We are in Costa Rica, but a lot happened before we got here (and a lot has happened since we got here, hence the lag in blogging). I will warn you now that there are, unfortunately, no pictures from the second part of our trip. After we had arrived in Costa Rica our external hard drive, where those pictures were saved, fell on the floor and we can’t access anything on it. It has been to several computer doctors and no one can save our pictures and music. After hearing the symptoms (making an unhappy noise when turned on) a friend of a friend, who knows about this sort of thing, suggested putting it in the freezer in a Ziploc bag, then trying to retrieve the data from the disk. Haven’t tried that yet, but we will, and hopefully then we’ll have some pictures of Belize to share. Until then I’ll try to paint you a mental picture…
I got sick at the end of our time in Playa, I had the symptoms of dengue fever so I got tested but it wasn´t. That was good news, but it was still a wicked flu that was not fun. That delayed our arrival in Belize a little, but we finally crossed the border on October 14th. We caught a bus in Playa, the earliest one we could catch, thought we were going to miss it when we couldn´t get a taxi. We took the bus to Chetumal, where we would catch another bus all the way to Belize City. We had some pesos left but needed more to pay the exit tax at Mexican immigration, unfortunately BOTH of the ATMs in the bus station were broken and there wasn´t another one anywhere nearby. The people at the bus station said there was an ATM that we could use at the border, that the bus would wait for us, no problem. So we boarded the bus and asked both the driver and the conductor again about the ATM situation and they assured us there would be time at the border for everyone to do what they needed to do before the bus headed on to the city. There were only seven people on the bus, all tourists. We got to the border and Koki and I followed the conductor across many lanes of traffic, past immigration officials, armed soldiers, etc. to the ATM, where we took out the money we needed to pay Mexican immigration. Much easier than we were expecting. Back across multiple lanes of traffic, armed officials, cars being searched underneath with mirrors, people waiting, etc. to the Mexican immigration post, where we were told that we had to go to the bank and pay our exit tax, we couldn´t pay it there because we had been in the country more than seven days. Sure would have been nice if someone had told us that when they asked how long we were going to be in Mexico and stamped our passports. The bank was right next to the ATM, so back across all the lanes of people waiting, getting searched, protecting the border, etc. to the bank, where it took around 15 minutes to type our names into a computer and print a receipt. A long time considering the task, but really not that long in the grand scheme of things. Back across again, each time we hurried as much as we felt like we could without looking like we were trying to run across the border. When we got back to the Mexican immigration post where the bus was parked we saw the bus driver and conductor unloading our big backpacks from the luggage compartment and setting them on the sidewalk, they were about to leave us. We were upset (understandably, if you ask me) and told them that, but they seemed to think they had every right to leave us since we had taken too long and everyone else was done already. Gee, too bad we hadn´t checked ahead of time about a time limit at the border! So, we convinced them to wait while we got our passports stamped. When we handed the Mexican immigration official our passports he pointed out that Koki´s little receipt from the bank wasn´t there and that he had to have it (that was what all the running around was about after all). So, Koki had to go back to the bank, yet again, to try to find his receipt. It wasn´t on the ground anywhere and when he asked the slow bank teller the guy chuckled heehee oh its right here haha. Not funny, but at least that was it. After that it was easy, got out of Mexico and then had to go through Belizean customs, thank goodness they didn´t hold us up because I think the bus really would have left us then, during the loading and unloading of our bags to get through customs there were definitely some strong, loud words exchanged between us and the guys from the bus, in Spanish, English, and then them saying who knows what about us in Creole. It was very obvious we had crossed a border and were in a different country when we arrived in Belize, unlike our crossing into Mexico where Laredo, TX and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico are extremely similar. Many colorful clapboard houses (not just concrete), houses few and far between; the population of Belize is less than 350,000.
