03 April, 2012

Holy Cow! It's Alive, It's Alive!

I just now got my Internet service restored. Whew! What a pain in the butt. It's a long story, some of which is below. Everything is working again, now... I hope. This was some of the stuff I've been compiling during the down time.
So, what *Else* could possibly go wrong? I mean now, with everything that has already gone wrong, broken, fallen apart, etc.?

Well, why don't we try something like the satellite modem going down for the count? That's right. It went - gone, broken, melted-down, zip, blotto, crapped out, fizzled, quit, died. The damned thing died Wednesday before last. Two weeks ago, now. No biggie, I thought at the time. I must have inadvertently hit some key combination or something that caused it to not connect. It’ll be back up in a jiffy. Uh huh.

Anyway, my time to work on it was limited because I was leaving that Friday morning with the Men's Group Expeditionary Force for our planned invasion of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye for a weekend of wild living. This would include traveling the length and breadth of the island in a six-passenger golf cart, dining out, drinking some beer, playing Hearts and Spades - not at the same time you understand. Playing Hearts all afternoon on Friday, and on Saturday, playing Spades. If you’ve never done it, it can be quite challenging to keep things straight since the games are quite similar, but different. Try it sometime. Nothing like reliving one’s wild bachelor days of marathon Hearts and Spades games. Woohoo!

That's what happens when you put five middle-aged guys together by themselves. We even went so far as to have one evening (alright, it was Saturday evening, if you must know) where, with reckless abandon, we decided on milkshakes for supper. We headed down to Dandee's Ice Cream parlor, where we ordered Sundaes, and malted milk shakes. Watch out San Pedro. You don't know what's been unleashed.

We had started off some time back. after our successful first expedition to Ambergris Caye, saying how we needed to mount another trip somewhere during the next year. Little did any of us dream it would be a return to Ambergris Caye and so soon. I’d have thought we would have been flying high if we made a similar trip within a year, but inside of three months? Wow.

Here we were, headed back to the island again. We took off in what seemed a largish plane (for Maya Island Air, anyway). Two engines and all. The cabin was somewhat cramped with us having to hold our carry-on bags in our laps. Even with two engines, the trip was slow. It took us an ungodly 25 minutes to complete the flight. Usually, we can complete it in a single-engine job in 15 to 17 minutes.

Anyway, we touched down at San Pedro Airstrip in good fashion, disembarked and hoofed it the couple of short blocks to Ruby’s Hotel. Ruby’s is kind of unique on the island for several reasons. First, it’s located within an easy walk from the airport; it’s right on the beach; it’s in the center of town, located right on the main drag (I think it’s called Front Street); and the rooms only cost $40.00 (US) per night. We lessened the cost by requesting rooms with twin beds, so two guys to a room (I shared with Denis, who is a good, quiet roomie), so for $20.00 US apiece, it was a deal. Ruby’s office staff are very helpful. The office is now located behind the hotel, right on the beach, in a little bungalow.
My Roomie - Denis
Some folks may turn up their noses at Ruby’s. No dressers - you pretty much have to live out of your pack or suitcase or whatever for the time that you are there. There was a small table in the room to keep your keys and other trinkets on.

The beds are firm, although Denis reported his mattress did have a spring that periodically poked him in the ribs - mine was just fine. The sheets, although clean, felt like they had been starched, of all things. Not sure if that was the case or if they were just stiff. There were two fans in the room, which we put to good advantage, aiming them each directly at the beds so we had plenty of breeze to get through the nights.

The private bathroom had a sink with mirror, toilet and extra TP, a tub - usable only as a shower, not that I wanted to soak in the tub. I just mention it for reference. The tub was also somewhat flexible when you were standing in it. Not sure if that’s an undocumented feature or just the tub wearing out.

Fluorescent ceiling lights in the bedroom and bath, with a separate fluorescent over the sink. The room was clean and was tended to each day by the hotel maids.

So, what more could you ask for? I know, I know. A lot, probably. But we weren’t planning to spend all that much time in the rooms anyway.

The crowning touch, the piece d’resistance, you might say, is the three decks, one on each floor overlooking the beach and the Caribbean Sea. They’re worth the price of admission in their own right. Two shade you from direct sunlight during the heat of the day, and the third, top deck is outstanding for its view of the waterfront and reef, not to mention the breeze.

The other bit that is worth it’s weight in gold is Ruby’s coffee shop, which opens promptly at 5:00 AM each day, and offers great coffee (hot, black, no frills). None of that foo-foo latte-type stuff. They also offer hot johnny cakes with Happy Cow Cheese thickly spread and ham; or with bacon, egg and cheese. Sometimes they even have cookies.

