Saturday, April 28, 2007

Belize Letter 9


The bathroom’s major modifications are completed and I finished painting that room last week. We are waiting for a custom mahogany cabinet which I will have to mount when it arrives.

I got the new pressurized water system working along with the on-demand butane hot water heater. Now we have well water piped to all faucets with plenty of pressure.

If the electricity goes off I can open a few valves and community water will be diverted into the system. We prefer not to drink the community water because there is no purification and it is just piped through the village from a mountain stream. When we were on community water, we drank bottled water. Well water is potable so I hope the electric stays on. I did notice that the pressure of the community water is lower now that the dry season has arrived.

Speaking of electricity, I must say the service has been acceptable. We have had service since January 18th and it has been down a half dozen times. Some of these were announced, scheduled, maintenance shutdowns for a set number of hours. The longest the electric has been down has been four hours and that incident was scheduled. Since we were without electricity for sometime, these minor outages are not a problem. One curious thing is that we have not received an electric bill as of this writing. I have emailed the electric company and made a visit to their office. I was told that I should start receiving these bills “soon”!
I am back on painting projects. I have to paint the spare bedroom's ceiling and walls. After that I have to paint the porch ceiling. I should finish by week end. Painting isn’t too bad as one can think of other things while applying paint. It certainly is not physically challenging! The agonizing part is preparation and cleanup.

Since a lot of the major modifications have been completed, we can hang pictures. Hanging pictures on cement walls requires a hammer drill. A hole has to be drilled and then either a lead or plastic anchor must be inserted in the hole. A screw can then be turned in. I also found that I can put a piece of wood in the hole and then hammer in a small nail. Items on the walls certainly make the place look better. I installed a wireless router. I now can access the internet from anywhere in the house or outside as well. One never knows when he will have to answer an urgent email in the shower!


Weather is still great. It got warm for about four or five days then it got back to a daily range of high sixties to low eighties. Even though we are in the dry season, we had showers the other night and the following morning was cloudy and very cool (65). Warm weather is approaching, however. There are lots of signs. The fans will be welcome! We have the capability for air conditioning but really have not needed it yet. As the rainy season approaches and humidity climbs along with temperature we may reconsider.

Americans in Belize

I have located a group of Americans in Corozal that meet monthly for lunch. Corozal, located near the Mexican border, is nearly a three hour drive from our house so it could be a long day.

ID Cards

We finally got to Belize City to pick up our resident ID cards. On the trip we visited one of the new supermarkets. It was not nearly as large as the ones in the states but it was quite a bit bigger than what we have been accustomed to in Belmopan.

Community elections in Belize

Elections to elect a new leader for the various villages and cities were held on Sunday April 15. In the village near us, the existing party (Peoples United Party) was defeated. The UDP (United Democratic Party), the conservative group won the election. People take these elections very seriously and come to vote in their "Sunday best". National elections for the prime minister and parliament will be held in 2008.

Before and after photos

I mentioned in my last letter that before and after photos would be posted. I had the posted here for awhile but my new project is to build a true website. Therefore, I removed the link. The web site should be finished soon (US version of this word) and a lot more pictures will be there.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Belize Letter 8


Even though it is suppose to be the dry season, we still experience rain showers. Around the spring equinox, we experienced an all night shower (downpour) that must have exceeded six inches as it took a day or two for the standing water to disappear. The days have been in the high seventies and low eighties and the nights continue to be in the high sixties. Air conditioning or heat has not been required so far.


One of the things that Diane does extremely well is bake cakes. I have never eaten so much cake. We have chocolate cakes, vanilla cakes, white cakes, yellow cakes, and spice cakes all with a variety of icings. Occasionally she bakes a pineapple upside down cake. I always tended to be on diets, watching my weight, watching carbohydrate intake and fat intake. I think that was a bunch of crap! Down here I eat what I want and I have been losing weight! Staying active is the key.

I just started saving trees. In the forest, vines rapidly envelop trees. They do this, not only with the small trees but also with the large trees. It is a battle for light. Leafy vines grow very fast and block out a considerable amount of light that was destined for the tree and the tree starts to weaken and eventually dies. One of the cutters and I have been walking around the thick bush looking for trees that are covered with vines, that are not too far gone and are worthwhile saving. There are a lot of junk trees in the forest that are havens for all types of pests. We don’t save these! There are also good trees. Trees that flower, hard wood trees, fruit trees, and as the cutter says in broken English “pretty trees” are all worth saving! The cutter that I take with me is very knowledgeable about the trees. I constantly ask “what kind of tree is this?” He only knows the Spanish name for the trees or fruit. When we find a good tree we clean it. (Cut all vines that are on the tree and around it.) We have saved a very large breadfruit tree as well as several young ones. In addition, we have saved numerous varieties of palms, various hardwoods, and multiple flowering trees.


When Diane and I purchased the house and land we knew that it would be a challenge to get everything the way we envisioned it could be. We had numerous discussions on all the things that needed to be done prior to arriving here. Our thoughts and dreams about the house tended to center around the envisioned house and land, not the actual! Once here, however, reality set in! We realized that we were in for a monumental task. To make matters worse, building material as well as skilled workmen were not readily available. In addition, we had no electricity, poor phone service, and no Internet.

We created prioritized task lists and went to work. We are always adding items to the task list that we feel need improvement. When an item is completed we remove it from the list. Therefore we are constantly looking at literally a lifetime of work!

