As it’s now been the better part of a year since the last riveting installment of our sub-tropical memoirs, there is much more to tell than an average person will want to hear.  But I need to write something, because I’m getting really tired of having a ridiculous picture of a guy in dressed in a blue tick-suit on the front page of my blog.

I want something dignified, which reflects well on the writer:

Rothaus

More on that in Part II

Beyond simply hating the giant blue tick man, I figured it’s high time that we update everyone as to the “goings-on of Galen and Amanda in Belize” since, well, there are no more “goings-on of Galen and Amanda in Belize.” We left Belize in the rear view mirror last week.  (This is not technically accurate, since our truck is so jam-packed with stuff that I can see absolutely nothing out the rear view mirror except for the hideous, paisley-patterned suitcase perched menacingly behind my head waiting to decapitate me should I brake too hard.)

For many of you, this is old news, but we’re pulling up stakes for the headed out west.  Northwest, actually.  Our new home will be Nuevo Ideal, Durango, Mexico.  In terms of flora and fauna, it’s about as opposite from Belize as you can get.

Belize

Durango

 The ‘vibe’ is very different, as well.  While San Ignacio, Belize is a busy town, where you can always hear somebody playing their raggae-influenced rap, and you see Mayans, Rastas, Guatemalans, Garifunas, and Gringos all on the same street at the same time, Nuevo Ideal is more like something out of an old western, with tumbleweeds and cantinas radiating tuba and accordion music.

But they have one thing in common:  Mennonites!  At our Low German District convention last year, (more on that in a minute) we were told by the circuit overseer that the place of biggest need in the Low German field was Durango.  They have a congregation there with 19 publishers, and they actually have some interested ones from the territory attending meeting regularly and making good progress.  Our original goal had been remain in Belize at least 3 years.  We visited in March, to sniff around a bit, and thought, maybe after we reached our three year goal, we’d move.  Shortly after our visit, though, the lone elder in that congregation was invited to Bethel.  Another has moved in, but his plan is to only be there temporarily.  So, we decided to put that goal to rest, and make arrangements to move.

Our move got off to a great start when we left Belize on August 16th, immediately following a tremendous pioneer school (more on that in part II).  The people at the Belize border had apparently failed to properly vet their newest hires, and had carelessly allowed a professional, friendly guy to infiltrate their staff.  Our car paperwork in Mexico was a breeze, and we found a cheap, comfortable hotel on the Mexico side from which to get an early start the following morning.  We made good time the following day, riding high from the pioneer school and the fumes from the Kambucha mushroom in a jar that my friend Jake had given us when we left Belize.  Then, just outside of Coatzacoalcos, our destination for the day, our transmission breathed its last.  Somewhere along the line, it developed an oil leak, and didn’t give much indication until it was too late.

“So,” you say, “bummer about the transmission, but glad to hear you made it to Nuevo Ideal without further incident.” Um, actually, we’re still in Coatzacoalcos.  Unlike Belize, where many car parts simply do not exist, they can be found in Mexico…eventually.  Combine this with a comedy of errors and miscommunications, and well, here we are…still.  Thankfully, we got in touch with some brothers here who’ve helped us tremendously and one very hospitable family invited us to stay with them until we can get on our way.  But the end result of all this is, of course, that I have plenty of time to ramble on with this blog post.

However, since even I have my limits for how long I can ramble at one sitting, I will not inflict upon the reader the entire last 9 months, all at one time.  Instead, I’ll break this into two sufferable doses, the second of which will follow soon.

When last we wrote (late November), we were in Palenque with our friends Ruben and Laura, on a side trip through Chiapas on the way to our Low German District Convention in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua. In Belize, southern Mexico, and Guatemala, Mayan ruins pop up with about the same frequency as ‘state historical markers’ in California (“In 1849, on this spot, Hezekiah Johnson’s covered wagon broke an axle as he traveled west to try to find gold.”)  If you have to narrow it down to seeing only one Mayan ruin, Palenque wouldn’t be a bad option.

Palenque1

 

Palenque 2

Agua Azul waterfall wasn’t bad, either, although since we were there in the rainy season, it was more like Agua Cafe than Agua Azul.

AguaAzul

The highlight may have been Canon del Sumidero, although the groups of large crocodiles basking on the banks of the Grijalva river put a damper on swimming.

Sumidero

Upon conclusion of our side trip, we proceeded on to Mexico City, where we got to tour the Central America branch.

Betel

We met the rest of our group in Mexico City, and then traveled together to the convention in Chihuahua, which wound up being probably the most encouraging event we’ve ever attended.

Brothers and sisters were there from Mexico, the US, Canada, Belize, and Bolivia.  Actual countries of origin included the aforementioned countries, as well as Argentina, Paraguay, Germany, Austria, Italy, and a couple more that I can’t remember right off the top of my head.   Peak attendance was about 550, and probably 75% are regular or special pioneers.  It was a high-energy convention. There were also several local Mennonites who attended, and a couple Bible students traveled from Texas and Canada to be there.

The day before the convention, we got to see the remote translation center, currently staffed by 3 translators, an overseer, and a housekeeper.  Then, the convention itself.  The Mennonite kids really loved the drama (actually so did the parents) – there’s not much available in Low German in terms of plays or movies.  After the convention was over, everybody hung around and took picture.  This picture shows all the people in attendance who either are, or used to be, Mennonites.

Kongress

Fast-forwarding from the convention, our friends Ruben and Laura finally had to head back to Germany at the end of January after a year with our group.  After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but we finally accepted the fact that they were leaving.

RubundLau

As you may recall from the last installment, our other friends David and Maria were slated to go back to Germany in March to attend the Bible School for couples. And that they did.  So, quite quickly, a big chunk of our Low German group evaporated.

Fortunately, reinforcements had arrived just in time.

Tune in next time to discover who they were, hear what has happened between then and now, to learn whether we ever got past Coatzacoalcos, and most importantly, to find out if I managed to pry that bottle cap the rest of the way off the giant beer.

