Back in 2010 after traveling to Belize for our 25th anniversary, we were presented with an incredible opportunity to purchase a waterfront condo on the tropical island of Ambergris Caye. We didn't have to think long before taking advantage of this chance to experience a totally different lifestyle in a foreign country, and we moved here full-time in the summer of 2011 after I (Emily) retired from my job just one week prior. In this short amount of time, we have had so many adventures, seen many amazing places, and learned so much about the food and customs of these proud and extremely friendly, welcoming people. We have also met many interesting visitors to the country, and some of them have become good friends. We have been truly blessed to have had this opportunity.
We have always enjoyed traveling and have done much of it over the course of our over 28 years together. But traveling all over this small and exotic country (along with excellent side trips to neighbors Guatemala and Mexico) brought that love of wandering back to the forefront, amplified it, and gave us the courage to do more than we could ever do before. And now that I am retired, we finally have the time to have many more travel adventures.
Ultimately, and especially after meeting some inspiring full-time nomads here, we realized that we are not ready to hang our hammock in just one place. And we missed participating regularly in two of our favorite activities besides travel, road cycling and hiking, neither of which are possible on the island of Ambergris Caye. Even travel is more difficult from an island. Although it was a dream of ours to live car-free and we've genuinely enjoyed the fun and challenge of riding our beach bikes everywhere, we miss being able to hit the open road when the desire hits. And we want to be able to take our favorite companion Paisley along with us when we travel, at least some of the time. In Belize we always have to leave her behind. Well cared for to be sure, but not where she wants to be most, with us.
So today we announce, with bittersweet feelings, that we have just sold our condo in Ambergris Caye and moved back to the United States. Because of Paisley, we aren't going to become world travelers at this time, but we do plan to do a lot of traveling in the US and some of Canada as well. We're thinking about a motorhome. There is still so much we haven't seen in our own country, especially out west, and we want to see as much of it as we can while we're still healthy and fit enough to enjoy it. But that's not to say we won't miss many things about Ambergris Caye and indeed, the entire country of Belize.
What we'll miss most:
- The most genuinely friendly people we've ever encountered. Their smiles, their "good mawnin, good mawnin"s are sincere and infectious. These Belizean locals who have so much less than most Americans are much happier, much less stressed out, and their simple lives, focused on family, church, community, seem to be the reason. Not to mention the sunshine that seems to put everyone in a better mood.
- The balmy breezes and turquoise sea -- Yes, it's hot, humid, and muggy at times, but when you're taking it easy in the shade, it's super pleasant. Shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops are the order of the day, so it's easy to go outside. Very seldom is a jacket needed, and I think I've worn long pants about 5 times here total.
- Everything is less crowded. When we traveled to the mainland to go hiking, often we were the only people in an entire park or site. We've hiked for miles on trails where the only other living, breathing creatures we encountered were birds, insects, and maybe a fleeting glimpse of a small forest mammal. That is refreshing and so rare in the populous US.
- Fewer rules. We've climbed ruins and trails that would certainly be deemed "too dangerous" and off limits in the US.
- Our blog readers. Yes, that's you. You good folks from all over the world have been one of the biggest surprises we've experienced! We've received so many kind, supportive notes and comments, and I hope we've been able to answer some of your questions and maybe inspire some of your own dreams. Some of you have even become friends, and we've had the pleasure of meeting a few of you in person as well. We sincerely thank you for coming along for the ride with us.
At this time we are going to put this blog on hiatus and take a "blogging break". We are undecided about having a travel blog in the future as we think we want to go back to more private lives, but if we ever decide to start another public blog, we'll update this one with the link, so feel free to keep your subscription. Of the many lessons we've learned from our Belize adventure, one of the biggest is that we can never predict the future or what we'll be doing in a year or even six months!
I'll close with one of my favorite quotes and one of the wisdoms we gained from our experiences here. Once you live in a place, no matter how lovely, it is all too easy to lose that "childlike enthusiasm" that a new place inspires. We're hoping to get that enthusiastic feeling back in our future travels, wherever they may take us.“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
– Bill Bryson
Barry and Paisley at Belize International
Emily at Jacksonville International Airport (Jacksonville, Florida) after a long and exhausting day of travel
Today was our day to renew our 30-day tourist visa, so we had to venture to town again, despite the messy road we blogged about yesterday
and yet another 2/3" of rain overnight. Fortunately, today was absolutely gorgeous, with wall-to-wall blue skies, sunshine, and just a few puffy white clouds. The Immigration office in San Pedro normally opens in the morning at 8 or 9 o'clock (we've never been there too early, so I am not sure), closes for lunch from 12 to 1pm, I believe, and then opens again until 3:30 pm. We arrived at a few minutes after 10.
We saw a few folks waiting on the balcony outside the office, but that's not unusual, because it's a tiny office, and when it's full, sometimes people wait outside. But much to our surprise, the doors were locked up tight. And there was nothing posted on the doors indicating that the office was closed today.
What's going on here?