We found out that by constantly looking at what had to be done instead of what has been accomplished, we were overwhelmed. However, if we occasionally took time to review our accomplishments, we got mentally refreshed and were motivated to achieve more. Diane and I are assembling before and after pictures of our land and house. When we look at these pictures, we gain extreme confidence that sooner or later, be it 2020 or later, we will be finished! I will be posting these pictures on the web and will email the link with an upcoming letter.

John and Diane Madeira

PO Box 577, Belmopan

Belize, Central America

Belize Letter 7


Cloudless skies, cool nights, spectacular lunar eclipse, no rain, high sixties at night, mid eighties during the day was the weather the first week of March. The second week of March, the rains returned in the form of heavy, short duration showers (about ½ hour each).


Since the electric has been installed, I completed installing ceiling fans in all rooms inside the house. I still have two fans to install on the screened in porch. I have a lot of varnishing to complete as well as painting on the screened in porch. I have been searching for a hammock but haven’t found any. I will be switching from community water to well water. During the dry season, the community water sometimes stops. However, we always have water available from the well. Now that we have electric, I am installing a pressure tank, and pressure switch, to provide the house with water.

Satellite connection

I decided to go with a Mennonite firm in Spanish lookout to help with the satellite hookup. A group of technical Mennonites??? Anyway, they speak English and appear honest. They came on Thursday March 8th. They were very skilled in getting the satellite connection established. They work on a fixed fee basis and come prepared for everything. Now that I have internet connectivity, I can do research on a lot of other things. For instance, VOIP connections via satellite are not the best for long conversations due to latency, but people are running them. I brought my equipment from the US that I used for VOIP in the US and it should work here.

Belize expressions dealing with time

When I ask when something I ordered will be delivered, be it a service or a product, the answer I get is “soon.” I have learned that this can mean anything from two weeks to they have no idea when the delivery will take place. If they say “in a few days”, this is meaningless also because a few days could mean months. They also use the expression “the other day” when speaking about things that occurred in the past. This also does not indicate a specific span of time. They person could be referring to something that occurred two or more years ago! This would drive me up the wall when I first came down, but now I am getting use to it. Interestingly, I catch myself using “soon” when Diane asks me about when I will get one of my tasks finished!

Tree color

With the weather change to the dry season, quite a few of the trees in the area are experiencing a color change. There leaves are changing from dark green to a brilliant yellow. I have even seen a few that are changing to a brilliant orange. This causes the mountains to take on a fall-like appearance. I have been told that these leaves will drop and be replaced by green leaves before the weather changes to the rainy season.


In addition to orange and grapefruit trees, we have breadfruit trees, guava trees, a lime tree, cashew trees, banana trees, and mango trees. In the “bush”, rain forest that hasn’t been cleared or cultivated, we have all types of leafy trees and quite a few varieties of palms including coconut. There are several large trees whose leafy branches come within several feet of our porch. These trees get cottony blossoms several times during the year and produce a string bean like fruit or vegetable which is not eaten by the locals. However, the birds of all varieties love the blossoms and fill these trees with amazing color and sounds through out the year. Another interesting tree is what the locals refer to as “iron tree”. This is the tallest tree on our property at 100 feet or more, and is one of the trees whose leaves change to a brilliant yellow. One of the locals who we hire to chop the bush with his machete exclaimed that this tree is so hard that sparks fly when being sawed. I guess there are exaggerators in every culture!


It is hard for me to believe that I have been living in Belize for four and a half months. It is equally as hard for me to believe that Diane will hit the one year mark at the end of April!

John and Diane Madeira

PO Box 577, Belmopan

Belize, Central America

Belize Letter 6


As the month changed from January to February, the weather changed as well. For most of the first week of February, the skies were cloudless, the temperatures ranged from high sixties at night to the mid eighties during the afternoon. Everything is extraordinarily green and growing rapidly. We have heard that it is extremely cold in Pennsylvania. I am glad I am in Belize and can continue to wear shorts and t-shirts.


I am still working on various house projects; however I did manage to get a good walk in to Five Blues Lake. Diane and I have also been eating at a local restaurant called “Over the Top.” I usually choose the favorite local fare, rice and beans, along with whatever meat of fish they have. The meal, which also includes a small salad, costs about $3.50 US or $7.00 Belize.

House projects

For the last two weeks, including weekends, we had up to eight contractors at our house each day. In addition, I was working on setting up the electric circuits for interior rooms and exterior lighting as well. Keeping track of the various projects, materials, and people is an arduous task. Since my brother will be visiting this week, we will halt all projects for a week of relaxation.

Satellite connection

The longer I am away from being connected, the less I feel I need it. However, my friends and brother feel it is a necessity. Therefore, I will relent and pursue connectivity. I will be focusing on connecting to a satellite service for internet at first, then perhaps TV. Also, while at the Hamanasi Resort, on the Caribbean, my brother spotted a satellite radio receiver. I checked to see how they placed there antenna, but could not see it. I will be contacting Hamanasi management to see if they can provide more information. My brother also said he would send me a registered XM radio receiver to try.

Property values

Property values in Belize are increasing rapidly, In Belmopan, due to the new American Embassy, housing has increased drastically. Also, at the coast, beachfront houses that were selling in the high three hundred thousand (US) range two years ago are now seven hundred fifty thousand. With the increase in property values, rental rates are up also. Tourism is up as well as immigration. This tends to increase property values as well.


It is great being retired. Although I have been working on the house pretty much, it is great not to be on a schedule. There are still some schedules that have to be maintained. US Federal Income Tax, PA State income Tax as well as Local Income Tax need to be filed. I went to the US Embassy in Belmopan and learned that I need to fill out a simple form and I will not have to file or pay anything owed until October 15, 2007. I knew people could always apply for an extension, but any money owed needed to be paid prior to April 15. The Embassy offers lots of services to US citizens living abroad. I may as well take advantage of these services. Speaking of taxes, we paid our annual property tax on our 20 acres and house. Since we paid in full as well as early, our entire tax bill was $19.84! That is Belize dollars which equals 9.92 US dollars.

