Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The economy in Belize revisited

Hope this isn't too boring, but Rene is here today and he and I usually visit for a bit. (Actually that is kind of funny, as anyone who knows Rene, knows how much he loves to talk. He can go on for hours. Things are so tough now that I think he appreciates having someone to talk to). Of their four sons, two are here in Bullet Tree and unable to find work. Roni, who has a wife and little boy, has been able to fish in the river and sell fish and the occasional turtle to the Chinese storekeepers to make a few dollars to feed his family. It's difficult right now tho' because the river is swollen and brown from all the rain. Roni and his wife are now taking a wheelbarrow a couple of miles into the bush to cut firewood, which he can sell for 10 cents a stick. The track is steep and muddy, which adds to the struggle.

Rene told me that Alejandro got up this morning at 4am and is riding his bicycle to Spanish Lookout because he got a phone call that there might be a construction job there for him. This is a 12 mile ride over a really horrible rocky road. There isn't a bus from Bullet Tree to S.L. in the morning and he wouldn't have the fare anyway. When you first visit here and see disheveled looking men carrying a machette, walking on the road, it's intimidating. You want to look away and drive by. Now we see them as hardworking men who are doing any kind of work to feed their families. When we're on Paslow Falls Road or heading towards S.L. we give fellows a ride in the back of the pickup. There's a potential for risk, but the gratitude of a little relief for them, makes it worth it. We no longer make jokes about all the people riding in the backs of pickups. The joke isn't so funny when you look at tired faces and know how hard they've worked, just to keep going.

As one of my blogger friends commented, it's somewhat that way in parts of the U.S. also, but thankfully, there are some programs there that can help sustain folks thru the toughest times. Here, the rich get richer and the poor just work themselves to death. Most keep plugging away, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.

We're having our own struggles, but are glad that we can still manage Rene's two days a week. We really need his help and we feel that we're doing a tiny bit to help a wonderful family.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Mopan River

We've had pretty mixed weather lately. Lots of rain but the last couple of days have been sunny. Heavy clouds whipped by to the north or to the south of us, heading towards Guatemala. but spared us. Well, they must have dropped lots of rain west of us because the Mopan suddenly looks like the chocolate river in the first Willie Wonka movie. The water is running high and brown. I look forward to the return of our beautiful, clear river.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

just living

I keep feeling that I should post more, like so many folks. They treat their blog llke a diary with their every tho't or feeling I'm not that fascinating or anal, but write here so that our family & friends can read that we're ok and get a feel for what we're doing. It's hopefully, also a way to give others an insight into what they might experience if they choose to make the leap to moving to Belize. The real reason tho' is as a memory record for us. We're not sure that we'll be able to stay here for the rest of our years. We're blessed with good health, but who knows what to expect. This will be here to remind us of this adventure. We didn't want to retire to a rocking chair, but felt that we'd prefer to find some new challenges, both physically and mentally. Belize has sure provided those.

We could live here comfortably, economically, if we could sell our home in the U.S. Even tho' costs keep escalating here, being off-grid has isolated us from some of this. The biggest hit to the budget is gasoline. It's now near $10bz a gallon for regular. A saving grace is that we don't travel far or often. Another big expense is that we have two vehicles. We keep the old 1990 Trooper with 280k miles, as part of Rene's compensation. We let him have it on the weekend to be able to take his family shopping. He's the only one that's allowed to drive it other than us. We're hoping that some day he'll be able to afford to buy it as the insurance and license are tough. We put new tires on it a couple of years ago, so tires haven't been a big concern. Prior to that we were going thru a couple of used tires every month or two. In case you haven't traveled to Belize, the roads here are the pits! Just FYI, the insurance, which is only liability and third party coverage, runs about $375bz a year and the license is $200bz per year. The Trooper is also here as a backup vehicle and as a little security system. If someone comes up our road it looks like we're home if there is a car in the driveway.

Life's a challenge everywhere, it's just a little more interesting here in little Belize.

Monday, August 16, 2010


We woke up this morning to a day we knew would be hot. I had to wash our sheets and mattress cover because it was so hot last night it felt like a steambath. It wasn't so much hot today as it has just been sticky. Bugs seem to be attracted to our pale skin as tho' we were covered in honey. Those little black rings that you stick on a stand and light are our salvation outside. That and repellent.

Anyway, it's now afternoon and the clouds are rushing by and the thunder seems to be everywhere. It's all above the clouds right now so we haven't seen lightning. Usually the thunder is to the south of us, heading towards Guatemala. Today it's to the north, heading the same direction. The thunder sounds from horizon to horizon with huge, deep resounding rolls. First soft, then loud bouncing all around. This probably sounds crazy, but we both love it. Of course, we are concerned about a hit on or near us, but it makes me smile to feel that nature still has the upper hand. Makes me hope that we're not totally screwing up the environment. A project we must address soon is to put up a lightning rod to direct a lightning strike away from the solar. For the time being, if it seems close, we just throw the breakers from the array. That probably wouldn't stop all the damage, but might protect the inverter.

