Category Archives: March 2014

A Dash of Repatriation Blues

We’ve been Stateside again about four and a half months, and it didn’t really occur to me that coming back to America was going to be such a different experience after our time away.

The best part of coming back was, of course, seeing our family and friends again – although we haven’t been able to make all the rounds yet that we want to make (Parrotheads and Pier Crew, I’m talking to you). And yes, there was (and still is) real pleasure at having easy access to things we’re glad to have in our lives again: specific foods we’d been jonesing for, being able to shop at favorite stores, not to mention the security of steady paychecks. At the same time, there’s been alot of open-mouthed gaping at the American way of life we used to take for granted, which now seems vaguely familiar but also foreign – and often too fast, and really wasteful.

Those first days and weeks, though, life was mostly just chaos, since besides re-adjusting to American culture, we had to secure temporary places to live (first a guest room with family, then an extended stay hotel near our new jobs, then an apartment). It was all the upheaval of going away, now in reverse coming back: Changes of address, moving, unpacking, learning the ropes at our new jobs and figuring out how to navigate in a (relatively) big city.

Sigh. And now we’re…settled. Ish.

Half home, that is, and half wishing we were off again. Because things here haven’t changed as much as we have, which is hard to explain if you haven’t been through it. 

So it was good to come across a recent Wall Street Journal blog that gives this half-in, half-out feeling a name: repatriation blues“. When I read this post (and this earlier post on same topic), I thought, yeah, that’s it, and right on time, too.

 

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Our humble abode

Guest House front side viewfront porchWe are staying in the yellow house, set back slightly from the water (the blue house, not yet complete, is closer to the dock). Les and Michelle showed us the pictures of what the building looked like when they arrived – it was an all-gray cement block boat house with a dirt floor. They made it into a very simple but perfectly functional little house that we’re lucky enough to get to call home for a while.

The main entry is through a screen-enclosed front porch facing the water, with a gas grill, bar and barstools, and a small sturdy couch, chair and table.

Ray’s not a fan of this rug on the porch, since he went out one morning before dawn and thought the “ants” on it were real. 🙂

A screen door lets into the main house, with an open concept living roomkitchenliving room, dining table, and kitchen / bar area. You can’t see them in these pics because the ceilings are high but there are two fans over this area. It’s been breezy enough not to need them, but I bet they’re welcome when it’s not.

tech centerThe bedroom and bathroom are separated by a partial wall behind the kitchen. Another ceiling fan there, which we’ve been using at night.

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Hall view from the bedroom back toward the front porch

Surprisingly, sleeping is very comfortable – we figured it would stay unpleasantly warm into the evening, but as soon as the sun goes down, it starts to cool off. Also no real issue with mosquitos, at least so far (though it’s dry season). We do have a resident gecko that runs around the bedroom ceiling but he seems pretty sure-footed and hasn’t disturbed us yet.bedroom 2

bedroom 1Bed and bath are basic, with plenty of drawer space in the various dressers and a big wooden wardrobe.

Guest House Bath

There are three doors in the bedroom. One is the entry to the bathroom, one is a second entrance (the original entry before the porch was added) and the last opens into the storage area.storage area

That part of the house looks like what the original building must have looked like, and is home to the laundry (small wash machine and clothesline), the solar power batteries and inverters (the solar panels are on the roof), and extra shelving for miscellaneous goods.

And there’s the nickel tour.

Our new life at Casa Chacalaca

So, the good news is that we found our way to Tea’s property without any wrong turns. That meant 12.5 miles of meandering dirt track road in varying condition: From straight, flat, easy-to-navigate stretches where you could drive fast (three wide if necessary) to torn-up, pot-holed stretches where you’d be lucky to get a single car through, doing 5 miles an hour – and including the New River ferry crossing and a quick navigation through Copper Bank village. gate photo

We high-fived each other at the gate, and it wasn’t until after we had generally inspected the houses and lot, feeling pretty giddy, that we realized we didn’t stop to pick up any groceries. Oh, that. Hmm. (“Epic fail” as Survivor contestants, anyone?)