Information system business

The information system business in Belize is similar to what it was in the US during the late eighties and early nineties. One of the largest tool and hardware stores in Belmopan is just now converting to a computerized business system. Most small businesses do not even have computers, let alone a business system. Even the Government runs mostly with hand written forms. There are information system companies, mostly very small, that take advantage of a customer base that has relatively little knowledge of computer systems or how a good system could help their business. Service prices are very high and markup on hardware is greater than 100%! I have been looking for a company that will help me with satellite radio licensing. The companies that represent the various satellite internet service companies are very bias about their respective service. There seems to be no one that can provide an independent view of this business segment. People locate companies by asking their friends who know nothing as well. While at the US Embassy, I learned that if I was interested in starting a company in Belize I could have use of their systems to help gather information. I don’t know if this will provide the information I seek but it is worth a try. Getting back to my point, the state of the information system business in Belize lacks true service oriented service providers. This could be an opportunity for a geek that didn’t mind living with Howler Monkeys!

Belize Letter 5


On New Years Eve morning, Diane and I decided to walk to our British friend’s house. I thought it was going to be about two and one half miles. We walked down Five Blues lake road to the Dry Creek crossing. From there we figured we would have about two miles to Bernard’s house. I couldn’t quite remember whether Bernard told me his house was two miles down the road or a few miles down the road. We had to wade through one foot of water crossing Dry Creek to get to the road on which Bernard lives. The road was bordered on each side by rain forest. It was somewhat warm that day but the forest’s canopy provided cooling shade. The forest was incredibly thick and appeared almost impenetrable; however, we did see a few paths that appeared to be used by large animals. The hardwood trees are very tall and thick and tower over the many softer wood trees and huge plants. We walked and walked. I thought for sure we had gone more than two miles. There was no site of Bernard’s house. We kept saying “let’s just go around the next bend” or let’s just go over the next hill”. Soon we had to stop as we realized that Bernard must have said a few miles and that could mean ten miles! We turned around as rain was imminent. We hiked back over dry creek and were somewhat disappointed that we weren’t able to find Bernard’s house but happy that we saw this road and that part of the forest. On Sunday, January 7th, we decided to go to Bernard’s house by truck. We hadn’t had much rain and Dry Creek would be low. Crossing the Dry Creek was no problem and when we reached Bernard’s house we realized that we were within a few100 yards of his house on the previous week’s walk. We were showed around their house and then we talked for an hour or so.


We finally have it! It took quite a bit of encouragement, contributions, and daily phone calls. I have been busy testing and hooking up existing circuits as well as running new circuits. Running new circuits in a cement house is a challenge. We included a brand new electric refrigerator in our initial shipment and that is running fine. I will be installing ceiling fans which will be welcome in summer. Now the weather is sixties at night and seventies during the day. We keep all the windows wide open all the time. Since the electric is in I was able to setup the video system. Everything worked great.

Madre De Cacao

Due to the electric install, we had to clear a path for a few poles. Now that the electric is in, I have planted quite a bit of Madre De Cacao. This is unbelievable stuff. All you have to do is get a branch from an exiting tree. And stick it into the ground and a new tree will grow. It grows at a rate of 15 to 20 feet a year. It has foliage similar to a mimosa tree but has pinkish-purplish flowers. With the help of two village people, 175 branches, some 4 inches in diameter, were planted. . This Madre De Cacao forest will more than cover the 20 foot wide path I cleared.

Belize City

Diane and I traveled to Belize City to pickup tile to complete the kitchen. The hardware stores in our area do not carry the selection that is available in the Belize City stores. In sections of the city, close to the Caribbean, they have ver narrow side streets. On either side of the streets are 18 inch deep cement trenches for storm water I presume. This makes driving a nightmare as the streets are also full of very deep potholes. One can’t swerve too wide to miss a pothole or he may end up with a wheel in the trench. While on the way to the tile store we did see a water taxi depot. We plan to take water taxi trips to the islands very soon.


It seems that I am doing more physical work down here than I did while I lived in the US. I work long days and weekends similar to when I lived in the US. The only real difference is that I don’t get paid down here.

There are still quite a few challenges that Diane and I need to address. Now that we have electric, I will mount the satellite dish for internet service. Fighting back the rain forest remains a constant challenge.


Both December and January have been incredibly rainy months. We are having exactly the kind of weather one would expect in a rainforest! We are getting reports that due to La Nena effect on Pacific Ocean temperatures we can expect very dry conditions for the next few months. Some positive aspects of the bad weather is that I can get the inside electrical work done and the Madre De Cacao will get off to a good start.

Belize Letter 4

Christmas in Belize

Christmas arrived early in Belize. On Thursday December 21, the Belize Electric Company started installing new poles in the village. A total of 10 high tension poles and a transformer will be installed. Some smaller poles will have to be installed also. This means that our electric power is on the way. On Friday, December 22, the cabinet people showed up with our new kitchen cabinets and installation began. The cabinets are natural mahogany, a Belizean wood. The third gift was that December 20th and 21st were the first two rainless days in December. Christmas day finally arrived and we opened our presents that we received from relatives in the states. Each of several Christmases prior to this one, Diane and I always talked about spending Christmas out of the country. Now we are finally experiencing it.

