31 January, 2016

A Three Hour Tour. A Three Hour Tour.

I took a tour today, a three hour tour, in my kayak.  Click here to listen to the theme music.  The sea was beautifully flat and the sky was beautifully clear; perfect conditions.

But let me back up to last week when  Dennis and I had rescued the kayak from its forgotten spot next to the back landing on Black Creek where, unbeknownst to us, it had become a repository for what ever crap the work crew or others felt like flinging into it as they came and went.  We found old fiberglass from boat repairs, rags from cleaning the boat engine, and glass soda bottles tossed into it.  It had also become a home for little crabs and termites had made a nest under the seat.  The hollow body of the kayak was full of water because the storage cover was loose and the rod sockets had cracked or missing bottoms.  What a mess.  We drained most of the water out, although the drain hole kept getting plugged with all the algae that was growing in the water, and then hauled the kayak back the cabana.  I hosed it down and tried, with some success, to spray into the hollow body to get the algae cleaned out.  Got the termites cleared out, too.  Pascal helped me get the rest of the water out and we hauled it to the front (sea-ward side) of the cabana.  Pascal helped me pick a convenient spot to "park" it when not in use.  So the kayak was ready and waiting for me when this perfect day dawned.

I hadn't planned on a three hour tour. I had thought I would just give it a little shakedown cruise, but it was so wonderful out on the water that I just kept going.  Perhaps my subconscious mind had been alert to that possibility because I did take a water bottle and sarong, and put on my wide-brimmed hat, sea worthy sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, and sunscreen (not in that order).

Here is my 5.5 mile route.
Kayak route is in turquoise.  It starts at the little white patch that is almost in the center of the image.  The white patch is our place.  The orange line is the Monkey River Road.
From our beach I headed south and then out to Little Monkey Cay.  Saw lots of big orange cushion starfish.  The water is very shallow between our place and Little Monkey Cay.  From there I headed into deep water and then north to Great Monkey Cay.  The deep water was the most fabulous opalescent turquoise that swallowed the rays of the sun before they touched bottom.  I always have a little frisson of fear when I pass over the edge and below me the bottom gives way to nothingness ...

But with the calm sea and the brilliant sun the fear is quickly gone and I continued my slow strokes toward Great Monkey Cay.  The brilliant sun also prompted me to cover my bare legs and feet with the sarong brought along for just that purpose.  Wetted down with sea water, the sarong provides cooling protection from the intense sun.  Soon the bottom rose again to greet me - large and small coral heads nestled in turtle grass meadows with a scattering of purple sea fans swaying in the current.  Pelicans joined me in the shallows around Great Monkey Cay to feed on the schools of little bait fish.  I explored some really nice corals on the north side of Great Monkey Cay. The water was a little turbid, so I didn't bother to use the snorkel gear I brought with me.

As I left Great Monkey Cay to go farther north, I saw an occasional clear jellyfish languidly propelling itself along.  Back in the deep water, a small school of large fish surged to the surface with eye-catching flashes of silver.  I made my way slowly along a ridge of corals that come in close to shore on my way to Pine Ridge Creek.  The creek water was very turbid with visibilities of only about 5 or 6 feet.  I did spot some very small and delicate jelly fish just beneath the water's surface and also some needle-like fish.  I didn't see many birds, but did hear some back in the mangroves.

Finally I turned back to begin the trip back home.  I kept closer to shore on the way back and was rewarded with good views of an anhinga sunning itself and a shy immature yellow-crowned night heron.  I heard Craig out on his dock and paddled up to say hello.  Glad I did because the young son of Craig's friend John joined me in Craig's kayak for the last leg home.  I have a kayak date with him tomorrow morning if the day proves good and go out to Great Monkey Cay if dad permits.

My three hour tour drew to a close and I was famished.  It felt fantastic to be out in the kayak for the first time in almost 3 years.  Next time I will be sure to pack a snack to I can stay out longer.

24 January, 2016

Belizean Coconut Oil Snow Globe Thermometer

Oh, the fun we have in South Englishtown!  Yesterday and today it was watching the coconut oil, which is a pale golden liquid when the temps are in the mid-70s, slowly solidify as the temperatures dropped into the the mid-50s.  Sort of a Belizean take on a snow globe plus thermometer.  Here's what we saw:

