Monday, October 26, 2009

Another Adventure to Mexico

It seems like I enjoy traveling to Mexico, ‘tis true. I have traveled to Mexico for each of the past three months, and I do enjoy the adventure. Each time was for different reasons and it is always a challenge as well as learning experience.

This trip was to turn in the sticker for the camper that we used to live in while we traveled to Belize and set up our home. Based on my experience now, I would recommend that even if you get a 10 year tourism sticker for your vehicle/RV for Mexico, unless you keep track of all your paperwork REALLY well, just turn in your permit when you leave Mexico. The hassle to get the permit turned in if you are missing anything is not worth the money.

I originally planned on just taking one friend, Julio, along to Mexico so that he could translate for me. My Spanish is ok for everyday, “I need this”, “I am going…”, “Please hand me…”, you get the idea; only simple conversations but I can get by when I need to. Then I mentioned the trip to a couple of other friends of Julio’s that I am also friends with; a mechanic and his sidekick, and Julio’s brother; they all wanted to go, they had never been to Mexico.

Thursday morning we were to meet at The Farm where Julio works. I had picked up the trailer and left Tinkerbell attached to it on Wednesday after getting plates and insurance for the camper so that we could leave early. Marge and I got to the farm at 7am. We waited until 7:45 for the guys to get back from 7 Miles but they were not there so we decided to go look for them (maybe their car broke down on the way to get everyone together – who knows). As we pulled into town, there they all were, just heading back out to the farm in Raul’s pickup. Julio had left a note stuck on a machete in the ground near the driveway telling us to pick them up 7 Miles but the proverbial “dog ate the note” (it really did happen this time – it was a mess) trick foiled that plan.

Well, we got back, packed up in the camper, and off we went. What a grand outing, going to Mexico and staying overnight somewhere outside of Cayo District.

First stop, Roaring Creek to get tacos for breakfast. It was about 9:30am. From this gringo’s perspective, a bit early for tacos especially since I all ready had breakfast but they were “free”, out for an “aventura” without the wives.

We made it to the Mexico border after going through about 6 checkpoints here in Belize. I was quite appalled at the way we were treated by the police and military at a couple of the checkpoints. When Marge and I travel, they kind of look at us, smile, and wave us through. However, it seems that a white male driving our 1991 F250 pulling a 1976 camper with 4 Hispansic men in the front apparently makes the officials really up tight. The rudest of the checkpoints was just north of Ladyville on the Northern Highway. We presented all of our passports and the vehicle titles as instructed and the cop wanted my “permit to pull this trailer with this truck”. I explained politely that I had the required paperwork which consisted of the titles and insurance policies for each of the vehicles. Round and round we went, they insisting that I had to have another permit. I finally had to get a bit firm and told them that I just gotten all the paperwork I needed the day before and that if they had a problem, they need to learn the laws and talk to the Ministry of Works about the required paperwork to haul trailers. They finally looked and saw that I really had just gotten the paperwork for the trailer the day before so they let us go. I was not about to bribe them to let us proceed, we live here in Belize and should not have to pay to go through checkpoints.

We got to the Belize/Mexico border at around 2pm Belize time. We figured we had plenty of time to get the permit turned in, bring the trailer right back into Belize, then go over to Chetumal for a little sightseeing, shopping, and dinner; then return to Belize, pick up the trailer and stay at one of Julio’s friend’s house here in the north. However, when we got to the Mexican side they asked for a piece of paper that I did not have. Since we didn’t have it, we had to drive the camper into Chetumal to get someone to create some sort of document so that we could turn in the permit. What we then found out, Mexico is one out ahead of Belize so it was a little after 4pm when finally got in Chetumal and the permit office at the border closes at 5pm.

