01 May, 2009

May Day

May 1, 2009

It has been a very busy 2 weeks since I last posted a blog. Major work deadlines intervened that, believe it or not, are related to the US Government Stimulus Package for research funding. The stimulus package created a number of different ways to apply for research grants funded by the National Institutes of Health, all of which had one thing in common – get the dollars into the economy as quickly as possible. That translated into quick turn around times to get grant proposals written. So imagine all across America, thousands of scientists hunkering down at their computers to write a grant proposal in a couple weeks instead of the usual several months in hopes that theirs will be one of the 200 funded. No fun at all, but wish me luck! You know what they say about lotteries– “you can't win if you don't play.”

Last time I was writing about our 2004 trip to Belize where we started out at Gales Point in the Southern Lagoon. From there we headed to Black Rock Lodge in Cayo.

We were picked up at Gales Point by a driver from Black Rock Lodge who drove us along the Manatee Highway to the Hummingbird Highway to Belmopan. At Belmopan we turned onto the Western Highway to get to San Ignacio. The drive was beautiful, and all along the Hummingbird Highway wave after wave of the wonderful smell of orange blossoms filled the van. The road to the lodge was nearly impassable by my gringa standards. In places it was no more than deep washed out tracks that threatened to rip off the undercarriage of the van. But the driver persevered and delivered us to the lodge with no damage to us or the van. The lodge was lovely. Luxurious landscaping screened the cabanas so each one felt like the only one. The outdoor covered dining room/lobby overlooked the gorge through which the Macal River runs. Dinner was family style each night, and it was always delicious. They also had a well-stocked bar where I had my very first Caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil. A Caipirinha is made with cacha├ža, a distilled liquor made from a by product of sugar cane processing, poured over crushed ice on top of lime slices muddled with raw sugar. They could also make a mean mohito. Birdwatching at the lodge was great. We saw our first lineated woodpeckers there starting a nest near our cabana.

We met another couple there, Sikke and Neeltje Sikkema who were visiting from France, also watching birds. The four of us went on a canoe day trip on the Macal from Black Rock to San Ignacio. The canoe was an ungainly aluminum 4 seater that weighed a ton and had the maneuverability of a school bus. The trip was great fun even though we had a run in with some aggressive overhanging tree branches when we came out of a small rapids wrong way around. My little point and shoot film camera bit the dust on that one. If you take a look at the slide show you can see water damage on the film of the last photo I took on the canoe trip. :-( We passed by herds of long horned cattle wading in the water. They disdainfully ignored us for the most part. A cow is pretty big when seen from the perspective of a canoe seat. We stopped for lunch at a posh lodge on the river and took a tour through some lovely ornamental gardens there. From there it was easy going to San Ignacio. One of the nice things about Belize is how easy it is to find kindred spirits. We have kept in touch (sporadically, I must admit) with Sikke and Neeltje and they were kind enough to host us for a several absolutely delightful days when I had a business trip to France a couple of years ago. We hope they get a chance to visit us in Minnesota before we move to Belize! And especially after we do move to Belize.

On the way to Black Rock and the way out, we passed by some properties for sale. Most of these were ranch sized with gorgeous houses and prices to match. The driver from Black Rock also drove us to Calico Jack’s at the north end of the Placencia Peninsula.

Here comes the really cool part …

We checked into Calico Jack’s and the manager (who was checking us in) asked us if we had been to the Monkey House a while back. Our mouths dropped open as we wondered how she knew. It turns out that our names had rung a bell (how many
Wilmas do you know?). As you have probably figured out by now the manager was none other than Martha Scott from the Monkey House. She had been away when we were there in 1999, so we had never met. But she remembered us from the photos I had sent them of Sam and of us. So we finally got to meet Martha and she got us caught up on what happened to Sam and the Monkey House during Hurricane Iris while she was still in the states. The hurricane washed most of Monkey House away and almost washed Sam away. Sam saved himself by hanging on to a filled water vat as the storm raged around him. The storm surge at Monkey House was 16 ft. What a trauma! So with Monkey House “gone with the waves”, Martha was making ends meet working at Calico Jack’s while Sam was working on reconstructing the remains of the workshop into a liveable structure. He did a fine job of it, too. You should see it now with the workshop area converted into downstairs living space and kitchen, the dining room and sitting room overlooking the ocean, and upstairs a large bedroom, laundry room, and bathroom. The wall on the ocean side is a huge series of gorgeous mahogany louvered windows.

Talking to Martha was like talking to a long lost friend, we settled into a comfortable conversation like settling into our favorite spots on the sofa. And of course, sooner or later it came out that we were looking for property to buy. Martha made some phone calls to Monkey River Village and arranged for Ralph Zuniga, an excellent tour guide, to show us property owned by Sonny Garbutt. Long story short, we wound up buying 2 blocks from Sonny in Englishtown. It took a year to get it all settled, most of which was long distance communication with our lawyer in Belize. Another cool aspect of this is that the 2 blocks we bought from Sonny had originally been deeded to his ancestors by Queen Victoria.

Sonny had 6 blocks for sale. Now these blocks had seen quite a bit of damage from Hurricane Iris and were filled with downed trees and regrown jungle. The land here is fairly low, so we needed to check out which lots had the best features. At this point Dennis was about 17 days post knee surgery, so I volunteered to check out the literal lay of the land. The jungle had grown up so densely that I had to weave my way in three dimensions almost like a snake to get back into the lots. I was looking for standing water (bad) and hardwood trees like gumbo limbo (good). The southernmost lot were the lowest, but the 4 other lots were all pretty good. We selected what we thought were blocks 5 and 6 when counting from the southernmost lot. The approximate center of the blocks we selected could be identified from the sea by a tall tree covered with Devil’s Guts epiphytic cactus. There were various mis-communications, mis-measurements, mis-adventure, that ultimately resulted in us actually purchasing blocks 4 and 5. This was the best thing that could have happened for us. It turns out there is a legal battle over block 6. I am so glad that we did not wind up in the middle of that. So here’s to mis-communication, mis-measurements, and mis-adventure! May they live long so we can prosper!

Stay tuned for the next post when we start planning what to do on the lots. Until then enjoy May Day weekend.