Monday, September 26, 2016

Where do people who live in the Caribbean vacation?

Why, they vacation in the Caribbean, of course.

Part of the reason Tom and I moved to Belize was because we fell in love with the Caribbean while visiting Tom's parents' condo on St. Thomas, USVI.  From the first time we went there, sometime in the early 90s, we talked about moving to the Caribbean.  But, in addition to the problem of needing jobs, we also recognized that horse keeping on an island was impractical at best.  So, for ten years or so, we toyed with the idea of moving from NY to somewhere warm, probably the southern US, but didn't do anything about it until we vacationed in Belize and realized that the Caribbean lifestyle was available on the mainland in a place where we could have our horses and create jobs for ourselves.

For the past almost ten years of living in Belize, we have vacationed in Mexico and Guatemala and parts of the US that we hadn't seen prior to moving to Belize, and we plan to continue doing that.  But, we have friends who have a house in Belize and a house in St. John, USVI, and they happened to be in Belize at the beginning of the year when we got in over our heads with a big project at Moonracer, and they put on their work clothes and helped us get our project done.  A couple of months ago we asked  what we could ever do to repay them, and they laughed and said we could take a trip to St. John and help them with a project on their house that has proven to be a little bigger than expected.  Since we love the USVI anyway, and Belize is very quiet in September, we got plane tickets out of Cancun planned a couple of working vacation weeks in St. John.

Our view from bed as we wake up in the morning
at the guest house
We have been having a wonderful and productive time.  Our friends own and manage vacation rentals, so we have been staying in one of their very beautiful vacation rentals, complete with a hot tub for a nightly soak.

Full moon between cacti at the top of Ram's Head
We have done a number of really fun things, including a full moon night hike to Ram's Head and a swim in Salt Pond Bay under the moonlight.

Setting sun over Salt Pond Bay

View of Coral Bay from the top of the hill

We hiked up the hill to get the mountaintop view of Coral Bay.

The condos at the Elysian, where we used to stay pre-Belize

We visited Tom's parents' old condo.

View of Coral Bay from our friends' deck
The rest of the view from our friends' deck
We took a day and went on a motorboat snorkeling tour around the island.  We've taken picnic dinners to a private beach, eaten at a number of really great restaurants, and have had cocktails on the deck with beautiful views almost every night.

Despite the fact that it's hurricane season, we've had mostly great weather, with just a few much-needed afternoon showers to fill the cisterns.  We've also done enough work that our friends have been glad to have us here.  And we've learned that a great vacation spot is a great vacation spot, even when it's a lot like home.

Full moon rising over Coral Bay on the official full moon night

More of the full moon rising over Coral Bay

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hurricane Earl

This past August, Moonracer Farm endured its second hurricane since we moved there in the beginning of 2007.  In October of 2010, Hurricane Richard wreaked havoc on the Cayo District and other parts of Belize, and in August 2016, Hurricane Earl added his impact.

Wet hens!
Both went over us as Category 1 storms.  While Richard did more damage to the rest of Belize, Earl seemed to do more damage to the Cayo District, although we were incredibly fortunate in that while we had a lot of downed trees and limbs, we did not have any damage to property.  The horses and chickens were cold and wet and annoyed the morning after Earl passed us, but by midday they had dried off and warmed up and seemed to be pretty much back to normal.

We spent a lot of time cleaning up over the next few weeks, and it is going to take years for the jungle around us to fully recover, but overall we won't have any long term effects.  Not everybody was so lucky, and the floods after the hurricane did more damage than the hurricane itself to those in low lying areas such as San Ignacio, which was flooded over the market and into the park in the days following the storm.  It makes us glad to be hill dwellers!

We had a lot of warning that the we were potentially
in the storm's track.
The horses all had to wear halters with tags with our
name and number written on them with a Sharpie.  
We feel fortunate to be living in a hurricane zone in this day and age where weather can be predicted days if not weeks in advance.  Everybody knew Earl was on his way a good three or four days ahead of time, and while you always hope you're not in the bull's eye, you need to get ready as though you will be, and that's what we did.  We stowed anything that could blow around, we put halters with name tags and our phone number on the horses, we parked the vehicles in protected spots, we made sure anything breakable in our open kitchen (including our glass tabletop) was stored in a safe place, we took the solar panels off the roof, moved things away from the walls in our house, and did what seemed to turn into a never ending list of things to reduce damage if we got hit.

In the afternoon, we were hopeful that it was
changing direction and would pass north of us.

Because we have internet, we spent the afternoon before Earl hit keeping the village council up to date on what the storm was doing so they could get people to hurricane shelters if necessary, and make sure the village was as battened down as possible.  They stopped by in the early evening, and we made sure we had everybody's phone numbers so we could keep them posted as long as we had internet and phones.  Then, we ate dinner, and went in our closed up house to wait for the winds to start.

