23 February, 2013

What do you do with an old wheelbarrow?

We go through a lot of wheelbarrows here in South Englishtown.  Six days a week they are used to move seagrass that has washed to shore to the back of the lot for composting.   Allen rakes up about 200 feet of seafront, and that amounts to a lot of seagrass.  The wheelbarrows are also used to move sand to cover new paths that we make and to fill in low spots.  That is a near daily chore, too.  We use them to cart our diesel and gasoline that we have to bring by boat from Independence from the dock to the generator shed.  They get used to offload building supplies like bags on concrete, sacks of river sand and gravel.  They have even been used to mix cement on more than one occasion.  We go through a lot of wheelbarrows and we come across their spent carcasses at the edges of our property. 
I went to take photos of this yellow-flowering vine and discovered a wheelbarrow.
Usually, it is the metal parts that attach the wheel to the barrow that rust out and give way.  But once they are dumped in the brush, the termites are quick to find the handles.
The discolored brown on the handles is from termites.
 It struck me that we could use the barrow part as containers for the container plants we are starting.  So Dennis used his cordless sawzall to cut away the metal parts and remove the handles.  The bolt holes in the bottom will serve as drainage holes for the containers.
Here is one of the 3 (!) discarded wheelbarrows filled with what passes for soil in South Englishtown.
The black plastic body also makes a good base to sterilize the soil.  The sun is so intense that we can cover the soil with black plastic and after 5 or so days of sun, the soil is pretty sterile.

Black plastic is held in place temporarily by coconuts until we get it tucked in all the way around.
 We have some fig cuttings rooted, and some seedlings of Malay apples (not apples at all) and Jamaica limes that will find their way into the barrows with their nice sterile soil.
Fig cuttings (to the left) are ready to plant.  The 2 Malay apples (back) need to get bigger first, as do the Jamaica lime seedlings.
The Malay apples aren't especially sweet, but they are very juicy and crispy in an almost styrofoamy way.  That doesn't sound too appetizing, but they are great in salads and fruit salads.  The Jamaica limes are green on the outside, like a normal lime, with orange flesh inside.  They have a tangy flavor that is similar to Kaffir limes.  The trees are prolific bearers of fruit.  

All of these plants will do well in containers where we can protect them from soil pests, land crabs, and coati.  Might be easier to keep birds away, too.  Most of the containers will ultimately be placed on our back veranda.  We will make stands to lift them off the veranda floor and hold the barrows level.  We need way more than 3 barrows, so off to scavenge more wheelbarrows from the brush ...

22 February, 2013

Springin' the Car in Belize

Some of you readers may remember that there is not a road that goes to our place here just north of the mouth of the Monkey River; the road ends at the river.  But we still need a car if we want to shop at villages other than Independence or Placencia, which we can reach by boat.  And we also need a car to travel in Belize.  The following account was written by Dennis.  He spent today getting our car, which we had shipped from Alabama by boat, from the Port of Big Creek Customs:

Got up around 6 AM, sun already peeping up in the southeast.

Had coffee and a quick breakfast.  While trying to organize what I had to do today, and muttering about it, I realized I needed to relook at an email sent by the Customs Broker, Orlando Carillo.  He instructed me to pay Mr. Dellon Coc BZ$125 for his efforts on getting the importation and duty figured on the car.  So I had to find the email quickly since Richard had pulled up to the dock.

On the way to the village of Mango Creek.
Left for Mango Creek around 8 with Richard and Joy.

Nelson's Taxi picked us up at the dock.

Went to the Bank.  Only had a few people in line ahead of me. I was able to turn in the online account access form and also pay the Customs duty for the boat relatively easily.  Also took out funds to pay the workers for concrete work performed Mon - Wed.

Went to MnM Hardware.  Picked up another 12 tubes of caulk, 2 canisters of butane, and another 5 gallon gasoline container.  Filled up containers with 30 gallons of diesel fuel for the generator and 27 gallons of gasoline for the boat motor and construction generator. (BZ$646).

Nelson the taxi driver dropped me off at the Immigration Dept in Big Creek, 2 to 3 miles from MnM.

