Users Guide to SoPilar


1.      History

1.1.   Inception

1.1.1.      El Pilar Visits – I have had an interest in Maya Archeology for years, especially in the area of Meso-American Archeo-Astronomy.  My first visit to El Pilar came more or less as an accident in 2001.  We had been staying at Maya Mountain Lodge for some time with Bart Mickler and visiting whatever sites had excursions planned, then on our own to wherever Bart recommended.  Near the end of our stay, Bart said “Well you’ve been everywhere close, but there is this place kind of off the beaten path I think you’ll enjoy,” and gave us directions to El Pilar.  At that time, there were hardly any farms or homes along the El Pilar road and it was essentially driving through the jungle.  Arriving, we were enchanted by the ‘Archeology Under the Canopy’ as realized, as well as the beauty and remoteness of the site.  On subsequent visits I returned several times.  When I came to Belize with my new wife it was the first place we went.

1.1.2.      Mundo Maya Trip - In 2008 my wife and I did a tour of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras sites with some time on the cays.  When we got home, we were in Belize withdrawal and found a property listing adjacent to El Pilar.  After due diligence, and consulting Dr. Ford, we proceeded to buy the land that became SoPilar for the worst possible reason – because we wanted it.  

1.1.3.      Now what? – We had no real plan for 45A of land.  We gave some thought to the subject, as recorded on this website, the WhatAreWeDoing page.  Dr. Ford suggested we try running a campground although she did add, prophetically, that we’d never make any money on it.

1.2.   At my purchase

1.2.1.      The Sale – The seller was Emil Moreno of San Ignacio.  Working through his  solicitors, I wired the agreed price, $110,000BZD, and the sale was accomplished without my presence.  The closing and recording papers were FedEx’d.

1.2.2.      Initial configuration            Caretaker –Even though there was not a lot of material on-site, it was already important to have someone there to keep an eye on it.  Albeit the caretaking was not part of the sale, but the existing caretaker, Carmen Cruz, agreed that he would stay on.  And Carmen was a special case.  He had owned a farm in the area that became the El Pilar Reserve, and there his heart remained when the farmers were relocated.  He had also built a lot of the paths and other shelters, benches, and stairways in the reserve. During his time on the SoPilar land, he’d already started a variety of crops all of which needed care.            Caretaker’s cabin – The Mennonite house was already on site.  It was and remains a single room with a porch overlooking the entrance driveway.            Infrastructure – There was only the rain-water catchment system, which at that time collected water from the cabin’s front roof and stored it in the usual Rotoplas 2500L tank.            Outhouse – There was a one-hole outhouse to the south of the cabin.            Driveway – There was a driveway from the El Pilar road, that continued north along the base of the ridge and around its end into the jungle.  It was probably the remains of a logging road.            Branding – The place needed a name, so we resorted to Dr. Ford again.  She suggested SoPilar as being South of El Pilar.  I rather enjoyed the linguistic joke – the word being neither English nor Spanish.

1.3.   Initial Construction – After several  visits, Carmen suggested we’d like some buildings and we agreed on a small compound.  By October 2010 we had a Dedication for these Items            Main champa - just a dirt floor at this point, and half-walls of sticks and a fret pattern above.  Also, no screening at this point.  The full length was divided into six parts – five sleeping partitions, an a utility room with stucco walls and a door.            Showers – Two shower stalls piped from the catchment tanks, just to the south of the main champa.  The building thatched and walled by sticks, and lined to conform to the tourist standard.  The grey-water is piped into the depression immediately in front of the showers.  This is pretty much unchanged today.            Outhouse – Located to the north of the main champa and on the other side of the driveway, this is a two-hole long drop thatch building on a slightly-raised platform.  Except for the steps, it is the same now.            Outlook champitas – There were trails to the top of the East and West ridges and small thatched benches were built on each:  The east champita overlooks the 3-4 acres where the compound was built.  The west Champita overlooks the jungle to the national boundary, and continuing over Guatemala to the ridges that conceal Tikal.

