How many strangers said Hello to you this morning?

Published: November 24th 2008
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Its Day Ten in Placencia and I have my laptop with me on our front porch. I’m looking at the two kayaks we paddled all morning, the coconuts our neighbors gave us, and my snazzy new Big Red Bike! I’m settling in remarkably well, and every day I’m learning a little bit more and knowing I’ll be staying a little bit longer!

Within days of relocating to the tropics, my internal clock adjusted to match the eternal clock of the sun. If I somehow managed to sleep through the 99 decibel shrieking parrots at 05:45am, I have the pleasure of starting my day to a resounding chorus of birds, frogs, and more birds outside my window at 06:00! It’s OK, because all the action on the village street goes down in the morning - we are often out the door by 7am for a walk, a bike ride, or a yoga-riffic beach outing! it’s 2 miles to the airstrip - which is also where the paved road ends! I’ve ridden my new bike up there many times already, mostly to try and cake the local red dust all over my bike so its not so darn shiny! There is a
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I can personally attest to its non-ultraness!
beautiful abandoned property for sale that has amazing beachfront and small gardens and cabanas - a perfect spot for a bike riding break for sure! My bike also has the much-needed basket - always filled with groceries, bottles for recycling, or my beach gear!

So far the biggest adjustment and adventure has been the cooking! I definitely had a romanticized idea of the foods that would be available to us here. We live on an isolated peninsula with very limited supplies - for example it took us a week to find coffee mugs, but if you need a French fry potato peeler and slicer, they’ve got 4 dusty ones at the supermarket, a bargain at $45 each! We’ve been mostly cooking everything ourselves and experimenting a lot! Aly is a veggie, so we all cook together and then about every other day Z and I will throw some meat in there too. The vegetables available are just your very basics, and a lot of it is rotting because of all of the flooding in the wet season! Another fruit and veggie stand opened with A/C this week and so far we’ve had much better luck securing great stuff from there! So, as the dry season starts, I’m sure that selection will broaden. But that still doesn’t do much for the shelves….lots of dusty old things that you might find at a gas station convenience store ten years ago. J There is the SPAM, campbells soups (tomato, chicken, and celery), beans of all sorts, and of course your basic corn, peas, and canned fruit cocktail mix! The bread is awful, so we have been experimenting with making our own! So far I’ve made an excellent pizza dough, beer bread, and a pineapple coconut bread recipe that I will be making for the rest of my life! So really the only thing we are missing is … CHEESE! J We can get your basic cheddar and mozzarella (kraft) and lucky those are my favorites - but that’s not to say I’m not already missing feta and havarti and manchego! We were thrilled to find a pepper jack cheese when we were on the mainland last week - only to find we had gotten there 3 months past its expiration!

The worst grocery curse of the tropics so far is the lack of frozen items. The meat all looks like it has been recovered from an Antarctic glacier flash freeze, and anything else you may like frozen is simply not available. I have to admit, after a field trip up to our closet city, Dangriga, I can see how ANY truck may have difficulty reaching my far flung village! Its 23 miles to the paved road, and that’s not to mention the minor problem of the main bridge being washed out - due to extreme weather before I arrived, most of the concrete and steel from the peninsula bridge is washed down the river! They have constructed a temporary work-around, but it has a few tight corners and probably shouldn’t be trusted to anything with significant weight! But the good news is that there is an Italian Gelato shop that just opened last week - owned by real Italians and full of real, frozen, delicious flavored varieties of gelato! The first day it opened we had it twice, and the next day, twice more. Whoops!