We ended up arriving in Belize City well before the scheduled time. Too bad we had told the farm manager, who was in Belize City that day, the scheduled time, and she wasn´t going to be there that late. Turns out she was still in the city and could have picked us up if we had known that the bus was in fact in a hurry. Oh well, all part of the adventure. The city is interesting, definitely a city, but not one with skyscrapers, around 70,000 people, lots of wooden houses on stilts interspersed with larger concrete buildings, right on the water. We were too late for the last bus to Rancho Dolores, the village closest to the farm where we were headed, so the farm manager told us to catch a bus to Bermudian Landing, another village near Rancho, and that she would pick us up there. The last bus was supposed to leave at 8pm, but when we started asking around at about 6pm, we learned that not only was the last bus not at 8pm, the only bus headed to Landing that night was leaving at 8:50pm. Finding the place where the bus for Landing left was interesting, there is a bus station in the city but many domestic buses don´t leave from there, you just have to know or ask to find the block from which they depart. English and Creole and the primary languages in Belize, which you´d think might make it easier for a native English speaker to get around. Hmmm, not so. We asked for the bus to Bermudian Landing, and after turning down five taxi drivers who wanted to take us there in exchange for our first born, people would say, wha? So I would very clearly enunciate, Ber-mew-dee-an Landing, and they would say wha? The more I enunciated the less people understood me, until they would finally say, aaahhh! Bermadan Landin´! And I would say sure, that. We only had to go a couple blocks from the bus station but it took several rounds of this asking and answering and turning away sketchy taxi drivers for us to actually get there. We found the old Bluebird ex-schoolbus and the bus driver and conductor were very kind, helped us put our stuff in the back of the bus and asked if we wanted to wait there while they went to the gas station to full up the bus (that´s not a typo, that´s Belize) or if we wanted to go along, we could buy a beer at the gas station for the four-hour wait until we were scheduled to leave the city if we wanted. So, either watch our bags drive away on a bus, with no beer, or be with our bags and get to drink our first Belikin. We went along. When we got back to the ´bus stop´ we just hung out, talked a little with the driver and conductor, and enjoyed a Belikin. Its easier to enjoy the last sip of a Belikin than of other types of beer because the bottle is so heavy that it took me at least half the time we were in Belize to know when my beer was gone without taking a sip of nothing, thinking I still had beer left. Koki went to find a public phone to call the farm manager and let her know that we would not actually be leaving the city until 8:50pm and to find out if she would still be waiting for us. She said we wouldn`t get in until around 11pm and that was too late, but that there was a hotel we could stay in. That was not in our budget and she asked one of the guys who works on the farm and lives in Landing if we could camp in his yard. That would be fine, so we were to get off the bus at the Chinese store in Landin' and meet Frankie and Doyle. More and more people started showing up to wait for the bus, we talked to some nice folks. People say hi in Belize. Everyone who passed, from little kids to old timers, said hello. Actually they said good night, which was confusing at first, but then I realized that is like saying good evening at home. We sat at the back of the bus, near our bags, in the middle of a group of high school students (many students from small villages travel to the city for school at this age). One girl spoke to us in very proper English, but amongst themselves the students either spoke Creole or Spanish. Very interesting to hear so many languages at once.
We arrived at the Chinese store and got off the bus, not knowing how we would recognize Frankie and Doyle and a little nervous about being dropped off in what sure seemed like the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night in a new country. Doyle was there with a couple friends, very welcoming. We headed across the road to where we would camp and met Frankie. We chatted with them while we set up the tent outside the house. It was a challenge to understand Frankie, especially after such a long day of traveling and trying to concentrate on what he was saying while trying to stay sane in spite of the cloud of mosquitoes attacking me. They seemed very excited that there was new blood in town since they only seemed to be biting Koki and me, at least it was just the two of us jumping around and slapping ourselves and each other like fools. In the morning we got to hang out with more of Frankie´s family and we actually go to see where we were: a landscape with few trees, mostly pasture, few buildings, all scattered along the road that basically ends at the farm where we were headed.
