Heading for mainland Belize

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A resident of southern Ambergris Caye.
A resident of southern Ambergris Caye.

It is 9 am and our bags are packed but were not ready to go. San Pedro is a multi-layered, complicated town on a beautiful island and were just beginning to pick up on its true nature and rhythms.

Yes, there are some crabby types in Paradise.
Yes, there are some crabby types in Paradise.

Fortunately we’ll be back for five days at the end of our journey.

We’ve already become friends with the woman who runs the place we’ll be staying at upon our return, because of Rose of course. The two were in a yoga class Saturday morning and hit it off well.

Gaylynn is a former Californian and like a lot of people here, it seems, she does a lot of jobs. She runs the resort, an athletic club don the street and a condo complex next to the athletic club, among other jobs.

And she has the energy to get it all done.

Signposts are all around San Pedro, so getting lost is a challenge. Well, getting lost on an island is a challenge to begin with.
Signposts are all around San Pedro, so getting lost is a challenge. Well, getting lost on an island is a challenge to begin with.

Gaylynn has offered to keep an eye out for the right property for us for our eventual migration to Belize. Though we’ve yet to explore the rest of the country,  San Pedro just might be the place.

We really like it here.

Already Rose is talking with two women (her yoga instructors) who will be opening a wellness center in San Pedro later this year. It is the kind of work Rose does right now — therapeutic and restorative yoga and pilates — and they are interested in incorporating her skills into their group which will also include a chiropractor.

Sounds like a good thing for the aging expat community that is headed this way! Still, nothing firm and much to talk about but it is great to see possibilities opening before you.

We rented a golf cart again yesterday afternoon and went as far south as we could, past some really nice houses and condo complexes. It is pretty remote and the road is a kidney cruncher.

Some beautiful crafts along the beach area. Saw our first acquaintance Jesus Anthony walking the beach with a crazy coconut "party hat" on his head. He'll make and sell anything given a few coconuts.
Some beautiful crafts along the beach area. Saw our first acquaintance Jesus Anthony walking the beach with a crazy coconut “party hat” on his head. He’ll make and sell anything given a few coconuts.

We suspect that a lot of people simply keep a boat for the ride into town — the fastest and smoothest way to get around.

Our taxi arrives in a few minutes and we head off for northern Belize and Corozal for a few days. But, really, we can’t wait to get back to Isla Bonita.

Last night, atop the Blue Tang Inn for sunset.
Last night in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, atop the Blue Tang Inn for sunset.

Move over, buddy, I have a golf cart and I’m crazy!

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The view from the pool at the Blue Tang Inn in San Pedro. At the left is Wet Willy's at the end of a pier. My friend Kevin Brass says Jerry Jeff Walker ("Mr. Bo Jangles") used to give an invitation-only concert out there. You can read Kevin's story here.
The view from the pool at the Blue Tang Inn in San Pedro. At the left is Wet Willy’s at the end of a pier. My friend Kevin Brass says Jerry Jeff Walker (“Mr. Bo Jangles”) used to give an invitation-only concert out there. You can read Kevin’s story here.

After experiencing a genuine San Pedro traffic jam this morning, Rose and I naturally went out and rented a golf cart for the afternoon. At least we went north of San Pedro, away from the traffic.

Even then, the clerk was horrified when I told him we were headed to the north end of the island.

“You know its been raining,” said Allen.

Rose posing at the Ak'Bol Yoga Retreat just north of San Pedro. Morning yoga classes are held at the end of the dock directly behind her.
Rose posing at the Ak’Bol Yoga Retreat just north of San Pedro. Morning yoga classes are held at the end of the dock directly behind her.

My blank face gave nothing away. So he continued, “The road is filled with potholes and ruts and big puddles. If you get the motor wet, it is a long way to push it back here.”

Point well taken.

He recommended going no farther than the Palapa Bar, about a half mile north of the toll bridge. We did make it a little farther, to the Grand Caribe resort.

And Allen was right to be concerned. “Washboard” doesn’t begin to describe the rutting of these dirt roads in the rainy season. My teeth and kidneys couldn’t have taken another half mile of it.

