Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wheel of Fortune

Last Friday dawned with an azure sky, few clouds, and very little chance of rain. In short, it was perfect weather for a road trip. Our friends, Colleen and Bruce, were in the market for a new ceiling fan. Rumor had it there may be some name brand fans available in Orange Walk or Belize City.

They invited us to tag along, as we wanted to look for a few items ourselves in that part of the country. And as our new RAV was with our mechanic to get a minor part replacement, we figured it would be a fun way to spend the day.

You might remember from my previous post that Colleen and Bruce bought our Rodeo. This would be her maiden road trip with her new owners. Bruce had already gotten the car detailed and had swapped the tires from their old Rodeo, as they were newer.  She was looking spiffy.

We hit the road for Orange Walk, which is about a 45-50 minute drive. After checking out a few stores, it became apparent that we would need to go to Belize City to find any selection of good quality fans.

We loaded ourselves back in the car. With Bruce behind the wheel, David acted as co-pilot to provide a heads-up for speed bumps. Colleen and I were in the back seat chatting away as usual. With some light jazz playing in the background, it was a delight.

At one point, we rode over a patch of highway and all of us noticed a peculiar sound, but it seemed to go away and we wrote it off to it being a vibration from the road surface.

Then, out of nowhere, there was a loud noise and front driver’s side hit the pavement. Bruce masterfully guided the car, which was travelling at about 55 miles per hour, off the highway and onto the shoulder.

For a moment, there was stunned silence. We all then checked with one another to make sure everyone was okay. I thought we had blown a tire. We got out of the car and walked around to the front to see this:

The. Tire. Flew. Off! IT FLEW THE F*&^% OFF! By all rights, the car should have flipped and probably more than once. Clearly our guardian angels went into their own form of overdrive to keep us all safe and sound.

All of us were initially at a loss to explain how it could have happened. Colleen mentioned that from the corner of her eye, she caught the tire hopping down the highway and into the jungle.

Now let me tell you something about the stretch of highway we were on: there is absolutely nothing but jungle and bush for miles in either direction. No houses, no villages, no nothing.These shots should give you some idea of what I mean.

If you look toward the back of the car you can see the groove that the brake made in the macadam. You can also see how steady Bruce kept the car as he made his way to the shoulder. 

At about this point, a pickup that was driving behind us pulled up, and the driver got out to see if he could help. He said he saw a big puff of smoke. We suspect that it was from the tire first getting stuck under the fender, then more when it broke away and scattered whatever marl was on the undercarriage. 

We quickly came to regard Mr. William Usher as a life saver. While he wasn’t familiar with the area, as we worked in Belmopan, he did have co-workers in the area. He got in touch with them, who in turn promised to arrange for a tow truck and a mechanic. And let me just tell you, tow trucks are a rarity in this part of the country. After checking once again that we all were okay, he provided Colleen with the name and contact number of his co-worker and assured us help was on the way.

In the meantime, the guys went in search of the tire. It took three attempts wading through thorn bushes and muck, but the tire was finally located. And believe it or not, it and the rim were in good shape. The same could not be said for David and Bruce’s legs. Both looked like they had been attacked by a herd of cats.

While the guys were battling the thorn bushes, Colleen and I worked on coming up with the remaining part of the rescue mission. We sincerely doubted there would be enough room in the tow truck, should one be found, for four of us.

Colleen called a friend of ours to see if he could come and get us. Unfortunately, he was at the Belize airport waiting for his flight to be called. However, his wife was driving back and would need to come down this stretch of highway. We got in touch with her, provided as good a location that we could (there being no landmarks or mile markers on this stretch), and settled in to wait.

Fortunately we had sufficient water and some leftover breakfast tortillas that we purchased on our way to Orange Walk. We had the flashers on and opened all the windows, plus passenger side doors to catch the stray breeze.

All told, we waited for about an hour, then Colleen’s phone rang (that’s another thing – the fact that a signal could even be found considering the location we were in was a miracle).  The cavalry were on their way, and we saw a black Chevy Suburban with our friend’s wife coming in the opposite direction, flashing its lights. On the heels of this, we got the call that the tow truck was on its way as well.