 

 

The above two words are Yucatec Mayan.  They make up the name of the Mayan archaeological site located a bowshot from our house.  According to those who figure out such things, the Cahal Pech site was abandoned sometime around 900 AD.  No one knows why.

I might humbly propose an answer to this riddle.

Cahal Pech does not mean ‘Jaws of the Crocodile,’ or ‘Crouching Jaguar,’ or even ‘Hidden Serpent.’  It is not a reference to the monsters and specters of the mythological Mayan underworld.  These all seem cute and cuddly when compared with its actual meaning:

Place…of…the…ticks.

The Tick

The mamas of those ancient Mayans didn’t raise no fools.  I believe that in the face of such an adversary, they gallantly packed up their stuff and ran away.

For the first 15 months of our occupancy, this 8-legged cancer was largely in remission.  Once and a while, we’d notice one of these blood-gorged parasites on the dog, pluck it off, smash it, and then curse ourselves for forgetting smash it somewhere else where it wouldn’t make such a mess.  Or, occasionally, we’d catch one beginning to feast on our own persons.  Those were the good old days.

The trouble started about 6 weeks ago.  The culprit, at least in large part, rests on the small shoulders of the innocent creature you see before  you.  (No, not Amanda.  I said the innocent one.)

Trouble

Since her arrival, the tick population in our yard has rebounded like a Shaquille O’neal  free-throw.  Justina, as she’s come to be known (in keeping with the Roman Empress dog naming theme), is part German Shepherd, part Rottweiler, and part tick boarding house.

An all-out war has erupted on our front porch (where the dogs lounge around) between two humans and thousands of ticks.  Justina has been considered too young for many of the popular anti-tick medications/chemicals/etc which we’ve been giving to Livia, and which had been keeping a lid on things.  Once, after a two day span during which we’d been extremely busy and hadn’t been able to check her, we discovered that all the ticks were holding a convention inside her ears.  As we plucked them all out, we lost count after 125.  There were probably 140 or 150, just in her ears.  If you’re not grossed out already, you will be soon.  Here’s the harvest from the following day, when there were only half as many:

IMG_3758

So, we’ve adopted a daily ritual of plucking, and smashing.  Our porch constantly looks like the crash site of a mobile blood bank.  We spray with poison, and then with bleach.  And we decided it was time to ignore some of the warnings about Justina being too young for tick medication.   Slowly, the tide is beginning to turn.

None of this seems to bother Justina much.  She continues to eat,

Justina Eating

sleep,

Justina Sleeping 2

play,

Justina Playing

and appear generally unconcerned as always.

Unconcerned

Another reason the present plague of ectoparasitic arachnids has been the extremely wet weather.  We do, of course, live surrounded by jungle.   And we are in the rainy season.  That aside, our weather for the past several weeks has been exceptional.  For a couple of days, we were unable to reach our preaching territory, which is on the other side of the Belize River.  For a few weeks, we’ve had to take much longer alternate routes to reach it.  All east-west traffic through San Ignacio/Santa Elena has been confined to the single lane, Hawksworth Bridge, built by the British in 1949.  Water levels are receding now, but the flooding wasn’t without its excitement.

Bridge between San Ignacio and Santa Elena

Bridge between San Ignacio and Santa Elena

Bridge to Spanish Lookout

Bridge to Spanish Lookout

After water levels went down enough to allow us to reach one of our Amish territories in the jungle, we went up there to distribute Kingdom News #38.  I’ve always adopted an air of superiority and snickered at those who outfit their trucks with air intake snorkels.  This day, I was forced to reconsider my position on such things.  As you can see in the following video clip, my hood was partially underwater.  My air filter was, well, soggy.  But, we didn’t wind up stalled in the middle of the creek.  The line between massive disaster and great fun can be pretty thin at times.  This time we managed to stay on the right side of the line.

 

In other news, our friends David and Maria have made it back from Europe.  Their arrival has been in the nick of time, as Abel and Belinda have been appointed to the substitute circuit overseer work, and have been getting quite a workout  in that department.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if they lose the ‘substitute’ part of their job description in the near future.  Ruben and Laura are headed back to Germany at the end of January.  Of course, no sooner did we finish welcoming David and Maria back to Belize, and they received an invitation to attend the Bible School for Christian Couples in Germany.  So, good news overall, but things should get interesting when they leave in March.  As a result, I’m forced to post the following bit of mild encouragement for anyone looking for an avenue of service where the need is greater:

Recruiting Poster

We had a nice visit from our Chico-based friend Sharla in late October.  We’re looking forward to visits from other friends as well… hint.  Speaking of trying to convince our friends to come and visit us, I finally managed to see one of the super-deadly Mayan coral snakes while we were out in service (it’s the most venomous snake in Belize).  The photo’s a bit grainy, because it was actually taken from a bit farther away, and I’ve blown up the tiny spec from my original photo.

945

There is discussion underway at the moment as to what  the language of our congregation should be.  (Not to be confused with our Low German group.)  More and more of the English congregations in Belize have been switching to Kriol, with good results.  For the majority of the population, it’s really the mother tongue.  So who knows maybe next time I post, di Kongregayshun deh taak Kriol.  (I’m not actually sure if that’s correct Kriol or not.  I think it’s close.)

At the moment, we’re hanging out in Palenque, Mexico.  Our Low German convention is next weekend in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua.  We’re super-stoked about meeting other brothers and sisters from all over Mexico, as well as some from the U.S., who are working in this, um…, unique preaching territory.

We left a few days early, and along with Ruben and Laura, drove across Guatemala yesterday.  We’ll bum around Chiapas for a couple days before heading back to Chetumal to meet the rest of the group.  From there, we fly to Mexico City and see the branch office, then up to Cuauhtemoc for the convention: ‘Gott sien Wuat es de Woarheit.’

We had our concerns about hijackings by Kalashnikov-wielding leftist guerillas in Guatemala, but none of these materialized.  Just had to watch out for all the pigs wandering around in the road.  I’ve never seen so many pigs in the road.

Tune in next time for a full report on the Low German convention and associated wanderings.