2.      Infrastructure – Discussing the systems as they are now

2.1.   Water system – There are no water courses near enough to SoPilar and the water table, to the extent there is one in the limestone topography, is hundreds of feet down.  So we were limited to rain-water catchment.

2.1.1.      Catchment – The metal roof of the caretaker’s cabin is the rainfall collection area.  Because there is a porch on the east side, the eastern half of the roof has a lower edge than the western half.

2.1.2.      Grit buckets – Since the roof collection area is near trees and at any rate exposed to air-born dust and dirt, the first collection from a rain is not something you want to store.  The grit buckets hold about 3 gallons of water before the overflow goes to the tanks, catching the dirt and increasing the water quality and reducing the frequency of maintenance on the tanks.

2.1.3.      Tanks – The tanks used are Rotoplas-type 2500L plastic tanks.  Over the years the tank farm has grown from a single tank to four.  These are installed on the side of the ridge.  Due to the topography two of the tanks are about two feet higher than the others.  Since the collection gutters are also at different heights, the higher gutters are piped to the higher tanks and the lower to the lower.  An over-flow is provided so if the higher tanks fill, the excess is sent to the lower two.

2.1.4.      Distribution piping – The water has several uses: the showers, the kitchen and outside hand-wash station, the caretaker’s cabin, and water-stands for the coops.  These are set up as two distribution sets, one for the kitchen, and one for everything else.  Due to the habit of tourists using too much water showering, it is necessary to control which tanks feed what system.  There are values for each tank that allow any one tank to be feed to either system, both, or neither.            Showers – Tourists or none, the showers are necessary.  There are two stalls accessed by a raised walk from the main champa.  The shower heads vary with time and use.            Coop Stand pipe – This is behind the bodega, and provides water for the fowl.  It is a member of the not-kitchen group.

2.1.5.      Kitchen – The kitchen a double-bowl sink for food prep and wash-up.   has The kitchen feed has a water heater in-line that was added in the time of COVID-19, but it needs a booster pump to function and is not currently in use.  There is also a sand filter that was to be added to the kitchen system, but that too wasn’t installed until we can get filter sand. 

2.1.6.      Hand wash/Stand pipe – Right outside the kitchen door is a hand wash station, and a stand-pipe faucet for washing or outdoor activities.

2.2.   Drains

2.2.1.      Dry well To the north of the fogon enclosure there is a slight depression which marks the location of the dry well for the kitchen.  It can be pretty hard to spot at times, because anything planted in that area grows very fast.  Most recently a bread fruit tree stood on that spot.

2.2.2.      Showers - Drains are piped under the walk to a depression just to the east.

2.3.   Solar System – Like most of the compound, this grew in the telling.  Our final configuration is featured here.

2.3.1.      Panels – the PVC panels are mounted by pairs on poles.  The poles carry the panels above the shade of the east ridge, without making them visible from the road.  The six panels are rated at 1.7KW, but of course what you actually get depends on season, time-of-day, and weather.  There is a 250W panel in the bodega that can be added to the PVC collection, but it would require another panel (they work in pairs) and another pole and mounting.

2.3.2.      Charge Controller – the panel wiring is fed into the utility room to the charge controller mounted in the SW corner of the room.  The charge controller steps the variable voltage received from the panels to the best voltage to charge the battery bank.  When too much power is produced or the batteries are full, the controller dissipates the excess as heat.

2.3.3.      Battery Bank – The battery bank consists of two 12V heavy-duty lead-acid cells plus a single extra automotive battery.  The two cells represent the best you could do with lead-acid technology at the time although one would use LiPO4 today.  Still these work with the rest of the equipment and have years of life left.  The single automotive battery has no significant contribution to the system as a whole, but can be critical if you need a fully-charged 12V battery to start a car.

2.3.4.      Inverter – The installed invert is a 6KW unit.  This is very over-sized for SoPilar’s uses, but it does provide enough power to run power tools or to expand the distribution system.  It was an emergency replacement for a lightning strike which took out a panel and the old 1KW inverter.