It had been agreed between the four of us that Colleen and I would ride back with our friends to pick up Colleen’s car. The guys would stay with the Rodeo and wait for the tow truck. At this stage, we presumed the car would be towed someplace in Orange Walk and be out of commission for at least a day or two.

Colleen and I arrived at her house about 45 minutes later. After using the bathroom, Colleen changed her clothes, and I sucked down a cigarette. The guys called while we were at the house and let us know that instead of being towed to Orange Walk, the mechanic was in a place called Carmalita Village (about a 50 minute drive from Corozal).

Colleen and I hopped in her car, drove into town to grab food to go at one of our favorite restaurants, Jam Rock. The owner thoughtfully put a rush on our order having heard our story. Adrenaline was still pumping as we waited for our to-go boxes. I will say the glass of white wine I chugged down did take off  a teeny edge.  

I paid for lunch and with food at the ready, we got back in Colleen’s car and headed for Carmalita Village. Now Colleen drives a cute little Tracker, which she swore would never be used outside of town.  Unfortunately with our car being with the mechanic, we didn’t have a choice. Along the way, Colleen stopped for gas to ensure we could get down there and back without incident.

While on the road, we heard again from the guys. It seemed that after making multiple runs with the mechanic’s wife to a junk yard and car parts store in Orange Walk, the mechanic was optimistic the car could be fixed that afternoon. But this being Belize, we thought it was better to be prepared that it wouldn’t happen.

As an aside, there happened to be another weird coincidence that day. David unknowingly had put more money in his wallet than he thought. This turned out to be a huge help, because many places here don’t take credit cards, especially in small villages.

Colleen and I arrived in Carmalita Village, but overshot the lane we needed to turn into. I called the guys, who just happened to be returning from their latest parts run and were approaching in the opposite direction. We followed them in and it’s a good thing they were in the lead. I doubt we would have been able to find this place on our own. It was sort of in the back of beyond.

Work was underway on the tire when we arrived. It seems that when the tires from Bruce’s old Rodeo were put on his newer one, not all of the lug nuts were tightened as much as they should have been. As those loose nuts started going, the rest followed suit.  We also came to find out that the battery had died, because of having the flashers on for so long, along with the passenger side doors and back door open. Damn those little courtesy lights! Fortunately, the mechanic had a battery charger and all was well on that front.

It’s at this juncture that I want to spend a couple of moments describing what it’s like here to visit a mechanic. One might think of seeing high-tech equipment, bays for cars to be worked on, and mechanics in uniforms wielding state-of-the-art tools. Nope, not here. Most of the mechanics work at their homes, using whatever yard space they have to park the vehicles they need to attend to. Very, very few have any type of diagnostic tools. This is old school. Replacement parts are scavenged from junk yards.  If the vehicle owner has some money, some parts, and I do mean only some parts, can be purchased from auto parts stores. Often the local mechanic is a gathering place for village residents to socialize and, as in this place, buy food from the small hut on their property that provides sodas, water, and snacks.

We waited for about an hour or so for the tire and ball joint work to be completed. Bruce took the lug wrench and checked the other three tires. At least half the lugs on all the tires needed to be tightened anywhere from a quarter to half a turn.

By this time, adrenaline was ebbing a bit. We were all tired and sunburned. It was during this time that we noticed that the mechanic had the cutest pit bull puppy ambling around the yard. It was obviously well taken care of and was having fun in its own puppy way.

However, there was a young man who thought it was great fun to pull the puppy’s legs, making it cry and yelp. Now Colleen is a woman who has a huge passion for dogs of any kind. After seeing what was going on and, being on her last nerve of the day, she popped out of the car and marched over to the man. As she was reading him the riot act (which he duly deserved), I have to admit thinking, “Good Lord don’t let her get arrested, ‘cause between the four of us we probably don’t have money to make bail.”

Fortunately the guy stopped antagonizing the dog, the other people in and around the area laughed at him, and he went away. Colleen apologized to the mechanic, who said the guy deserved every bit of the chewing out she gave him.

