29 March, 2009

Belize Blogging from Afar

Sunday, March 29, 2009
We reached Rochester at 12:45 PM Wednesday, March 25th; and both of us were back at work 45 minutes later. That was a rough transition! The good news is that our cats, including the 17 year geriatric JD, were both fine. The bad news is that, well, we are back. :-(

I posted a new set of photos in a slide show and added more images to the previous one. One is a Google Earth image that shows Englishtown and Monkey River Village to give you a better idea of how remote Englishtown is.

We came to a Minnesota just emerging from winter. The snow is gone, but the grass was still brown when we landed. The temps have dipped into the 20s at night, but the sun has been shining brightly and the grass is starting to turn green. Daffodil leaf tips are just poking up out of the ground in our yard and we have heard robins singing. It is a far cry from the seaside jungle we left behind; however we are looking forward to the incredible Minnesota summer just around the corner.

23 March, 2009

Day prior to departure

Monday, March 23, 2009
Today is that sad day that comes to each trip we make down here – packing up the cabana until next time. At 10:30 tomorrow morning Jason will take us by boat to the Placencia airstrip for our first leg of the long trip back to Minnesota. So today has us sorting our belongings into various piles: 1) things that go back with us, 2) things to give to Richard and Joy, 3) things to give to Sue and Chris, 4) things that get cleaned and locked away, and 5) things that get cleaned and put away ready for the occasional overflow guests from SteppingStones Resort to stay here. Pile #1 is warmish clothes and some few toiletries to get us back to Minnesota. It is the smallest pile. Pile #2 is a breadkeeper, unused cheese, butter, and veggies and vegetable and fruit seeds in starter pots, and some larger pots for bigger plants. To Sue and Chris go decaf espresso and other food items. Towels, linens, pillows, most kitchenware and tableware is in pile #5. And the pile that is to be locked away has our Belize clothes and snorkel gear, some kitchen things I am especially fond of and don’t want to have walk away, and some tools and electrical things that Dennis is fond of.

We also had some time for a couple of fun things today. Chris stopped by this morning and ate breakfast with us. Then later in the morning Richard took me, Dennis, Joy, and Allen in the boat up Black Creek to see where the path Allen cleared through the marsh hit Black Creek. We will site a “rough weather” dock back there for the boat when the sea is too high or rough for the regular dock. You can walk back there now, but the footing is treacherous, and come the wet, the path will be underwater. We want to put in a boardwalk that will allow us to use a wheelbarrow to take stuff back and forth to the boat during any season. I’ve posted a new album that includes photos of Black Creek and a couple of other things in the top right of this blog.

What were our accomplishments this trip? We never get as much done as we would like, but this time Dennis and I did tile and grout the kitchen walls (see photos). I am delighted with the way it turned out. That took us about twice as long as we thought it would. When we return in September or October, we will paint the kitchen walls above the tile a nice creamy yellow. Dennis and Richard installed a pressure tank for our water system. It helps give us a steady supply of water for the cabana and the cottage. Dennis changed out most (maybe all?) the screws holding the windows in place to stainless steel screws and he put in a door stop to keep the front door from banging into the window louvers. We also got a gray water system in place for the kitchen drain water to use to water the ornamentals. And an old water vat drained and moved and a new water vat installed. Richard fixed a new composting box for us. We add washed up sea grass mixed with the mature compost to add some texture to our soil, which is mostly sand. We didn’t make any progress on putting together a solar water heater or in getting a locking cupboard built. There’s always next time!

Monday Breakfast Frittata

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Breakfast Frittata

4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 T olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
¼ scotch bonnet pepper
1 ¾ c calyloo leaves, shredded
1/3 c diced fresh or dried mushrooms (rehydrated)
¼ c diced sundried tomatoes
1 sm cooked white potato, cubed
1/3 c sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
1 roma-style tomato, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Finely dice the onion, garlic, and scotch bonnet pepper and gently sauté in olive oil.
Stir calyloo leaves into salted boiling water; remove from heat, and let sit for 5 or more minutes before draining.
Stir everything except the sliced tomato and cubed cheese into the beaten eggs.
Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
Pour the egg mixture into a small oiled or non-stick baking dish (~7x7).
Sprinkle the cheese cubes onto the mixture.
Lay tomato slices onto the top.
Bake at ~300-350 until the sides just start to separate from the pan (~15-20 min).
Cool for 5 minutes.
Slice and serve with fresh fruit, toast, and coffee.
The taste is especially appreciated if eaten while sitting on the veranda overlooking the ocean. :-)