So, into Chetumal we went in search of the official that could create our document. The guys from 7 Miles were looking at everything in wonder as we drove around asking directions. We finally found the building and luckily there were 5 of us since there was hardly any parking near the building. Alex went with me to get the document (hopefully) while the other 3 stayed with the truck in case it had to be moved. We had to get some more directions to the proper office, waited for the official to finish with someone else, and then explained what we were looking for. The gentleman was very helpful, had a secretary type of the document for us, we paid about $10US for the document, and out we went to see if the truck was still where we left it – luckily, it was.

At this point it was just before 5pm so there was not time to get back to the border to turn in the permit. I jokingly said to the guys that we now had to go to the US/Mexico border to get some paperwork there so we had to start heading north. Alex helped me start this prank with the others and off we set, just going north by keeping the sun to our left side of the truck. What the other guys didn’t know at the time was I knew of a campground where we stayed on our way down in Jan, 2007, and I stayed in August when I was helping Marjie & Chuck drive down, that was in Calderitas, just north of Chetumal. I finally found a familiar road, took a right and headed straight towards the ocean. At this point, the other guys had figured that we were not going to the States and something was up.

I found the campground with no problems and as we pulled in the gates they just stared at the place: nice green lawn, beautiful palapa restaurant, big, clean pool to swim, and the ocean was at the far side of the grounds. I asked if we could park near the ocean and we put the trailer as close to the water as we possibly could – what a view. The guys absolutely loved the place.
They walked around and started taking pictures since they found my camera in the truck console.

Next chore was to unhook the trailer and drive around town to see some sights and find a place for dinner. What a pretty city. We drove around as the sun set and the lights were coming on along the waterfront. We had no idea where we were heading or what streets went where but we had fun exploring. I was trying to find Sam’s Club (I had been told there was one somewhere downtown) and we finally rounded a bend and there it was. I was concentrating on the one way streets going around a statue in the middle of a square, not realizing that the statue was a very famous depiction of some Christian religious significance; everyone else was staring at the statue (stupid Gringo, don’t you know what is important when you see it?).

The size of Sam’s Club was unbelievable for these guys. I had to explain that in fact, this Sam’s Club was about ¼ the size of the WalMarts and Sam’s Clubs in the US. Inside, they just walked around looking at all the STUFF for sale. They were in awe of all the merchandise. At one point, while we were in the middle of the store, Angel turned and asked me if I thought there was a freezer in San Ignacio, Belize the size of the one in the store. My response, “I don’t think there is a STORE as big as this freezer in San Ignacio!”

I bought some strawberries and grapes (since I miss them from the US) and we went out to walk around the statue that was on the other side of the parking lot from Sam’s. We took pictures in front of it and sat and enjoyed the evening under the stars in the square for about ½ hour, then we were off in search of dinner down the road. After dinner we stopped at another square where there was music playing from a boom box and young kids were practicing dancing on an open stage under the spotlights.

We returned to the campground and laid out under the stars just listening to the ocean waves lapping against the breakwalls and looking at the constellations. Everyone fell asleep but me so I got up, went into the trailer to sleep on a bed (yes, at this point, I find I really need a bed for my back to sleep for the night). In the morning I found that 2 other guys had come into the camper in the middle of the night to sleep in beds, 1 guy was still sleeping at the edge of the breakwall, and one guy was sleeping in the back seat of the truck (tough trick since THAT seat is so skinny).

I sat at the edge of the water watching the sky get brighter and brighter and others slowly woke up, stretched, and drifted over to watch the sunrise as well. It was spectacular; the colors, cloud formations, early birds flying by, and the quiet lapping of the sea against the breakwall. The east got brighter and brighter and all of a sudden the sun started rising on the horizon. I have seen the sunrise many times and it never ceases to amaze me that once the sun breaks over the horizon, it rises very quickly until you can see the entire star.

We ate the strawberries, grapes, and the food that I brought from home, hard boiled eggs, oranges, and grapefruits off our trees. We cleaned everything up, took showers (I had the only towel though so the last guy got to use a fairly wet towel to dry off), hooked up the truck and trailer, paid for the night (250 pesos – about $20US for all of us, I think there was a discount since they recognize me from my 2 other stays), and set off at around 7:30am to see some of the stores in the business district of Chetumal.

