Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa in Belize

It’s difficult to get my head around the fact that we are actually spending Christmas away from family and friends, in Belize! Luckily, we have some new friends to lessen the loneliness. Coming from the mountains of central Oregon, where already this winter the temperature has dropped to -20, to Central America where today’s temp hit 90, is taking some adjustment. Of course, getting away from the snow was one of the incentives for making the move. Art is pleased that he’s traded a snow blower for a rototiller. That’s another wonderful difference. It’s Christmas and we’re actually planting a garden. There are two growing seasons here. In Bend, it seemed a joke when they told us that we had a one month growing season. We found it to actually be the truth. We could have a nightly freeze almost any time of the year, leaving only August. Here in Belize cold is 50 degrees. It actually feels very cold at that temp, but the plants seem to love it. The lack of cold weather will keep us from growing many of the veggies that we’re used to, but we’ll adapt. At this point tho’ we can’t see ourselves living on hard corn and beans, which are what most folks are planting. I’m hoping for lettuce, onions & sweet corn.
A week ago I planted a border of zineas and some sunflowers and they’re up already. Wow! How rewarding is that. We had a dumping rain and they actually loved it. The trick to most of this will be to keep the bugs and birds at bay. Hoping the mylar tape will scare the birds and send them to other farms. Projects, projects, projects!
We’ve been invited to have Christmas dinner with some wonderful new friends, the Robersons. Just a small group of 40 for a sit-down dinner and then more folks for dessert. How lovely to be included. I’ve just finished baking two apple pies as our contribution. Beth was excited when I suggested them. I had seen apples in the market and found that they appear to be Granny Smith’s, but when I asked the lady in the stall what they were, she said “Mexican”. So much decent produce seems to come from there. The local produce is pretty scrappy. I hope ours will be better. We’re going to attempt to be as “organic” as possible.

What does Santa do when he makes the decision to move to the tropics. He brings down his suit and visits the kids, of course. Art has had a wonderful time bringing Santa to so many of the children in the area. For those of you not familiar with my wonderful husband, he has been a professional mall Santa for 9 years. This year he decided to forego the grueling 6 weeks and just visit the local kids here in Cayo.
He started at a party for the Anglican School in San Ignacio, which has a large population of AIDS affected children. The party was held at a club called Hodies where he saw about 100 children. Two days later he visited the Catholic school in Bullet Tree with 350 students. What a surprise at the size. We almost didn’t agree to going to the RC school because the principal kept asking “what will Santa be bringing for all the kids?” Of course, we all know that ALL gringos are wealthy. Ha! I made the initial visit to the school so that Santa wouldn’t be seen wandering in regular clothes. We agreed that we just didn’t have the funds to bring bags of goodies for 350 kids. One of the teachers phoned and begged him to visit. We did agree to buy some little sweets. As it turned out, most of the teachers had candy for him to hand out. The other school in the village is Adventist.
Last Saturday, our friend, Bill, who owns a little restaurant called “Mom’s” held a free party for kids. He furnished hot dogs and juice, a bag of fruit and a present for each child. About 45 folks donated gifts to the cause, but sweet Bill footed the rest from his own pocket. He doesn’t have a family and was so pleased to be able to do this for the children. In four hours, Santa (Art) saw over 600 children. Most were the local kids who had never seen Santa. They were in awe and so excited. When we got there at 2pm they were already lining up. Some of them waited in line for4 hours, just for the chance to touch Santa. Art was frustrated that he didn’t have the time to actually visit with them, but the crush of little ones dictated that he move them thru rapidly. A wonderful photographer, also named Art, took photos. All-in-all it was a fantastic day. Everyone was exhausted, but exhilarated to have had the opportunity to make a special day for the kids.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


This is in answer to a question asked by several folks. We brought down 8 Concorde 6v AGM batteries (they're sealed, don't put out a gas so venting is not required and they can be shipped without a hazardous permit), 6 Solarworld 175 watt solar panels and all the stuff that goes with the system. This system cost us $13k US in March, 09. We also brought down a Sundanzer frig and Sundanzer freezer, Grundfos pump for the cistern and 7 DC ceiling fans. Of course, on top of that was shipping. We are extremely conservative with our consumption, but we couldn't be more thrilled with our system's performance. We're still going thru some adjustments, such as getting our marginally powered generator reconfigured to work as a backup. It's surprising tho' that we have been able to find folks who can help us get this all working.

This photo is showing our little setup, which is located in the bodega, just inside the door. We did have vent blocks installed at the top of the bodega walls to provide air flow.
My suggestion to anyone contemplating doing this is, buy as much wire, as many breakers (DC breakers are IMPOSSIBLE to find here) and any other bits and pieces you might need, in the US. Shopping here can be very frustrating and solar is still a new thing here. Lots of things not available and they can't answer many of your questions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interior in transition

Hope you'll all be impressed by our fancy house. Actually, for us, it's perfect. We made a choice to not finish the inside of the exterior walls. To us, that would just become a haven for bugs and little critters. We don't have glass windows like we would have in the States and we don't like the louvered glass windows so popular in Belize. We opted instead to have double screened openings with wood shutters which we only close when we'll be gone for a prolonged period of time. The screens the boys built are definitely not elegant and have proven to be quite bulky, but we like them anyway, at least for now. Even when the wind is blowing and the rain is pouring down, we remain dry inside and appreciate the free flow of air. The shutters give us a modicum of security when in use and were cheaper and better looking than the metal bars so much in use in town.