South Englishtown Saturday Night Dinner

Saturday, March 21, 2009

South Englishtown Saturday Night Dinner –

1st course – salad (served with gin and tonic*)
Fresh romaine lettuce (purchased at the Belmopan open air market)
Little grape-style tomatoes (grown in S. Englishtown by Joy)
2 Fresh tomatoes (from Belmopan)
Tomato and basil feta cheese (purchased at Brodie’s in Belize City)
Fresh basil (from Sue’s garden)
Salad dressing – olive oil and vinegar with 2 cloves crushed garlic, fresh ground pepper, salt

2nd course – linguine* with Englishtown Fra Diavilo (served with “Arrival Duty Free” Brissonette White wine @ $6.00/btl)
1 onion, diced (local)
6 cloves garlic, pressed (imported from China)
1 cho-cho, diced (local)
¼ local scotch bonnet pepper, finely diced (more if the pepper is mild)
Sautéed over hot flame for ~15 minutes in 2 T olive oil
Add ½ bell pepper, diced (local)
3 Roma style tomatoes, diced (Belmopan)
1 four oz squeeze tube tomato paste (Naturas brand)
salt and fresh ground pepper* to taste
¾ c water
Simmer for 30 min

3rd course – papaya and banana with sugar-free lemon pudding glaze

4th course – Dove milk chocolate with roasted hazelnut, served with Englishtown Café Dulce Mokatika
1 part sweetened condensed milk (cold)
2 parts decaf espresso (cold, brewed earlier in the day)
2 parts regular milk (cold)
3 parts Mokatika liquor (from Brodie’s)
2-3 Ice cubes (if you’ve got ‘em)

1) Diet tonic water is not available in Belize, and often regular tonic water is not available either. Gin and tonic can be approximated by using club soda with a lemon concentrate in the place of tonic. Never, never substitute bad gin for good! Tanqueray Rangpur or Bombay Sapphire are the best gins to use; Beefeaters will do in a pinch. We are still working on how to get the right bitter taste to substitute for the quinine in tonic. Suggestions are welcome!
2) There is no substitute (that I am aware of) for freshly ground black pepper. We bring McCormick brand pepper grinders with us when we come. I have not seen them in stores here, but really haven’t looked for them yet in Belize.
3) For those who need to pay attention to the glycemic index of foods for health reasons, whole wheat pasta can be used for the main course and sugar-free lemon pudding for the 3rd course. Splenda can be added to evaporated milk instead of using sweetened condensed milk, etc.The Duty Free Arrival store at the Phillip Goldston International Airport is fantastic. Any non-Belizean entering the country can shop there upon arrival on an international flight. The best buys are for alcohol. We got a very decent French champagne for $7.00 US and a good Spanish red wine (Brissonette) for $6.00. The Brissonette white wine was not as good, but did fine if overpowered with Feta cheese. ;-) Also, the Napoleon Brandy at $6.00/btl was a great buy. Each person can purchase up to 4 bottles. The costs for alcohol once inside Belize are outrageously high, the choices are limited, and the local alcohols (aside from the Belikin beers, which are quite nicely drinkable) are only so-so.

21 March, 2009

The "Norther" Arrives

Saturday, March 21, 2009
Dennis, Joy, Richard, and Sue went shopping in Independence yesterday. I stayed back at the cabana and did some work for my paying job back in Minnesota. I needed peace and quiet for a couple of hours to concentrate on what I needed to do and that was the perfect time. Chris was up at SteppingStones working on landscaping, Allen was here in S. Englishtown clearing a path into the jungle. It was very quiet on the veranda and perfect for working. I only stopped twice to stretch my legs and photograph some flowers in our south lot.