I remembered a mall with a McDonalds and Burger King from driving through on previous occasions so that was our “goal”, to find the mall. We had to ask for directions a number of times, had fun driving around and around the circles (called Glorietas in Chetumal) until we finally saw the golden arches in the distance. We cut through some side streets, parked the rig way out in the lot, divided up our pesos so we could do some shopping and started wandering around.

The guys had never seen so many stores with so much stuff before. They were amazed. Alex brought the camera along to take pictures of everything. I explained to them that this mall was actually quite small compared to US malls. They loved the high ceilings, smooth tiled floors, clear windows for just browsing, all the SHOE stores (oh, yeah, TONS of women’s shoes).

We found some large message chairs setup in the middle of the mall so we had to try them out, just 5 pesos for 3 minutes. Julio tried it first. He almost jumped out when the machine started moving up and down his spine! We got all but Angel to try it for a little bit, they were laughing and joking the whole time about using it and couldn’t imagine why someone would buy one let alone spend so much money on just a chair.

We found a store similar to WalMart; it had groceries, clothes, electronics, hardware, linens, etc. There was even a restaurant so we had a “real” breakfast. After wandering around the stores for a couple of hours we decided to hit the road and head back to the border to try our luck at crossing again. In the parking lot before we set off, we gathered up all our pesos to change back to $BLZ and we found that no one bought anything since they could get everything cheaper in Guatemala.

Back at the border, we turned in the sticker along with the letter explaining that I had misplaced my other paper which the woman was happy to accept. She came out to take a picture of the serial number on the trailer for the records which is SOP for them. We searched and searched for about 20 minutes for the serial number and couldn’t find it. She kept saying that she had to have a picture of the serial number so we kept looking. Finally, she decided that we had been through enough (and I think she kind of felt sorry for us since we couldn’t find it on such an old trailer) so she gave us our receipt for turning in our sticker and we set off to cross back into Belize.

We had an uneventful trip back home from Corozal and were so happy to be back in our own neck of the woods. When we reached our last turn to go up into the jungle, we were very happy that The Ministry of Works has been working hard on the Georgeville Road to smooth it out a bit.

For everyone, it was a great trip. They are all talking about when we are going to get together for a road trip to the US. Who knows? I’m up for it, these guys would love the experience and I love to travel. For now though, back to our lives in the jungle without all the hustle and bustle of the cities and where we can enjoy nature.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Too Short Visit with Michele & Christine

On Thursday, Tom and I met friends off a cruise ship for the second time since we’ve been here. This visit went much more smoothly than the first – and it was a good thing, since the visitor was my ex-boss Michele and her friend Christine!

The thing about meeting people off the cruise ships is that they never switch to Belize time, so they dock at a pretty early hour in the morning. Michele and Christine’s ship was scheduled to be in port from 8AM to 4PM, so we knew that it would be only 6AM or 7AM when they came ashore. We bought our D-Max at a dealer in Belize City and periodically take it there for service, so we decided to schedule an appointment for Wednesday afternoon and then spend the night in Belize City. This worked out perfectly, and after our 3PM Bravo appointment we drove downtown to look at hotels near Tourism Village where the cruise passengers come in, which is also near the water taxi terminal. We tentatively planned to stay at the Belcove, which is where we left Alex when we left him in Belize City to catch the water taxi to Caye Caulker a few weeks ago. We decided to look at a few other options in the area, but we still ended up at the Belcove, which turned out to be surprisingly nice. It’s small and inexpensive, but everything is tiled and spotless, and their back door opens onto a dock on the canal just upstream from the swing bridge.

