Exploring the old Chiquola Mill

•March 26, 2010 • 5 Comments

Jacob, Wilson and I recently drove over to the historic Chiquola Mill here in Honea Path to see what there was to see. It turns out that we were able to access most of what is left. The mill operated from 1903 to 2003, and has been in a state of slow demolition since then.

The historic Chiquola Mill in Honea Path, SC

Amazingly, there is virtually no security at the site, and we were able to simply drive up to it and walk right in a broken roll-up door. We DO NOT recommend that anyone go to the site and explore due to numerous hazards including crumbling structural elements, shear drops, open elevator shafts, industrial materials and chemicals, and sharp glass, among other things.

A picture from back when the mill was in full operation

The first and second floors are the only ones that are completely structurally intact. Half of floors three and four are still in place.

Looking out an office window on the first floor

The first floor looks like this.

Each side of the complex had a stairwell, though one was in much better shape than the other. We were only able to go up one floor on the north side but all the way up on the south side.

Half of the second floor is open to the sky

We were able to access the fourth floor from the south stairwell.

We found this old Polaroid of Alvin Sturghill. Employee of the month?

We went through some offices and out a back door and found this old monument to employees with over 50 years of service. The top is missing.

Wilson looking out a third floor window.


The Robbery Bus to Cortes

•February 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Birds that might as well have been right next to our little hut woke us up this morning at La Casa Rosada. We skipped breakfast and hurried out, grabbing two Snickers bars from a store on the walk down to the dock. We caught the next 30-minute water taxi to Puerto Barrios, where the adventure began.

After wandering around and finally finding a place to change our last Belize dollars into Guatemalan quetzales, we tried to find a person who could call Ron from a cell phone. Ron had told us to call him in Puerto Barrios so he could meet us at the Honduran border. Ron has basically adopted us here, and said that since sometimes the bus from the border into Puerto Cortes gets robbed, he’d feel better about picking us up there. Well, no one could reach him. Something weird about calling a Honduras number from a Guatemala phone. We even tried it from a pay phone and left a voice mail- on some woman’s phone. We asked people to dial his number on their phone, but they said he wasn’t picking up.

So we had given up on that and as soon as we went looking for the bus station to get

a bus to the border, a minibus pulled up beside us. A young man was hanging out the open rear door and he yelled “Frontera de Honduras!” How did he know? We were a little weirded out, so Clif told him to hang on a second. We went into a store and asked where we could find a bus to Honduras. They pointed at the minibus in front of us. We looked in. Three older women were sitting in the back and one of them had a child. Looked safe enough, so we hopped on. The man collected 20 quetzales (about $2.50) for each of us and we were on our way.

We stopped at numerous small rural towns to pick up additional passengers and soon, the minibus was crammed full with mostly women and children. Again, we were the only English-speakers. By the time we reached the border we were the only ones left on board, and they let us off about 100 yards from the passport check. We paid our three dollars to get into Honduras.

Now to find Ron. If in fact he had somehow gotten our message, our arrangement had been to meet in the border town of Corinto, Honduras. We got directions to the town, but it was not clear to us that Corinto was about a mile down a side dirt road. So we walked maybe a mile out of town down the highway before deciding it was not the way to Corinto and we turned back. We caught a taxi to take us into Corinto and after making the rounds of the town and deciding Ron was not there, we got the taxi to bring us back to the border area. All this took close to two hours.

We finally hopped on the robbery bus to Cortes. Luckily for us, this trip was without incident. A Honduran Pentecostal Christian named Edgar let us borrow his phone and we were finally able to get through to Ron. He told us to meet him at the Omoa bus stop, and 45 minutes later, we were there and so was he. And so now, after surviving on only a Snickers bar for the last 20 hours, we just finished another excellent Southern meal of pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, beans and coleslaw. And sweet tea. A great way to adjust our stomachs back to Southern cooking. We return tomorrow. Pictures to come then.


View from the garden

View from the garden

Boat to Livingston, Guatemala

•February 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Ian and Kate

Well, we didn’t hear any howler monkeys last night, possibly because we were dead tired after not sleeping much the night before. So we failed in our scientific mission for all mankind, but even so, Ian was kind enough to deliver tea and french-press coffee to our front porch this morning. After a bread and butter breakfast with coffee and juice, Ian drove us into town and dropped us off at the immigration office and dock. We said our goodbyes and set off on the tiny boat with a Canadian couple that had also stayed at Hickatee.