The shopping crew went by boat to the Monkey River dock and then Sue drove everyone to Independence. Dennis and Richard had banking to do and then along with Joy shopped at the various little stores and markets. Dennis bought the produce, ultrapasturized milk, breakfast cereal and other items on the list and he also found some tamarind fruit pods that he knows I love. Sue had a major shopping excursion because she is stocking up for a series of guests coming to SteppingStones Fishing Resort. They got back to Englishtown around 1:00, tired and sweaty from the long morning.

This morning we woke before 6:00 and the sea was glassy calm, no hint of breeze in the air. I love the way the sea looks when conditions are like this, so I took a number of photographs as the sun was rising. I tried to capture the subtle colors and calm feeling, as if nature were holding her breath. That turned out to be more prophetic than I had anticipated; 2 hours later a strong gale blew up with no warning – the “Norther” that Richard had said was coming is upon us. Check the 6:00 AM compared to the 8:00 AM photos in the web album that shows up at the upper right of this blog page. I also added some photographs of flowers, a female grackle, the change out of the water vats, and the Spanish Ray.

19 March, 2009

Trip to Belize City and More

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Yesterday, we finished our shopping in Belize City and were headed to Belmopan, the capitol, by 12:30. Dennis tried to pay our land tax, but for some reason they could not find our records, even though we have paid taxes for the last 4 years with no problem. We have copies of the deed and our previous tax receipts, but did not have them with us. So, like many things in Belize, that will get done another day. We did our produce shopping at the open air market and continued the drive back to Monkey River.

Those of you familiar with the Monkey River area will know that the dirt road to Monkey River ends at the north side of the mouth of the river and Monkey River Village is across the river at the south side of the mouth. There are no roads from any direction that go all the way to Monkey River Village. The folks in the village who own vehicles leave them in the lot near the dock on the north side and make their way back and forth across the river by boat. Englishtown is on the north side of the river, but there is no road to Englishtown either. Englishtown is topologically an island, essentially separated from the mainland by Black Creek to the south and west and to the north and west by mangrove marshland and by the shrimp farm creek.

What this means to those of us in Englishtown is that instead of just having to cross the river like the folks in Monkey River Village, we have to exit the mouth of the river into the sea and head north, passing to the inside of Little Monkey Cay to reach the stretch of beach that is Englishtown. It only takes about 15 minutes, but sometimes the sea is rough and the wind is high, making it difficult and sometimes dangerous to dock the boat, unload everything, and disembark. Other times, the sea is as smooth as glass and life is easy. Yesterday was between the extremes. Regardless, it makes for a long day of travel from Belize City to Englishtown.

One of the things we really enjoyed in Belize City was our dinner at a Chinese restaurant named, of all things, the Pirate. It is on the Northern highway a mile or so south of the big new Brodie’s store. The Pirate has a wonderful atmosphere that combines the best of outdoor dining with bug-free indoor dining. Between the 4 of us, we had pot stickers, steamed fresh vegetables, shrimp with fermented black beans, green curry chicken, sweet and sour shrimp, and African grilled fish. I highly recommend all of the above. The servings were very generous; we should have ordered less.

Today was hot and fairly calm. After a day of cleaning the cabana, washing clothes, squeezing oranges for juice, and fixing veggies to marinate prior to roasting later on for dinner, I decided it was time for a swim. The water was nice and clear and the sun was HOT. I swam from our dock to the halfway point to Chris and Sue’s dock and back. The importance of the clear water when swimming this close to shore is that you can see the stingrays before you make contact with them. To the surprise of both of us, I came face to face with a smallish (~1.5 ft wingspan) stingray. We slowly backed away from each other and then continued on our swims with courses altered to avoid contact. I have no personal experience with a sting from a stingray, but those who do have such experience (Chris and Sam, our building contractor) assure me that it is so painful that you would do just about anything to get rid of the pain.

