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.