moving to Belize

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

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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.

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An irresistible invitation

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We arrive in Belize just in time for tow huge events -- September celebrations and hurricane season!
We arrive in Belize just in time for two huge events — September celebrations and hurricane season!

Got to love that slogan: Belize in you, Belize in me, land of the free!

 

 

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?

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?