31 October, 2010

From seaside to mountainside in Belize

With our good friends Sue and Chris Harris (SteppingStones Resort, Englishtown, Belize) we are taking a short holiday in the mountain jungles of Belize. We drove up to the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, one on either side of the Macal River, and then followed the river about 8 miles further into the mountains. We are staying at DuPlooy’s Jungle Lodge (http://www.duplooys.com/about-us.php) overlooking the gorge through which the Macal River runs. DuPlooy’s was established in 1987 and was the first jungle resort in Belize that catered to international travelers. This is the end of the off season in Belize, and the four of us actually had the place to ourselves. It is a beautiful place, kept very natural in most areas and is also the site of the Belize Botanic Garden. The birding and plants are fabulous, and the accommodations are not too shabby either. It is not an inexpensive place to stay, but is the price is reasonable for what you get. We have a spacious 2 story casita that feels quite secluded. While standing on the veranda, you are thrust right into the jungle which drops off into the gorge below. A long boardwalk from the casita leads to a stone path, with smaller cabanas along one side and the gorge on the other, ultimately connects to the restaurant, bar, and gorge overlook.
 Macal River and gorge wall
 Sue, testing the bed
 Boardwalk to the Casita
 Palm along the boradwalk
We spent several afternoon hours relaxing on the upstairs veranda with wine and cheese while I watched all the birds in the tree canopy. The first night while walking back to the casita after our dinner, a soft rain began to fall, and moments after entering the casita, the heavens opened up; we were treated to the soothing sounds of rainfall during most of the night. 

The next morning we awoke to overcast skies and an occasional shower. Never-the-less, after breakfast the four of us embarked on a self-guided tour of the botanic gardens. This area was affected a bit by Hurricane Richard. On the drive up we had seen downed trees with increasing frequency. There are some downed trees here, but actually more “drowned” trees from flooding from the hurricane rainfall. We did seek shelter from the rain at one point in a bird hide overlooking a small pond which had most definitely overflowed its banks.
view from blind  
The botanic garden had areas with cycads, gingers, plants used as traditional ornamental plants, an orchid house, and a natural rainforest. Many of the plants were labeled. The sun came out and until a light breeze commenced blowing, the air was very hot and muggy. Our camera and glasses lenses kept steaming up in the saturated air. Below are photos of several Heliconia plants.  These iconic jungle plants have folilage similar to bananas (a close relative) and very striking and colorful flowers. 
Below is a beehive ginger plant. also closely related to Heliconias and bananas.  Easy to see how this one got its name.
And here we have Dutchman's Pipe, a vine with its interesting flower designed to trap its pollinators.
Dennis and I carried a bit longer than Chris and Sue, but after nearly 3 hours of walking and photography, we too turned back for a short rest before lunch of gazpacho and chicken pesto quesadillas.

We stayed close to the casita after lunch. I took photos off the veranda, checked email, and read a few blogs (I am soooo far behind!). Tonight is our last night in Belize. :-( Tomorrow we fly out of the Belize International Airport to Dallas, Texas. We will spend the night in Dallas and then get to Rochester by way of Chicago on the next day.

29 October, 2010

Plumbing in Paradise: Installation of the New Kitchen Sink

There is nothing fancy about the sink we brought with us to install in the cabana kitchen. But it is made of a heavier gauge stainless steel and the double basins are just slightly larger than the old sink. The faucet, with its brushed nickel finish, solid metal construction, single lever, and spritzer, is much nicer than the old plastic piece of junk. Below is Dennis holding the old sink and faucet that he has just removed from the cabinet.
Even though the basins were slightly larger and at least an inch deeper than the existing sink, we thought the footprint for the countertop cutout was identical. Once Dennis scraped all the old caulking off, we could test that by dry-fitting the new sink.
It fits! Yea!!! First hurdle is cleared.

Then Dennis fitted new strainer units into the sink basins with plumber’s putty and secured the tailpieces of the drains. Time for another dry-fit to see if the tailpieces match up to the location of the drain pipes. Yes and no. Yes, they lined up to the same spots. No, they were much too long. What to do, you may ask. ;-) Dennis took the old tailpieces off the old sink and used them to get a closer match and made up the difference with the play in the PVC drain pipe.