When last we left off, we were still bogged down in the lawless events of late April.  As it is now September, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  This is why, after a paltry interim of just a tad over two weeks, I am, as promised, posting another installment of this blog.  And, as promised, the content will remain just shy of mediocre.

Our trip back to the U.S. was slated for May 8th.  As some readers endowed with elephantine memories may recall, by this time our friends Abel and Belinda had already been shipped off to the Bible School for Christian Couples in Monterrey, Mexico.  Simultaneously, our other friends David and Maria were gearing up to head back to Europe for an extended stay due to a family emergency.  The only ones not to abandon ship were the three locals, Paul, Olga, and Kerry August, as well as the stalwart German contingent, Ruben and Laura, Julia, and Magnolia.  In order to facilitate the continuation of the group’s meetings during our truancy, David sweet-talked an appointed brother and his wife from a Low German congregation in Dzibalchen, Campeche, Mexico into helping hold down the fort for a few weeks.

So, with a heartfelt ‘So long, suckers!’ we abandoned our faithful brothers to face the oppressive heat of May in Belize, hopped an air-conditioned bus from Chetumal to Cancun, and cruised into SFO amidst a planeload of sunburned tourists.  It  didn’t talk Amanda long to sniff out her favorite mega-corporate-conglomerate coffee purveyor:

529

Our time in the U.S. was a bit of a whirlwind, comprised of eating, visiting family, eating, visiting friends, eating, attending a district convention, eating, working, eating, buying and fixing up a vehicle to drive back and sell in Belize, and eating.  Although I am by no means a ‘foodie,’ I found the culinary variety and quality back home to be mighty nice. 

We spent significant time in San Francisco with Amanda’s parents, Ukiah with my parents, Chico with all our old friends (as well as with my boss and workmates), Sacramento with some of Amanda’s extended family, Cottonwood, CA and The Dalles, Oregon with some of my extended family, Minden, Nevada with my sister and brother-in-law, and Reno, Nevada with some other friends.

The entire trip was thoroughly enjoyable and refreshing, and we were on the receiving end of a boatload of hospitality.  Rather than subjecting the reader to a tedious chronological list of events, I will just mention a few random events:

– My parents’ 40th wedding anniversary was in August.  So us kids threw them a little party in the park.  Other than the minor fact that the day we chose turned out to be 113°F, it was downright pleasant.

– We got to stop by Crater Lake on the way up to visiting family in Oregon.  I’d always wanted to go there, but never gotten around to  it.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

–  We got to give a presentation in Plautdietsch on the service meeting for our congregation back in Chico, which everyone thought was pretty entertaining.  We have no idea what we said, but then again, nobody in the audience could tell the difference.

– We were fed the best ribs we had ever eaten, complete with super-secret-recipe homemade BBQ sauce.

As previously mentioned, we bought a vehicle soon after arriving.  Abel and Belinda Narro graduated from Couple’s School shortly after we reached the U.S., and much to our relief, they were assigned back to our group in Belize.  They were needing a vehicle (they’d sold their old pickup before it crumbled beneath them) so they asked us to look around for something for them.  This worked out great for us, since we needed some way to get around.  We found a good deal on an Isuzu Trooper, which is an ideal Belize vehicle, and drove it back down.

Trooper photo op above Panamint Valley

Trooper photo op above Panamint Valley

Our drive back was once again uneventful.  On our way south, we plotted our route to allow me to get my Death Valley fix. Although we didn’t have the time to stop and do anything there, just the drive through allowed me to further postpone serious withdrawal symptoms.

Death Valley Dunes

Death Valley Dunes

The temperature plummets as evening sets in

The temperature plummets as evening sets in

The Badlands

The Badlands

We opted for a different route through Mexico this time.

Route through Mexico 2

We now considered ourselves seasoned experts at driving through Mexico, having done it a grand total  of once before.  So, brimming with confidence, we could scarcely conceal our disdain for our previous ‘beginner route,’ which had clung to the U.S. side of the border as long as possible, like a scared child to his teddy bear. Instead, we waltzed into Mexico like we owned the place at Nogales (where I got a couple of cavities filled at a dentist’s office 30 feet over the border and for 30% of the U.S. price), and then heading down the coast to Mazatlan.  From Mazatlan, we climbed up to Durango, via the rather dramatically named, 8,000 ft. elevation, “Espinazo del Diablo” pass.  As it was quite misty that day, I’ve plagiarized someone else’s picture.

Espinazo del Diablo

It’s not nearly so bad as its name would suggest, but the double semi-trailers you encounter barreling down the road in your lane with only dubious command of their brakes do add an element of suspense.  For further reading, visit: http://www.dangerousroads.org/mexico/63-espinazo-del-diablo-mexico.html

As is the nature of 3,500 mile one-week drives where you try to avoid driving at night, we didn’t have a lot of extra time for sightseeing.  This is a shame, since the cities of Zacatecas and Puebla in particular both seemed to warrant some extended visitation.

Zacatecas

Zacatecas

Puebla (where VWs come from!)

Puebla (where VWs come from!)

Finally, after 6 hours of dealing with customs officials at the border, we were back in Belize on July 1.  As fun as it had been to be back in the first world for a while, we’d also missed our friends here in the third.  They had dinner waiting for us, and, to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “There was much rejoicing.”

Of course, no sooner did we wake up the next day, then the proverbial piper dropped by, demanding payment.  Having had enjoyed Yin of a rather charmed existence for the past few weeks, the Yan of being way behind on our service time (as well as work and other things) took over.  I’m happy to report that we did manage to fulfill our hour goal for the year sometime late in the evening of August 30.  (A whole day to spare!)  Work is almost caught up as well.

During these frenzied couple of months, a few noteworthy things took place.

