Monday, April 9, 2007

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 cafĂ© 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.

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