Friday, February 21, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Another thing Tom did during our blog hiatus was speak at the El Progresso/7 Miles Primary School graduation in June 2013. We have been involved with the school for a number of years, helping however we can, but Tom was nonetheless hugely honored when Mr. Cano, the principal, contacted him in the beginning of June and asked if he would be the graduation speaker. Tom of course said yes, and immediately started thinking about his speech, which was on the graduating class theme of “Education is the tool that empowers us to be successful in life.” Since we truly believe this, it wasn’t a difficult topic to address, but Tom gave himself the added challenge of speaking in both English and Spanish.
Although English is Belize’s official language, 7 Miles is a town made up of mainly Central American immigrants, and even though school is supposed to be taught in English, many of the parents of the students speak only Spanish. Since the graduation is for the families as well as the students, Tom felt that it would be respectful to speak so the families could understand the message. And, Tom’s Spanish is good enough that he felt like he could do it.
The effort was appreciated by everyone, and one of our mainly Spanish speaking friends who had a daughter in the graduating class said that if Tom had been in Spanish class, he would have earned a solid “B.” It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly understandable, and even the representative from the Ministry of Education remarked it was quite well done. Of course for the next few days Tom would randomly blurt out, “I should have said … this way instead of that,” but overall even Tom was happy with the delivery, and especially with the reception of his effort.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
|Front view of old library before internet center started|
|Old library collection of books before internet center started|
|Inside old library, back wall before cleanup|
|Inside view of side door of old library before cleanup|
|Inside view of front door of old library before cleanup|
The next step was to make sure everything worked together, and open the center. Although this doesn't sound tremendously complicated, consider that this internet center was being opened in a village that doesn't even have electricity, so very few people have any computer experience, or experience in running this type of business, which, although it is a service for the village, still needs to be run like a business to make enough money each month to pay Hughesnet and do maintenance. And, because of how long it had taken to get all the pieces put together, the opening wasn't happening until summer when the kids were out of school, and students were supposed to be the major customers. Tom went to lots of meetings to figure out how to manage and staff the center, mostly because he has the experience to help get this sort of effort up and running, but also because the Hughesnet monthly bill has to be paid with a US credit card...which we have, unlike the Belizean citizens of the village, so it behooved us to make sure the center at least made enough money to pay the monthly bill.
|Inside El Progresso Internet Center|
While I would like to say that the internet center opened and the villagers flocked in to use it, that hasn't been the case. The people who are using it love it, and it is giving villagers who didn't have access to computers an opportunity to use and learn about computers and the internet. When school started again in September, students found it useful. However, it has been difficult to find enough qualified people willing to staff it, so opening hours have been limited, and many villagers gave up trying to figure out when it was open and when it was closed, and didn't even try to go. Then something happened with the electrical system and blew out the inverter, and it took time to get that fixed, and whatever momentum it had thudded to a stop. We're now in the middle of the Christmas holiday break for students, so they don't need it for their schoolwork, so it is getting very little use. The monthly bill is still being paid from village funds, but neither the village nor we have unlimited funds to continue to pay for something that isn't being used, so at this point it's possible that it will just be shut down if business doesn't pick up when the students are back in school.
|Front view of El Progresso Internet Center|
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Perhaps the most special was the reception for the wedding of our friends Angel and Lorena. Angel is the caretaker for our neighbors, Aspen, Tatiana, and Todd. He is also a good friend of Julio, and has become our good friend too. He and Lorena decided to get married near the beginning of the year, but weren't sure when they could afford to hold the wedding, and they wanted to have a nice wedding and reception for their families and friends. Here, it is usually up to the bridal couple to host the reception, and they don't depend on their parents to do it for them. Tom, Julio, and I put our heads together and brainstormed on ways we could help Angel and Lorena.
|Tom, Alex, and Ramon, Angel's father, string up the broilers.|
|Everybody worked together and we butchered and dressed 60 chickens.|
It was also no problem to get all the help we needed. Both Angel and Lorena have big families and lots of friends, and everybody helped. We raised 60 broilers for the wedding feast, and a couple of days before the wedding, a whole truckload of people pulled in to butcher the chickens.
We plugged a small chest freezer into Todd and Tatiana's solar wired house, and chilled the chickens for a couple of days before the wedding.
The day before the wedding, half the town of 7 Miles showed up to decorate, and plenty of people came back the morning of the wedding for the final touches, including setting up the cake and gift tables.
|Ramon decorates the palapa, with Janeth's supervision.|
|Tom and Angel take a break so Tom can explain how the wedding toast should be done.|
|Assistant chefs in the kitchen making tubs of coleslaw.|
|Edwin, the chef, cooking on the fogon.|
Angel's brother, a chef at the Coppola resorts, put together a cooking team, and they moved into the Moonracer kitchen to prepare the wedding feast while Tom and I, who were honored to be Angel and Lorena's padrinos, went to the wedding in the village. Some other friends put together the sound system, and a group formed to man the bar, serving soft drinks from coolers in the yard.
|Angel and his father, taking a break before heading to the wedding.|
|Finishing touches on the cake, with Angel and Julio in the background.|
|Benches set up so everybody can find a place to sit and eat.|
|Aspen and Tatiana delivering Lorena to the church.|
|Angel waiting in the church for Lorena's arrival.|
|Tom holding the mic for Angel to say his vows.|
|Listening attentively to the pastor after Lorena and Angel have "tied the knot."|
|We all had to sign the license. Tom and I were padrinos, or godparents, who witnessed the marriage.|
|The wedding party outside the church after the wedding.|
|Lorena and Angel entering the reception under the arch. Tom and Ramon helped release the confetti.|
|Tom, Lorena, Angel, Marge|
Angel and Lorena now both live next door to Moonracer Farm, and sometimes join Julio and Janeth and our guests for dinner. If you meet them while at Moonracer, make sure to tell them you saw some of their wedding pictures!