The water supply, which uses flexible IPES tubing, was easier to connect. Or was it? Turns out the connector that Dennis brought down here with us was defective, so again, he scavenged parts from the old sink until he can replace it with newer material. Not having a hardware store within easy reach brings makes one resourceful. ;-) (We were ale to buy the proper piece when we went on our 6 hour round trip to the village of Independence for supplies. Dennis will replace that today while I am posting this from an internet café in the slightly larger village of Placencia.)

Now for the real installation. Dennis filled the channels on the underside of the lip of the sink with silicone caulking and we carefully lowered the sink into place. From underneath, he tightened the clips that hold the sink firm to the countertop. In the photo below you can see the excess caulking that was squeezed out when the clips were tightened.
And finally, the sink fully installed.

Just look at the single lever faucet and wonderful spritzer! We get excited by the simplest things here in Englishtown. And as David from “Adventures in Paradise”  (http://winjama.blogspot.com/)   will tell you, it is truly plumbing in paradise when you can complete a job in a single day with just a handful of hyphenated words to color the air blue!

Exploring Black Creek

We have a small, locally-made, fiberglass, keel-less canoe that is called a dory around here. We moved it around back to Black Creek so that I can take it out to paddle around and take photos. Black Creek is almost a lagoon except that it is feed by natural drainage from the surrounding marshes rather than being tidal seawater. It has a very gentle flow and feels more like a lake than a creek.

The brackish water is a dark tea-color from the tannins in the mangrove leaves that drop into the water. It is major nursery for tarpon and permit fish to mature from mere wee babes to juvenile fish large enough to head out to the open sea. Of course, not all of them make it out of childhood because the mangroves surrounding the creek are home to large numbers of egrets, herons, kingfishers, cormorants, anhingas, and osprey. Bird photos will come later, I promise.

I got up early a few days ago for a dawn paddle in Black Creek. 
It is so quiet and serene with no one else around. Quiet, that is, until a crocodile launches itself into the water with a big kersplash when I startled it out of its morning slumber. I didn’t get a good look at it, but based on the size of its head (about a foot long and 8-10 inches wide), I estimate it to be a smallish croc about 3 to 4 feet long. There are reliable sightings of a croc at least 15 feet long that resides in Black Creek. Suddenly, my dory feels pretty small and tippy.

As the morning grew late, I saw a cloud of white out the corner of my eye. I turned the dory around to see a flock of white birds wheel around the far, broad end of the creek. I managed to take some photos, hoping to see where they landed, but they flew off without landing.

Looking at the photos later, I could tell they were snowy egrets with their golden slippers. It is a bit of a challenge to take action shots with a long(ish) lens using a monopod in a keel-less canoe while adrift! But I am getting a little better at it and I haven’t tipped over yet. ;-) Which is a good thing considering the crocs …

27 October, 2010

Fragrant Limes and Conch Ceviche

A friend of Richard’s knows how much we like the fragrant limes from a tree in his yard so he very thoughtfully brought us a bag full of them.
 I have never seen limes anything like these – they are orange inside, but taste nothing like oranges. They taste like kafir lime leaves used in Thai cooking smell when you crush them, heavenly. If anyone recognizes them, I would be delighted to know what the varietal name is.

I have used them in cooking, at times a little too liberally according to Dennis. Mostly I have used them to make lime juice. The juice from these limes is so potent, you can dilute it 1:10, add a fair amount of sugar or sweetener, to make a wonderfully refreshing cold drink. Lime juice from regular limes is very common on restaurant menus along with watermelon, guava, grapefruit, and orange juices. Street vendors also sell juices, especially on market days.

It is conch season right now. We bought 3 conchs (out of the shell) and I made conch Ceviche from them using juice from the fragrant limes. First, you chop up the conch into small pieces, put them in a bowl and add enough lime juice to cover them. Then, you chop onion, sweet peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and a bit of habanera pepper to add to the bowl along with some black beans if you like. Season with salt and let marinate at room temperature if you plan to eat it soon or in the fridge if you eat it more than 4 hours later. Just before serving it, add fresh cilantro. If you need to tone down the hotness of the pepper, you can add avocado at any time.
Serve it with tortilla chips, soda crackers, or plantain chips as an appetizer. Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce, a product of Belize, can add some zing if you dare. A nice gin in lime juice (my favorite) or Campari and soda (Dennis’ drink of choice) are compatible drinks.