The couple that was waiting outside told us that they were supposed to be open in "a while". Hmmmmm. How long is "a while"? We had a few other errands to run, so decided to go ahead and do those, in case "a while" meant an hour or so.
As we were leaving, the couple we had been talking to came down the stairs and told us that someone had just come out of an office and said that it would be opening at 11 o'clock -- they were having a meeting. Aha! We laughed about how they didn't post anything on the door to let us poor waiting folks know when they'd be opening. We took off on our bikes and hit the Maria's fruit and vegetable stand (seems like we are there almost every day) for a few more items, then the bank. By the time we were finished there, it was 10:48, so not too much longer to wait.
We pedaled back to the Immigration office, locked up our bikes, and waited on the second-story balcony outside. Fortunately, there was a great breeze, and as I mentioned, it was a beautiful day. We got to watch the goings-on at the San Pedro airstrip as we waited, as well as all the golf carts, bikes, pedestrians, and taxi cabs passing by on the street down below. Here's our view from the balcony:
The recently repaved runway looks good!
Here's where we pay our tourist visa fee each month
After we'd been waiting a few minutes, the couple we'd been talking to before showed back up. Turns out that they are from the nearby island of Caye Caulker and read our blog. So if you're reading this, guys, hello! They were picking up their self-employment permits today.
At about 11:10, the Immigration office door finally opened. Fortunately, the employees all seemed to be in really good moods. Either their meeting was really productive, or the refreshments included some rum punch! It was good to see them smiling, though; it certainly made our visit there more pleasant.
At last, the door opens!
As they say, when in Belize, you have to live on island time and be flexible!
This post was intended to go up in the early afternoon, but the internet went down from lunch time until dinner time. Ah well, that's life in Belize. And actually, Time-Warner Cable didn't have such a stellar record in Chapel Hill either! So, without further ado...
Yesterday, one of Barry's Facebook friends asked the question of how our day-to-day life differs here in Belize from back in the US, which prompted a lively dinner discussion last night. We thought this topic would make a good subject for the blog.
For me, the biggest and most obvious change is that I'm no longer going into the office five days a week and working for someone else, doing things I don't necessarily want to do. I miss my Genband friends and that camraderie a lot, but not the closed-up office environment or the work. Instead of being in a windowless lab or a small cubicle for most of the day, I am either outside or sitting very close to large windows viewing the turquoise sea, sand, and swaying palm trees. I am also living car-free, which I was not in the US, though I did take the bus to work most days, rode my bike to do errands on weekends, and drove as little as possible.I am taking online Spanish classes daily here. Although most locals in Belize speak English, there is plenty of Spanish spoken as well, and knowing enough to get by will also help for when we visit Mexico and possibly other Central American countries where much less English is spoken. Barry had been doing the lessons (Pimsleur) in Chapel Hill, but I had no time for them then. Now I have plenty of time!
Barry was already retired prior to coming here, and living mostly car-free (though he'd take my car to an occasional appointment), but he has still found the differences to be many. For one thing, he now has me here with him all day (lucky guy...lol), so he does not have to spend so much time solo. Once we moved to the apartment in Chapel Hill, he had a few more daily encounters with other people, but when we were living on 11 acres in Efland, days would go by with no other face-to-face human interaction for him, which tended to bring him down. It is very different here as we are outside and walking so much, that opportunities for frequent social interaction with all the friendly people we have come to know here are plentiful. From guards and other employees at Grand Caribe and The Phoenix (where we spent two weeks for our anniversary last year: http://emilys7.blogspot.com/2010/06/cant-belize-its-been-25-years.htmlweeblylink_new_window
), to employees at the San Pedro bridge we have befriended, to other owners at Grand Caribe, to chance meetings with friendly locals and tourists, we find ourselves stopping to chat with people constantly. Almost everyone we encounter says "good morning" as we pass. Since so many locals ride bicycles instead of driving, that happens a lot.
The sun rises earlier here, so we both get up and go to bed earlier. Since electricity is more expensive here (about 2.5 times the cost in the US), that is also a way to save on lighting costs. We keep a minimum of lights on in the evening. Water is also more costly ($.06/gal), so we take shorter showers (and turn off the water while soaping up), and spend time in the pool to cool down rather than take more than one shower a day.
Barry has never been a big TV watcher, but back in the US, I tended to vegetate in front of the TV all evening, every evening. While there are still a few shows I would like to catch, because of the time difference, I will probably watch very few in real-time. In fact, we have barely turned on either TV since arriving here, despite getting a slew of channels, including premium movie channels. Shows that begin at 8 pm in the US begin here at 6 pm since our satellite feed is from the eastern time zone. That's our dinner time, and we'd much rather be outside eating on the veranda than glued to the tube. After dinner, instead of turning on the TV, we head out to the beach and take in some of nature's TV: lying in lounge chairs just feet from the water, listening to the small (2-3 inch) waves lap up against the shore, feeling the warm breeze, watching the moon, the stars and the lightning off in the distance.
