Wednesday, November 12, 2008


It's getting close now, this move to the jungle. It feels like we took a hiatus from all of it since J came back and then the floods hit. But now, my head is filled with all we need to figure out.

1. International cell phone plans. Which is the cheapest, preferably something that doesn't bind me to a contract. One I can use either in the US or in Central America, but mainly for calls between countries rather than the local ones.
2. Earth friendly cleaning supplies. We'd like to make our own or at least not harm the planet in the process. However, supplies where we are going will be limited.
3. Canning. Who knows about canning. Can you can anything you want? Must google. Or ask her. Or her.
4. Medical things I need to take care of before I go. Is there a MD in the house?
5. Shit. Not literally. Remember, all we apparently need is a bucket.
6. Sorry, it's a bit stressful.
7. Spices. Must make sure we are covered. Beans and rice will get boring quick. Must figure out recipes that can be spiced up a little. Rustic low budget yet deliciously spiced meals. I am guessing she can help me with this one.
8. Non-pasteurized milk and cheese. Is it really such a big deal?
9. Solar powered charger(s). Ideally we'd like to use the sun as much as possible but we'd also want it to power our laptop. That requires more juice. Or more expensive juice.
10. French press coffee makers or whatever they are called when you don't have to plug it in. Which one is best? Same for a hand grinder.
11. This post is really boring.
12. Advice welcome.

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flutter said...

Dude, I told you I would give you advice on canning your head, if you wanted to :)

International calling cards are probably the best bang for your buck. Don't ask me how I know that

Island Travel Girl said...

We do a ton of int'l calling for work - and we all use Skype. It's pretty damn cool (you said you would have internet, right ????) for calling long distance, and international AND instant messaging. Skype to Skype is free, I believe, all the time. And bonus, if you have a camera on your computer, it is also a videophone.

Island Travel Girl said...

Sorry, forgot one more thing. There is this Barbara Kingsolver book ("Animal Vegetable, Miracle") I just read about living off your land. It is inspiring, and they have a super informative website, with recipes and techniques for canning, drying, preserving, etc.

Holly said...

Well, the jungle I live in is more of the urban variety, but I do know a little about living way south of the US (Argentina) and I also lived in a more literal jungle in Gabon (Africa) a few years ago, although I was still in a town and on the grid (though not a very reliable one).

If you will have a high-speed internet connection, I'd go with Skype or Vonage for your international calls. We have Vonage. It's a regular phone with an American phone number, so calling us is not an intimidating international foray for our friends and family back home. The connection is better than our local phone. We pay about $35 a month for unlimited calling to the US, Canada and several European countries, plus cheap calls to other places as well. They also have something called the V-phone that looks like a little pen-drive that turns your internet-connected laptop into a phone wherever in the world you are, but I don't have that. I know other people who are similarly thrilled with Skype, so check out both.

For cell phones, buy unlocked GSM phones in the US (google it, and you will find online retailers) before you go. Then you can buy whatever calling plan you want in Belize and when you travel, you can buy prepaid plans with local companies where you're going and just swap out the chip in the phone and you're good to go. I don't know of any truly international plan that would be cost-effective unless you are traveling all the time. My husband's work cell works everywhere he goes in North and South America (and probably elsewhere), but I think it's a pretty expensive plan. By the way, most of those pre-paid chips expire if you don't use them for 3 months, so don't buy too many minutes at a time. For a while I had four different chips in my possession (Gabon, Thailand, France, US). Now I only have one (sob) and go without when visiting the US.

You also might want to buy some electrical voltage stabilizers and/or battery backup systems before you go. You can get these kinds of things online, like at a place called SamStores dot com (you can get those unlocked phones there, too) or probably e-bay. That way power surges/irregularities and outages won't fry your laptop, battery chargers, etc. You can get quality plug adapters from them, too, if they're necessary.

As for the unpasteurized milk... are you sure that's the case? In both Gabon and Argentina the milk is available in a box that is apparently so pasteurized you don't even have to refrigerate it until you open it. Or are you planning on producing your own milk (via a cow or goat, I mean)?

For coffee, you should look into a stovetop percolator or Google "stovetop espresso makers", depending on your preferences. I loved my little stovetop espresso maker when we lived in Gabon. I think it's also called a macchinetta (I think they're an Italian thing, although I bought mine in France). I also loved my French Press. If you get an insulated stainless steel one, the coffee will stay hot for a long time. The glass ones cool off pretty fast if you want to have more than one cup.

