Friday, August 28, 2009

Too Busy to Blog

The past month has been very busy, and we haven’t had any time to blog while jumping from one thing to another. At the end of July, Tom flew north to visit with his parents for a few days, then flew into Atlanta to visit with our friends Del and Vicky and my brother Pete and his family before picking up a car and driving through Mexico helping our friends Chuck and Marjie move here.

Tom is in the process of writing a blog entry about that, so I’ll leave the details to him, and you can check out Marjie’s blog. I stayed here to mind the fort. We have this place set up so one person can run it pretty comfortably, but it’s just a little time consuming, so the two and a half weeks Tom was gone went quickly since by the time I got up, took care of the six horses, five dogs, four gibnuts, then did all the chores and maintenance tasks that need to be done just about every day, it was dark before I knew what happened and I was ready for bed fairly early in the evening every night. We didn’t advertise that I was going to be here alone, mostly because I thought it would be more work to handle the many offers of help I would have received than to just get everything done myself every day. I indulged in being a recluse, and enjoyed plowing through a pile of books as I read at every meal, and managed to only go out for supplies once while Tom was gone. Making only one trip out wasn’t really planned, but the time in the middle of the period that Tom was away was very rainy, so the Macal and Belize Rivers were flooded making the trip to Spanish Lookout even longer than usual, so I put off my errands until just five days before Tom returned.

Horse Talk

One thing I made the time to do while Tom was gone was to spend a lot of time working with the horses. The big accomplishment during this time was finally backing Elphie, so we now have five saddle horses, leaving Lodo as the solo freeloader. We’ve been working with Elphie since we got her as a six or eight month old, and we’d done enough ground work that she was mentally ready to back months ago, but we wanted to wait until she got a little bigger. We’ve been waiting, and she hasn’t grown much, so I was at the end of the list of things I could do with her without getting on her back. We’d considered getting someone smaller to back her, but I was reluctant to put a kid on her since we weren’t positive she’d be good, and while I also considered finding a Belizean to do the job since we know of many Belizeans smaller than Tom or I who would be willing and able to do it, I go for a more gentle approach to breaking a horse than most of the cowboys around here. I figured that after all we’d done with Elphie, she’d probably be like the last one we broke, Patrick, and getting on her would be mostly an anticlimax – and I was afraid that if I asked a Belizean cowboy to get on her, we’d have a yee-haw ride’em cowboy rodeo as she was kicked and whipped and jerked in the mouth and generally made to behave as badly as possible so the cowboy could show her who was boss. That was the last thing I wanted for this sweet little filly.

So, I tacked her up, ground drove her for a few minutes, and then put a five gallon jug of water on her back so she could feel what it was like to move with weight on her back. As soon as she figured out it was possible to move her legs, she was fine. Then I leaned over the saddle and let her walk around as I steered her. No problem. I put one foot in the stirrup and stood over her back, still letting her walk around with me steering. Ho hum. Then I turned around and sat my butt in the saddle, riding side-saddle for a quick escape. Not even an ear twitch. Finally, I threw my leg over and got in the saddle, gave her a squeeze to move forward, and that was that. She seemed to be saying “That’s a much more logical place for you to steer from than running behind me.” We walked up and down the driveway a few times, around the guest cabin, back down the driveway, around the front pasture, and then out the driveway and down the road. That was that.

I realized that I didn’t have a camera person around to record the moment for posterity, so the next time I rode her, which was equally without incident, I put the wildlife camera from Erik and Rhea on the fence post and got a couple of pictures with the motion sensing camera. I look as funny on her as I expected to look – she’s certainly not a 17 hand thoroughbred! – but she seems to be okay carrying me. And, now that Marjie is here, she’s willing to ride her and I’m sure Elphie will appreciate her skinny 5’2” frame instead of my 5’10”. As my friend Vicky said when I sent her the picture, all I need to do if I want her to stop is unfold my legs and drag my heels! We’re still not entirely sure what we’ll do with her. If she continues to be as good as she’s been, she’ll be a good trail horse for kids or very small women, and we may use her as a pack horse when we start doing overnight camping trips. Whatever she does, she’s a pleasure to work with and a real sweetheart, and we’ll be glad to let her earn a little bit of her keep!