Friday, December 13, 2013
When Tom and I returned from our three-month trip to the US last fall, our good friends who own a very large tract of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge offered us the job of managing their conservation project. For us, this was the dream job, doing something meaningful for the environment and for the future. The only unfortunate thing with the job offer was that we realized right up front that we would not be able to continue to put the same amount of effort into running Moonracer Farm as we had so successfully been doing for the past five or so years.
Our first plan was to put the whole kit and kaboodle, property and business, up for sale, and to continue to run the inn until it sold, and then move on to the conservation project. When we didn't have any good sale prospects in six months, we decided that it was time to move on to Plan B. Plan B was to train Julio and Janeth to run the business, which was a very agreeable prospect for them since they both always really enjoyed interacting with our guests, and Janeth is a great cook. So, we planned to move to the new job in August, and we spent the early part of the summer training Julio and Janeth to take over the operation at Moonracer, while Tom and I planned to continue with the administrative side, handling reservations and finances.
Tom and I did in fact move to the new job in August, and Julio and Janeth and their family have been running Moonracer Farm with enormous guest approval ratings, as can be seen on our TripAdvisor page, where the excellent reviews have continued since the transition. Tom and I miss interacting with our guests in person beyond a meal or a transfer, but our guests love interacting with Belizeans who can give them a firsthand account of what it is like to grow up and live and work and go to school in Belize...and they get REAL and delicious Belizean food from Janeth!
This transitional phase has been working well enough for everybody that when our year-long FSBO ads on the internet expired about six weeks ago, we thought long and hard about just taking the property and business off the market and running it like we have been since this summer. It works for our guests, because they love staying with the Ruanos as their hosts. It works for Julio and Janeth and their family, because they are doing work that they like, meeting a lot of people that they like, making a good living, and getting great job experience, no matter what happens in the future. It works for us because we are still involved with our guests and the business, and the business is supporting itself, plus some, which is a bonus for us. However, the Ruanos have not yet worked through a high season, when we know that we usually have long runs of work without a break, sometimes almost two months, and we are not sure of the impact this will have on the Ruano family and their family, church, and social obligations in town. Right now, we can fill in for them if we need to, but we can't do that indefinitely. And, as this conservation project becomes more absorbing, we're not sure if we can continue to put the same amount of time and energy into the inn business. We are probably good for a year or two, but we know that things change, and we're not sure we can commit to the long haul.
So, instead of splitting our non-conservation project energy on running Moonracer Farm and selling Moonracer Farm, we have decided to let a professional handle the sale while we focus on continuing to run the business. The good thing for potential guests and potential buyers is that we are planning to sell the whole package, and Julio and Janeth are willing to continue to manage the lodge for new owners. So, if you are considering booking a stay at Moonracer but are worried that we will sell and you will lose your reservation, rest assured because we are sure that anybody willing to pay for the property and the business - which is all that we will accept at this point since everything is running so well - will want to continue to run the business as it is going. And, if you are interested in buying the business, you will not be cast loose in a sea of confusion, but will have experienced managers on site, and we have enough invested in the business that we will continue to make ourselves available since we are living only a few miles up the road.
A whole lot of thought, effort, and decision have just been condensed into a few paragraphs. If you have questions, for us or the Ruanos, please feel free to contact us through our Moonracer Farm business website's Contact Us page. We will be happy to talk to you!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Cayo, Belize to El Ceibo, Guatemala
|Ready to go! In our driveway at home in Belize|
|Getting off the ferry, leaving Spanish Lookout...on the road!|
|Countryside in western Peten, Guatemala between La Libertad and El Naranjo|
|Almost to El Naranjo, sign for the road to the El Ceibo border|
|Track to the hotel where we stayed at the El Ceibo border|
|El Ceibo hotel. 7 units, electricity only provided by generator in the evening - just like home!|
|El Ceibo shanty town on the Guatemala side|
El Ceibo, Guatemala/Tabasco, Mexico to Cosamaloapan, Mexico
|Approaching the gate to the free zone on the Guatemala side|
|In the free zone on the Guatemala side. Immigration buildings to the left.|
|Heading into the Mexico side of the free zone|
|Immigration on the Mexico side|
|How Jalis rides, with his head in my lap, although he later claimed the back seat where he had more room.|
|Heading out of the free zone and into Tabasco, Mexico|
Everybody was extremely nice and helpful, and we drove into Mexico with 180 day visas for us and the vehicle, official documents for the dogs, a fumigated vehicle and saddle, and two extra Guatemalan teabags to try next time I can get some boiling water.
|Beautiful countryside in Tabasco, Mexico|
Cosamaloapan, Mexico to Tampico, Mexico
|Gulf of Mexico from secondary highway 180 north of Veracruz|
|Bridge into Tampico|
|How Nock spent most of the five days in the car|
Tampico, Mexico to Sulphur, LA, USA
|Sunrise north of Tampico. Much better roads than the day before!|
Sulphur, LA to Heathrow, FL