HGTV

Househunters International makes stuff up? Shocked, shocked, shocked.

Posted on Updated on

house-hunters-internationalWell here’s a shocker: The popular HGTV program “Househunters International” makes stuff up.

Whoa.

Didn’t see that one coming . . .  until about three years ago.

No, it is true. Read the rest of this entry »

Moving to Belize? Making a list, checking it twice …

Posted on Updated on

Downtown San Ignacio offers the hustle and bustle of a center of commerce but also has lovely parks on the Mopan and Macal rivers and a relentlessly encroaching rainforest.
Downtown San Ignacio offers the hustle and bustle of a center of commerce but also has lovely parks on the Mopan and Macal rivers and a majestically and relentlessly encroaching rainforest.

It all starts out so simple:

  1. Decide to move to Belize.
  2. Sell everything.
  3. Pack what you want to keep into two oversized suitcases and a backpack each
  4. Fly to Belize.
  5. Move into a cool place.
  6. Open a Belikin beer on the veranda and watch the sun set … or rise.
  7. Exhale.
  8. Repeat 6 and 7 as needed.

Apparently there are some interim steps that must be executed before you get to Step 8. Like a million.

Read the rest of this entry »

Found: The Weasley Family’s vacation retreat in Belize

Posted on Updated on

Amazing what you will find when you grab a pair of bikes and just get lost on the rutted back streets of San Pedro: The Weasley Family vacation home.
Amazing what you will find when you grab a pair of bikes and just get lost on the rutted back streets of San Pedro: The Weasley Family vacation home.

After a grueling year  at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the kids and Arthur’s  ever-more-challenging role  in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, do you really think the Weasley family spent holiday in soggy old Ottery St. Catchpole, outside Devon?

Of course not!

The Weasleys were featured on “House Hunters International” back in the early 1980’s,  as they went in search of a vacation home in sunny Ambergris Caye, Belize, where they could enjoy sun, surf and sand — and still find a touch of Merry Old England in the former colony known as British Honduras.

As the HGTV program put it at the time: “Can the Weasleys find a rambling quirky structure that complemented the Burrow and their own eccentricities — without all that English fog to thwart their attempts at tanning freckled skin? Will a summer home in Belize put that old magic back into the lives of these hard working wizards and witches?”

You bet.

These days, locals say, the beginning of high season is marked by the sudden influx of carrot-topped, freckle-faced Weasleys in San Pedro.

Some say that, in recent times, even a paunchy, sun-burned Harry Potter could be seen tooling about in Arthur’s 24-foot fishing boat, here cleverly and magically disguised as a sunken derelict while the home awaits the coming of the Weasleys during high season.

Locals recall one gift shop that tried to market “Weasley Belizely” T-shirts back in the early 1990’s, but most people didn’t get it, mainly because J.K. Rowling hadn’t yet published the books that splayed open the secret life of magic. Way ahead of their time, the shirts were eventually discontinued.

I really, really think this is it, a Weasley vacation home if ever there was one, on the lagoon side of San Pedro.

What do you think?

IMG_2285

It’s here: ‘House Hunters International’ unofficial drinking game

Posted on Updated on

I have grown children so I know all about drinking games.

For example, they tell me that “Shark Week” is one long drinking game during which viewers pound back a slug of beer  when they hear an Australian accent, when a shark leaps from the water, when a diver enters an underwater cage, etc.

Besides the sociability, these games are often designed to highlight, if not outright mock, the mind-numbing triviality and repetitive cliches which stitch these programs together.

house-hunters-internationalHere’s my candidate for a drinking game: “House Hunters International” on the HGTV cable channel.

Don’t misunderstand. I love this show. Rose and I can watch two to three episodes a night before we have to do something useful, like slap each other up the side of the head to restore blood circulation to the brain. “House Hunters International” is the TV version of crack for budding ex-pats.

The fact that all episodes are shoehorned into the same template, regardless of where they take place, is what makes it so suitable as a drinking game.

Here’s the template:

A couple – gay, straight, married, unmarried, just friends, doesn’t matter– from somewhere in the U.S. decides to move to a foreign country where a nice looking real estate agent asks them what they are looking for in a new home and how big a budget they have to work with.

The agent then proceeds to show the couple the first of three properties. Usually one property is under budget, one is over and one is spot on. Usually. Sometimes two of the three can be over budget if the seekers have unrealistic expectations.

