The Slickrock water sports resort at Long Caye, Belize is an impressive example of appropriate technology in action! The island is 35 miles off shore, outside the barrier reef. People live simply here, but they have quite an array of comforts.
Each cabana has a solar-powered light. The cabanas are oriented toward the trade winds for natural cooling breezes — no AC here! — and no rumbling, smelly diesel generators to provide it.
The kitchen, the largest building at the resort, has it’s own 1000W solar array plus a 400W wind generator. Since the sea breezes occur most of the time, the wind generator produces quite a lot of power. A bank of golf cart batteries store the power, which runs the house lights, iPod player, a chest freezer, and 2 electric refrigeration units — all on 12V power. Cooking stoves and a couple of older refrigeration units run on butane. The low voltage appliances do a great job, while just sipping power — they are designed to be super-efficient, plus have 4” of foam insulation, which is essential in the tropics. There are additional solar and wind systems on the Caye, which run more buildings farther from the kitchen.
Shower water is pumped up to an elevated tank, and flows to the showers by gravity. A 200 foot coil of black poly pipe on the shower house roof heats up in the sun, and a small pump transfers the heated water to the shower tank.
The drinking water at Slickrock is rainwater, which is caught on the tin roofs of several buildings, and stored in large polyethelene tanks. This is the traditional source of drinking water in the cayes.
Between rain storms, the tank inlets are covered. When a big rain moves in, they let the rain clean off the roof for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water runs “sweet,” not salty. Then the inlet covers are removed and the tanks fill. Wash water for dishes and laundry comes from shallow wells, which are fairly good during the rainy season, but become more brackish during the dry season. The wells are about 3’ deep, and water is just a foot or so down.
When you have a water table this high, septic systems are not an option. In the old days, folks on the cayes used outhouses, which tend to be smelly with hydrogen sulfide and methane. Slickrock has a composting toilet system, which works well and quickly in the heat of the tropics. There is a big fiberglass tank under the toilet building, with large chutes coming up to the pottys. After you do your business, a cup of planer shavings are put down the chute, as a bulking agent. The tank has a vent fan, and air is pulled through the mass of compost, keeping the organic action aerobic. Aerobic bacteria make water vapor and carbon dioxide, so the process is not smelly, to the amazement of many guests.
At the end of the season, after a rest period, the compost is removed and used to fertilize coconut trees. The compost looks like good potting soil, and is not obnoxious or smelly. The process has allowed the new hybrid coconut trees to thrive and grow quickly. Compost toilets treat the organic waste more thoroughly then septic systems, destroying pathogens and even viruses well.
The resort is purposely rustic, and reminds many guests of their youthful summer camp experiences, with the addition of a chest cooler full of cold beers and sodas, largely made possible by renewable energy.