At this point, we don't have kitchen cupboards and we're still looking for wood to finish the wall between the livingroom and bedroom. We're getting there slowly.

A special thing for us was hanging the rug above the computer table. We purchased it on our way down at the Hubbell Trading Post in Arizona.


As you can see, we still have lots to do. We don't have places for everything yet, so stuff piled around. Oh well!

We're getting terrific results from our solar. It's now dropped down to about 17 degrees, which we've been told is the direction for Belize. Not sure if we'll have to change it in the summer months. The photo looking up at the house was taken from the cistern. We still haven't spent any time trying to get the little Kabota tractor running. That's for another day.

The guest house is a work in progress. The last two days we've spent putting boards up on the wall between the two rooms. We debated about leaving a door between the rooms, but decided that folks will just have to go out one door and in another. I'm sure whichever way we decided at some point we'll wish we'd done the other. Such is life!

When I find them, I'll post a photo of our solar setup.

Monday, November 30, 2009

November update

November update
Wow, I didn’t realize that I haven’t updated my blog since the first of October. We’ve been really busy trying to get out little place livable. We finally moved into our house the first part of November. It’s still not finished, but we’re picking away at projects. What else is new? The house is just 600 sq ft, with a living room/kitchen, bedroom & bath. It’s turning out to be very comfortable and perfect for the two of us. The wonderful thing here is that we have the guest house (which is the two bedrooms above the bodega) for company. That’s a hint to anyone contemplating a visit! We just roughed in a counter in the kitchen and will try to build some cabinets as we can. We’re not carpenters AT ALL, but we’re not trying to impress anyone, just want places for things. The little Mennonite house is still full of dishes, books and beds for the guest house. Progress is slow, but we’ll get there.

We brought down a submersible well pump for the cistern and it’s functioning perfectly. We put in a large pressure tank to get water to all the faucets. We bought a 10 liter, on demand butane water heater which has been a learning process. Our plumbing has it’s foibles, but is working. We won’t talk a lot about our Biolet composting toilet. It’s working ok, but can’t say I’d recommend it to anyone, especially for the money. I’ll post photos of our toilet progression. (now that’s something to look forward to).

The solar is a fantastic success (so far). We still don’t understand how to read all the meters, but we have our lights, DC frig, DC freezer, 2 DC ceiling fans & well pump all working most of the time. We also watch videos at night and use power tools during the day. All indications are that we’re not even putting a dent in our capacity. Yippee!

We drove down from the States in our lovely little 2000 Toyota Tundra. Well, the poor little thing isn’t quite so lovely now. It’s truly a “Belize” vehicle. The main street in San Ignacio is Burns Avenue. It’s a single lane, one-way, street. The weird thing is that the first half of the month you park on the left-hand side of the street. From the 16th on, you park on the right hand side. Anyway, I was driving on Burns with the cars parked on the right. There was a taxi stopped illegally on the left and just as I started to drive past it the passenger in the back opened the door INTO THE SIDE OF THE TOYOTA! ! ! By the time I realized what had happened & got stopped, the door had dented and scratched every panel on the driver’s side. I won’t go into the whole hassle of the thing, but we had to spend the whole afternoon in the police station and various insurance offices. He admitted the fault, but not sure about his insurance. It’s another “Oh Well” at this point. We did find a body shop (generous term) and got an appraisal (which you have to pay for) for the insurance company. $2,000 Bz. At least it’s drivable and with the help of the body shop, the door now opens.

The first part of the month Art traveled back to Oregon to visit the VA. His diabetes is always a concern, so will maintain that connection. He’s lost 30 lbs and is doing wonderfully. We’re pretty pleased and proud of ourselves as I’ve actually lost the same amount. The heat, work and lack of refrigeration, limiting our food choices all contributed to our success. Hope it keeps going.

Well dear friends & family, that’s it for today. I promise to do better with updates and will add photos.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Our solar is working ! ! !

After lots of dollars spent running our generator, we finally are getting our power from the sun! Fantastic. It's all thanks to our wonderful friend, Robin, who spent lots of hours here putting it together for us. He generously said that we could have done it ourselves, but we both have serious doubts that we could have. Anyway, the batteries are running my internet receiver right now. We still have a long ways to go. Our large appliances are DC and they still have to be wired in. It's frustrating here, because so many things aren't available. Instead of pluggin our frig and freezer in, we'll have to wire them in because you can't buy the plugins here. Little things like that can be irritating, but we're managing ok.

I'm posting a couple of photos, but you'll note that the solar panels are at an extreme angle for here. They look positioned more for Oregon or Colorado. We're going to cut the legs off about half way for "winter" here and then when the sun moves more to the north again in the "summer" we'll probably lay the panels down flat on the porch roof. We'll learn as we go, but so excited to finally have some of our plan working.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Belize carwash

Our poor Toyota was still sporting the mud from Mexico, so during our most recent DOWNPOUR, I headed out, bucket and cloth in hand, and washed it. The heavens provided and I used it. Of course, it got dirty again right away, but I felt quite resourceful.