We still have the internet and our laptops (of course!), but we discontinued our Verizon cell phone coverage and have not felt the need for cell phones yet. That may not last forever, but down here the internet is DSL, so we need a phone line and are back to a land line for the first time since moving to Chapel Hill.
Back in the US, Barry's primary form of exercise was road cycling, and he did a lot of it (over 5800 miles so far this year, in fact!) Here, the roads are not good enough for road bikes, but we take lots of walks, jog on the beach, swim, and will be getting our beach cruiser bicycles for plenty of riding on the beach and unpaved roads soon. This will also be the way we'll get to town most of the time, and haul back our groceries in our baskets. That's not too different from back in Chapel Hill with our market rides, but here we're totally car free. No more car insurance, maintenance, or worrying about the cost of gas. This is a very liberating feeling as well as a large cost savings!
Although there was a nice pool at Meadowmont Apartments, Barry never went there in the entire time we lived in Chapel Hill (over a year), and I only went to the pool a handful of times. Here, the pool is right outside our door, and we take short dips several times daily.
The food selection here is quite different, and certain items we enjoyed frequently in the US are either not available at all or are too spendy for our retirement budget. However, in most cases an adequate and affordable alternative exists. For example, Barry used to eat blueberries daily, but they are far too expensive here, so instead he enjoys the reasonably priced local fruits: bananas, mangos, papayas, dragon fruit, and pineapples. I miss my wine, but it is expensive here, so we drink local rum with fruit juices and/or local beer, which is reasonably priced. Just don't be surprised if I go on a wine binge when we visit the US! ;-)
Along with the food selection issue, stores here tend to be small mom & pop jobs and carry only a limited selection, so a trip to buy groceries can take us to three or more shops to get everything we need, especially when we are trying to find the best prices on each item. We buy fruits from Maria's Fruit Stand, organic veggies and some fruits from Zac's Healthy Belize, health food items from GoNature, fresh tortillas from Popular Tortilla Co., bread from The Baker, and standard groceries from Marina's, Super Buy, Mash (where very little English is spoken), or Caye Mart. So marketing can take half a day, and since we can only carry so much, we end up going to town nearly every day. In fact, today is our first day since arriving here a week ago that we do not plan to go to town.
Our way of cooking is also different here. In the US, we (mostly Barry) tended to cook huge batches of food and freeze some of it and put the rest in the fridge for later in the week. As a result, we ate a lot of leftovers and didn't cook more than a couple of nights a week. Here, we cook fresh nearly every day. It's a fun activity to do together. That may change somewhat once our cookware arrives, however. Right now we have only a smallish fry pan and a few Pyrex dishes we had to buy to get us through until our cookware arrives from the US.
We have always loved eating al fresco
, but we didn't have a way to do that in the apartment, since it didn't have a balcony. Here, we eat outside on our veranda whenever there is a breeze to keep the mosquitos away. Sitting outside, eating in the breeze, is one of the many highlights of our days here.
So yes, our days here are very different than our days in the US, and while some of the differences make life more challenging, this is also a simpler, easier life as well. I remarked as much to Barry the other day on one of our many walks, that this is both a harder and an easier life. Harder in that we have to walk or bike everywhere, search out the best prices and quality items in a multitude of shops, do without things that just aren't available or are too expensive here, and carry everything home on our person in the heat and humidity rather than in a climate-controlled motor vehicle. We actually don't mind that at all because it's great exercise and allows us to eat and drink the things we like! And life here is easier in that there is a luxury of time and a slower pace that you just don't find in the bustling US, particularly in the workaday world. We feel so incredibly lucky to be living among such lush beauty and friendly people.
Today the Grand Caribe folks took care of the majority of our remaining punch list items, so we had to hang around the condo waiting for work to be done this morning and after lunch. Between times, we still managed to walk into town for our usual daily marketing. We did another long walk to south San Pedro as the protein powder we'd ordered had arrived at GoNature health food store. In addition to that, we purchased some other good items there (chia seeds, vanilla, walnuts, and local cocoa powder) and had a delightful chat with the young owner, Taz. We also hit a couple of grocery stores for a few other items. Here are a couple of photos of some of our recent cuilinary creations:
Barry made this yummy homemade salsa
Chef salads for dinner
Today we did laundry for the first time. We go through a lot of clothing here since we come home from our beach walks sweating profusely from the long walk in the heat and humidity. Since we've had an old-style washing machine for years, we were fascinated by our new high-efficiency washer and all its smart sensing technology. Yes, we are easily amused!
Gee whiz, it's smart and quiet too!
Here is another favorite new toy. We scored this heavy-duty clothes drying rack at the hardware store yesterday. It quickly became apparent that with all the sweaty clothes, bathing suits, and beach towels, we needed something like this. It wasn't cheap ($100 BZD = $50 US after our 10% local discount), but we will use it every day, so it was money well spent. It fits right in our huge shower so is a perfect addition to our little household.
We are pinching ourselves every day when we realize that we actually live where we can see a view like this right out our sliding glass doors every single day. We feel truly lucky and blessed!