Marjie and Chuck Moving In

We had one week between the time Tom got home with Marjie and Chuck and the time Rich and Sarah were scheduled to arrive for our 25th anniversary celebration vacation. That was a busy week. We spent a day getting them, their stuff, and their camper moved from Inglewood Campground on the Western Highway west of San Ignacio to our place, another couple of days getting them unpacked and temporarily set up here down by the shop, and then Marjie had to fly back to the US to retrieve her parrot, Puppy. See her blog for details on the traumas of importing a parrot into Belize. While she was gone, Tom and Chuck worked on turning their trailer into a storage shed, and on clearing our back cage field and putting in a driveway so that they can drive the Winnebago back there and set up housekeeping. They own land in northern Belize and will eventually get a house built and move up there, but in the meantime, Marjie is going to do some work with the horses at Blancaneaux, so our back field is a good base for them. It’s going to take a few more weeks to get them moved back there, but in the meantime we’re all working on what has to get done back there, and they’re getting settled and working out the last details of their move.

25th Anniversary Celebration: Surf & Turf

Chuck and Marjie arrived just in time to be our heroes, taking over the care of the animals and the farm so we could be on vacation for ten days, celebrating with Rich and Sarah. They flew into Belize on Monday, August 10, just an hour before Marjie arrived back in Belize with Puppy. We went to the airport with Chuck, who waited for Marjie’s arrival, and Sarah, Rich, Tom, and I began our vacation with lunch at Cheers on the way back to the farm. We got back here and let them get settled in to the guest cabin, and then started the “turf” portion of our planned surf and turf Belize adventure.

The first day they were here, we went to Rio Frio Cave and then went hiking and caving with the BDF and Tourism Police soldiers, as Tom posted the day we did it. We made a stop at Rio On Pools, and then headed home. We were off to a slow and rainy start on Wednesday, but the weather cleared by mid afternoon and we drove up and spent a few hours lounging at Big Rock.

The water was muddy from the rain, but we had the place all to ourselves and Rich and Sarah were still able to appreciate the beauty of the area. On Thursday, we were off for an overnight to Tikal, Guatemala. This is a trip Tom and I have been talking about doing since we first visited Belize in January 2005, and it was even better than we expected and we’re glad we saved it to do with Sarah and Rich. We parked Tinkerbell at the Belize/Guatemala border at Benque, and walked across the border into Guatemala where we hired a minivan to take us to Tikal.

We had a great driver named Hugo, who pointed out the many sights along the way, and even pulled over so we could get a better look at some and take pictures.

He stopped at the zip line at the entrance to the Tikal Park, and joined Sarah, Tom, and me as we zipped through the canopy. We saw monkeys and birds in the trees, and got a good view of the jungle from the canopy as we zipped from platform to platform. We found Rich enjoying a Gallo (Rooster in Spanish) beer and his book in the little café at the zip line, then jumped back in the minivan and headed into the park.

Once in the park, Hugo again proved his worth by taking us to each of the three hotels in the park so we could get prices and see their rooms. We did this partly so we could decide where to stay, but also so Tom and I could refer our guests to the places we think best suited to them when asked for advice, which happens fairly frequently. Until now, we’ve had to shrug and admit our lack of knowledge, but we can now give people a pretty good idea of what’s available in different price ranges. We settled on the Tikal Jungle Lodge, and thanked Hugo for his help. Being a salesman himself, he offered to have someone from his family come to pick us up the next day. He couldn’t do it himself, he explained, because he was off to Guatemala City that night for an intensive course in French, which he feels he needs to learn in order to be a better tour guide. We all respected his initiative, and accepted the offer and made arrangements to be picked up a little after noon on Friday. We said our goodbyes, dumped our stuff in our rooms, and went to have a late lunch at one of the restaurants in the park.