Diane and I went to Caves Branch for a turkey and ham dinner on Christmas night. In addition to close to ninety guests, they had a mariachi band. On both Christmas and the following day, Boxer’s Day, everything is shut down. Stores, banks and gas stations are closed. The village has been extremely quite on these two days.

Christmas Cookies

Diane baked cookies using all local ingredients. The sugar is courser and a little on the tan side. The flour is also on the tan side, not bleached like the US produced flour. The cookies turned out spectacular. As usual, Diane hid the bulk of them for fear that I would eat them all before Christmas.

Our British Friends

The other day while in Belmopan, I met up Bernard who I had given a ride to a week or so ago. When I asked how his car was, he responded that the part he needed was not in yet so he was still walking. He introduced me to his wife, Janet, and the three of us talked for awhile. I offered another ride to them but I needed to run a few errands first. We decided to meet in the market place in about an hour. After I finished my errands, I searched through market square for signs of them. Bernard, with beer in hand was easy to spot. On the way back to St. Margaret’s village and Dry Creek or the “river” as they call it, we talked quite a bit. They too are scrabble players. I told them to stop at our house anytime and that I would drop by their house very soon. Late Christmas Eve morning, the dogs started barking and we looked to see if anyone was coming up our driveway. To our amazement and delight Bernard and Janet were driving up. We invited them in and had a great time listening to the times they had during their fifteen plus years in Belize. Bernard occasionally writes editorials for one of the Belize City newspapers.

Electric Update

On December 27th, the electric company showed up and started surveying and marking where our poles would be located. On Saturday December 29th, all the poles were installed. Two poles needed to be installed in un-cleared areas of our land so a wide path had to be cut for the installers. This was done by our cutters. Two huge bees’ nests were encountered during the clearing. One of these nests was about 3 foot in diameter! One curious thing is that the cutters have very little fear of bees; however, if I bring the dogs out, they go into a state of panic! We may have electricity in a week or two! That would certainly lead to a Happy New Year!

Kitchen Cabinets

On December 27th, the cabinet people returned to finish. The hand made cabinets that need to be installed onto concrete walls takes time. It reminds me of several of past IT projects that we were involved with that seemed to never end.

Milk Man Returns

Today we heard a motorcycle coming down our driveway. It was Wilmer, the milkman! Wilmer, who is originally from York, PA, has a small dairy farm nearby. He packs a cooler he has strapped to the back of a dirt bike with fresh whole milk and chocolate milk packed in plastic bags. He is building a new home about a mile from us and he too is having difficulty procuring electric service. According to Diane, he recently went back to the states and this has been the first time he has made an appearance for quite a few months.

New Year

Diane and I spent New Years Eve at home this year. We could here lots of fire crackers in the distance. We spoke a little about the changes and achievements we made during last year. It was an amazing year! We also spoke of this year’s items we wanted to accomplish. We both would like to continue on getting the house where it needs to be but also on visiting lots of places in Belize and Mexico.

Belize Letter 3

Belize City

Diane and I traveled into Belize City today. Belize City has a population of 80,000. We are accustomed to going into Belmopan, the capital, which has a population of slightly over 8,000. The purpose of our visit was to talk with a distributor of solar power equipment. Most streets in Belize City are very narrow. Usually they are only wide enough for one car and are marked as one way streets. These streets are not only used by cars, but also by bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. The streets are very crowded and make driving very nerve racking. However, we found the stores carry not only a wider variety of goods, but their stock seems more current. I guess it is just due to increased number of shoppers. The prices seem lower also. A better selection of fresher food for a lower price mandates our shopping there in the future. We may not go every week, but a monthly run will definitely be made. While in Belize City, we stopped at “Old Belize”. This is a combination marina, tourist area, restaurant, and beach. We ate at the restaurant that had quite a good selection on the menu and was quite reasonable. We got a table over looking the Caribbean. The sun was bright and it was quite pleasant enjoying our lunch in the open air with the nice views. On the way back, we stopped in Belmopan and picked up a few items at the hardware store. Robert, Diane’s brother, informed us when we returned that it had rained all day in our area.


Today the sun is shining. There are still some rain clouds around, but after 5 straight days of hard rain in our area with no glimpse of the sun, the rays feel great!

The sun lasted for almost one day. It has now rained for another 4 days straight in our area. So much rain tends to get depressing. However I am getting the retirement spirit. During the first five days I didn’t get anything accomplished because of the rain. When we did get a nice day, I thought it was too nice to work. During the last 4 days, I haven’t accomplished much either.

One of the backup systems I need to work on is water. We get water from the community system and we also have a well. However, if the water from the community starts to get low due to lack of rain, our well may be low also for the same reason. I am considering building a cistern to save a few thousand gallons of water in the event there is a very bad dry spell. After having five days of downpours, I was wondering how I could save just the water coming off our roof! They sell one and two thousand gallon plastic tanks but I am looking at lower cost methods. I also need a closed system as I don’t want to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes and any of the other bugs that breed in water.

Electric Service

We just received the proposal from the electric company to install service to our house. The proposal is reasonable and is within our budget. Diane and I feel we will accept the proposal and use solar powered battery charging as a backup. We were promised high priority if we accepted.

Christmas in Belize

With Christmas coming in two weeks, people have their Christmas decorations up. Christmas Carols as well as many Christmas commercials are being broadcast by the local FM station. Down here we noticed that most people have there decorated trees outside. Even on some of the smallest of shanties in the village, strings of lights sparkle at night. Another custom in Belize is to set off firecrackers at night during the Christmas season. With our house in the construction finishing mode and also due to the lack of electricity, displaying decorations either inside or outside is impractical. However, I did notice more candles starting to be lit at night which adds warmth to our entire house. Diane said she will miss the shopping for presents, the wrapping of presents, the decorating of a tree, and lots of other seasonal activities. We haven’t decided how or where we will spend Christmas this year. I do know that Diane will be baking Christmas cookies.