Little fuzzy pearls in golden liquid at 12:44PM, 72 degrees.
This particular coconut oil is my favorite.  The flavor is so delicate and light. We buy this at a roadside stand on the Hummingbird Highway.  The Hummingbird Highway crosses the Maya Mountains and connects the coastal town of Dangriga (to the north of us), to the town of Belmopan,the capitol of Belize.  From there you can get to the Cayo District to the west or the Belize District to the northeast.  We basically have to travel on the Hummingbird Highway if we go anywhere out of the Districts of Toledo (where we live) or Stann Creek.  Gives us lots of opportunities to get coconut oil.
The whiteness of the pearls shows up a little better with the flash.
The stand that sells this coconut oil is located strategically next to a pair of VERY NARROW,single lane bridges.  They sort of have the Key to the Highway (click to listen).  All the vehicular traffic has to come to a near stop before proceeding across the bridges; plenty of time to sell coconut oil, honey, corn on the cob, pineapples, etc. to travelers right through their car windows.
As the pearls solidify, they gently settle to the bottom of the bottle.
Roadside coconut oil is processed manually by grinding the flesh out of the coconut shells using a hand-cranked drill that has a toothed bit with a semi-circular profile to fit perfectly into the coconut shell.  The apparatus, called a coconut grinder, is for sale at lots of local stores and many families make their own oil.
The air temp was down to 70 degrees by 6:00PM, but not much change in the coconut oil.
Once the coconut flesh is ground up, the coconut milk, which contains the oil, is squeezed out of it. There are different methods to separate the oil from the milk, and I am not sure what the local method is.
Looks sort of like small tapioca pearls.
The minimally processed oil retains its delicate aroma and flavor, but is not over-whelmingly coconutty.  I use it for baking, popping corn, pan frying, sautéing, and more.  I also add it to body lotion or use it straight on my hands when my skin is dry.
By 9:04PM it was down to 67 degrees - that is cold in these parts!  The oil is essentially solidified, although it has a marbled look.
These 2 bottles were purchased at the same time, but you can see there are differences in their appearance and solidity.  This could be due to how much water is in the oil, how emulsified any water in the oil might be, and also to how many carbon atoms are in each molecule of oil; the more carbons, the sooner it solidifies. Other factors could include how much air is incorporated into the oil and the amount and nature of impurities present.  Oh - and one bottle is slightly shorter and fatter than the other, that could have an effect too.  Our bottle of commercially processed Belizean coconut oil was totally solid at 72 degrees.
Same bottles as above, but reversed as to which is upright and which is on its side.
I left the bottles over-night on the veranda and a cold night it was!  The coldest we have experienced in our 3 years in Englishtown.  When I took the photo below at 6:53AM it was 56 degrees on the veranda and only 57 degrees in the cabana.
The solid coconut oil is a lovely creamy white color.  
Fuzzy sock and fleecy jacket time, though not for long.  As I write this at 11:00AM, it has already warmed to 73 degrees and I am back in flipflops.

18 January, 2016

Lettuce Celebrate

I've been busy with all sorts of things while over-seeing the construction - a little gardening, putting out fires, gathering documents, filling out forms, getting a medical exam, getting another medical exam because the 30 day limit of the first one had expired, photocopying - the usual.  And now we shall celebrate our minor successes from those activities.

Success #1 - our first salad with our very own home-grown lettuce!  I planted seeds that I purchased when I was in North Carolina visiting my brother back October.  I planted lettuce (Farmer's Market Blend) and cilantro in a raised container bed I made by recycling a Mennonite washing machine that had seen better days.
The old Mennonite washing machine pressed into service as a veg planter.
The trough of the washing machine is pretty deep, so I filled the bottom with pumice that had washed up the beach as a light-weight space filler.  Then I covered the pumice with tough fabric that would support the soil but still let the water drain through the bottom.  Next I put a 6 inch layer of potting soil mixed with sand and organic matter that I had composted for a couple of years. This provided a planting area of only 2ft by 2ft, but still enough to get in 2 rows of lettuce, 2 rows of cilantro, and one row of acorns.  I know - I have trees in the veg bed!  But these are acorns of the oaks that the acorn woodpeckers like and I wanted to get a couple started here to attract these great little woodpeckers to our place.  They will get transplanted very soon!  

I soon realized that the delicate lettuce and cilantro need some shade protection, so I put up a frame of shade cloth which has the added benefit of keeping the heavy tropical downpours from flattening the plants.  Five weeks later we have lettuce ready to start harvesting, cilantro that is growing well, and one oak seedling that I should transplant soon.

We had our first lettuce salad night before last and look forward to more fresh lettuce over the next month or so.

Success #2 - not burning down the house!  (Click here for music)  I was pre-heating the gas oven to bake some bread and noticed that the gas was making whooshing sounds and then ominously stopped.  Flames, big flames, were coming from where the supply line enters the back of the oven.  Quickly turned the gas off and pulled the stove away from the wall to see ...
Soot on the tile wall.  So happy it is tile.  Amazingly it cleaned right off with a little soap and water.
The compression nut securing the line to the flange had worked loose and more gas was outside the oven than inside the oven. Turns out the nut is actually damaged and probably has been from the get go. We have likely had a gas leak for some time.  Scary.  YEA to not burning down the house!  I'll drink to that.

Success #3 - submitting my application for Belize Residency.  Finding forms, downloading forms, filling out forms, getting verified hardcopies of financial account, notarized birth certificate, medical exam, etc.  Will it ever end?  I think so, although I have been working on it for almost 9 months.  This is the story:

It took me 3 days in Belmopan, the nation's capitol, to get my residency application accepted for consideration.  I will say that everyone I encountered was unfailingly pleasant and helpful.  And it is good that Belmopan is really a small town because we had to go from one end to the other for various offices, signatures, and documents.  

