, inspired by Tom’s pictures and tales of doing CDEs (Combined Driving Events) with our horse Shawn, has started driving one of their horses with that goal in mind. We hadn’t planned on making Oklahoma one of our destinations when we go back to visit the US – but if Tom can help at a CDE, you never know!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nicole, Elizabeth, & Bob

We’d been emailing and planning Bob, Elizabeth, and their daughter Nicole’s trip for months, so when they finally arrived we were almost as excited as they were for them to do all the stuff we’d planned. Unfortunately, as you read in the Trekforce entry, their first day started out a little rocky when their guide to Caracol didn’t show up. Tom drove them to Caracol, and it turned out to be a very good thing that he’d left late and only caught the tail end of the convoy, because between where the convoy starts and Caracol, a guide from one of the local resorts who also does bird tours had pulled over on the side of the road. Tom pulled up next to him to make sure everything was okay, and found a car full of very excited people – guide and guests – who were watching a flock of 20 to 30 Scarlet Macaws in trees visible from the road. Since the Chalillo Dam was built, it has become very rare to see Macaws in that area. In fact, most Belizeans never see Macaws in the wild, so this was a huge treat for everybody lucky enough be there. Tom was suddenly glad the guide hadn’t showed, and our guests knew enough about Belize and the area to know that this was a truly special sighting.

It was a good thing that the replanned trip started out on such a positive note, because things didn’t go so well at Caracol. Because it was Sunday and Permanent Residents and Citizens of Belize can get into the parks for free, Tom decided to walk around with our guests, who were suddenly taking an un-guided tour. They purchased one of the guide books, and were walking around looking at things as 18-year-old Nicole – the only one with eyes young enough to see the small print – read from the guide book. They climbed one of the big temples, and as they came down Tom was approached by the Tourism Police. The Tourism Police patrol at all the archeological sites both to keep an eye on things and make sure nobody is being robbed or harassed, and to make sure that nobody who is not a licensed guide is giving tours. The Tourism Police wanted to talk to Tom, because they had been told by somebody else on the site that Tom was giving a tour and is not a licensed guide. Tom was a bit taken aback and explained that he’d scheduled our guests for a tour, the guide didn’t show, Tom drove them to the site so they wouldn’t waste a day of their Belize vacation, and he was walking around with them only because it was Sunday and he could enter the park for free as a Permanent Resident. The Tourism Police backed off, but wanted his contact information. Tom walked around with our guests a little more, and then decided that he wanted to know who had complained, so he asked the Tourism Police. They pointed out the gentleman who had complained – and it was the guide who had been supposed to pick them up, and who had arrived at Caracol about a half hour after Tom! We have no idea why he did that instead of just approaching Tom and our guests and asking if he could take over – which would have delighted Tom since he could have turned them over to the guide and then headed home to do what needed to be done there – but needless to say we won’t be using that guide again. Tom double checked with the Tourism Police who said again that everything was fine, and our guests were actually entertained by the drama, so there was no harm done. When I got home with the horseback riders, Elizabeth hustled out of the cabin to fill me in on all the day’s happenings, so despite a late dinner and an un-made room, they had an exciting start to their stay in Cayo.

The next day was pretty relaxed, with a leisurely breakfast and then a trip to 7 Miles to Ka’ax Tun. They were as awed by the trip as April and Zack, and told me – again – that I need to get over there to get the full tour.

The following day did not start with a relaxed morning, since they were taking a trip to Tikal and in order to make all the ride connections from here to San Ignacio to the Guatemalan border, we need to get out of here by 5:45am. All the connections went smoothly, and they had a great day at Tikal, and were delighted by their driver and their guide. The only glitch was getting caught in road construction on the way back to the Belize border, which meant they didn’t get into San Ignacio until after 6PM. I had a dinner planned, but I thought we’d be home by 5:00, and not getting home until 7:00 meant that it would have been a very late dinner. So, we decided to eat at Erva’s in San Ignacio, which turned out great. Germo took good care of all of us and made sure none of us ever had an empty Belikin bottle next to our plates, and we introduced Bob and Nicole to Erva’s delicious chaya burritos while Elizabeth had Belizean chicken cordon bleu, so everybody was happy.

