13 November, 2022

Moon, Sun, Clouds, and Lunar Eclipse

We've been busy working on several projects.  Biggest one is repairs to our seawall and replenishing the sand on the beach after Hurricane Julia (no, not Lisa, Julia was the one before).   That will take a month or more of hard work by our crew to finish.  More fun is monitoring sea turtle nesting activity.   So far this year there have been 18 crawls, the most we have ever seen.  Of course that doesn't mean there are 18 actual nests; some crawls seem to be primarily exploratory.  I'll do a separate post on turtles once the season is over.  Another ongoing project is documenting birds and I am having great fun with the Merlin App using Sound ID.  They have recently added more Belize birds to the Sound ID feature.  

Did you know there was a lunar eclipse November 8?  The best viewing time for us was between 3:00 and 5:00am.  The sky was crystal clear at 2:00 and I got my first photo at 3:00 with just a tiny edge of darkness showing up.

This is with my phone.  Mitchell should have been here - his moon photos are superb!
Clouds were just beginning to show up and within 15 minutes, the view of the moon was blocked.  So that was it for me.  I went back to bed and didn't get up again to see if the clouds had blown over.  

Two days later, the moon was in her glory rising over Great Monkey Cay.

The moon is looking right at me!

Reflection on a calm sea.
Followed by the every day miracle of sunrise.
Also reflections on a calm sea.
When a light breeze comes from the west, the trees block the wind from the disturbing the surface of the water closest to shore - it can be almost mirror smooth at times.  A little farther out, and you can tell the sea is slightly ruffled.

This morning's sky view was of these super cool clouds.

Like UFOs.

Then all hell broke loose, so Clove and I made a mad dash for home.  No aliens, just 1/3rd an inch of rain in 15 minutes.  Always something exciting going on.

07 November, 2022

We Are All Good

As they say - we dodged a bullet this time.  What a relief for us - Hurricane Lisa shifted north prior to making landfall in Belize.  Our relief was at the expense of Belize City - which experienced a sudden but impressive storm surge followed by extensive post-hurricane flooding.  The brunt of the damage was to the poorest communities with sub-standard (even for Belize) housing.  Although there was property damage, I have not heard of any lives lost.  The only real impact Lisa had on me and Dennis was the nationwide outage of telecommunications.  We had some limited phone service restored on Friday (Lisa made landfall on Wednesday) and then on Sunday had full phone service and internet again.  Power was out over most of Belize for about a day, with it mostly restored by Sunday.  That didn't affect us since we have our own solar power system.  

Looking to the southeast this afternoon - clear, calm sea.

Barnie enjoying a little sit-down after her walk.

Just look at her gorgeous Little Richard eyes!

Happy Clove.

Happier Clove.
Clove thinks that everyone would benefit from a good roll in the sun-warmed sand.  I think she's on to something.

01 November, 2022

Hatches Battened

Tropical Storm Lisa will make herself felt in Belize starting tomorrow afternoon.  Will she be a hurricane then?   Almost certainly.  Landfall is estimated to be to our north, so it is unlikely that we will experience hurricane force winds, but we are expecting winds as strong as 50mph and a possible storm surge.  We plan to stay put unless the forecast changes dramatically for the worse.  

These shutters serve as shade awnings under normal conditions.

Inside one of the screened -in verandas with the sheet metal hurricane shutters in place.

The other sea-facing screened in veranda.  It's like being inside a container unit!  The sheet metal panels are numbered because they are custom-fitted.

If you look closely, you can see the hurricane shutters inside the screen.

Our workers got up all of the hurricane shutters, so our hatches are battened except for the few that Dennis and I will put up tomorrow morning.  Everything that could blow away has been moved into sheltered space - kayaks, wheelbarrows, plant stands, etc.  Battery-powered tools are fully charged as are flashlights, power packs for computers and other electronic.  With any luck,  the wild weather will pass overnight Wednesday while we and the dogs are snug inside.

Right now the weather is beautiful.  Hard to imagine that Lisa is just over the horizon.  Our hatches are battened and we are as ready as we can be.  See you in a few days or perhaps longer if the internet goes down.

13 October, 2022

Getting to Chan Chich Lodge - or - Driving 140 miles in 5.5 hours

The drive to Chan Chich went quite well, but was very long.  The last 35 miles on dirt roads of varying quality took nearly 3 hours.  Here's the route from Google maps. 