Now, all of you who don't know me, can see that I'm a not thin, not young, Grandmother, who's having the adventure of a lifetime.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Second thoughts!

We’ve now been in Belize for 5 weeks and have faced our “cold feet” dilemma. My gosh, what have we done? We’re still camping in our guest rooms. Hauling water from the Rotoplast, no electricity, except the 2 hrs a nite we allow ourselves with the generator and IT’S HOT! We’ve been here before when it’s hot,, but we’ve been where we had ceiling fans to make it bearable. That’s another thing we don’t have – ceiling fans! I can’t believe that we’re actually hoping it will rain. It’s difficult to phone home to Oregon and hear that it’s 80 during the day and 40 at night. Here we’re lucky if it’s below 80 at night. Our poor non-complaining Bailey, just looks at us with a soulful look to say, WHAT IN THE HECK WERE YOU THINKING, BRINGING ME HERE! He ‘s actually wooled up again for winter just a couple of weeks ago, but now his system has realize that it’s not going to snow here and he’s dropping hair like crazy. Of course the biggest complaint is that we seem to be blowing thru money like drunken sailors (sorry if that offends anyone).
Art and I have had a couple of worry sessions together, asking ourselves if this was really such a good idea. We’re realizing that we’re not Wonder Man/Woman and that there are a lot of things that we don’t know how to do. Did we bite off more than we can chew? We really don’t know diddly squat about how to install our solar. We relied on Backwoods Solar to advise us on what to buy and now we’re staring at all this good stuff and don’t have clue what to do with it. Why can’t I be “Bewitched” , twitch my nose and have everything just pop into shape?
We now have a cistern that was filling when it rained and a pump, but how to install it? We are really dumb when it comes to all this off-grid stuff, but we want to learn. It’s just hard to slowly learn while you’re doing without.
A nasty dilemma has been the road up to our place. It’s a 60 foot wide “government” road, which we’ve been told we can’t touch, but it’s nothing more than a dirt track which gets very slippery when wet, not allowing anyone up who doesn’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. This has been a huge matter of frustration for us.
A really tough one is when we phone home. I know, we wanted to spend some time just worrying about our own problems, but can’t turn off our love and concern for our kids and grandchildren. We hear the “we miss you’s” and the ups and downs of their lives and feel that we should be there for them. What really tugged at me was talking to our grandsons and then to our daughter, Kris. We chatted for a bit and then she wanted to go check on our grandsons because Tyler was crying. He’s a big boy and doesn’t cry anymore, but we’ve always been around for them and now we’re not. I hate that part of this. On the other hand, we are relaxing and enjoying being “retired.”
We really miss our wonderful friends and family. Our neighborhood potlucks are fantastic- great food and delightful people.
Ok, we’ve hashed over the negatives and realize that they are real, but we looked at all this before we made this move. Granted, reality is a lot more difficult than theory, but most of the building/adjusting stuff will get resolved and a real life will set in.
We’ve found a terrific friend who has a large solar system and has agreed to help us install ours. We also have great young men who have worked on building our place ,who can do the hard stuff like putting the solar panels up on the guest house roof. We know that our system is fairly small, but we’ll use it first and improve it later.
Our wonderful builder, Amelio, has been studying about our cistern pump and can install that, help with our minimal plumbing and do much of the wiring. See, some of this stuff will fall into place. We took the plunge and had an internet dish installed on our bare shell of a house. That has been one of the greatest bits of comfort to me. We can keep in contact with the other world called the US.
We found a fellow to put in a driveway, of sorts, and a parking area so we won’t get stuck in our own yard, and when he gets time (so Belizean)he’ll bring up a grader to fine-tune our area and bring up a load of gravel for the government road (to heck with “don’t touch it”) so that we may find the way up to our place less unfriendly and intimidating.
We’ve made friends here in Belize over the last few years as we made trips down to explore and make improvements to our place. We were just invited to a brunch with a lovely group, some we knew already and many we had never met. It dampens somewhat, the pain of missing our old friends.
When we step back and look at what we’re creating here and how we want to spend the next few years, we realize that we made a good decision. I’m sitting at our makeshift table, it’s hot here, and I can hear the thunder from the clouds working their way around us, but I feel that rain will come soon. Rather than worry about putting in wood for the winter, or getting the snow blower serviced, here we’ll worry about wet and dry.
OK, we’re putting our second thoughts away for another time and plunging forward, like we had good sense. We know that some will try to scam us, because we must be “rich Americans” LOL, if they only knew, and we’ll have a few “downs”, but over all, it feels exciting and right for now.
Love to you all, Gale

