Athletic Feats, Travel and More

Trip Start Jun 16, 2005
Trip End Jul 24, 2007

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Flag of Belize  ,
Thursday, February 16, 2006

Since we went so long between the last updates, we figured that we'd give you all a bonus entry. Plus, have a lot to say as we've been quite busy working, traveling and...well, take a look:

I'm continuing on my quest for funding for both the reading project and YWCA. "Tings haad" is what I'm hearing all around, but I have managed to make some headway. Over at UB (that's Belizean shorthand for University of Belize, where my reading project is based), I've found myself writing letters and calling poultry distributors to ask for donations of "chickens." Barbeques are very popular here for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays, and a lot of groups put them on as fundraisers. Chicken is the most expensive part, hence my interesting work of late. Not something I thought I'd be doing in Belize, but it's an experience!

And at the YWCA, the swimming fundraiser/water safety education event I'm organizing is kind of, sort of taking off. A lot of the public's attention is diverted right now by the pending elections (see below), so I've had to do some serious jumping up and down and figurative flag waving to get anyone to listen, but it's slowly paying off. The event is on March 19th, so there's still some time. Plus, one of the things we've learned and that has been reinforced by colleagues is that in Belize most everything comes together at the last minute. A little nerve-wracking for those of us who are planners by nature...stay tuned for results.

I've kept racking up the keyboard hours at the Fisheries Department, and am getting pretty handy with desktop publishing. Highlights include "Reef Etiquette: Protecting Wildlife and Yourself while Enjoying Your Dive," and "Welcome to South Water Caye Marine Reserve!" These engrossing jobs are punctuated by the usual hands-on activities, which recently included wading along miles of reef looking for snails. No, really. But any day in the Caribbean is not a bad one. I really enjoy the great folks at the office, and they think it's funny that I'm starting to complain about how cold it is all the time. (Of course, the air conditioning is on in the office no matter the temperature outside, so it really is cold.) They are also slowly trying to educate me about food. (See below.)

Just after our last update touting the glorious "winter" weather, we were hit with a torential out-of-season storm. The rains started on a Sunday evening and continued nearly non-stop until Thursday night. It rained so hard and so much that schools were even closed for a couple of days. Not only were some streets impassable, many of the school yards and lower level classrooms were flooded.

The rain also made sleeping a bit difficult; we felt like we were in the middle of a car wash. First, there were the soggy sheets that felt like sponges. Then, the pounding rain on the metal roof of the shed outside our window stood in for the sprayer jets, combined with the overflow splashing from the gutters for the rinse cycle. (Surprisingly, we woke up no cleaner than when we went to bed. Must have forgotten the soap.)

But the worst of it was that the rain shorted out a pump that keeps the drains clear. The result was that the gutters along the streets were backed up so badly that our toilet wouldn't flush properly for four days. Lovely. Have we mentioned that Belize City is below sea level?

Of course, all of this happens just in time to welcome our next visitors! (See next section.)

The unfortunate souls facing our toilet woes with us were college friend Ian, his wife Lori and their nearly three-year-old son Seth who arrived for a visit in January. Luckily, they are good sports. Perhaps it's because Ian and Lori were Peace Corps volunteers in Lesotho in the 1990's where they lived in more basic conditions (e.g., thatch hut houses and latrines in the backyard) than we have here.

Fortunately for us, Ian and Lori had read through these entries before traveling as they packed provisions to share! We think their Peace Corps experience gave them a fine-tuned understanding of some of the cravings that those of us far from home can get, as they came up with some pretty exotic treats: stuffed grape leaves and sun-dried tomatoes, as well as the always appreciated good coffee and other munchies. We're trying to pace ourselves...

After brushing up on "Wheels on the Bus" and "The Alphabet Song", we were invited to tag along with Seth (and his parents) on a weekend trip to the north of Belize. Neither of us had made it there yet, so we jumped at the chance - thus enabling us to now claim visits to all six of Belize's districts. The northern areas of Orange Walk and Corozal have quite different terrain than in other parts of the country - relatively flat and surprisingly fertile. Sugar cane is the main crop in the region; leading to in-country production of sugar itself as well as some rather tasty rums.