I used to be afraid of thunderstorms, like so many children. All the things you had to be aware of. Water, standing under a tree, don't touch the doorhandle of the car and many more worries. It seems like a hundred years ago that Art & I were backpacking in Montana with my brother and his wife, Jan and other friends. We were above timberline on huge rocks, with packs on our backs full of supplies to keep us for a couple of weeks. Fishing poles, tent stakes, pans, etc. The clouds boiled over our heads and the lightning was everywhere. There was no place to run so we piled our packs way to the side and huddled together and prayed that we'd be ok. The surprising thing was watching the lightning and listening to the thunder. When there's nothing you can do, it can relieve you of worry and allow you to appreciate the wonder of it all. Of course, we were all fine and continued on our way to a lovely time in the incredible Montana mountains. Since then, I actually enjoy the rumble and roar and appreciate the coolness that these storms bring.

Yes, it's starting to get cooler here with a little breeze. No rain so far, so will have to take my rinse water out to the garden to water my tomatoes. In a way, I do feel like a pioneer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Construction -bush sticks

Most of Belize isn't about sophistication or the newest and best. It's about making the most of and using what's at hand. A friend of ours had a pallopa (?) with a thatched roof that had a corner that was starting to rot. Rene took his machete and headed into the bush, returning later in the day with a large bundle of cohune fronds, tied with tye tye. (I've probably misspelled most of these terms). We were fascinated by how resourceful he was. The tye tye is a flexible vine that can be used like rope. The use it for all sorts of things, including tying large posts together for building.

A startling sight can be a concrete house under construction, being held up by bush sticks. I suspect that in the States you would use steel posts and jacks, but here they use what's at hand. At some sites they use hundreds of sticks at a time. We see signs up to buy or sell these hardwood sticks. It may not look fancy, but appears to work just fine.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The economy in Belize

Rene's family is pretty much a typical,Belizean family. They have four boys and three girls, all grown. The girls live near, with their families. The boys all are building little houses on Rene's property for future families. The problem is that there are so few jobs. Only two of the boys are currently employed. Carlos has to go to Placencia where he can still find a job as a plumber. Delio is a cook at a local restaurant. The other two boys keep visiting places in San Ignacio, but find that most labor type jobs are taken by Guatemalan's, who work cheaper. Sound familiar? They couldn't afford to send any of their kids on for more education past the elementary level, so none have specific training.

Belize desperately needs jobs. There's so much labor here, begging for work. It's hard to support a family on an occasional job of chopping at $35BZ per day. We hear of so many grants to Belize from foreign countries, but it seems that most of that gets siphoned off to personal pockets or to a group defined as politically correct at the time. We don't see much of it actually helping anyone.

We've heard of several projects that sound as tho' they'd be successful, but they don't actually come to fruition. An American tried to get a potato chip factory built, but couldn't finance. There's been talk of a tomato processing facility, which really makes sense as tomatoes do grow here quite well, but that hasn't happened either. Small plants located around the country to process cohune nuts for oil would make a lot of sense too, but they also seem to just be talk.

In the meantime, the GST is now 12.5%, which is putting so many folks to their knees. This to pay, in part, for a boondoggle left by the Musa government of millions of dollars of debt for a hospital in Belize City, that the everyday folks can't even afford to visit.

We keep our feelings mostly to ourselves, as we've been told that as Retired Persons, we are only here as glorified tourists and then only if we continue to bring in US dollars.

I guess I sound discouraged here, and in a way I am. The whole world seems to be suffering from a lethargy for lack of money. The rich keep raking it in, while the middle class has disappeared, leaving nothing but the poor. Whoever said that "money can't buy happiness" was never poor. It can buy relief from worry about how to feed your family or pay your taxes or keep a roof over your head,or pay for the medical help that only seems to be for the wealthy.

Most of the Gringos that we know down here are in much the same place as we are. By Belize standards we appear rich, but in actuality, we're just hanging on too. We are just lucky that, after 50 years of working, we have a property and a decent roof over our heads. Just pray that we find that bottom surfer price for our place in Oregon, so it will sell and we can survive. Even a cup of coffee isn't doing it for me today. Maybe a piece of Betty's chocolate pie will help my mood! Bummer, can't get down the hill. Maybe I'll bake cookies instead.

What a world, what a world!