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Our stuff arrives


I have to preface this by saying that I was afraid of going into Belize City, so kept putting off going into the BTB to finalize our QRP. Not sure if I mentioned that I got an email when we were on the road saying that we had been approved, but it wouldn’t be final until we went into the office and paid the fee. (Of course)
I got a phone call from Roy (our mover) that the container with our things and others, would be traveling thru Customs in 15 minutes. Wow! Did we have our QRP papers? Of course not. All we could do is tell him to do his best at getting us thru at a minimal cost. We brought down our solar system, including batteries, DC appliances, some furniture, tools and LOTS OF BOOKS! These books included several boxes that we want to donate to a school here in Bullet Tree. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that Roy got us thru very gently. Thank you Roy.
Roy Pascascio (Roy & Son Trucking) and Nena, are wonderful. He actually handled this door-to-door. What a relief. He took a chance coming up here in his very large Isuzu box truck. It’s only rear wheel drive with duals in the back. Of course, it rained the night before, so as you can imagine, he couldn’t make it up the hill. We were all going nuts trying to figure out what to do. A neighbor who has a lumber mill with a couple of huge loaders had helped us before, but this time, neither piece of equipment was functioning. We couldn’t stand to see our sorely missed items stranded on that slippery slope, so, TADA! the Toyota Tundra to the rescue. We hooked a chain on our truck and helped the big truck enough to get up. Boy did we feel powerful.
Roy had a couple of fellows with him and we called to Rene for help so altogether we had about 6 guys offloading our things into the Mennonite house. I knew it had to have a function sooner or later.
I have to admit that we’re still not into our house yet, so haven’t unwrapped most of our things, but so far, except for one chair, everything made it in great shape.
We did have one little hitch which may be of help to someone else. We were bringing down a very small, very old, Kubota tractor. It’s not much larger than a lawn mower. Well, it got held up by US Customs as we had to have a NOTARIZED BILL OF SALE. We had a receipt that had everything spelled out on it, but that wouldn’t suffice. We had to contact the seller (who happened to be our next door neighbor in Bend, and have him write one up, get it notarized and get it to us or to Roy. It went slightly astray, so the tractor and rototiller are coming on the next load. Not sure how we’ll fare with customs, but will have to wait and see. It’s actually a 1980, so definitely for home use, not commercial.

Friday, September 18, 2009

work continues

I'm not a very good blog updater. Sorry about that. We've been awfully busy, just trying to keep up with running errands and buying (spending) for our project. I can't believe the stuff we're continuing to learn. Wire sizes, direct current is a whole different animal, conduit, wiring & pipe for the cistern and the list goes on. Seems that we fairly live in Spanish Lookout. For all our friends and family who haven't been here, SL is about 10 miles from Bullet Tree if you go either by the crank ferry or take the back road which will shake your teeth out, or 15+ miles if you want to take a better road but travel further. With gas running at about $8.65/gallon bz, the shorter routes usually win.

We're still in the guest house, but are making headway. The boys should be finished with the basic construction this weekend. Then it's our turn to get a few tasks done, ie finishing the floors and the ceiling.

This Monday is a holiday and there's all sorts of excitement. They're celebrating Belize's independence, I think 28 years ago.

Right now I just want to update with a couple of photos of our progress. Hope you enjoy our little adventure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My office!

Just so you realize just how sophisticated we are down here, I want to share an overview of what I have to do to publish these posts. First, before we had much more that a skeleton of a house, I was tired of wandering around, trying to find a WIFI site (there are maybe three in San Ignacio) or finding an internet cafe that had a connection that didn't take hours to make, so we jump in and had Computer Ranch fellows come out and install a dish. I still find it hysterical to look outside and see the dish on a zinc roof, surrounded by jungle trees. 21st Century here we come!

Now for the fun part. This connection is in our little house, but we're still in the "guest house", so I pack up the laptop, turn on the generator which we only run for two hours each night and I trudge over with my laptop and flashlight to my Office. I have to find where the fellows left the extension cord to plug in my receiver (which I keep in a cardboard box to keep it dry and clean) and away I go. Right now I can hear the crickets, cicadas and the generator and can see the lightning moving off to the SW. Cool, but weird.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Noise - part 2