2.3.5.      AC distribution – there is one 12A circuit in the utility room and kitchen mounted at the top of the screening.  Anything not directly served by that circuit is temporarily wired with extension cords.  The other distribution circuit goes up the hill with buried 12G wire to serve the tower equipment.  Both of these lines are fed with heavy-gauge appliance leads.

2.3.6.      DC lighting – There is a DC distribution system consisting of a distribution board (literally a board) with three lighting circuits: the main champa, the utility room, and the kitchen.  Unfortunately much of the light-gauge wiring has been lost due to thatching of other projects.  Here is a consensus these days that having separate AC and DC wiring just means more exposures and more repairs – certainly we have found that to be true.

3.      Buildings and projects

3.1.1.      Plus kitchen and roof – The first additions to the basic compound were cooking facilities.  To begin with, these were just a crude roof keeping rain off a fogon, not even a building at all.  Then we added the kitchen proper with a cement floor, which included a double gas ring for cooking and a double sink for prep and cleaning.  Under-counter storage provided storage for utensils, and hand tools.  An island added working surface, and more under-counter storage.  Food storage was in the large cabinet in the kitchen plus storage shelves in the utility room.  A few custom amenities were added.  First a dish rack was built over the sink which provided both storage and draining/drying.  A hanging bar was put over the island for hanging lighting (at the beginning light was candles and hurricane lamps), tools, or other kitchen accoutrements.  All these things are still present, although not necessarily in their original roles.  After this the crude roof for the fogon was moved further north, and eventually provided with a real thatch roof, a proper concrete floor, an up-sized fogon, and a wind screen and wood storage.

3.1.2.      Open champa – The original roof with half-walls and (by now) the leveled dirt floor was upgraded through the years.  A cement floor was added, replaced by a concrete one;  the five sleeping bays were given space dividers made of Maya woven mats which could be rolled down from the support poles to give a little privacy or rolled up to provide open space.  Bunks and flat beds were provided as well as the original hammock hooks.  The utility room was stocked with rental tents as well as linen for the beds and othe necessary adjuncts.  Screening was put in, partly to exclude the various flying biting bugs but also the creeping variety including snakes, ants, scorpions, kissing bugs, etc.  These were of course provided for the tourists – certainly we and the Belizean staff weren’t disturbed by the various hazards.  Or not too much. 

3.1.3.      Solar system – Of course there is a need for at least some electric power.  Refrigeration is needed for food service, communications for everything, and lighting at a minimum.  We talked to local solar system vendors and decided on a simple system with two 250W panels mounted on a pole, two batteries, and associated charge-controller and inverter.  Since this provided DC, we wired the kitchen, the storage room, and the main champa with enough lighting to retire our candles and lamps.  This had to be increased over time, with more pole-mounted panels, bigger and more advanced charge controllers and bigger inverters.  Additionally, over time we have shifted more and more to AC supplies for everything, instead of the old DC lighting.

3.1.4.      Cell phone amp and the tree antenna – One of our motives was to get some communications.  There is some cell signal on the top of the hill to the west of the champa as we found out while working up there one day and receiving a call.  We installed a beam antenna on a pole in a tree (No.  Really.) with an electronics box on the tree at ground level.  We ran power up the hill via buried cable, and the cell signal was brought down on low-loss buriable coax cable.  This worked until the local cell providers upgraded to 4G and LTE technology.  We replaced the amplifier on the tree with a two-channel device, which worked but not as well.  As a rule every improvement in cell-phone technology is directed at improving speed and bandwidth.  Unfortunately inevitably reduces the range of the signal. 

3.1.5.      Driveway and Caretaker’s cabin maintenance – (Tobar Construction) In 2011 we noticed two problems:  our driveway/parking area was too small and too muddy in bad weather.  Busses transporting a youth group sunk into the mud and had to be pulled out by BDF vehicles.  Also the posts supporting the caretaker’s cabin had degraded and needed to be reset.  This needed a contractor with the heavy equipment to do both.  This took a week to accomplish, and cost rather more than expected although we did change the requirements in midstream.  Their work on the caretaker’s cabin is still in place, although the driveway work was later replaced in the access road project, see below.