The trick is, wake up, get dressed and down to the coffee shop when they open. You’ll probably have to wait in line. Ruby’s is very popular with the locals, getting ready to start their workday. Get yourself a large cup of coffee (they even have lids, which is a new feature), and a johnny-cake and hot-foot it back up to the third deck to watch the incomparable sunrise. That, my friends, is what you came here for. I mean, as long as I’ve lived in Belize, the sunrise from Ruby’s third deck, fully equipped with coffee and eats, is something I’ve never gotten tired of. It is simply amazing and has to be experienced to appreciate. That alone will make you want to come back and be a repeat customer of Ruby’s.

I mentioned the office staff of Ruby’s. They’re great. Jackie and Raquel took very good care of us. They also make sure to have plenty of Belikin and soda in the office fridge for sale throughout the day. Of course, we took full advantage of that this trip with our marathon card games and all. If your room isn’t ready when you arrive (surprisingly, our was), you can store your bags with them. They take good care of things.

Ok, enough about Ruby’s. What else did we do? Well, first thing every morning, after everyone got up, sh**, showered and shaved - as we used to say in the sea-going services, was head north up the beach to Estelle’s beachfront eatery. Estelle’s is a sand-floored restaurant, which serves an ala-cart breakfast that is hard to beat. The place is dripping with atmosphere and has great service to boot. You order off the chalk board menu, then go hunt up where you want to sit, including several tables out toward the water’s edge.
Craig and Bill In Paradise
Keep in mind now, we’re here on Friday morning... There’s a reason we take the 7:30 AM flight to San Pedro. Fifteen minutes later (ok, this trip, twenty-five) you’re in town and walking up to Ruby’s. Dump your bags and keep heading up the beach a couple of blocks for breakfast. See? It’s not even 8:15 yet and you’re off to a great start.

After breakfast we headed further up the beach on Front Street so we didn’t get too much sand in our sandals. We were looking for Chollo’s Beach Bar and Golf Cart Rentals, so we could see about renting a six-passenger golf cart. Well, Chollo’s doesn’t exactly stick out to the casual observer, so we wound up at Pollo’s Golf Cart Rentals, which was easy to find. Incidently, we did find Chollo’s after the fact. We had walked right past it on our way to Pollo’s.

A few minutes later and we were off exploring the island. First, we headed south to see what we could find. Bill and Craig were all for scoping out a couple of grocery stores where you could get some exotic (for Belize) cheeses and other things that are unavailable elsewhere in Belize. We cruised past the Victoria House, a very up-scale resort, and several other higher-end lodging places, and made it to the very south end of the island, where mangrove and the bush still holds sway.

From there we turned around and headed north, over the toll bridge and on to adventure. I made sure to show the guys all the stuff we had discovered during our Eternal Eight trip to Ambergris Caye, except this time we didn’t rent a boat, I’m sure to George’s chagrin, since he’s a died-in-the-wool fisherman. Some other trip, George.
George's First Adventure With The Men's Group
We went past Debbie’s Beach, where the E8 had stayed for a week, past Captain Morgan’s (a confusing, disappointing, joint), past Grand Caribe Resort, where we intended to return to swim later in the day, past Indigo condos (not sure if it’s a resort or just the condos) and went quite a ways further north, exploring. That is, until the road got to be just too rough to bother with and we turned around.

On the way back south, we paused for a necessary break along the way and spied a metal contraption sitting near a house. We never did find out what it really was, although there were plenty of theories floated about. We even asked some knowledgeable-looking passersby if they knew. Turns out, they weren’t any brighter than we were.
Big Metal Contraption Thing
We headed back down south, stopping at Grand Caribe. I had told the guys about the pool, bar and short-order grill, and that all was available to the public (that’s us).  I had completely forgotten that if all the tables with umbrellas were occupied, there’s virtually no shade except in the bar. So, we didn’t swim at Grand Caribe. But, we could have. We even brought swimming togs if the urge was really strong.

The reason I knew about the Grand Caribe was that during the E8 visit, several of us had stopped at the Caribe for breakfast, which turned out to be good. And while there, we found out from the staff that the facilities were, in fact, open to the public. Our theory was that their pool, etc., was probably within the sixty-six foot setback from the low tide mark for public land and that they kind of had to make it open.

So a couple of beers later, we decided to leave Grand Caribe to the folks staying there and continued on south, stopping for a late lunch at Legend’s Burger House.

There is a difference between nighttime and daytime at Legends. We were the only customers in the place. I recommend stopping there for supper and on days when they have a band playing. Also, at night, they’ll have gotten supplies in to fill out the menu. The burger I ordered this afternoon needed blue cheese. Cheddar is an ok alternative but that makes the burger just ok as well. At least the beer was cold. The service was good and there’s plenty of memorabilia to scope out while you’re there.