Brooks, the farm manager at Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve came to pick us up in the farm´s awesome 1981 diesel Toyota Landcruiser (4-door, chopped or something in the back so it has a little bed) from New Zealand (i.e. steering wheel on the right). Dream car, sigh!!! I drove it on the farm and it was not as weird as I thought it would be to be on the other side. Brooks and her boyfriend Justin have been living at Spanish Creek for over a year. They´re both ASU graduates - small world! We headed to Rancho Dolores, a village even smaller than Landin'. We arrived at the farm and drove through a jackfruit orchard and many acres of the 20 types of bamboo they grow to get to the where we would be staying. There is a large main house, screened windows all the way around, two stories, with the living space downstairs. We moved into the palapa right next to the house. There is another small palapa and a larger bunkhouse palapa where volunteers usually stay (as a couple they thought we´d like to have our own palapa, very nice). They use rainwater caught from the roof of the main house and also have a well. There is a butane stove with oven and a refrigerator, but the latter didn´t get hooked up until much later. All of the electricity is solar. Most of the time we were there we relied on an evaporative cooler: two clay bowls, smaller one nested inside a larger one with sand in between, water is poured into the sand and the whole things covered with a damp towel, as the water evaporates it cools the contents of the smaller bowl, so that´s where you keep stuff semi-cool. In addition to bamboo and jackfruit they grow avocadoes, bananas, platains, corn, mangoes, coconuts, cassava, okra, passionfruit, and citrus. Chaya (Mayan spinach) and calilou (amaranth greens) were growing like mad, yum! There is a garden that had just been reconstructed so there wasn´t too much food growing there yet, but we planted more. There are chickens, sheep, horses, a Rhodesian ridgeback named Cashew, Brooks and Justin´s dog Caden, and a little itty bitty teeny tiny kitten named Sapodilla. We arrived at a good time - Marc, the owner of the farm who lives in Miami where he is a tropical fruit farmer, was at the farm with his son Levi. We got to meet them before they headed off to the coast for the weekend, then we chatted with Brooks for quite a while. Spanish Creek is lucky to have such a great farm manager! We had a lot to talk about, not just Boone stories, we have very similar interests in sustainable agriculture. After Brooks headed home (at the front of the property, across the bamboo fields, about a ten minute walk) Koki and I had the place to ourselves. It is very peaceful, electricity is solar with gas generators for pumping water and for backup, so unless those are on you hear very little human-made noise. That is not to say its quiet, howler monkeys hang out nearby, lots of geckos, frogs, toucans, guans, anis, cattle egrets, and other birds.
The next day Brooks and Justin came back to the main house to see if we wanted to go to Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast north of Belize City. Obviously we said yes, got a few things together, and headed back to Belize City to catch a water taxi to the caye. Along the way we got to see what we missed on the bus and learned more about Belize from Brooks and Justin.
Pretty much everywhere has been logged in the not-too-distant past (wood gave Belize its value as a colony, first logwood, taken out by the Spanish, then mahogany, taken out by the British) and not many houses (the population of the country is around 330,000). Almost all the schools are private and have some religious affiliation (I think we passed on technical high school on the way to the city that was an exception). All the poultry and eggs come from farming communities of German-descended self-governing Mennonites. All the stores are Chinese-owned (there might be exceptions somewhere in the country, but this applied to every store we entered the whole time we were there); Chinese engineers were brought in during British rule to build bridges and other infrastructure. East Indians were brought to work on sugarcane plantations, African slaves were brought for logging, Garifuna people descended from Africans and indigenous South Americans live on the southern coast, people have migrated from El Salvador recently and from the Yucatan peninsula and Guatemala long ago. While many of these cultures retain a distinct identity, much mixing has also occurred. The cultural diversity of Belize is amazing, check this out for a concise overview of the cultural diversity in Belize. For my biology nerd friends: I´ll bet an analysis of Belize's cultural diversity would have a very high H value on the Shannon diversity index.
The first weekend we were there we went to the beach with Brooks and Justin. Caye Caulker was beautiful. We stayed at Yuma´s House Belize (formerly Tina´s), an affordable option on an expensive island. We saw a beautiful sunset from The Lazy Lizard bar (hole, but good location) at the northern end of the inhabited portion of the island (known as ´the split´). While we were enjoying some rum drinks we saw a sting ray in the clear water - way cool! We conducted some field research and we have concluded that Belizean rum will get you drunk. The island was pretty quiet, still low/rainy season, very hot. We had a wonderful breakfast at Amor y Cafe, yum! It was nice to get a real cup of coffee after encountering so much instant wannabe coffee in Mexico (don´t get me wrong, that´s what most of Belize drinks, too, but good coffee is one byproduct of tourism about which I don't complain). We hung out on the dock the next afternoon and swam in the delicious clear ocean water.