Also, do you have a plan for disinfecting your fruits and vegetables? I guess if you grown them yourself it's not an issue, but if you buy them in a market (or even a grocery store there) it might be very risky to your digestive happiness to just wash them in tap water. In Gabon, people either soaked them in a weak bleach solution or used potassium permanganate tablets in water. Regular dish detergent is apparently not enough. Many people just dried them off afterward and ate them like that, and you really couldn't taste the bleach. Otherwise, you'd have to rinse them with purified/bottled water, which seemed wasteful. I generally just cooked everything that couldn't be peeled, but I love salad, so for that I used the potassium permanganate and never had a problem, but other people said it was less effective than bleach. Something to think about... (although you probably already have!).

Good luck! Can't wait to read about it!

Omaha Mama said...

Holy crap. This post made me feel panicky and I'm not moving to the jungle.
I have no help for you.
Although, there's a blog called 4 Reluctant Entertainers and she's a canner. She cans. And could possibly help you with your canning questions.
Me, I'm not help at all.

motherbumper said...

Baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide does many jobs - cheaply. And our grinder similar to this one does it well BUT we found a cheaper one that looks like two freebies with a crank on top that works just as well (camping supplies - couldn't find one online). OMG I wish I could go with you.

Gwen said...

I'm pretty sure I grew up on un-pasteurized everything and look how I turned out. Oh, wait, no. I grew up on *powdered* milk which is a thing of great ick. Forget it.

I'm so excited for you! (in a "wow, I'm really glad that's not me" kind of way).

Gwen said...

Re: fruits and veggies, which Holly brought up. When we spent that month living in Mexico, we didn't use anything fancy to clean our fruits and veggies. Just clean water. We ate out of roadside stalls and tiendas that were pretty sketchy, too, and never got sick.

I'm trying to remember what it was like when I lived in Indonesia. Mostly we just cleaned our food with water: never bleach or those purple permanganate tabs or anything. And we were fine (except for the mosquito-borne diseases which have nothing at all to do with dirty food). I don't know how worried you are about food cleanliness; that will probably affect the willingness you feel to stress about washing your food.

Christine said...

2. vinegar. plain white vinegar is a disinfect, its cheap, and easy to find, and safe.

7. bring lots of cumin.

8. you and J will probably be ok, but use caution with the little one

Mad said...

You can can just about anything. Buy "The Ball Home Canning Guide" and take a lot of mason jars with you. Also make sure you have a large dutch oven or stock pot (or two) so that you can both cook the preserves and then process them.

As for coffee: We love our bodum.

patches said...

Someone mentioned Skype, but I want to second it. I use that to talk to my spouse when he travels to Europe. It's easier than the cell phones.

TZT said...

Amen on the vinegar and baking soda - you can get the latter from soap supply companies in large quantities as sodium bicarbonate.

Liquid castille soap is also useful for everything. Trader Joe's carries a knockoff of Dr. Bronner's that is extra cheap, but soap supply companies on the web may be the better way to go on that too. You can also infuse it with essential oil easily (a few drops in a big batch closed on a shelf for 2-4 weeks makes the whole bottle smell of the oil), which can be handy for a lot of things - citronella for help against mosquitoes, tea tree oil for disinfecting, any oil that lifts your mood or comforts you for general cleaning - orange oil is a good one.

crazymumma said...

oh hon. I wish I were as bold as you. And, you could not be boring if you tried.

Defiantmuse said...

wellll, my dear, you should most definitely stop in Hopland at the Solar Living Center on your way up here. It's half-way so a good stopping point, M will love it b/c there is even a solar powered carousel, and you and J can check out the insane amount of awesome goods they have for easy (and cheapish) living off the grid. They also have nifty little things that are good for camping (or just living rustic) like hand cranked coffee grinders and two person sized french presses, etc.

spices, yes, I second the cumin suggestion. also curry powder.

Americans worry way too much about things being pasteurized, imho. So, no, I don't think it's such a big deal.

Magpie said...

No, you can't can everything, unless you are REALLY hardcore. What you need is this book: BALL Complete Book of Home Preserving. And you'll need jars and rings and lids (and new lids every time you can anew; jars and rings are reusable).

Here are some homemade cleaning products.

The AeroPress Coffee Maker is supposed to be good, but it requires filters. This Unbreakable French Press might be a better idea. It's plastic, not glass and needs no filters.

jen said...

you guys are awesome. thank you.

heels said...

Something I know something about! YAY!

I use the Bodum Stainless Press Pot everyday to make my coffee. It is my absolute favorite. We had an "unbreakable" for a while, but it turns out that the POT is unbreakable, but the screen assembly is not, and is kinda crappy. Ours didn't last through two camping trips.