OK, if we rented this place ... the upside is I wouldn't have to mow the lawn. The downside is we'll never again own dry clothing. Still ...
OK, if we rented this place … the upside is I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn. The downside is we’ll never again own dry clothing. Still …  To the right is the Palapa Bar, on the end of a short pier. OK that’s another plus: The bar is a short row from your front door.

Seriously though,  worse than the road is the mosquitoes.

Every time we stopped to look a a house behind a for sale sign they would swarm the cart and try to tip it over. Only the most reckless swerving on my part kept them from getting a good grip on it.  Unfortunately a few thousand got through and attached themselves to  major parts of my body.

So proud to be giving blood in Belize. Wish it were for a greater cause.

As everyone knows, it is not the bites, it’s the itching.

A second view of the beach at Ak'Bol Yoga Retreat. Really lovely and lovingly maintained grounds.
A second view of the beach at Ak’Bol Yoga Retreat. Really lovely and lovingly maintained grounds.

Then there’s the Dengue Fever epidemic. Apparently 19 people on the island have contracted Dengue in the past couple of week. The culprit is a small black and white striped mosquito. Frankly I didn’t look at their markings as I squeegeed them off my arms and legs. I’ll let you know if I begin to ache in my joints, contract fevers and acquire headaches.

The best antidote for a mosquito attack is a Belikin beer out in the Palapa Bar. II think the mosquitoes are either afraid to swim or can’t fight the headwinds coming off the water. At any rate, they didn’t follow us down the pier to the bar.

Rony provides service with a smile at the Palapa Bar. The bar has Jimmy Buffet photos posted allover the place. I'm sure he is a god to the patrons of this way laid-back place.
Ronny provides service with a smile at the Palapa Bar. The bar has Jimmy Buffet photos posted allover the place. I’m sure he is a god to the patrons of this way laid-back place.

Like most places we’ve visited so far, this place was nearly deserted. In fact, while my burger was cooking, the few remaining guests got up and left.

That left bartender Ronny, a native Belizean, time to tell us about the enormous New England Patriots logo tattooed on to his right forearm. Seriously, why not a soccer team, like Manchester United or Chelsea? He’s just always been a fan, well, at least since his high school football coach told him about the Patriots.

Coolest feature of the Palapa: There is a cluster of inner tubes gathered in the warm Caribbean waters below the bar. You can lounge on them and the bar will lower drinks to you on a rope.

Since we had the golf cart for four hours we decided to see how far south we could go. Answer: Pretty far. It’s not like the cart has an odometer. It does have a turn signal which I was forever leaving on thus instantly becoming the old man in the gold cart you hate to drive behind …. The normally cheery Belizeans apparently are easily pissed off by tourists who forget to turn off their turn signals.

Sorry, my new friends. I’ll do better.

Traffic jam, island-style

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Taxis and golf carts are lined up along Coconut Avenue waiting to get through a road repair zone in San Pedro.
Taxis and golf carts are lined up along Coconut Avenue waiting to get through a road repair zone in San Pedro.

For the longest time last night we were the only diners in Wet Willy’s, a restaurant we chose for convenience and not the name. Wet Willy’s is an open-air palapa bar and restaurant that sits on the end of the pier across  from our inn.

Seeing as Wednesday night was Ladies Night at Wet Willy’s, we were concerned that the joint might be packed.

No worries. All the hot action started later, long after we were sound asleep. If there was any action at all. San Pedro is much quieter than I imagined. There are no teeming throngs of tourists rushing down narrow streets like rainwater in the open gutter.

Alternative route to the crowded, noisy streets in San Pedro? The beach sidewalk. This morning we had it practically to ourselves during a post-breakfast walk.
Alternative route to the crowded, noisy streets in San Pedro? The beach sidewalk. This morning we had it practically to ourselves during a post-breakfast walk.

But there was plenty of rainwater in the open gutter, which might explain the lack of tourists, teeming throngs and otherwise.

This is the rainy season after all. But the rain and accompanying wind come as a refreshing break from the heat and humidity. It rained for a while before dinner last night, as we sat on the porch and sipped drinks. And it rained briefly this morning as we made our way to Estel’s for breakfast.  Fortunately our rain gear is still safely tucked away in our backpacks ….