3.1.6.      Cacao project – I had long wanted a cacao tree or so as part of our spices and forest products collection.  In March 2012 I made contact with the Pop family at Agouti Farm San Pedro Columbia.  Instead of a few trees we wound up with a thousand seedlings which were planted under the canopy at the western end of the property.  This worked about as well as my Cayo friends said, and today there may be ten or twelve trees holding on by their root tips.  Cacao grows well on the rock in Toledo which is igneous in nature, but not at all when it is limestone as it is at SoPilar.

3.1.7.      Resort – In 2012 we registered SoPilar as a business name.  Since Belizean businesses must be managed by nationals, Norberta Pulido is listed first on that paperwork.  I’m there, just second.  Then, having a business identity, we went ahead to the Belize Tourism Board for a license.  There were a number of requirements and inspections to be met, but in due time we did get our first license.  These are renewed annually, provided the resort remains compliant with the rules.  We did host some events and provided a few researchers with a base, but we never turned a profit or even approached break-even.  Finally in 2018 we decided not to renew since there was no real point to having it.  With the abysmal state of the road no casual guests dropped in, and in fact the Reservation itself didn’t have many visitors even in season.  Finally in an attempt to raise the quality levels in Belize Resorts, the BTB raised the requirements to level incompatible with our off-the-grid-and-out-of-our-minds campground – for example color TVs in every tent?

3.1.8.      Staff house – In 2012 we saw a problem with our operations design.  We have operated the place largely as our private resort, with our staff as friends all living together in the main champa.  This would be a problem when we had guests in the champa and in tents on the lawn, so we decided to build a separate building with two rooms to house the resort staff, as opposed to the caretaker.  This turned out to be the last building built by Carmen Cruz, and even in the absence of the operating resort has been a useful adjunct.  When we had guests with equipment that needed to be kept safe we used the private rooms, and when we stay at SoPilar ourselves, we stay in those rooms.

3.1.9.      Coops and yards – Over time, our caretakers added chickens to the ménage.  They needed safe roosting space and yards, which were accordingly built.  Over time the chicken yard grew with flock size.  With the addition of guinea hens, a separate coop was built to prevent them from harassing the chickens, making our chicken yard the only know one with a guinea jail included.

3.1.10.  Chechem Lumbering – Starting 2017.  There is an incompatibility between chechem trees and visitors.  Since part of the design of the retirement house was a raised floor and chechem makes good flooring, we decided to make the flooring from chechem trees from our own land.  We asked one of our friends, Narciso the forest gardener, to survey the east ridge for candidate trees, and estimate the board-foot content.  When we toted up the results we had perhaps 2500 board feet, enough to supply the 1500 sq ft requirement.  We had the trees marked and girdled.  The next visit, about 6 months later, we had a team lead by Narciso cut the marked trees.  This is skilled work, as those familiar with chechem will know.  The sap is ferocious stuff, as one of the team found out he was not immune to chechem poisoning.  Unfortunately, a number of the biggest trees had rotten heart-wood so there were less, though adequate, boards.  The trees were left on the ground to dry for a year.  After about a year, the trees were (relatively) safe to handle, and we contracted with a local portable sawmill to cut the lumber into 1 and 2 inch boards.  We needed a team to drag the wood out of the jungle.  I was thinking men with horses and drag lines, but no.  Mostly they cut the trunks up, and then just picked up the segments and carried them to the saw mill site.  Again, some of the crew discovered that even chechem that has been girdled and lying cut for 18 months in all still contains plenty of sap.  Still, the boards were ripped and an inventory showed enough for the flooring and some 2 inch wood for cabinetry and doors.  The boards were brought to Linda Vista lumberyard, in Spanish Lookout (823-0257) to be kiln dried and then milled to tongue-in-groove.  The end product remains in the hands of Oscar Paz, anticipated to be used in the construction of the house. 