By the time we finished, it was after four, so we were able to purchase Park tickets that would allow us to wander around until the Park closed at six, and would then allow us to tour the Park the next day. We took a walk to the Grand Plaza, and Sarah and Rich got their first sight of Maya temples – definitely awe-inspiring, both for them and for Tom and I, who still find the sight incredible.

On our way back to the hotel, we were approached by a guide offering to take us to Temple IV for sunrise the next day. This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I heard about it while researching our first trip to Belize, and while Sarah, Rich, and Tom weren’t all that nuts about meeting the group at 4AM the next day, they were swayed by my resolve to do it myself if they didn’t want to come, so all decided to join me. We paid for the tour, the tour guide made sure that our tickets were good for the tour, and we got the details on when and where to meet very early the next morning. We had time for a swim in the hotel’s very nice pool before dinner, and then enjoyed a good dinner and a bottle of wine before turning in early with our alarms set for 3:45AM.

None of us slept too well knowing we had to be up in what is essentially the middle of the night, but that didn’t really matter as we met the other sunrise adventurers in the dark near the Tikal information booth. We all had headlamps, and took off through the pitch black jungle following our guide to Temple IV. The guide asked for silence so we could hear the night time jungle noises, but it’s hard for a group of about 15 people, most slightly nervous about marching through the jungle at night, to be completely quiet. After about an hour’s hike, we reached the steps of Temple IV, the highest temple at Tikal, facing east. We climbed the wooden steps set up on the temple’s face. It’s a long climb, and it was a good thing for Rich that he couldn’t see how high we were in the dark.

Everybody found a seat on the stone steps at the front of the temple. Just as we all got settled, still attempting to maintain silence, the howler monkeys started roaring.

The timing was so perfect that Rich later said he looked around to see who had queued the sound track…but it was for real, and was awesome.

As we sat there, the sky lightened, the birds started chirping, the howler monkeys continued roaring, and the whole thing was just breathtaking.

So many anticipated experiences disappoint when you finally get to do them, but this one was everything and more than I expected. Because of some low clouds on the eastern horizon, we didn’t get to see the true sunrise, but it didn’t even matter as we heard and watched the waking jungle, and rays of sun shot up from behind the clouds.

After the sunrise, different types of birds, aracaris, parakeets, jays, and a variety of others started feeding in the trees whose canopies are just below where we were seated, so we had a front seat view at an amazing bird watching tower.

With this background, the guides presented an incredibly well-delivered narration on the history of Tikal as the center of the Maya world, and delivered an orientation for the site, pointing out the different structures as they appeared through the trees.

We hadn’t realized it when we signed up for the sunrise tour, but the tour included a guided tour of the entire site after we climbed down from Temple IV.

Ruben, our guide, walked us through the site, pointing out both archeological features and traipsing through the bush to show us monkeys, coatis, birds, lizards, tarantulas, and any other wildlife we encountered. We finished in the Grand Plaza just in time to get back to the hotel for breakfast, with all of us very enthused about the tour as well as very hungry. After breakfast we went for a swim, showered and packed, walked around the site model and the gift shop, and inspected the camping area. This took up the rest of the morning, and we were ready when Hugo’s mother, Adix, arrived to pick us up for our return trip.

On the return trip, we decided to take a side trip to Flores, a Spanish town built on an island in the lake of Peten Itza. Hugo told us the day before that the island had been a Maya temple, but the Spaniards destroyed the Maya site and built their colonial town, which supposedly hasn’t changed much in the past few hundred years. The streets are all paving stones, the houses are all stucco, and everything is painted in bright Caribbean colors.