We were the only guests that night, so they gave us a room right on the dock. We checked in, then went on a mini-shopping spree to Brodie’s on the Northern Highway and had dinner at a Jambel’s Jerk Pit on the waterfront near the Princess Hotel. Then we took our spoils from Brodie’s – a bottle of rum, a bag of ice, some lime juice, Cabot’s cheese, and Carr’s crackers – and went back to the Belcove and sat in their Adirondack chairs on the dock watching the downtown Belize City canal and street traffic. For two people who spend most of their time in the jungle, it was fascinating, and very relaxing. We had a great night’s sleep, and were up before 6AM the next morning to head to Tourism Village to meet Michele and Christine.

We got there a little before 6:30, and knowing the drill this time, we got our Visitor passes and went in. The tenders started docking almost immediately, but what we didn’t realize was that there are three docks within Tourism Village where they come in. We knew three ships were in port that day, so we started wandering up and down the waterfront asking which ships the docking tenders came from – and they were all from the Carnival cruise ships, not the Royal Caribbean ship we were waiting for. Finally, around 7:30, the Royal Caribbean tenders started arriving. However, because Michele and Christine weren’t signed up for one of the cruise sponsored excursions, they’d been prevented from getting on the earlier tenders, so they didn’t get to the dock until about 8:15 – our time! But, it didn’t matter at all, since Tom and I had actually really enjoyed people watching. With thousands of people on each of the three ships in port, we saw more people in less than two hours than we usually see in six months, and it was fascinating.

We’d sought the shade of an overhang, and I was standing next to the wall when I heard Michele call my name. They got off the tender, avoiding the people in parrot and dolphin suits who were trying to snare the disembarking passengers for photos, and after a quick hug we headed outside and to our truck. We had a conference about what to do for our six hours, and decided to avoid piles of hot rocks and snake infested swimming holes in favor of breakfast at Cheers and a trip to the Belize Zoo. It didn’t really matter what we did – we probably could have sat in Tourism Village and yacked for the whole time and it wouldn’t have mattered – but we had a good Zoo visit and saw all the animals – and Michele even touched the boa constrictor, who was hanging around our friend Vlad’s neck when we entered the Zoo. I’m not sure what Michele thought about me giving the man with the snake a hug – but why should a five-foot boa constrictor keep you from greeting a friend?

We headed back to Tourism Village with plenty of time to spare, and even had time for a quick ride along the waterfront so Michele and Christine could see the nicer part of Belize City, rather than the sort of seedy section we passed through as we were driving out.

We even had time for a quick photo op with Michele wielding my bullwhip which had been in Tim’s care since I left The Rochester Group (wonder what the TSA people thought about that when they searched her luggage?) and Christine wielding Tom’s machete, which Christine found fascinating especially when she discovered that it lives in the back seat of the car. We assured her that it was there mostly to cut trees out of the road (honest), but we’re not sure if she believed us.

They headed back into Tourism Village at almost exactly 2PM – with 30 minutes to spare before the last tender back to the ship. No more mad dashes or making the tenders turn around to pick up our friends!

Pan American Day at Rio On Pools

Belize doesn’t celebrate Columbus Day, but does celebrate the equivalent Pan American Day on the same day as the US celebrates Columbus Day. It’s a bank holiday and the kids don’t have school, so since Tom has been working very hard with a crew of men from 7 Miles to chop the property lines of our neighbor’s property, he decided to celebrate the holiday with them and their families and have us all spend the day together up in the Mountain Pine Ridge.

We’ve all been hearing about a swimming hole on Privassion Creek, but none of us had been there. Julio got directions from his brother, so around 9 on Monday morning, Tom picked up Julio and Rudy and their families, then came back to pick up me and the food, and we headed for the Mountain Pine Ridge. Tom rode in back with the men and the boys, and I drove with the women and smaller kids riding in the front of the D-Max. I started to slow down when we got to the turn where I thought the swimming hole was, but Julio yelled from the back that I was supposed to take the next turn. I kept going and took the next left, and headed into the hills. The roads are narrow and washed out in spots, but overall not too bad. I drove for a little while, and then Julio shouted from the back that I was supposed to turn right. I drove on that road for a bit, and got to a T. I stopped, and made eye contact with Julio in the side view mirror and I started to laugh; he obviously had no idea which way to go. Janet, his wife, was in the passenger seat, and said while laughing, “He’s lost, isn’t he?” I told her I thought that was the case, and Julio told me to turn left. I did, and we drove down that road with Janet and me giggling in the front seat, watching a conference between the men in back which involved lots of gestures and plenty of laughing as well.