Went into Immigration to get my Visa renewed for another month, about 3 parties in line ahead of me including an annoying American tourist.  I hope we all do  not come off like this individual did.  It only took about 10 minutes to get the passport stamped for another month, US$25. 
Passing by the Port of Big Creek.  This is a deep water port at which lots of big ships stop for deliveries and pickups.  You can see the channel markers to the left and right.  We have shipped things down on container ships and this is where the bulk of our household goods will come in to Belize.  Also at Big Creek is the Immigration Office where we have to get our passports stamped monthly.  Mayo Mountains are in the background.
Walked over to The Port Authority Office at Banana Enterprises, the group that operates the Port of Big Creek. Richard asked me to see Mr. Lambey there to get his Boat Master's License renewed.  We started talking, he knew the name of our boat, Houdini.  So I told him that it was one of the original Hokey-Pokey water taxi boats, and how it got its name:  one night the boat escaped from its locks and chains and was found submerged 30 miles south off Hunting Caye, minus the motor.  It was then named Houdini.  And as Mr. Lambey remarked, "now you seem me, now you don't".  I was able to get Richard's license renewed for 3 years.

The Hokey Pokey Water Taxi Dock, original home of our boat, Houdini.
Then I walked next door to the Customs Office to turn in the paid receipt and get instructions on what to do next.  He stamped the forms, printed a couple more forms and divided them into two piles:  he said this pile you can put away because you will not need it for anything further, handing them to me.  He then gave me the pile with 2 forms in it and instructions to go upstairs to get a delivery form that needed additional stamps.

I walked upstairs, it really is a great looking painted concrete building, and went in.  I noticed Mr. Dellon Coc there, and said I needed to give him some money for Mr. Carillo.  All three of the individuals in the office ultimately were involved in getting the final paperwork organized.  One was printing out the forms, one was finding the keys, and Mr. Coc was getting receipts and change.  In addition to the fee for Mr. Carillo, there was a transportation fee from the US for MCW Shipping (US$1545) which I knew about; and since the car had sat there longer than it should, since the check I deposited in January had not cleared in a timely manner, also a storage fee (BZ$44).  But everything was taken care of in about 10 to 12 minutes, and I was sent back downstairs.

There I the receipts were examined, copies taken, s=tamps and signatures applied, and I was given clear instructions to go over to the security checkpoint and wait for the customs officer to come and verify the VIN and examine the contents of the car.  I had put a number of boxes in there for transport from the US.

I went to the Checkpoint, put on my safety vest and hardhat (they have strict regulations about these being on you since they operate very heavy equipment and they want to see where you are!).  One of the security people said go ahead and open it up since it was gong to be hot inside.  He admired the car since it had no body damage.  The windshield had cracked from a stone falling from an overhead in Jackson, MS in the way down.  But this was in very good shape for a car in Belize.  We talked about mileage and shot the breeze.  Then the Customs Officer showed up.  He verified the VIN and then wanted to see what was in some of the boxes. We opened a few for visual inspection, no contraband present.  I gave him a list of the contents of the car and an estimated price for each item.  We did some calculations, and we agreed that BZ$400 was justified, which was about the same off-the-cuff estimate I had from one of the Customs Officers earlier. He said he would take the funds back to the Customs Office and have the receipts ready when I got back there, and he did.

So, as I was getting ready to  drive the car out, I was told by the Security officer that I also had to pay the Quarantine Fee (!).  So I went up to the next building and waited about 5 minutes and paid BZ$10 for the quarantine inspection.  Then I drove over to the Customs Office, presented the remaining paperwork, and was given a receipt for the customs duty for the contents of the car. I asked if I had to get Belizean insurance before I drove the car off site.  The Officer said that there were insurance agents in the Mango Creek and Independence areas, so I needed to get it before I left the area today. As I was leaving I thanked him for giving me clear easy to follow instructions and making it so easy to do. I don't think they hear that very often. 
The dock at Mango Creek has the Hokey Pokey  water taxi that goes across the lagoon to the Village of Placencia.  Placencia is more of tourist destination than Mango Creek or its inland neighbor Independence.  We usually tie our boat up here and shop in Indy for groceries, hardware, and fuel for the generator and boat.  We generally engage the taxi services of Nelson to get from Mango Creek to Indy and haul our big fuel cans.  We also get our butane tanks refilled here.
It was 11:39.  Belize closes down from Noon to 1:30 for lunch.  So, I had to gas the vehicle up at MnM's pumps ($BZ98).  Nelson the taxi driver showed up, having helped Richard and Joy off and I paid him for carrying us all around.  He was really taken with the car as well, a 2001 Subaru Outback station wagon!