We had a delicious lunch with Adix at one of the hotels with a view of another small island right on the water, wandered around the town looking for a post office so Rich and Sarah could send some postcards with Guatemalan postmarks, and then got back in the car to head back to the Belize border. On the way, we stopped at Adix’s restaurant so she could check on her daughters who were keeping it open for her while she drove us around.

The highlight of this stop for me was meeting the two-month old toucan who was given to them as a nestling by a neighbor (it was found in the jungle with no parents to care for it). They’ve cared for it and watched it grow, and it now hops around, entirely free, eating fruit and vegetable scraps and entertaining everybody in the kitchen. We made it back to the border and checked out of Guatemala and into Belize without any difficulties.

We were home in time for dinner, and found that Marjie and Chuck had done a great job taking care of the animals, and everybody was happy. Tom and I now have a little bit of a conflict, since we’ll have to tell our future guests that an overnight to Tikal is definitely worth it, even though we’ll probably be saying goodbye to them from here a day earlier than we would if we didn’t encourage people to do the overnight trip. But, we want everybody to love Belize as much as we do, so we figure giving good advice will pay off for us in the end.

On Saturday, we took it easy and tried to get ready for our Sunday departure to Caye Caulker. Rich and Sarah weren’t coming back here, so they had to get everything packed, and Tom and I had to get ready to be away for a longer period than we’d ever left the farm.

It turned out to not be too difficult, and Rich and I stayed here and did laundry, while Tom and Sarah went on an excursion to Ka’ax Tun. Sarah was as impressed as everybody else has been, and Rich and I used the time they were gone to get everything ready.

...and Surf
Despite the preparations, we still didn’t get out of here until 10 on Sunday morning, so although we’d originally planned to go Cave Tubing and then go to the Zoo, we decided to skip the Cave Tubing and just visit the Zoo. We had a good time there as we always do, and Rich and Sarah enjoyed seeing Belize wildlife up close. We left the Zoo around 2:00 and went out to the Western Highway to hail a bus. Tom and I have done it before, but taking the bus from the Zoo into Belize City was an experience for Sarah and Rich. The bus was packed so we couldn’t sit together, and as we proceeded down the Western Highway towards Belize City, it got fuller and fuller until there was barely any standing room. It was hot, loud, and dirty – but for $1.50US per person, it was a much better deal than paying lots of money to leave the truck in a semi-safe lot near the water taxi for four days, and one of the perks of us donating thousands of square feet of cage material to the Zoo is that we can leave our truck parked there when we go out to the cayes. Despite the crowded bus, we made it to the bus terminal in Belize City shortly after 3. Tom and I always walk from the bus terminal to the water taxi, and didn’t even think about getting a cab – which it turned out was a little disappointing to Sarah and Rich, who felt a little strange being middle-aged gringos wheeling their suitcases through downtown Belize City. Sarah said she wished they were traveling with backpacks as Tom and I were so they could at least look like part of the backpacker crowd, but in the end it didn’t matter and we made it to the water taxi terminal by 3:45, which left us a comfortable margin for buying our tickets, checking our luggage, and getting on the 4:00 water taxi to Caye Caulker.

We arrived on Caye Caulker around 5PM, and caught a taxi down the beach to where we were staying. Rich and Sarah sprung for a suite at Barefoot Beach, while Tom and I slummed it down the beach at Ignacio’s Beach Cabanas. There’s nothing wrong with Ignacio’s Beach Cabanas, but it was quite nice to have the kitchen at Sarah and Rich’s room to make ice for our rum drinks, and to have the stove to boil water for tea in the morning. We settled in, and walked back into town for dinner and to check the water taxi schedule since we planned to go to San Pedro the next day.