We’d had breakfast that morning in Orlando, then shared a bag of peanut mix and an orange on the plane, but that had been hours ago. Now it was close to sundown and we didn’t really want to be attempting that road in the dark (at least not yet).

I went over to Cerros Beach Resort next door, to let Bill and Jenny know that we’d arrived and also to see if they had any guests staying over, so we’d feel like less of an imposition if we asked them to make us something in the restaurant. They were happy to see us and would have accommodated our request, even though they had no guests and in fact had just come back from a day’s excursion themselves, clearly tired. So I was glad to learn when I returned to the house that Ray had found a stash of snacks we’d forgotten about, and we could call off the cavalry (but thanks anyway for being so gracious, Bill and Jenny!).

I unpacked and stowed our clothes while Ray dealt with the two big suitcases full of other gear, most of which had been packed pretty hurriedly just before we left so it was a jumble, which was driving him crazy.

After we’d established a certain amount of order, we walked down to the blue house to watch the first of what will probably be many beautiful sunsets, then made an early night of it ourselves.

sunset 1sunset 2sunset 3sunset 4

The following morning we headed into Corozal and had a wonderful breakfast at Tony’s Inn and Beach Resort – maybe the best French Toast I’ve ever had! The breakfast space reminded us of cafes we’ve been to in Naples (Italy, not Florida), with the tile floor and balcony overlook.

tony'sFortified, we headed into the main part of town armed with a map Les and Michelle had left on the refrigerator. Corozal is actually gridded out pretty well, with the town square in its center and numbered roads designated as South or North – well, at least on the map, not so much in reality. Or maybe it was that we were too busy trying to drive as crazy as everyone else to notice the street signs as they passed in a blur. Corozal seems part movie-set Western with the dust and ramshackle buildings (with modern new construction thrown in here and there for good measure) and part Naples again with the driving  (though no cars were driving on the sidewalks, since there pretty  much weren’t any). Pics to come on a different day when we go exploring in more leisurely fashion.

We were intent on two projects – finding some fishing gear for Ray, since he’d decided against shipping his rod and reels down (too expensive), and getting some basic groceries and household supplies. We accomplished the first by entering the Corozal Free Zone near the Mexican border and finding the one and only fishing gear store we’d heard about so far (though we’ve heard about a few others since). Ray haggled with the owner and got a decent set-up for a good price. Since we’d paid to enter the CFZ, we also checked out the BelMex store with its eclectic combination of goods (kind of like a CVS or Walgreens) and bought a few things, then stopped at a dress shop or two to pick up some breezy cotton dresses for me at $6.50 each.  Mission 1 accomplished.

In Corozal, we went to two places that were noted on the map: Caribbean Chicken, which actually had more than chicken (other meat and eggs too) and New World Grocery where we exchanged Les and Michelle’s empty water jugs and Coke and Belikin beer bottles for new sets, plus other foodstuffs.

The only thing we hadn’t been able to find was lettuce – we arrived too late for the general market in the park and didn’t yet know that other stalls stayed open nearby. So we stopped at the Chinese store in Copper Bank and asked and they said no, then wait a minute, we do have one. The clerk proceeded to step out into the side yard and pull a head out of the garden – see if that ever happens to you at Publix, huh?

All in all,  a successful first full day in Belize, and another beautiful sunset to end it.

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Catching up with ourselves

Phew! It has been a busy few weeks! I highly DON’T recommend undertaking a major move like this in less than a month – well, unless you are moving to where we are in Belize – in which case go for it, it was definitely worth it now that we are here…

After garage sale weekend #2, we did a quick road trip with our mid-Florida kin, brother Russ and his wife Carol, to visit Ray Sr., sister Carolyn, and son Scott at Dad’s place in Melrose. As usual, we hung out around the fire pit, drank too much beer, and told stories on each other. Then, too soon, the first of the tough family good-byes, to Dad and Carolyn (we’d see Scott again later in the week). But who knows? We may see them (and lots of others) sooner than we think, if they come to see us. On the way home, we stopped with Russ and Carol at the Blackwater Inn for an indescribably delicious lunch and some cold beer.

On Monday I called my dad to say Happy “Old Pat” Day and good-bye too. It was good to hear his voice again. Hello, my seven other siblings who I didn’t call, but I talked to some of you online before we left, and the others, you know I was thinking of you too.