Looks easy and fast.  Google Maps says less than 4 hours start to finish!

And here is what the last part actually looks like according to Google Earth.

We left the paved roads when we turned north near the Crique Blanco Zibal.  Did I mention no phone service after the first 5 or 10 miles on the dirt track?
I left home at 7AM.  Dawn on the beach was promising.   
Nice calm sea made for a fast and easy boat trip to Placencia to meet up with Melanie.
We left Placencia at 9AM with me driving Melanie's Kia.  We planned to reach Chan Chich before 2PM, just before the restaurant stopped serving lunch.  We made our first stop near Dangriga at a service station that has clean bathrooms.  I took this photo of the sign on inside of the bathroom stall.
In Belize, and many developing countries, you do not flush any thing down toilet except poop and pee, not even toilet paper.  There is always a conveniently placed trash can beside each toilet. Hang on to your dreams.
I didn't take any photos along the newly engineered and resurfaced Hummingbird Highway.  It goes through the stunning Maya Mountains and is now a joy to travel on.  We missed the turn onto the dirt track and stopped for directions at a hardware store not too far from the Mennonite village of Spanish Lookout.  These Mennonites have embraced many aspects of machines and technology and have massive modern farms that supply Belize with all manner of vegetables, meat, poultry, dairy products.  The clerk I asked for directions to get to Yalbac Road was not able to help me, but he did suggest asking another customer in the store because "he should know".  So I did.  Mr. John Roberson, as it turns out, knew exactly how to get to Yalbac Road because he built most of the roads in the area!  He drew a map, gave me his phone number, and said to turn around, take the first major right on Farmers Express Road and then take the next left onto Roberson Road - his road.  Did we find the right person or what?!  Coincidentally, he and his wife were taking their visitors down to Monkey River Village the next day.  Belize is such a village, you will discover some link with anyone you speak to for more than 5 minutes.

Corner of Farmers Express and Roberson Road.
Finally Yalbac Road, which went on forever!  We did not see another vehicle until we reached Chan Chich.
Still surrounded by farm fields, jungle is up ahead.  No phone service from here on.  No electricity and only a couple of homesteads.
At some point we entered a reserve that is used by US and British military for jungle training.  We had to go through checkpoints and show that we had reservations for Chan Chich.
First checkpoint.
The road become much hillier and a bit rougher, probably due to army vehicles.  We passed through Busby Camp, which is where the military folks stay while on training missions.
Just a few old-fashioned barracks type buildings were up ahead.

Looking back south toward fields.
There were 3 or 4 very tricky spots of mud with steep ditches on either side.  I actually had to get out of the car to scope out the best way to get through without getting stuck or bottoming out the Kia., which fortunately is fairly high.
Second checkpoint
Not too far now . . . 
Chan Chich Road - only 7 miles to go!
And finally we're here.  Too late for lunch, but we were greeted with deliciously cold allspice tea and promises for an early dinner.
Melanie in front of our accommodation.

We averaged 25 miles an hour overall, much slower through the jungle.  Good thing I like to drive.  Silly us to trust Google Maps to account for dirt roads when calculating driving times!  In the end, it was worth it.

05 October, 2022

A few more photos

 The wifi is making me crazy,   just something quick for now. First is a heliconia flower.  Next is an ocelated turkey.  And finally an overgrown, unexcavated part of a Mayan ruin.  Except blogger on my phone put the ruin first and I can't change it.  Oh well.

04 October, 2022

Morning by the, evening in the highlands

Posting this from my phone.  My friend Melanie and I are on  a mini holiday at Chan Chich Lodge, a 5 hour drive from Placencia.   Will write more in a few days.

Pecaries above and our veranda below.


03 October, 2022

Tiny Project. Big Difference.

This project took me 15 minutes to complete, and 10 of those minutes were spent finding the hooks.  (It took far longer to write this post than to complete the project.). I had noticed that the dominant rufous tailed hummingbird at one of the feeders would try to perch on the 2x2 inch support for the window awning.  It kept sliding off the smooth, slanted surface.  I thought a slim dowel held in place with 2 screw-in hooks might be the answer, and so it was.

The dowel in place.  That speck of bright green is the hummingbird flying away before I could get the photo.  (Hmmm - looks like the next project should be applying another coat of UV protective oil-based stain to the siding.)

The dowel was just long enough to span the space between the supports.

