Bound for Belize

In a rootless world, seeking a home in Belize

Posted on Updated on

I came across an interesting term today, “serial relocators.”

The fellow who used the term is Dan Prescher, a correspondent for International Living, a magazine/website/enterprise rather breathlessly devoted to convincing people that they can have a hell of a lot more fun living somewhere else in the world — somewhere other than wherever the heck it is  they are now.

Under our current circumstances, Rose and I mostly agree with the contention.  There are better options than trying to live out our lives in California. We love California. We just can’t afford California. Not the way we’d like to live anyway.

According to Prescher, during the last 12 years he and his wife “have called seven locations in four different countries home.”

My first thought was “Wow. Get restless much?”

But to be fair, Prescher essentially works as a foreign correspondent for International Living, so a certain amount of mobility comes with the territory. Prescher acknowledges as much in a recent IL essay: “We’ve gotten used to moving every few years to different places and writing about them…places that offer something special to expats seeking new opportunities and adventures abroad.”

So, he’s just a guy chasing a story, trying to stay current with the latest ex-pat trends.

In truth, there are all sorts of “serial relocators.” Some, like Prescher are chasing employment. Others are chasing a dream. Others are running away from something. Others are nourishing an appetite for change. Some might be trying to reconcile a failed ex-pat fantasy. Some are making a calculated financial move. Others are just restless, for whatever reason.  Regardless of the motivation, mobility seems easy, almost too easy, as many Second and Third World countries discover that First World retirees can be a useful revenue stream and employment generator.

On the one hand I admire that kind of mobility. In today’s wired in world you can have mobility and connectivity simultaneously. Parachute into a new country for a couple of years, soak up the culture and camaraderie and then jet pack out to the Next Big Thing — all the while  hanging on to your newly found friends by Skype, e-mail, blogging, Facebook … friends and family are only as far away as your next WiFi connection.

When my stepson, Jon, and his partner, Quinn, were developing their project lifeoutofthebox.com in Nicaragua, many were the night that Rose would talk with them face-to-face on Skype. Seriously it is the next best thing to being there.

It may sound paradoxical but one of the reasons Rose and I look forward to living in Belize is so we can travel more frequently. Our hope is that this move will bring our living expenses so far below our income that we will have something most of us have not seen since the 1980’s – a surplus. And that surplus could translate into travel for us.

Our intent is to move to Belize and throw ourselves into our new life there for six months to a year … and only then stop to figure out whether we have found a true home or not. Key to this, as another Belize blogger once wrote, is to approach the country as a potential immigrant, not a potential ex-pat. Make the emotional commitment.

I suspect it will take a lot to convince me to seek happiness elsewhere. I tend to stay put where ever I plant my roots — until nature, need or necessity forces me to move on. I’m the guy, after all, who spent 30 years in San Diego working for the same company.

If I were really honest with myself I’d point out – to myself – that I lived in 10 different places over those 30 years and held at least a half-dozen uniquely different positions with the newspaper company. So, it is not like there wasn’t variety during my San Diego tenure.

One of the attractions of Belize is the marvelous puzzle that it presents when trying to figure out just where to call home. There is so much variety, all within a nation no bigger than Massachusetts. (You see that comparison in virtually every story written about Belize. And Massachusetts, by the way, is not exactly tiny, says the guy who lived for many years in Rhode Island.)

Right now, we’re trying to get past all the easy stereotypes that are generated in the tourism and travel book descriptions of the myriad Belizean geo/cultural regions.  That’s something we won’t be able to honestly do until we’ve spent three weeks roaming around the country, sampling the fare.

Without even stepping into the country I’ve conjured up impressions and prejudices about various regions. Those are the main things that I don’t intend to pack when we travel to Belize later this month. I want to look at everything with an open mind, an open heart and an objective sensitivity.

Rose and I both expect that upon our return we’ll be able to pretty definitively answer the question “Where will you be living in Belize?” But, will we be living there for the rest of our lives? That’s going to take a lot longer to answer — and researching that answer will be just the adventure we are seeking.