We were bummed to lose five members of our Low German group.  Paul and Olga, two of the locals, decided to move back to the English congregation.  A number of health problems had made it difficult for them to keep making progress with the language.  Fortunately, their daughter Kerry has been able to remain with us.  Lena, the ex-Mennonite, also decided to move to English.  Apparently, this is fairly common among Mennonites who come into the truth; it can be very difficult for them to go back and preach among their old communities.  And lastly, Julia and Magnolia, two of “the Germans” previously mentioned, decided to move to Dzibalchen, Mexico.  The cost of living up there is a fair amount less than living in Belize, which was eating through their savings faster than expected.  So at the moment, we’re down to seven.  Me & Amanda, Kerry, Abel & Belinda, and Ruben & Laura, whom we now refer to as “the Zimmermanns,” rather than “the Germans.” Much to our relief, we’ve also heard from David & Maria that they will be returning within a month, so that’ll bring us back up to 9.  We certainly have plenty of opportunities to comment during the Watchtower study, though.

We enjoyed our first visit from the circuit overseer and his wife to our group.  This was very upbuilding, and their attitude was very encouraging.  We were impressed with their effort to learn and speak some Plautdietsch during the few days they were with us.  For those of you who know Jordan and Chandra Fournier, our circuit overseer and his wife, Mike and Heather Laschinski, were in the same Gilead Class with them.

Reinforcements

Reinforcements

Jordan and Chandra, of course, were sent to Malawi, while Mike and Heather wound up in Panama for seven years before they were re-assigned to Belize.  They stayed at our house, and I got to swap old war stories with Mike about getting stuck (and un-stuck) with Toyota Landcruisers (they had a fine specimen of an FJ-70 Troopy in Panama).  He also had some impressive footage of some very serious mud and river driving from Panama which was necessary to reach some assemblies in isolated areas.  (I’m pretty sure he just opted for a short-cut rather than taking the six-lane paved road to his destination.)  Either way, it made my truck seem a bit docile by comparison.

I was also dubbed by Mike the “gassiest guy in Belize.”  This does not mean what you think it means.  He was simply referring to the smashing success of my fancy-schmancy water carbonator kit that Amanda bought for me in the U.S. as an early anniversary gift.  Consisting of a CO2 tank, regulator, and adaptor for plastic bottle cap threads, I’m single-handedly helping to reduce global warming through carbon sequestration.  Nothing is better halfway through a long, hot day of service than to crack open a used liter coke bottle filled with cold water that’s had 50 psi of CO2 forced into it.  On occasion, I’ve held the 50 psi safety relief valve closed and crammed 60+ psi into a bottle, producing water fizzy enough to turn asphalt into gravel.  Entertainment options here are a bit limited.

In a shameless effort to earn brownie points with our circuit overseer, we raced to get our public witnessing booth and requisite accessories completed so as to launch our  public witnessing effort during his visit.  While it won’t provide much protection against, say, a category 5 hurricane, and it admittedly betrays a certain paucity of architectural merit, it does keep the sun off, theoretically will keep rain off, and was cheap.  So, ever since our CO visit, we’ve had our booth up every Wednesday on the grass in front of the police station.  The police station is the only piece of ground in Spanish Lookout which is not subject to leverage from the churches.

Break the champagne bottle

Break the champagne bottle

As with most preaching efforts in our Low German territory, response isn’t overwhelming, but we have managed to nearly create a number of car accidents due to people staring as they drive by.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with a few action shots from the work here.

Amanda and Belinda

Amanda and Belinda

Amanda and Laura

Amanda and Laura

Me and Ruben

Ruben and I

And…. my favorite:

Kids of a return visit.  How's that for juxtaposition?

Kids of a return visit. How’s that for juxtaposition?

Seeing as my goal of cranking out monthly blog posts has gone down in a manner reminiscent of the LZ129 Hindenburg (Oh, the humanity!), I’ve been forced to the conclusion that the production of a voluminous work of finely crafted literary genius on a regular basis is beyond my present time constraints.  This conclusion, thought no doubt of interest to somebody else, is hardly pertinent to my blog.  Of more direct consequence, though, is the further conclusion that even to produce a rambling, tedious manifesto of such protracted duration is too great an undertaking at present.  The resultant bad news, then, is that the blog posts will not be getting any better.  The good news is that that they’ll at least be shorter.

Hindenburg

Almost half  of the past four months were spent on a trip back to the United States.  As I suspect that most people who squander their valuable time reading a blog with a cheesy title like “dajunglebook” aren’t looking for a report on the exotic ‘jungle’ of Northern California, I will do my utmost keep this portion of the of the story a tasteful minimum.

In this installment, I will regale you with a story that took place, for the most part, after my last blog post, but before we went back to the U.S.  Then, I hope, I will bring us up to the present with a couple more posts soon to follow.

It all began with a holler at the gate.  (Normally, it would be a knock at the door, but people don’t knock on doors around here, they yell from the gate.)  I went outside to find one of San Ignacio’s finest standing there, with others sitting in pickup behind him (maybe for backup).  He said he needed to come in, so in he came.  He informed me that my electric fence was illegal.  (You may recall my previous tales of woe, all of which orbited about my dog, for whom the noble pursuit of liberty (from the yard) is second only to the pursuit of chewing up our stuff.)  This electric fence had proven to be my one and only successful means of crushing her ardor for freedom.

You can easily imagine my despair upon discovering that this singular solution was outside the boundaries of the Belizean legal code.  You probably cannot quite imagine my disbelief upon further being notified that due to my lawless actions, I was now “in Dutch with the fuzz.” Not only had I brazenly violated section LCVIIX of article XXIVM, subset 042.11.006, sub-subset b, exception (2c), of the “San Ignacio Made-Up-On-The-Spot Bogus Criminal Code,” but I was also facing a civil suit from the concerned parent of a child, who, while being scrupulously supervised at the playground of an adjacent day-care facility, had reached into my yard and touched the wire.  This caused permanent damage to the boy/victim, although my inquiries into the particulars of the damage indicated that it was imaginary in nature.

So that my crimes might be properly documented, a stream of official personnel all filed into my yard.  Technicians from the electrical utility were summoned.  One matronly officer, bearing numerous insignia denoting rank and importance upon her exalted uniform, grimly jotted down dimensions relayed to her by underlings running around with a tape measure.  The technicians were dispatched to investigate my contraband $20-from-Amazon.com electric fence energizer.  A crime photographer fervently captured frame after frame, burning through storage on her digital camera’s memory card like a 7-year-old who has just been given a 10-pack of caps for his cap gun.