We met John and Rose East at Estel’s, an English-Irish couple who moved here permanently about 18 months ago.  John is keeping a blog about the construction of their new home, just north of San Pedro. He also salts his entries with tidbits about their life on the island.

This section of Ramon's Village Resort was spared from the devastating fire that destroying 29 units on Tuesday night.
This section of Ramon’s Village Resort was spared from the devastating fire that destroyed 29 units on Tuesday night.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon's Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon’s Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon's Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.
Scenes of devastation at Ramon’s Village Resort in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

We kept Sam the waiter busy filling coffee cups for nearly two hours as they told us about island life and their decision to leave England for the tropics. John and Rose had been vacationing here for 14 years  before making it their retirement home so it wasn’t on a romantic whim that they chose Ambergris Caye. In fact, they fell in love with it the first time they came here.

Clearly they are rich in information about making the transition but what was more reassuring was how at ease they are being strangers in a strange land. We’ll never be natives, they said matter of factually. Some here will never like you and some  will become good friends. Over the years, they have gained many Belizean friends and many expat friends. But they never feel the need to join an expat club. They are comfortable moving among all on the island.

This was actually great news to me because I’m not a joiner by nature. I’ve never seen the inside of a Rotary luncheon or put on a Lions Club sash. But I really like people. And was concerned about making the adjustment from the US to Belize.

I think we’ve made our first friends in Belize.

After breakfast Rose and I took a long walk down the beach, past the remains of Ramon’s Village Resort. It was very sad. The oldest resort on the island and much-beloved by locals, Ramon’s went up in flames Tuesday night. The ruins are still smoldering. Fire took 29 units as well as a restaurant, bar, gift shop and offices. Power was out on much of the island for hours. The fire put a lot of people out of work, too.

Needless to say, it is the talk of the island.

Things have improved since the last major fire — in 1999 — during which the islands only water-pump truck experienced pump failure … after losing its transmission. Even so, it took the trucks precious extra time to arrive because the road on which the resort resides has been torn up for repaving.

That is repaving as in paving stones.

We passed by the roadwork on the way home this morning and golf carts were lined up as far as you could see as construction trucks backed in and out of the site. Seriously, an island traffic jam.

Setting Belize aside for a moment ….

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“We can never have enough newspaper,” Cheryl Reynolds was saying Saturday morning to our little group of ten.

One of the storage areas that i got to organize today at International Bird Rescue. Anyone want 11 cases of Mr. Clean? It is way too fragrant to use on the birds.
One of the storage areas that i got to organize today at International Bird Rescue. Anyone want 11 cases of Mr. Clean? It is way too fragrant to use on the birds.

Yet another workshop on the future of print journalism?


Volunteer orientation for International Bird Rescue. When you process hundreds of wounded, sick, abandoned sea birds in scores of cages, yes, you need newspaper to line the cages.

I listened with a grin and tried not to dwell on the irony of a 40-year newsman confronting the ultimate end of his lifetime work.

An hour later, the area looked like this. Well, it's a start ...
An hour later, the area looked like this. Well, it’s a start …

I was at the sprawling facility on the wind-raked and sun-baked edge of the Suisun wetlands to become a volunteer. Two days earlier I hadn’t a clue that this facility existed until I passed by while out on a bike ride. A half-mile up the road I turned around – something turned me around – to investigate.

Next thing I know I was telling myself, yes, I could put in a few hours a week helping these folks.

This little guy -- an egret? -- looks like its waiting for some friends to get out of the recovery room....
This little guy — an egret? — looks like its waiting for some friends to get out of the recovery room….

The Fairfield complex is one of two first-call facilities during the inevitable oil spill off the coast of California. In fact, by caring for birds all year long, the legion of volunteers and handful of full-timers here are preparing themselves for the day when a tanker sinks or an oil well erupts in fire covering scores of sea birds in oily muck.

I can give them a couple of mornings before we leave for Belize and perhaps more time upon our return. Very excited to be able to help.