Right before we went to bed, Earl was just off the coast of Belize.

We went to bed around 10:15, and it was just starting to get windy.  The storm was still a ways off the coast.  We actually slept, until around 4AM, when it sounded like a train was going by and everything was crashing and banging.

When we woke up to lots of noise a little after 4AM,
we found that Earl came much closer to us than had been
 predicted earlier in the day.
It sounded like a hurricane was going overhead, which we found out it was when we got on line and against all odds found that we still had internet and could see exactly where the storm was.  It wasn't right overhead, but it was close enough that we had hurricane force winds twisting the tops out of trees.  We messaged with a few friends who were doing the same thing we were, and waited for it to get light.

The view from our door when we first went outside.
 It's too bad we can't display the smell of lots of freshly broken wood.
At first light, we went outside and found that despite all the trees and leaves and branches, everything was basically okay.

A near miss for the satellite dish!
The satellite had taken a near miss, but continued to work throughout the storm.

The kitchen was a wet mess, but no damage.
It needed a deep cleaning anyway.  ;)
My kitchen was soaking wet and it was still blowing, but I used my body to shield the burner from the wind and made a pot of coffee to take to our guest, and to make sure she had made it through the night.  She had done basically the same thing as we did, sleeping until it got really loud around 4AM.

Leaf litter was plastered to everything.  Leaves had just been shredded.
Around 7AM, a crew of guys from the village, including the village council members who had been monitoring the storm, showed up and cleared the driveway and enough paths that we could get around on the property...and then took our chainsaw to go get other people out and make sure everybody in the village was okay.  They were; only one house had lost its roof, and nobody was hurt.  It was very much like Upstate New York after a blizzard:  everybody with the equipment to manage the emergency banded together and did what had to be done to get things back on track.

A Big Thank You to Julio & Janeth!

For about two and a half years, Julio and Janeth were managing Moonracer Farm while Tom and I were working on a conservation project and then taking care of family business in the US.  They did a fantastic job, and Tom and I didn't have to worry at all about the business or the property or the horses, or anything else they were caring for in our absence.  We realize that doing this for us caused them to make some fairly significant sacrifices in their personal life, so we decided that treating them to a vacation out of Belize would be a good way to let them know that they are truly appreciated.  And, we went along, so it was great fun for us too.
Janeth & Julio on the beach in Playa del Carmen

We did a sort of combo trip..., a little sightseeing,  a little all-inclusive experience, and a little shopping.  We drove from our village to Playa del Carmen, where we stayed in a small inn in the city, but off of 5th Avenue.  We ate at El Fogon, my favorite place, and did a little shopping.  Then we took the ferry out to Cozumel, where we stayed at an all-inclusive resort, El Cozumeleno.  It was beautiful, and it was great fun to completely relax and not worry about anything.

Marge & Janeth shopping on 5th Ave. in Playa

When we were done there, we went back to Playa for a night, and some more food and shopping, and then drove to Chetumal (to shop some more) with a stop in Tulum along the way.  After spending a night in Chetumal, we headed home for our re-entry into real life.

These pictures don't really have anything to do with Belize, but they have a lot to do with the lives of the people who make Moonracer Farm happen.  And, the fact that a Mexico trip can be a short vacation is part of the reason we choose to live and work there.

Eating at El Fogon.  My favorite thing!

Julio & Janeth at the ferry terminal in Playa, on the way to Cozumel

The four of us in Cozumel!

The view from our balcony at El Cozumeleno

Janeth saying hello to us from their next door balcony

Julio & Janeth at one of the fountains along the waterfront in Cozumel

Julio & Janeth entering Tulum
Janeth & Julio at Tulum

Janeth & Julio cliffside at Tulum

On our last night, we went to La Botana in Chetumal for dinner.  Julio had a giant fish!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cohune Camping Casita Building Process

Some photos of the Cohune Camping Casitas going up. 

First, mix concrete for...

...the septic tank for the casitas, and...

...the footers.

Next, the platform base. 

Put down the floor and start the walls. 

Finish the framing and up goes the hip wall. 

Add a roof. 

Screen and curtain the windows. 

Install a sink in the corner, 

And a toilet, and the associated plumbing.

Get the stairs on, and we are ready to go!

Our REAL summer Project: New Rooms!

Our big project this past summer has been building three new "rooms' which we are calling the Cohune Camping Casitas.  They are not luxury accommodations by any means, but at $35US/night for double occupancy, they are the only budget accommodations in or near the Mountain Pine Ridge.  

Each casita is a raised platform with a porch and a separate lockable room with a short wall, and screens and curtains all the way around.  You have the option of a queen bed or two twins, and each room has a toilet and sink in the room. A shared shower with hot water is available next to the guest kitchen.  The rooms are small and basic, with running water but no electricity, but they are clean, comfortable, and private. 

The view from the door from the porch into the bedroom

A toilet in each room

Side view of the camping casita...landscaping to follow!

