Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bobby, Jack, & Rich

Rich and his sons Jack and Bobby arrived here late in the afternoon after a day spent touring ATM from Pook’s Hill. We were immediately concerned because Jack and Rich jumped out of their car, and then Rich opened the door for 9-year old Bobby – who it turned out had spent part of the previous evening and that day being sick to his stomach. He obviously wasn’t feeling too good, but Rich told us that he’d been a trooper and had done the whole ATM tour. He was even sick in the cave, but managed to vomit into a bag. If you haven’t done the ATM tour, this may not sound like much, but Tom and I were immediately impressed with the kid because ATM is a physically challenging tour, especially for a 9-year old, and for him to have done it while not feeling well took an incredible amount of will and stamina. We got the three of them into their room, and got Bobby settled in the hammock on the porch with a bottle of Sprite and some Pedialyte and instructions to drink as much as possible. Rich and Jack laid low with him for the rest of the evening, and in the morning they took off for Caracol. Bobby had been sick once more in the night, but that day he looked 100% better, and was bright eyed and smiling, and managed to do the whole tour, even climbing to the top of Ca’ana.

That night all three of them were able to join us, as well as Alison and Kris, for dinner, and we had a very enjoyable and social meal.

We were all impressed with Jack’s sculpting talents as he quickly created a crocodile and a salamander which were extremely lifelike. Rich impressed us with his gift of a bottle of wine and some nuts, and we figured he must be psychic since he gifted us with two of our very favorite things. The next morning, we saddled up the horses for them so they could take the Tony Express, along with Ness and Es, on a ride to the Butterfly Ranch before jumping back in the car and heading off to go cave tubing before continuing their trip in Belize.

Alison & Kris

After lots of planning between Alison and me, Alison and Kris arrived in Belize and spent five nights with us. On their first day, they toured Xunantunich and Cahal Pech with Gonzo, and then immediately spent another day with Gonzo touring ATM. On their third day, we left in the late morning to take a horseback ride up to Big Rock. We’d been having beautiful sunny and hot weather, and while we made it all the way without seeing a drop of rain, as soon as we got ourselves and our picnic lunch down the hill to the waterfall, it started to rain. However, it didn’t really matter since we were hot from the ride and the rain felt good – but none of us swam, even though that had been our intent. After lunch, I brought the horses home while Tom took Alison and Kris in the truck to go see 1000 Foot Falls. Fortunately they had better luck seeing the falls than our last guests who went there when the falls were completely fogged in. They hadn’t made any plans for the last day, seeing that after all this was a vacation and they figured it wouldn’t hurt to relax for a day, but after a couple of hours of relaxing in the morning, they decided to run down to the Butterfly Ranch. They came back, we had lunch, and then they and Tom went up into the Mountain Pine Ridge to Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools.

Alison and Kris fit right in here, and had no problem with our casual way of doing business – if they wanted ice for a drink, they got the ice out of the freezer. We may have taken it a little too far one day, as they came back from a tour as I was taking wash off the line and hanging up more – and Alison came right over to help, and handed me each item, in position to be pegged on the line, perfectly. I was apologetic, of course, and told her that she didn’t have to help, but she said that it reminded her of helping her mother and grandmother hang out the wash when she was a kid. We frequently have people tell us that they like it here because it reminds them of visiting their grandparents when they were kids, not because Tom and I are old fogies, but because our way of life is reminiscent of life in the US 30 years or so ago. We’re glad that people like it here not just because of the services we offer, but because so many people appreciate the slower way of life here in Belize.

Kris and Alison also managed to slide another day of adventure into the transfer back to the Municipal Airport for their flight to Ambergris Caye. Since we didn’t have any guests coming in, I was able to take the day off, so the four of us left early in the morning and stopped at all the gift shops between here and Belize City, as well as making a stop at the Belize Zoo after a lunch at Cheers. It was a fun day out!

Quan & Ed

We had a very interesting multi-cultural visit with Quan and Ed from northern California. They decided to take the bus to San Ignacio from the airport, and found the experience interesting, although it was hot. Their visit overlapped with Marta and Blanca, and as we all got to know each other at dinner, we found that we represented four different countries between the six of us, although both Quan and Ed have lived in the US since they were children and are both US citizens. Marta and Blanca are from Spain, Tom and I are from the US, Quan is from Vietnam, and Ed is from the Philippines. We laughed as we discussed how we all got to our adopted homes, since Tom and I drove through Mexico with a pickup truck and trailer, and Quan’s family fled Vietnam when she was five, all packed into a very small boat where they had to sleep in stacks for five days. After Quan told us her story, Ed, somewhat shamefacedly, said, “Well, I came to the US when I was a child, but I arrived in a 747.” It was very funny, but as we discussed the different ways different families moved to the US during that time, we realized that while Quan’s family’s immigration was definitely more traumatic, it may have almost been happier than Ed’s since he didn’t see much of his parents in the couple of years when they were planning the move because they were spending most of their time in the US getting things set up for the family’s arrival. So, while Ed arrived in style, he essentially spent a couple of years as an orphan, while Quan was always with her family. We definitely had food for thought along with our meal.

For the first adventure, Quan and Ed visited ATM and were predictably wowed.

The next day, they toured Ka’ax Tun and had lunch with Julio and his family before doing a Mountain Pine Ridge waterfall tour in the afternoon. Tom accompanied them on the Ka’ax Tun tour, and was laughing because he said Ed shamed everybody into tasting termites. One of the big questions on any of the jungle tours around here is “Have you ever tasted a termite?” Oddly enough, many of the guides have not, but after going on a tour with Ed, now they have.