Is there a Belize connection? Sort of. There is Belize Bird Rescue, which focuses mainly on parrots and other exotic birds. But there are also shore birds and sea birds and where they exist there is conflict with development and birds in need. Some way, I’m sure, I’ll be able to apply the knowledge I learn here in Belize.

Beside, take one look at this International Bird Rescue  bird cam and tell me you wouldn’t want to work here!

Jumping right in

Tuesday morning I drove to International Bird Rescue to begin my first day as a volunteer – well, half day.

The beautiful new pelican enclosure at International Bird Rescue. Even the biggest birds have room to fly.
The beautiful new pelican enclosure at International Bird Rescue. Even the biggest birds have room to fly.

I walked through the gate, dropped my bag and immediately began helping to off-load boxes of frozen fish from a tractor trailer. Not a word was spoken as we passed the boxes from truck to cart to freezer.

As I quickly learned, not a lot of words are spoken on the grounds. As Cheryl Reynolds explained, talk is kept to a minimum because these are birds bought in from the wild and, with luck, they will be returned to the wild someday. Human voices can cause stress and even worse, the birds could grow comfortable with the sound of humans and even equate it with food. You are not even supposed to make eye contact with the birds!

So there’s a kind of monastic air about the place. And that sort of reminded me of my years in a Catholic seminary where talking was limited to class time, some meals and the occasional recreation period. As much as I hated that time of my life, I liked returning to the idea of working in silence.

Thich Nhat Hanh had taught me many years ago that in the practice of mindfulness, silence must envelope you, your senses, your emotions, your environment.

Keeping track of the customers who have passed through International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, Ca.
Keeping track of the customers who have passed through International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, Ca.

So in the spirit of mindfulness, I went about picking up trash and organizing big piles of junk. Joyfully.

International Bird Rescue plans a big dedication ceremony for its newest facility, a very large enclosed pen for pelicans, gulls and other flying birds. It is so big that pelicans can fly from end to end, flapping their wings into the wind.

Lesser projects tend to get dropped and forgotten when a shipment of abandoned ducklings or a pelican with a fish hook in its throat arrives, so there is “stuff” lying all around the campus.

I spent the morning consolidating stuff – concrete blocks with concrete blocks, tree limbs with tree limbs, tools with tools. I did what I could to organize two depot areas for ice chests, PVC pipe parts, lumber, electric pumps and a host of odds and ends.

There’s more work to be done but I left after a mere four hours coated in dust, sweat and grime — with a big smile in my heart. It felt good to be useful.

The real beauty in this facility is the selfless work that the small staff and dozens of volunteers do to save the lives of aquatic birds. When there is an oil spill, I’m told, this place hums around the clock with machine-like production lines – washing oil off birds, feeding them, repairing wounds, giving them a chance to revive before release.

I’d rather pick up trash than witness the devastation of an oil spill but the reality is  that day will come. I hope I am ready.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping to do whatever I can to help International Bird Rescue put its best face forward when the public and politicians arrive for the dedication.

Oh. My. God. I’m not broke!

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Imagine my surprise when I found out that I still have a pension, and a six-figure one at that.  And a 401K/IRA, albeit a much punier bastard sibling.

I hadn’t looked closely at the books since Wall Street took our economy down. I just didn’t have the stomach. And besides I was still working full-time as a reporter, still loving the work I was doing and still thinking that I had a real future in my profession.

I won’t get into the indignities of being made a “part-time” employee after 27 years and consequently stripped of all benefits, including medical. I had a great run, after all, and will forever be grateful for the opportunities that came my way, whether I made good use of them or not.

The fact is, my world changed. But good – no, wonderful – things came with the bad. I’d gotten married to the most incredible woman, Rose Alcantara, and we were in the midst of a dance about how we were to merge her Northern California life and mine in San Diego.

Sometimes fate intercedes, when there is no clear path.

I quit the San Diego Union-Tribune and took a temporary, full-time communications job with a terrific public agency, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).  And when that assignment was up I jettisoned most of my possessions (as I have done before in my life) and moved to Northern California to be with Rose.