The “chicken frog” was funny. There are now 2 of them, occasionally chatting with each other during the day. Not a problem. We’ve been taking it all in stride and enjoying the humor and strangeness of the sounds. What an adventure.
It’s now 2am and the humor is gone! We must have a goose in the trees. What is it? Now it’s a boy on a bicycle, honking his infernal horn. Blat, blat, blat –blat—blat, blat, blat. Oh my gosh. It’s another frog, only this guy only comes out to serenade his hoped for love during the night. Ugh! It’s the most incredible, LOUD, sound. It envelopes the night. Now it changes to sound as tho’ he has his head in a metal drum. Honk, honk. Sometimes I can hear an answering honk, off in the jungle. Sure wish he’d take the hint and go to her. Maybe this one is the female and she’s waiting for him. Can’t imagine what that serenade would sound like. Occasionally the chicken frog on the roof decides to compete, but his little clucking sounds can’t begin to cut it.
At 4am I’m now fully awake, trying anything to block out the cacophony of frog sounds. Wrapping the pillow around my head has no affect. I can hear Bailey scooching under the bed, pushing his head against the stored suitcases. I hear his disgusted signs as he’s also trying to sleep. Visions of our lovely house in the cool mtns of Oregon dance thru my head. What have we gotten ourselves into?
Magically, at about 6am, the honking diminishes, now to be blocked out by the hoards (I know they’re flocks, but they sound louder than a mere flock) of parrots come alive. They seem to love to spend the night in some of the trees to the south of our house. The crescendo of sound is impossible to ignore. All right! I’m up. Good gravy. When we lived in the “real world” I loved to stay up until midnight, watching TV or reading, then to get up about 7:30 or 8am. Here, if you want to get any sleep at all, it’s lights out at 9 – 10pm and up at 6am.
Through the day we’re so busy trying to make this our home that we rarely pay attention to the competing sounds of the Brown Jays, parrots, and once in a while a Toucan. Our generator & the boys pounding in nails add to the cacophony of our jungle home. Anyone who thinks the jungle is quiet has never been here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I can hardly believe that I’m actually sitting on the veranda of our little guest house in Bullet Tree, Belize. It rained about two hours ago, but now, as the sun is setting, the sky is clearing.
I could hear the howler monkeys off to the south, faintly, but it’s hard to mistake their low bark and growl.
A couple of days ago we were enjoying a chat with Rene, when I would have sworn I heard a chicken on our roof. It was clucking away, overhead. I looked startled and Rene just laughed. It’s a frog – probably living in or near the gutter. Now, tonight, there are two of them on separate corners, clucking like mad.
All of a sudden, all sound was drowned out by the parrots coming by, hundreds of them, parking for a bit in the trees on all sides of the house. I watch them fly and settle in the trees, but then they seem to disappear, their green bodies blending with the trees. Only their screeching and scrawling gives them away. What a racket. They chirp and chortle, with the sound almost deafening. I’m sitting here laughing at the strangeness and glory of the whole spectacle.
As they move on, we hear shouting and gunfire, or fire crackers. I tho’t it was folks behind the hill getting drunk, but Rene told us it’s the farmers trying to keep the parrots from eating their corn.
All the noises are strange to us, but we’re learning the sounds of our new home.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

beginning construction on our little house

OK friends, here's what we have so far. Sr. Amelio and the boys have really been busy. When we arrived, the skeleton and roof were up. They are going to town. It will never be a very fancy house, but we love it already. Since we're on the top of a hill, we get lovely breezes, so the verandas will probably be where we spend most of our time. I splurged and when last here I asked Amelio to put verandas all around, with three of them 6' and the back one, which will be off the kitchen is 8'.

Right now we're camping in our "guest house", but managing ok. I know family and friends think we're crazy at our ages to be making this move, but works for us! Hope you enjoy the photos, most taken by Amelio's son Luis.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Two years ago, in Bend, OR, I saw a photo in the paper of a beautiful 5 year old male Akita who was at the humane society as was looking for a home. We had lost our lovely little dog a year before and were ready to have another dog. Well, you never know who you'll find, but what a lucky day it was when we took him. It was an adjustment for us, because Akita's are large dogs. Bailey went from 85lbs to 111 lbs after we got him. He's undoubtably the most intelligent animal I've ever been around and the most adaptable.

We worried about trying to take him to Belize. We finally decided that the breed originated in Japan which gets very hot and humid, so hopefully, he be able to adapt. Our big worry was putting him on a plane as "freight". I imagined him being sent to some place in Europe or ??. He had also bonded to us and we imagined all sorts of things happening, SO, we bo't a used Toyota Tundra, with 4 doors (sort of), found a fantastic seat cover especially for transporting dogs and away we went.

Bailey immediately bonded with the truck. He loves to travel! Our main problem was finding motels that allow pets, especially large dogs. Bailey rarely barks, doesn't make a mess and only goes outside. Most don't even realize he's around unless they happen to see him. He is a little intimidating because of his size.
We actually found that he was a real asset, especially in Mexico. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the "wolf" in our car. He didn't mind the attention and probably got us thru most spots quite smoothly.
He keeps surprising us with his intelligence. Once again, today, we left him in the car for a few minutes to buy paint. We'd rolled down the windows and made sure that he wasn't too hot. I guess he felt we'd been gone long enough because we heard the horn honk. We looked out and he was sitting in the driver's seat, honking the horn with his nose, and looked up as to say, "get your backsides out here and lets get going". Guess you know who's boss!

He's settling in ok here in our new home, altho' it's pretty primitive right now. Our house isn't complete and our shipment isn't here yet, so we don't have fans or even electricity most of the time. What really makes it still seem like home, is the three of us getting thru it together.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thru Mexico to Belize

The photo on the far right shows the Honda & Land Rover's & roads in Mexico. Wish Belize's were so good!