Caps

Then, just as this locomotive of law and order began to chug along at full steam, it ran out of coal.  The electrical technicians were attempting to measure the voltage generated by the fence energizer, while the photographer was trying mightily to capture an image of a high reading on their instrument. l attempted to explain to them that while the voltage would be high, the current was limited to prevent it from being a danger.  This was about as successful as trying to reassure an arachnophobe that the Namibian Six Eyed Sand Spider is not aggressive and rarely bites unless threatened.

Six Eyed Sand Spider

Fortunately, though, their ignorance of this principle also resulted in their failure to grasp that the energizer sends out voltage in pulses, which means that the 800 volt pulses showed up on their meter as sporadic readings of 2, 6, 5, 11, 4, 3, 9 volts, and so on.  They managed to get one reading as high as 18 volts.  I managed to restrain myself from showing them the setting on their instrument which would properly measure such a pulsed voltage level.

Tension hung in the air, as the law enforcement team grew increasingly frustrated with their inability to obtain any evidence of high voltage.  This tension was finally diffused by the derisive laughter of the electrical technicians, who thought it was hilarious that such an august throng had been assembled over such an insignificant and harmless little electrical device.  This laughter eventually won out against the stern scowls of the police, and the Corporal in charge grudgingly told me that I needed to put up signs to notify people of the fence, and that I should put up some barrier where my yard adjoined that of the preschool to prevent the well-supervised children from reaching into my yard to touch the wire and suffer permanent imaginary damage.  I gladly promised to comply, and the whole circus filed back out through the gate.

With great vigor and vim, I promptly put up chicken wire all along the fence adjacent to the day-care and had some top-notch signs made (by the same guy who made my license plates.)  Satisfied that all was well, we embarked, carefree, on our trip back to California.

No sooner had we stepped again onto American soil, then I received a message from my friend David, who reported that some other high-ranking dignitary had returned, looking for me.  David told him I would not be back for several weeks, and prudently “uninstalled” the entire electric fence, as its continued existence was becoming something of a dignitary-magnet.  This effort largely stemmed the tide of official visits, and only one more was reported to us by Ruben and Laura, our German friends who stayed at our house while we were gone.  They shrewdly capitalized on their limited English, and the visitor left frustrated.

So, to put a fork in this saga, by the time we returned, it appears that all of the governmental departments with criminal or civil interests in the affair had found other matters to keep them occupied.  To date, we have not again had the honor of another visit.  Not  only that, but Livia was still there, albeit accustomed to coming and going as she pleased.  I dropped another couple hundred USD on a radio collar system while we were in the U.S., and after about 12 man-hours of slaving in the tropical sun to bury a wire around the lengthy perimeter of our vast yard (Ruben unwittingly offered to help me), we had the heartwarming experience of watching Livia confidently trot toward one of her preferred escape routes, only to be zapped by the black alchemy of technology.

Coolhand Luke

Next time:  Living high on the hog north of the border(s).

… by which, of course, I mean Memorial season.  As Memorial season begins to wind down, I was reminded of this “blog-thingy” I once used to write.  Turns out, the last time I wrote anything was the end of January.  No doubt it has been arduous for many of you, being deprived, for such an interminable period of time, of the long-winded, meandering, and magniloquent (a new gem of a word I’ve just discovered!) anecdotes emanating from my computer keyboard.  Thus, it is with a heavy heart that I must ruefully prolong such onerous deprivation.  You see, over the past two months, there has been so much genuine activity taking place, that just to mention some of the more interesting events will preclude much of my normal rambling style.   Lucky you.

So, to begin… the Low German group.  Since that’s pretty much what our lives revolve around here, it’s a good place to start.  Proceeding in semi-reverse chronological order, we had our Memorial.  This was the first Low German Memorial ever held in this area.  Our group teamed up with ASL congregation (also very small), and we rented a meeting room attached to a hotel in town.  This proved to be a good move.  The room was well lit, had plenty of chairs set up for us in advance, and, get this, it had air conditioning.  This last part we took as strong evidence of Jehovah’s blessing.  ASL had theirs first, and we took the late shift.

Beforehand, we all wondered aloud if anybody would show up.  From what I’m told, in other small Low German congregations in other places, one usually doesn’t expect a great onslaught of interested ones to attend.  Not even a tiny little onslaught.  So we were happy/surprised when a number of interested ones that we visited the day before said that they would come.  Of course, these were from among the poor Mennonites, so none of them had transportation.  So we rounded up all the vehicles we could muster and, as CW McCall would say, “We had us a convoy.”

Final tally was 50 present at the Memorial.  There are currently 14 publishers in our group.  We also had 7 publishers there who were visiting from a Low German group in Texas, so in reality, 29 of the 50 people were interested ones from the territory.  Needless to say, we are stoked.

On a side note, we really enjoyed having the Benson family and their friends from Texas visit our group.  They’re in one of only two Low German groups in the U.S.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to eventually visit their group on a trip back to the States.

Of course, in order to get people to the Memorial, we had to invite them.  We actually managed to reach every household in our territory with 2 days to spare.  This included the 2,500 or so living in Spanish Lookout, as well as probably nearly 1,000 in the Ool Kolonie and Amish settlements in the vicinity.  Not bad for 14 publishers.  Interestingly, we were sent 500 invitations from the branch.  When all the dust settled, there were 2 left over (and there were definitely none languishing in the bottom of bookbags, we even used the ones where I screwed up by printing the time and place on the wrong side).  One is in our possession, and one went home with my Dad after my parents visited.  We may have to write the branch and request that they don’t send us so many extras next time…

Some eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that we now have 14 publishers in our group.  We have recently imported 4 more publishers, direct from Germany.  Ruben & Laura are a married couple, and they brought along with them Julia and Magnolia, both single sisters.  Not only were they able to start communicating in Plautdietsch within hours of arrival, but they are also a lot of fun to be around.  The Mennonites here take immense pride in being ‘Germans,’ in spite of the fact that most have to go back 400 years or so before they hit an ancestor who actually lived in Prussia, or Friesland, or some other  Germanic country.   So these Germans, who are the real deal, are kind of like rock stars, after a certain manner.