It just about at this point that David’s phone rang. It was our mechanic calling to let us know that the he ordered the wrong model year for the part that needed to be replaced and he couldn’t get back that day to the place he bought it. However, he had moved ahead with changing the oil and transmission fluid. Yippy Skippy! Like Colleen (and the rest of us), David was working on his last nerve or two and let the mechanic know his thoughts on the matter. He also let the mechanic know that we would pick our car up that evening. After explaining where we were and what had happened to Bruce’s car, our hope was to be back in Ranchito in about an hour. Would he still be open? The mechanic thought so. Now as our mechanic doesn’t work the weekends, if he didn’t let us get our car that night, we would have had to wait until the following Monday.

By around 4:45, Bruce’s car was finished. It was agreed that Colleen and I would follow the guys back, should any problem came up with Bruce’s car.

There isn’t much of a twilight here and when the sun sets, it gets really, really dark. Driving on the highway and through villages is scary enough during the day. You never know when a dog or person will dart across the street, there is a legion of bad drivers, horses, cows, and you name it that you can come across. Driving at night? Man, even worse. There are very few street lights and some drivers neglect to put on their headlights, or some that do prefer the high beams. Whatever adrenaline that had ebbed from our bodies was now restored on the trip home.

We got to Ranchito and our mechanic after about an hour’s drive. Fortunately, even though he was officially closed, he did find our keys (eventually) and we were able to bid Bruce and Colleen adieu and head to our respective homes.

David and I threw back a stiff drink after feeding our dogs. The second drink we savored a bit more and we let the whole adventure of the day wash over us. David checked his wallet. He left that morning with about $700. Between helping out with the parts for the Rodeo and paying our mechanic, he had $10 left.

The next day, Colleen and Bruce took the Rodeo to another tire place in town to have everything double-checked. That tire company confirmed that the original lugs could not have been put on properly.

David and I spent a quiet day at the house, but every once in awhile we would look at each other and say, “It flew off! IT FLEW THE F*&^% OFF!”

Needless to say, it will probably be a bit of time before we embark on another road trip.

Monday, January 26, 2015

New Wheels

Last month David and I discussed getting a newer car. While our 2001 Isuzu Rodeo was in good shape, we thought maybe something a bit smaller, newer, and with less miles would be a good thing. We jotted down what we thought we might want:

  • RAV4 or equivalent (we had a RAV4 in the States and found it a great size and very dependable)
  • Model Year: 2006 or later
  • Less than 125,000 miles (our Rodeo had 162,000)
  • Four door

Now here in Corozal, you are not going to find a plethora of car dealerships. Matter of fact, you won’t find any. People buy and sell cars in a variety of ways. There is a spot down by the seawall, as you enter town, where a variety of used vehicles can be perused. Some folks paint dollar signs and a phone number on the back window of a vehicle they’re looking to sell, and others post pictures and details on Facebook.

I already was familiar with one of the Facebook sites, Corozal Auto Center, as the owner of the business and I had corresponded on another matter. Just for giggles, I thought I would see what his company had to offer.

When I pulled up the Auto Center’s Facebook page, the very first post was a four-door RAV4 with 83,000 miles. My jaw dropped. David was working on a remodeling project in our spare bathroom, and I yelled for him to take a look at what was on my computer monitor. He couldn’t believe it either.

We arranged to take a look at the car on New Year’s Eve. After taking it for a test drive, we thought it had definite potential. There were lots of bells and whistles that we didn’t need, but the air bags, including side curtain ones, were an added bonus (see the post about driving in Belize). Two days later, and with the owner’s permission, we had our mechanic take a look at it. He let us know that other than a minor part that needed to be replaced, the car was mechanically sound. That left contending with the cracked windshield. 

Now cracked windshields are par for the course for the majority of vehicles in Belize. But we thought it might be nice to have a car without one. Also bear in mind that as far as we know there is no business in Belize that sells windshields, factory authorized or otherwise. You have to bring one in from Mexico or Guatemala. David had already checked with a window tinting business here in town that said they could install the new windshield.

