24 September, 2013

Sea and Shade and Sun

According to the Weather Underground Almanac, the hot weather in our part of Belize lasts from May through September, and this September is certainly not letting its end of the bargain down!  The high for the last several days and forecast for most of the upcoming week is in the low 90s F (30 C).  Because we face east toward the Caribbean, the morning sun comes straight in our veranda from dawn (6:00 AM +/- 30 min) until about 10:00 AM.  As you can imagine, this yields considerable undesired solar gain.  We didn't want to plant trees to shade the east side because that would block the sea breeze and our view.  So we decided to try our hand at making solar shades that would meet our requirements.  Namely they should withstand the UV, the wind, and the salt air and would be easy to use, inexpensive, and relatively simple to make and maintain.  We don't ask for much, do we?  Below is version 1.1 of the shades in the first 4 of 11 sections of screened veranda.
Shades from Keystone's (cheaper) version of Coolaroo shade fabric.  Can't you just feel the heat from the blazing sun?
The shades need to adjustable, yet anchored at each level to keep them from flapping in the breeze. 
We have 3 levels for the shades:  fully furled, 1/3rd down, and fully unfurled.
Version 1.0 was made with cheap cup hooks for hanging and anchoring using the butterfly clips alone.  Version 1.1 upgraded the cuphooks to stainless steel eyehooks and added stainless steel carbiners to make it easier to adjust the levels.
Stainless steel eyehooks and carabiners attached to the black plastic butterfly clips anchor the shades at the 1/3rd unfurled level.  This height was determined as the maximum height I can reach without using a stool - very critical to meet the "easy to use" requirement!  Luckily, that also keeps the shades high enough so they don't block the view.
I cut the Keystone fabric so that the selvedged edges were the top and bottom of each section.  This particular weave of shade fabric blocks out 90% of the UV light, which is a big plus.  I left the cut edges unfinished and I don't think I will bother to finish them; I may trim off some of the errant threads if they get too unruly.
The shades puff out in the breeze, but are securely anchored with the hooks and carabiners.  Simply unclip the carabiners, let the shade unroll, and reclip at the bottom to get the full shade effect.
The butterfly clips were easy to attached to the fabric using needle nose pliers .
There is a pattern of little prongs that poke through the fabric and then through the holes on the other side of the clip when you fold the clip over, thus securing the clip to the fabric.
 We can tell a tremendous difference in temperature of the side of the veranda that is shaded compared to the unshaded side. Once we were happy with the shades, I bought the fabric and other supplies to do the rest of the veranda.  For the entire length of the veranda (34 ft), the fabric was about $70, stainless steel hooks and carabiners were $25, and butterfly clips were $10; all on Amazon with free shipping. 
Sun on the left and shade on the right with shades fully unfurled on a sunny morning.
So what do you do on a hot morning without a sea breeze to help keep you cool?   You get in the water, silly!  This morning, Dennis and I got in the water, which is quite shallow in front of our place.  I took my camera with me as we waded to the south of the dock.
I took this photo standing in mid-thigh deep water about 60 ft off shore.
We waded in the water to the south past our property.  And then I swam a bit longer once I handed the camera off to Dennis.  The only people we saw were in 2 boats - one was a tour boat with Percy at the helm, probably on the way to give his 2 clients a tour up the Monkey River.  The other boat had our neighbor Lloydie and his lady Diana in it going to the village for the day.
Dock-eye view of our cabana.
We saw a couple of stingrays, some small fish, and whelks, but not much else.  The water was flat and clear - and very refreshing.  An idyllic day in South Englishtown.
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19 September, 2013