Ed has tasted them in different places, so when he asked the question after seeing a termite nest, everybody in the group had to taste a termite, including Tom. And Julio. And Julio’s kids. So, there are now a few more people in the area who will actually be able to answer that question with a “Yes!”

Ed and Quan left the next day, but instead of taking the bus they decided to have us drive them so they could stop and go cave tubing at Jaguar Paw. It was a beautiful Sunday, and they really enjoyed the cave tubing as the guide pulled them through the cave with a rope so they had a chance to get lots of nice pictures of the inside of the cave. Tom and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours sitting on a log in the river watching the locals play in the water. On Sundays, the national parks admit citizens and residents for free, so lots of people take advantage of this to spend a few hours playing in the river. We were laughing because it was very easy to identify the locals playing in the water, and the guides dragging the tourists in tubes, and the tourists being dragged through the water by the guides. As we were sitting there enjoying the spectacle, we overheard a couple of local women talking in Spanish – about us, because they couldn’t quite figure out what we were since we didn’t really fit any of the demographics. Tom turned around and, in Spanish, told them that we live in Belize, have a small lodge, and that we were sitting there waiting for some of our guests who were cave tubing. After they did the quick review in their heads to try to remember if they’d said anything offensive that they didn’t think we’d understand (they hadn’t) we killed the next 45 minutes or so just chatting about life. It was a strangely good feeling to be sitting there with our feet in the river talking in Spanish to a couple of Belizean women about life and families and kids and work, although it was somewhat surreal since if anyone had ever asked either of us five years ago what we thought we’d be doing in five years, that activity would definitely not have been anywhere in the list of possibilities.

Quan and Ed emerged from the cave, so that was the end of that conversation. The four of us went to lunch at Cheers, then on to the water taxi so Ed and Quan could continue their vacation in San Pedro.

Marta & Blanca

Overlapping with both Kathleen & Sam and Quan & Ed, daughter and mother Marta and Blanca spent three nights with us and got good taste of life in this part of Belize. When they made their reservations, Marta informed us that her mother spoke only Spanish. Marta was making the reservations from Mexico, so we assumed they were Mexican, but when we met and started talking to them, we realized that they weren’t speaking Mexican/Central American Spanish – and weren’t surprised when they told us that they were from Spain. Marta is a business consultant who is currently working in Mexico, so her mom came to visit and they set out on a three-week bus journey through Mexico and Central America. Marta has also done jobs in the US, London, and Australia, so her English is excellent, so whenever we ran into a snag communicating with Blanca, we had an excellent translator to make sure everybody understood everything – and, Tom and I found that our Spanish was actually a little better than we thought it was.

Marta and Blanca had been on the cayes before coming to us, so they took the bus from Belize City to San Ignacio, where Tom met them. They spent the next day at Caracol, fortunately with a guide who spoke both English and Spanish. The next day they went to Ka’ax Tun, and were immediately adopted by Julio and his family who were delighted to have Spanish-speaking guests. Everybody was fascinated with the differences in how they used their common language coming from different countries, but they immediately bonded because they could understand each other.

Julio’s whole family helped on the guided tour of Ka’ax Tun, and Marta and Blanca were amazed at how the not-yet-three year old Melvor could climb fearlessly around on the rocks and vines. The whole group of them had so much fun that after eating one of Janet’s delicious lunches, they all took a ride up to Big Rock for a swim, and they didn’t return here until shortly before sunset – with Melvor completely conked out in Janet’s arms.

The next day they were heading into Guatemala, so Tom took them to the border and they continued on the last leg of their journey.

Kathleen & Sam

We had a quick three day visit with Kathleen and Sam, visiting Belize from Chicago. They were only here for one full day, which they used for an all-day trip to Tikal and really enjoyed. They were leaving for the cayes the next day, but they made great use of their time and planned a morning excursion to Ka’ax Tun with lunch with Julio and his family before heading out the Belize City to catch the water taxi. And, they did the WHOLE adventure at Ka’ax Tun, tasting some of the native plants and climbing up the limestone chimney and back down the vines. Now they just need to plan to come back so they can have more of the Belize “turf” adventures which they only sampled!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Shawn & Kathy, Cody & Dylan

We had a quick one-night visit with a family from Colorado, parents Shawn and Kathy and their teenaged sons Cody and Dylan. They were driving around Belize seeing as much as they could fit into a week, and planned to stay here after spending the day at Caracol. They gave me a little bit of a scare, because they pulled into the driveway at 10:30 in the morning on the day they were supposed to arrive. They scared me on two counts – first, because Chad and Jill were still using the cabin, and second, because if they were on their way to Caracol they had missed the 9:30 military convoy. But, they assured me, they didn’t need to go into the cabin yet, and when I told them about the military convoy, they understood that they might not be allowed to drive to Caracol, but that there was plenty to do up in the Mountain Pine Ridge for the day anyway.

It all worked out; the military let them drive to Caracol on their own, so they had a very enjoyable time touring the site. They then stopped at Rio On Pools on their way back, and had a good swim. They pushed the envelope again by driving to 1000 Foot Falls on their way back, and realized when they saw the sign at the gate after the long drive over the bad roads that the park officially closes at 5PM, and it was 5:20. Fortunately Pedro the caretaker let them in anyway and they were able to see the Falls – so they managed to cram into one short day what sometimes takes people two days of touring to see!

We had an enjoyable dinner with them, comparing notes on living in a place where water has to be carefully managed, and they had lots of good insights and suggestions. We also had some common ground because Shawn, like my brother Matt, is a PA in the Army, and Shawn was a little surprised that he didn’t have to explain what he did for work.

The day they left was Cody’s 17th birthday, so we celebrated with a candle in his banana pancakes. Then they loaded up the car and took off to return the car in Belize City before catching a water taxi out to Caye Caulker for their last day of vacation.