Richard has made conch ceviche as an appetizer for our dinner together tonight. He has a bad reaction to conch when he eats it, but still makes a mean ceviche that Joy, Dennis, and I enjoy. I am fixing the veggies (onion, sweet potatoes, pattie pan squash, zucchini, broccoli, and carrots marinated in olive oil seasoned with salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic slices, and fresh ginger slivers, and I couldn’t resist adding a tablespoon of fresh orange juice), Dennis will fry up some nice snook fillets, and Joy made a couple of loaves of whole wheat bread. We don’t eat together every night, but do try to have a couple of special meals together each time we are down here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009
We were awakened this morning before dawn by the far away roar of howler monkeys coming from across the marsh and Black Creek. They have undoubtedly been roaring every morning, but we usually can’t hear them over the sound of the waves and the wind in the trees. During the night, however, the breeze dropped off and the waves became almost nonexistent. So, we hear the monkeys and the then grackles and the parrots and woodpeckers and doves and mockingbirds and social flycatchers and who knows what else as the jungle behind our cabana starts the new day. Spark and I went for a little pre-breakfast stroll out onto the dock and then along the shore for a bit. The water is clear, but there aren’t many fish hanging around under the dock like there will be later today; only a school of little minnows spooked by my shadow.

Today Dennis and Richard have the chore of pumping water from one vat to our new vat. Then the empty vat can be moved into line with the others. This shifting of water from one vat to another and repositioning the first is all so that Richard will be able to finish the cane screen under the front of the cabana that had been interrupted by the vat sticking out from under the cabana too far. We now have seven 1000 gallon storage vats under our cabana and two next to the generator shed; you can never have too many vats. :-) During the rainy season the vats get filled with water that is collected off the rooftops. That is our only supply of fresh water for drinking, bathing, cleaning, even watering the garden during the dry season. The rainwater is nice and soft, lovely for washing clothes and hair. You do have to keep the filters cleaned and remove the occasional dead frog or two out of a vat. :-(

Mid-morning as Richard was preparing to take Joy to the village, he called me to come to the dock and bring my camera. He had spotted a little ray locally known as a Spanish Ray. It was quite small; only about 6 inches across and 8 inches long with a stubby 8 inch tail. I think this is as big as this particular kind of ray gets, unlike the stingrays that can reach a couple of feet across with very long whip-like tails. But both of these rays have barbed tails that have a fearsome venom. It is easy to overlook either of them as they settle down into the sand with only their eyes sticking out. And easy to step on them and get stung. I’ll post one of the photos of the Spanish Ray the next time I load up a new album on the blog.

After a bright, hot, and still morning, a light breeze is coming from the south and a thin layer of clouds is to our west. It feels cooler and the air is less close. Richard says this is what heralds the coming of a “norther”, a windy cold front that brings cooler air and often rain from the north. Once that passes, we should have fine, clear weather.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the day for shopping in Independence. Independence is the closest village that has fulltime electrical service and so is the closest place to shop for perishables. It also has the nearest hardware store. We can get to Independence 2 ways. The easiest, but most expensive, is by boat. But, if you go by boat you then have to walk from the dock into the village and carry all your purchases back to the boat. The other way, and the way most often used, is to go by boat to the Monkey River Village parking lot and then drive to Independence. It takes longer and the road is often miserable with potholes, but it is the best way when you have a lot of purchases to make, especially at the hardware store. The hardware store, MNM, is the distributor for Belikin and Coca Cola and sells gas and diesel; all of those wondrous liquids that keep us going …

17 March, 2009

In Belize City

This is just a short blog today. Dennis and I are in Belize City with Chris and Sue to do some shopping and take care of some business. We accomplished quite a bit yesterday and have more on our list for today. We spent the night at D'Nest Inn, a lovely B&B with a fantastic garden. Our only complaint is the sound of dogs barking throughout the night.

I finally got the new slide show to load properly, so take a look at it by double clicking on the photos that show up at the top right of this blog page just below the banner photo. If you choose the "slideshow" option for viewing, the captions show up with each photo.

We are off for our breakfast in the dining room off the garden and then on to the scavanger hunt that is the shopping experience in Belize.