The next day Nicole, Elizabeth, and Bob went to ATM with Gonzo. They were predictably awed and had a great private tour, although their return home was delayed by another Belize transportation snafu. The hike from the cave to the parking lot is about 2 miles. Gonzo had another group booked to go in the cave after Nicole, Elizabeth, and Bob, so he left his pack at the camping area by the cave and walked them out to meet his next group in the parking lot. They got to the parking lot and the second group wasn’t there. Gonzo made a phone call and found out they’d missed their connecting flight, so they weren’t going to make it for the ATM tour. That meant Nicole, Elizabeth, and Bob had to wait while Gonzo hiked two miles back to the cave to pick up his pack, and then two miles back out to the parking lot. They could have returned to San Ignacio with another guide’s group, but they elected to wait for Gonzo and said he made great time getting in and out for the second time that day.

Despite a week of tenuous transportation connection, they decided to delay leaving for their last night at the Belize Zoo until the afternoon. This gave Bob and Elizabeth a morning to kick back and relax, and it gave Nicole time to go out on Nessa on a short trail ride with Tom. They had a great time riding, Elizabeth and I had a great time gabbing on the porch, and Bob had time to get out and walk on some of our trails. We had a late morning brunch, and then Tom took them into San Ignacio to catch the 1:00 bus heading towards Belize City and the Zoo. They left us with lots more fun memories, as well as a much appreciated pile of books which I’m steadily chewing through and thoroughly enjoying.

Trekforce, Take 2

The first three Trekforcers, Jo, Lucie, and Roseann, had such a good time that they referred five of their fellow Trekforcers to come stay with us the next weekend and go for a horseback ride. Tom picked up Emily, Tanya, Flora, Aaron, and Stuart in San Ignacio last Saturday when he picked up our other guests from Nevada, and brought the whole truckload out for the night. We all ate dinner together, then everybody went to bed so we could get an early start on our well-planned day the next morning.

Unfortunately, making good plans isn’t always enough. Our other guests were scheduled to go to Caracol with a guide we’d contracted so that Tom and I could both go riding with the Trekforce people. The plan was for both of us to ride up to Big Rock with the group, then I was going to immediately turn around and take the quick route home so I could get everything done around here that needs to be done when we’re housing eight guests. We had the Caracol group ready to go, and were just about ready to start saddling and packing the horses. However, when the Caracol guide (not Selwyn, who we couldn’t use because we needed a driver, and not Gonzo, who was out of town) hadn’t shown up an hour after the scheduled pickup time, and when our guests had only about 20 minutes to make the half hour drive to meet the convoy, Tom and I did a quick replan. I threw the lunches I had packed for the riders into a cooler for the Caracol group, Tom grabbed the car keys, and Tom became the Caracol taxi for the day. They hit the road at about 9:15, and I started making lunches to replace the lunches on the way to Caracol.

I left a mess in the kitchen, but I made enough lunches for the six of us, finished tacking up the horses, got everything packed, got appropriate riders up on appropriate horses, and we hit the trail – about an hour and a half later than planned, but nobody seemed to care and with the long days right now it ended up not even mattering. We had a great ride up to Big Rock, and although the day wasn’t as hot and sunny as the first group had had a week before, it was declared perfect riding weather by everybody. We had a lot of rain that week, so the Falls were much bigger than they’d been the previous week as well and didn’t offer as many good jumping-off spots, but everybody had a good time and all were happy to hang out on the rocks. Finally, at a little after four, I regretfully broke up the party and hiked back up the trail to get the horses for our return ride home, which also went smoothly. As we had on the way up, we walked on the narrow trails, and had a couple of good gallops on some of the open fire roads.

