29 June, 2007

Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him

Alright, if you're a regular reader, you probably noticed my Ambergris Caye postings were out of order. I posted the "Return to San Pedro" after the "Return to Corozal" or whatever they were actually titled.

I thought I had done a good job getting the high points of our "vacation from paradise" into the blog, when I noticed a whole group of photos that I had forgotten to upload - the Return to SP ones.

One of the limitations of blogging, or at least using Google's Blogger for my blog, is that you can't reorder the postings. So, once one is posted out of order, it stays out of order - better than secrets from Las Vegas, apparently. My apologies for that.

So, that went wrong. What else? Oh yes. This went wrong. Yesterday evening, about an hour before sunset (6PM or thereabouts), we had a power failure. Not unusual for a third world country (or Olympia, if you live there).

Well, about an hour later the power came on. Great. Dianna was in the screened porch, I was buck-naked getting ready for a shower (I know, I know. Substitute Brad Pitt and you've got an accurate picture). Anyway, she shrieked and hollered for me to "Come quick - something's burning!"

I ran out to the porch in my starkers, and sure enough, something was burning all right - a huge plume of white smoke going skyward out by the fence, and flames poking through. Just as quickly, the flames quit and the smoke began to subside.

At the same time, the power, which had been coming on, flickered and died completely. I noticed the connection and ran to get my shorts on. Dianna was quickly dousing herself with spray-on bug juice. I asked her to do the same for me, then we promptly ran outside toward the fence to see what was self-destructing.

As we got closer, we could see it was the electrical service for the whole place that had just successfully destroyed itself. Seemingly miraculously, a white pickup truck from Belize Electric, Ltd. (BEL), came around the corner through the bush and stopped beside our smoldering totem pole of electrical debris.
Burned to a Cinder
I ran down to the gate and ran up the track to where the BEL guy was busily disconnecting the power meter. He had already physically cut the raw power lines to our pole. He said something to the effect that we would have to have an electrician look at it before they would reconnect service.

I thought "No shit Sherlock", as I looked at the smoking pole and circuit breaker box, all black as the as ace of spades.

As he departed, I thought, "Fine. Where am I going to find an electrician after normal working hours.

What to do, what to do? "Ah", I said, as inspiration struck. Call Connie with Copa Banana Guest House. She'll know. So, I called and Connie told me to try Gustavo, and gave me his cell and home phone numbers. She also reminded me that British Paul did some electrical work for them on occasion.

I tried both numbers for Gustavo numerous times, last night and this morning. No go. His cell phone isn't turned on and the home phone ring sounds like a disconnect ring or something.

This morning I called British Paul to ask if he knew any electricians. I didn't want to ask him directly for his help, because I knew he was still recovering from his back problems, but I figured he'd be most likely to know an electrician or two.

Of course, he volunteered to come over and check things out. Which he did. We both lathered up with bug juice (you get so used to using this stuff - it's like moisturizing cream) and took a look at the damage.

We proceeded to dismantle the burnt hulk of a service box.

After that, I had to go into town to purchase the required parts to rebuild the thing. Which meant a new box, a couple of circuit breakers, and some new heavy-gauge wire.

Of course, Villa's, one of the two real hardware stores in town, didn't have what I needed. They had part of it, but not enough to bother with. So, I left there, but as I was leaving, Paul pulled up. He had left our place to run some errands, part of which was delivering the cable channel magazine in bulk for a friend of his to several locations around town. He said he'd meet me down a National Hardware, just in case I had problems.

At National, we got everything we needed, and I proceeded home to get things ready for Paul when he was done with his running around.

Once he got back, we assembled the box and its parts in short order. So, in our estimation, we were ready for BEL to hook us back up and everything would be cool.

Not so fast there, cowboy. When I called BEL, the girl I talked to asked me if I had the "fusee" certificate signed by a licensed electrician. "Uh, no..." was all I could think to say. "What's that"?

It turns out, their requirements are, that after turning off power, if it's the customer fault, you have to have a licensed electrician certify that everything in the box is correct, and he must use this form. So, I still needed an electrician. Nothing is simple. An no way to avoid this "fusee" certificate. She was quite firm on that bit.

I then turned to the phone book. Down here, that's usually always an experience. You have to learn how to use it. Nothing in the yellow pages for electricians in Corozal. Checking the white pages, you have to find the white pages for Corozal, then go through the alphabet hoping someone lists their name and "electrician" beside it. No individual electricians listed. But, I did find Pablo Marin Electrical and Plumbing.

On calling Marin Electrical, they recommended trying a guy named Anthony and gave me his numbers. I talked to Anthony, who was over in Cerros (hours away) doing electrical work there (a good sign, really). I made arrangements with him to come here at 6 PM when he got back to Corozal.

As Paul was cleaning up to leave and complete his deliveries, we agreed that it shouldn't be a problem getting the "current" as they call it here, reconnected. Even at night and on weekends, if you had a business, for example, you'd want to have that service restored, and they'd do it. Well, that's what we reasoned, anyway.

Ha, ha, were we dreaming! We were blithely sitting around in the still heavy, humid air, waiting for the electrician or someone like him (wait a minute - that's a Firesign Theatre Album title, but, never mind).

About 4:15, BEL shows up again. "Cool", I thought. Maybe they'll look at our handiwork and say "No problem, mon", hook up the meter and everything will be copacetic.

They're nice and polite. First thing one of them does, is open the box door and look at the breakers. "Oh, you've got the wrong sized breakers here. You've got 40's and you need to have 60's" (watts, that is).

Uh oh. I knew I was in trouble. "But", I said, feeling that queasy feeling when you know all hope is lost, "It had 40's in it when we started". I was also thinking about the $30BZ each for those breakers.

"Not good enough", he said. "60's is the requirement".

Also, we needed some silicone sealant around the top of the box and a couple extra pieces of conduit to complete things.

Then, he proceeded to actually remove the cover from the box. A thorough inspection. Not only did we have the wrong breakers, but we had positioned them wrong as well. Ooops.

Seems we had them ganged to run 220v when they should be split across the box to use 110v. That's a simplification of the conversation, which involved me mostly saying "Oh, ok", and "Huh", and "Oh, ok", etc.

He kindly placed the breakers into their correct positions, probably more to keep this moron Gringo from burning down the whole neighborhood than as a purely public service.

Continuing with my part of the conversation, I asked if, after Anthony had fixed the problems with the box, if I called the BEL trouble line, I could get the power turned on this evening. They both grinned and said, "No, mon. We stop at 4:30, and the office closes for the weekend".

You know that sinking feeling I mentioned earlier? "Titanic" suddenly came to mind. "You mean we'll be without current until Monday"? And probably a few other words, some of it may have been in French.

They smiled like that was what they were hinting at. I whined a few more minutes. Apparently to fairly good effect.

They relented and took mercy on this addled Gringo. "All right. We'll hook you back up, but you have to have the certificate ready for us on Monday".

Perfect! We were going to be part of modern society again with lights and everything!

To make a long story a bit longer, but somewhat shorter at the same time, they hooked us back up and the lights came on. I called Anthony and asked if he could come Saturday morning. No, he was working back in Cerros again, but he was available Sunday. Fine. We made it a date.

So, with a bit of luck, the rest of the weekend should be anti-climactic.

I haven't yet told Paul how we screwed up positioning the circuit breakers. Maybe I'll do it over a cool one. Now that we have current, cold beer should be "no problem, mon".

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