The boat had seats for 12 passengers, but because it was seemingly overloaded with cargo in the front (including huge sacks of frozen chickens), they crammed all seven of the passengers into the back two rows and took off. The ride took maybe an hour, and we disembarked in the city of Livingston. Clif sat on the far left side of the boat and as a result, his left arm is very sunburned right now.

Just before Belizean customs told us to put the camera away

The boat may have been overloaded with frozen chickens

Livingston is a small city of maybe 20,000 people, with a mixture of Garifuna and Mayan peoples. It is hilly with narrow streets and lots of shops and people walking around.

We are staying at Hotel Casa Rosada, which is an amazing value for the money. $20/night gets you a private thatched bungalow with bug nets over the beds, a fan and a bathroom shared with two other bungalows. Javier, the owner is very personable. He is of Mayan descent and was born and raised here in Livingston. His wife is Belgian, and they have owned and operated the hotel together for seven years.

Looking out from La Casa Rosada

The dock of La Casa Rosada with the lights of Puerto Barrios in the distance

In the morning we will take one last (shorter) boat ride to the city of Puerto Barrios and catch a bus to Honduras. There, assuming we can get in touch, we plan to link up with Ron and his family again. We should be able to post pictures from his computer.

Flight into the jungle

•February 19, 2010 • 1 Comment

We got up early and hurried down to the Swiss bakery in Placencia before we had to meet our flight out at 9:10 local time. Placencia was very nice, extremely laid back. We were offered pot more than once, met a lot of great Garifuna locals and had a really relaxing time. The Seaspray Hotel was adequate with hot water and fans in the rooms, but possibly the lumpiest pillows on earth. They felt like bags of hard styrofoam peanuts. But for $25/night we can’t complain.

Our flight turned out to be on a little 12-seat Cessna. The 20-minute flight followed the coastline over mangroves with distant mountains visible. Ian, the British owner of Hickatee Cottages met us upon our arrival here in Punta Gorda (or PG as it’s known locally). PG is the end of the road in Belize, no roads lead south from here. A 20-mile trek through the jungle would lead to the Guatemalan border. Ian informed us that it was only at the beginning of this year that PG became connected by highway to the rest of the country.

A TropicAir boarding pass

Our plane

That's a paying customer in the co-pilot seat

Placencia from the air

Ian and Kate travelled for 11 months around Central America in the mid-90s before settling here in PG around 5 years ago. Hickatee Cottages is set in the jungles two miles down a dirt road outside the town of PG. Cottages surround a beautiful garden and two loop trails lead out into the rainforest for easy wildlife spotting (we’ve had no luck though). Ian reports multiple sightings of jaguars, several kinds of monkeys, toucans, boa constrictors and other exotic creatures. Upon our arrival, we were handed forms to fill out and note our observations of howler monkeys while we’re here. These observations will help a team of scientists sponsored by the Smithsonian who will be traveling here in the near future to make the initial studies of howler monkeys in this region.

A cool tree

Ian is particularly passionate about insects, birds and wildlife in general, and just a few minutes ago showed us a moth he had captured in a net that hasn’t even been named yet. Earlier today we asked him about tarantulas in the area and he brought us outside to find one. Within a few seconds he had found a tarantula burrow in the grass on the grounds here. He was unsuccessful in coaxing it out, but we did get a glimpse. We were just impressed that he found one so quickly.

Amanda’s research into mosquito species has continued here with much success. It seems like DEET, when combined with Amanda’s skin, can attract all sorts of annoying insects. After emerging from our short jungle trek, Clif noticed  mosquito perched on Amanda’s forehead and slapped it, killing the mosquito and spilling its contents onto everyone involved. Amanda screamed and ran back into our room to clean it off.

Also today, we got the chance to explore the town of Punta Gorda for a few hours. Ian pointed out an old Confederate graveyard. It turns out that after the Civil War, many Confederate soldiers left the USA and moved to places like Mexico, Brazil and Belize. Some returned to the States after a few years, but many stayed and died in this part of the world. We’ll post pictures as soon as we get the chance.