Going to Market, Part Two

After finishing the shopping and errands in Indy, our taxi driver took us back to the public dock where we boarded Houdini and set out for Placencia.  Placencia is the name of the village at the tip of an 12-mile-long, narrow peninsula also named Placencia.  The peninsula runs essentially parallel to the mainland from north to south, with the village at the southern tip. 
Starting from the Indy public dock (purple asterisk), we traveled along Mango Creek to the Placencia Lagoon and headed toward the southern tip of the peninsula.  It is about 5 miles by boat.  If you look closely, you can find the blue marker for the Plaencia airstrip almost due east of the Indy public dock.
In the center is the canal that runs along the airstrip.  Small, 12-passenger prop planes land here.  It is serviced by 2 commercial airlines - Maya Island Air and Tropic Air
Partway across the lagoon, we were passed by the Hokey Pokey water taxi making its return trip to Indy from Placencia.  By road that trip would be 42 miles instead of 5 by water.  The road down the peninsula was paved just a few years ago.  Prior to that the 12 miles was a dirt road full of pot holes and ruts.  That was not a trip to make lightly!
The Hokey Pokey Water Taxi in mid-lagoon.  They do a thriving business.
We accessed the lagoon-side of Placencia by navigating into a canal along which numerous houses, vacation properties, and businesses have docks. 
The purple arrowheads mark our route along the canal.  The red asterisks mark the Shell Carver's canal-side outdoor studio and another location of Ming's Store.
 We proceeded slowly down the canal, which is a "no wake" zone.
The entrance to the canal from the lagoon.  Vacation rental properties abound.
We pass small, unprepossessing holiday accommodations, Belizean homes, expat homes, and second homes.
This is a nice Belizean-style home.
Lots of sail boats and motor boats.  The sailboats are pleasure boats, for the most part, either owned by expats or rented to vacationers.
Assorted boats are docked at this small resort.
 We pull up at the MnM Hardware store dock, just behind the Hokey Pokey dock.
The MnM and Hokey Pokey docks are adjacent.
We buy our fuel, both gasoline and diesel, at the MnM dock. 
Richard lines up the fuel carboys for filling.  You can see that Houdini is a very basic fiberglass boat with 2 builtin bench seats with plywood flooring between them.
 From the MnM dock we can walk to various stores, restaurants, and produce stands.
We can walk from the MnM dock (purple asterisk) to Main Street.  Today, we stopped at Wallen's hardware and homestore (yellow asterisk) and a produce stand (red asterisk).
Even though there are some produce stands in Indy, the produce at Placencia is more varied, fresher, and higher quality to cater to tourists.  Placencia is definitely a tourist and expat village, whereas Indy is not.  We go to Indy because the basics are significantly cheaper there.
Our favorite produce stand in Placencia.  Grapes, asparagus, eggplant, yellow and red sweet peppers, fresh mushrooms, leaf lettuce, endive, and spinach are things we can find in Placencia but not in Indy.  Watermelon, cantaloupe, limes, oranges, star fruit (carambola), hot peppers, plantains, bananas, onions, carrots, okra, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, corn, avocado, mango, celery, root vegetables, and many other things are also available.
In the 10 years we have been spending time in Belize, the variety and quality of produce, and really all goods, has increased to an amazing degree. But we still get excited to find Brie cheese, Italian pasta, real port, triscuit crackers, brussel sprouts, nice apples, bread flour and many other things.
Roadside muffler repair.  Another casualty of the potholes and ruts.  This is in front of Dawn's Grill-n-Go restaurant where we pick up lunches to go.  Her fishballs are excellent!
 On our way to the produce stand, we stopped at the Grill-n-Go to place an order to pick up on our way out.  This time we got the fried chicken and mashed potatoes, which was wonderful, but her fishballs are even better.
The inside of the Grill-n-Go decorated for the upcoming holiday.
The Belize flag with the enigmatic motto "Flourish in the Shade"
September is the slow month for tourists, so many restaurants have closed for the month.  Omar's is open, though. 
Omar's has very attractive decorations and smells great when we walk by.  We need to try it out soon.
 After picking up our to go lunches, we walked back to Houdini. I decided to keep walking north on Main St to another Ming's store.  This one in Placencia has items not carried at the one in Indy.  I got 2 kinds of Brie, goat cheese, and some other treasures. Back in the boat, we went back up the canal and made a stop at the shell carver's studio for some items Joy had commissioned to sell in her gift shop.
The shell carver's open air studio next to the canal.
A boat repair yard is next to the shell carver's studio.
 From the canal we went out to the open sea and soon passed the channel markers for Big Creek. 
Big Creek channel marker.  Maya Mountains are visible in the distance.
Soon enough, we recognize signs of home. 
Great Monkey Cay is flanked by our neighboring SteppingStones and Monkey River Village.  Our place is hidden by the key.
Home at last. We arrived at noon, 4.5 hours after we set out.  We still have to unload the fuel cans and all the groceries and other supplies that we brought back. By 12:30 we are through and can enjoy our take away lunches in the shade on our veranda.  It took the 4 of us 5 hours to get set for another week.  No running back to the store to pick up a forgotten item; that will have to wait until next week.
We don't always go shopping by boat; sometimes we drive.  But when we drive, we can only go too Indy; Placencia is too far by road to make a day trip for shopping.  Our car, a Subaru Outback, is all wheel drive and can handle the mud on Monkey River Road.  But sometimes in the rainy season the ruts and potholes are too deep; only a SUV or truck can make it.  I'll do a future post on making the trip by car.
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17 September, 2013