I told him I needed to get insurance on the car, now 11:45, and he led me down to the Insurance Company of Belize Office (thanks again, Nelson).  I noticed the sign on the door said hours 9:00 to 11:45, but I went in anyway.  The agent, Mrs. Leslie was just getting ready for lunchtime, and her two children were inside.  Anyway she came out and I said I was probably too late and could come back after 1:30.  Since we had previously discussed insurance with her, she filled out the forms in about 5 minutes, instructed me on how to put the decals in the window and I was out of there in 7 minutes (BZ$356).
This Maya woman cooks corn or flour tortillas to order. 
She pats them out by hand and places them on the very hot comal to toast.  Then her partner spreads them with a thin layer each of chicken, beans, grated cheese, and pepper sauce.  The best I have eaten, ever.  One 8inch burrito for $1US. Lukee's Restaurant and store are in the background

Now it was time for food shopping and something to eat. I try to vary which stores Io go to first for the bulk of the shopping, and then fill in at other stores for the items I could not find. Went to Ming’s' Superstore first this time.  Found about 90% of the items in the shopping list and a Pinot Grigio wine from a decent vintner for Wilma!  It is surprising what you can find sometimes.

Then I went to Hilda's produce stand across the park and loaded up on veggies.  I told her that my Wife insists that I stop there first to get produce. She was happy with that. She also said I had a very pretty car!  She had a fair number of staples and some very young okra which will get fried up with cornmeal coating.  Then it was on to another Chinese grocer for a few remaining items and to another produce vendor for a few things that Hilda did not have.

Then I started to crash, so I went over to the Lu-Lee restaurant and had a "shrimp burger"  or two butterflied shrimp, lettuce tomato and a side of french fries (that I passed on).  I also called Wilma from there, stepping outside to evade the Reggae music temporarily.  A guy sitting outside asked if I owned the car.  I nodded yes, told Wilma the car had been sprung, but she knew already since Richard and Joy had returned without me.  After I went back inside the guy who had queried me came in and introduced himself, Doobie.  He had lifted the car off the boat and drove it over to where he parked it. He said it was a "sweet ride". How this car is perceived in Belize is very different than in the US.

After eating, I decided it was time to head out to Monkey River.  It was very odd driving, the muscles I use in my lower legs for accelerating, breaking and shifting gears have not been used in that way for the last 10 weeks!  As I was turning onto the Monkey River Road, the lyrics from Neil Young's song that he wrote about his first car "Long may you Run" popped into my mind:

"Long may you run,
long may you run.
Although these changes have come.
With your chrome heart shining
in the sun.
Long may you run."

Seems we have a sweet-riding 12 year old car that is in great shape, transported from the hostile environment of the upper mid-west to live out the remainder of its life in the tropics, much like this author!  And I just managed to miss the first pot hole in the road!!!  Need to keep my mind on my driving and not on Neil's lyrics.

The Monkey River Road is pretty notorious for bad pot holes, ruts and a rough ride.  So I managed about 20 to 25 mph, slowing for pot holes etc.  I made it down to Monkey River around 2 PM, and saw Lloydie Williams who signaled for Richard to come over from the other side of the river to get the contents of the vehicle.

I parked the car on Horace Coleman's land temporarily, and gave Horace a loaf of whole wheat bread, which he often requests us to pick up for him. Horace is getting on in years and we pick up items he needs.  Craig Pearlman was also there, so Lloydie, Craig, and I unloaded the car 4 large boxes of construction tools, about 70 to 80 pounds each; a blender that Wilma had requested to be able to make guava juice; an Olympic weight bar; a triceps bar; 155 pounds of weights, and a small dumbbell with 85 pounds of weights on it (for arm and back exercises).  I'll describe the other exercise equipment later on once it is set up).

I dropped the car off at Martha Scott's for safe keeping.  It is parked by her cabana, and her dogs will consider it part of their territory and raise a ruckus if someone comes over to disturb it.

Richard packed the boat, and then Lloydie, Richard and I went back to the cabana and unloaded it on the dock.

And that was it for today's adventure in Paradise.
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19 February, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday, the first one I have celebrated in Belize  while living here rather than just visiting.  And I have to tell you it has been great.  The great part part is that it has been nothing special, no grand parties, no fancy feast, no presents of any sort; just good friends, good food, and a good life.  In fact, I had not realized it was my birthday until I got a happy birthday email from my brother and then from my sister.  I really thought that tomorrow was my birthday!  But we had already planned to have Chris down for dinner.  Lloydie knew we were in the market for some fresh fish, so he brought us some nice jack fish fillets that he caught and dressed this morning; only $10 Belize ($5US) for 2 nice sized fish (4 fillets)  caught this morning.  Dennis grilled the fillets, possibly the best tasting fish we have had in Belize.  I made some conch fritters with local ginger, culantro (similar in flavor to cilantro) and lemon grass from the garden, 2 jalepeno peppers.  And rice with brussel sprouts and purple cabbage and jicama slaw.  For dessert we had fresh papaya and pineapple.  Chris arrived bearing the lovely bouquet in the photo above.  The flowers are from the garden at SteppingStones and include shell ginger, red ginger, pink and white periwinkle, a double red hibiscus, single salmon hibiscus.  Simply fabulous!  Looking forward to more birthdays in Belize.
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06 February, 2013