After Legends, it was back across the bridge and into San Pedro. We parked at the hotel and got refreshed in our rooms, meeting back on one of the lower decks and proceeded to try to drain the fridge of beer and play hearts for the afternoon. George didn’t play, but did keep us tuned in to the world as he was surfing the Intertubes the whole time.

Long about five-thirty, we decided we may as well return the cart, so a couple of us headed back to where we had parked it. Wouldn’t you know, I had picked up a parking ticket. $24.00 BZD just for being the only cart parked within 35 feet of an intersection... I don’t know. It looked to me like there were a lot of carts parked as close or closer to several other intersections, but what do I know? I probably didn’t have as flexible a ruler as the local traffic gendarme.

Since we had had such a late lunch, we decided a supper consisting of milk shakes would be in order. Our favorite ice cream parlor, Dandee’s, was right at the top of the list. After dumping the cart at the vendor’s, and giving them the money to pay the parking ticket for us, we went back to Ruby’s, where we played our second set of card games before dinner.

We walked the five or six blocks down to Dandee’s working up an appetite for our supper. Apparently, rumors and tales of our abandon spread like wildfire among the islanders. As we walked into Dandee's that evening, the lady who was running the shop, announced to everyone already in there, "Here come my card-playing boys!" I mean... Damn. Is that what it's come to? That's what 'being out with the boys' is reduced to? Well, I guess when you've become old farts, that's what you get. At least we played aggressively and with panache. Anyway, that's not the focus here. It's the modem, or was, right?

Sunday morning Bill and Denis started a new thing. Bill had brought a cribbage board, so that kept them going for a while. Then Craig took Denis’ place at the board. Our flight back to San Pedro was around 3:00 PM, so we had plenty of time.

Craig was planning to stay over till Wednesday with Mae, who flew in and joined us for a while on the hotel deck.

After all the bright lights and distractions of San Pedro, and after a faster flight back to Corozal, I could concentrate on the matter at hand - the boat anchor that used to be the satellite modem.

I piddled around with it for hours, putting all my vast IT skills to bear on the thing. After all that, I know I had it quivering in it's boots, so to speak.

Monday, I gave up and called in the big guns. That'd be Roger. Roger's a Brit who's lived here in Corozal for about eight years and has helped many folks with their computer problems (he only thought he'd retired to build his dream home), including me a time or two.

Anyway, we messed around with it for a couple of hours and came to the conclusion that there was something seriously wrong with the modem. Back-tracking a bit… Up to this point, we didn't know that for sure. It could have just as easily been the router, my laptop, cables, or some unknown demon inserting itself into the mix.

Well, we pretty much narrowed it down to the modem. I thanked Roger with a couple of beers out on the pool deck while I contemplated my next move.

I called Computer Ranch over in Spanish Lookout. Abe and Harry, a couple of enterprising young Mennonite business men, run the place. They sold us the satellite system in the first place.

Harry was perplexed by the symptoms of the modem as I had described them to him, asked me to send the modem to him. This I did. On Tuesday, I trotted over to BPMS (Belize Package and Mail Service) with the modem all padded and boxed up and shipped it over to Harry.

I was hoping to hear from Harry Thursday as to the state of the modem - whether it's been given the last rites or whether it will be coming back. Depending on Harry's answer, we would figure out our next move.

That move is being driven in part by a sense of panic - I mean, we haven't even been able to check our email in over a week, much less making a posting to the blog.

If we have to order a new modem, we have some issues to consider. This is germane to you folks considering moving down here, and to you folks already here. I could find one on eBay (probably having to do my searching and ordering at my local Intertubes Cafe, of course, what fun that might be), but then, as Roger reminded me, you run the risk of buying a 'box' (as we affectionately call the modem) that has been locked out by the satellite company, and then you may as well have purchased a boat anchor or a brick.

You could purchase a guaranteed functioning box from this outfit up in Montana, with the attendant problem - either ship it directly here and pay the freight accordingly, or find someone who's coming down here soon, to be your mule and lug it in their luggage for you. That's nice, but then you end up owing them all this beer.

Or, you could pay more money and get a box sent over here from Computer Ranch via BPMS (Belize Package and Mail Service. We have to use that service as Tropic Air doesn't fly to Spanish Lookout. BPMS is sort of an in-country UPS). Harry would have to drive all the way over to Belmopan to send something via Tropic, so that would probably cost more then shipping by BPMS).

Hmmmm… Let's see, buy a box that you don't know the condition of, and may get ripped off during shipment anyway; buy a box that may sit in your friend's living room, collecting dust and kitty barf until they depart for their vacation down here in paradise, which could be months; or pay the extra amount and get a box sent here to Corozal, that might arrive by Monday, that you could hook up, re-commission, and be functioning on the Tubes that same day? Hmmmm… Decisions, decisions, decisions.