Jill & Chad

Chad is a visiting lecturer at the University of Belize in Belmopan, and friend Jill decided to visit him from Colorado for his Easter break. Although he’s been here since January, he’s been working and hasn’t had a lot of time to do many of the adventures Belize has to offer, so Jill stepped up and planned a vacation for the two of them. They rented a car for the first part of their vacation, so they drove up here from Belmopan in the afternoon, and then took off to see Big Rock and Five Sisters Falls. After having a beer at Five Sisters, they came back here in plenty of time for dinner with Angie and Pat, especially since Angie and Pat were delayed at the border on their return trip from Tikal. Dinner was an event, and Jill, who has celiac-sproue disease and is a vegetarian, was delighted to be eating in Belize where it’s very easy to avoid gluten, and we all ate corn tortillas, beans, beef with recado (for the meat eaters), veggies, salsa, and coco root soup.

The next morning they followed Tom, Angie, and Pat down the road to Georgeville, where they met up with Gonzo for an ATM tour. Tom had scheduled a well-child visit for the Isuzu at the dealer after leaving Pat and Angie at the Municipal Airport, so Chad and Jill were back from ATM before Tom, and filled the time by heading up the road to Mick’s Misty Mountain bar and sampling Mick’s many rum drinks. Chuck joined us for dinner because Marjie had already left for their wedding in the US, and Chuck wasn’t flying out until Thursday.

So, the five of us had a somewhat raucous dinner with lots and lots of laughing and joking, and Jill periodically interjecting how nice it was to be able to eat the food without worrying about whether or not it had gluten. I lit up some bananas for dessert, and managed, again, not to set the house on fire.

Jill and Chad slept in the next morning before heading out to return the rental car and catch the water taxi to Caye Caulker. We got promises from Chad to keep in touch while he’s in Belize and from Jill to stay here again if she’s in Belize, and gave Chad a pile of business cards to hand out in Belmopan. We’re hoping we see both of them again!

Angie & Pat

Angie and Pat arrived in Belize from Chicago and started their vacation right away as Tom picked them up at the airport, stopped for lunch at Cheers, and then made a beeline to the zipline at Jaguar Paw. If people want to zip line or cave tube while they stay with us, we always encourage them to do these activities on their way to or from the coast since Jaguar Paw is about 50 miles from here, and the cost of the transfer makes these activities way more expensive than they need to be. The transfer is already being paid for with the fee from Belize City, and we just have our guests pay for parking at Jaguar Paw, and then pay their own entry and guide fees for whatever activities they want to do. Angie and Pat told us that they really appreciated this, since they talked to other tourists in the area who told them that their hotels didn’t even offer the option.

The next morning, they went on the ATM tour with Gonzo. Yes, we’ve had a very adventurous series of guests here this spring, and we’ve kept Gonzo visiting the cave on a regular basis! Pat and Angie liked it as much as everybody else, although we found that arranging tours during the weeks surrounding Easter is as difficult as it is on the weeks around Christmas. Because a school group was going to the cave that afternoon, the tour guides were expected to take their guests into the cave in the morning and early afternoon, and then the guests were supposed to get another ride back to town or their hotels while the tour guides went in the cave with the students. It was a good plan, but it didn’t quite work that way since signals got crossed, the vans got full, and Angie and Pat didn’t get on the bus to head out of ATM – so they waited and waited and waited, and finally got a ride. However, Tom expected them to be back in San Ignacio around 4PM, and because of the crossed lines, they didn’t get back until almost 7:30 – a long wait for both them and Tom, who was going crazy because he didn’t know where they were, and couldn’t even contact Gonzo on his cell phone because Gonzo was in the cave where he doesn’t get cell reception. But all worked out in the end, and everybody eventually got to where they were supposed to be in one piece.

The next morning we had more changed plans, because we were just saddling the horses for a ride to Big Rock, and it started to rain. Tom and I are happy to ride in the rain, but we know that’s not everybody’s idea of fun, so he checked with Pat and Angie to see what they wanted to do. They decided that there were probably better ways to spend their morning than sitting in a wet saddle, so they took some time to relax, visited Barton Creek Cave, and then after lunch took Tinkerbell into the Mountain Pine Ridge to see the sights. They successfully saw Big Rock and Five Sisters Falls, but with the misty weather weren’t able to see 1000 Foot Falls from the lookout at the park.

The next morning they were on the road early to get to Tikal, a trip they really enjoyed, although with the increased traffic over the holiday weeks, they were delayed getting across the border to get back to Belize. However, like on the ATM day, they finally made it across all in one piece, and got back to the farm in time for dinner with our new arrivals, Jill and Chad.

They had to leave to head out to the cayes the next morning, but they left here early enough that they were able to make a stop at the Belize Zoo and have an encounter with Junior Buddy the Jaguar, completing their end-to-end adventure at Moonracer Farm!

Erik & Rhea

We had another quick visit with made-in-Belize friends Erik and Rhea from Oklahoma on the last night that Deb and Jim were here. They spent a few nights before coming here up at Blancaneaux because Erik is working with Roni on their jaguar tracking project with the wildlife cameras. I had taken advantage of the time Tom, Jim, and Deb were out hiking to run into town and do some grocery shopping, and when I returned, Erik and Rhea were here just in time to help me get the groceries into the house. Rhea and I share a horse passion, so as I unpacked the groceries and made dinner, the time passed very quickly as we chatted about horses. When the hikers returned, they had time to clean up, and then we all sat down for another dinner of non-stop talking, trying to catch up since the last time we saw them in July 2009, and storing up some conversation until the next time Rhea and Erik get back to Belize, which unfortunately might be a while since Rhea needs to use her vacation time and “play budget” to campaign her young stallion. The next morning, Roni picked Erik up for another morning of work on the wildlife project at Blancaneaux, and Rhea helped me with chores around here while we did some more catching up. Then she was off to Blancaneaux to meet Erik for lunch before they spent their last night in town before flying out the next day.