3.1.11.  Communications tower (Luis Landaro 665-2517)  - Eventually we decided we needed internet communications, and for that we needed a real tower to lift the antenna high enough to see signal from Spanish Lookout.  We put the old beam antenna on the top of the tower and the internet provider added their equipment.  The net result of that was that the internet communications were so much better and more reliable that the cell relay system in no longer used.  Please note, a better antenna such as a parabolic reflector, and a newer amplifier could restore cell signal that is not dependent on the Internet Provider. 

3.1.12.  Internet access – (Infinite Wireless – 823-0008)  We expected to be operating the campground from SoPilar, so we thought we needed internet service to do this.  In fact added internet reduced the isolation of SoPilar in negative ways.  We had rather treasured being free of the usual distractions, but once established we discovered we are just as media-addicted as everyone else.  None the less, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and cell-over-internet capabilities provide all the communications needed.  We can (an have) walked around the grounds explaining what we have to people in the US, thoursand of miles away or indeed anywhere the Internet is available.  Over the years since, Infinite has proved reliable both in their own wireless service and in servicing their equipment.

3.1.13.  Access road – in 2019 we were finishing up the design of our intended retirement house to be built on the west ridge.  The actual construction would require a road capable of supporting heavy equipment and building supply deliveries.  We also needed to do a coarse excavation of the site so the site was mined to provide surfacing for the whole road, from the El Pilar road to the house site.  As originally built there was insufficient drainage for tropical downpours.  We augmented the original guttering with wider drains walled with trees cut for the purpose.  These have stood up through the years since 2020.

3.1.14.  Bodega – (Carlos Cunil - ) In 2020 a long-deferred project was undertaken to provide a safe building to house the more-expensive tools, and to provide a safe house in case of hurricanes.  The resulting concrete building is composed of steel-reinforced filled concrete block.  About 10X10 feet interior dimensions, it is built to be strong enough to support a 500 cu ft water tank.  The door is double-thick hardwood keyed on both sides.

3.1.15.  The Earth-sheltered house – 2020 (Oscar Paz).  We had planned on retiring to Belize at least half-time since we purchased SoPilar.   It was always going to be below the high point of the north end of the west ridge.  Since it would be on the side of the ridge, it was planned as an earth-sheltered house, with the temperature moderated by the temperature of the hill in which it sits.  I brought the initial design to architect Abel Flores of Santa Elena (677-7088) , who turned my rather enthusiastic design into full plans for a building that will actually work.  The result is a building 30X50 feet, sunk into the ridge and self-supplied by rainwater catchment and solar panels.  When we returned to the US following the reinstatement of relief flights I gave the go-ahead to begin construction.  As work proceeded, I suffered some health problems which consumed much of my health and also much of the funds for the house construction.  When I noticed there would not be enough funds to complete the construction I re-planned the work remaining from the original phases to a state that would permit re-starting the project at a later date.  Essentially, this was to complete all the concrete work to the end of materials currently on-site, deliberately dropping anything that could be carried away – no plumbing, no wiring, no carpentry, no floors, incomplete excavation, and no back-filling nor landscaping.

4.      Caretakers

4.1.   Carman Cruz of Bullet Tree Falls (deceased).  Carmen’s heart was always with his old farm, and although we were in fact extremely lucky to have him, what he wanted was to stay close to it.  SoPilar was as close as you can get.  Carmen built most of the buildings on the land and all of the thatches.  We worked well as a team since he spoke no English and we no Spanish.  As a result, he would bring an issue to us with gestures, we would tell him what to do in English, and then he did what should have been done in Spanish.  My standard description is of a man sunburned to the color of old mahogany and twice as tough.  I believe he was a man of respect in the area, not least because when the mahogany poaching was going on, SoPilar’s trees weren’t touched.  He was a good man, true to his word and to his duties – of friendship as much as job.  He was brought down by ALS, and it was a shock to see this indestructible person unable to drink a glass of water.  His wife, Betty (651-5583 old), also helped us not just with cooking, but also in coordinating the work on the last buildings.