On Monday, we had a late breakfast and then caught the 11AM water taxi to San Pedro. Tom and I both prefer to vacation on Caye Caulker – the constant admonishments there to “Go Slow” are just what we need when we’re trying to take a break – but we like San Pedro and thought Rich and Sarah would enjoy seeing what many people think of when they think of a Belize vacation. We wandered around town, snooped around in the gift shops, Sarah and Rich bought a few gifts to take home, and we had an absolutely delicious lunch of papaya and pineapple smoothies and lobster and chicken quesadillas at Caramba’s. The lobster quesadilla was probably the best food I ate while we were on the cayes, and the papaya smoothie was so yummy that I almost, but not quite, decided to forego the expected stop at Morely’s for ice cream. One of the things I miss about living in Cayo without electricity is that it’s hard to get good ice cream around here, and even when we go to Spanish Lookout and have ice cream at Western Dairies, we can’t take it home and store it in our miniature butane freezer. San Pedro has a couple of good ice cream parlors, so while many people around here go out there to party, I go to eat ice cream. So, after lunch we wandered around a little more, got our feet wet at the beach, then got ice cream before heading back to the water taxi for the return trip to Caye Caulker. We were all tired after a day of walking in San Pedro and not very hungry after eating our way through the town, so we had dinner at a pizza place not to far from the hotels and made an early night of it.

On Tuesday, we went snorkeling with Tsunami. We planned to do a half day in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve on Tuesday, and then a full day at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on Wednesday. We decided to do the half day first because Rich was waiting for a replacement lens for his prescription mask (a very sad tale about how it broke before even getting near the sea), and we hoped that the lens would be in on Tuesday so he could use his mask on Wednesday.

Fortunately Tsunami had a prescription mask that worked for Rich, and we spent the late morning and early afternoon looking at the reef fish and coral, and swimming with the rays. We were back on Caye Caulker in time for lunch, and then spent a perfectly delightful afternoon sitting on the porch of Sarah and Rich’s beachfront room drinking rum drinks and talking. It wasn’t our traditional anniversary ride to Sapodilla Falls, but considering that we were sharing our 25th with great friends who share the same anniversary, a deck right on the Caribbean was a more than acceptable substitute!

On Wednesday, Rich and Sarah decided not to do the full day snorkel trip – the half day had been more than enough salt water and sun! – but Tom and I decided that we needed to soldier on and do it in the name of research for our business. We were really glad we did, since we saw more marine wildlife that day than we have in all of our snorkel and dive trips combined.

On our first stop our guide, Rene, found a manatee, who floated in the water watching us,

and then swam directly under our group as she went on her way.

We got back in the boat and headed to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where we saw turtles, sharks, rays, morays, barracuda, tarpon, more fish whose names I can’t remember, and amazing coral formations.

We got back in the boat and went to Shark Ray Alley, where we saw some fairly large nurse sharks, more rays, more fish of all colors and sizes, and more coral formations.

Our last stop was at a coral garden, where the coral is less than 10 feet below the water line, so the colors of the multitude of fish in the area and of the coral are amazingly bright. On this stop we also saw a spotted eagle ray, which was thrill. We then returned to the dock around the back side of Caye Caulker, enjoying rum punch and tortilla chips and salsa. It was a great day, made even greater by the fact that we met three women who ended up coming back for a very enjoyable visit to Moonracer Farm with us for three nights – but that’s another story. Tom and I returned very tired and a bit sunburned, met up with Rich and Sarah at their room, and then went to the Sports Bar for their Trivia night. The trivia isn’t just sports, which was a good thing for us. With Sarah’s vast scientific knowledge and a bit of arcane knowledge thrown in here and there from the rest of us, we managed to have ourselves in first place going into the bonus round. However, the final bonus question was a sports question, and although we went for it and bet the maximum number of points, we got it wrong and didn’t finish in the money – but we had a really good time!

Thursday was the last day of our wonderful vacation. We all dragged our feet getting ready, sat at a picnic table on the beach trying to remember what still needed talking about after 10 days of talking, and waited for the water taxi. We said our sad good byes as Tom and I got on the water taxi to go back to Belize City, and Rich and Sarah caught a Tropic Air flight directly to the International Airport to catch their flight back to Boston. We crammed a lot in to ten days, but were amazed how fast it flew by – and now we’re planning on what we’ll all do for our 50th anniversary!

