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 …

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