So, that's where we were. Waiting to hear from Harry. I suspect I knew what he was going to say. It would have been a miracle if he said there was nothing wrong with the box. If that would have been the case, that still would have been no good answer for us as it only means that there's something else that's gone kerflooy and we would still have to figure it out. Lord only knows how long that would take to determine and then we'd still have to figure out how to solve that.

See, this is all a distraction from my true project, the shade house for Dianna. That plays on my mind. I can hear her mentally tapping her foot, somewhat impatiently, wondering when this oaf of a husband is going to get back to work on that bit. This thing with the modem is simply a delaying tactic to avoid working on the shade house. But, along with that, it's preventing her from checking her email. Thank the powers that be that she's not on Facebook. There'd be no end to the problems that would entail. Come on, Harry. Give me an answer soon.

Ok, Friday afternoon. I heard from Harry. Well, it's my own fault even if the equipment isn't working quite right. I forgot to renew the credit card info for the account when the card renewed. So, as far as Hughes was concerned, the card expired. If the modem software had worked correctly, there would have been an indication that the card had expired. Instead, I spent $25.00 BZD and a ton of aggravation to find out the card was expired. Again, arrggghhhh!

It’s interesting that Hughes was able to successfully bill us using that credit card number, although expired (in their records anyway), for almost two and-a-half years, finally realizing that it was expired and then pulling the plug on the modem. Alert play guys. I guess the same thing could be said about the credit card company - paying out dinero for that long on an expired credit card. Wow. Gives one a great secure feeling, doesn’t it?

Harry said that once his techs checked out the modem (after the modem agreed that the card was good with the new expiration date I had given him) he'll send it back via BPMS, probably tomorrow afternoon. Means I'll get it Monday and hooked up and everything should be copacetic - we'll hope so anyway. I wonder if Harry is shipping it back COD? I guess I would if I was in his shoes.

I talked to Computer Ranch Friday morning. The modem is in good shape and will be returning to Corozal via BPMS, hopefully today. That means, if BPMS is open on Saturdays, I could get the modem back and installed sometime Saturday afternoon. If not, well, it’ll wait till Monday. What was that song by Carly Simon - *Anticipation*?

Just a bit ago I called Computer Ranch to see if the modem was shipped. Not yet. They gave me Harry’s cell number.  I called him to see if he had any details. He said he was going to call them directly to tell them to contact BPMS to pick it up. Ok. He asked me to call and make sure his people had my address (even though it’s plastered all over the modem. One of those ‘You can’t miss it’ sort of things.

I called and they had found the address, no problem. Then a quirky question. They asked me if I knew if Harry was coming in to work. Uh, first temptation was to give them a smart-ass answer, but I resisted and just answered that he hadn’t said.

So, at this stage of the game, I’m assuming the modem will soon be on its way back to Corozal - assuming, of course, that they did call BPMS to come pick it up.

I called BPMS in Belize City, as that’s the only number on their receipt from the Corozal office when I shipped the modem (why would you put a local number on it?), to ask for the Corozal BPMS number, which they gave me. After calling them, I found out they’re not open on Saturdays, so Monday is the day - I hope.

I did work on the shade house for a couple of hours on Saturday. I drilled holes and mounted bolts connecting the vertical pipes with the flange nipple. Now, I just need to get more fittings and the thing should go together quickly. We’ll see.

Just to prove it's not all 'work and no play' down here, here's Deeohgee playin' it cool.
Sup, Dude?
More to come on the next posting.



JRinSC said...

Don't ya just love that kinda "lost" feeling when the box don't work and the tubes are up and running for just about everyone but you!!! Been there... but, then again, not down in Belize.

I actually get along for a couple of weeks at a time when I'm off somewhere like Corozal. Doesn't really bother me... except that little voice that says "whew, boy.. what a load off messages to wade through when we get back!"

I must say, that most of the time I am on and off the computer all day long. I do most everything on there now. I haven't bought a laptop or such yet since I'm able to exist for a few days without going completely bonkers.

Anyway, glad you're back and up and having fun again! Sorry my idea on the shower clips didn't pan out. I would have sworn that the stores there would have them in big bins where you could just buy 'em like nails. Remind me to pack a few dozen next trip where I can swap 'em for drinks at most any

Take care,


Dave Rider said...

Hi Julian,

I'll bet you a shower ring that they'll still want some money for that drink.

Laptops are all we've had since we moved down here. I don't miss having a big desktop machine with the exception of a large screen.

At work I had three 21" monitors. I was livin' large then. Now, I'm happy with 13 or 14 inches.

I like the idea of taking the laptop anywhere in the house even though I don't do it very often. Same with taking it on trips - I've done that one time since we've been here.