At the next intersection I stopped and stuck my head out to look at Julio. He asked me if I realized he didn’t know where to go, and I laughingly responded that I was aware that was the case. We decided to go a little further rather than turning around, so we picked a road at random and set off. All of the sudden, we crested a hill, and the beauty of the Maya Mountains and the Mountain Pine Ridge was spread out in front of us. We started down this road and came to a deeply rutted stretch of road, and Tom got out to investigate and see if we could get through. By this time we’d been driving around on tracks mostly used by the military for about an hour and a half, and Janet was starting to lose her sense of humor about the situation - perfectly understandable given that her five kids were in the truck, and she was wondering what we were going to do when we ran into soldiers. We decided to turn around, retrace our tracks until we got to a road we thought would take us back out to the Mountain Pine Ridge Road, and head for Rio On Pools instead of the Privassion swimming hole – and fortunately we guessed right, and we were at Rio On within a half hour.

We spent the day having a picnic on the rocks and swimming and playing in the pools. If a 5-star resort were to try to put in a water park for families on their grounds, they couldn’t do anywhere near as well as Mother Nature did with Rio On Pools. There are small, still pools for the little kids, deeper swimming holes, rock slides, waterfalls to get behind, and canals which make perfect swimming lanes for swimming lessons. Between the 15 of us there, all the nooks and crannies were used, and we all came home tired and relaxed. The most amazing thing, to me, was that our party had the entire place to ourselves for the whole day. As we were packing up to leave around 3PM a few more cars pulled in, but we’d been there for almost four hours all by ourselves – on a holiday with exceptionally beautiful weather. Only in Belize!

Bye, Alex!

We finally said goodbye to Alex a week ago today. He spent all of the week before volunteering in 7 Miles at the government school, and had a great time working with the kids at school and then playing with the kids in town while staying with Julio’s family. He came back here on Saturday morning in time to help with the moving of the shed near Chuck & Marjie’s camper, and then did a load of laundry so he could leave here with everything clean in his backpack.

On Sunday morning, Tom and I drove Alex to the Guatemala border at Benque Viejo. We helped him change his money, talked with him and the money changer about buses to various points in Guatemala, and said goodbye. His plan was to go through Guatemala to Mexico, visit Palenque, and then head towards Mexico’s Pacific coast. We don’t know yet if he stuck to his plans for Guatemala any better than he did with his Belize plans!

Shed Moving

Since Marjie and Chuck arrived here in the beginning of August, their sixty some Rubbermaid totes of stuff have been stored in Tom’s shop. This was not only a pain for Tom who didn’t have any room to work in his shop, but also a pain for Marjie and Chuck who had to go rooting around through all the totes every time they wanted something. Marjie has been shoeing a few horses here and there and all of her farrier supplies were in the totes, so it was a big pain for her since the totes containing the shoes and farrier equipment were very heavy, and every time she needed something she had to move the totes around and sort through them.

Finally, last Saturday, the problem was solved, although the solution wasn’t especially easy. Marjie had ordered a 10’x16’ storage shed from Pine Lumber on the Western Highway, and they planned to deliver it in the normal way – completely built, towed to the site on a trailer, and slipped onto a pre-made foundation. It sounded like a good plan, but the guys at Pine Lumber didn’t realize they had to traverse more than ten miles of bad road, back the truck and trailer down a fairly steep hill into a natural amphitheatre, and then maneuver the trailer between trees to get it to its resting place.