Jamie, Garth, and kids Sydney, Charlie, and Hannah

Garth and Jamie and their kids gave us a good lesson what being a good sport is all about during their visit with us. They had planned this vacation with their three kids, ages 3, 6, and 9, as something of a “stretch vacation” to see how well the kids traveled. Unfortunately, while the kids traveled well, all things considered, fate threw a few wrenches into the works. Their arrival here was delayed by a day because of missed flight connections – further complicated by the fact that Charlie, the 6-year old, started vomiting on the plane, so when they finally arrived a day late, they had a bag of soiled clothes. No problem – we just threw them in the washer and all was good.

We had cancelled their trips for what was supposed to be the first day of their vacation, and rescheduled so that they spent the first morning they were here visiting Barton Creek, and then, after lunch with Julio’s family, they visited Ka’ax Tun.

The kids were a little uncertain about canoeing in a cave but overall they enjoyed the trip, and they all enjoyed lunch with Julio’s family. They were very adventurous at Ka’ax Tun, walking across log bridges and climbing on the rocks – and Garth even climbed the chimney!

That night, they discovered that what they had thought was motion sickness for Charlie was more likely some sort of bug, since Hannah started vomiting as well. Charlie also wasn’t over whatever had hit him on the plane, so Garth and Jamie spent a very restless night taking care of two sick kids. They were scheduled to go to Caracol the next day, but obviously had to cancel since the kids weren’t up to the tour, much less the drive to get there on the sometimes rough Chiquibul Road. They spent the day laying low in the cabin, trying to get enough fluid into Hannah and Charlie to keep them from getting too dehydrated. Since Sydney never got sick, Tom took her and Jamie up to Rio On that afternoon so they got to enjoy a little bit of Belize’s natural beauty.

We didn’t make any firm plans for the next day since we didn’t know how the kids would feel, but fortunately they were all feeling better so Tom loaded everybody in the truck and they headed for Hopkins. They spent the day playing on the beach and enjoying the blue Caribbean Sea. They stopped for dinner that night at Hode’s in San Ignacio, where the kids enjoyed the playground and Garth and Jamie enjoyed being out and about and watching the kids have a good time.

The next morning, we saddled up Tony and Nessa and went for a ride to the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch with Hannah on Ness and Jamie and Sydney on Tony. Garth and Charlie timed it perfectly and arrived there at the same time as we did in the truck. Jamie said this was probably the favorite thing she did on the trip, explaining that she really enjoyed the ride through the jungle on top of Tony, where she could relax and take in the sights and sounds of the jungle.

They toured the Butterfly Ranch, came back here for lunch, and then went with Tom to the Rio Frio Cave and Pinol Sands in the afternoon. Pinol Sands is a swimming hole near Rio On, but instead of being lots of rocks and waterfalls, it has more sandy swimming areas – perfect for kids!

In fact, after going to Caracol with Eddie the next day, they asked to stop at Pinol Sands again instead of the traditional stop at Rio On. Eddie had not yet been there, and after seeing it he said that he was looking forward to taking his own kids there for a swim next time they had a day out. The kids liked Caracol, but they really liked Pinol Sands, and Jamie, Garth, and Eddie said that it was a little difficult to convince the kids that it was time to leave when another group of tourists arrived!

They had to leave the next day, and while their vacation wasn’t without its trials, Garth and Jamie got to do a little bit of relaxing, and they saw a good selection of what Belize has to offer. And hopefully on their next trip everybody will remain healthy!

Deb & Jim

At the same time as Beth and Jeff were here, our friends from New York Deb and Jim were here. All four of them had spent the week before in San Pedro, although Beth and Jeff were there for a veterinary conference and Deb and Jim were there on a dive vacation, and the fact that their vacation dates coincided and they planned to come here at the same time was completely coincidental. But it all worked out stunningly well, and the six of us had a great time for the four days Jeff and Beth were here, and the party continued for another few days for the remaining four of us after Beth and Jeff left.

We started the week with a trail ride to Sapodilla Falls. In addition to the ride being very pleasant, Deb was quite happy because we had Jim ride one of our neighbor Joe’s horses, Rocky, who is just about the perfect horse. Deb has always been a horse person – in fact, she and I met over 20 years ago through horses – and Jim has always gone along with her having horses, but hasn’t ever really been into them himself. Deb currently has one horse that she competes, but she’d like to get Jim a trail horse so they could ride together and so her competition horse would have some company. Jim hasn’t been unwilling to do this, but he hasn’t really had any incentive to make it happen – until this ride, where he was how enjoyable a trail ride on a good horse can be. Now we’re waiting to see how long it takes Deb to find a horse for Jim in New York. Strike while the iron is hot, Deb!

The next day, Tom dropped Deb and Jim off at the Guatemala border so they could go on an overnight trip to Tikal. Through all of our planning emails, Deb had asked if we thought it was worth the time and expense to make this trip, and Tom and I said nothing but “Yes!” We worked with them to line up a driver, sent Deb recommendations for lodging in the Park and let her make the reservations, and then Tom got them to the border and helped them through Immigration on the Belize side and handed them off to the driver in Guatemala. They stopped to zip line on the way in, and when they got to the park they got their tickets for the next day set up a sunrise tour. Their sunrise tour sounded very much like ours; it was overcast and the sun didn’t make a grand appearance, but just the experience of watching the jungle wake from the top of Temple IV is well worth the trip. After sunrise, they toured the rest of the site, and then caught their ride back to the Belize border, where Tom met them. They made a stop at the La Loma Luz hospital on the way home - see the entry about Beth and Jeff for the details on that, because it was another “Only in Belize” story.