It turns out that the owner of the RAV works in Guatemala and could procure a new and authentic windshield and it would be in Corozal by the end of the following week. The final price for the car and the windshield were agreed upon and arrangements were made to meet at the Ministry of Works building in Ranchito on the following Monday to transfer the title.

Monday rolled around and we all met at the Ministry building. The title transfer took about an hour. This is due to the fact that all the paperwork is filled out by hand, in triplicate. And we came to find out that when you transfer a car title, you need to get new plates.  Of course, this means you have to take the old plates off. The Ministry didn’t have any tools to lend to make this happen. So David drove back to our house, grabbed tools, and removed the plates from the RAV.

Once the title and plate transaction were complete, we verified again that we would have the new windshield by the end of the week.

We decided not to drive the car right away, because it didn’t seem to make sense to affix the new registration and insurance stickers to a windshield that would be replaced in just a few days. And as we still had our Rodeo, it wasn’t like we didn’t have wheels.

The week passed and no word about the windshield. David texted the guy who was to supply it. Well, it seems there was some delay at the border and we should probably have it by the middle of the following week. We decided to gently apply the registration and inspection stickers to the existing windshield and start driving the car. By the following Wednesday, still no windshield. More texts were exchanged. Seems the windshield finally made its way into Belize, but the person who was to drive it to Corozal had some delays.

A couple more days passed, then around 9:30 PM on that Friday, David gets a text saying the windshield was in town, and he could pick it up right then. Ummm, no. Instead arrangements were made to pick it up the following morning.

David drove the RAV, with the windshield stowed in the back, to the window tinting place in town. The owner was out, but his son suggested maybe it would be better to repair the crack in the existing glass and keep the new windshield as a spare. He let David know that his dad would call us to discuss options and pricing. David drove home, picked up his bicycle, drove back to the window place, dropped off the car and pedaled home.

About a half hour later, David got the call. Ummm, it seems that since the RAV has side curtain air bags, the repair guy wasn’t able to replace the windshield for fear of setting them off. The replacement needed to be done by factory authorized technicians. To the best of our knowledge, there is no Toyota dealer in Belize, which means the window replacement would have to be done in Mexico. And to make matters even more interesting, if we opted to have the existing crack repaired, it would cost the same as having a new windshield put in (if it could have been).

David hopped on his bike, made his way to the window place, picked up the car and the new windshield, and drove home. We carried the glass into the shop, then he got back in the car, went back to the window place, retrieved the bike, and came back to the house.

Needless to say, this whole plan wasn’t going too well. In the meantime, our friends, Colleen and Bruce, decided to buy our Rodeo, which was a step up from the 1996 Rodeo they had. 

Soon the day came to transfer the title for the Rodeo to Colleen and Bruce. As they live in Corozal Town, that meant the transaction needed to be done at the Town Hall.

Happily enough, there was no line when we arrived at the Hall and everything is computerized. The bad news was that they didn’t have any title forms. Okey dokey. So while the actual title transfer was entered into the system, there was no paper to prove it happened. That meant Colleen and Bruce would have to go back in a day or two to finish the process, including getting new plates.

It turned out that it took more like four days before the title forms arrived. However, the Town Hall didn’t have any new plates, but they knew what the new plate numbers would be. To rectify the situation, the clerk noted on the back of the title what the new plates would be and gave it an official stamp.

And what about our windshield? Well, we know there’s a Toyota dealer in Chetumal, Mexico (about 10 miles from our house). A friend of ours, who lives in Mexico, graciously agreed to talk with the dealership to see if they can do the window replacement and what the estimated cost would be.

I’ll let you all know how the windshield saga goes in an upcoming post. In the meantime, little did we know another car adventure was waiting for us and would give our guardian angels a workout. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Find Out What's Cooking!

Considering how much I love to cook and the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, I thought it might be fun to write a food blog. Why? For starters, it keeps me off the streets and out of trouble (as if). But more importantly, it will hopefully be a way to let folks know that even if one lives in a developing country, it’s more than possible to adjust and adapt any number of recipes to produce some pretty awesome dishes. 

