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Great Race: The one time of year in Reno when hot air is really a good thing

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The Reno Great Balloon Race 2017.

Words that only a rookie would say before attending the Reno Great Balloon Race: “So, we’ll see you down there.”

This annual hot air balloon event is so big and sprawling, your chances of actually bumping into somebody are mighty slim.

Trust me on this.

My son Brendan said he and Cami and grandson Brody were going to the balloon launch site before the sun rose for the popular Sunday morning “Dawn Patrol” — scores of hot air balloons glowing fiercely and colorfully as they rise gently into the sky.

My response was, “So, we’ll see you down there.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Amid the palms and cool sea breezes, a rare ‘cri de coeur’ is spotted

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A man in his element -- on the deck with a cup of coffee and a fresh copy of The Sunday New York Times. Life is good.
A man in his element — on the deck with a cup of coffee and a fresh copy of The Sunday New York Times. Life is good.

I was sitting on the deck this morning, cup of coffee in hand, bright sun on my face, a steady breeze rustling the palm trees and the waves lapping against the dock when I encountered a cri de coeur.

I hadn’t encountered one of those, face to face, in years.

Although, with election season in high dudgeon back in the States, cri de coeurs are flying back and forth like bullets on a battlefield.

No, I wasn’t bird watching. Read the rest of this entry »

Affordable health insurance? Really? I’m not buying it …

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I believe in Obama Care. I believe in affordable medical care for all. Even moreso, I believe that the path to affordable medical care is through universal Medicare and Medicaid – not through commercial insurance companies.

In other words, Obama Care simply does not go far enough. (And, yes, I blame Republicans for screwing up what might have been a decent start to universal health care.)

As an American soon to be living outside the country I will still be on the hook for U.S. health insurance because I – we, Rose and I – will not be out of the country long enough in 2014 to qualify for an exemption.

Here’s the thing though, I’m not buying it. Read the rest of this entry »

Help us crowdsource info for our move to Belize!

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Help me to my place in the sun!
Help me find my place in the sun!

It is beginning to look like we will be moving up our departure date for Belize! At the current rate that we are disposing of possessions we’ll be sleeping and sitting on bare floors by the end of December.

Lately I’ve been getting an interesting question from friends: “Are you getting nervous?”

Hell, yes. I’m getting nervous. 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?

Read the rest of this entry »

How dangerous is Belize? Let’s not ask John McAfee

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Welcome to Belize. Now, relax.
Welcome to Belize. Now, relax.

We’ve been back in California for a week now and while we’re no closer to deciding exactly where we will make our home in Belize — either San Pedro or San Ignacio — there is one thing to which Rose and I are firmly committed: We will be living in Belize by the end of February 2014.

Rose has been quietly explaining our plans to each of her Pilates clients this week and the reaction falls somewhere between enthusiasm for our new adventure and tears.

I’ve been hearing other reactions, too, like, “Seriously? Belize Why not Panama? You should check out Panama.” Or “Didn’t you consider Costa Rica? You should really check out Costa Rica before you make the move.”  Feel free to plug in the name of other Latin American countries. I think I’ve heard them all. Read the rest of this entry »

In Belize, ‘What do you recommend?’ opens doors

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Rose and Monkey Bob enjoy some sauvignon blanc from Sonoma, of all places at Wine de Vine
Rose and Monkey Bob enjoy some sauvignon blanc from Sonoma, of all places at Wine de Vine

Can I get a recommendation?

On Ambergris Caye you only have to ask and people come forth with all kinds of great stuff.

The other day over breakfast with English expats John and Rose East, we learned that Friday night’s must-eat dinner is the Mayan buffet at Elvi’s Kitchen. And, holy cow, was that a great recommendation. Later this morning we’ll line up for the soup at Briana’s on Back Street, a Saturday-only experience that lasts only as long as the soup. And according to John and Rose, you get there early or you don’t get any at all.

Part of the buffet table at Elvi's Kitchen.
Part of the buffet table at Elvi’s Kitchen.

Over breakfast yesterday at the Melt Cafe, owners Mark and Michelle tipped us off to what sounds like a pretty good rental — two bedrooms fully furnished on the ocean in one of the nicer condo complexes south of town. We’re going to grab a golf cart or bikes and check it out later this morning, after Rose is done with yoga.

A glimpse of the interior of Elvi's Kitchen
A glimpse of the interior of Elvi’s Kitchen.

Yesterday afternoon we grabbed a light lunch at the Ambergris Brewing Co., which as yet does not brew any beer. But they do offer good sandwiches at a cheap price and they are right next door to out Blue Tang Inn. The owner, Don, stopped to chat after picking up his son at school. When he learned of our intent to move to Belize, possibly San Pedro, he immediately recommended talking to Bob Hamilton, a former Canadian, now Belize citizen, who owns Coral Beach Real Estate.

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Dinner at Elvi's
Dinner at Elvi’s

Another great call. Bob — or Barefoot Bob, as he’s beginning to be called — turns out to be an incredible resource. Even though we just sort of popped into his office yesterday he gave us as much time as we wanted to talk real estate, local gossip, the trials and tribulations to migrating to Belize — he knew it all. And he hardly cared if we were interested in buying property.

He calls it good karma. When we’re ready, he said, he’ll be here. Meanwhile Bob recommended a couple of property management companies that could set us up in a long-term rental while we decide the next big step.

After leaving Barefoot Bob’s — he does work barefoot and in shorts, with a graying ponytail, we headed for the social hour at Wine de Vine, a high end wine, meats and cheese bar. That was another recommendation, from Rose’s yoga instructor. Lots of expats flock to the wine bar on Fridays.

Wine, by the way, is a bit of a luxury here — very expensive by US standards. After a couple of glasses of chardonnay from Chile and sauvignon blanc  from back home in Sonoma we felt it was time to get back into island life and head for the Mayan buffet.

Good citizens: Carlo & Earnie's (to the left) gave up part of its parking lot for a detour around a road construction project.
Good citizens: Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill (to the left) gave up part of its parking lot for a detour around a road construction project.

But first we had to check out another recommendation: Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill, an open air bar right next to the airport landing strip. John East had noted that it was one of three very inexpensive bars worth visiting.

We thought it was pretty decent of Carlo and Earnie to donate a big portion of their parking lot for a detour around the town’s one major street rehabilitation project. Otherwise traffic would have been routed around the far side of the airport, a major inconvenience to all.

And what do you know? We ran into John there, picking up fish and chips for him and Rose, who’d taken a bad fall at their home construction site yesterday. She was home recuperating as he ran errands. (We send our thoughts and well wishes to Rose, a lovely woman, our first friends on the island.)

The Mayan buffet was every bit as good as John and Rose said it would be. Starting with a shrimp bisque, the fare was familiar — rice, chicken, pulled port, tortillas, refried beans and more — all with unique twists to flavoring and preparation. Desserts included a very dark papaya, chocolate bread pudding and strong Mayan coffee.

Elvi’s Kitchen is a cavernous space with a packed sand floor and a huge tree decked in twinkling lights. Great atmosphere.

For the moment we’ve run out of recommendations but I’m pretty confident that as soon as we strike up a conversation with the next local we’ll be off on our way to the next great discovery.

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?

Stuff we think we know about Belize

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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.