Monday, November 22, 2010

The Kitchen - Finished floor and walls in progress

One of the things we are learning with this project is that a lot of things that can’t really be seen have to be done in between the good photo opportunities showing a lot of progress.  This floor was done shortly after the last blog post, but then a number of things had to be done to get ready for the next big step in building.

We decided that because I want the kitchen area of the building to be open, but it still needs to be secure because we will be storing things like alcohol in there, we needed to cage it in.  In part, this is just good reuse of material we have on the property, but in addition to being secure yet open, it provides a good backing for the palmetto (pimento) sticks we are using for the walls.  However, before the cage material could be put up for the walls and ceiling, it had to be taken down from the cages still standing on the property, which is an awkward and time consuming job.  And, it’s not easy to handle in big pieces, so getting the walls up and straight was a job, and getting the large pieces into the rafters took a few extra hands.

 Once the cage material was up, the next job was to take a day and go up into the Mountain Pine Ridge to collect the sticks. Tinkerbell was drafted for the job, and Tom went with a bunch of local guys who knew where the palmettos were, and how to cut the sticks. The local guys also knew the process of stopping by the Forest Department to pay for this sticks, which cost $.10BZ per stump. Pretty cheap lumber!

Once they had the sticks here and unloaded, we had a big conference about what we wanted the outside walls to look like. We decided that the walls should be four feet high in the kitchen area to provide a backsplash for the counters, and three feet high in the dining area so they don’t impede people’s view when they’re sitting at a table. Tom used his power mitre box and set up a line so that the sticks were fed to a board, Tom used the saw to cut them, and they were then stacked to the side.

The other part of the conference was what we wanted the sticks to look like.  Many places around here have palmetto stick walls, but most leave the hairy bark on the sticks.  We decided that since this is a kitchen, we’d rather have the bark peeled off in hopes of giving bugs one less place to hide.  Plus, we like the look of the peeled sticks.  But, it was quite a job to peel each stick!

Once the sticks were cut and peeled, the noticeable construction was able to start.  They put up two guide boards between the supporting posts and inside the cage material, then nailed the sticks to the boards from the outside of the cage material.  Because the sticks were all cut evenly, it took two people inside to keep them at the right height and straight…

…and one on the outside to do the nailing.  Daniel made it a point to hammer the nails in from about a 45 degree angle so when you look at the wall, you don’t see metal nail heads on the wood.
His effort was well worth it.  We’re quite pleased with the look of the walls, and are looking forward to getting the sticks up the rest of the way around the building.

Mimi & Doak

The day Abigail, Staci, and Caleb left, Mimi and Doak arrived in San Ignacio. They are thinking of eventually moving to Belize, so they were trying where at all practical to travel like the locals and really see the country, dealing with the “burps” in the system as they went along. Since Tom and I try to live like that as well here, we thoroughly appreciated the effort and tried to help however we could, and while Mimi and Doak’s stay here wasn’t the well-choreographed stay of the completely pre-planned, pull-out-all-the-stops vacation, all four of us had fun and learned a bit.

I felt very badly about the first burp, because if I had put a little more thought into it, I probably could have prevented it. All through the planning stages of their trip, Mimi and Doak had planned to stay at the Belize Zoo’s Tropical Education Center the night before they came here, then get a bus on the Western Highway and arrive in San Ignacio around noon. After Hurricane Richard, the Belize Zoo was closed. I knew the Belize Zoo was closed and I knew Mimi and Doak planned to stay there, but it never occurred to me to ask them if they had confirmed their reservation. I just sort of assumed (yes, I know that little ditty about the word “assume”) that although the Zoo was closed the TEC was open, or that if the TEC was closed Mimi and Doak would have been contacted, but that wasn’t how it worked out. Mimi and Doak spent the first part of their vacation in Placencia, and discovered while they were there that the TEC was closed along with the Zoo. They had already purchased roundtrip Tropic Air tickets from Belize City to Placencia and back, so on their return they just spent the night in Belize City before coming here. They had no trouble getting a bus out of Belize City, but when they got to Belmopan they waited through three or four full buses heading west to San Ignacio, and finally gave up and got a cab, arriving in San Ignacio around 3:30, instead of 2PM, which is when they had anticipated their arrival based on the bus they caught from Belize City. I felt like a dope not only because I had totally missed connecting that they were staying at the [closed] TEC, but also because I knew they were going to Placencia, so if I thought about it I could have had Selmo bring them directly from Placencia when he dropped of Staci, Abigail, and Caleb, and the transfer cost could have been split. Mimi and Doak assured me that it was fine, and that they probably wouldn’t have done that anyway since they had their Tropic Air roundtrip tickets, but still…I don’t like to miss those things.