On Wednesday, while Tom was taking Jeff and Beth to the airport, I went with Deb and Jim for a tour of Ka’ax Tun. This was a lot of fun for me, because I hadn’t been on an official tour before, although I had wandered through parts of the site with various members of Julio’s family. But, for our tourist friends, Julio did the real tour. In addition to sampling plants from the jungle, we went in a few small caves I hadn’t been in before, and I finally got to climb the limestone chimney. Neither I nor Deb and Jim are spring chickens, but we’re all fit and active, so we did a few activities that the less agile wouldn’t have attempted. We didn’t climb up the vines on the rock faces, but we found that after climbing up through the chimney, the vines were the easiest way down the rock faces. Then we went through a few caves that involved crawling through passages on our bellies, and then scrabbling up very slippery rocks with very cagey footholds to get through the passages. Julio declared Deb the oldest woman to do any of these things – except for his mother, who he says used to climb all over the site in her quest for picaya, a seasonal delicacy which grows on one of the palms found all over the site. We then went back to Julio’s for a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, and beans and a marvelous pumpkin pudding. Tom had returned from the airport in time to meet us on the path into Ka’ax Tun just as we were walking out, so he joined us for lunch.

After lunch, Tom wanted to run into Spanish Lookout to get two more water tanks. Jim and Deb took this opportunity to see a little more of Belize, and rode along. They not only got to go over on the hand-cranked ferry, but got to see where a lot of commerce happens in Belize. When they got home, Jim helped Tom get the water tanks hooked up, I fed the animals, and Deb took a bucket and scrub brush to get all the Ka’ax Tun mud from the caves off of everybody’s pants and shoes.

The next morning Jim and Deb were off to ATM. We picked them up that evening and went to Erva’s for dinner, where they were able to experience Erva’s amazing burritos. They also got to experience the true hospitality at Erva’s, where Germo, the waiter, greets us with hugs, and Erva and Landy, the owners, make a point to stop at the table and meet our friends while we catch up with them about what’s been happening since our list trip to town. At dinner, we discussed with Deb and Jim what they wanted to do on their last day of vacation, and they decided that a short hike in the jungle might be fun. So, we stopped at Angel’s house on the way home to see if he could guide them the next day. As we discussed routes, Angel told us that there was a hike of about 1.5 hours each way that goes to a 30 foot waterfall, or a hike of about 2.5 hours each way that goes to a waterfall of a couple of hundred feet. Tom, Jim, and Deb decided that the shorter hike to the smaller waterfall would be good, and we came home with a plan for the next day.

The next morning, I packed sandwiches, cookies, and fruit for everybody and Tom took off with Jim and Deb at about 9AM. They met Angel, and drove as far as they could on the trail, and then got out of the truck and started walking. After about 2 hours, they asked if they were there yet, and Angel told them no, they had another hour or so to go. When they finally got to the waterfall, they said it wasn’t 30 feet, but more like about 800 feet – somewhere along the line Angel had changed his mind and decided that they should take the longer walk to the taller waterfall, and since none of them knew where they were going, nobody realized the plan had changed until they were almost there! But, they said it was well worth it because the hike was pretty, the waterfall was beautiful, and the swimming hole at the bottom of the waterfall was amazing. Then they hiked out and came back to the farm to clean mud off their shoes and clothes again so they could pack to leave the next day. Which, sadly, they did.

Beth & Jeff

March was definitely Old Home Month here at Moonracer Farm. In addition to having Andy and Joan’s family here, we had a very nice but too short visit from other friends from New York, our former veterinarians Beth and Jeff. They had attended a veterinary conference in San Pedro the week before coming here, and had arranged to spend their last five days in Belize as a vacation here at the Farm. We kept them busy, and enjoyed doing more of the activities with them then we usually do with our guests.

The same week Beth and Jeff were here, we had other horse friends from New York here, Deb and Jim. Deb and Jim were in San Pedro diving the week before coming here, so they had hooked up with Beth and Jeff out there and agreed to all get on the same water taxi to Belize City so Tom could pick them all up at once. That happened, and they headed out the Western Highway to go to Cheers for lunch before going to the Zoo. I was here and had checked email right around noon, and had a note from Chrissy at Cheers that one of her horses had hurt her leg, and Chrissy wanted to know if I had any experience treating the type of injury shown in the photo attached to the email. I quickly emailed back that without seeing the horse I couldn’t really say, but that Chrissy should call Tom on the cell because he was on the way to her place with two vets in the car. At the time, I didn’t know that Tom had pulled in with Beth, Jeff, Deb, and Jim almost as soon as Chrissy sent the email. She told them she had just sent the email and why, and of course Beth and Jeff volunteered to look at the horse. They told Chrissy what to do and gave her a list of medications to get – and Chrissy treated all five of them to lunch at Cheers! Just another one of those times when everything seems to come together exactly like it’s supposed to with little or no planning!

They all made it to the Zoo – which they all liked even though all said they don’t normally like zoos – and made it back here in time for cocktails and dinner. The next day we packed a lunch, saddled up the horses, and took a ride to Sapodilla Falls. The ride was easy and relaxing since we’re all horse people, and the waterfall was beautiful, as always. None of them are used to the little Belize horses, but ours are all in good enough shape that even vets and horse people didn’t feel like the horses were stressed carrying them through the jungle, and by the end of the day they appreciated how catty and clever our little horses are on the rough jungle trails.

