California

Mountain biking at nearly 6,000 feet: And a child shall lead us

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On a break from mountain bike riding on the Sawtooth Trail in Truckee, California. From left, youngest son, Chris, grandson Brody and his dad and my oldest, Brendan. The French-looking guy with the jaunty helmet on declined to be identified.

 

The day that we arrived in Truckee, California from Belize, my sons Brendan and Chris and six-year-old grandson, Brody, decided what I needed most was a mountain bike ride.

Me, at 67 years old. After flying up through the Yucatan to Mexico City, to Los Angeles and, finally, Reno. From sea level to nearly 6,000 feet….

 

A mountain bike ride.

 

Well. OK.

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Counting iguanas? ‘Not in Kansas anymore’

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Full disclosure: I was not running when I took this picture of an iguana ... but, it is representative of many of the Ambergris Caye iguanas that I encounter each day on my runs. And, anyway, think about it: Would you really want to stop running just to take pictures of iguanas?
Full disclosure: I was not running when I took this picture of an iguana … but, it is representative of many of the Ambergris Caye iguanas that I encounter each day on my runs. And, anyway, think about it: Would you really want to stop running just to take pictures of iguanas?

I have picked up a small obsession during my daily morning runs here on Ambergris Caye in Belize.

I count iguanas

At first it was just the novelty of it all. Running in San Diego most of my adult life I encountered plenty of rattlesnakes, small lizards, coyotes, dog poop, dollar bills, drug syringes, homeless people and tourists. None of these were in quantities worth noting on a daily basis. Read the rest of this entry »

Game on, Belize

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Rose sits on the Water taxi to Ambergris Caye toward the end of our fact finding tour of Belize.
Rose sits on the Water taxi to Ambergris Caye toward the end of our fact finding tour of Belize.

Game on, Belize.

One day a suspect lump in a breast threatens to delay, if not derail entirely, our dream of moving to Belize early next year. And now, a long couple of weeks and numerous tests later, Rose has been given a clean bill of health (literally) from Kaiser Hospital’s enormously efficient Breast Cancer Clinic.

So, like I said, game on.

It was while we were on our scouting trip to Belize last month that Rose detected the very distinct bump.

The immediate response was a quick reordering of priorities.

Do we fly home right away and have it checked out? Do we call a doctor in Belize? Should we even be thinking of moving if there is cancer? Do we panic? Do we stay calm? My god, why is this happening and what do we do next?

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In a rootless world, seeking a home in Belize

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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.

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?