The second burp occurred on Mimi and Doak’s only full day here, when they had scheduled a much anticipated trip to ATM. We had some communications difficulties with the guides (life in the land of no phone lines or cell reception), and their guide never showed to pick them up in Georgeville. Since Tom was waiting with them, he did a quick replan and took them to Barton Creek Cave instead, which they had never visited, although it wasn’t on their “A” list like ATM. After visiting Barton Creek, they came back here for lunch – surprising me as I was finishing up my salad lunch on the porch – and then after lunch went with Tom into the Mountain Pine Ridge to visit Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools. Again, they assured us that it worked out fine because they know they’ll be back and can see ATM later, and they enjoyed what they did, but still…I don’t like it when things don’t go according to plan and our guests have to compromise on what they get to do.

Their departure day actually went as planned, and despite the fact that they had to leave, everything worked like it was supposed to; they had a half day horseback ride scheduled with Joe, and Tom dropped them off, the horses were ready, they went for a ride, and Tom picked them up and they came back here for lunch before heading into San Ignacio to stay at Rosa’s for their last night in Cayo. We had a minor panic attack because neither Tom nor I could place where in San Ignacio Rosa’s is located, but after reading a few TripAdvisor reviews that mentioned how it’s near a big nightclub, we knew it had to be the place next to Blue Angels – and we were right, finally, about something! After a relaxed lunch discussing politics and religion, Tom drove them into town and we thanked our lucky stars that Mimi and Doak were such nice, laid back guests who had an enjoyable time here despite all the setbacks.

Staci, Abigail, and Caleb

Abigail, Staci, and Caleb in ATM (bottom to top)
November started with a four night stay by Staci, Abigail, and Caleb. They flew the red-eye TACA flight from LA, which put them into Belize before 10AM, so they were able to go both zip lining and cave tubing on their way to Moonracer Farm, and have time for a short nap before dinner when they arrived here. The next day they had planned to go to Xunantunich, not realizing that it takes only a half day to tour the site, so when Tom dropped them off with Selmo in the morning, Selmo very happily did some last minute planning and called Chechem Ha so they were able to take that tour as well that day, along with a traditional Belizean lunch at Benny’s. They following day they rode horses with Joe to Big Rock, and stopped at two different caves. This was good preparation for their final tour of ATM, which they did with Carlos on their last day here. Their order of go for their tours was intentional on our part, and when we explained why we had them start with cave tubing, then do Chechem Ha, then do the smaller, less explored caves, saving ATM for the last, they understood that if they had started with ATM, everything else would have been a little bit of a letdown.

Once again, we had a very enjoyable time visiting with the three of them each night at dinner, and stayed up way too late talking just because it was fun. Caleb and Abigail are interpreters for the deaf, and Staci and Caleb both work at the jail, so they had lots of entertaining stories about their jobs, which Tom and I thoroughly enjoyed. From here, they had Selmo transfer them to Placencia, where they spent the remainder of their vacation before heading home.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can you help the Belize Zoo?

While we didn't have much damage as a result of Hurricane Richard, the area around the Belize Zoo was hit quite hard, and the Zoo suffered extensive damage.  The Zoo is closed for at least this month as they clean up, repair, and rebuild.  And, of course, they need funds to do this because the rehabilitating will cost a lot of money, and they won't have any income during the time the Zoo is closed.  If you would like to help, go to the Belize Zoo's website and click on the Hurricane Relief Funds donation button on the right side of the page.