Hummer on guard!

Even this slim dowel is huge compared to the hummer's tiny toes.

I took a couple of videos through the screen of the window so you could see and hear the hummingbird using the perch.  Turn the sound up to hear the fussing!

I used to worry that this hummer was chasing all the others away before they could feed.  But then I noticed that while one hummer distracted it, others would fly in to feed.  I wonder if they draw straws for distractor duty?  

02 October, 2022

The Two Birds, One Stone Solution

We always have some sort of project going on here - to keep us out of trouble, you know.  Here is our "Two Birds, One Stone Solution Project"!  This project started with the aim of minimizing the accumulation of afternoon heat along the west side of the original cabana (bird #1).  Over the years we have made several attempts to do this, with limited success.  The addition of a partial veranda roof to provide shade helps quite a bit, but is not sufficient and sometimes it seems to act like an oven, trapping heat under the roof.  Planting a replacement tree for the big old fig tree that fell down after Hurricane Earl sideswiped us with tropical force winds in 2016 was a great idea that will yield some relief in about 10 more years; the coral bean tree we planted in 2017 is still pretty short! The shade curtain that we hung along the edge of the veranda roof seemed to have helped a bit and yet at times contributed to the oven-effect.  We needed a new plan.  Dennis found a very tough screening material that filters out something like 90% of UV light.  We got a huge roll of 7 foot wide material in white to use in a new design.  

Very durable UV screening material.

Rather than have it hang straight down like the shade curtain we are replacing, we incorporated the rolling planters (that we have never used to great advantage) as a wall over which to drape and secure the screening material. farther away from the wall of the cabana.  The planters had been located on the sunset balcony (located just under the satellite dish in the photo below) and were very much out of sight, out of mind.  

The advantage to using the rolling planters rather than installing a permanent support is that these can be moved up against the house and the screening taken down if a hurricane comes our way.  

We still have plenty of room on the 17 ft wide veranda to use the clothes line and to access the back door and the shed door.  And underneath the roof there is plenty of room to get to the battery bank and have space to tend the plants.
The battery bank is the long white box along the wall of the house.  The shed door is at the far end.  Take a look at the shadow of the fabric on the veranda floor.
A major drawback of the former shade cloth curtain that hung straight down from the edge of the roof was that it limited the natural airflow.  This design doesn't hinder the breeze as much, yet keeps the direct sun out.
You can see the shadow here, too.  And you can also see how much room there is for breezes to pass through.  
The fine mesh of the screen creates an amazing mist when it rains!  The plants love it, which brings us to bird #2 - growing space for tender plants.  
After 2 inches of rainfall in less than 2 hours, the plants look great!

Ornamental palm seedlings in the black pots on the decking and pots with provision tree seeds on the shelf.
I have big plans for the planters.  I am going to re-install the sections of rain gutter as containers for micro-greens and small herbs and create supports for the climbing Malabar spinach.  Pots of other assorted kitchen herbs will find a home there - in fact the Cuban thyme is already there and thriving.  This will be the perfect place  to start seedlings for things destined to be planted in the raised beds or directly in the ground like the palms and provision trees.  This time (I promise!) I will tend the rain gutter planters more faithfully.  

01 October, 2022

Before the Break

My brother and I were visiting the Dallas World Aquarium back in May.  Here is more of what we saw.

Flamingos!  The flamingos get to look down on the people tube that runs through the big aquarium.  I don't think they paid a bit of attention to any of the people.  They did their best to ignore us, going so far as to put their heads under their wings.

Overview of the flamingo habitat with part of the people tube visible at the bottom.
Headless, one-legged flamingos.
Sentinel flamingo checking to see if their are still people around.
Yes, people are still here.
Toucans and Aricaris!  The keel-billed toucan is the national bird of Belize.  Always a treat to see them.  

Belize is also home to several aricari species, but I don't know if these particular aricaris are found in Belize.  For sure their cousins are!

Colorful birds and poison arrow frogs.

There were many other animals and gorgeous plants.  I don't like to see large cats and primates held captive, so I don't have photos of them.  The cats, held singly (probably a good idea), were pacing with boredom in areas far too small.  They really need to be in the wild.  The smaller lemurs seemed OK, but the larger lemurs and monkeys probably need more stimulation and larger habitats.  Otherwise, I enjoyed the zoo and highly recommend it.