Friday, August 6, 2010


Don't you hate it when you check on the weather and they tell you that the humidity is 85% with a 40% chance of rain and you're looking out at a downpour that's been going ton for the past 6 hours? Can't really complain as it's been the same way every where we've lived. In the mountains of Oregon we'd hear that it was going to be clear and we'd have snow. It's a little more predictable there as the weather is pretty stable. One of the disappointments there is that the growing season is really short. When we first moved there we were told that the growing season was 28 days. Ha, Ha, Ha!. How funny is that? Well, it turned out to be true for the most part. At 4200' above sea level, you can have a frost in July that will kill your tomatoes. It can start again in September. Of course, not every year, but possible. It was also that way in Montana. The only way to beat that was to grow in pots and haul them into the garage at night and back out in the daytime, unless of course you could afford a greenhouse, which we couldn't. Every place has it's quirks.

FYI, I'm giving up on this group of cucumber plants. I've sprayed them twice with Confidor to kill the worms, to no avail. When (if) it quits raining, I'm going to pull them all up burn the vines and spray the soil with Confidor. I'll then plant the few remaining seeds and see if I can get anything. We did put up a trellis for the plants in another area, but they don't look real healthy either. I may be hard headed, but I'm not giving up. One thing that keeps me going is that, according to Rene, this is not a typical year. August is usually dry. Ha! This is hard on the locals too who are trying to grow their corn for meal. It's a tough year for little Belize.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I had a question from one of my great blogger friends, asking about weedeaters and should they buy a battery one and bring down from the States. I thought our experience might help others so am posting here.

I wouldn't bother with the battery weedeaters. It's a tough job here. The environment is hard on batteries and equipment in general. We've already killed one weedeater and have rebuilt the second one. My only recommendation if you buy here is DON'T BUY A TRUPER. They're made in Mexico and junk. Homelite and Stihl are here. For just a little work, Homelite is probably your best bet. I was told tho' to watch the new Homelites as some of the motor is sealed, so is not repairable. I can direct you to a repairman in Santa Elena who showed me this and can explain it better.

We bo't a Truper a couple of years ago. It was one of the expensive ones with the blade included. Well, it died after a couple of months of use by Rene. It was returned and we were given a much more basic model. Worked for about a year, then died. Our lesson here is, there are lots of wonderful tinkerer/repairmen here who collect dead machines and then scrounge them for parts. WAY less expensive and faster than the hardware store shops. We had to wait three months for a part for my Stihl chainsaw because it's a model not sold in Central America. The new parts are really expensive. This time, Rene took the Truper to his "cousin" who replaced much of the Truper with an old Homelite. We laugh about our Truper/Homelite, but it works great. We just have to remember that the cutting part is Truper and the motor is Homelite when it's in for repairs. These guys will usually get it back to you in a couple of days where the hardware stores will only repair with new parts, cost an arm and a leg and it might take months for the ship to arrive from remote corners of the world with your part. Meanwhile, the bush reclaims your place.

Doubt that many will read this, but this is also our recommendation about a vehicle. If you bring down a car or truck, try to bring a well known brand. Parts can be a bugger. Toyota, Dodge and maybe Ford seem to be pretty standard. Also, Isuzu Troopers are everywhere. It's a joke that Belize is the place that old Troopers go to die. We own a 1990 with 280k miles on it that was originally from Texas and it's still going strong and parts are everywhere. Not pretty, but tough!

Wow, can I babble on when you ask me something I actually know about? I'm stopping for a breath and a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What to do during a storm

I'm almost ashamed to admit what a non-productive day I've had. We've had sporadic rain for several days. Yesterday was rainy, but then we had several hours of clear weather. We both rushed around doing outside tasks. Art almost literally buried himself in weedeating - an almost endless task.

I was able to do a couple of loads of laundry with my so called washing machine, that's barely functional. We're waiting for several weeks for the ship to arrive with parts so it can be repaired. Two loads were on the line IN THE SUN! Yippee! Then I loaded the sprayer with Roundup and addressed the driveway. This is graveled, but during the rain we have to kill the weeds every month or two. I applied two tanks of spray and was heading back to refill the third, when I looked at the sky. Wow, brown ugly clouds scudding rapidly overhead. We both just made it into the house when it started dumping again.

Today, we didn't even get a chance to start any projects. We woke to rain and it only cleared a few times to allow us to take Bailey out for a relief trip a couple of times. I was so unmotivated that I actually read two books today. Don't get to impressed as they were easy, fun reads. A couple of Evanovich books. She writes such quirky, fun books. Then tonight we're really going over the edge by having a huge giggle with two Mel Brooks movies. Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs. Best way to fight the gloom.

A footnote: At the waning moon, I set out a bunch of regular tomatoes and some Roma's. It's a pretty tough start for them, but I've checked and they're standing up really well to the downpours.