Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chiquibul Park Visitors' Center

As promised, here are a few pictures of the new Chiquibul Park Visitors' Center, one of the outside, and two of exhibits in the building, including a tapir skeleton.  If you would like to visit let us know, and we will contact a guide for you.






Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chalillo Dam

We have lived here for 7 years, been to Caracol countless times, and never bothered to take the turn to get a look at the Chalillo Dam.  

Today, we went to the opening of the Chiquibul Park Visitors' Center, and took the 15 minute detour to drive to a parking area overlooking the dam.  It was smaller than we expected.



Pictures to follow of the new Chiquibul Park Visitors' Center, which is a great addition to the area.  It's on the road to Caracol and Las Cuevas, and provides a great meeting and information point to make the Chiquibul Park more accessible.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Please be patient...

A few times in the past month or so, we have answered inquiries from potential guests, and have exchanged emails to the point where the potential guests want to become future guests, and request an invoice with payment instructions to secure their reservations.  We make sure we get all the information correct, send out the invoice...and never hear from them again.

A few times over the past five-plus years of being in business, we have had guests contact us after we have sent out the reservation invoice to tell us that their plans have changed and they won't be able to stay with us after all.  We completely understand that...something comes up at work, you realize that plane tickets are three times what you expected, a family member gets sick, or whatever.  But lately, the potential/future guests just disappear, and I find it hard to believe that we are suddenly encountering flocks of rude people; instead, I suspect that our emails are not getting through for some reason - probably spam filters - and the potential guests think that we have neglected to respond.

So, if you are trying to book a room with us and this happens to you, please send us another email.  As anybody who has stayed with us can tell you, we always respond within 24 hours, and usually in much less time than that.  We do want to share the Moonracer Farm experience with you and help you plan your vacation in Belize!

While I am on the topic of reservations, please allow me to explain why we have our reservation policy, since we have had a number of people lately decide not to stay with us because they don't understand why we require a reservation deposit.  We are a two-room lodge in the jungle, off grid, 45 minutes from town.  This means that we can't store large quantities of a variety of foods, waiting for people to show up, simply because we don't have the refrigeration capacity.  Plus, a lot of what our guests like about us is that we correspond prior to your visit to find out what you want to do, and get everything set up for you in advance.  We will accept drive-ups if we have the room and enough suitable food, but we can't guarantee it, and we certainly can't guarantee that we will be able to set up tours at the last minute.  And, we require the room charge as a reservation deposit (but not food, tours, or transfers) because we only have two rooms, so if people say they are going to come and then change their minds at the last minute, chances are we have turned away other guests and have just lost a significant amount of income, and we still have to pay the staff and have still purchased food.  And, if we have arranged any tours, we have already paid for the tours out of our pockets in advance.  We have a lot to lose if somebody has us reserve a room for them and then doesn't show, where future guests have nothing to lose if they intend to stay with us anyway since presumably they plan to pay us.  If you would like to discuss this, please feel free to contact us, although we cannot afford to waive this reservation policy.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cortes Tree 2014

Every year we take pictures if this beautiful Cortes tree, which blooms for about 3 days and then spreads its beautiful yellow flowers over the cabin and the yard.  This year, we are in Florida, so Julio gets the photo credits.







Friday, February 21, 2014

Bush bridge building pictures

Here are some pictures of Tom and the guys building a bush bridge.  This is the kind if thing we are doing now that we are not full time at Moonracer Farm. The only non-jungle material they used was some old zinc that had been pulled off of one of the roofs because it was full of holes.  I think the pictures are pretty self explanatory, but let us know if you have any questions.

















Thursday, February 20, 2014

El Progresso Graduation 2013

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

TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Winner Again!

We just found out that we are a TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice winner for 2014, which makes this our third year in a row!  We are #3 in the top 10 B&Bs in all of Belize.  

We owe a big thank you to Julio and Janeth for keeping our level of service so high, and an even bigger thank you to all of our guests who have posted great TripAdvisor reviews for us.  We are delighted to do business with all of you!

Here is the link to the award listing:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Hotels-cInnsBB-g291959#3

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Brrr....

We are supposed to have guests at Moonracer Farm right now, but we don't because they couldn't make their flights with all the travel disruptions due to the weather right now.  So, they are stuck in Atlanta, where it's pretty chilly, but at least they can be inside.


But, that might be a good thing, since it's also pretty chilly here, especially when we can't really close windows and get cozy.  They were supposed to go to ATM today, but it is closed due to flooding, so they are rescheduled for Thursday when, with any luck, they will be here and ATM will be open.  And maybe it will be a little warmer.