Deb, Rachel, and Risa

One of the benefits of vacationing on Caye Caulker is that Tom and I can say we’re there on business since we run into tourists and can talk up our place. We hit the jackpot on this trip when we met three great women on our second day of snorkeling. We started talking and immediately found out that Deb and Rachel are from Rochester, and that Deb used to work in XIM at Xerox – one of the main clients of the company where I used to work. They then asked what we were doing here, and when we told them we had a small lodge in Cayo, they said that they wanted to visit that are on this trip. We explained where we are and what we do, and by the time we parted that afternoon we’d made plans to pick them up at the Zoo on Friday and bring them back to Moonracer Farm.

Tom and I spent Thursday night visiting with our friend Sharon, and we went back to the Zoo with her on Friday where we were introduced to their newest arrivals, a baby Tapir named Indy, and three baby macaws hatched from eggs at the Zoo named Chica, Charlie, and Halario. See the Zoo’s blog for pictures and descriptions of these adorable arrivals. We then ran into Belmopan for some supplies, and then got back to the Zoo and picked up Risa, Rachel, and Deb. We stopped for lunch at Cheers, and then made our way into San Ignacio where we set up an ATM tour at Mayawalk for them. We made it home and got them settled in their room, although the best word to describe their arrival here is probably “chaotic.” Actually getting here and getting them in their room wasn’t a big deal, but we’d been away for five days leaving the farm in Marjie and Chuck’s care, and they had received an indoctrination by fire into the goings-on at Moonracer Farm. As Tom was explaining the ins and outs of our water and power systems, Marjie pulled me aside and asked if any of our guests were afraid of snakes. I said I didn’t think so, and Marjie said to bring them down to the shop. I double checked on the snake thing with the three women, and we marched down to the shop where Chuck picked up a very heavy feed bag and cracked the top so we could see the very large boa in the bag.

As the story unfolded, we learned that Chuck had been doing some weed whacking in the cage field where their camper is going to be parked, and suddenly realized that he was surrounded by snake. He stopped whacking, and saw the very large boa uncoiling from around where he was standing and crawling up the side of a cage. He went to chase her, and she went into a hole. About that time, Julio showed up for some engine oil, so he and Marjie went to see what Chuck was doing, and found him trying to get the snake out of her hole. That started a 2-hour ordeal with the three of them trying to capture the snake, since she was big enough to eat Marjie’s Jack Russell, Whoopie. If you’re not snake phobic, you can see the video on Marjie’s blog. Anyway, Rachel, Risa, and Deb found this to be quite the introduction to the jungle, and Chuck and Marjie then took them on a tour of the different tarantula holes around the yard, so by the time they went to their room to unpack and get settled, they’d had quite the jungle tour.

On Saturday, they went to ATM, and were as awed as everybody is by the total experience. Then, on Sunday, we took a horseback ride to Big Rock Falls. We didn’t rush to get out in the morning, so around 10AM we set out with me in the front on Glinda, Marjie in the back on Esmerelda, Rachel on Ness, Risa on Tony, and Deb on Rocky, a horse we borrow from our neighbor – along with Recona, of course, who works hard trying to keep all the disobedient horses together. We had a great ride up the Vista trail and through the Mountain Pine Ridge to the Falls, where we were happy to see the little blue truck parked in the car parking area, which meant that Tom and Chuck, our cabana boys, had delivered lunch poolside.