14 March, 2009

working on the cabana

Preface --The entries below were written as they are dated and posted all together when I got internet access. The photos I refer to show up just to the right of this posting at the top of the page. If you double click on any image, the entire album will open. You can play it as a slide show and see the captions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 -- We just did make it out of Minnesota yesterday. Our original flight from Rochester to Chicago was canceled due to fog. But American rebooked us on the next flight and also on the flight from Chicago to Miami. We got to Miami only a couple of hours later than we had planned. From the airport weather report we saw earlier today, it looks like Chicago and Minneapolis airports are pretty much shut down for at least this morning. Our flight this morning left Miami for Belize right on time, 10:50. I’m writing this on the plane while looking down at the Florida Keys passing below us. When we checked in at the Rochester airport (my favorite small airport in the whole world, but that is a sidebar for another time) we had 5 bags to check, each of which weighed between 45 and 48 pounds (good job, Dennis!). Unfortunately they were not able to check them through all the way to Belize since we had an overnight stop in Miami. We were not looking forward to having to schlep those 5 heavy bags along with our 4 carryon bags from the Miami airport to the hotel and back again. Fortunately, there is a conveniently located luggage storage place at the airport. We paid $45 to store the bags, and then just schlepped the bags 50 feet to the check in counter this morning.
Chris had asked us to pick a cheap watch for him, no leather or metal for the strap. Starting at gate D29, where the security line enters the concourse, we walked along past 2 or 3 shops that had watches, but they were all fake bling, not Belize worthy in the least. Finally, all the way past gate 50D at the end wall of the concourse was the perfect store, the $10 Store. They had $10 watches with jelly-type bands. I found a masculine looking black and red number for Chris and just happened to buy a petite turquoise one for myself, too. ;-) And because we just didn’t have quite enough stuff with us, we stopped at the dutyfree store to pick up a bottle of Schtolliznia (for Chris again) and Tanqueray Rangpur (for me).
I recently got a new cell phone, the Blackberry Bold with service through AT&T. I got it mostly for work, because I can directly access my work email program and get my emails via the 3G coverage. That turns out to be much faster than logging into my laptop and finding wireless at airports or hotels or anywhere, for that matter. It has a nice sized qwerty keyboard that works well for typing with middle-aged thumbs. I got international coverage and am told it will work in Belize for phone calls and for data, including email. I’m not 100% convinced that it will work, but we’ll see. If it does, life will be much easier for us on our twice-a-year trips to Belize. I have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 -- I am writing this from the screened in veranda of our cabana. It is 7:40 pm and a gorgeous full moon has risen over the ocean. We have been here not quite 30 hours. I was delighted when we arrived at the Phillip Goldson International Airport to find that my Blackberry does work in Belize – hurray!!! I was able to send an email from it to Sue letting her know that we had arrived on schedule. And I received her surprised reply (not surprised that we had gotten her on schedule, but that I was able to send her an email from the airport.). While we waited to pull our bags off the carousel, we discovered the new duty free shop at the airport. We got 4 bottles of various spirits for $28 US. Fast forward to dinner tonight and we found that the brandy was more firewater in nature than smooth; but for $6 it is hard to complain. Here’s hoping the wines and champagne are a little better.
We were the last people from our flight through customs. Dennis wound up having to pay $187 BZ on import duty, the most we have had to pay yet. Bailey provided excellent help getting all our bags from customs to the Maya Island Air check in counter and Victor made sure that everything got safely on board our flight to Placencia, even personally handing me the bag with booze as I boarded the plane. Remembering people and greeting them by name goes a long way toward making everything happen smoothly, and a nice tip also helps.
Chris, Richard, and Jason, met us at the Placencia Airstrip in Jason’s boat. Words can’t do justice to the experience of being met by boat at that airstrip. From there we boated around to the Placencia dock area and did a little grocery shopping before the 50 min ride to Englishtown. The sea was high and fairly rough, so we docked at Chris and Sue’s -- our dock gets even rougher water than theirs, making it dangerous to offload such large bags. It took a while to offload everything and haul it down the beach to S. Englishtown, but several wheelbarrow loads took care of most of it. Sue prepared a lovely dinner (locally farmed shrimp in red sauce over rice) so we could just relax our first evening. Nothing could be better – good friends, good conversation, good food, good wine to close a busy day of travel to paradise.
One of the most fun things we like to do when we arrive is to walk around the property with Richard (our caretaker) and his wife joy while they show us how the plants have grown and the various improvements to the property that they have made since we were here last. This time we saw how much better the cabana looks since Richard has begun installing a sort of visual screen of dried river cane as a barrier along the perimeter of the cabana between the ground and the floor. Again, photos will show that better than I can describe it.
Today, Dennis and I worked on the layout for the tile we will install on the kitchen walls. We did all the measurements and placements of the decorative tiles and figured out how much tile cutting needs to be done. Part of the $187 of import duty was for a good quality tile cutter, thinset trowels, tile nippers, etc. We will start the installation tomorrow.
Tonight we made a sort of “gourmet” take on tuna casserole using 2 medium onions, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 cho cho (chayote), and part of sweet pepper sautéed together, a can of tuna packed in water, Cracker Barrel sharp cheddar cheese, evaporated milk, and whole wheat penne pasta baked for about 45 minutes. This was our first time to use the oven (it was installed just as we were leaving the last time we were here). It worked just fine once we figured out how to light it. We didn’t even explode anything. ;-)