Why didn’t Rose move to San Diego? Many good reasons: She had an infirm mother in her 90’s to care for; she had a lovely teen daughter, Caira (to whom I’d promised very early on that she would graduate high school with her friends); she had a hard-earned and thriving business in her own Pilates studio. Rose also had a large and beautiful home with an underwater mortgage that was an anchor tied to her dreams.

I pretty quickly realized that after nearly 40 years as a full-time newspaper and newsweb writer and editor whose every job was a gift of providence, I was ill-equipped to reinvent myself. (Can you imagine? I have a box of business cards on which I define myself as a “Content Evangelist.”)

I tried. I sent out scores of resumes into an eerie void of silence; I attended various classes on job searching and resume building; I was even a member of networking groups in two towns, both called Job Club – Napa on Mondays and Fairfield on Thursdays. There were some really smart and talented people in those groups and some who you could just tell would never seriously work again. There were broken spirits and also highly motivated souls determined to create their own next breaks.

I slowly came to the conclusion that as much as I love to write, I don’t think I could do it for anyone else any more. What’s the alternative when writing is all you have done for 40 years?

Well, there is retirement.

That’s when I blew the cobwebs off the links to my pension and 401K and opened the lids. (Cue that creepy screeching noise of rusty hinges.)

Oh. My. God. I’m not broke. Well, not completely.

The bad news is our “nest egg” is pretty modest. We could never move back to San Diego, for example, unless we wanted to live in some dry-toast rural East County trailer park. Our other dream, of moving into San Francisco, is tragi-comically inaccessible.  We could continue living in Fairfield but Rose was now filling her every waking hour with clients to meet her mortgage and other bills. My pension would help, but what then?

Some things began to happen. Caira graduated from high school and started college in Arizona. Last November, I got quite sick and required surgery (which wasn’t possible until April when I got enrolled in an early version of God-Bless-You-Obamacare). Both of my parents died and Rose’s mom passed away. And most recently, it appears that Rose’s house has risen above water, giving us the option of a debt-free life. Somewhere.

For reasons I have discussed before, we have opted to move to a foreign country. That would be Belize. For now, it appears that we can live comfortably, with financial room to spare, on my pension and Social Security alone. If Rose or I decide to supplement retirement with work – and we both suspect that we will – we have that option, too. We also have the option of traveling on our “surplus” income, developing a business of our own, house swapping, surfing, kayaking, reading, living…

It sort of comes down to this: Whereas before we faced an endless series of compromises and struggles living in the United States, we now face endless potential in a foreign country.

Will the reality prove us right or are we just a couple of dreamers who drank the promotional ex-pat Kool-Aid?

Well, finding out is just part of the adventure. Isn’t it?

Exclusive: Q and A on Why Belize?

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Bob Hawkins and Rose Alcantara on St Lucia in late 2011.
Bob Hawkins and Rose Alcantara on St Lucia in late 2011.

Dear friends, family and readers of Bound for Belize,

We are so excited to be presenting to you this exclusive interview with Rose Alcantara which we nailed down over lunch at the Athenian Grill in Suisun, California.

Rose Alcantara  is such a busy person. On this day she had already conducted Pilates sessions in her studio with nine clients between 6 a.m. and noon. So, you can see, getting her to sit for a series of questions was a real coup.

As we explained to her, there has been a growing clamor for answers to the big question: “Why Belize?” The subtext being, “My god, there are scores of places in which ex-pats are living happy lives in retirement, repose or regeneration.”

Her husband, Robert J. Hawkins, was available – he’s always available. Some call it retirement. But we wanted a fresh perspective to this very important question. So, over lunch, we put the screws to her thumbs and these are the incisive answers that came forth from Rose Alcantara. (Full disclosure: She paid for lunch. And we did go home with her after the interview … if you catch my drift.)

Question: Why become an ex-pat?

Rose Alcantara: I think it is time for an adventure, the newness of it all. With expectations for a less-stressful life, a less-expensive life and to get out of my sameness. You know, change it up a little.

Q: Interesting phrase “get out of my sameness.” What does it mean to you?

Alcantara: Instead of my day-to-day schedule driven by the demands of work and paying bills, a little freedom to choose what I want to do. To be able to open up my eyes, my taste buds, my sense of smell. To change my perspective on what living is, or is supposed to be.