We hiked down the trail with Risa in the lead and, upon reaching the bottom, were happy to take a swim before lunch to cool off after the very sunny ride through the Pine Ridge. We then ate, and Rachel, Deb, and Risa went back in the water. Tom stayed to act as lifeguard and driver since we and the three women decided that another two hours in the saddle wouldn’t be as much fun as an extra couple of hours at the waterfall, and Marjie, Chuck, and I took off to ride the horses home, ponying the extra two. Usually when I pony horses home from Big Rock, I just try to make time and get the job done, but this ride was more of another trail ride for fun. As we started out of the horse parking lot, we ran into one of the guys from Blancaneaux who will be working with Marjie, so we talked about horse stuff with him for a few minutes. Then we started down the fire road, and ran into two more guys on their way to work at Blancaneaux who I needed to talk to about sharing their wildlife camera shots with Erik, who gave us our camera. To slow us down even more, I was ponying Glinda from Tony and Marjie was ponying Ness from Es with Chuck in the lead on Rocky, and every time we tried to get up a little speed, one of the ponied mares would balk and rip the lead rope out of my or Marjie’s hand – so we decided to just walk, relax, and enjoy the ride. We rode into the property from the back just as Tom pulled in with his passengers in the front, and we all agreed it was a good day.

Rachel, Risa, and Deb left early Monday morning. Tom took them to San Ignacio where they got a cab to Belmopan (the bus was full) where they were hoping to get a bus to Hopkins for the last few days of their vacation. They said they felt bad that we had to come home from vacation and go right to work – but when work is riding to a waterfall and sunning on the rocks, what more could we ask?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Orange Pick - Take 2

The orange pick this year took place in June and I am a bit late in updating our blog.

If any of you remember from last year, we had a decent crop, around 1,380 bags, which was two full trailers. We had a lot of rain while completing the 2nd trailer full and it was my first experience trying to organize such a project; all with very limited skills communicating in Spanish and a truck that was trying to fall apart in the process..

To finish up the saga from last year, when we started the pick, the juice plant was going to pay approximately $10.73BLZ for each bag delivered and accepted at the plant. In the end, they settled for around $8.48/bag. I am still not really sure how a citrus grower here can work with delivering a crop being promised a specific price and then accepting approximately 20% less when the final checks are cut.

Anyway, this year ended up being a bit different.

To start with, I contacted the processing plant and the current price for each bag delivered and accepted was $5.42BLZ. I was starting to wonder if this was really going to be worth our efforts since our variable costs for running the pick would just barely be covered. And, what if they drop the final settlement again by 20% for some reason? But, in talking with Mark, the owner of the property, we decided to do the pick to clear out the fruit and at least provide a couple of days of work for some of the local families since jobs are so scarce here. So, off I went to organize the pick.

While looking around for a trucker this year, I actually had a number of haulers to contact and hopefully get a little better rate since the price for oranges was so low. I went in search of a friend that works at Central Farm who knows a trucker; I found him, he contacted his friend and found that his truck was broken down. So I then tracked down another friend of mine and his trailer was broken. I then went to the trucker we used last year; his trucks were still working and his price was the same as last year. One reason I was thinking that his price would go down since fuel prices have fallen 1/3 since last year, but like what usually happens, prices go up due to fuel costs and then never come back down. Since I had no other options, and he said that was what the other groves were paying, I agreed.

One nice thing about the pick from last year, we had all the bags we would need for the pick this year. Since we ran out of bags DURING the pick last year, this constituted an emergency, but this year we were all set.

The work force was my next item on my list. Since last year, we have let go two caretakers that weren’t working out and at this point we have a great guy, Julio, from the village of 7 Miles – El Progresso, taking care of the property. Last year Julio helped me communicate with people quite a bit during the pick since my Spanish is so poor and he is bilingual. I talked with Julio, he said the trees had a lot less fruit than last year but he (and I) did not have the expertise to know how little fruit there was this year. So Julio talked with his buddies in town and we were set for workers.