Then back to the sort/sell/pack/stack grind. By mid-week, with staggered furniture pick-ups by the folks who bought them from the sales or craigslist, our living room furnishings were down to the garage chrevised living room with camp chairsair with the bad springs, two mismatched camp chairs, a few odd tables and pillows, and the area rug. But we still had the important stuff – beds and TV/internet – so it was all good.

Son Scott came from Gainesville Wednesday to help us with the load-out for a few days. It’s a good thing he did, because his help was invaluable – and we worked him. That evening, Ray made a Bacon Explosion, since Scott had only seen pictures of on Facebook so far, as advance pay. Yum!

After a hard day loading the r20140321_010605130_iOSental truck Thursday, we decided  (well – it was mostly me and Scott lobbying for it) to knock off early, build one last fire in the backyard pit, and get drunk. We paid for it later, when we went right down to the wire on Sunday; but we’d earned it and it was a lot of fun. Good music, good conversation, and it was nice to spend the time with Scott since he was heading back north the next day.

Friday, daughter Kayla came up from Melbourne to collect some items, and we all took a break from the second truck load-out outside and/or housecleaning inside for an impromptu KFC feast in the garage.

That evening, I took advantage of a gift certificate for a massage, which was bliss – although, having just said goodbye to Scott, I was teary all the way to the salon and had to take a moment to compose myself before I went in. We’d been so busy up to this point, there really hadn’t been time to register the idea of “leaving” – but now fatigue and reality were combining, and I knew it wouldn’t get easier as we said more good-byes.

Saturday was the last big push, with occasional stops for chats and good-byes to neighbors and friends. There were times we looked at each other to say, “We aren’t gonna be able to do this, are we?” But we persevered until late afternoon, then showered to join Kayla and Luke at Russ and Carol’s house for one last hurrah: Pizza, beer, and good company around the pool, with lots of laughs and then another teary good-bye to Kayla, Luke and Carol (we’d see Russ in the AM for a much-needed assist with the last re-organizacar in storage unittion of the storage unit).

So, we’ve left behind the remainder of our worldly belongings in a 10×25 storage unit (plus a 5×5 climate controlled one for electronics, photos, etc). And after stacks and stacks of boxes, as Ray says, we squeezed that car in like greased lightning in the end – after not being 100% sure it would all fit, based on the state of things after the initial two truckloads that Ray and Scott had loaded in (first truckload was packed well, the second less so since time was running out on the rental truck; and there had been multiple carloads behind that too).

I don’t know if you can see it, but we left our ceramic alligator (mouth open) on top of the car as a “surprise” for anyone who decides to break in. Kayla, there’s your warning too, just in case you go in for anything. 🙂

The only real furniture we kept was the master bedroom suite and a TV, so we’ll be rebuilding again when we return (if we return?) – or we’ll just go RVing instead and then we won’t need new furniture.

Our last stop on the way to Orlando was at friends Adrian and Jen’s to drop off tailgate stuff for the upcoming Jimmy Buffett concert in Tampa. To all our Parrot Head friends, we’ll miss seeing you there, but…well, you know. Raise a glass and enjoy it!

Finally, we made it to a hotel room in Orlando for an overnight before the flight. Long hot showers, and our last meal in America was at TGI Friday’s – love that Jack Daniels’ sirloin! Then back to the room to try to relax.

Even with a good nights’ sleep, two very tired, slightly punchy campers boarded the plane on Monday AM.

I remembered this time to take a few pictures of the very cool fish art at our layover in the Miami airport (according to Google, credit goes to artist/owner Michael Kirkhart  of New Wave Taxidermy, working with New York contemporary artist Donald Lipski). Ray hopes to have enough fish caught here in a few months that he can crIMG_0058eate his own “fish wheels.”IMG_0054

I had the window seat this leg but it was cloudy and I needed sleep more than I needed a second view of the Keys, Cuba, and the Yucatan Penninsula. I woke up in time for the landing in Belize.

Customs was again a breeze – a little surprising with six very full suitcases, but they only asked a few questions and waved us on.