The caye is protected by the second-largest coral reef in the world, so there are not big waves on the island. Its more like swimming in a lake. I like playing in the waves, that´s the kind of beach I went to as a kid, but it sure was nice to just be able to relax and not have to fight waves and risk getting your face ground into the sand to get into deep water, just jump off the dock instead. After buying some snapper and lobster that had just been caught to take back to the farm, we headed back to Rancho. We hiked one of the trails on the property with Marc and his son Levi before they left for the States. It was beautiful, we learned more about the farm, and we got to check out the new wooden signs for different tree species along the trail. The forest contains many palms and many other species of trees, including poisonwood, whose sap can cause a horrible poison ivy-like rash. Nasty stuff.
The first week on the farm we worked on a few different projects in addition to morning and afternoon chores (which consisted of watering the garden, feeding and watering animals, collecting eggs, locking up at night). We planted the newly reconstructed garden beds with greens, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, beets, and carrots. We built a new compost area within the garden so compost can be dumped right over the garden fence and so finished compost can be easily moved to the garden beds. We built two compartments with chickenwire, open on the top and front. The bins later got removable front doors to contain the compost better. I rode a horse for the first time in many years, down the same trail we hiked with Marc before he left. We also built the stone foundation for a cob oven, which was going to be our main project on the farm.
We met some wonderful people associated with the farm. Monday through Thursday a crew of workers come to the farm. Neri, Tony (Neri´s stepson), and Arturo (Neri´s brother), are all from El Salvador. Nelson (Neri´s son, who replaced Arturo when Arturo moved away) and the rest of Neri´s kids, who we later met, were born in Belize. Frankie and David are both Creoles from Belize. Tony, his wife Chelly, and their son Jorge (three and adorable) live on the farm, but everyone else on the crew travels to Rancho to work; Clinton comes every Wednesday to work with the horses and having people ride them is part of keeping them in shape and ready for tours of the farm and surrounding forest on horseback (the farm is open to tourists, as well). Idolly and her daughter Rackel live in Rancho and work on the farm a few days a week. Idolly and Neri are two of the most resourceful and ingenious people I have ever met, and everyone who works on the farm has many skills. Neri's and his wife, Reina, have 5 girls: Yuri, Iris, Emily, Maleny, and Nelly, spanning from kindergarten to high school. They are a wonderful family and we miss them. Their reality when they were our age (three years ago) was a little different than ours: Reina was a grandma at my age.
Before arriving at Spanish Creek we had decided to be more flexible and if we were enjoying a place and not going broke too quickly, we should stay in that place. Hindsight is 20/20, and we realized we should have spent more time on the first two farms and less in cities. We were supposed to go to stay at Spanish Creek for two weeks and then go to another farm in Belize for two weeks, but after the first week we decided to stay our full month in Belize at Spanish Creek, its a great place and we had already made good friends there. Its nice to have this kind of flexibility, our only deadline was to arrive in Costa Rica by December 15. Until then we could do anything we wanted to (and could afford to!).