I will do a separate blog entry of the building process, which is all Belize!

We didn't see who did this, but...

...we are very curious, in a catlike way.  

These are the tracks of some sort of wild cat who decided to take a peek in the guest cabin on a rainy night in July.  We still haven't washed them off because we want our guests to understand why when we tell them to latch their doors from the inside at night!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Zika Threat in Belize

Zika has now been declared endemic in parts of Belize, and it has been a much-discussed topic among our recent guests.  We take the threat of Zika very seriously, but don't necessarily think it means you need to cancel your Belize vacation, or a vacation to any other area where Zika is endemic. You should, however, be prepared to take precautions.  Use a lot of insect repellent. Plan not to get pregnant until you and your partner have both been tested for Zika after you return from your trip. And if you are pregnant, you probably shouldn't visit Belize.

The photo below shows the types of mosquitos that carry diseases.  I'm not sure how helpful it is since  you usually can't identify a mosquito until it stops flying to land on you and bite you, but it is interesting.  I also copied the CDC's advice on how to deal with Zika in Belize, which is more helpful.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The thing about chickens...

Before we moved to Belize, I had a bunch of friends who were nuts about their chickens.  I didn't quite get it; I had horses (and still do), and I couldn't quite understand the big deal about noisy messy birds when you could have big beautiful horses.

In Belize, we quickly discovered that the only way to get good eggs is to know the chickens laying them.  The eggs you buy in the stores are crap; they're so mishandled, old, or from unhappy chickens, the yolks break as soon as you crack them, and they are sometimes spoiled when you buy them.  You quickly learn to always crack your eggs in a cup before using them.  For people who like easy over eggs in the morning, this just doesn't do.

We found a friend down the road who sold eggs.  Her chickens were well loved, well fed, free range and happy.  The eggs were great.  But, the chickens got old, and she no longer sold eggs.  So, we decided that in the interests of self-sufficiency we would get chickens.

The first batch were the red laying hens.  We have an open coop where we can keep them at night, and they free range during the day.  We bought them as little chicks, and they were laying within about four months.  The eggs were perfect.  However, one of the first things we learned about chickens is that disaster is always imminent, and there are lots of ways to kill a chicken...foxes, hawks, boas, possums, dogs (even ours!), and horses (also ours!).  The lesson was to not get to attached to chickens, which is fairly easy to do since they all the red hens look and act the same.

This lesson made us brave, and we decided to start getting broilers.  We also bought these as little chicks, and within six or eight weeks they are five to seven pounds and ready to be butchered.  I learned to butcher them, and found that I didn't have a problem doing it.  The broilers are pretty dull, tend not to wander around even when you leave the coop open, and the transition from live chicken to meat really isn't all that drastic.  Living off grid, we have a very small refrigerator and freezer, so keeping them alive and making the first step of a chicken dinner "butcher the chicken" works pretty well.

Just this spring, we got brave and decided to get local chickens.  The hens won't lay as many eggs as the red hens, and the eggs will probably be smaller, but they lay for a longer time.  The roosters won't grow as fast as the broilers, but local chicken meat is very tasty, moreso than the broiler meat, because the roosters will free range.  We thought since we'd done the starter chicken thing with the red hens and the broilers that we were ready for "real" chickens.

We were wrong.  In the middle of May, we bought 25 3-week old local chicks.  I think we now have 25 pet chickens, and I now understand how all my NY chicken friends got so attached to their chickens.  The local chickens are individuals, which I think is what makes them so engaging.  They are all different colors, all different sizes, all different shapes, and they all have different personalities.  Watching them grow over the past few months has been fascinating and Tom and I even found ourselves taking our evening beers to the chicken coop just to watch them.  

Getting attached isn't a problem for the hens, who should be laying eggs for us for the next five years or so.  The roosters, however, are another story.  They're not really good for much besides doing their part to create the next generation of chickens, entertainment, and...meat.  And I don't want to butcher any of them because they are pretty and entertaining and funny.  I'm using the excuse that I want to see what the next generation looks like before we start eating potentially good fathers, but really, I just like them.  

The problem is that they crow.  I find this fascinating, because they each have a different voice and different crowing postures and different attitudes.  But they start at around 4am.  They spend the night in their coop, which is far enough from the house that they don't wake me up, but if I am awake for some reason, it's loud enough to keep me awake.  And Tom says they do wake him up, so we are worried that they will eventually bother some of our guests, although so far nobody has complained.  I figure there are enough loud noises in the jungle at night, like the howler monkeys and disturbed chachalacas, that we should be able to ignore it, but I suspect I am just rationalizing my lack of desire to butcher them.

So what's the conclusion?  I don't know.  For now, the roosters are getting a pass.  However, it's possible that we will eventually get hungry enough or annoyed enough or just overwhelmed with roosters enough that we will start eating them.  I'm sure they will be delicious.