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.