Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's a wild, wild life

Every once in a while we think we've pushed back the jungle and we're living in relative civilization. But, every once in a while the jungle pushes back and lets us know that it's all an illusion...like this morning, when we let the dogs out and they ran barking into the jungle. I marched into the jungle, grabbed Kitty (our loaner dog at the moment) and marched her out of the jungle. I put her down, and she ran back into the jungle. Tom went after her, and came out asking if I was blind, because she'd been barking directly at this boa eating an agouti.

The boa had the agouti all the way down and was heading back into deeper jungle in about an hour...but I think I'll be keeping the dogs close to the house for the rest of the day!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nature Photos

The end of the dry season has brought out a lot of wildlife around here, and we've been finding all sorts of interesting things.

This gray-headed tananger has been laying 3 eggs at a time, sitting on them, and hatching them for the past 6 weeks or so. This is her third clutch as far as we know. The nest is in a bush right off our porch, so it's easy for us to watch her. One evening when there were babies about ready to fledge in the nest, it started to rain. She brought a leaf big enough to cover the nest and the babies to protect them from the rain - a sort of a tent/blanket for the wee ones.

We found this bug on the rail of our dining room palapa. I thought it was a dead leaf and was about to brush it off when I realized it had legs. It's hard to tell from this picture, but it looks sort of like a praying mantis disguised as a leaf.
Julio found this red-eyed treefrog and brought him into the dining room for a photo shoot. This is only the second one I've seen here, even though they appear in all sorts of logos for resorts and businesses around here. I realized as I was talking to our guests about this little guy that I've now seen as many red-eyed treefrogs here as I have pumas in the wild - 2 of each.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Swingin’ in the breeze in Belize. Or, “What makes you happy?”

(Zulmi swinging at MRF).

Julio and I have been doing some construction lately and we have been trying to use our scrap wood for some fun projects. Julio came up with making some swings for our restaurant the other day so we cut up three leftover pieces of a very hard tree and made swing seats (basically just put holes in both sides to run a piece of rope through it). We hung up two in the eating area of the palapa restaurant and the guests have loved using them while relaxing before and after dinner.

The neighbor girls have been coming over the past couple of nights to visit since we don’t have any guests and they have been enjoying the swings too. So, since we have one extra seat, I told them I would come over this weekend to put up a swing for them. They ran home and told their father, Julian, about the swing. This morning we heard a chainsaw running for a little bit and then all was quiet the rest of the morning. I was hauling rocks out of the pastures for fill in the back of the kitchen (yes, another blog entry will be coming regarding that project) so I was VERY hot and sweaty come lunch time after digging up and hauling a bunch of wheelbarrows filled with rock.

At lunch time we were relaxing having a nice quiet lunch, me in just my undershorts since my Carhartt shorts were soaking wet with sweat.

(Marixa swinging here)
Marixa and Zulmi came up the driveway, quietly like usual, and called to us. Uh, I was “caught with my shorts down” so to speak! I told them to turn around (in Spanish of course), which they did (this is not unusual here, your living area/private area extends out of the four walls of your house – this is why the custom here is to come up a driveway and call out to someone, and then avert your eyes in case they are not prepared for your visit). I then put my shorts on and they joined us in the palapa, no comments made about me not having my shorts on.

They asked if I had a sparkplug for George (of course I don’t, I don’t even have any extras for me – but what he wanted I later found out was just a deep set socket to put his sparkplug in his motorcycle – how he got it out, I don’t know). They had a few N&L tortilla chips, our favorites with salt and pepper, and some juice and played on the swings. We were done with lunch so I asked them if their father was ready for the swing and they said “yes, he put some poles up”. I was thinking that we would just hang the swing from a tree, but I gathered up the seat, some rope, lighter to sear the ends of the rope after cutting it, and knife and headed over to their house, about 100 yards away.

Upon arrival, I found that Julian had cut down two perfect cabbage bark trees (mancheech in Spanish) for outside supports with very stout Ys, or crotches at the top for the side supports. He told me he had to get a horizontal pole for the ropes to hang from, I told him to wait a sec, I think I had one, left over from building the palapa. I came home, found a 14 foot tree we had left over from last October, and backed it down to their house.
(Jimmy swinging at home). We put it up – PERFECT fit – couldn’t have been planned any better. We cut up some rope, strung up the seat, and the kids were already having a ball when I left.

All I can say is this: All I provided was the seat (a stout stick about 2 feet long), some rope, and an idea. Julian cut some trees from the jungle and put them in the ground. I found a leftover stick for the horizontal, and the kids are HAVING A BLAST!!! I so love living here.

(Anthony swinging at home).

So, what makes you happy?

Belizean Honeymoon for the “Royal Couple”

Norma and George, our neighbors that we dubbed the “Royal Couple” were married back on April 30th, 2011. For their wedding gift, Marge and I offered them a night here with dinner, breakfast in the morning, and any tour that we offer. So, the evening of June 25th and then June 26th was determined to be the best time for them to come; a weekend for us with no other guests, and since Norma works in San Ignacio from Monday to Saturday every week, a Saturday evening and touring on Sunday worked well for them.

At first Norma and George were thinking about the day tour that we offer to Tikal. However, there were some security issues in Guatemala just after their wedding and the US Embassy issued a travel advisory for US citizens traveling to Guatemala. We informed the couple of this and they decided that they would stay in Belize. We told them about the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave tour but George is not a swimmer and Norma is not crazy about caves. After going through all the other tours that we offer, they opted to go to Old Belize to visit the museum and swim at the water park, eat lunch out, and go to the zoo.