Going to Market, Part One

One question we get fairly often from friends and relatives is "Where do you shop for groceries?"  Shopping can best be viewed as an adventure because you can never be sure how the experience will turn out.  :-)  Come along with us in this post and the next one as we go by boat from our dock to the villages of Independence (Indy) and Placencia to do our shopping.

It is 7:30 and the sun has already been up for almost 2 hours.  Dennis and I join Richard and Joy on our boat Houdini.  The sea is calm, which means our route will be on the outside of the mangroves.  In rough seas, we take the route through the mangroves so we don't get banged up as much.  We can make better time and use less gasoline with the outside route, too.  Gas is about $12.50BZ ($6.25US)/gal, which is roughly twice the price in the US.  It takes about 5 gallons to make the round trip.  We try to make the most of each trip.
Boarding Houdini from our seaside dock.  Look at how flat the water is!
In the map below, our place is marked by the yellow asterisk, Indy by the red, and Placencia by the purple.  To give you an idea of scale, a straight line from yellow to purple is 12.5 miles.
When the sea is flat, we can stay in the deep blue.  But when it is rough, we wind our way through the blue-green of the mangroves for shelter.  The patches of dark blue rectangles on land are shrimp farms.
The view is fairly monotonous mangrove-lined shores.  There are no businesses or houses on the shore until just south of Indy at Big Creek.
Mangrove-lined shore.  Unless you can see palm trees or tall gumbolimbo trees, you can assume that there is not much solid ground, just marsh.
Just south of Mango Creek, which leads to Indy, is the deep water port of Big Creek.
Looking out to sea are 2 buoys marking the shipping channel to Big Creek.  Huge cargo freighters and oil tankers dock at Big Creek.  The smudges on the horizon at the right are 2 of the many small cays (pronounced like "keys")that dot the area.
Big Creek is an official port of entry into Belize and has fully staffed customs and immigration offices.
With the Maya Mountains as a backdrop, Big Creek has warehouses and oil storage tanks.  There is a moderately productive oil field in western Belize and Big Creek is where the oil winds up to be picked by tanker to go to the refineries.
After passing Big Creek, we wind around into the estuary that leads to Mango Creek. You can see how much smoother the water is in the photo below as compared to the one above.
Signs of civilization on the shore.  Note the 3 communication towers.
Winding deeper into the estuary you can see the 3 communication towers from a different perspective in the photo below.

