Finding Community, Home…and a Dog…in Belize

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be living in a beautiful Central American country, I would have said, “I wish…”

My husband John and I are Canadian, so short summers and long, cold, snowy winters are not new to us. My dream vacation when I was working was always my winter vacation, when I could escape the cold for a couple of weeks in Mexico. The older I got, the more I realized that, when I retired, I wanted to be in a place where I could spend every day outdoors, without worrying about extremes of temperature.

After a chance encounter with a friend, who was exploring moving to Mexico, I went home and said to John, “Guess what Karen is up to?” After relaying our conversation, he said to me, “We could do something like that too…”

So, our research started. We found International Living online, and as those magazines came in, we would pore over them. We decided that Central or South America was where we wanted to be, and decided that going forward, our winter vacations would be spent “boots on the ground” in the different countries we were considering.

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Panama was our first reconnaissance trip, and while we enjoyed our stay in our little AirBnB in Panama City, we realized that we were hitting the other extremes of temperature—very hot and humid temperatures which made being outside uncomfortable. We did some other exploring in that beautiful country, and it did make our shortlist.

We had both been to Mexico before. John had worked at the Embassy in Mexico City for six months, and I had spent vacations in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, and the Mexican Riviera. My high school Spanish, I found, had stayed with me, so Mexico was also on our shortlist.

Now, we’re both ex-military and we’ve both lived in some rustic areas. We both knew that we could live almost anywhere, and acclimatize easily to a new country and new culture. Our problem, then, was narrowing our shortlist and making a decision.

We had attended a retire overseas conference and encountered two possibilities which hit the top of our shortlist: Puerto Vallarta in Mexico and the Cayo District in Belize.

In 2020, the year I was due to retire, we made plans to start off our retirement in Puerto Vallarta looking at one of those locations. Then, after a few months, we planned to head to Belize to look at our second dream location.

Then, Covid hit… our flights were cancelled as flattening the curve in two weeks stretched into months. We rebooked flights and they were cancelled again. We had a serious sit-down council and decided that we were going to head straight to Belize as we saw it as the best location to wait out Covid.

So, we rebooked everything for October 3rd and kept our fingers crossed as the re-opening of the national airport was postponed and postponed and postponed. Crossed fingers and prayers worked, and the airport kept its October 1st re-opening date. We were finally in Belize!

We did everything opposite to what conventional wisdom stated… “Rent before you buy.” We bought our lot within a month of moving to the Cayo District. We rented only for the time it took for our home to be built. And we couldn’t be happier.

We have a comfortable, small, one-bedroom, one-bathroom house with a large screened front porch and a smaller screened back terrace. We have already planted a number of fruit and medicinal trees and our first raised garden bed has been done.

We are not in a gated community, but it’s a planned community occupied by expats like ourselves. Our community is eco-friendly; houses are on solar power, our water comes from rainwater catchment systems, we have a community organic garden and community orchards and many owners here also have their own organic gardens.

One of our neighbours has chickens; one new neighbour is planning an apiary; another new neighbour is planning for some goats and sheep. Our community organization just spent the past Saturday morning putting a fence around the organic gardens to keep out the iguanas and chickens.

We have a new dog too. Buddy appeared in the community a few weeks before we moved into our new home. He was a stray, all skin and bones. We started feeding him and before we knew it, we had a dog.

Two of our neighbours similarly adopted stray dogs that came onto the property. We joke that if you want a dog (or cat), wait long enough and one will show up on your front step.

We live in a genuine community. I walk Buddy with another Canadian friend, and we often stop just to chat with neighbours or to talk to the construction crews building yet another new home here. We all keep an eye out for each other. We live the way that my parents probably lived during their younger adult years; connected to their community and their environment.

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