Back to work

I can’t stand loafing for too long. We worked on extending the roof on both sides of the screened in porch. The wider roof will prevent rains from coming into the enclosed area. I coated the door and door frame for our new first floor storage area with urethane. In addition I built screens for the large windows at the top of our storage area. In the interim, I am checking on the cutters (low cost laborers with machetes) that are helping us “beat back the bush”. It is truly amazing how much land can be cleared in a day by a good cutter. With just sharpened machetes, they cut vines, plants and even trees up to eight inches in diameter.

Our Neighbor from Britain

About three weeks ago I met a Guy named Bernard from Great Britain who had come to Belize with his wife about 15 years ago. He was driving an old SUV. The other day coming home from Belmopan, I saw him walking on Five Blues Lake Road. He told me he had walked from his house to Hummingbird Highway. There he caught a bus to Belmopan (20 miles) and did some shopping. Then he caught a bus from Belmopan to Five Blues Lake Road and was going to walk the five miles to his house. He told me his car was not working and he was having trouble getting parts. I offered to drive him to the Dry Creek and he quickly accepted. On the way he told me about himself. He owns quite a bit of property and grows vegetables. He has no electric and doesn’t expect to get any. He has to ford the 100 foot wide Dry Creek going to and coming from his house. When we got to Dry Creek, it was deeper than one foot. I told him I couldn’t take the truck any further. He thanked me and told me to come for a visit. This week, if I get the chance, I will make the trip (walking) across the creek and the two miles to his house. There are quite a few immigrants in Belize. We are all doing without some things we were use to in our home countries. Giving a helping hand to someone in need is very common here. Probably because all of us are in need sometime!


More Rain

Today is December 19th. It is also the 19th consecutive day of rain. It is not as bad as is sounds. The last four days we have had long periods of sunshine and the night sky has been extremely clear. Everything is incredibly green. However, when the sun comes out after a rain, everything glistens. We even had two large colorful rainbows. Just think; this month is the start of the dry season!

Shopping Trips

We started to go to Belmopan (20 miles) for breakfast a little more often. Diane thought it would be interesting to see how many stops we make on a typical trip to Belmopan. First of all I drove through the village to see the person that has a bush hog and scheduled some cutting. Then we went two houses up the dirt road and paid our water bill for December. ($8 Belize for unlimited use) We then drove into Belmopan and stopped at the post office. Then we went to the Bullfrog Inn for breakfast. After that, we stopped at the Chinese market for soaps, paper towels, etc. We then stopped at the vegetable store for fruits and vegetables. Then we went to the grocery store for some can goods, and other packaged foods. Then we made a stop at the internet café, where we each checked our email. We stopped at Wood Depot for some wood I needed for one on my projects. We also had to stop at the hardware store for some screen molding and nails. On the way back, we stopped at a small local store (it is a stretch to call it a store, more like a stand) for the onions we forgot to buy. That is eleven stops!

Electric Service Update

I made a trip to Dangriga to Belize Electric Limited. I picked up the invoice for the installation of electric service and then drove to the bank to pay it. I returned the receipt I received from the bank to the electric company and spoke with one of the engineers on possible starts dates.

Highways in Belize

Each time I travel on the Hummingbird Highway, be it southeast to Dangriga or northwest to Belmopan, I can’t get over how beautiful the mountains and rivers are. With in about ten miles of Dangriga and the shore of the Caribbean, the terrain flattens. Dangriga is populated by very poor people and is not too attractive a location. The Southern Highway intersects with the Hummingbird Highway about 3 miles before entering Dangriga. Heading south on the Southern highway, takes one to some of the mainland resorts like Hamanazi and Jaguar Reef. It also goes by the Jaguar Reserve, a large area of rainforest that is set aside for the preservation of Jaguars as well as other endangered wildlife. It is a popular hiking area. By the way, the term highway is an exaggeration. Both the Hummingbird Highway and the Southern Highway are roads with one lane in both directions. The Southern highway was just paved from town of Hopkins south to Placencia and then ends in the Southern most town in Belize, Punta Gorda. From Belize City the Western Highway stretches past Belmopan to San Ignacio and ends at the Guatemalan border. From Belize City, the Northern Highway stretches through the towns of Orange Walk and Corazol to the Mexican boarder. These two highways are also paved roads with one lane in either direction. Diane and I will be exploring the northern highway when we travel to Chetumal, Mexico in late December or early January.

Belize Letter 2

Spanish Lookout

Friday morning (11/10) was beautiful. We decided to go to Spanish lookout. Spanish Lookout is about fifteen miles west of Belmopan on the way to San Ignacio and Guatemala. It is a town that has markets, hardware stores, lumber yards, a restaurant, service stations, etc. If we can’t get something from the stores in Belmopan, we try the stores in Spanish lookout. All the stores and restaurants are owned and run by Mennonites that have been in Belize for many years. It is a very clean and a very well maintained area. The people are extremely friendly. Before entering Spanish Lookout, you must cross a bridge over a river approximately 75 foot wide. The water in the river was only about a foot lower than the road surface of the bridge due to rains in the mountain areas. Although, the water looked dangerously high to us, we still crossed. The bridge is a two lane bridge and has no guard rails or shoulder area. . As we were crossing and we looked out the windows of our truck and the water seemed to be at our tires! The land in Spanish Lookout is not rain forest. There is quite a bit of pasture land and a lot of grazing cattle. It appears very similar to the area near Lancaster, PA. Palm trees do grow in this area and there are some houses with palm tree lined drive ways. We were able to get some of the supplies we needed and decided to eat lunch at the Golden Corral Restaurant. It is buffet style. I would rate the food as fair. The price is ok (all you can eat for $7 US). There is one dairy that serves western Belize. That is the Western Dairy and it is located in Spanish lookout. This dairy makes good ice cream which you can buy at a small store at the dairy. Diane and I decided to stop and we each enjoyed a cone of chocolate ice cream.

