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#456097 - 01/23/13 04:09 PM Starting Over On A Caribbean Island
Marty Offline

One Step At A Time

In February 1999, Ann Kuffner and her husband Mike stepped out of a tiny turbo-prop plane onto the tarmac in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, for the first time. Ann and Mike had come to this Caribbean island off the coast of mainland Belize with a group of intrepid adventurers exploring opportunities in a country none of them had ever visited before. As Ann explains, "We had no idea what momentous life changes would occur as a result of that tour."

Ann and Mike, living in California at the time, had been day-dreaming about a life in the Caribbean as Ann puts it, "forever." Belize, with its Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, seemed an ideal choice for where to realize their Caribbean fantasies. "We did have it in our minds, though," Ann adds, "that, if we liked Belize as much as we thought we might based on our research, we might buy a place of our own in the country. An investment near the Caribbean Sea seemed like a no-brainer in 1999."

Ann and Mike toured all over Belize during that first trip. For such a small country, Belize offers dramatically different lifestyle options, from Ambergris in the Caribbean to Placencia on the mainland coast and Cayo in the mountainous rain forest interior. At the end of the weeklong tour, Ann and Mike were more convinced than ever. It was the Caribbean they wanted. Indeed, they were so taken with the little island of Ambergris Caye that they decided to take a next step. The couple invested in a piece of property where they imagined they'd build a house. Not a place to live full-time but a second home at the beach.

"Our intention was to vacation in Belize," Ann explains. "We weren't even thinking about retirement at this point. Not yet 50, I'd just stepped into a lucrative VP position for a Fortune 500 company. Life was good. We just wanted a place to escape for regular doses of Caribbean sun and sea."

On the flight back to San Francisco, Mike, an architect, began sketching the couple's first Caribbean home, Mi Casa. Over the next 12 months, Mike finalized his plans and then oversaw the construction of Mi Casa. The structure included a penthouse where the couple could escape for Caribbean getaways as often as they wanted plus two other apartments that could be rented out to generate cash flow.

While Mike was focused on Ambergris Caye and his building project, Ann was traveling back and forth between California and the island. In the process, coming and going on vacation that first year, something unexpected happened for Ann.

"I got hooked on the community's spirit," she explains. "I quickly felt at home in this quirky, charming little town. Even people I'd met only once remembered my name. Everyone waved and welcomed me back each time they saw me. This was the small town environment I'd never experienced. The sense of community was enticing."

Those first few years, the couple, still young and energetic, evolved a plan to live in Belize part-time. Mike sold Mi Casa and bought six acres on which the pair planned and then built the San Pedro Fitness Club, which they operated for the next five years.

"Those were exceptionally fun times for us," Ann remembers. "Then, in 2008, we sold the club and property to a development company and entered into a joint venture with that group."

That year, 2008, marked another important transition. That was the year Ann moved to the island full-time. Finally she decided she was ready to take early retirement and walk away from her corporate position. "I had worked as a manager in the environmental field for more than 30 years," she says. "That was enough. Plus, I could see changes coming in the United States, changes that led me to worry about Mike and my future. It was time to make a move, while we were still young enough to make new lives."

The cost of living in Belize is considerably less than in most parts of the United States, including in San Francisco. That was an important determining factor in Ann and Mike's decision.

Today, Ann and Mike have been living full-time on the island of Ambergris Caye for nearly five years. What do they think now about their decision to start over on a Caribbean isle?

"Do we still love this country and island?" Ann asks. "You bet! Let's face it. No country is perfect. But our lives have been incredibly rich and diverse since we made this move. Much of our satisfaction flows from the charm, beauty and comfort of this unique country and our quirky little island.

"We continue to appreciate the good nature of the Belizean people, their commitment to a free and democratic society, and their intense community spirit. English as a first language made our transition easy. And the solid banking and legal systems give us comfort," she says. "The internet, phone, and utility services are reliable on Ambergris Caye. We have access to most of the amenities we had in the United States, but that's not what keeps us so happy here.

"We've been able to re-create our lives through challenging but satisfying transitions," Ann continues. "From building our own homes to starting, operating, and selling new businesses, each transition has been an adventure and life-changing. We would not have had these options or opportunities in the San Francisco Bay region, and each step has been one of self-discovery."

These days, Ann and Mike have time for things they really enjoy doing -- writing and volunteering. Ann is applying her environmental expertise and experience to lead a drinking water project in a disenfranchised Belizean community.

"The most satisfying thing about the life we've built for ourselves here," Ann explains, "has been the bonds formed with kindred spirits we've met along the way. Our island friends have moved here from France, Italy, Ireland, England, Romania, Canada and other Latin American countries. We regularly meet amazing people from all over the world. Each has a unique story to tell. We socialize more than we'd ever imagined we would living on such a small island.

"We miss our kids, grandkids, and old friends," Ann admits, "but due to our manageable cost of living in Belize, we can afford to return to visit them several times a year.

"I am grateful that fate brought us to this unique country and that we had the opportunity to take the transition one step at a time," Ann adds. That worked for us. We've had some major successes, and we've had some major disappointments. But that has little to do with the quality of this country, its people, or the life we're living here. We haven't considered moving back to the United States, though, and I don't think we will. Our lives are here now."

Huffington Post


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#456117 - 01/23/13 07:45 PM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
Judyann H. Offline
Ann & Mike....We are glad you are here.....
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#456128 - 01/23/13 10:04 PM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
Nick Barton Offline
We are delighted to have you as friends! See you soon!

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#459621 - 03/07/13 05:51 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
Taz Girl Offline
I loved the article above!