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26 October, 2010

Out of Order in Belize :-)

This should have been my second posting for our Belize trip, but it didn’t get posted due to hurricanes and lack of internet connections when I wrote it. So here it is, out of order:

Belize, Day 2
Joy very thoughtfully had awaiting us in our cabana several vases of flowers, 2 bunches of sweet little bananas, and 3 papayas – all from our yard.
The rain started to fall just as we finished getting everything into the cabana. We puttered around, getting the groceries put away and generally trying to make headway in getting things sorted out, which is a challenge in a cabana that is fairly small with limited storage space.
When the rain stopped I went outside to check on the plants and see how they had fared in the last 5 months. The native spider lilies are doing well, with quite a few in bloom. The locals consider these plants to be weeds, but we love them for their beauty and their ability to thrive in places that are too windy and sea-sprayed for other plants.
 Also of note are the white orchids that are blooming along the path to Black Creek. As I compare the photo below of the small orchid to the one above of the spider lily, I can see that the difference in their size is not very apparent.  The spider lily plants are about 6 feet wide compared to the orchid which is not even 6 inches wide. 
I also found one of the the new papaya plants that are bearing such nice looking fruit. And the best part is that they are short enough for me to reach the fruit.

25 October, 2010

Belize Dragonflies

One thing we had noticed right away when we go off the plane in Placencia was the hordes of dragon flies everywhere; we easily saw tens of thousands the afternoon of our arrival.

I have taken photos when I can, but am not familiar at all with the names or specifics (I can generally tell the difference between a dragon and damsel, but that is about it). And as I write this on the veranda I have no reference books or access to the internet, so the individuals in the photos will go un-named -- unless someone recognizes them and lets me know what they are (Help! Please!).  I will have more photos later, too.

This one I do know. ;-) It is a Tropic Air prop plane similar to the Maya Island Air prop plane on which we arrived. It is not much bigger than some of the dragons …

Hurricane Richard

Just a quick post to let readers know that Hurricane Richard passed to our north and that we are fine here in the southern part of Belize.  Poor Belize City took a pounding.  I don’t have any news from there yet.  Today dawned beautiful and sunny here in Englishtown.  More later.

19 October, 2010

Everything and the kitchen sink!

Wednesday morning we headed to the Rochester airport for the first leg of our trip to Belize. This trip we had 3 big bags and a big Igloo ice chest to check on the plane plus a big box that held, you guessed it, our old stainless steel kitchen sink that we took out of the house this past year when we remodeled the kitchen. Even though it is 23 years old, it is still better than the one we have in Belize. Putting in the “new” kitchen sink is one of the projects we hope to accomplish on this trip.

We flew from Rochester to Chicago then Chicago to Miami on Wednesday and spent the night in Miami. As usual, we stored the big things at the airport so we didn’t have to haul them to the hotel; it was enough work for each of us to haul our 2 carry on bags (4 total). As we rode the shuttle bus to the hotel, we spotted a Cuban diner across the street from the hotel and decided to go there for dinner. We had fried cassava as an appetizer and for dinner we shared a dish that had chicken, shrimp, and calamari cooked with onions and peppers. And we had a side dish of fried green plantains called tostones. Surely the green plantains count as a green veggie. ;-)

Thursday morning we got up early to make it to the airport before 7:00, retrieved our bags, and went through check in and security. Flying is such a pain in the butt these days – take the computer out of the bag, take the little toiletries bag out, take your shoes off, take your jacket off, empty your pockets. And if you are extra lucky like I was, you get patted down and swiped off to see if any explosives are detected. After all that, the rest was easy. We got to our gate with plenty of time to have Cuban coffee and pastries for breakfast right across from our departure gate.