Well, that was easy …

Posted on Updated on

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

Posted on Updated on

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.

Stuff we think we know about Belize

Posted on Updated on

So, yes, Belize is where we have chosen to live out our lives.

This blog, “Bound for Belize,” is where the process for migrating to another country will take place. It is where our dreams, our plans, our discoveries, our disappointments, our decisions, our doubts, our delusions, our conversations, etc.  will be documented.

All we have at the moment is a “mission statement” – Rose and I will be moving to the Latin American country of Belize some time in early 2014.

How are we going to do it? Where will we live in Belize? Will we rent or buy? Will we bring possessions or liquidate everything before we go? Will we ever come back? What will we live on? What will it cost to live there? There are no answers yet.  Well, not concrete answers.

We know some things about Belize. (And, OK, some are first impressions, rather than cold facts.) These were actually compiled in mid-July. New information has been added to our plate. I’ll get to that stuff later. Meanwhile, some first impressions:

1. Belize is the size of Massachusetts. With fewer people — just more than 300,000,  not counting troops from the occasional military incursion from Guatemala.

2.  Belize is closer to San Francisco than a cross-country flight in the U.S. to Boston

3. Belize has many nationalities – Creole, Hispanic, Anglo, Mayan, Garifuna, Africans, German Mennonites, Indians, among them. English is the official language but most natives speak Spanish and Creole.

4. Northern Belize is the most developed and populated region. This is where tourism and wealthy ex-pats are clustered. There is also some touristy development as you head south but it grows less-developed and more agriculture-oriented. Moving west from the coastal areas you encounter either expanses of farmland or dense jungle.

5. There is crime in Paradise. Lots of it. Burglary is a big problem. Belize City seems pretty rough, with US-styled gangs popping each other on the south side. 

6. Belize has the worst Internet infrastructure and service in the Caribbean.

7. While Belize is part of Central America it feels aligned more with the Caribbean island nations… but they are working on it

8. The cost of living seems all over the map. Coastal areas that are rich in tourism and ex-pat developments are costly – some as expensive as living in the U.S.  There are million dollar homes and condos. Less-dense areas have very nice housing for $600 to $1,000 a month with ocean views. You can “go native” and live for less than $300 a month, especially inland. Exchange rate: One U.S. dollar is worth two Belizian dollars.

9. The manatee population is actually increasing. Hooray, manatees!

10. There are carefully preserved Mayan ruins all through the country, and some not so carefully preserved.

11. Bicycling (competitive) is a national preoccupation. So, briefly, was the national soccer team when it played in the CONCAF Gold Cup. Sadly, its first game was against the U.S. Happily, it’s members refused to accept bribes. Sadly, the country could barely afford to send the team to the Cup competition.

12. There is no problem running into Americans or Canadians. Migrating to Belize has become quite popular. Too popular? That is one fear.

We are still thinking of Belize as our first choice for where we will live out our lives. Not the last. Not the only.

Belize is spectacular in many many ways. Nobody can argue with that. Not even me, although my perspective to date consists of the travel-brochure-level view. No feet on the ground. Not yet.

So there is that risk, that we will migrate to Belize and regret it.

To avoid buyer’s remorse, we will fly to Belize in September for several  weeks on a recon mission. That should give us enough time to figure out where we want to live, if we want to live there and how we are going to accomplish it.

Among the decisions we need to make: Do we simply want to be Americans living abroad or will we integrate ourselves as closely as possible into the native culture? We’ve seen the come-ons for the American experience – “as if you never left the states.” Gated communities.  American stores. Surrounded by Americans. Only a cheaper place to live. Ugh.

If that is all we are looking for then there are probably places in rural America that could fulfill the need. What is the point of migrating to a foreign country and then walling yourself off  from its culture? Why travel 5,000 miles to insulate yourself from all that is different and strange and wondrous?

I think we want to be as much a part of our host nation and contribute to its society as much as we do living in Fairfield, California.

We still have a lot to learn.