We knew they had underestimated the situation when they told Marjie they would leave their shop at 8AM and be at Moonracer Farm at 8:30. It takes a good 45 minutes to do the route in an SUV, so we knew their estimate was considerably short, although they obviously thought that traveling nine miles in a half hour was very reasonable. We estimated that they’d arrive at our place around 10AM, and even that proved overly hopeful. They finally pulled up to the driveway at 10:30, with both the driver and the guy riding shotgun looking a little shell shocked about how bad the road was and how slow they had to go.

Then they looked at the driveway. They thought they could back the trailer down it, although they informed us ahead of time that they might need to be towed out with a 4WD truck. Then they looked at where Marjie wanted the shed to go and just rolled their eyes and shook their heads.

Tom had been chopping our neighbor’s property line all week with a group of guys from 7 Miles. These guys changed hats for a day and became shed movers rather than machete men. When the trailer finally arrived, Chuck radioed them and had them come in from the bush, and they arrived just in time to see the truck back the shed-laden trailer down the driveway. There was obviously no way they were going to get the trailer maneuvered between the trees so they could just slide the shed off and onto the cinderblocks, so they just got down to the flat part and we all began the physically difficult task of getting the shed off and somewhere close to the spot prepped for it.

The moving crew at this point consisted of Chuck and Marjie, Tom and me, Alex, the two men from Pine Lumber, and three men from 7 Miles. We knew we were in trouble when all the men jumped up on the trailer to slide the shed towards the back and it didn’t budge. So, we began the long process of levering it up high enough to slide long boards under it, and then pushing it a few inches. The trailer tipped, so when the shed was far enough back we were able to tip the trailer and slide the shed to the ground. Then we had to get the shed properly oriented so the door was at the front, which meant turning it 90 degrees before sliding it back.

Treated pine may not be as heavy as hardwoods, but it’s heavy. Tom had a brainstorm and went to his shop to get metal poles from the dismantled cages on the property. He found enough short sections of these poles that they could be used as rollers. This really helped, but we still had to lever the shed up to get the rollers under it, get planks to be used as runways onto the path where we wanted it to go, and then get everybody behind it to push.

It moved, but it wasn’t easy, and we never did get it in the originally intended location. Nobody counted on the roof overhang, which made it too wide to go between some of the trees, and in any case it was difficult enough to move that everybody agreed a shorter distance was better anyway. Around 1:30, the owner of Pine Lumber showed up to see where his crew had disappeared to, and he was just in time to see us get it where it would end up – and to use his 4WD truck to tow the dump truck and trailer back up the hill.

The shed is now in place and loaded, and Tom has his shop back. There’s even enough room for Louie and Recona to play!

Tom is Back to Work

After three months of visiting and traveling, Tom is finally getting back to work. After going to the US in July, then helping Marjie and Chuck drive through Mexico, then spending ten days with Rich and Sarah in August, then a week with Karin in Cancun, and finally meeting up with Michele and Christine just last week, he again has his nose to the grindstone and is getting big jobs crossed off his list.

He’d been talking to Noah since the beginning of August about supervising a crew to chop our neighbors Todd and Tatiana’s property line, and he finally had time to put the crew together and go out and do it. It’s almost 80 acres, so it was a pretty big job, and the property line crosses some pretty rugged terrain. It took Tom working with three other guys (you don’t expect Tom to just sit back and “supervise,” do you?) almost two weeks of chopping, plus some time upfront to hack through the jungle and find the cement survey markers. They finally finished last Thursday.