4.2.   Ruben Diaz, Bullet Tree Falls (no good number).  Rubin was a mechanized farmer, happier with a tractor that a digging stick.  He covered SoPilar for us but said that he couldn’t do it for long.  He did plant the first corn field east of the buildings, and other crops.

4.3.   Pablo Garcia of Billy White (665-5431 old).  Pablo was suggested by a friend who said he needed a job and would do a good one.  Both of these proved true.  Pablo kept what we had in place, kept it in repair, and added whatever he could that would prove useful.  Being largely alone he added dogs for companionship and security.  He was happy as a bush man, and happy at SoPilar.  He suffered a stroke in the caretaker’s cabin, and was found by one of the rangers from the park.  He went back to Billy White with his extended family.  He recovered well enough to live on his own, but not well enough to be on his own at SoPilar.

4.4.   Jose  Garcia (660-1769 old) – Brother of Pablo.  He is a farmer, but town man not happy out in the bush.  He filled in for us until October 2019

4.5.   Placido Cunil of San Ignacio and San Jose Succotz (637-6014 WhatsApp).  It is difficult to say too much in praise of Placido.  He maintains everything, and arranges for help with anything that he can’t accomplish alone.  He maintains good relations with the neighbors and the park rangers, and practically everything except snakes.  He is a builder working in concrete and in wood, a surveyor, a resort manager and chef, and about ten other things not relevant to this job.  He drives, does regular maintenance on vehicles, and is generally up to whatever is to be done.  He is worth more than I can afford to pay him. 


5.      Associates and Neighbors

5.1.   Our extended team – Much of our closest friends were introduced to us by Dr Ford, who has been a consistent presence in our history.  Others have been met randomly in the course of past visits.

5.1.1.      Dr. Anabel Ford – Dr. Ford doesn’t require any introduction here, but we will say a little about her involvement with SoPIlar.  We originally contacted Dr. Ford when I was building a website to house my photos of Maya sites in 2001.  I saw the site for El Pilar and wanted permission to use the site maps from there on my pages.  In spite of an already-saturated work schedule, she immediately offered to help me with the arrangement and presentation.  When we were contemplating purchasing SoPilar, we asked Dr. Ford if there were any reason not to do so and we have maintained contact ever since. She offered the use of Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey (BRASS) Base when we came down to finalize the decisions.  And more, had her own in-country staff there to greet and assist us.  Several who stayed significant to SoPilar project appear below.  Later Dr. Ford joined us for the ‘end of the world’ (as the media labeled it) in December of 2012, and we have acted as her eyes when questions arose about Reserve.  And of course she is helping with the current negotiations.

5.1.2.      Luis Godoy of Santa Elena (824-3314) – Luis was a founder of the Belize Tour Guides Association, and one of the best I’ve ever encountered. He is knowledgeable in the bush and on sites, and practically unflappable.  He also has first-world standards in his operations.  And he knows practically everyone.

5.1.3.      Nelson Garcia (610-6774 WhatsApp) – A mechanic introduced by Luis Godoy.  Nelson as his family are good friends with reciprocal dinner and social.  Most recently Nelson kept our Range Rover running, quiet a task.

5.1.4.      Norberta Polido (613-1898) – Dr. Ford’s omnes factotum in Belize was introduced to us just after our purchase with the rest of her in-country team.  Nuncha, as usually called, filled the same role for us until she decided to retire at age 80.  She is the Belizean principal of the registered business ‘SoPilar’.  She still helps out from time to time being expert in the administrative world of citizenship, social security and the like.