Here’s a picture of us heading out to distribute some of our 498 invitations.  Those in the picture are, from left to right, Magnolia, Laura, Ruben, Lena, Maria, David, Julia, Galen, Amanda, Sally, Bob, Belinda, and Abel.  Not present are the August family: Paul, Olga, and Kerry.

Invitation Work

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Lena already, but he deserves an introduction.  She’s been a Mennonite her whole life, and she’s now progressed to being a publisher.  She’s been studying with David and Maria for some time.  In spite of strong opposition from her family, she continues to study, come  to the meetings, and now for the past couple of months, share in the field ministry.  She was very moved to be at a Plautdietsch Memorial and to see so many other Mennonites attend.

At the moment, although we’ve technically got 14 publishers, we are down to 12 for a time.  That’s because Abel and Belinda have been whisked away to the Bible School for Christian Couples.  Of course, we are really happy they have this privilege, and we’re excited for them, etc., etc.,  but mostly we are selfishly missing them and living in denial of the possibility that they’ll receive an assignment to serve somewhere else.  Their flight to Monterrey, Mexico left the morning after the Memorial from Cancun, so after the Memorial ended, we did a midnight run to drop them off in Chetumal, Mexico, where they could catch the 4 AM bus to Cancun.  This is how they looked when we left them.

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There is, of course, one more item remaining related to the Memorial Season – the special talk.  David did the Memorial talk, Abel is off learning cool stuff and drinking non-Belikin beer in the evenings, so that leaves…me.

Soo, Ekj woa miene Baste doonen, de Froag auntowuaten, “Bringt de Doot aules toom Enj?”

So, I’m going to do my best to answer the question, “Does Death End it All?”

We have our meeting on Saturday (today), so I’ve got about 4 hours left.  I’m so sick of hearing my own voice practicing, I decided to take a break and write a blog entry.  It just so happens that David and Maria are also gone this week, so that means I’ll also be conducting the Wachtturmstudium today, as well as doing de Bibelstudium von de Vesaumlunk, daut Wijchtijche, and de School fa dän christeljen Deenst on Tuesday, all in a language which I don’t really speak.  (Fortunately, we still have our service meeting with the English)  It’ll be a wild ride.  Thankfully, David and Maria read through the entire public talk and painstakingly corrected all the wrong stuff I had written, so at least one of the above parts will be more or less correct.

I’m sure some will take some fiendish glee in my relating of one particularly conspicuous language-related mistake that I may have had some role in.  In Plautdietsch, the word fuaz means “right away.”  So, when one particular brother was conducting the Congregation Bible Study one week, and the lesson was fairly long, he said that we should “fuaz” get the lesson underway.  He uttered this particular word with great gusto, since this brother may have been proud of having just added it to his limited vocabulary.  This happened to be the first meeting attended by our friends from Germany.  This particular brother’s pronunciation of fuaz, may have been very similar to how the high German word Furz is pronounced.  At least 9 of those present knew what Furz means, and gradually all of the lip biting, and silent convulsions gave way to full-blown uproarious laughter.  If you don’t speak German, and want to know what Furz means, feel free to use Google Translate.  Eventually, that particular brother also found out what it means.

As I already mentioned in passing, my mom and dad came to visit us at the beginning of March.  They stayed for about 12 days, and a very good time was had by all.  It was nice to be able to introduce them to some of our friends down here, to take them out in service with us, and simply to visit.  It was sort of an at-home vacation – we did quite a bit of sight-seeing, some hiking, swimming, and cave-tubing (floating on inner tubes down a river through limestone caves.)

Instead of  trying to do a lot of narrating from here on out, I thought I’d just put up a few pictures from the last couple of months along with brief explanations, in no particular order.  Some of these were taken by my Dad when they were here:

Thousand Foot Falls

Thousand Foot Falls – the highest waterfall in Central America. Actually about 1600 feet high.

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The entrance to Rio Frio Cave

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Packin ’em in for service

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Kerry is the one behind Julia. Now I only need to get pictures of two others to complete the group.

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Spectators in Spanish Lookout

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Xunantunich

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Lunch break at Aguacate Lagoon

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Mom & Dad after hiking up to Tiger Fern Camp, in the Cockscomb Basin. Victoria Peak, (once believed to be) the highest point in Belize at 3,675′, is in the background.

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Tiger Fern Falls. Nice place to swim.

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Tarzan-ina, hanging from a water vine.

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Dad jumping into Caves Branch River.

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Floating into the mouth of a cave.

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This is my happy face.

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This is my angry face. (Spider monkey at Belize Zoo.)

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This is my hungry face. (Zoo)

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Albino Quash at the zoo

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Don, Joe, Jake, and Dave, after we did a very rainy camping trip in the jungle.

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Thousand Foot Falls again.

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Parents at Xunantunich

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Don’t feed the animals

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Junior the Jaguar

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Scarlet Macaw

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The view from atop the biggest building at Caracol. May still be the highest building in Belize. If not, it was until very recently.

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Base of a Ceiba tree.

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Tried to take a ‘shortcut’ to get ino Spanish Lookout the ‘back way.’ Turned to be an abandoned logging trail, eventually had to break out the machete and saw to cut our way through.

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Annual Belize Cross Country bicycle race. Starts in Belize City, comes up to San Ignacio, around the round-about, and then back.

If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you.  Now, to complete our multimedia ‘experience,’ we have some interesting animal noises.  All of the wildlife pictures thus far are from animals in the Belize zoo.  However, we ran across a couple of ‘troops?’ of howler monkeys when we went to the Mayan city of Caracol.  Unfortunately, no pictures, as the camera battery died, but we were certainly within dung-flinging range, had they gotten any more upset with us.  Instead, we just got to hear them ‘howl.’

On that note, thanks for reading.  We’re headed back to the U.S. from early/mid May to mid/late June, so we’re looking forward to seeing many of our Californian friends whom we’ve been missing since we left.