Escape of the (not so) Wee Beasties

A week or so ago, I wrote about the caterpillars that I found on one of the mango trees which I decided to try to rear to see what the adult is.  I started with 6 caterpillars and put 3 each in 2 different containers with leaves from the mango I found them on.  Since then half have died, but 3 are thriving; 2 in one container and 1 in the other.  When I checked on them this morning they were doing fine.  I was a little concerned about the container with 2 not getting enough air exchange, so I left the top off.  At about 1:30 all was well when I showed them to a visitor, but I did not take the time to replace the lid.  You know what happened next...  

While out taking compost to the box around 3:00, I stopped to get some fresh mango leaves for the beasties.  But when I looked in their container I saw that 2 had made their escape!  I needed to find them so Max didn't wind up on the bad end of a close encounter with them.  I didn't see them on the veranda floor, which I checked first so I didn't accidentally squish them.  I didn't see them on pots or plants next to where their container was; I didn't see them on the screen, or on the wall.   I kept looking and found the 2 of them within about a foot of each other and only about 8 feet from where they started.  Each one was on the side of a plant pot, one fig and one diffenbachia.  I collected them on the fresh leaves, being careful not to touch them with my fingers at the risk of suffering from their stinging hairs, and took the opportunity to get some new photos. 
Its little head is usually retracted into its body.
Another good view of the head.
The grey hairs belong to the cat, but all the black and brown hairs are the hairs of the beastie.
Here is the other escapee with the usual lowered head position, all the better for eating.  Now that it is bigger, it can eat through the thickness of the whole leaf instead of just vacuuming up the surface layer of cells.
They are big enough now that I can replace the plastic with little holes that I was using for the lids, with screen.  Don't want them to get away again - I still haven't been able to ID them.  I'm sure they are dead common around here.  I bet at the plant nursery they can help me out.
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04 February, 2013

Banana Flowers, Spider, and Sunrise

I love to look at banana flowers.   Sets of flowers open sequentially on a long pendant inflorescence   The female flowers are at the top of the inflorescence (closest to the plant) and they open first.  Male flowers open later at the bottom.   Our banana plants are not a commercial variety because they are not big producers, but they are the best tasting bananas I have ever eaten.  They have a tanginess that reminds Dennis of an apple, and indeed, their local name is apple banana.
The dark purple, almost black, bracts that cover the sets of yellow male flowers are glossy on one side and matte on the other.
Close-up of male flowers with 2 busy wasps.
I also saw a nice garden/writing-type spider on the shell ginger.  It sat nicely in the center of its web while I took these shots.
I'll end with the way my day began yesterday, with another lovely sunrise.
A pelican begins its day of flying and fishing. Not a bad life.
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02 February, 2013

After the Rain

The morning sun shines onto the veranda after the rain.
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01 February, 2013

An Orchid and Two Mystery Ferns

I took a stroll this afternoon along the path we are making to our nearest neighbors' house not quite a quarter mile away.  The path goes from the back of our property and heads north along the edge of (and sometimes into) the marsh that borders Black Creek.  There is still much evidence of Hurricane Iris (2001) in the twisted and downed trees.  Not many trees are very tall.  The largest trees were decapitated by Iris.  It is sad to see the magnificence of these large trees reduced.  But what was bad for the trees has provided an opportunity for other plants.   The more open canopy and abundant amounts of dead wood are good conditions for many epiphytes including orchids and at least 1 fern species.  The photo below is of an orchid called Catasetum integerrimum. Its roots grow up; the thought is that they catch detritus for nutrients.  It is a common orchid whose flowers are fertilized by bees.  I haven't seen any blossoms yet, but will keep an eye out for them.  
See the roots growing up?  And the big seed pod in the foreground is at least 6 inches long.
I think showed photos already of a huge fern that is over 7 feet tall.  The fern below is a little smaller, only 4 or so feet tall. 
Growing tips of new frond.
Fiddle head unfurling.
The spore-bearing sori are on either side of the mid-rib of the leaflets.  This will help me key it out when I get my books down here.
Another fern I saw is an epiphytic fern, that, like the orchids, is taking advantage of the downed wood.
The rhizomes are twining around the tree root that is growing over a fallen tree.
The fronds of younger plants are not as elongate.
Older specimens had spore-bearing fronds with sori arranged in pairs of dots, one on each side of the  mid-rib.
It seems I have my work cut out for me. 
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