Week of November 20th

The weather is absolutely perfect. In the morning the temperature is mid to high 60’s. The relative humidity is between 50 and 60%. During the day the temperature rises to mid 70’s. No rain. The contractors were complaining because it has dropped into the high 50’s during the night and they were cold. Work on the house is progressing. The wall around the deck is completed. The storage room is 95% complete. Plastering (putting a smooth coat of concrete on the concrete or block walls which aids in painting and appearance) is completed on all sides of the house except one. This project which includes three coats of paint on the exterior of the house should be done by year end.

I spoke to a British guy and an American that live about 3 miles down the road. The American uses solar energy. He buys the solar equipment from Houston and the batteries he gets in Belize. I will be talking to him more very soon to learn more. I should also be hearing from the electric company this week concerning the new proposal.

What I do

Some of the things I enjoy doing is spending time on emails at the Internet café in Belmopan. I also play a lot of gin with Diane at nights. Recently, we pulled out the scrabble board and have had some good games. I have read one of Arthur Clarke’s novels and am now working on McCullough’s “1776”. I also am reading two solar power books. It gets too dark to read by daylight at 5:15PM. Lanterns, both kerosene and the battery power type, are not good for reading. I don’t know how Abe Lincoln accomplished it by a fire place! I also use my lap top to keep track of the various projects and also pre-compose some emails to send as well as letters like this.

Thanksgiving Day in Belize

We made arrangements to eat Thanksgiving Dinner at Caves Branch. They do not celebrate Thanksgiving Day in Belize. However, Caves Branch has lots of guests from the US at this time of year, so Caves Branch has a Turkey Dinner on Thursday.

The dinner at Caves Branch on Thursday night was great. They served roast turkey, baked ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetable soup, salad, rolls and butter, fresh fruit, cranberry sauce, and three or four different vegetables. As with every meal at Caves Branch, rice and beans are served. I noticed that the US guests at this jungle camp had their plates loaded with turkey, ham, potatoes, etc. as Diane and I did. The guides, who are mostly Belizean, had they plates filled with rice and beans! Pumpkin pie with whipped topping was served for dessert. The meal was served buffet style and a person could eat at much as they wanted. The cost was $17 Belize per person or $8.50 US per person. We had a few beers (John 5 and Diane 1). We returned home at a time considered very late for Belize; 9:00 PM! It is not only the meal that is worthwhile, but getting to talk with the people that run Caves Branch, Ian and David, as well as some of the guides and also some of the guests from the US is a reason in itself to travel the ten miles to the camp.

Batman Returns

The evening following Thanksgiving Day was just like any other night. Around 8:30PM, I was in the bedroom when my wife called from the family room – kitchen area “there is a bat in here”! Entering the area, I heard our black Labrador and my bother-in law’s dog, a large Doberman who we are watching, barking at a bat which was flying at a speed which seemed very fast for indoors. The bat was flying in circles being chased frantically by our Irish Red Field Setter, Casey. When I say chasing, I do mean chasing! Casey would leap at the bat. One time as he cleared the sofa, he made an upward lunge at the terrified bat and nearly grabbed him with his jaws. I opened our door, hoping the bat would exit. It didn’t. Casey continued to chase the bat. The bat was circling and every now and then would make a swoop downward. I wondered how I could catch this critter. Diane had suggested one of the tennis racquets that were shipped down. I snatched the tennis racquet and started swinging. With each swing, that missed the bat, the dogs barked louder and Casey intensified his chase. I new if I hit the bat with a racquet, he was a goner. Wild swings were not going to do it! The light was dim from the lanterns but I picked up the motion of the bat. He would fly in the circle and as I swung he would either go over my racquet or beneath it. He kept the same radius. I decided to stay low. After missing the bat on two of his high passes, the bat dipped low. I swung and knocked the bat some 20 foot against the kitchen wall with a solid backhand. The bat was lying dead on the kitchen counter. After slipping on my varmint gloves, I got rid of the bat. Diane and I got the dogs settled down and off to bed we went. No longer than 5 minutes after we were in bed, Casey began running back and forth in the pitch dark bedroom. He was chasing something! I turned on a flashlight as Casey had grabbed the bat in his mouth. They must taste horrible as Casey shook it a few times and it dropped to the floor. I ran for a weapon. Casey attacked again and picked up the bat and shook it. The bat was injured as I came back into the room with the tennis racquet in hand. I slipped on my varmint gloves again and removed the creature. I thought at last we could get some sleep.