I've been doing some research trying to figure out where to live out my life and would like to find out if Belize is safe. Do you have to have bars on your windows and lock your doors to go out into your yard. Have your houses been robbed? I generally like all people and would like to live in a peaceful place. Is there a feeling of harmony?
Are there places to avoid living in Belize, or on Ambergris Caye? I read an old blog from 2009/2010 about living in Belize that spoke very badly of the crime rate and safety, but it didn't say where in Belize: http://www.topix.com/forum/world/belize/TCLABVC7PPKBG42PQ
Thanks in advance,
TAZ

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#461053 - 03/27/13 12:53 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
DogLady Offline
How-exactly, does one go about finding a "Belizean-style" house in San Pedro? The online listings seem to be for American-style houses with most of the things we don't really need. We are looking for a small 400 sq. ft. (or bigger) house with screens and a roof that doesn't leak or can be repaired easily. Simple, small, affordable.
Where are those listings?
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#461054 - 03/27/13 01:15 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
robvee Offline
I thought Belizean-style homes were built out of reinforced concrete to withstand a hurricane, I think 'huts' built of stickes and thatch are for tourists and theres nothing cheap, even the derilect house on the beach with no doors or windows has a $800k price tag !!!!

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#461058 - 03/27/13 02:11 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: robvee]
Wizardofaahs Offline
Robvee-The huts of sticks and straw are the types of home Belizeans live in. Have you been to the villages on the mainland? The Belizean people live in these huts and they don't come up for sale, hence, you don't see a listing. The Belizean people don't generally have the opportunity to raise their standard of living, so how and why would they try and sell their home? These houses are destroyed in hurricanes, and rebuilt quickly once the hurrican passes.

DogLady-The majority of the homes you see listed are owned by expats (some have become permanent residents, even citizens; some have married Belizeans) and those homes are listed for sale and sit on the market for years and years until another expat decides that they want to live out their years in paradise in surroundings that they have grown accustomed to owning.

If you truly want the small home you describe, buy a little lot and have a Mennonite built home delivered and you're instantly in paradise. They are available and your lifestyle you seek is there for the taking. Choose to live in those neighborhoods rather than the McMansions of expats.

TAZ - there is tons of petty thefts, home invasions, crime and corruption. Belize is a third world country. Yes, internet and cellphone service is available....at a high price. Yes you can choose to surround yourself with lots of gringos and pretend that you are living in the states (or canada or uk). But you're not.

Everything on the island is very expensive...everything has to be imported. Selection is limited.

The Belizean people are beautiful and friendly overall...you just have to realize that the population cannot support itself, let alone raise their standards. There is a "learned helplessness" that is evident in the younger generations. You will always encounter people with a hand out and a gimme a dollah attitude. Probably at least once a day if you're active and in town.

Belize is an incredibly beautiful country, with lots of room for anyone seeking a simpler life. Notice I said simpler. Simpler and in requirements and availability.

When I first visited Ambergris Caye back in the late 70s early 80s, there was no television, no radio, no telephones. It was magical. I fell in love with it and determined I would live there someday. I returned in 2012 and all of that has changed - on the island. It's still a magical place. Just a different set of problems - but not enough to make me not want to live there.

On my most recent trip I spent a lot of time travelling around the whole country. I saw school children sitting outside on the ground under what we would call a pole barn in the US. This was their classroom. The Maya families doing their laundry in the rivers and bathing in the rivers.

There are only 4 main highways in the entire country. The majority of people get around by bus (old US school buses) or by foot or by bicycle. Yes, there are vehicles, but they take a beating and it's difficult to get parts for repairs. Gas is comparable to European prices.

Electricity is spotty, unless you have your own solar system and backup generators. Internet is still expensive and slow compared to US standards; more affordable and faster than a year ago, but still not what you're used to. Water can be an issue - check out the Hopkins area in recent months.

If you can move here and be very self sufficient and strive to leave a minimal footprint; get involved in the local culture and customs without trying to change it to Western Standards; relax and go slow...real slow...nope, even slower; disconnect from the crazy that has become the lives of the majority of the US, then, and only then, will you be happy in a new life in Belize.

Personally, I welcome it, I embrace it, I encourage it. Become one with Belize, as it is. And, occasionally extend a hand to a local cause and help bring the country into harmony with each other. Amd, try to provide something that the local Belizeans can have opportunities to do something and make a living in something other than tourism.

And, most importantly, if you're running away from something....do it somewhere else. Because everywhere you go; there you are.

Welcome to Belize! wink



Edited by Wizardofaahs (03/27/13 02:19 AM)
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#461060 - 03/27/13 02:21 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
robvee Offline
Wiz. Im well aware of all you say, but i think the lady was talking about AC Only way to go is buy an expensive lot and build your own, watch it get blown away in the next big storm or hurricane AC is pretty different to mainland Belize the further south you go the more chance of simpler , living in a hut style

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#461062 - 03/27/13 02:27 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
ScubaLdy Offline
The first thing to do is find an available lot on which to build. I personally chose 2nd row back from the beach as it is higher ground and no need to spend hours every day cleaning.
If you can live in 400 square feet you can build a simple house - I did - mine is wood frame between poured concrete beams. I put a thatch roof on and created some great outdoor living space. One unit is 300 square feet and the other is 400.
It can be done - good luck.
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#461065 - 03/27/13 02:33 AM Re: Starting Over On A Caribbean Island [Re: Marty]
robvee Offline
Hi Harriette Totally agree , also hopefully home in front takes brunt of storms , i think the highest part of the island is probably no more than 4ft above high tide mark, and as you say create outdoor living space , indoors is for when its raining too hard to stay out or the flying bitey things get too voracious

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