Our second weekend at Spanish Creek was especially interesting. We had talked about going back to Caye Caulker, we didn´t have time to see the reef which we really wanted to do while in Belize. Going to the Caye didn´t work out, which in the end was just fine… We learned of tropical storm Richard on Friday (we had been keeping an eye on tropical storms and hurricanes since we got close to the Caribbean, via internet when possible and with our crank radio/flashlight we got specifically for that purpose) and on Saturday we asked what we should do to get the farm ready for the storm. Brooks and Justin had already survived two tropical storms at Spanish Creek, and they said nothing, the tropical storms had never been a big deal there, one tropical didn't bring anything except clear skies and sunshine. Saturday the sky was crazy, clouds moving really fast, rain, a double rainbow, but nothing any worse than a thunderstorm. We learned that the storm was predicted to make landfall on Sunday, first they were saying Sunday afternoon, but on Sunday morning that got changed to Sunday evening. We packed up all our stuff in the palapa where we had been staying so that it would be easy to move if that became necessary. We hoped the animals would be alright, the kitten was hanging out with us in the house, Cashew was hanging out in the yard, and the little Mennonite chickens (bred to be in a closed chicken house and not in the bush) were running around the yard peeping as if they were invincible, as usual. We moved some things off the porch that might blow away and then just waited. Relative to other living situations there wasn’t much that needed to be changed in order for us to be prepared for a storm: we already had everything we needed to survive packed into our backpacks; although we enjoyed the benefits of electricity for a while each night, we didn’t depend on it – we cooked with gas, had batteries for the flashlights and kerosene for the lamps, and were used to living without refrigeration; we had diesel for the tractors and the (awesome) Land Cruisers, gasoline for the generators (one for pumping well water), and stored rainwater. The only thing that could have increased our preparedness (and sustainability of the farm in general) would have been composting toilets (the farm currently uses rain and well water and has to have waste removed from large plastic tanks and sometimes float out of the holes in which they're buried when it rains heavily).
After breakfast we started putting together a jigsaw puzzle of some hot air balloons with a background of blue sky and white clouds. We kept working on it all day, listening to Love FM to follow the storm, which was now classified as a category I hurricane. Shelters were being announced in different villages; there was a shelter in Rancho Dolores but we stayed at the farm, the animals were all there and it would have been quite a hike, anyways. It rained and the wind blew but still nothing too crazy until after it started to get dark. First rain started blowing in through the screen walls (the walls of the main house are wood up to waist-height, with screen above that). We had moved the table and other furniture away from the walls and moved our stuff to the couch nearest the center of the house since we knew (thanks to a smaller storm earlier in the week) that at least a little water would blow in. We covered the inverter and batteries for the solar panels with a tarp (that is all in a room with a screen wall, too, but luckily on the leeward side of the house). All the horses were huddled, all wet and pitiful, under the huge trees in the pasture near the house. We tried to work on the puzzle a little more by lamplight while listening to Love FM on the crank radio. We had the kitten in the house, she was just running around playing as usual, but Cashew was on the porch under a big chair and was being very respectful o the no-Cashew-in-the-house rule and refused to come inside. We finally convinced Cashew to come inside when the porch had turned into a streambed; she crawled under the couch nearest the door, which was slightly drier than the porch. After passing over the Cayes (the residents of which had been asked to voluntarily evacuate since Friday), Richard made landfall and actually gained strength! Things really started to get intense after 7pm. Waterfalls from the downstairs roof/upstairs floor formed so we did our best to catch the water in big plastic tubs. Trees started to fall outside. And the wind howled the whole time. Luckily the only tree that could really fall on the house, a huge palm, was on the leeward side of the house. At some point we realized the kitten was nowhere to be found, we didn’t know if she had found a good hiding place in the house (she already had several, like between the wall that forms the cupboards and the counter above) or what, until we heard her meowing on the front porch. She had somehow gotten out and was completely soaking wet and trembling. We dried her off with a towel from the kitchen that somehow was still not completely soaking wet from the rain blowing sideways through the house. She didn't try to go outside anymore after that experience. Furniture and doors and everything else that wasn’t bolted down started blowing around and banging against the walls upstairs. Needless to say, downstairs the puzzle didn’t stand a chance of staying together, or even on the table for that matter.