When you have a moment, take a seat at The Wright Table (, where you can join in the fun and witness the challenges and opportunities of cooking in this paradise David and I call home.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Quick Bites - January 2015

One might think that living in developing country would mean limited home cooking options to experiment with different cuisines. And while it is true that some ingredients can be hard to come by, it's more than possible to adjust and adapt any number of recipes to produce some pretty awesome dishes. Here are just a few I whipped up over the last several months.

Home made pasta with corn, tomatoes, and garlic confit

This is a great summer meal and super easy to do. First I made the garlic confit by taking 12 unpeeled cloves, making a small hole in each one, then popping them into a saucepan with about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Brought it to a boil, then turned the heat down to a simmer and let the garlic mellow away for about 15 minutes. Your knife should slide easily into the cloves and that's how you know they're done. Let the garlic and oil cool.

Once the garlic could be handled, I put about 5 tablespoons of the oil into a large saute pan and squeezed out the garlic from their skins. Gave the cloves a good mash with the back of my wooden spoon, then turned the flame to a medium heat. With the oil hot, I dumped in some diced tomatoes, corn, and a pinch of salt.

After cooking the pasta, I strained it and dumped it into the sauce. Gave it a good mix, then onto the plate and garnished with some fresh basil.

So, so good! There was a bit of sauce left over and we ate it as a quasi-bruschetta the next day on some lightly toasted bread. Will definitely do this dish again.

Apple Flowers

A friend of ours posted this recipe video on my Facebook timeline. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to try it. 

The process is pretty straightforward, just be sure that your thinly sliced apples extend a little bit over the edge of the pastry. If they don't you'll end up having something that looks more like a piece of sushi than a flower.

These are the perfect sweet bite and would be an awesome addition to a dinner party. 

View the recipe here

Tuscan Basil Chicken

This is a super easy and fast meal to make and the taste is delicious. And with the carrots, onion, and celery in it, I could check off the veggie component of the plate! I served this over rice, but it would work just as nicely with pasta.

Go get this recipe

Rosemary and Garlic Roast Leg of Lamb

We were gifted with a leg of lamb, and having never made one before, off I went looking for recipes. I landed on this one from Emeril Lagasse and wasn't disappointed. The smells coming from the oven were amazing. But how can you go wrong with garlic and rosemary?

Final plating of the roasted leg of lamb. The meat was so juicy, and the red wine sauce added just the right amount of richness. This meal was a real winner.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

From time to time, it's near impossible to find a loaf of wheat bread. It's one of those things like butter that will disappear from grocery shelves for a bit. I decided it might be high time for me to try making my own loaves. 

The result? Using this recipe I may never buy whole wheat bread again. Matter of fact, I've been turning out loaves on a regular basis. There's a slightly sweet taste and the crumb/density is perfect for sandwiches. And when slices are toasted? Oh man, it just seems to bring out all the flavors.

Dinner Rolls

For as long as I've been cooking and baking, dinner rolls -- for some unknown reason -- have been a challenge for me. I've tried different recipes over the years, but frequently the end result were dry, almost cracker-like disks. 

Then I found this recipe and decided to give it another try. And voila! They turned out great! Soft, light, and buttery. I found a winner!

Oh but here's the irony - after nailing the recipe I came to find out that David isn't a big fan of dinner rolls. After being together for 17 years, how could I not know this? Guess that just means more for me!

French Sponge Cake

On a recent BBC baking show, a chef was making a Genoise cake, which I was unfamiliar with. Turns out, what sets this sponge cake apart is the fact it's made with butter (how bad can that be?). I had been casting around for ideas on what to make for a New Year's day party and figured I would give this type of cake a go and found a recipe.

With only five ingredients, the process of putting the cake together is pretty straightforward. Once the cake had baked and cooled, I took a round cutter (about 1 1/2" dia.) to make individual portions. Between the top and bottom layers, I spread some strawberry jam. To make them all a little more festive looking, I dusted the tops with confectioner's sugar.

The end result? Considering this was my first attempt at making a sponge cake of any kind, I was pleased with the results. The cake itself was very light, moist, and, hey, spongy!

I want to make this again and try other fillings and presentation methods. This one is a keeper.