Belize is currently locked in the icy grip of a winter cold snap.  Daytime highs have plummeted below the 80°F mark, while overnight lows have, on more than one occasion, plunged below 60.  In a show of solidarity and defiance by the hardy people of this tiny land, roads are still open, and school remains in session.  Students can be seen braving the severe conditions and walking to school.  Mercifully, so far, no deaths have been reported.

Last week was a milestone for me.  It was the first time, since we arrived, that I elected to wear long pants in a situation where I could’ve worn shorts instead.  So, how have I been making the most of this refreshing window of cool weather?  By staying inside trying to get over a cold.  Fortunately, I’ve just about got it licked, and the weather prediction calls for the cool temperatures to remain a bit longer, so I should be enjoying it shortly.  The indoor exile has, though, given me pause to add a new blog post, a task which I’ve been accomplishing with less regularity of late.

Since the last post, the most significant even in our lives has been the Low German language course.  This was not an official language course from the Branch.  Rather, it was the two elders who know Low German, David and Abel, voluntarily teaching a 6-day course to help the rest of those in the group, using an official syllabus from the branch as a guide.  Kommandant Abel drilled us on vocabulary, while Sproakmeister David illuminated for us the dazzling world of indirect object pronouns, imperfect participles, and the dative tense.  Here is the impromptu classroom on our front porch.  You can see Amanda conjugating regular verbs while David, by the expression on his face, has obviously just make some kind of wisecrack about her use of a green marker pen.  (Those of you  who know Amanda well can understand the significance.

LWX Class

The course was a huge help.  I had, until the course, prepared most of my comments and meeting parts by combing the Low German Bible Teach book for a sentence with a similar structure to what I wanted to say, and then substituting my words in there, having no clear idea why the sentence was structured in this way.  Now, I can actually painstakingly make sentences which are somewhere in the general vicinity of being right.  The vocabulary saturation has also given us enough of a repertoire to slooooowly say simple things off the top of our heads.

Unfortunately, our course was cut short after only 5 days.  On the morning of day 6, I got a call from David saying that Maria (his wife) had been in a car accident while going to pick up another sister who was in the class.  We jumped in my truck and raced over to where it had happened.  Fortunately, Maria was not seriously hurt other than a couple of bruises and sore muscles.  She had an airbag, which made a big difference.  An oncoming drunk guy (at 8:00 in the morning) made a hard left directly into her path.  He was cut up by glass, but also not too seriously hurt.

Car Wreck

The whole thing happened to take place directly in front of the police station, where about 4 officers were standing around smoking.  To quote Arlo Guthrie,”they was usin’ up all kinds of cop equipment  that they had hangin’ around the police officer’s station.  They was takin’ plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints…the northwest corner the southwest corner and that’s not to mention the aerial photography.”  This was very fortunate, since it can be extremely difficult to prove fault and collect compensation around here.  But after 3 weeks of having no wheels, and the requisite hassles with insurance, I’m glad to report that the Schawohls are once again mobile with a very similar, maybe even slightly better vehicle.  Getting something of this nature resolved this quickly in Belize is very rare.

In other Low German news, we now have our own Public Meeting/Watchtower Study at our own time slot, with the Hall all to ourselves.  Here is a picture of our first speaker giving our first public talk.

Public Talk

No, the speaker is not an invisible being from the spirit realm.  It is David’s iPhone, sitting on the podium with the microphone trained on it.  Our first few public talks are recordings from the Low German 2011 District Convention in Chihuahua, Mexico.  We have nobody nearby to trade speakers with, and none of us have many Low German public talks prepared.  So for now, it’s recordings played off of the iPhone.  Eventually, we’ll get real fancy and get the audio adapter to plug it into the main sound amplifier, rather than dangling the mike over it.

We also now have our very own year text up on the wall next to the English and Spanish (and eventually Kriol whenever they get around to hanging theirs).

Year Text

To those of you who have been following my bitter struggle to keep our dog, Livia, in the yard, I am happy to report that my electric fence has been very effective.  There was one minor setback involving breach in the fence under the electric wire, but this was easily remedied by zig-zagging a copious length of energized wire in front of the area in question.  Now that she has readjusted to life within the confines of her 1/4 acre domain, Livia has been taking perimeter patrol very seriously.  A few days ago, as I was working on something on the porch, I heard a barrage of barking from the back yard.  I ignored it for a while, but when it didn’t let up, I ambled back there to investigate, and found the following standoff underway:

Dog vs Iguana

I don’t know how the iguana got into the yard, I think he might have fallen out of an adjacent tree with overhanging limbs.  I tied up the dog, and determined I’d have to catch him to get him back outside the yard.  I was a bit uneasy; this thing was over 3 feet long from stem to stern.  I’d never caught a lizard anywhere near that big with my bare hands.  So, I procrastinated.  I went and got my camera and took some pictures of it.  I went and got my rubber boots.  I rummaged around and found a pair of gloves.  I went in the house and had a snack.  When I finally went out to take care of business, he was gone.  It just goes to prove that if you ignore a problem long enough, it can magically take care of itself.

While I was photographing the iguana (who unfortunately kept trying to make himself as small as possible when I’d get near), I also got some nice shots of toucans in our soursop tree.  Lest you cry fraud at seeing these birds, bear in mind that there are two kinds of toucan in Belize.  These are a bit less ostentatious than their more famous cousins.  Still, I think they’re worth having a look at.

Iguana

DSCN3620 Toucans

Amanda’s parents, Berto and Renee, have come from San Francisco to visit.  Berto was only able to stay a week before he had to head back for work.  Renee will be here until next Tuesday.  Berto and I stopped in briefly at Blue Hole National Park (not to be confused with “The” Blue Hole, 40 miles off the coast of Belize.)

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We also made it over to Xunantunich, which is a Mayan ruin only about 5 miles from us.

Xunantunich Overview

Berto & Renee

And, last but not least, we went for two days out to Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast near the barrier reef.