Our backpacks were getting wet on the couch where they were supposed to stay dry, and there was standing/flowing water covering the whole floor except in the center part of the house and luckily in the inverter/battery room. We decided to set up the tent, which has a waterproof bathtub floor and a good rain fly, in the center of the house which seemed to be slightly higher ground. I went in the tent and took our backpacks, the farm’s computer, and the kitten, we convinced Cashew to move from the river where she was under the couch near the door to under the couch against the wall, where there was only a slow-moving stream. The kitten was playing, or something like it, swatting at stuff but without any real conviction, probably as a distraction from the fear of the roof flying off the house, kind of like us putting together a jigsaw puzzle while we waited for the storm to hit. I kept an eye on the advancing tide while Koki swept water from the lowest corner of the house out the door. Koki and I could barely hear each other over the noise of the wind, posts and beams of the house creaking, trees snapping and falling and debris flying around outside, stuff blowing into the walls upstairs, and other noises we couldn’t even identify. The front door kept blowing open, despite being locked, until Koki put a full five-gallon water jug in front of it. We heard a few peeps from the chicks outside but there was now a wall of water coming down where we had last heard them, plus what Koki was sweeping out the door. I can only imagine they were saying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” as they got hit with jigsaw puzzle pieces of the sky, along with the water coming out of the real sky. Koki’s headlamp stopped working and he had to use mine while I used the light on the radio. When the water finally reached the floor around the tent, in spite of Koki’s sweeping, we moved everything onto a table in the center of the house, covered it with the tent’s rain fly to prevent it from getting wett from water coming through the roof and running down the wall. I did not like being in the tent anyways, it offered no real protection and was one more barrier to moving out of the way if something fell. We made a bed for the kitten and covered her up with a towel. Luckily she wasn’t freaking out anymore or trying to play, both the cat and the dog were eerily calm at that point, probably shocked by what was going on around us. I helped Koki sweep water out the door and empty the huge plastic tubs that were filling up very quickly to prevent a complete flood in the house. Trees were falling every few minutes outside; we could hear them but when we tried to see outside it was pitch black, you couldn’t see anything beyond the doorway, despite being the day after the full moon and moonrise being a few hours earlier. (A few nights before you could have read a book outside it was so bright, and that was before the moon was even full!) That all went on for what felt like all night, but really was only a few hours. There was one pause, when we couldn't hear much, that must have been the eye of the storm.
When the storm started to let up a little (i.e., only the most ridiculous thunderstorm I’d ever seen now, instead of pre-Armageddon conditions) we could finally start to see something outside besides pitch black. When the sky lit up with lightning we could see a lot of it from the kitchen, very different than before when you could barely see any of the sky from the kitchen due to the tall forest canopy across the yard beyond the sugarcane patch. There wasn’t really any canopy anymore, just palm trees here and there, all tattered and torn. It took a while for us to feel comfortable going outside to check out the other structures and find a place to sleep. The floors of both round palapas were soaking wet and covered in pieces of thatch roof, but the larger volunteer palapa was in decent shape, so we slept there. Before we went to bed we were able to see four pairs of eyes in the sheep pasture (all sheep accounted for), but all we could see in the horse pasture was one of the huge trees where we had last seen the horses was on the ground, no horses around. We hoped for the best and went to bed, completely exhausted, glad to be alive. In the morning Brooks and Justin came back and we shared stories of the previous night, much different than the two beautiful, sunny “tropical storms” that had already weathered on the farm. Brooks and Justin live in a two-story 12 ft. diameter round palapa with screen walls like the main house. The center of the lower level is a cabinet and counter on top; they spent the evening inside the cabinet, the floor of which is a few inches off the ground, with water running across the floor beneath them. The solar panels at their house almost flew away, but they managed to strap them down just as they were lifting off. We still had electricity at the main house but not as much as before, which made sense when we realized that one of the panels had completely flipped over. Luckily the inverter and the batteries stayed quite dry in their room on the leeward side of the house.