The Belize community is pitching in with donations, volunteering time and equipment to help with the cleanup, and auction items for a few benefit auctions which will be held this month.  But you can help no matter where you are!

A new chapter in water news

Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while know that in the time we’re lived here, we’ve had to work with a somewhat unstable water situation. We had been getting our water through a pipe from 7 Miles, but between more farmers getting on line for the water, and the pipe getting old and both filling in from the inside and leaking, less water was getting to the village and we frequently didn’t get any water at all for weeks on end.

Last summer, the San Antonio water system was finally finished. San Antonio has a bigger pipe than 7 Miles, and more than enough water was being delivered to the village. Because San Antonio had been getting water from 7 Miles, the pipe runs between the two villages. Because all of the people right in our area had been without water for months, people petitioned both village water boards to see if we could be switched so we would get water from San Antonio, and the water boards agreed that we should get San Antonio water, although we still pay the Village of 7 Miles.

Since that agreement was made, our water situation has been much improved, although there have been a few glitches in getting the San Antonio system up and running, and we’ve still had periods of time where we didn’t get water – but the periods of time have been a few days to a couple of weeks, rather than months. So thank you, San Antonio for letting us get your water, and thank you 7 Miles for consenting to give up a few bucks of our water bill to pay San Antonio for the service!

In addition, we purchased a couple of more 1,000 gallon tanks, so we can now store 4,400 gallons of water on the property. Right now we’re getting plenty of water, but the San Antonio farmers will be drawing more water off the system for irrigation in the dry season, and we’re at the end of the line whether we get San Antonio water or 7 Miles water. Plus, politics being politics wherever you are in the world, we don’t quite trust the water boards of the two villages not to get in a tiff over something and use our water supply as collateral, so we want to make sure we have a backup.

More kitchen progress

While Tom and the guys have been very busy working on the kitchen these last couple of weeks, we didn’t have a whole lot of visible progress. The floor for the kitchen part of the building is of smooth concrete, but Tom wants the dining room part to be a little fancier. Adix, the mother of Hugo, the Guatemalan driver/guide we use for Tikal trips, has a restaurant in Guatemala with a floor that Tom really likes – log cuts laid into the concrete. Tom talked to Hugo about how they did it, and talked to some of the guys around here who have worked with concrete, and came up with a plan to get the floor he wants.

First, he went to Linda Vista lumberyard and ordered slabs cut from a hardwood tree. After lots of calculations on the part of the lumberyard manager, Tom, and a sample floor laid out near the mill by Hector, the man running the chainsaw, Tom ended up with 134 slabs.

Each about 3” thick, it took two trips to Spanish Lookout in Tinkerbell to get all the slabs back to Moonracer Farm.

Then the tedious task of sanding and linseed oiling each slab started, which is what has taken most of the past week and a half – and it would have taken even longer without some help from Julio and Ian over the weekend.

Finally, just yesterday, the work started on the floor. Tom said it’s a lot like tiling with slate, which he did in our house in New York. They put down a thin layer of concrete, then lay each cut into the concrete, and work on getting it completely level with the floor and the other cuts around it. Fortunately Tom has more patience than most people, and after a few very slow and frustrating cuts were level, he said it got a little easier.

They finished a little over half the floor yesterday, and had most of the other half done before lunch today, but discovered that a few more cuts needed to be sanded and oiled. The total number used on the floor will be 126, so Tom, Scott, and Hector were very close in their original calculations. Tom is planning to make some rustic night stands with the leftovers.

While Tom was sanding the remaining cuts, Julio started filling in the concrete between the cuts to make the level floor. He said it’s not as difficult as it would seem, mostly because he’s able to stand on cuts that are already in hardened concrete, so he can work from a comfortable position. With any luck, we’ll have the floor finished before the weekend!