Q: Why not just take a nice long vacation?

Alcantara: A vacation is just too short a time to step out of your comfort zone. Usually when you return from a vacation you are looking forward to sleeping in your own bed and getting back on schedule. I don’t want that. I want to bring out a different side of me and that can only be done by stepping out of your day-to-day routine for good.

Q: What makes you suited to being an ex-pat in what is decidedly a Third World country?

Alcantara: When I left university I got my first professional job as a dancer traveling in Middle Eastern Europe. That was followed by living for two years in Western Africa, in Gambia. I believe the time spent there prepared me for any drastic changes to my life today.

Q:  You have a reputation for being something of a globetrotter. Can you list some of …

Alcantara: Sure!  Egypt, Spain, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Wales, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, Virgin Islands, St,. Lucia, Andorra, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy … does Hawaii count?

Q: Ok, ok. We get it. Thanks.

Q:  And how about your husband?

Alcantara: Yes, he’s moving to Belize with me.

Q: No, no. We meant, how do you think he will manage in a Third World country. Has he been around much?

Alcantara (with a patient smile): He’s been to England, Mexico and St. Lucia … did we decide whether Hawaii counted? But seriously, he’s been keenly in favor of this move from the beginning. As for adaptability, he grew up in a family of eight boys and a sister and spent two years in a – to hear him tell it – hellishly Dickensian seminary. He can adapt and put up with a lot. Besides, just this morning he said to me, “Rose, I can live anywhere as long as you are there beside me.”

Q: Quite the romantic.

Alcantara: Would I marry a man who was anything less? I think not. Beside, being a romantic is helpful when you are moving from a way of life that you have embraced since you were born.

Q: Ok, so, why Belize?

Alcantara: It is consistently listed as one of the top 10 places to which ex-pats retire. The country’s official language is English. It is close to the U.S., less than two hours from Houston by air. It offers a variety of environments from coastal living to jungle. There is a multitude of cultures, Mayan ruins.

This is not to say the Belize is the definitive place to move for us. We’ll give it a good six months try and then see if it is a good fit.

Q: We understood you took a quiz in the magazine International Living which purportedly told you which ex-pat-friendly country best suited you.

Alcantara: You are good. Yes, you did your homework. We did take the quiz.

Q: And …

Alcantara: Well, my husband’s results pointed to Belize. Mine said Uruguay. But that is way far away if we have to come back for a family emergency.

Q: Does the proximity to the U.S, mean you are expecting visitors?

Alcantara: Oh, we’re counting on it. Part of our criteria is to find a place with a spare bedroom for guests. It will be very sad to say goodbye to so many friends. My children, I’m less worried about. They are well-traveled and I know we’ll be seeing them in our new home.

Q:  Can you draw us a picture of the life you imagine in Belize?

Alcantara: Ideally I’ll be able to work as a Pilates or yoga instructor, something in health and fitness, but perhaps for just a half of the day. Or we could create our own business in the hospitality area, maybe manage a residential project with my husband, or buy a larger fixer-upper that we can turn into a Bed & Breakfast.

Q: When did the idea of becoming an ex-pat first arise in you, during your wedding in Mexico last year, perhaps?

Alcantara: Really it was while following my son’s travels in Nicaragua, during the time that my mom died. Jon and his partner, Quinn, briefly managed a beautiful resort/hostel on a lake in Nicaragua. They were covering temporarily while the owner looked for a permanent manager.

Well, we immediately thought, “We could do that!” but we weren’t in a position to drop everything and fly to Nicaragua. But it got us thinking. My son also gave us a subscription to International Living, a magazine/enterprise devoted to convincing people to retire abroad. Also, my husband was so onboard with the whole idea.

Q: Don’t you see Belize as just a tropical extension of the American lifestyle?

Alcantara: Not really. We’re more interested in immersing ourselves in the local culture (of which ex-pats are a part). I want to experience the diversity of other cultures that make up Belize and live together in harmony.

Q: What will you most miss about your life in America?

Alcantara: Friends. (Long pause.) Friends. And family.