After conquering the incessant problem of feeding ourselves, we are left to our own devices of pleasure. We have a plethora of your favorite leisure activities to choose from: kayaking, a walk or swim at the beach, language lessons (with Rosetta - I‘m learning German! Fantastich!) , world capitals lesson, maybe a Wii MarioKart race, reading out on the sailboat anchored in our backyard, okr the peninsula favorite, hanging around and chatting with everyone that walks by you! I have also been able to participate in the volunteer programs here in Placencia - mostly through our local Rotary club. (Although Aly and I are not old enough to join - we have Zach as our representative and a year’s worth of old man jokes.) A vast majority of the Rotary members are our ex-pat friends, and they have us offering up a wide variety of our talents! Aly, Zach, and I are all on the volunteer fire department here…now if only they would organize that training they’ve been promising… I mean, I know what fire is. I know the basic concept of extinguishing it….Water. Right? OK, give this girl a hose! 😊

This morning I was with our team and we were installing donated smoke detectors in the wooden homes around the village. It was really neat to meet a lot of the locals, many who did not even know why they might want a smoke detector! It also reminded us how high-class our apartment is - most of the homes were one or two rooms and all of them had 5 or more people living in them. But every family was so gracious, welcoming, and impressed with the simplicity of such an important device. Except crazy Hasaneen - this really old lady that let us install a smoke detector just to make us go away - I swear she ignored most of the things we said and thought we were an annoyance because we couldn’t spell her name! Well, at least she had a coconut shaving grinder apparatus that was super interesting! 😊

I’ve made it a goal to go on one great Belizean exploration adventure every week. Last week was our first adventure requiring the public bus, and it delivered as promised! We decided to explore a local Mayan ruin that was over on the mainland, a boat and bus ride away. We caught the early Hokey Pokey Water Taxi over to the mainland, and walked up to the bus stop, hoping to catch the next bus South to Punta Gorda. The bus was 35 minutes late - not that we noticed since we’ve given up on time - and after traveling about 5 minutes, we were broke down! Yep, no worries, we pulled into the local gas station, and everyone unloaded and bought snacks while we chilled in the parking lot with absolutely no qualms. About an hour later, the next bus finally drove by and stopped to pick us all up - but you can imagine the bus was quite full! The public buses here are old American school buses, so it’s a mighty strong blast from the past when you get on board! All of the seats were crammed with either 2 people, or 2 people and their 3-4 tiny kids jumping around. And then we were also packed standing all down the aisles - I’m most assured we were over capacity. 😊 We had so many people in the aisle, our new friend Tyrone was hanging out the front door there was so little room! And after all 79 people crammed on the school bus, the conductor decided now was the perfect time to crawl over the seats, squiggle past the people, and try and collect our money!

Needless to say, our entire ride to Nim Li Punit was spent looking at the ditches instead of the beautiful scenery! But lucky for us that we had befriended Tyrone, because our destination was virtually unmarked, and definitely not a bus stop! About 45 minutes into the ride, Tyrone yelled out our names and we had to crawl over the people and luggage conductor style to get dropped off at the end of a dirt road marked only by a small helpful sign. It was about a 10 minute walk uphill and we arrived at a most stunning vista of Belize - we could see forest and mountains and all the way to the sea! The ruins were small and only half restored and excavated, but the remoteness and surrounding scenery made it spectacular! We spent about 2 hours hanging out - imagining what life would be like here over 1000 years ago! And similar to the Incans, the Mayans built all of these structures without the wheel or beasts of burden, so the enormity of the project is even more impressive!

Every day is better than the day before, and I’m really starting to feel at home! I am meeting lots of people, and now that I’ve been here a few weeks, the locals are noticing that maybe I’m not just a tourist and we should be friends! 😊 Everyone in the village is incredibly friendly, and every person you pass on the street gives a genuine smile and great big Hello or Good Morning! There is a street side hang out in front of Tommy’s Restaurant that has a few benches and at least 8 local old guys can be seen hanging out there and waving hello at any time of day - Aly and I are thinking about taking up residence with these guys just to get a reaction! This week’s adventure is to finally get under those gorgeous waves and DIVE! I’m soooooo excited to visit the fishes here, it’s really my ultimate interest! Also, we have been invited to 2 Thanksgivings, and will be going to our friend’s Steve and Kathy’s for a huge turkey dinner with all the fixings on Thursday! Wow, that just made me remember my holiday last year - I was underwater in Borneo checking out some of my favorite oceanic wildlife! Yep. Still living the dream!

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