There are also a number of Mayan ruins up north. We missed out on Ian and Lori's trip to Lamanai, but we did get to see two of the more challenging ones to reach: Altun Ha and Cerros. (In fact, some Belizeans to whom we've mentioned this trip hadn't heard of Cerros.) See photos with this entry.

And we spent the night in Corozal Town, which sits on Corozal Bay and is - appropriately enough - the district town of Corozal. Like most areas on the water, a nice cool breeze blew in from the sea making us wish we had a kite!

Suffering from election fatigue (or disappointment), we were hoping to avoid any sort of voting process for the next few years. However, we are finding ourselves smack in the middle of campaign season in Belize. Municipal elections are March 1st, so we are beginning to be surrounded by posters, ads, and spin. Yes, spin has been exported, with the usual local flavor added.

There are two main parties in Belize: People's United Party (P.U.P.) and United Democratic Party (U.D.P.). As far as we can tell, the campaiging so far consists mostly of one party saying that the other is lying and their policies/programs won't help anyone. Sound familiar? Door-to-door campaigning takes a different twist here - the candidates actually make the visits themselves (along with some supporters, of course).

Luckily, we can just be observers for this election. (In fact, we received a friendly reminder from PC staff recently that we are strictly forbidden from engaging in any sort of political campaigning or events. Phew.)

Yes, the rumors are true. We competed in a relay triathlon in January. (Relay triathlons have the same three sports as the usual kind - swimming, biking, running - but a different person completes each leg.) Amy swam on an all-female team of Peace Corps Volunteers and Rob biked on another team with another volunteer and a professional soccer player.

Despite absolutely no training and attending previously planned parties on the two nights prior to the race, we didn't embarass ourselves. Out of a field of 15, Amy emerged from the .4 mile swim second, a mere 7 seconds behind the leader (another American who, Amy insists on noting, is in fabulous shape and had previously won two individual triathlons). Rob's swimmer was a little farther back, but he made up some ground on the 15 mile bike leg. (Rob's turn to add: this was despite riding a borrowed mountain, not road, bike and having a minor collision with a car that didn't heed a policeman clearing the road.)

Amy's team was 9th (and tops of the two all-female teams)and Rob's was 10th - not bad for the first time, we think. Check out the stories in The Reporter and The Belize Times, two of the local papers.

The push is on for the next one - with double these distances - scheduled for sometime in April or May. (Check back to see if we are kidding about this.)

In our effort to keep you all abreast of one of our favorite topics, here are some food related items for your enjoyment.

*Oranges in Belize are usually green. They're somewhat sweeter than what we're used to from the States. And if you try to eat one by peeling the rind with your hands and chomping on the sections (called "plugs" here), you'll get some serious stares. Apparently, the most popular way to eat an orange in Belize is to pare off the rind with a knife, cut it in half and then suck on it/eat it. Or, if that's too much trouble and you don't want to embarass yourself, you can just make orange juice.

*Raisins are also eaten differently. It seems as though not many people here munch raisins as a snack; they're mainly used for baking (powder buns, cinnamon buns, etc.).

*Recado (or ground annato) is used to make the ever-popular Belizean dish of stew chicken. It's also possibly used to make stew pork, we're not sure. But we are sure that it is most definitely NOT used to make stew beans. If you even dare to ask this, as Rob did in a food discussion at work one day, be prepared to be laughed out of the building.

We are also pleased to report that our landlady makes excellent Johnny Cakes and sweet potato pound that she has graciously shared with us. We also receive a weekly donation of oranges from their citrus farm. Yes, we like the new house!

Johnny Cakes (or "journey" cakes) are basically biscuits. They're often eaten with a slice of cheese in the middle, or maybe butter, or sometimes refried beans. Being rebellious, we ususally eat them plain or with jam.

Sweet potato pound (or "swee patayta pong" in Creole) is a delicious dessert. Think sweet potato casserole from Thanksgiving, but less sugary and more dense. It's made with coconut milk, fresh ginger and cinnamon. We've also tried cassava pound. Verdict? It's okay, but more gluey and not as tasty as its cousin.

So now that we've made everyone hungry, including ourselves, we'll leave you to look up all these recipes on Google and try them for yourselves. Cooking lessons are free with visits to Belize!

Be sure to catch the next edition for election results and other developments. Til then,

Warmest wishes from Belize,
Amy and Rob
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