Friday, March 13, 2009 – We were so busy with the tile yesterday that I was not able to find time to write for the blog. We got off to a very slow and uneven start with the tile. We didn’t have spacers, so the first part is uneven. And a part in the tile cutter had jostled loose, so the tile was breaking unevenly at one end until Dennis figured that out. Good thing we got plenty of extra tiles. Once we got that straightened out, it went a lot quicker. I’m very happy with how most of it looks. We are only about 1/3 done, so we have a lot to do today.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 – the tile work is going much faster. We will finish it tomorrow by doing the areas under the 3 windows that require a lot of cutting. The 3 main walls are all tiled. This morning Richard got someone from Monkey River Village to come help with a water vat delivery and also to do major trimming on the blackberry tree. The blackberry tree, which gets its name from its large, edible, black fruits that are about the size of an olive, is huge and is growing just behind the cabana. It drops fruit into the rain gutter (part of our water collection system) and also onto the back veranda. The fruits are very juicy and stain everything purple. We needed to trim it away from the veranda because it makes such a mess and we also plan to site a solar water heater on that end of the cabana. The tree would have shaded the heater during the late afternoon hours. Tiger came to help Richard with the trimming. He climbed a ladder to get into the tree branches, carrying his machete with him. He used the machete to trim branches up to 6 inches in diameter while balancing on tree branches. He made very short work of the trimming job and now the tree looks better and won’t be a problem for another couple of years. Quite a few little blackberry trees have taken root under the big tree. When the rainy season starts, Joy and Richard will transplant some of those to better locations for big trees.
Tonight we will grill some snook fillets that have been marinating in lime, onion, and sweet pepper. Richard is the grill master. I made some cole slaw and will cook some brown jasmine rice. Joy and Richard will join us for dinner. I think Joy is preparing wild green papayas by pealing and seeding them. Then she will cook them in brown sugar and cinnamon. That will be a great dessert.

05 March, 2009

Such a long long time to be gone and short time to be there

Four more days until we reach Englishtown; not nearly soon enough, yet way too soon. We have so much to do (at work and home) before we can leave, yet we just really need to be there. So what have we packed up so far? Tools, tools, tools (including jigsaw, chain saw blade sharpener, lots of hand tools), toolboxes, bathroom faucet, stainless steel kitchen towel rods, a big box of teaching materials for St Stephen's Anglican Primary School in Monkey River Village (our neighbor Sue is school manager), unbreakable polycarbonate "outdoor" beverage glasses, black tie and cummerbund (not sure what gala event this for, but Chris, I think Sue has big social plans for you!), DVDs for Joy (she loves horror films). Because all of this will stay there when we return to Minnesota, we are prepared to pay import duties. Most of what we bring in is used, so the values on which the duty is calculated are pretty low. Belize is so small and has so little opportunity to generate income to support infrastructure that we don't begrudge the duties.

Thanks to the Grateful Dead for the lyrics used in the title of today's blog.