I have to make a couple of points first.
1. We’re caravanning with a wonderful friend, Roy Pascascio, his son Marlon and nephew, Champ. Roy is driving a Land Rover which he’s taking down for a customer and Champ is driving a little Honda CRV, which Roy bo’t at the request of a lady in Corozal. We’re following the pack in our Toyota Tundra pickup, loaded to the gunnels with good “stuff” which we felt we couldn’t leave behind.
2. I also want to remind myself about how tired we are at this point. We left Oregon three weeks ago, delivered a few items to Roy in LA, to be shipped in the container along with all our other stuff for our new house. We all tho’t that the container would ship within the next week, but not to be. We ended up wandering around Arizona, waiting for the container to be packed so that Roy could leave. We had now been gone from Oregon for nearly three weeks.
The point to this is that we’re starting out really tired and trying not to be discouraged.
At Roy’s request, we sent him the title to our pickup ahead of time. It was hard to trust it to the mail, but in the long run it saved us time. Roy sent it ahead to his broker, so it was cleared by the time we arrived. I think they’re checking for clear titles, etc.
We met Roy Saturday morning in Pharr, TX, at the American ?? Brokers. Roy has used them for years. Actually, we arrived on Friday evening and had them inspect our pickup and go thru and inventory our entire load. I had already done it, but they must check everything themselves, and the biggy is that it must be in Spanish and of course, I don’t speak or write it. Our load is a real mess of foodstuff, kitchen items, clothing, dog paraphernalia, a couple of wooden chairs, tools, oil for the car and ? So glad that we got that done before Roy got there, as it took quite a while to accomplish and then repack. Something else I forgot to mention is that the whole west is suffering from a record breaking heat wave. It was 111 in Laredo on Friday and nearly that hot in Pharr.
On Friday morning we met Roy and the boys and completed the pedimento listing all our good stuff, the paperwork, for all three vehicles and headed for the border. We had to wait a short while there for the title for the Land Rover that Roy was transporting to catch up with us. We then headed for the crossing at McAllen, Tx. There you wait and head for the terminal in a group. Here you have to wait in line to apply for your Mexican VISA, fill out the papers and wait in line again for it to be issued, buy your Mexican insurance and here we also changed US dollars into Pesos. We changed $500US into 6500 pesos. I will say right now that that was a lucky guess. We probably paid about $5oo pesos in tolls and the rest in motels and food. It took us the better part of three days to cross Mexico.
Warning – At one of the most expensive toll booths, the toll was 140pesos. We gave him a 500. They will return your change with the receipt wrapped around the bills. We drove on as there was a string of cars behind and we didn’t want to lose our caravan. WRONG! Always count your change before leaving. We were only given 260 change. He shorted us 100. He was chatty, but of course in Spanish, smiling all the time, actually laughing at us.
Warning #2 – At the fuel pumps, be sure that they roll the starting $$s to zero. That’s the good thing about a locking cap. You can get out and ask them to roll it back before you open the cap. Otherwise they might jamb the nozzle in and start pumping and you’re total will be yours plus what was already on the meter. Of course it’s not everyone, but I did have to tell one fellow to start with zero and he just grinned like “it was worth a try”.
In this part of Mexico, the roads are really quite good. They’re nicely paved and have lines in the middle and the fog line on the right. We were really impressed, especially with the wide shoulders. The difficult part is the driving habits. They drive fast and pass anywhere and everywhere. We found out why the wide shoulders. They come up behind you, signal to pass (maybe) and then just start moving around you. You’re supposed to pull over to the far right and let them go. It’s frightening when a semi or bus is heading towards you. It seems to work, but they pass on hills, curves, anywhere. You just hope that there isn’t also a car passing coming towards you.
At the border to Belize is the real wait. We were actually importing a 2000 Toyota Tundra, which is an 8 cylinder pickup. It’s too old for acceptance into the QRP program, so we knew we had to pay duty. Ich! We stayed the night in Chetumal and headed for the border at about 10am. We tho’t we’d go earlier, but waited for Roy. Glad we did, but it made a long day. We didn’t actually leave the border until 8pm. I talked to another friend who crossed the day before and they made it thru much faster than we did. It was a hot day and there’s no place to wait.
I can’t imagine doing this without Roy. He led us directly to the place where you relinquish your Mexican VISA and show your pedimento. We were stopped at different places for insurance or bug spraying, but Roy motioned us past. The duty in Belize is to be paid in Belize $$s so Roy found his money changer, who gave us 2.07/1. Customs discounts your US dollars.
At the final customs terminal we gave Roy our paperwork for entry and then waited. We were then told that we needed to go to BAHA to get approval to bring Bailey in. We had already applied and been approved, so didn’t expect a problem. What a laugh. Luckily I had asked to have a copy of the permit emailed to me so I’d know what it looked like. When we got up the stairs to BAHA, they didn’t have us on their list. I showed him the vet inspection papers and the permit copy. He had to contact the Belize City office and they had to fax the permit. What a hoot, we were charged $5 for the fax! Everyone seems to move slowly and treat you as tho’ you’re trying to smuggle something in. They’re actually fairly nice, but suspicious. He asked a couple of questions about the dog and then wanted to inspect him. By this time our wonderfully patient, quiet dog was really hot and frustrated by all this mess. The fellow checked his neck and back and then wanted to check his ears. Bailey let him know that he’d about had enough of this silliness. When a 111# dog turns and gives you the stink eye, you think twice. Luckily, Akita’s have upright ears and the inspector could tell they were clear, so WE PASSED.
We then had to go thru immigration to get our passports stamped. This was in the same building and it was actually something to break up the wait. Our car was inspected just after lunch. We had been thru some really rough construction in Mexico during a heavy rain. It was a terrible pain at the time because the mud that was thrown up was heavy and didn’t wash off easily. This actually proved a plus at customs. The worse your vehicle looks, the better. On one of Roy’s vehicles, they even translated a line in the mud as a break in the windshield. Then the long wait began. They had to inspect our load. Customs closes at 4:30pm and the inspector finally got around to us just about that time. Roy had told him that we’d been accepted into the QRP program, but I told him that we wouldn’t officially be in the program until we go to Belize City to pay and get our paperwork. Several other fellows who had also been there all day, had to leave their vehicles and spend the night in town and come back the next day. Roy kept coming back to check with us and then head back to customs. I’m not sure why or how, but we finally got out of customs at nearly 8pm. We had to pay duty on the truck, which was more than we’d wished, but much less than it could have been. We weren’t sure it would be worth it to bring in the truck. Roy told us over and over that it’s not smart to buy a vehicle in Belize. We actually saw lots of car haulers and “vehicles in tow” on their way in. Most were in pretty bad shape, but guess they fix them up for sale here or in other Central American countries.
We couldn’t believe that we were finally, officially in Belize. The first stop we needed to make was to buy Belize auto insurance. We bo’t insurance for five days until we could get to our agent in SI. Then we crashed at a very nice place in Corozal called ­­­­­­­­ Hok’ ol K ‘in.
I have to say that we made the trip ok, but we wouldn’t have done it without Roy. First, we don’t speak any Spanish and the Mexicans make absolutely no effort to speak English. On the surface they’re not particularly friendly, but are usually lovely when you try to be understood and are friendly. Also, Roy has been a trucker for years and knows ways around the cities. We would have definitely been lost. He and the boys were great to be around and gave us great comfort.
Actually, the trip went great. We’re really proud of ourselves for tackling it. I know that it would be easy for younger folks, but we started this extremely tired. By the time we got to our new home we’d traveled about 5200 miles.
We’re now at home (sort of) in Bullet Tree. We’re actually camping in our little guest house while they’re working on our house. Right now it’s frame and roof, but it’s looking beautiful to us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We're off