That morning after the hurricane we thought for sure the folks who work on the farm would be busy cleaning up at their own houses, but everyone showed up right on time, they are a dedicated crew! We all got right to work assessing the damage and cleaning up the ridiculous mess left by Richard. We walked to the back of the horse pasture and found all the horses; one was lying on the ground and didn’t want to get up, but she finally did and seemed fine after that, probably just exhausted. The sheep were fine, as was their shelter that Frankie and David had been working on for several weeks. The garden beds we had planted were in pretty good shape, soil had been washed out in some places but structurally the raised beds that had been built before we arrived were in good shape. The passionfruit trellis had fallen over, not surprising considering the weight of the thriving vines growing on it. The chickens seemed fine and not at all upset by the fact that their palapa coop was leaning to the side at ~60 degree angle. Somehow 7 of the 12 Mennonite chickens survived! Interesting how something that is not a product of natural selection survived such a natural disaster. The screen on the upstairs of the main house was completely blown out and trinkets that had been on the counter upstairs were recovered from across the backyard during the week following the hurricane. All of the structures with thatched roofs looked like they were having a bad hair day with palm fronds sticking out at all possible angles. The house on stilts that was going to be Tony and Chely’s home was in fine shape, except that it was on the ground now instead of on stilts. Luckily they weren’t living there yet! Many fruit and forest trees were down, most of the bananas and papayas were down, most of the coconuts were leaning almost to the ground, and the forest canopy consisted of tattered palms. To see how well the palm trees survived was impressive, and then seeing the huge palms that had come down made us realize just how strong the wind was at times. The forest had changed so much that the howler monkeys had to take a new route on their daily journey in the forest. This new route included the remaining trees over the creek behind the main house, so everyday after the hurricane we got to see monkeys right behind the house! The same was true for the monkeys in Rancho Dolores and Bermudian Landing, despite suffering less severe damage than the farm. The driveway into the farm and all the pastures and orchards were littered with trees and branches, some of which had blown great distances from the forest. We helped the crew clear one of the jackfruit orchards, the driveway, and part of the road leading to the farm. This went very quickly with such an efficient crew, they are hard workers and very efficient with the tools available (machetes, chainsaw, tractor). We had to be especially careful of Poisonwood trees as we cleaned. Poor Justin is very sensitive and had a horrible reaction after dragging some poisonwood with a machete; he didn´t even touch it directly! As we cleaned up we collected orchids and bromeliads from fallen trees and placed them in the rainwater shower at the main house, something we plan to do in our future rainwater shower. There was lots of clean up in the house, too; sweeping, washing floors, cleaning all the pots and pans and dishes that were completely covered in debris that had blown in and come through the roof, drying mattresses in the sun, and approximately two tons of laundry. A fun part of post-hurricane work was trying to use up tons of bananas and green papayas that had fallen in the storm. Green papaya can be eaten raw in salad, or can be stewed and used like winter squash. We ended up eating a lot of yummy green papaya bread with candied kumquats after the storm.
After the storm and related clean up another volunteer arrived. Tom is a retired Army ranger, a WWOOFer for the past three years, and an awesome friend and housemate! We really enjoyed working with Tom and we hope to see him here in Costa Rica in the not-too-distant future. Before the storm Brooks, Koki, and I had built the rock base for the cob oven and with Tom’s help we built the cob foundation. With our feet we mixed mud from next to the palapa where we were building, sand the government nicely spreads all over the road for the taking (or at least that's how people who live on the road feel about it), shredded dried corn husks, and water to make our cob. Unfortunately we were a little overzealous with our awesome cob mixture and built a foundation so thick that it hadn’t dried several weeks later when we left Spanish Creek. Tom built a beautiful wooden door for the oven, hopefully one day it will get used. In addition to having a blast working with Tom, we took another trip to Caye Caulker with him.
On the way to Caye Caulker we had an interesting ride to Belize City with Brooks and Justin and approximately a quarter of the greater Rancho Dolores area population. Brooks, Justin, Tom, Koki, and I set off in Brooks’ and Justin’s pickup, the bed of which was about half full of trash (I guess I’m an optimist of some sort), something that is not picked up at the non-existent curb in Rancho Dolores. We stopped in Scotland Half Moon to pick up Neri and Tony, who had to go to the city for immigration reasons. We made a stop at Ellis', the Mennonite-owned gas station where you can get anything from diesel to livestock feed to fresh-baked bread. Between there and the Chinee (Chinese-owned general store) you can get everything you need to survive, except fresh vegetables. We picked up two more guys along the way and when we caught up with Nelson, who had left Neri’s on a bike while we were there, we picked him up, too. So, at that point there were five people in the cabin and five people and a bike and a bunch of trash in the bed of the pickup. That didn’t change Justin’s generous spirit and he stopped for a (very large) woman and her two young children. Somehow they managed to fit into the truck bed, but in the process the little boy ended up in Neri’s lap, on the opposite side of the truck from his mom and sister. No one seemed to mind, Neri held onto him as if he were a son, and mom and sis got as comfortable as possible on the other side of the truck. At one point the little boy had some serious snot running out of his nose, stringing along in the wind, but mom was all the way on the other side of the truck. Neri pulled out a handkerchief and cleaned it up without skipping a beat. Just a little anecdote I thought would help you understand the kindness we encountered in Belize.