Casey continued to pace. Diane and I thought he would stop. He didn’t. Diane and I tried to sleep. After about an hour of Casey passing and hunting, we heard him run. A chase was on again! Casey managed to corner another bat! I wondered where they were coming from. Casey finished the bat off with a bite or two. Racquet in hand, I got rid of this bat as well. At this point, Casey settled down, apparently knowing it was “all clear”. It was nearly midnight and I knew that in the morning I would have to solve the bat entry problem. I decided that Casey’s nick name would be “Batman”. In the morning we worked on the bat entry problem. In the evening about 9:00PM we decided to go to bed. However, Casey continued to pace back and forth in front of the spare bedroom. All of a sudden, a bat flew out of the room into the family room - kitchen area with Casey running behind him. The bat behaved the same way as the previous bat. He continued to fly in circles. I grabbed my trusty tennis racquet and prepared for the kill. This one seemed easy. No wild swinging and missing just controlled backswings at the arc of his flight path a little below his current altitude. The second controlled backswing stopped the bat. I disposed of the bat and came back in the house to find that Casey was sounding the all clear. He wasn’t pacing, just ready for bed. We haven’t encountered any bats since.

Working with contractors

We have been using various contractors for various tasks around the house. We have used block layers, cement workers, plasterers, cutters and bush hog operators. The workers are hard to find because of lack of skill and lack of transportation. We used cement workers and block layers to build a storeroom in the lower area and small wall around our deck. We used plasterers and some cement workers to plaster the outside of the house. We use cutters, a hard worker that knows how to use a machete, for keeping back the rainforest. The bush hog operators merely drive a tractor that pulls a huge brush cutter. Approximate rates are as follows:

Cutters $15 US per day

Bush hog operators (everything included, tractor, fuel, labor) $15 US per hour

Plasterers $4 US per hour (This is the high side of the rate)

Cement and block people $3 US per hour

We are always being asked if we need cutters but until recently, no one has shown up. The cutters are amazing. They can clear large areas very fast and stack everything for burning. I have noticed that they stop to sharpen there machete every hour. They encounter swarming ants, bees, mosquitoes, snakes, large spiders, other biting bugs and whatever the weather brings, be heat or rain. This is a tough job! They earn there $15 dollars US per day!

The bush hog man finally arrives

The bush hog can make quick work of clearing the quick growing plants and trees. The cutters have to follow to get close to trees that will remain, fences that are in place, or to hack down some trees up to 5” in diameter which the bush hog chokes on.

The bush hog operator sits on top of a tractor. The bush hog is a set of huge steel blades partially enclosed that is driven by the tractors engine. When the operator enters the area to be cleared, the wall of weeds, trees and plants is 12 to 18 ft high. The force of the tractor knocks down some of the smaller trees but a lot of the overhanging vines and weeds hit the body and head of the hatless operator. They should definitely build a cage around the operator’s seat. The ripping of the vines and groaning of the tractor’s engine can be heard from a distance as the bush hog moves through the area. Every now and then a terrible loud clanking sound is heard as a large rock is encountered. The upkeep on these things must be sizeable!

How to ship things to Belize

Several people have asked about shipping to us. If you do ship something to be aware that a customs form must be filled out. This is not a hard form to complete. These forms are available at the post office. When I was shipping a lot to Diane, I took a few of these forms home in order to save time at the post office. One thing to keep in mind is the value column. First of all, no one opens boxes shipped by mail. Secondly, Belize imposes duty on the value and nature of items shipped in. I usually marked the contents as used books, snacks, and magazines. Regardless of actual value, I always marked the value of contents less than $20. Belize duty on some items is 100% of value. One thing to keep in mind is that one gets $100 insurance on all items shipped via airmail. We never lost a box shipped to Belize. Sometimes, despite their being shipped airmail the boxes arrive in 3 weeks. Other times, they arrive in a week. If you ship by the lowest rate, figure a month to six weeks for delivery. Ship Airmail! Mailing of letters is really strange and it is hard to advise what to do. It seems that mail from the US arrives in Belize fairly quick. Usually one week. One real surprise is that we received a regular mail (39cent) letter in 3 days! Mail from Belize is a different story. I remember a few letters that took between 3 weeks and a month to arrive in the US. These letters, as with all letters we mail, were mailed airmail.

Action on our porch

Some of the trees on the side of our house are blossoming. The branches of these trees overhang the deck on the side of the porch. They have white silky blossoms that the birds must love. The trees get loaded with birds of all kinds including humming birds. I have a “Birds of Belize book” and have to refer to it frequently to identify all our visitors!

Beauty in the jungle

As our land was being chopped, it enabled me to get deeper into the forest. I was looking for a way to get to the creek that forms the western border of our property and came across a magnificent plant. It was about ten feet tall and at least that wide at the top. Its leaves were five feet long and at least 3 ft wide! It was very healthy and for some reason, the typical jungle vines were not encroaching on any of this plant’s territory. I plan to search the area for any of its offspring. I need to get a “Flowers of Belize” book. If there is one published, it must be big.

December arrives

With the arrival of December, the weather changed. We experienced a two day downpour that curtailed all work. I prefer sunny days, but rainy days provide some cooling as well. We had to order a load of stone, additional roofing for expansion of the porch area, and some steel beams, so we made the twenty mile trip. On rainy days, Belmopan is empty and as a result we were able to get a lot accomplished, shopping-wise.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Belize Letter 1