We found our VIP Transfer person standing outside with a sign for GAMBILL – a very nice young guy, Henry Jr, soft-spoken and polite, and he indulged us in all our questions about life in Belize and our own stories about ourselves during the two hour drive to Corozal.

VIP had taken Les and Michelle to the airport when they left a few days earlier, so Henry handed over the truck keys, and off we went to see if we remembered how to find the property.

Sorting, selling, packing, stacking…

This is what we have been doing since our return back to Florida! Our sweet little house in Port St. John now has, shall we say, “minimal accommodations.” We’ve been working well as a team and also pacing ourselves, but there is still a lot to do in the week ahead.

boxesThis phase is pretty familiar to us, though. Just ask friends and family who have used up extra pages in their address books crossing out our latest address and adding in a new one. I was trying to think of how many homes Ray and I  have had together over the years and my count went to an even dozen – from our first tiny apartment on Milwaukee’s East Side before we married, to our honeymoon household in Key West Navy housing; then a few months in a funky Ocean City (San Diego) apartment before Navy housing again in Guam, where our daughter was born. Back to the States and an unlikely duty station in Stockton, CA – where we lived first in an apartment, then a little American dream house. A brief stay with the in-laws in North Florida as we transitioned to civilian life, and a very few months’ stay in St. Louis ahead of a more permanent move to East Tulsa, OK, where our son was born; then the move to the place our kids think of most often as “home”, our little McMansion with the big lot in Owasso, OK. Finally, back to Florida and a beach townhouse in Cape Canaveral, before we moved here three years ago.

What’s different this time is that we don’t necessarily know when – or for that matter, where – we’ll next see our belongings. We’re not stressing about that, but it is a strange feeling.

Some good-byes have already begun, and there will be more. That part is bittersweet, but we are also really looking forward to returning to what we are going to call (at least for our duration there)…yeah, because I had to: “Casa Chacalaca.”

One more week! 🙂

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Belizean Restroom Rules?

toiletI didn’t have my camera handy or I would have taken a picture of the unusual signage in the women’s room at the Belize airport. Not exactly sure what to make of this message:

Please do not flush toilet with your feet. Restrooms are sanitized regularly.

Um. Okay.

Playing tourist in Belize City

Princess Hotel and Casino bay viewDay three in-country, we returned to Belize City for an overnight stay at the Princess Hotel & Casino. Besides being convenient for catching our flight home the following day, being in the city also allowed us to meet up with Tea, who happened to be on a cruise with her family that had a port stop there.

There were beautiful views of the sea from our hotel room, but we didn’t have time to enjoy it yet – just dropped our luggage and headed for the port.

It felt a little strange to surrender our passports in exchange for visitor passes into Tourism Village, which is the enclosed area where the cruise ship passengers come ashore, packed with shops selling tourist trinkets, tropical-themed clothing, and duty-free items, as well as an array of good-time bars andwet-lizard restaurants.

We connected with Tea at an establishment called The Wet Lizard and shared a few Bellikins as we got to know each other. I’m glad we had the chance to meet in person, as it helped make our house-sitting arrangement with her more personal and I hope gave her some peace of mind that her property will be well-cared for.

After only a few hours, we saw her off to the smaller boat that ferried passengers in from the cruise ship docked in the bay at anchor and then, since we were there, explored some of the shops ourselves.

But it was hot and we were tired Princess Hotel and Casino back viewand looking forward to a shower, so we exchanged our visitor passes for our passports and caught a taxi back to the hotel.

We saw just a brief buzz of life outside of Tourism Village as we returned, and also the next day on the way to the airport, but probably didn’t really experience Belize City.

Again, we felt a reminder of Guam – the area around the hotel was reminiscent of the hotel we stayed out when we shipped in there (and later, when we shipped out, too). There was a beautiful pool as well, which we never got around to, unfortunately.

Princess Casino and Hotel view The next morning we had a little time to chill before we needed to head for the airport and were just hanging in the hotel room when we heard what sounded like a parade. We opened the door and, lo and behold, it WAS a parade, heading right down the street in front of the hotel.

Besides some marching bands, it appeared to be a throng of many Belizians wearing orange shirts. Our hotel neighbors joined us on the balcony to watch, and a maid told us that it was a celebration – “20,000 Strong National Women’s Empowerment Rally.”