You Bet, we're off. Probably in more ways than one! We left our house in the capable hands of our daughter, Kris and took off. That sounds so easy, but it was a real hassle.

We had planned to fly down to Belize, but for lots of reasons, we decided to drive. The most important one was our dog, Bailey. We'd rescued him from the Humane Society nearly 2 years ago and he's a huge part of our lives. He's an Akita, and during his final trip to the vet to get his final shot and travel certificates, he weighed in at a healthy 111 pounds. We bo't a used 2000 Toyota Tundra, extended cab so that he would have a place to ride. Another big reason to buy this truck is that we need one in Belize that is a 4x4.

Even tho' we'd sent most of our worldly possessions to LA with Roy, we still had things that we needed to the last. We boxed them up and started to load the truck. What a laugh. It's a 6' bed and we had twice as much stuff as it would hold. We had to either abandon half our stuff or rent a U-Haul. We finally left (pulling a small U-Haul) nearly a day late. We had to leave by Friday because we had renters coming into our house for a week, that Saturday. After all that waiting, we were cutting it a little short. This meant another change of plans. We now had to go to LA to drop off the excess with Roy and get rid of the trailer. I don't think U-Haul would appreciate our taking their trailer to Belize, not to mention the Mexicans!

I won't bore you (that assumes anyone will ever read this) with the details of our trip south. We headed to Florence on the Oregon coast and then down 101 all the way to LA. Traffic was light, no trucks and the country was much more pleasant to see than that along I-5. We sailed along, thinking we were doing just great until LA ! ! ! Ich! I've never liked it and now I like it even less. People drive like maniacs. 6 lanes one-way, everyone driving at least 80, following about 6" behind the next guy. Art drove while I navigated, but what I really did was scream, clench my teeth and generally make Art nuts. It's a wonder he didn't kick me out of the truck. It doesn't bother me to drive, but I'm the world's worst passenger. (This is where Art jumps in and says, "that's an understatement").

Wonder of all wonders, we made it to Roy's, dropped off the stuff, dropped off the trailer and headed east as fast as our chubby little bodies and clenched teeth would allow us. We couldn't get out of California fast enough. Sadly we ended up spending the night in Blythe, CA, but almost out of the state. Would you believe that the temp in Blythe that days was 113. Now I'm really screaming.

Here, the disappointing fact is that Roy probably won't leave for 1-2 weeks, so we now find that we have to wander around and wait for him to leave so that we can caravan with him. As I write this we are in Prescott, AZ. in the mountains. All we could think about was to get out of the heat and head for the mtns. Hope we can afford this wandering.

I'm not going to chronicle all our wanderings, but will try to describe our border crossings and negotiating Mexico. Has us moderately worried, but putting our faith in Roy to get us thru OK. Love to you all, Gale

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our stuff

We finally made the decision to make the move to Belize. We'd hoped to make the move long before this, but, besides family, our house in Oregon hasn't sold in this crumby economy. Waiting isn't accomplishing much excepting getting us older, so plunge away! !