Getting that job done coincided with Marjie and Chuck being able to move their stuff out of the shop, so Tom jumped right in to working on a bookcase for some friends in Belmopan who had been talking to Tom about building a bookcase since last spring. We kept running into delays on both sides that prevented the project from starting – Tom went away, Cindy broke her ankle so couldn’t go out to look at wood, and just all the scheduling difficulties of two busy couples – but we finally got wood samples to Rich and Cindy so they could select the wood, and then just a few weeks ago we met Rich for lunch in Spanish Lookout to discuss requirements and rough plans. Tom has been noodling it in his head since then, so as soon as he had room to move we cut some boards with the table saw, and he’s now putting pieces together. Hopefully by the next blog entry we’ll have pictures of some finished (or at least almost finished) shelves!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


In the last blog posting, I mentioned that we’d met a backpacker named Alex at Chichen Itza in Mexico and that he accepted our offer of a ride to Belize to start his adventure. Here we are, one day shy of two weeks later, and Alex is still in Belize. As Alex says, “Belize seems to have sunk its claws into me.” But that’s a good thing!

As I said in the previous posting, we dropped Alex off in Belize City so he could get the water taxi out to Caye Caulker. One day in Caye Caulker turned into two, and Alex had what he described as probably the best weekend of his life snorkeling, eating, and just hanging out on the tiny caye off the coast of Belize. He took an all day snorkel tour with Ragamuffin, saw lots of great underwater wildlife, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. He ate lobster – a must on Caye Caulker during lobster season – and, like Tom and me, had a few meals from the wonderful bakery on the island. He arrived on the island on Friday morning, and took the water taxi back to Belize City on Sunday morning. He went from the water taxi terminal to the bus station, where he got on a bus and headed to the Belize Zoo. There, he met Sharon purely by chance and was interviewed for a BBC program Sharon produces, and, in the bargain, got to feed chicken to the crocodiles. After a very enjoyable tour of the Zoo, he got back on the bus and headed into San Ignacio, where Tom and I picked him up on Sunday afternoon.

As we were talking about what he’d like to do while in Belize, he mentioned that if any of the local schools were looking for volunteers for a few days, he really wanted to do that as part of his experience. Again, purely by chance, our friend Julio, chairman of the village of 7 Miles, stopped by for dinner so Alex was able to ask him if it would be possible to volunteer. Julio assured him that any time he could give the school would be appreciated, and they arranged for Alex to volunteer from Wednesday through Friday.

Given a couple of free days, we decided to take Alex on a horseback ride to Sapodilla Falls. Monday was a beautiful day, and we set out in time to get to the falls by lunch, swim for a couple of hours, and then head home. The first part of the plan went the way we expected, and we had a great ride to the falls with Tom on Es, me on Glin, and Alex on Ness. We ate lunch, then trekked down the hill for a swim. Then Tom and Alex climbed to the very top of the falls while Recona and I took a nap in the sun on the warm rocks. After another quick swim when the boys came down, I changed and headed up the hill to get the horses ready for the ride back to the farm. I finished cleaning up lunch from the picnic tables, got the horses ready to go, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I was just about to go see what was happening when a very wet Alex appeared at the top of the trail with his hand looped in Tom’s belt, which was acting as a sling around Alex’s shoulder. He’d been trying to take a picture of one of the little waterfalls when he’d slipped on the rocks and fallen in the water, bashing his thumb, chin, and camera in the process. The chin wasn’t too bad, but the thumb wasn’t looking too good and the camera was out of order. We had a quick discussion of the best way to get Alex home, and decided that I’d head for home on Glin through the jungle at a trot, and Tom and Alex would take the park road out to the village of San Antonio, where I could meet them with the truck. This was a shorter and less strenuous ride for Alex, and after I set out on Glin, Tom and Alex did a quick clothing swap with Alex wearing Tom’s jeans so he didn’t have to ride in his wet ones, and Tom putting on his almost dry swim trunks with his half chaps. I made it home in 58 minutes, then headed into San Antonio where I waited for almost an hour for Tom and Alex to appear. We loaded Alex and Ness’s tack into the truck, then Tom ponied Ness home while I taxied Alex home for a warm shower, some ice, and some ibuprofen.