Q: Thank you, Rose Alcantara.

Alcantara: Anytime. Are you gonna finish that souvlaki or can I have it?

Seven more reasons to like Belize

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OK, so I lied (sort of).

I did (sort of) promise that the next post would begin to answer the question “Why Belize?” and I will get to that more directly in the next post, when I publish an exclusive interview with Rose Alcantara that I conducted today during lunch at the Athenian Grill in Suisun, California.

Meantime, here are some little bits that indirectly answer the big “why” question.

Seven more reasons to fall in love with Belize:

  1. The tallest building in all of Belize is an ancient  Mayan structure
  2. There are more than 900 Mayan sites in a country barely the size of Massachusetts. That’s more Mayan sites than Starbucks in Los Angeles.
  3. Belmopan, is the smallest capital city in the world.
  4. The country’s entire population fits somewhere in size between that of Riverside, California and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  5. There are around 450 islands off the coast of Belize. Can you imagine how long it would take to explore each one — allowing time in between for fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving? (One island is currently for sale for $450,000 and includes boats, a scientific research center and a dock. It is .86 of an acre and is 8 miles from shore. You should check it out. It is called Wee Wee Caye.
  6. Nowhere in Belize will you find McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King or Starbucks. You will find small cafes and lots of open markets with fresh food.
  7. It seems like there is a festival almost every day in Belize celebrating something, somewhere.

Primary Source: ReefCI

Stand by for the exclusive interview with Rose Alcantara!

Well, that was easy …

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Deciding to move to a foreign country was a lot easier a decision to make than either Rose or I had imagined.

It began sort of like this.

Rose: “Life shouldn’t be this hard. Let’s move somewhere that we can live well and not struggle to meet all these bills.”

Me: “OK.”

Mind you, some sort of decision has been in the works for some time.

It probably started in February 2012 when Rose and I got married in the Baja coastal village Los Barriles, which has its own growing ex-pat community. We have good friends who live there in a fabulously beautiful stone, glass and open air aerie atop a small mountain.

They’re happy. They’re part of a community of people who have time for each other. They do the sort of things we talk about. They live life on their own terms and don’t seem to be missing much.

Their life is more about “Guess what I did today!” and less about “Guess what I bought today!”

We could do this, we said, before turning back to the demanding business of being newly married and combining our separate lives into one.

But, one by one, lines that tethered us to this land fell away. Both my parents died in recent years. My career as a newspaper editor/writer died, too. Rose’s mom died. My three grown sons were out on their own, all with excellent jobs and two married. Rose’s daughter had begun college in Arizona.

Then Rose’s son, Jon, and his partner, Quinn, moved to Nicaragua to start a socially conscious business called Life Out of the Box. One night they showed up on cable channel HGTV’s “House Hunters International”  which followed them around the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur as they hunted for a cheap place to live while starting their business.

Everyone who has watched the show has gone away shaking their heads in disbelief. Jon and Quinn were shown three properties, as is the show’s inflexible format, and asked to decide on one. The first was a very inexpensive but sketchy apartment downtown with no hot water and a kitchen/common area shared with … whomever happened to be in the other bedrooms. The second was a brand new, but tiny, efficiency with a swimming pool.

And the third one.  Ah, yes, the third one. A little bit out of town, it was a spacious two-bedroom cottage with all-wood cathedral ceilings, fully furnished, a huge kitchen. Landscaping that just screamed “Welcome to Paradise!” All utilities and WiFi included.

The cost? A comfortably close to budget $700 a month.

Did I mention that it was a five minute walk to the beach?

Well, it was so obvious which one Jon and Quinn would choose. (Cue the tension driven “decision music” – Dunh … da da … dunh … da da … dunh dunh.)  Apartment Number one.

What? No. Wait. Jon? Quinn? What about No. 3 with the WiFi and hot water???? And CHEAP?

Well, they had their reasons.

But it occurred to us that with my pension and Social Security alone — if I chose to retire — we could afford way more than $700 a month, even though that dreamy Nicaraguan house was way more than adequate.

So, we started thinking … and looking.

Next: Yeah, but why Belize?