Belize City parade 220,000 strong shirtsWe enjoyed the heavy drum beat as they went by and saw some of the marchers later down in the lobby at check-out.

Guess you just never know what you might see next in this place!

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Meet the wildlife

In two days, we saw a variety of critters and I’m sure there will be many more. At the resort, there were the “house geckos” with us in our cabana – again a throwback to our Guam experience, where we always had a few hanging out with us. Dinner at the bar / restaurant brought out a species of tree frogs which apparently worship sconce lighting (okay, or maybe it’s the bugs that are drawn to the glow). And then there’s the now-infamous lightning bugs – Bill was speaking and I kept getting distracted by little blinks of light in the windows behind him, until I finally remarked, “Either you’ve got lightning bugs here or there’s some single-eyed organisms out there looking in.” Hey – in my defense, I was so tired by then (see previous “fried brains” post) that speaking in complete, much less coherent, sentences was getting beyond me. After a long pause, Bill said: “Well, I’d say something but I don’t know you well enough yet.” So my husband graciously supplied the punch line (I’ve got yer one-eyed organism right here!). After the group laugh at my expense, I suggested that, on that note, we head for bed.

We were solidly asleep and awoke in the dark to some cacophony that sounded like a flock of geese going berserk. Monkeys?! Birds?! Not sure, but eventually they quieted and after a while our pounding hearts did too.

chachalaca

I asked Bill about it in the morning and he said, oh, those are chacalacas – a bird sort of like a pheasant, and common in Belize and other warm places; and that something in the forest must have disturbed them roosting.

Chacalacas! I thought I loved Belize already, but now I LOVE Belize. Any place with an animal called a chacalaca is my kind of place.

But wait a minute, back to the “something in the forest that must have disturbed them roosting” – oh, it was probably a jaguar. Yes, I knew they have them in Belize, but I assumed they were probably further inland – you know, some place where I wasn’t going to be living. Apparently, not. Les and  Michelle have seen jaguar cubs on the road before, and one of Bill and Jenny’s dogs was hurt quite badly by a jaguar after treeing it, just off the trail to the Mayan ruins nearby. Well, okee dok, then, we have jaguars.jaguar

Les and Michelle also reported that they found an injured toucan, named it Skittles (!), and tried to nurse it back to health, but it didn’t survive. So, toucans, too, which I also expected would be further inland somewhere. Also some brilliant orange and yellow birds I haven’t yet identified, and at least one persistent little fellow who wanted to fight its reflection in the side mirrors of our rental car.

The morning after the chacalaca incident (good title for a mystery novel? I may have to remember that), Ray was standing on the cabana porch looking out at the bay. I was inside getting dressed but also looking that way through the windows, when both of us saw something large-ish moving across the still water. It looked like a stick, except that it seemed to be propelling itself in a more or crocodileless straight line. Ray took off at a lope to see what he could see, but came back reporting that it must have just been a stick after all. Hmm.

Well – again, not. Another neighbor on the point greeted us later with “Hey, did you guys see the crocodile on the bay this morning?” Apparently the mouth of the New River (recall ferry crossing post) empties into Corozal Bay somewhere on the other side of the Mayan ruins, and the crocs occasionally foray out into the open water.

So – I’ll swim off the pier, but cautiously. And not alone. And probably not at daybreak or sundown. Or at lunch time, or before siesta, or … okay, just kidding. It’s not as if we don’t have alligators all over Florida, right? And panthers. And snakes and assorted other fun stuff. Just that, we think it’s our world, here – and it feels a little more like the animal’s world, there. Which might be a good lesson…

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Fried brains and roast pig

Les and Michelle have done a lot in their short time in Belize – an almost amazing “a lot” – and we had essentially two days with them on this trip to absorb as much of their knowledge and experience as possible (of course, we’ll have two more days with them at month-end, and we’ll stay in touch, too; even so, best to use the time to advantage while we can).