Jeff and Beth were off on a trip to ATM the next day, which they thoroughly enjoyed. We picked them up in San Ignacio that evening, and we all went to a lovely dinner with Ivor Burns, his wife Lou, and his daughter Annie. Dr. Burns is our veterinarian here, and he neutered the Ruckus Twins and also treated Nock through a bout of some liver malfunction a couple of years ago. When Beth and Jeff were arranging their trip here, they asked if we knew him because he and Beth had gone to vet school together in Canada. When we said we did, Beth and Jeff asked us to see if we could arrange some sort of get-together, and when we asked Dr. Burns about doing something, he very graciously invited us to their house for dinner. Lou and Annie made a delicious traditional Belize dinner of chicken, rice, and beans, with a whole range of choices for dessert. We didn’t know that Lou is a baker and has even written a cookbook, so we were delighted at the array of food, and I was delighted to talk cooking with her. And, she made a cassava pudding as one of the dessert choices, and we were all happy to try this traditional Belizean dish which none of us had tried before.

The next day I accompanied Beth and Jeff on their trip to Caracol with Gonzo. I hadn’t been on a guided tour of Caracol in quite a while, and it was interesting to see the new things they’ve uncovered in the past couple of years, and to get a guided tour of the dig that’s now in progress. Beth and Jeff were surprised at the size of the city, and were able to envision what it must have been like when it was teeming with people a thousand years ago. Unfortunately, Beth had woken up that morning with a toothache, so we decided to skip the usual stop at Rio On Pools on the way home and head into town to try to get antibiotics at La Loma Luz.

This turned into another one of those things that only happen in Belize. While Beth, Jeff, and I were at Caracol, Tom had gone to the Guatemalan border to pick up Jim and Deb after their overnight trip to Tikal. Jim had developed a sinus infection after a week of diving, so Tom suggested they stop at La Loma Luz to pick up some antibiotics. Deb is a Nurse Practitioner, so she is able to prescribe medications in the US. Even though her license isn’t technically valid here, the medication dispensing rules are a little looser, and the pharmacist at the hospital was able to give the medication to Jim as Deb prescribed it. As Beth, Jeff, and I headed into La Loma Luz on the Western Highway, we passed Deb, Jim, and Tom, who had just pulled out of the hospital. Tom looked in the rearview mirror and saw us turning into the hospital, so he made a U-turn and followed us – and it was a good thing, because Deb was able to run into the pharmacy right behind Beth and Jeff and prescribe the antibiotics Beth needed. We’re not sure if the pharmacist would have been able to give Beth the medication based on her veterinary credentials, but in any case Beth wasn’t sure of the human dosage, and having Deb there made the whole procedure very easy. Only in Belize…!

Jeff and Beth had to leave the next day, but we’ve been in email contact with them since they’ve been home, and we’re happy to report that they’ve taken a bit of the Belize attitude home with them!

Carly & Matt

We spent a quick couple of days with Carly and Matt and Matt’s guitar. Carly and Matt had a rental car and drove themselves to Caracol, and then spent the evenings visiting with us. We had lots to talk about because Matt works for a company called, so we all had lots to share with our experiences of moving animals all over the world. And, in addition to plenty to talk about, Matt and Carly are musicians, with Matt playing the guitar and Carly singing. Matt had purchased a little guitar just for this trip so he could bring it along, and Tom and I were delighted that both nights they were here our dining room was turned into a coffeehouse with Matt on the guitar, Carly singing, and Tom and I making our feeble attempts at singing. Before dinner we’d had a brief discussion of the types of music we all like, and had been pleasantly surprised at all we had in common. Unfortunately, the other thing we found we all had in common is that while we all know lots of songs, none of us know all the words to any of them. We did lots of “la-lala-lalalaing” – and laughing – and I think the only one that we were fairly confident that we got most of the words right was Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and even there it took a few stops for discussion before we agreed on the order of the verses and the exact words. In addition to playing after dinner, Matt would sit on the porch of the guest cabin and play, and we really enjoyed having the background music – much better than listening to the static and Kriol on a badly tuned-in LoveFM on the radio!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Joan, Andy, & Company

The same day Kim and Allie left, we had an entire family of six come in for four nights. This was another trip that had been in the planning for many months, and we wanted everything to go well for them because Joan and Andy are the aunt and uncle of our friends Tad and Anneke. They were traveling with their three sons and one of the son’s fiancĂ©, and were planning to spend the first part of their week with us before going out to Caye Caulker for the remainder of their trip.

The first day they all went to ATM and liked it, as always. The next day they saddled up and rode with our neighbor Joe from his property to Big Rock. We had a couple of logistical issues with this trip since neither we nor Joe have six horses for guests, so Joe ended up using four of his and Tom rode and ponied two of ours down there in the morning, while I crammed the whole family into our Isuzu truck. Fortunately everybody was a good sport and the weather was good, and the men were happy enough riding in the pan. They all left to ride, and in the late morning Tom, Shelly, and I all got in the Isuzu and drove up to Big Rock to meet them. Our timing was perfect, and we pulled into the parking lot just as the riders arrived. Tom hiked down the path to the falls with Joan, Andy, and Company, Joe and his tail guide lined up their four horses and started herding them back down the trail, and Shelly and I got on Tony and Ness and had a nice ride home. After a swim in the falls and lots of jumping off the rocks, Tom chauffeured everybody back here to get changed, and then they took off to 7 Miles for lunch at Julio’s house before a tour of Ka’ax Tun. It all sounds very complicated, but everything went according to plan, nobody’s timing could have been better, and everybody got where they needed to be on time.

Everybody really enjoyed the Ka’ax Tun tour, and this family was by far the most adventurous of all the guests we’ve had. Everybody climbed the chimney, and almost everybody climbed the rock walls on the vines. And, best of all, nobody got hurt!