Another boat, headed out as we head in, passes by.  It is one of the Hokey Pokey water taxis that provides service between Indy and Placencia.  Houdini is a former Hokey Pokey boat.
A Hokey Pokey water taxi going to Placencia with a full complement of passengers passes us.
As we get closer the dock on Mango Creek, the channel gets increasingly river-like with defined edges and more stretches of solid ground and real banks. 
The Hokey Pokey dock is marked by the purple asterisk and the public dock is gold.  The Fishermen's Coop is the building with the green asterisk.  The road leading to the village of Indy is marked with a red asterisk.
There is usually some activity at the public dock; folks waiting for boats to take them somewhere, taxi drivers waiting for business, and local boys who like to make tips helping you off- and on-load goods.  It took us 47 minutes to reach this dock from our dock.
Passing time at the pubic dock.
The Hokey Pokey "terminal" is restricted to paying passengers.  It is the covered space with the white columns.  They also have a parking lot for passengers.
Indy is a small village.  All the streets and roads are unpaved.  It has a primary school and a high school.  Since we arrived by boat and have a lot of places to go and purchases to make, we always hire a taxi.  Nelson, our usual driver, is not available, but there is another driver with a van who can accommodate our needs.  I need to go Immigration for my monthly passport stamp ($50BZ), the post office where we get our general delivery mail, the lumber yard to pay a bill (the red asterisks in the photo below).  Dennis (purple) needs to go to the bank, the MnM hardware store,  the Social Security Office.  We both need to go to the airstrip and to a store to buy groceries except for produce.  Joy and Richard need to go to the bank, the airport, and to several grocery stores.  We decide to divide and conquer, so the taxi driver and I drop off everybody in the center of the village before we go to the outskirts for my errands.
The dock at the top of the image a little to the left of center where Mango Creek curves south is our starting point.  The only paved road is the one leading to the airport with the purple and red arrow heads; that winds across the image and terminates near the red asterisk at the bottom right.  That is Immigration Office at Big Creek.
The Post Office is in a building with a couple of other business offices.
Inside the tiny Post Office is one Postman who files the post into a cubby in alphabetical order.  We pick up mail for our nearest neighbors and they do the same for us.  The patriotic decorations are for the upcoming Independence Day celebrations.  The Postman recognizes us and is always very pleasant and helpful.  I needed to personally pick up a priority international mailing from the US.
Right next to the Post Office is Mr. Leslie's Lumberyard.  I need to stop in there to pay the bill.
All the wood is full-dimension lumber.  It can be cut to the required lengths on site.  Mr. Leslie will deliver (for a price) by truck to the Monkey River dock about 1 mile from our dock.
 From the Lumberyard, the taxi takes me to the Immigration Office at Big Creek.
A view of the oil tanks from the land side of the port of Big Creek.
 The Immigration Office is a 2 person operation.  As an American staying in Belize, I need to have my passport stamped once a month and pay $50BZ to remain in Belize.  Eventually, I will qualify for residency and will not have to get stamped every month.
Like the Post Office and bank, the Immigration Office is air conditioned; not much else is.
Dennis and I meet back up in the village so the driver can take us to the airstrip.  Dennis needs to send some paperwork to our lawyers in Belize City and the best way to do that is using Maya Island Air parcel delivery.  

The general availability and assortment of groceries has improved dramatically during the years we have been coming to Belize, especially in Indy.   No such thing as a supermarket, but Ming's, the main store we patronize, has dairy products, staples like sugar, flour, dried beans, etc., canned goods, sweet and salty snacks, frozen chicken and other meat, canned and bottled beverages, breakfast cereal,cooking oil, seasonings - almost everything except fresh produce.  The selection is odd and variable visit to visit.
Pear infused balsamic vinegar?  You bet!  Giant bottle of toasted sesame oil?  Why not?  You never know what you will find.  But you better buy it now because they may never have it again!
All of Indy was decorated with banners, pennants, and flags for the Independence Day celebrations coming up on September 21st.  Belizeans take their holidays very seriously. There will be multiple days of celebrations; banks will run out of cash, stores will run out of booze, and businesses will be closed. Parades, parties, and good times will be had.
The main drag in Indy.  Just past the hanging pennants is a green park where lots of celebratory activities will be held.
Two and 1/2 hours after leaving our dock, we complete our errands in and around Indy by 10:00 and head back to Houdini to commence the second part of our market day.  Stay tuned for Part Two of Going to Market. 
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