Next, I contacted the processing plant and they told me that I had to come down and get a new license since there were some changes in their organization. This meant I had to get passport photos and drive down to Dangriga to their office. Marge and I packed up the Jack Russells, took a few oranges from the grove, dressed in our “town” clothes (for Marge, a dress, for me, nice shorts and a button down shirt) and made the 90 mile drive which takes around 2 hours. When we got to the plant with the orange samples, I found that I could not go into the office since I was wearing shorts! The security guard was nice enough about it though and took the samples in for us and brought out the results, the oranges were ready. We then proceeded down the road to the office to get the new license. Once inside, I found the gentleman I had been emailing, presented my photos, and asked what else I had to fill out. He looked through a couple of files and found our license from last year and said we were all set – I didn’t have to come in! So, a wasted trip, wear and tear on the little truck, fuel, and a day of driving around all for nothing. Oh well, that’s the way it goes here sometimes, you have to show your face to get things all lined up. We scheduled 2 trailer loads to be delivered and we were back on the road again.

The scheduled days for the pick were fit between guests staying here at Moonracer Farm and we started right on schedule. I got to the grove mid morning to find that Julio had lined up seven guys to start with to see what we were looking at for the total pick. By noon, after counting what was picked all ready and what was left, our estimate was that we were only going to get about 300 bags! What a disappointment since last year we did almost 1400 bags!

We finished the pick half way into the 2nd day and just like last year, it started to POUR. You want to see the end of the rainy season? Just have me schedule an orange pick. I talked to the guys (completely in Spanish) and we worked out a deal to work hard for the second half of the day, and until the job was done, to haul all the oranges to the trailer out front so that no one had to come back in the morning. I really wanted to get it done since it was raining (and once it starts, you never know how long and hard it will last) and I was not sure if I would be able to get enough guys together the following day for a partial day of work. The guys were great, they worked hard, joked around, poked fun at “the gringo” (me) when I was working along side of them, and we turned it into what I always try to do with work, make it fun and light hearted while working so everyone is having a good time getting the work done.

At the end of the day, we only had the trailer less than 1/3 full but that was all the grove had for us. I called the trucker from Julio’s home phone in 7 Miles (no cell reception in our area), and the trucker came out and picked up the trailer the following morning. I had to work out a deal with the trucker since the load was so small and he was supposed to get paid by the bag, but if I was a stickler and held him to the original deal, he would not even be able to cover the cost of the fuel to run the oranges down to Dangriga, and I want to be able to treat all business people here fairly so that if/when I need him next year, I can count on a fair deal in the future.

So, all said and done, we did not fair so well financially with the pick this year since the crop was so small and the factory was paying so little for the fruit. However, I talked with a number of other growers and found that most farms were experiencing harvests of less than ½ of the previous year as well. I could never get a straight answer from anyone but from what I could piece together from living here since the last pick, the flood in October may have really hurt our crop this year. There has been a lack of honey in the market due to many of the bees dieing off from the flooding and many of the flowers and tree buds were damaged with all the rain and flooding. Nothing scientific, but just observations from a very inexperienced “farmer”.

Hopefully next year will be a more productive year and the orange prices will go up to help us maintain a small independent orange grove up here near the Pine Ridge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quick - 1st full day with our "oldest" friends

Rich and Sarah arrived yesterday and we had a great time catching up on family stuff yesterday afternoon and evening. Today we decided to do a little caving and hiking in the jungle.

Marge with her "oldest friend"(LOL), Richard. They were friends before they were born (their Mothers were friends and pregnant together). I came on the scene years later, in the 1st grade, at Titusville Elementary School but then had to transfer to Bear Tavern for grade school.

Here are the escorts we had on the hiking trail from Rio Frio cave to a couple of other smaller, more exciting to explore caves nearby. The guards are always at the caves in that area in case there are problems with illegal immigrants coming over the border. We had quite a "safe" feeling when going through caves and not knowing exactly what is in the next chamber. Alberto, in the solid uniform was used to the jungle having grown up in southern Belize. Kenny, in the camo, said this was only his second time in caves. We all had a good time exploring that afternoon.

We will keep you updated on the "25th Anniversary" gala events.

(obviously posted by Tom - the Non English major)