We updated our research on solar and our other off-grid needs. We contacted Backwoods Solar, asking their advise regarding our needs, covered our eyes and put in the order. We're trying to use minimal power, much of our appliances will be DC. We also ordered a composting toilet. Our goal is to try to stay outside the infrastructure, just to see how self-sufficient we can be.
We're advertising our house as a vacation rental. Hope this will work out as we're in the mtns, only 1/2 hour from the Mt. Bachelor ski area and Sunriver Resort. It's a log home, so are hoping it will appeal to others. Because we'll have folks in the house, we have to leave it fully furnished. We had to sift and sort, deciding what to take to Belize and how much we need to leave. We stacked the Belize stuff in the garage and have been testing the liveability of the rental stuff. It works great, but, we keep looking for stuff that's packed away. Oh well!

After attempting to contact shipping companies, we decided on Roy & Son Trucking of LA. Roy agreed that he would come up here, we'd rent a U-Haul and he'd take our stuff to LA, store it and then load it on a container for Belize. It will actually ship out of Houston. That saves us trying to get it down to him. He'll also get things thru customs for us and then deliver to our site in Bullet Tree. Wow! No one else comes close. He came up in May with his son and nephew and drove our load south.

The next thing was for me to quit my job and concentrate on our new adventure. After working for most of 50 years at odds and ends of jobs, it's hard to cut loose from the commitment and the paycheck. We have to be brave!

Our house begins

When we made the last trip, I stayed for a little over a week and we agreed that Art should stay longer. The building was done for now and we didn't want the property left vacant. Reluctantly I left him and headed back to Oregon.

The really difficult part of this whole project has been balancing this dream with our love and concern for our family. My mother was here in Oregon and in failing health with Alzheimers and we have a son and daughter and 5 grandchildren here, as well as my brother and his family. We stopped our building for a bit to concentrate on family. In January my beloved mother passed away. We were so blessed by her gentleness and sweet nature to the end. Art was devastated too by her death and flew home.

After we came to grips with this loss, we decided to go ahead with our plans. It's still difficult, but we feel that our children have their own lives to live and we should allow ourselves to finish our dream.

Because of the expense of these constant trips, we decided that I should make another trip down by myself to get things going again. Besides everything, we didn't want to lose Amelio to another project, if we could help it. This next project was to lay out the spot for our little house so that we could decide exactly where to put the cistern. I guess I failed to say that, since our property is high on a hill and far from the village, we'll collect water from the roofs and want an underground cistern. It's actually fairly small, being 12 x 12 x 8'. Since it will mostly be just the two of us, we're hoping this will suffice. If we run short of water, it's just a short run down the hill to the fast-moving Mopan River. We feel we can bring water up from there if necessary.

Amelio and I agreed on the locations and he staked it out. He's fantastic at trying to get everything exactly right. We admire him so much as he reads everything he can get his hands on about building. Our house will be 20 x 30', living room/kitchen, one bedroom and a bath. We decided to expand our original plan, which called for one veranda to 6' verandas on three sides and and 8' on the back. This one will better accomodate a table and chairs. Unlike the Mennonite house, ours will be on concrete piers with a concrete beam around the perimeter. This will allow for hurricane straps to secure the building.

At this point I had to head back home again, leaving Amelio with our dream. He was busy lining up a backhoe and supplies, hoping to get everything up the hill before the rains hit. BOY WE'RE GETTING TIRED OF GOING BACK AND FORTH!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Another building!

We finally had a place to stay, even if it was an old trailer. The little Mennonite house was still just a shell. At this time, we're still just making trips down. This was about our fifth trip. Before heading home we were able to get a sealer on the siding so that it'll have a little protection from the sun and rain.

While all this excitement was going on, we found a wonderful builder by the name of Amelio Coc. We'd been visiting friends in Succotz who have a great wooden guest house and had just moved into their gorgeous new cement house. The style and craftsmanship were terrific. Their builder was Amelio, whom they'd discovered working at the Trek Stop. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising. Kathleen & Anton's projects had come to an end, so we grabbed the chance. What a stroke of luck. We discussed our ideas and plans with Amelio and he agreed to come work with us at our farm.

I haven't discussed much about what we want to do here. We have limited resources and are looking, not for an American life, but a simple Belizian life in a wooden house. A dear friend had put up a small house and wanted to later put up an adjacent guest house. We fell in love with that idea and quickly stole it!

Also, since we're so far off-grid, we'll have to supply our own electricity and water. What an exciting project for a couple of not-so-young folks who had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Anyway, we asked Amelio to start by building our little 2-bedroom guest house. He had a wonderful suggestion of building a concrete block bodega with the guest house on the top. Eureka! This solved so many problems for us. We were collecting a few tools and will be able to use the bodega to house our solar system and lots of other supplies. Already, Amelio was making our dream more reasonable.

After getting the house up the hill, we had to call on the Cambreras Lumber fellows to haul three more truckloads of supplies up the hill before we headed back to Oregon. Getting tired of paying for airline tickets, but having a house in Oregon for sale and my job keep sending us back. (All this activity was happening in Nov. 2008).

In Feb. 2009, we once again, traveled to our little farm. What a wonderful site to meet us. Dear Amelio and crew had the shell of our guest house complete. It's just two bedrooms and will have a simple bathroom and a veranda at the end. All this sits on top of the bodega. Amelio is a true treasure. When we can be down for a longer period of time, we'll finish the wall between the rooms and try to finish it. For the time being, Amelio and his son Luis are camping in it.