As I write this, I am looking out my living room window. Two contractors are building a thirty inch high concrete wall around the elevated deck of our house. The main living area of our house is twelve foot above the ground. A concrete deck runs around one half of the house perimeter and is twelve foot wide. About twenty five feet of this deck is under roof and is slated to be screened in. The house is built on twenty five, one foot square, steel reinforced concrete columns. Each of the columns is sunk into a five foot square, one foot thick, steel reinforced concrete pad. The columns are connected by one foot square, steel reinforced concrete beams. A five inch thick, steel reinforced concrete pad rests on the top of the concrete beams. The walls are four inch thick, steel reinforced concrete. The roof is constructed of steel beams anchored in the concrete walls covered with twenty six gauge galvanized metal roofing anchored to the steel roof beams. Beneath the steel beams is 6 inches of insulation covered by sheet rock. Ceiling height ranges from ten feet to twelve feet. Any kind of finishing work in this house, such as installing molding, hanging pictures, or installing window blinds, requires a very good hammer drill. There are ample windows in each room that not only provide needed ventilation but also provide a spectacular view of the rain forest and mountains. The house was built in the middle of 20 acres of rain forest that was semi-cleared for raising citrus fruit. A lot of the fruit trees are still growing but need attention. The rain forest is reclaiming this area. Our biggest challenge is keeping back the rain forest. Tropical plants that Diane had to struggle to get to grow in the US thrive here. They grow thirty or forty foot high! Other trees tower above the plants. Palm trees are everywhere. Birds of all types live here. In addition to birds, bugs live here. The bugs are not bad now. I can sit on my currently unscreened porch in the evening and am not bothered by bugs. I thought of taking the screening of the porch area off my list, but Diane mentioned that there are times of the year when the bugs are bad and a screened in porch will be welcomed.
We have no electric power yet. We have community water with very good pressure. Presently, the water costs us $4 US per month for unlimited use. We use a butane powered on demand heater for hot water which works fine. We also purchased a refrigerator / freezer that runs on butane. It is amazing; it keeps everything very cold including our frozen items and seems to use very little butane. We also use a butane stove/oven. This works exactly the same as a natural gas stove in the United States. A 25 gal butane cylinder powered the stove for over 6 months. The 25 gallons of butane cost less than $50 US. Since we have no electric power yet, modern kitchen devices will not work. For instance an electric coffee maker exists in most US homes. We use a stove top percolator. Can openers are manual. We haven’t found a replacement for the microwave. For washing clothes, we could use the rivers, but we merely start the generator and that powers the electric washing machine. Diane then hangs the clothes on a line to air dry in the sun. I also use the generator for my power tools, when needed. For light we use battery powered LED lanterns as well as kerosene lanterns. Diane also burns candles. She had packed quite a few candles from pier one in our initial shipment of household goods. Although I included 15K worth of audio video equipment in the initial shipment, without electric we have no TV. Believe it or not that is one thing we do not miss. What would we watch; the travel channel?
I use my portable computer at home but charge it as I drive. For internet, I go to an internet café 20 miles away. I do miss being connected to the internet for research needs. That will come. In the states sealing out the heat and cold is a major concern. Small cracks between windows and doors can cost quite a bit. Here, sealing these small cracks is a concern to prevent pest entry. The majority of people in Belize have no heat or air conditioning. Some restaurants are starting to have air conditioning. The place where I use internet, recently installed air conditioning in there forty by forty room. The incremental electric cost for cooling during business hours is $150 US per month.
We have been speaking to the electric company about installing electricity. Since we are about 500 feet off a main road, and since the community is at the verge of being over capacity in electric usage, I received quotes from the electric company to run power from their main power lines that run on the highway, to our house. These quotes were astronomically high! We offered to run cable at our expense to the road in the village and source our electric from there. This however did nothing for the capacity problem in the village. At our most recent meeting, the electric company indicated they would pay the cost of upgrading their infrastructure, and I would only have to pay the cost of lines run from the road in the village to our house. They implied that this would be significantly less money. In the interim, I continually look toward solar energy as a solution for us. This Friday, I will be in Belize City and will try and find the major solar energy dealer. In addition, as time permits, I have been reading two recently published books on solar energy. I have asked around for availability of solar energy consultants and none seem to be around. I wonder if this is a business opportunity!
Having come from the US, I am used to being “connected”. For the past 10 years, I have always had access to the internet, carried a mobile phone, and recently had a VOIP phone. I continued to keep regular home phone as well. Being “connected” or always able to contact someone offers a sense of security for some people. Having been in the service business for some time, being connected kept my stress level at a higher than normal rate. I knew that at any time a customer or employee could be calling about some issue or perhaps my wife could be calling seeking to learn when I expected to be home. I had to keep my mobile phone always charged and on. In Belize, I am somewhat disconnected. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Our communications here in Belize consists of an old Radio Shack bag phone that is powered by a 12 volt car battery. At present, we charge the car battery with the generator. This phone which is connected to a Yagi antenna on my roof is excellent for incoming calls. There is no charge for incoming calls. We need to use a phone card for all calls that we make. We pay no monthly fee. I brought down a satellite dish from the United States to be used for internet. I was waiting for electric before installing it. I decided to look at powering the radio with solar power and batteries. We have an unlocked mobile phone from the states that we use a Belize Telecom simm card for normal mobile phone use. When I go to Belmopan, Diane can call me and ask when I will be coming home!
One thing that is seldom written about in the various books on Belize is the night sky. At night, because of no appreciable ground light, the stars are magnificent! Shooting stars can be seen on most clear nights. Without a doubt, I will have to get a telescope setup on the deck! In addition, I will have to get a book on constellations visible in the Central American sky. Mayans were into astronomy. I can see why.
I spoke of bugs in the negative sense in a previous paragraph. There are some fascinating bugs down here. These are lightning bugs! Just as it starts to get dark, they appear. It could be an optical illusion, but they appear to fly at incredible speeds compared to the kind I was use to seeing in the United States. They seem bigger and brighter also. The number of lightning bugs is staggering. They are all over! I don’t know too much about these insects, such as what they eat or what eats them, but it would be a fascinating topic to read about.