On the evening of Saturday, June 25th, Norma and George arrived at around 7pm ready for dinner. Marge made them smoked pork chops with au gratin potatoes which they really enjoyed (and so did we, one of our favorite dishes). Flaming bananas for desert rounded out the meal. Over dinner we caught up on some of the local happenings, who was going on to which school next year, everyone’s jobs, etc.

In the morning, Marge and I were up early, like usual; I fed the horses and prepped the table while Marge made breakfast – banana pancakes. The honeymooners had a nice leisurely meal and we set off to Belize City with dark clouds on the eastern horizon. We drove through a couple of small showers and as the Western Highway twisted and turned, we were alternating between looking at bright sunny skies and dark heavy rain. “The rain must be north of Belize City” was all we kept saying (and hoping). Luck was with us when we arrived at Old Belize, the storms were just north of the city and we had sunshine for our visit to the museum and water park.

Marge and I visited Old Belize back in late 2007 or early 2008 so we looking forward to seeing how much it had changed in the past couple of years. Unfortunately the park has deteriorated over the years. The first time we visited, we had a guide in for the museum; this time it was a self guided stroll through the exhibits, which for us was not a problem since we have been on many tours here before and know most of the contents of most tours. But, if we were tourists coming in looking to learn about Belize and its history, this would not have been a good situation.

All four of us though had a lot of fun looking at and talking about the “old” items that were used by the Maya (like the comal used for cooking tortillas, brooms made from give and take palms, matates used for grinding corn, etc.) and some of the colonial items (like irons for clothes that you put the coals in the metal frame and shut the top, 78rpm records, bikes with little generators that spun as the wheel turned to light the headlamp, horse carriages, etc.). Most of these “old” items are used in our area still today, with the exception of the 78rpm records which have been replaced by MP4s and Ipods.

We then went out to the beach area which is a man-made salt water lagoon. Unfortunately the water slide was broken – no water running down it to keep it slick and the zip line has been taken down. The palapas in the beach area were pretty shabby and the swimming area just seemed a bit run down. It was good to take a dip, and this was George’s first time in salt water.

For lunch we decided to go to Cheers, which is owned by some horse friends of ours. The dark clouds and rain stayed north of us the entire time we were at Old Belize but we hit some rain during our drive west. When we stopped for lunch the rain clouds were moving our way and we got in just into the restaurant just in time, the heavens opened up just after we arrived. No problem though, we were dry while we ate our lunches, and it stayed dry after we were done so we could take a look at the boa, which had just eaten a grackle, in the fig tree at Cheers.

Just as we finished eating, the rain let up and we drove back to the zoo and got to see all the animals without getting rained on. When we arrived at the zoo, Sharon, the zoo director saw us, gave us all hugs, and added us to a personal tour she was giving to some other friends of hers – off to the jaguar area we went!

OK, after living here in the jungle for over four years now, we understand some of the tensions the Belizeans have regarding jaguars. For example, George has lost quite a number of dogs to jaguars since we have lived here and he really doesn’t like the “tigers”. While the locals do see their beauty, they also see them as pet, cattle, and livestock killers, which puts a huge dent in the locals’ pockets when they are trying to make a living.

George was a sport though, we did convince him to get up to see Field Master (who used to be a dog killer, probably because he has no lower teeth), made him roll over, then did a high five with the big guy.

We saw all the animals including the kinkajou (night walker)

and my favorite, the harpy eagle.

As we drove out the front gate, we stopped and picked up a couple of the zoo workers to take to Belmopan; a usual ritual for me when I visit the zoo with tourists at the end of the day.

On the way home we stopped in San Antonio at George’s older sister’s house (Antonia), which also happens to be Norma’s older brother’s house (John). We stopped for a party that Antonia and John were having for their son, Johan (as seen in the previous graduation posting) for his “graduation” from preschool. Marge and I just think that Antonia and John like to have parties for the kids because any excuse is a good excuse to have friends and family over to share food and play games.

Marge and I had a great day with the “Royal Couple” and were happy we were able to help them enjoy their honeymoon tour!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Perfect Answer

So we were having a discussion about race with Melver, the four-year-old son of our [Belizean] friends Julio and Janeth. We asked him what race he was, and he gave us a "WTF?" look.

So we said (in Spanish), "Are you a gringo?" "No."

"Are you black?" "No."

"What are you?"

"Soy Bonito." ("I'm a beauty.")

Isn't that the perfect answer? Too bad we don't all feel that way about ourselves.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Commencement Day, 2011

June 19, 2011 was the day for the Nineteenth Comment Exercise at the San Antonio United Pentecostal School. This is one of the two public schools in San Antonio, the other school is the Catholic School.

Here in Belize, mandatory education starts at about age 5 with Infant I. The students then progress to Infant II, then Standard 1 through 6. At about age 13 graduates from Standard 6 then can continue on to college, what is called high school in the USA; get a job; or go to the Center for Education Training which teaches trades like auto mechanics, tour guiding, hospitality, carpentry, etc.

Hector with his parents, Marta and Julian.

Hector Morales, one of our neighbors, graduated this year with the highest marks in Mathematics. Two of our other neighbors, Wilton and Daisy Ixtecoc also graduated, Wilton taking first in Science. Next year all three will be starting First Form at Eden College in Santa Elena.

After the ceremony, everyone gathered around outside for a bite to eat and talk with their friends and family.

Two of my buddies, Johan and Jimmie hung out with me like they usually do, making sure I don’t get into too much trouble.

Congratulations to all the graduates!!!