We spent dinners talking about all sorts of things, from catching up on mutual acquaintances in New York to life in Belize and what people with the means could do to give some of the people here a little boost. Joan offered to help on that end if we know of any students who want to study in the US, so we’re now looking into that and trying to keep that ball rolling. So everything did go well – so well that when Joan emailed us upon their return home, they all agreed that “Next time we come, we will spend more time with you and less time at the beach.” We took that as reassurance that everybody had a good time!

Allie & Kim

Our next guests were Kim and her niece Allie. Kim is a Texan now living in Tulum, and Allie, her niece, was visiting from Texas. Kim wanted her to see some of Belize, so they took a couple of days and made the drive down the Riveria Maya and into Belize to visit us. We really enjoyed comparing notes with Kim on being expats in Mexico vs. being expats in Belize, and found that it’s not all that different – which turned out to be a good thing since they were doing tours on their own here in Belize with Kim driving, and since she’s used to Mexico, the way things are here didn’t seem too strange to her.

The first morning they were here, Tom took them on a horseback ride to Big Rock, where I met them with lunch and their car while Tom and I rode the horses home. They then drove themselves around the area for the afternoon and saw everything from a few more natural wonders to the Chinese grocery stores in San Ignacio. The next day they planned to go to Caracol, but we had told them that they needed to meet the military convoy even if the drove themselves, and Allie wasn’t too sure she wanted to go someplace where she needed military protection. The dinner conversation that night revolved around Tom and me trying to convince her that because they had the military protection they weren’t in any danger, and that the trip was safe.

Our talk worked, because the next morning they decided to go, so I packed a lunch for them and we sent them up the road. When they came back, we asked how the trip was and if the military convoy was intimidating, and couldn’t quite figure out the grins on Kim’s and Allie’s faces until they explained their day. It turned out that the soldiers seemed to think the very cute 19-year old blonde needed extra protection, so they rode with Kim and Allie and gave them a special tour of the site, complete with hand-holding to help them up the difficult steps of the Ca’ana temple. Allie was a really good sport, and not only appreciated the attention, but also appreciated the humor Tom and I found in the situation where she didn’t even want to go because of the military involvement, but then ended up having that same military involvement be one of the fun things about the trip.

They took off the next morning to head back to Tulum. With them, we not only had promises that they would look us up when they’re next in Belize, but also that we would look them up the next time we go to Tulum – and we’ll do it!

Kristin & Kevin

The day Debbie and Steve left, Kristin and Kevin arrived. Fortunately they came to us well rested from the cayes, because their two days with us were packed both with tours and with being social. The first day, they went to ATM with Carlos. They had the full ATM tour plus, and were late getting back into San Ignacio, where I was waiting for them and having a beer at Flayva’s with Becky and Gonzo because Tom was on a special tour of the Barton Creek Cave with some visiting archeologists. When we got back to Moonracer Farm a little after 7PM, and just after Tom, we were met by Ron and Shelly who had been catching bats in Shelly’s mist net in our yard. So we all got an up-close and personal look at a nectar bat (sort of cute) and a mustache bat (sort of scary with lots of little teeth sticking out) before Kristin and Kevin went to their room for a shower. I invited Shelly and Ron to dinner, which we’d been meaning to do for quite a while, and that night we figured the more the merrier since we were totally disorganized and behind schedule anyway. We talked about bats and caves and archeology and artifacts, before Kristin and Kevin made their escape so they could get some sleep before their early start to Tikal the next day.

Despite a somewhat late night, they were on the road at 6:30 the next morning to go to Tikal. When they had returned from ATM the night before, they had joined Becky, Gonzo, and me for a beer, and we had made arrangements for Becky and Gonzo to come to dinner since Becky was only in town for a week. Since Gonzo was doing the pickup at the border for the Tikal trip anyway, he and Becky picked up Kevin and Kristin and they all came to dinner. We talked, laughed, ate tri-tip, and drank Belikin and rum & lime, and had another late night after a long day, but we were all having so much fun that nobody wanted to be the first to give up and go to bed.

The next morning, Tom left early with Kevin and Kristin so they could get to Belmopan to catch the bus to Placencia for the next leg of their Belize trip – and extracted a promise that when they make it back to Belize, they’ll be back to us for a visit!

Debbie & Steve

Our next guests were Debbie and Steve, who solved some of the transfer problems our guests sometimes have in a sort of unique way, although in the future we’ll be recommending that our guests do what Debbie and Steve did to save a few dollars on what can be a very expensive transfer fee. They flew into Belize City, and spent their first couple of nights at the Tropical Education Center at the Belize Zoo. One of the things they really wanted to do on their vacation was to tour ATM, and as Debbie and I emailed back and forth planning the trip, Debbie asked whether it would be better to do that from the Zoo or from our place. We were also discussing the best way to get from the Zoo to here, and we realized that ATM is right in the middle – so we solved the problem by arranging for John from the TEC to transfer Debbie and Steve to the end of the access road to ATM, where they were met by Gonzo who took them on the ATM tour, and then took them back to San Ignacio where we picked them up. Their transfer from the TEC to the Pook’s Hill Road was much less than the transfer all the way into San Ignacio, and the rest of the transfer was covered in the ATM tour cost.

On their second day here, they toured Xunantunich and Barton Creek, so they were able to see a Maya archeological site, and another wet cave very different from ATM. They did these tours with Gonzo and Carlos, who told them that the famous Jade Head, usually stored in the Belize Bank vault, was going on tour and would be at Cahal Pech the next day. So, the next morning, Debbie, Steve, and Tom took a ride to San Ignacio to see the famous artifact. They then went to lunch at Julio’s house before touring Ka’ax Tun. In three days, they packed in a variety of Maya sites and saw a wide range of artifacts in different venues.