Old Confederate graveyard in Punta Gorda, Belize

Till then, we’ll be dutifully listening for the howler monkeys for the betterment of science and knowledge (they come out at night). Good night.

Last day in Placencia

•February 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The musician at the Secret Garden restaurant wasn’t bad. He played acoustic covers of U2, Arcade Fire, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Mr. Big, etc. We didn’t get a chance to ask him about his U2 connection though. The restaurant was awesome though; great chicken dinners for around $9-10 and sides like coconut rice, which were delicious.

The sign shows the way

This morning, we went in search of John the Bakerman, whose signs we’ve been seeing around town. We found the place past a few houses off the main sidewalk that leads through town. The place really looked like a shack but smelled great, so we went in. We bought amazing fresh coffee bread and a cinnamon roll.

It was true

After an afternoon nap, we bought a hand carved wooden bowl from a guy named Edwin who comes down here occasionally for a few months from his home north of Belize City. He polished it up for us after we purchased it and delivered it to us at the Tipsy Tuna bar a few doors down. We bought him a beer for his troubles and sat and talked for a while.

Edwin and Amanda with the bowl we bought

Beachside at the Tipsy Tuna

Placencia beach

Tomorrow morning we take a quick 20-minute flight (presumably in a tiny plane) south to Punta Gorda. We’ll try to make another post there.

Around town

•February 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The post office in Placencia

On private property somewhere outside Placencia

Beer. Except it's juice.

Upon our arrival, they named the local paper after Amanda

Upon our arrival, they named the local paper after Amanda

View from the pier at Placencia

The view from the dock in Placencia

We happened to meet up with our new friend Renska last night (the Dutch woman from the boat). We drank and talked until we were the last people left at the Pickled Parrot bar (Placencia is not a happening place on Mondays). She recently lost her job as a marketer with a Dutch cow magazine and decided to take six weeks to travel around Central America. True story! It’s a magazine about show cows and it has 12,000 worldwide subscribers. It was a lot of fun listening to her stories of her trip and talking about differences between the US and Europe.

Clouds rolled into the Placencia area overnight, so we took the opportunity to rent bikes and ride around the area a little bit. We rode maybe two or three miles north through what’s called Placencia village, past the airstrip and some small resorts. We drank juices at a cool coffeehouse called the Secret Garden, where there’s supposed to be live music tonight performed by someone who claims to have something to do with “the international U2 Elevation show.” Hmmm. We’ll see.

Speedboat to Placencia, Belize

•February 16, 2010 • 1 Comment

The former Hendersonville, NC fire truck

Getting a tour of the fire station

With all the bomberos

In the speedboat to Placencia

So anyway, Ron now runs a heavy equipment parts company out of his office in Puerto Cortes. Ron also took Clif to meet some real firefighters- the Puerto Cortes Bomberos. One of their trucks was donated from the US in 2004, and still says Hendersonville Fire Department (as in NC) on the side along with Puerto Cortes’ logo. Ron then took us with his family to a beach called Pepsi-Cola beach between Cortes and Omoa, then out to dinner at El Delfin, a nice seafood place in Puerto Cortes, where we had fried conch and shrimp.

This morning we checked out of Suenos de Mar, said goodbye to Mark and Karen, and Ron drove us to the dock at Cortes to buy our boat tickets to Belize. Amanda failed to puke even once on the two-hour speedboat trip. This is very good news. On the boat, we met a Dutch woman who is coming to the end of her six-week solo trip in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. There was also a youngish couple from New Zealand, but we didn’t get a chance to talk to them. So after clearing customs in Big Creek, a big industrial port, the boat took us the remaining 10 minutes through the mangroves to Placencia.

Placencia is gorgeous. With only around 1000 permanent residents, one street and one long sidewalk, its a very laid-back place. We’ve already met some great Caribbean people with dreads and rasta hats, one of whom told us to come back because he’s da coconut mon. He’ll cut open da coconut, pour in da rum and da juice, and put in a straw. We’ll take him up on that tomorrow. Tonight, we ate dinner on the beach under palm trees at De Tatch restaurant. The conch fritters and fish burgers were delicious.

We’ll attempt to post pictures again tomorrow, but we’re not sure it will work. Till then…