We arrived in Belize City about 10:30 am and went through immigration easily, after a short panic on my part thinking I had left my glasses on the plane. But, no, they were in my little shoulder bag. While waiting for the checked bags to show up, we shopped at the “arrivals duty free shop” to get some wine and other alcoholic beverages at a much cheaper price than you can once you leave the airport. Then came customs. All 9 of our bags were searched. ;-( Dennis had receipts for almost all the things we were intend to leave here, so there was no real problem, just time consuming. We paid duty on various tools and hardware items, printer cartridges. Then we went into the domestic side of the terminal to check in for the flight from Belize City to Placencia on a little 12 seater prop plane. I love flying on these little planes. They fly a little higher than the soaring birds but low enough to get good views of the landscape below.

Fellow blogger Drew Travers of TraversBelize  (http://traversbelize.blogspot.com/) met us at the Placencia airstrip and dropped us off at Nautical Inn in the village of Seine Bight. After we checked in, I went for a little swim in the ocean – the water was perfect. Later on, we walked about half a mile to a great restaurant that was an unexpected surprise; it is owned and operated by a young Austrian couple. I had their special of the evening, lobster soup followed by homemade lamb sausages and sauerkraut. Dennis had prawn toast with smooth tomato chutney followed by fish goulash. For dessert we shared chocolate-filled dumplings served with papaya sorbet. It was all fabulous.

The walk back to the Nautical Inn was made interesting by a rasta guy who attached himself to us and would not go away. He kept declaring that he was a good guy and we were good people. He was completely wasted. In fact, when he spotted us the next morning, he started his routine all over again, clearly having forgotten the encounter from the evening before.
Drew picked us up at 9:30 and we went to his place to meet his wife Karen and talk to them about their experiences in moving to Belize from Maine. They have developed a delightful place in the 7 or so years they have been here full time. They shared a lot of very useful information with us. You should check out their website.

Jason picked us up in his boat at the Travers’ lagoon-side dock with Joy and Richard along for the ride. We did our grocery shopping in the little village of Independence, paid up on the tab at the hardware store, bought a new water pump to replace the leaking one at our cabana, bought diesel for the generator, and gas for our boat before heading down to South Englishtown. As we made our way through the mangrove labyrinth I could feel the tension of work and travel melting away. The first glimpse of our cabana from the sea is always such a welcome sight.

Arrival also means unloading all the bags and boxes we brought with us and accumulated along the route to Englishtown. Here is a photo of most of the stuff we brought with is. The sink is in the big blue box …

10 October, 2010

Autumn Planting for Spring Flowers

In spring, we have masses of daffodils that flower soon after the snow melts in the flower bed at the front of the house.  I had planted these bulbs about 10 years ago (maybe longer, I can't remember.  LOL). 
Over the years, though, I had gotten tired of seeing the spent foliage in the front garden laying flat on the ground as it slowly fades to brown during July and August.  So this summer, I dug up most of the daffodil bulbs.  Altogether, I got more than 6 bushels of bulbs, some of which are shown below as they were dried and sorted.
Over the past week, Dennis and I planted most of the bulbs behind the house along the boundary of the lawn with the woods.  In the photo below you can see a white basket all the way at the lefthand side of the photo.  It marks the top of a backwards "C" shape that runs along the trees and ends where I stood as I took the photo; that strip about 10 feet wide is where the bulbs went.  I have high hopes for spring flowers!
And now for the last shots of autumn leaves.  I took these last Sunday when Dennis and I went for a country drive.
The best colors of autumn.

So intense.
I love the contrast of the almost black limbs and the leaves that seem to glow from within.
We saw these maples (perhaps Amur maples?) growing along a country road.
Since last weekend, the colors have faded and dulled, and many leaves have fallen.  Yesterday the first of our snowbird juncos arrived from Canada.  Many of them will stay here for the winter and others will continue south.  Autumn will soon be giving way to winter.

09 October, 2010

Red Squirrel, Red Trees

Another golden autumn day with this fine red squirrel posing on a stump in our side yard.  The only bad thing was that I had the ISO set quite high from yesterday evening and by the time I changed it, the squirrel had run up a tree.  :-(  Still, its not a bad shot.
And for Roy, here are a couple more autumn color shots from the grounds next to our house.
These grounds belong to the Sisters of St. Francis.  It was near their convent, Assissi Heights, that I took the photos I posted yesterday.  Only a coincidence, though.
More colors tomorrow perhaps.