Day One was at the Police Station to get a Police Report generated.  That required 3 passport-type photos, BZ$25, and 6 hours.  Also I needed a letter from the Belize Income Tax Office stating that I was not delinquent on taxes.  That took only 15 minutes and no money!  (Wouldn't it be great if all encounters with Income Tax offices were so easy?) Then photocopies of the above.  By then it was almost 4:00 and Immigration closes at 4:30.  Tomorrow is another day...

On Day Two I needed to get some forms signed by a Justice of the Peace (roughly equivalent to a Notary Public in the US), so it took a while to track one down since the first 2 I tried were not in.  My friend Sue remembered that a good friend of hers was a JP, so we eventually found her and got the documents witnessed.  Finally, I got to immigration with a stack of documents 5 inches thick. 

First off, I spoke to the gatekeeper who asked me my business and gave me a number to take to a window outside to get a number.  Really, that is the process - I was given a number to get a number!  At the window, I was again asked my business and was given an ORANGE 49 as my number.  This was at 10:30.  I went back to the waiting room and stood until a seat opened at around 11:30.  By noon they were on ORANGE 25, so I left for lunch when my friend Sue stopped by to see how it was going.  Got back around 1:30 and they were on ORANGE 35.  ORANGE 49 - me!  That's me! - was called at 3:00.  So I took my pack full of 5 inches of papers to the agent behind a glass partition and we began to go through the application.   I thought I had everything, but ...

My US bank statements to show that I the means of supporting myself were too old since they were from the first 3 months of 2015 (which was when I had starting putting this stuff together).  I understood the agent to say that was the only thing lacking.  The agent said if I could get them and come back before they closed at 4:30 I would not have to wait in line again.  So I called my friend Chris (of Sue and Chris) who picked me up and we raced back to their house so I could print out more current statements.  I did not feel comfortable accessing my accounts at an internet cafe, not to mention internet cafes are thin on the ground in Belize.  Got them printed out and raced back to Immigration, arriving at 4:15.  Managed to see the same agent and she asked "Did you complete the declaration of support too?"  Well, I would have had I known about it.  So that meant I had to pick up a hardcopy form from Angelus Press who has the contract the Government of Belize for legal documents, fill it out, write a description of my means of support, sign it, and get it signed by a JP!  So that meant another day, which meant getting another number to get a number ...

Day 3 found me bright and early at Jahan the JP (who is the proprietor of a little garage around the corner from the Immigration Office).  I highly recommend him; very nice and professional.  Plus you get to play with the little kitten while he (Jahan, not the kitten) reads the document.  That is one thing different from an American Notary Public, who basically only witnesses that you are really the person who signs the papers and who doesn't need to read the document.  Then by 8:30 I was at Immigration to get a number to get a number.   ORANGE 9!  Yes!!!  And they were already on ORANGE 3.  So this didn't take too long.  A different agent this time who questioned my bank statement from our Belize bank.  My heart sank.  I told her that agent yesterday had accepted it since it had been stamped and signed by the bank manager, for which I had paid BZ$5.00.  So she checked with her colleague, who was handily located right next to her, and all was well.  In fact they were the only 2 agents handling residency application intake.  She looked at the Declaration form and said I needed to pay BZ$1.50 (=US$0.75) to get it stamped and that I had to go to another window to purchase the stamps.  Actual glue down stamps of Queen Elizabeth that look very much like postage stamps.  But at least the window was in the same room and I did not have to give up my session with the agent to go get the stamps.  After getting the stamps, which the agent affixed to the Declaration form using a glue stick, each document was scrutinized.  Every page of the photocopy of my passport that had stamped entries on it had to be stamped, dated, and signed by the agent.  I have many entries on my passport because every month I have to get a renewal entry to stay in Belize (and I pay BZ$100.00 for the privilege to stay another 30 days).  In fact Dennis and I had to get extra pages inserted into our passports at the American Embassy last year because we both were running out of pages.  Good thing we did it then, too, because the US no longer allows you to get extra pages added.  After about an hour of checking documents, asking for clarifications, making corrections on the forms, and checking all the boxes on the checklist, she finally said the application was acceptable for consideration.

This meant she went to get the receipt book to write out the receipt and itemize the documents that I submitted.  Then she had to get a ledger and enter the receipt cross-indexed to a ledge number.  All this is with carbon paper and duplicate forms.  Nothing is computerized.  Then she carried the receipt upstairs to get an appointment set for my first interview (which is next week).  The interview time and date is written on the receipt.  Almost as an after thought she asked for my phone number and wrote it out at the top of the first sheet of the application documents.  The receipt has my "number", that almost mythical personal key to any further interactions with Immigration during the review process.  Don't lose that number!

Before I left, after thanking her for her patience with me - really, she had been very pleasant to work with, I asked "What is the submission date on the applications that are currently being granted residency?"  She replied "2013."  Me, searching for any encouragement, "Any from 2014?" "Only some simple ones."  Hope mine is simple.