5.1.5.      Narciso Torres (634-7893) – Introduced to us with the rest of Dr. Ford’s team, Narciso has never been on-staff, but he has always been there for us.  He is widely known as a Maya forest gardener and regularly shares samples of plants with us from his own farm and contributions from others.  Pretty much any question on food plants, medicinal plants, or anything in the bush tend to go to Narciso.  He was also often a team leader in projects such as the chechem projects.  His reputation as a Maya forest gardener is international, most recently receiving the Chancellor’s Medal from UCSB.

5.1.6.      Cindy Garcia (610-6330) – When Norberta retired, Cindy picked up the load as our in-country agent.  Her duties are the same as Norberta’s: pay master, tax contact, receiver of shipments, interface with the rest of our staff, and whatever comes up.

5.2.   Park rangers – Being several miles past nowhere, the staff at the park and the staff at SoPilar have always supported each other.  When we were putting up the poles for the solar system there were always one or two rangers helping to lift it in place.  When we got the cell relay working, the rangers would come by in an evening to recharge their phones and to make calls.  When the rangers needed a chain saw bigger than they had, whey would borrow ours, with the caretaker too, of course.  Multiply these examples by tens of occurrences and a decade of time.  Note this not the same as their performance to task as rangers.  Various leadership changes, the availability of funds, and shifting political priorities guaranteed variable results against variable expectations.

5.3.   Visitors – Since we held a beer license with the resort license many of the farmers and crew stopped by for a cold beer from time to time.  Some still do, since we maintain a stock of Belikin for our own use, or such friends as may appear and as long as they are replaced we have no problem with or various caretakers selling a few beers to our neighbors. 

5.4.   Persons in transit – We have deployed trail cameras from time to time to see what was walking in the woods.  Occasionally this caught local people coming from or going to Guatemala.  In my limited experience family is more important that nationality in this region and whether you are a Cruz or a Garcia is far more important than on which side of the border you were born.

5.5.   Guatemalan gangs – There is a tendency in Belize to blame all crime near the border on Guatemalans.  It is perhaps easier to blame ‘them’ than ‘us’ which is common enough everywhere.  I will give just one example: a robbery in the El Pilar Reserve.  A group came out of the park and stopped at the end of our driveway.  Some of the group were friends of ours, but that is irrelevant to the story.  The party had been ambushed in the park by an armed group, everything of value taken and one of the Belizean guides beaten.  Obviously a Guatemalan gang.  Except there had been no tourist traffic to the park for days.  Imagine how popular a gang leader would be keeping a team in a patrolled, empty park for days just hoping a group will come by with adequate goods to steal.  Instead imagine that anyone at the resort or just visiting hears a group of guests discuss their plans for the next day and word goes from one to another until someone decides to make a plan.  The point is that in this area, at least, people are the same on both side of the border, only mostly poorer to the west.

6.      Going forward

6.1.   Regular Expenses

6.1.1.      Transportation - We have also made our car available to Placido when we are not in-country.  You often need a four-wheel drive on that road, and ground clearance is critical.  I have a 1991 Range Rover, which has not been a bargain in maintenance or operating expenses.  You will need something like.  Apart from normal needs, the rain catchment system is sometimes insufficient in the dry season and it is necessary to bring in water.  Usual suppliers have baulked at driving their heavy trucks up the road so we have had to bring is spring water or river water when needed.  The trailer and water barrels are on site and part of the sale.  You will have to provide the vehicle.

6.1.2.      Livestock – figure $240BZ/mo for dog food and chickens.

6.1.3.      Operating expenses – fuel and parts and repair for chainsaw, string trimmer, etc averaging $125/mo.

6.1.4.      Business manager – Cindy Garcia of Esperanza. +501 610-6330.  Since I am most often out of country, I need an omnes factorum to handle things.  Presumably you will use you own staff for this, but it has represented about a 20% FTE effort.

6.1.5.      Bank accounts – I have a bank account in my personal name at Belize Bank, and I can fund that account by international wire transfers from my US banks.  Setting up the wire service is usually easy.  Getting an account is not, at least for a private person.  It may be easier for M.E.D.C. but start this process early, in case.  Your new Business Manager may have suggestions.