Caye Caulker

When last I updated this narrative, the reader may recall that I was then locked in a bitter struggle of will and wit with a formidable opponent – our dog. After witnessing her climbing prowess, I had added a labyrinth of barbed wire to the top of the fence, smugly complimenting myself on the unassailable barrier I had created, only to discover Livia missing yet again. I discovered that she had squeezed through a roughly 5″ square gap in the barbed wire (enlarging it and scraping herself up in the process). I added more wire. An escalation of the conflict occurred later that evening, after I’d already gotten her back into the hard. I heard a frantic yelping from the general direction of the previous escape. Racing out there, I discovered Livia, dangling from the top of the fence by one hind paw, which was tangled in the wire, and going bezerk. She was hanging on the opposite side, so I did my best to reach through the barbed wire and hold her up to take the weight off the paw, while shouting for Amanda to bring my wire cutters. Since Amanda had no idea where my wire cutters were, it took some time to convey instructions and for her to bring them, during which time Livia was thrashing and yelping and biting and generally failing to comport herself with restraint and dignity. My arms, which were extended through the barbed wire, felt as if they’d been attached by a bunch of deranged French chefs wielding lemon zesters. Eventually, Amanda got back with the wire cutters, and Livia dropped to the ground, surprisingly without serious injury, and, not surprisingly, with no intention of learning anything from the experience.
During this episode, somewhere between the loss of the 2nd and 3rd hectare of my brachial epidermis, I came to the realization that if I did not do something a bit more effective to prevent a repeat of these events, Livia and I both might soon be answering to ‘Stumpy’ or ‘Lefty.’ So the next day, I skipped service and instead stayed home making a bunch of insulative standoffs out of PVC pipe and then running a wire around the entire perimeter of the yard about 3′ off the ground. David loaned me his electric fence energizer. Ah, the wonders of electricity!

Doc - JumpersThere were a couple of initial glitches. The first time she tried to climb over the fence at her usual preferred point of egress, Livia yelped in pain from the wire, but decided that the best way to escape the shocking sensation was to leap forward over the fence instead of backwards away from it. So I strung more wire back in forth in front of that corner of the yard to keep her from even approaching the fence there. Soon after, I again heard frantic yelping. This time, she’d gotten herself through the first section of electrified wire and was now trapped in ‘no-man’s land’ surrounded by wires. I shut the fence off, got her out, and added another half dozen zig-zags of wire to that corner of the yard, which now resembles the DMZ at the 38th parallel.

DMZ
So far, so good.
You may recall my making mention of some of our local brothers appearing on the pages of the December Study Watchtower. Here’s the picture.

Velasquez-RickettsYou see above John & Dianne Ricketts along with Gertrudis and Angela Velasquez, four members of our Santa Elena English congregation.

Monday before last, we went to Chetumal, Mexico. We went with Abel and Belinda, who are the two special pioneers in our Low German group. They are from Monterrey, Mexico, population 4,000,000. Being city folk, from time to time they like to have a vacation day and go to the city. Chetumal is by no means a big city, but with 150,000 inhabitants, it has within its limits a population equivalent to half of the country of Belize. And since there are no other options within 8 hours, it’s what there is.
Although I didn’t have quite the same level of excitement about going as Amanda did, I’ll admit that the prospect of a restaurant serving something other than Chinese food or salbutes, as well as the availability of beer other than the ubiquitous Belikin (brewed and bottled by Bowen & Bowen LTD, by the way), was appealing. Either way, it was a chance to get out of town, which I always like.
We did all of the above – ate some good burgers, drank some good beer, filled up with truck with diesel for about 40% less than it would’ve cost in Belize, enjoyed a change of scenery, etc.

However, the highlight of the trip was…. drum roll please…..

… Walmart.

Those of you who have ever had the opportunity to discuss Walmart with Amanda may recall that she’s historically been somewhat less than enthusiastic in her endorsement of this particular retail chain. Seeing Amanda in a Walmart would be like seeing Fidel Castro, Kim Jung Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez playing horseshoes together at a 4th of July picnic.

I therefore challenge the reader to select which of the following photos is not a hoax.

Loch Ness

Bigfoot

UFO

Walmart

You guessed it, Sasquatch is real.

In other news, our Plautdietsch skills are gradually progressing. Amanda’s been giving her ministry school talks completely without English, and I managed an entire Plautdietsch Bible Highlights last week. I was told afterwards that it mostly made sense. We’re still a ways from being able to do much conversing. I figure it’s currently taking me about an 1.5 hours of preparation per minute of speaking. This week, I’m supposed to conduct the congregation Bible Study. Ekj denkj daut een Beläwniss daut woat sennen.  We will be having a language course at the end of this month, conducted by David and Abel. Amanda and I can’t wait. The territory around here seems to be softening slightly, being able to speak Plautdietsch will be a huge advantage.

We’ve recently received a couple of interesting letters from the branch. The first one is requesting those who speak Plautdietsch to consider going to the US next summer for a few weeks to work Mennonite and Amish territory there. Assuming we know enough Plautdietsch by then, it will be mildly ironic if we wind up taking a trip back to the US to preach where the need is greater.

All congregations under the Mexico branch also recently received a letter with a goal for the 2013 service year. The goal is for each congregation publisher to help one Bible Study from the territory progress to the point of becoming a publisher. It’s an ambitious goal, but an exciting one as well. Fortunately for me, I hung on to one Belizean Bible study before we joined the Low German. He’s very progressive and has come to several meetings, so I’m currently well-positioned. If he doesn’t come through, though, it’ll be a real challenge, given the fact that no Mennonites from Belize have yet come into the truth.

We spent two days last week using GPS devices to map some of the outer reaches of our group’s territory. I’m now working on creating some useful territory maps from the data we collected. We got to see some beautiful jungle in the process, I’ll leave you with a couple pictures.

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P.S.  We’re in the market for a cheap CDMA cell phone (CDMA is the kind that works with Verizon, doesn’t use a SIM card).  There’s an alternate communications company down here that offers relatively good rates on calls to the U.S. if you purchase a specific plan.  If anybody has an old used one that they’re willing to part with cheap, please let me know.  It doesn’t need to be fancy – just needs to make phone calls – the simpler the better.