The Bodum, however, is a TANK. We have used and abused that thing for nearly 2 years now, and you can not tell. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

It's worth the price, because, if they are all as sturdy as ours, it will be a LONG time before you need to replace it.

mamatulip said...

Seconding (thirding?) the baking soda/vinegar nods.

Spices - basil, cumin, curry, garlic, oregano, marjoram, chilies?

cce said...

I've heard plain old newspaper can be used to wash there's my two cents.

But, while I have little jungle worthy house keeping or cooking advice, may I just say that I am so in awe of what you and your family are about to do. I'm really, really floored by the lifestyle change your willing to make. My hat is way, way off to you and yours!

Anonymous said...

Get a pressure cooker/canner for the non-acidic foods you might want to can (vegetables, etc.) and a regular canner for fruits and tomatoes, pickles and jam. A pressure cooker is also good for cooking regular foods quickly, like beans or even rice--there are tons of resources out there. Invest in some canning jars because they're great for storing dry things and also for preserving produce. We usually keep about 36 to 48 jars around and store stuff in them after we empty them of canned goods.

Get the canning cookbooks and follow their advice!

Cleaning products that are earth friendly? Vinegar and lemon juice come to mind. Vinegar is good to have for all kinds of uses.

My parents grew up in the depression, and when we were growing up, they were so flat-ass broke, we didn't have running hot water in our house and had to heat our bathing water in a big canner on a wood stove, even in summer. My mom made her own soap, her own sauerkraut, her own pickles, flour, pancake syrup and ketchup. And this was in the 1980s.

You can totally do this.

KC said...

I'm also fan of the bodum french press - used to use one back in the day.

Okay, am assuming you know about this page: +tetanus.

Make sure M is up to date with vaccines.

I'd get everyone a full physical, basic labs, have extra medicines on hand (antibiotics, inhalers, etc). Anti-malarial medication, insect repellant with high amounts of DEET.

Pasteurization: it kills bacteria. People can get sick from unpasteurized milk. Maybe for you it would be minor - gi issues, fever, cramping, headache, vomiting - but children, pregnant women, and the elderly would be at risk to develop severe infections.

ugh. I sound like such a nerd.

Madge said...

starbucks used to have a travel french press that was really very sturdy. of course, since i french press every day and somewhere along the line my travel french press broke maybe it wasn't that great --- but less breakable than the usual ones...

Jill said...

Hey Jen-

A book that was invaluable to me when I lived in Belize for 2 years was a mennonite cookbook published in the 70's called More with Less...I'm pretty sure you can get it in country since there is the large mennonite community there. it is great for making things from scratch-

i agree with others about skpe, haven't used it, but heard great things about it. i'm so excited for you---every time i read one of your "jungle" posts it brings me back to my time there...we may be back down that way for a brief visit in the coming year- funny if i end up meeting you in person in belize for the first time! ok, this comment is getting to long...i'll send you an email with my other suggestions :)

painted maypole said...

totally clueless, but I bet the blogosphere will come through for you!

Deezee said...

everyone above is so knowledgeable.

visit this site for some additional coffee goodies, but the stove top maker mentioned above it great.

I'd get happily lost looking at solar powered products. I'm a tech junkie that way.

jen said...

thank you all so, so much. we love the bodum, am looking into gsms, fantastic!!

QT said...

I've got absolutely nothing to add...:) Except remember to have fun.

Anonymous said...

Vinegar is a very good cleaner, mild acid, easy to get, non-toxic and smells nice.

For an abrasive cleaner, maybe salt?

Bleach is good too, although I don't think that would come under the heading of earth friendly.

Good luck woman.

Kyla said...

I'm proud of you. This boggles my mind, but I love it for you.

Ally said...

All I know is NO you cannot can everything. There has to be the right PH balance in there and you don't want to mess around with botulism or other bad crap that happens if you don't get it right. You should definitely get a book on canning and make sure it comes along with you to the jungle. But I'm guessing the best resources are going to be the other women in your village. You know they're going to school you up right and make sure you know how to do all this stuff.

Ally said...

And ditto what Deb said about vinegar. Baking soda is also good for cleaning.

SkittleSkattle said...


Check this site out:

I saw the charger on the Today show this weekend and thought it was amazing!

I've been to Ambergris Caye twice now and it is so Americanized it is crazy. If you need to get anything, that little island has it all. It sounds like you will be extremely more remote, but just thought you'd like to know - it is a fun vacation island. Lots of great scuba diving too. Good luck and I'm fascinated by your journey!

luckyzmom said...

I used to think a lot about how I would survive if stranded on a tropical island like on "Gilligans Island" and I am envying your experience.