That meant lots of discussion and lots of Q&A. We talked about phone/Internet/TV setups; the best places in Corozal to find x (and unlike the States, it’s rare to be able to get everything you might want in a single place, so there’s many “best places to find x”); banking and mail forwarding and good people to know, and funny stories about things that can happen here. We talked about how to do a border crossing to Chetumal, a large city in Mexico about ten miles north of Corozal, for its “promised land” of Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, McDonald’s, Burger King, and other signs of civilization. Oh yeah, and we talked about ourselves too, and about them and their families, the usual getting-to-know-you conversation.

Sea cottage from dockWe also walked around both buildings for a more in-depth review of the solar panel set-ups, the cistern system, the septic system, and the satellite connections. We walked through both buildings to review the interior plumbing and wiring, how to use the wash machine (not your normal process), and generally where stuff is located. Hector escorted us around the property line for a look at the garden, including some new fruit trees that Tea bought when she was here. We inspected the sea wall and we heard a lot of Les’s original plans for the property.

Between all that and just the actual concept that we are MOVING TO BELIZE, our brains were close to short-circuiting. It was time for a break, and what better way than to go help Enrique celebrate his birthday with a pig roast?! Steve and Cindy showed up from Consejo Shores (a substantial ex-pat commuEnrique's Bday pig roast viewnity just north of Corozal) and we piled into two cars for the short ride over to Donna & Enrique’s bar/restaurant.

Now we’re talking – a nice sea breeze, more new people to meet, a few Bellikin beers (which you’d better like drinking, because it’s the only beer readily available in Belize; fortunately, it’s pretty good) – and the smell of food wafting over from the pit.

Again, we felt very much as if we were on Guam – the village fiesta experience of sharing food, not to mention a roast pig. Yum.

Enrique's Bday pig roast 3Our original plan had been to enjoy the feast, then head back into Corozal to set up a few things in advance of our move. But we weren’t ready for anything more, so instead we headed back to our home base at the resort and some chill time.

Later we joined Les and Michelle to wait for sunset from the porch of the sea house – one of their rituals that we’ll probably continue, because I can imagine that every day it’s something beautiful and different. In fact, the way their property is situated, you can take in both sunrise and sunset (assuming you’re awake early enough for sunrise – I guess Ray will have to tell me how beautiful that is; though you never know, I may just be up early so I won’t miss a minute). 🙂

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Life on the peninsula

Both houses There are two buildings on the property. The yellow guest house began as a sand-floor boathouse, rebuilt by Les and Michelle into a snug, comfortable residence. The blue sea house is new construction, nearly finished, which will eventually become Tea’s retirement home.

Besides care-taking the property (with help from Hector, a Belizean jack of all trades who knows it well), our other major house-sitting duty will be to oversee the remainder contracted work on the sea house and/or to help with whatever new renovation projects that Tea will direct.

Both properties operate “off the grid” – ie, solar power (with a backup generator) and a cistern water collection system – which will be an adjustment, both in learning to use and maintain them properly, and to be vigilant so that we don’t run out of either electricity or water. It’s a remote location, but we’ll have internet, phonCerros Mayae, and TV connectivity and all the basic comforts of home. Not to mention the best views you can possibly imagine, right out every window: Spectacular sunrises and sunsets on Corozal Bay, with the outline of the crumbling Cerros Maya ruins nearby, and the town of Corozal lit each night like a strand of diamonds across the way.

Les and Michelle gave us the quick tour and then we headed over to Cerros Beach Resort to check in for our two-night stay. We met owners Bill and Jenny, who showed us to our beach-side cabana so we could settle in.

Cerros Beach Resort cabanasWhat a great little hide-away! Our room was clean, simple, and rustic, with a great arched ceiling of bamboo and thatch that made the whole place feel expansive (we took a picture while lying on the bed, but it doesn’t do it justice). There’s no AC, but a steady breeze streams through the screened and shuttered windows. No TV either, but who needs it, with great views out to the bay and the manicured lawn (though if you must have your technology fix, the resort’s bar/restaurant close by has both TV and internet). The bed can be canopied with mosquito netting, but we didn’t need it and slept well. Bill and Jenny are a wealth of knowledge about life in Belize and were a lot of fun to talk to over meals (and the food was good too!). Visit www.cerrosbeachresort.com if you want more information.

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