Stuart almost lost his head on a low hanging vine, but the vine moved before Stuart’s head popped off. And, I think I may have terrified Aaron, who was riding Ness. We’d noticed the week before that Ness acts like she wants to roll in the water, but April, who has been riding for a long time, just pulled her head up and kicked her out of the water. Aaron has only been on a horse a handful of times and is very gentle, so when Ness looked like she wanted to roll and I told him to pick her head up and kick her, he did it very tactfully…a little too tactfully, since Ness was showing all signs of totally ignoring him and rolling anyway. So, I buzzed in on Glinda and started running around Ness, kicking her in the rump and the shoulder with the toe of my boot, and yelling instructions at Aaron. Really yelling, and in fact I sort of scared myself because I heard my old coach and friend Karin’s voice coming out of my mouth telling Aaron to “Kick her! No, really kick her! And yank her head up! Pull her nose right around to your knee! And KICK!” The nose around to the knee trick finally worked because it put Ness enough off balance that she couldn’t lay down, and then Ness finally got moving enough in a small circle that Aaron was able to keep her moving out of the water, which was no easy task since by that time Ness was also thinking that kicking the very annoying Glinda might be almost as much fun as rolling in the water. But, we all got out of the water wet from splashing but not soaked from rolling, and had a good laugh before we galloped up the trail.

We rode into the driveway right around 5:30, and I was relieved to hear the small generator running, which meant that Tom beat us home – a good thing, since he got a head start of the very messy kitchen, and had settled our other guests with drinks and snacks. We took care of all the horses, and then Tom left to drive the Trekforce group back to town and I made a hurry-up dinner which I managed to serve before 8:00, although Tom wasn’t yet back to join us at the beginning of the meal.

We learned with this group that it’s VERY rewarding to host people who have been roughing it out in the jungle for a good part of the past five months. Despite the fact that five of them shared a room, their trail ride left late, their lunch was a quick re-cook, and the weather and the Falls weren’t as sunny and perfect as the week before, everyone was happy and did nothing but rave about how nice it was to sleep in a proper bed, get a proper hot shower, eat real food, drink real tea (they’re British), and be just a little bit pampered in that somebody else made their meals and their beds. They left us a stellar review on TripAdvisor – so nice that we’re worried nobody will think it’s for real – and all promised to stop by and see us when they get back to Belize.

Kids in Belize

I sometimes feel bad because Hector, one of the 11-year-old boys from next door, is always somehow annoying me and getting yelled at either by me, or by one of his parents when they realize he’s annoying me. He doesn’t really try to be annoying, he just has a talent for asking the wrong question at the wrong time, or showing up at a completely inappropriate moment, or moving fast when he should be moving slow, or slow when he should be moving fast, or being where he isn’t supposed to be, or not being where he is supposed to be, or…you get the picture. He and I just don’t usually operate on the same wavelength.

So, he was shocked one day last week when I told him how proud I was of him, and how much I wished there were more boys like him in the US. I don’t think he could figure out why Sybil suddenly showed the other side of her personality, and was saying nice things to him instead of yelling at him – and I think he’s actually more comfortable when I’m yelling at him. At least he knows I notice him!

What did he do to attract my positive attention? In his mind, nothing out of the ordinary. In my mind, he was being extraordinarily good. Tom and I walked by their house one day on the way to get the horses out of the pasture, and Hector was outside with his almost-five-year-old sister Zulmi. They were playing in the driveway, throwing rocks at a plastic soda bottle they had filled with gravel. Not only was I amazed that two kids could amuse themselves with a plastic bottle, some gravel, and rocks, but that the big brother bothered to spend time with his younger sister. Then, a few days later, Tom and I were driving home from town and Hector and his other little sister, eight-year-old Marixa, were together in the driveway, and yelled as we went by. We stopped, not sure if they needed something. They didn’t need anything, but they wanted to show us what they were doing, which was playing some game they call Hanging Man where they pull the stamens out of a flower, then try to hook the top off of each other’s stamen. The loser is the one whose head pops off first. They were totally engrossed in the game with each other, and we were again amazed that Hector plays with his little sisters without any sort of toys, props, supplies, or anything other than their imaginations and what they pick up next to the road and in their driveway.

I’ve resolved to think of this next time I’m about to yell at Hector – although I’m sure that in the heat of the moment I’ll entirely forget the good brother with the amazing imagination and yell at the annoying 11-year-old anyway. I guess I need to grow up too!

And just so you know, I had to look up flower anatomy to know they were playing with the stamen of the flower. I was going to say “pop the anther off the filament,” which is what they were really doing according to this picture, but I didn’t want it to sound like I knew anything about flowers.