Things always work out for the best in Belize!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 Community Activities Catchup

In addition to working on the business and hosting weddings during our blog hiatus, we continued to work on some community projects, with the help of our guests.  What we think was the most important of these was helping to get the Community Internet Center set up in the Village of 7 Miles.  The village had received a grant for the purchase and set up of a Hughesnet satellite system and the solar system necessary to run the satellite, some computers, and lights in the building in a village without electricity.  The village then had to provide a suitable space, the computers, and the monthly internet subscription.

Front view of old library before internet center started

Old library collection of books before internet center started
When the project started, Julio was still the chairman of the village, so we were fully aware of the obstacles and difficulties in getting this project moving, even with the generous donation of the satellite and solar.  Julio and the village council decided to use half of the existing library for the internet center.  However, before the organization donating the satellite and solar would start installing any of the equipment, they wanted the building to be secure.  This happened right around this time last year, and we were explaining the difficulty to our guests, a family from California.  After they left, we were surprised by a very generous check arriving in the mail, with the funds earmarked for security bars for the windows.  We turned the check over to the town, who ordered the bars, which were made to order fairly quickly.  The bars were picked up and installed, and the satellite and solar equipment were delivered and installed in the spring.
Inside old library, back wall before cleanup
The public still couldn't use the internet center because the town did not have the funds to purchase computers.  The specs for the computers ended up being fairly specific; laptops were needed rather than desktops because of the power issues with the solar system, but tablets wouldn't work because the machines needed to be connected via cables rather than wifi because limited bandwidth made wifi impractical because use needs to be strictly controlled in the center.  Again, we shared these frustrations with a couple of our guests, and in fairly short order after the guests went home, they contacted us and asked if they could donate old laptops.  The answer they received was of course an enthusiastic "Yes!" and we arranged the logistics of getting the laptops to Belize, which involved having guests we hadn't even met yet take delivery in the US and carry them to Belize when they arrived on their vacations.  Hooray for our guests!

Inside view of side door of old library before cleanup

Inside view of front door of old library before cleanup
Julio and Tom built tables and desks for the center, then Tom cleaned up the laptops and collected a couple of others, one of our old ones and one some friends who left Belize had left with us in case we found anybody who could use it, and the internet center had four laptops.  The next hurdle was to get the Hughesnet service turned on, which turned out to be more complicated than expected.  The monthly fee offered by the company who had installed everything was considerably higher than what we pay for the same plan at Moonracer Farm, so Tom did some investigating and found that not only are the new plans more expensive, but they are based on newer equipment, and what was installed in the Internet Center is the older equipment, the same as what we have at Moonracer.  Tom then discovered that current subscriptions could be transferred, and with the help of Harry from the Computer Ranch, we were able to transfer the subscription of a customer in Belmopan who was changing to BTL's DSL.  The plan matched the equipment, and  was about $40US a month less than the original proposed plan.

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
We find this very discouraging on a number of levels.  Many individuals and organizations contributed a lot of both effort and money to get this project off the ground.  And, the village needs it, both for the students and to give everybody an opportunity to improve their computer skills.  We don't understand why qualified people in the village don't step up and volunteer to staff it, since it would get more use if it was open more than three evenings a week...if the staff shows up on the posted opening hours.  We understand that people are busy, and many are intimidated by the technology, and that although we see this as a very beneficial thing for the village, many of the villagers understandably just don't see the value; they've never needed it before, so why is it a "need" now?  Perhaps the most discouraging thing is that we can't figure out how to get the project moving since the village has to want it, and it appears that most people just don't see it as a priority.  Perhaps, this is just another case of our first world values not applying in a developing country...but how can the country develop if the people can't or won't use the tools given to them to advance?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

During our blog break...

...a few special things happened at Moonracer Farm.

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.
Our first decision was whether or not we could host the reception.  It depended on a few things, including whether or not we still owned the property, whether or not we had guests booked on the day of the wedding, and whether or not we could get help getting the place ready, holding the party, and cleaning up.  The wedding was in the beginning of May and we didn't start planning until March, so we just decided that if we got an offer for the property, we wouldn't close until after the wedding, and if we had any inquiries for guests, we would just say we were booked for the day of the wedding and a couple of days on either side.  No problem!
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.
The wedding party and family were served in our dining area in the palapa, and all of the guests ate on benches set up around the grounds, which looked lovely.  Angel's brother said they served over 300 dinners, and everybody had a good time.  The party didn't break up until well after dark.
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

Happy groom!

The next day, most of the male members of Angel's and Lorena's family were at our house by 9AM, and by noon, everything was cleaned up, and besides having the grounds look a little neater than usual, it was difficult to tell that we'd even had a party.

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!