 After the three properties have been shown, the seekers must make a decision. But first they must throw out one of the three properties. That done, they enter into some half-hearted, sometimes whiney, banter over the remaining two, culminating in the Miraculous Agreement. Yes they always agree on one or the other property. And act pretty pleased about it.

I’d fall out of my chair if a couple failed to agree on a house and, in fact, separated after an angry spat. Just ain’t going to happen. Even though you can sometimes sense the strain when, perhaps, only one half of the duo is following a dream of becoming an ex-pat ….

Anyhow, two or three months later the crew checks in. The chosen abode is appropriately personalized and the ex-pats  are just flat out – happy. With their lives. With their new house or condo. With everything. … Just. So. Damned. Happy.

“House Hunters International” is like ex-pat catnip.

(Just for a change I’d like to see the film crew return to find a couple of ill-groomed retirees floating in a sea of beer bottles and pot, with every stick of furniture just as they left it. … You can’t tell me ex-pat retirement doesn’t have its dark side.)

But enough of that. Watch a few episodes and I promise you’ll be hooked, slipping into a phantasmagorical reverie  of a life lived on the Left Bank, in a steamy Latin jungle, on a sun-dappled Caribbean beach, in a London flat, in an Amsterdam aerie, in a Thai retreat ….

So, here’s the show and the rules for the House Hunters International Drinking Game. Please, play responsibly and don’t abandon your home for an ex-pats life until you’ve sobered up:

  1. Every time a seeker says “Wow!” — take a drink. (Be careful. This one alone will put the most stalwart game players under the table quickly. There are a lot of “wows” – often warranted – on this show.
  2. Every time someone enters a room and says “Awesome!” — take a sip.
  3. Every time the camera cuts to a real estate agent tapping away on a laptop (usually after the second property has been shown) – take a drink.
  4. If the real estate agent is walking on a city sidewalk or a beach with cellphone to ear – take a drink.
  5. If the real estate agent makes a face filled with gastric discomfort after hearing the couple’s budget – take a drink.
  6. If the seekers insist on both a swimming pool and an ocean view – take a drink.
  7. If the seekers insist on an ocean view and swimming pool and ultimately pick a property that has neither – take a drink (and send one to the table where the real estate agent is sitting …)
  8. In fact, if any non-negotiable is abandoned by the end of the show – take a drink for each one.
  9. If the real estate agent confides to the TV audience that one or the other “will have to compromise” – take a drink.
  10. If the seekers insist on being close to the urban action, then complain about the street noise that rises up to the balcony – take a drink.
  11. If the husband stretches out on a bed – take a drink. Take a second drink if his feet hang out over the end of the bed.
  12. If the wife complains about the size of the kitchen or the bathroom – do not take a drink.
  13. If the husband complains about the size of the kitchen or bathroom – take a drink.
  14. If an objection to a house somehow feels contrived for the benefit of the narrative – you’ll know after a while — take a drink.
  15. If there are continuity issues – winterbound Vermonters with deep  tans on their first day hunting for a Caribbean island apartment, for example – take a drink.
  16. If the couple decides to go out and buy a dog before they know where they will be living or if they have a job – take a drink.
  17. If either seeker is still wearing the same outfit by the time the third property is shown – take a drink.
  18. If the couple is walking and holding hands as they discuss the three properties – take a drink.
  19. If they high-five each other or kiss at the end of the selection process – take a drink.
  20. If they have no body contact at the end of the process – do not take a drink (and plan on snagging that property for yourself as soon as you can get to Chile or Australia or Wales…)
  21. If the couple goes over budget – take a drink.
  22. When someone in the same room says “I want to live there!” — take their drink away.
  23. If you actually guess which property the couple will select – take a big drink.

That last one happens less often than you would think. I mean, who knows what is really going on in their heads and how much money they really have to work with? In fact, there are all sorts of variables that just can’t be packed into a single program, making an accurate pick tricky.

That’s all part of the challenge. We have seen some fabulous — and fabulously affordable —  properties on this show. Right along with the couples seeking a new home, we’ve said “wow” to charming spaces, artisan quality craftsmanship, breathtaking views and the low rents and mortgages.

The wow factor is pretty big. I mean, why would you travel halfway around the world to live in a ho-hum house in a blah-blah-blah community? Maybe if you are in a witness protection program. But not if you are going about the business of reshaping your life, controlling your destiny and launching into the next big adventure of your lifetime.

You want the “Wow!”

And I’ll drink to that.

PS: Any other rules come to mind? Post them in the comment section below!

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?