6.1.6.      Communications            Cell phone equipment – There is a low-loss coax cable from an amplifier on the tower to antennae in the champa.  It has not been in use for some years since we contracted wireless internet.  There are not enough outlets in the electronic box to power both the cell phone amp and the internet, which is in truth more convenient so we haven’t replaced the outlets in the box.            Internet equipment – Our main communications medium is wireless internet provided by Infinite Wireless out of Spanish Lookout.  The company has offices in Spanish Lookout and in San Ignacio.  I make payments to them through Atlantic Bank website that takes credit cards.  Note the credit card may charge a fee for converting BZD to USD.

6.2.   Periodic maintenance – most of these items are done by our caretaker except as noted

6.2.1.      Thatching – most of the buildings a thatched.  We grow a lot of wano on the land, enough to keep the Main Champa, the Open Champa, Outhouse, Showers, Coops, and outlook champita.  This becomes a labor-only project, which is accomplished by our caretaker and one assistant.  On the other hand building a new building will require purchasing  wano at market prices which is substantial, and a hired workforce which requires careful research.

6.2.2.      Replacement of fencing wire and screening – caretaker accomplished, but materials have to be purchased.  A recent example is replacing the screening in the main champa which was a $500BZ buy, but the original was installed in 2011, so not too often.

6.2.3.      Yard work: Forest and boundary trails, stocking firewood, clearing down wood,  planting, harvesting food products

6.2.4.      Tower Maintenance - The tower is steel and requires periodic painting and checking bolts and fixtures every two to three years.  We contract that to the original builder, although anyone comfortable with high work will do.  It is careful but not specialty work.  The internet equipment on the tower is maintained by the ISP.

6.2.5.      Tower systems – The communications equipment including a cell phone amplifier and the internet equipment are all powered from the Solar system in the champa and deliver their signal there.  The power is provided by a three-wire 12 gauge buried cable.  It doesn’t need much in the way of maintenance, and I have handled all that myself.  The power is delivered to an electronics box on the tower and the amplifiers and internet boxes are supplied from there.  The internet signal is transmitted to the champa by a microwave link which is maintained by the ISP.  The obsolete cell phone link is not is use because we do all our communication via the internet.  The low-loss coax cable is still in place to the champa and its interior antennae. 

6.2.6.      Solar system – is in the utility room in the main champa.  The panels, charge controller, batteries, and inverter are serviced by Deeds Solar Solutions, see below.  There is AC wiring to the north end of the champa and the kitchen.  A DC lighting system is still in place through the champa and kitchen, but is not now in use.  The most import uses of the solar power are the refrigerator, the communications equipment, and the phone and tablet rechargers.

6.2.7.      Catchment system – this require regular disinfection and cleaning.  We use pool shock as the cheapest chlorinator.  The tanks can be taken out of service  and scrubbed one at a time.  Not a lot of expense, but another thing for the caretaker.

6.3.   Concrete Building completion – Assuming as a meeting space

6.3.1.      Contractors            Builder – Oscar Paz of San Ignacio +501 671-0053.  Also on WhatsApp, Facebook.  Oscar built what you see there today, except for the original site excavation which provided the material for the access road.            Solar Solutions, Spanish Lookout – Rich Deeds of Spanish Lookout  +501 633-6898.  Deeds Solar Solutions provided the existing solar equipment has provided decent prices, and good service on the existing installation.

6.3.2.      Work Breakdown            all external work: deck, windows, doors            connection of catchment system: gutters, tanks, pumps            carpentry, plumbing and electrical work            Excavation of parking area            Back-filling of the space behind the building and the landscaping to conform the building to the hill            Solar installation: panels, batteries, charge controllers, inverters, and hardware

6.3.3.      Costs – I have asked for updated estimates from the contractors above but so far this continues to look like $200,000BZ.  I had planned for a residence, including the construction, solar installation, and appliances/furnishings.  It would of course depend on what is wanted for your plans.


Updated 02/08/20024