Pop Quiz on Belize

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I woke up at 5 a.m. and started putting together a quiz on our future homeland, Belize. I have no idea why. It just sort of came to me and I went with it, sort of like the idea of moving to Belize.

So let’s go with it. No prizes. (Heck, I can’t even guarantee that the answers are correct. ) But in the end i think you’ll agree that for such a tiny place, Belize is an amazing country.

1.Belize is a country
A. In Coastal West Africa.
B. Near the Philippines.
C. In Central America, bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea.
D. Conceived in the imagination of Florida-centric author Carl Hiaasen.

2. The Blue Hole is
A. Form of depression that usually hits career professionals in their Thirties.
B. A Willie Nelson song.
C. One of the eight natural wonders of the world.
D. A popular regional beer.

3. Jamaica is to Belize as Red Stripe is to Belikin.  True or False?

 4. Which of these animals are found in Belize?
A. Manatee
B. Jaguar
C. Howler Monkey
D. Taipir
E. Crocodile
F. Toucan
G. All of the above.

5. A Garifuna is
A. A taller and busier species of Hobbit.
B. A geological depression in a valley.
C. A descendant of Caribbean natives and West African slaves.
D. A recently discovered planet in a nearby solar system.

6. Which of these cultures can be found in Belize?
A. Creoles
B. German-speaking Mennonites
C. Mayans.
D. Descendants of Confederate Civil War veterans
E. East Indians
F. Hispanics
G. All of the above, and many more.

 7. A “caye” is
A. Spice used in preparing barbecue sauce.
B. Tool used in boat building.
C. Creole for “All is cool, mon.”
D. An island. And it is pronounced “key.”

8. In Belize a “highway” can contain
A. Bumper to bumper traffic jams during rush hour.
B. European sports cars on Autobahn-like roadways.
C. Dirt surfaces with many ruts, bumps and washed out areas.
D. Adequate signage.

9. Before 1973, the one-time British colony of Belize was known as
A. West Indian Honduras
B. British Honduras
C. South Beach, Miami
D. Captain Morgan’s Retreat

10. To finance the national football team’s first-ever entry into the prestigious CONCAF Gold Cup tournament, Belizians
A. Held a barbecue fundraiser.
B. Took out a rather large loan from a British bank.
C. Collected quarters from school children all over the country.
D. Conspired with gamblers to fix their first game in return for a one-time payment.

11. To surface a road recently, a government contractor
A. Dredged gravel from the bottom of the Blue Hole.
B. Recycled roadside trash into a synthetic form of asphalt.
C. Ground up a big chunk of an ancient Mayan temple.
D. Collected and ground us seashells from coastal beaches.

12. Concerned Belizians say the greatest threat to the natural beauty of this country is
A. Oil drilling in the world’s second largest barrier reef.
B. Illegal clear-cutting of jungle trees for agriculture and lumber
C. Construction of a cruise ship island/terminal in largely pristine southern Belize.
D. All of the above.

13. In 2006, Belize musicians were nominated for a World music Grammy principally for their
A. Drumming
B. Singing
C. Broadway-style musicals
D. Conch shell renditions of classical music.

 And the answers are

1.C (Just south of the Yucatan Peninsula. Can’t miss it, though it is only the size of Massachusetts.)

2. C.

3. True: Belikin is the national beer of Belize.

4. G. There is an incredible diversity of animals in Belize, including more than 500 species of birds.

5. C.

6. G.

7. D.

8. C. Yes, the term highway is used rather loosely.

9. B. The English still retain a small contingent of soldiers in the country to train the Belize Defence Force which protects the country from a long anticipated invasion from Guatemala.

10. A. Incredible as it sounds, the team wasn’t sure it was playing until the day they left Belize. Several  players reported being approached by a game fixer with a monetary offer which they refused. On the other hand, Belize last all three games in its bracket and went home without scoring a single goal.

11. C. Archeologists seeking a silver lining noted that they now had a “cutaway” look at the inside of a Mayan structure.

12. D. Amazing that a country with so much natural beauty can be under siege from so many directions at once.

13. A. Garifuna drumming is a source of national pride.