The next day Alex’s thumb was very swollen and very bruised. We all agreed that an x-ray would be a good idea, especially since they’re so reasonably priced here in Belize, and since Alex, who speaks almost no Spanish, was planning on heading into Guatemala where he could have some problems if he decided to seek medical care there. Tom had some errands to run on Tuesday anyway, so they set off for La Loma Luz hospital.

The good news was that the thumb was only sprained, not broken, but that bad news was that Alex was supposed to keep the brace on until he could use the thumb again. But, being a good sport and being out to experience whatever he ran into on his trip, Alex made the most of the opportunity of riding around with Tom and doing errands for the day, and found that he was totally fascinated by Spanish Lookout.

From riding across on the ferry to just meeting and talking to the Spanish Lookout Mennonites, Alex found the whole day fascinating. He said he wrote a six-page journal entry on that day, and that three of the pages were devoted to the Mennonites.

On Wednesday morning, Tom took Alex to 7 Miles to start his volunteer experience. Long story short, he loved it. He worked with the Standard 5 and 6 students, doing drama exercises with them, helping them with their normal schoolwork, and playing football. He ate meals with Julio’s family at the house in 7 Miles, and then spent the nights with Julio in the cabin at the orange grove house, so he saw a very good cross-section of life in Belize.

Alex showed up at Moonracer Farm again on Friday evening, and we started talking about what he planned to do. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then finally admitted that the school principal had asked if he could stay any longer, and since he had thoroughly enjoyed himself, he took a look at his plans and his finances, and decided that he could spend another week in 7 Miles. Not able to stay away from the school, he spent Sunday working on a painting project there, then came back here for the evening, and hitched a ride back to 7 Miles on Monday morning.

Again, the plan went a little haywire, and after a long day shopping for Tom and me on Monday, we were sitting on our porch getting ready to eat dinner, and we saw a flashlight coming up the driveway. Tom went out to see who it was, and found a very under-the-weather Alex. He seemed to have caught some sort of flu, and said that he’d been sick to his stomach and coughing and sneezing all day, and he didn’t want to stay near Julio’s family for fear of making them sick. Tom and I sort of snickered, since it’s our experience that it’s usually the kids making the teachers sick and not the other way around, but even though he felt like total crap, Alex’s top concern was being considerate to Julio’s family. We checked to make sure he didn’t want to take another trip to La Loma Luz – he didn’t – and then steered him towards the guest cabin, where he slept for 17 hours. When he woke up yesterday, he said he felt better and looked pretty much back to normal – he’d looked totally wiped when he showed up the night before – and he spent yesterday afternoon just sort of hanging and helping Tom and Chuck with a few things around here.

This morning he was back down the road to 7 Miles, and is planning on volunteering at the school and staying with Julio and his family for the rest of the week before heading into Guatemala on Saturday. As far as Tom and I are concerned, Alex can stay in the area for as long as he wants. He’s been totally considerate both to us and to his hosts in 7 Miles, and, being very observant, has been doing a great job of fitting in and not causing anybody any extra work – and he’s still worrying that he’s imposing on somebody. He was horrified with himself last week when Julio volunteered Janet, his wife, to do Alex’s laundry, and Alex said okay. He didn’t realize until it was done that Janet doesn’t have a washing machine, and that she did each item by hand. He came back here, distraught, and asked if I could run any future laundry through the washer to prevent Janet the extra work. Given the fact that he’s backpacking and traveling with very few clothes, it’s no trouble at all for me to throw a few of his things in when I’m doing wash, and I was amazed how thankful Alex was for that little thing.

Now we just have to see if Alex really leaves this weekend, or if the 7 Miles school principal manages to convince him to stay a little longer! And, by the way, we don’t have many pictures since Alex’s camera wasn’t working after the dip in the water, although there’s some hope for it if the water spots dry out of the lens. It spent a few evenings hanging over my stove so the heat from the oven could dry it, and it has improved, but only time will tell if it will become useable.