The Caye had suffered less hurricane damage than the farm! It was incredible how much the environment had changed for other reasons in the two weeks since we were there the first time. It was obvious the high season had begun, not only by the higher prices by also by the extended hours of the businesses on the island. It was sooo much colder and windier than the first time we went. We took a snorkeling tour with Raggamuffin Tours and we definitely recommend them! Raggamuffin does half- and full-day snorkeling tours off of Caye Caulker and three-day tours to southern Belize, all on sailboats! We did a full-day tour which included, in addition to awesome snorkeling, fruit, lunch, and delicious ceviche and rum drinks on the quiet, peaceful ride back to the Caye. We saw so much, I wish I knew what half the organisms were called, but some highlights were green sea turtles, nurse sharks, southern sting rays, parrotfish, halibut, eels, and an octopus. The coral was beautiful and I particularly liked staying in one place for a while and trying to find the camouflaged critters right under my nose that were so easily missed; the octopus was especially cryptic.
Several other WWOOFers arrived while we were at Spanish Creek. Emma, Elena, and John were all great companions and hard workers, and we hope to see them in Costa Rica one day, too! While we were there, WWOOFers worked on a variety of projects: compost piles in the garden and chicken run, bamboo construction (shoe rack, garden gate, and lots of other stuff after we left), transplanting lemon grass, fertilizing fruit trees with finished compost, working on the sheep shelter, rescreening the upstairs of the main house, etc. etc. etc. And of course lots of hurricane clean up. I think all the WWOOFers who were at Spanish Creek while we were there ended up staying longer than planned; it really is a great place!
Our last weekend at Spanish Creek Tom, Emma, Koki, and I decided to paddle up Spanish Creek to its source. According to Brooks and Justin the trip would take a couple of hours and we would end up at a beautiful spring. We left from Chorro (the swimming hole), which looked very different than when we arrived since the huge tree whose root formed one of the sides of the pool had come down in the hurricane. We took out the two canoes, one of which was built to have a motor in back, but it did not have a motor, so it was just a sawed-off canoe – flat in the back and extremely hard to paddle in anything that resembled a straight line. We headed “upstream” (i.e., in the direction contrary to that in which all the debris on the surface of the water were moving, our only indication of flow on the flat water). We paddled and paddled and paddled and Koki and I made zig-zags across the creek (really more like a river) due to our inexperience in steering a sawed-off canoe. The water wasn’t really moving at all in either direction; it seemed kind of like a big, long lake. We kept paddling until it started getting close to sunset. The creek did not seem to be getting any narrower. We encountered an elderly lady fishing and asked her how much longer until the end of Spanish Creek. She informed us it was far, all the way to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Oops, Crooked Tree is not where Spanish Creek originates, but where it drains! So, we headed back to the farm. We were frustrated but it was still a nice day on the water. We got to know Tom and Emma a little better and got to see more of rural Belize. We passed a house where a woman in the yard was playing guitar and singing, and a man was working on something down by the river and responding in song. We got back to Chorro after dark, somehow recognizing the tree through whose branches we had to maneuver to actually get to the bank.
After this (mis)adventure and subsequent disappointment we decided we wanted to go explore more of Belize. I didn't want to make you wait any longer so I'm posting this now, but there are more stories of wonderful adventures to come.
A little update from the here and now: Koki and I are both working as instructors with Ecology Project International here in Costa Rica. We love it!
I love to get feedback! Underneath this post you should find "# Comments", which you can click on and leave comments. Tell me what kind of stories you like hearing, I have lots more that I would someday like to compile. Thanks for reading, sorry I made you wait so long. I'll write more when I can, unfortunately my laptop died a few days ago and I have very little internet access, only between the courses I teach (in the middle of nowhere), so it will continue to be a challenge to communicate with you all electronically.