While Deb and Steve had a good trip just because they were able to see a lot of different things in a couple of days, Tom and I really enjoyed spending time and talking to them because we were fascinated by how they spend their spare time at home – curling! Tom and I have always been somewhat interested in this sport, but we’d never had the opportunity to talk to people who actively participated, and we were both fascinated at the strategy and skill needed to really be good at it. We had a whole new respect for curling as an Olympic sport, and were wishing that there was some way to simulate the ice here in Belize – but we decided it just wouldn’t be the same in the mud and the sand!

Will & Terry – and the Moonracer Farm Tire Repair Center

Most of our guests come here as part of a vacation, and we’re usually more than just a hotel. However, we found with Will and Terry that we can be useful just as a place for people to get a meal and a good night’s sleep. Will and Terry were driving around Belize and touring things on their own, and they planned a day at Caracol. Since we’re on the road to Caracol, they decided that we’d be a good place to spend the night before their Caracol day. So, they showed up in time for a very enjoyable dinner, listened to the howler monkeys and slept, and were on the road early the next morning.

They left their luggage on the porch of the guest cabin rather than packing it to Caracol, and when they came back to pick it up, Will told Tom that they’d had a flat on the rental car, and wanted to know where they could get it fixed before returning it in Belmopan that afternoon. Tom showed them what living in Belize does to you – he said he knew where to get it fixed, took the flat tire from Will, and pulled out his tire repair kit and bicycle tire pump. By the time Will and Terry drove up to the guest cabin and loaded their luggage, Tom had repaired the tire and was pumping it up. They loaded it into the rental car and were on their way, saying that with service like that, they planned on coming back and spending longer with us on their next trip to Belize!

Our First Guests Booked through a Travel Agent

In mid-February, we had our first guests whose trip was arranged by a travel agent. The guests were a whole family – granddad Bob, his son and daughter-in-law Tim and Beth, and Tim and Beth’s three teenaged sons.

The family had talked about taking a trip in Central America to see Maya sites, and that’s what they did here. They started small, touring Xunantunich and Cahal Pech in the San Ignacio area on their first day here, and then traveled to Guatemala to see Tikal on their second. On their final day in the Cayo District, they took the long ride down the road to Caracol. Beth managed to squeeze in a horseback ride with Tom to the Vista, so she got to see a little bit of the jungle as well beyond what you see when you visit the archeological sites.

We had a good time with all of them, and in addition to enjoying their visit, we learned a few things since we usually make all the arrangements with our guests directly through email, not through a travel agent. The big one, after the family missed their water taxi connection to San Pedro, was that we need to get all airline, water taxi, and general transfer information so we know where to take people to catch their transfers. The travel agent had no way to know that Belize City has two water taxi companies, and she therefore didn’t tell Beth which tickets she had. Gonzo and I had asked and had looked at the paperwork she had from the travel agent, and we thought it was the Caye Caulker water taxi. So, that’s where Gonzo left them, only for them to find that their tickets were with the San Pedro Express – so they had to buy new tickets because they had missed their connection with the San Pedro Express. I was probably more upset than they were, but I considered it a lesson learned that we need to get all transfer information for our guests, no matter who makes the reservations.

Shane & Monique

Shane and Monique, who own land down the road, were in Belize for a week and we managed to squeeze them in for a quick stay here between guests. They and we would have liked them to be able to stay longer, but we had a cabin-full coming in, so we were only able to spend three nights here, which passed very quickly as we visited every night at dinner. They spent their days wandering around Cayo and reacquainting themselves with the area, not that their house in Missouri is sold and they can start seriously thinking about their move here as something more than a someday thing. We’re hoping they can get moved here pretty quickly so we’ll have new neighbors!

Simon & Victoria

We spent a very enjoyable couple of days with Simon and Victoria, a couple from Pheasant Plucker’s Cottage, England, traveling around Belize for a few weeks. They stopped here on a whim because they were touring the Mountain Pine Ridge, and it turned out to be one of those meetings where we couldn’t figure out how we’d all gone so far through life without meeting. Simon and Tom swore that Victoria and I were long lost sisters since we had so many things in common, and we pretty much spent the entire time they were here talking. I had to laugh, because one night at dinner Tom and Simon were sitting across from each other and Victoria and I were facing each other, and while Tom and Simon tried to talk, Victoria and I were having a very animated conversation across them. Simon finally put his hands up to the sides of his eyes as blinkers and said to Tom, “Do you think they’ll ever stop? I think they’re mirror images!” That stopped us, and we all laughed.

While they were here, Lili and I took Victoria on a jungle ride. Simon stayed at the farm and rode the hammock. :-)

A Trip to Melchor with Shari, Raquel, and Sara

Way back in January, we were able to catch up with friends Shari and Raquel, who were some of our first guests over a year and a half ago. Shari and Raquel were here in September 2008 so that Raquel could look at the University of Belize, and she was finally ready to start this term. So, Shari, Raquel, and Raquel’s friend Sara came down to get Raquel signed up for her classes and settled into Belmopan. They were busy, but we managed to spend a day together and go shopping in Melchor, Guatemala. Shari, Raquel, and Sara picked up some souvenirs and a few other things they needed, but Tom and I didn’t need to shop for anything since the three women had come bearing wonderful gifts for us – candied nuts, pistachios, candies, and, best of all, these fantastic pink polka dot rubber boots. I’d been complaining when they were here that my rubber boots were always being borrowed, and I have a small hangup about people wearing my shoes.

So, Shari found these pink polka dot boots and figured that nobody around here would be caught dead wearing them. They’ve been serving me well for a couple of months now, and they’re yet to be borrowed, so it looks like it worked. Thanks, Shari, Raquel, and Sara!