Freedom and Joy of Life in Belize

The only thing Doran Yount and his wife Kim regret about their move to Belize is that they didn’t do it 30 years earlier. “We could never have afforded our beautiful home on the beach in the U.S. or on any island. But here, it’s truly affordable,” says Doran.

As a native of Miami, Doran knew that he had salt in his veins. “Both my wife and I wanted to retire as close to the ocean as we could,” he says. “And sure, you’ll find ocean in Miami. But we disliked how congested the city was becoming. We wanted to take a deep breath. We were weary of the rat race.

“In 2004 we’d looked at property in Belize and decided to let the euphoria settle down while we really thought it out. But then a day came when it took me two hours to go 60 miles on the Florida Turnpike and cost me $13 in tolls. That was the final straw. I had it. That was the turning point. I called Kim and told her to contact the real-estate agent.”

Three months later, Doran was on a plane from Miami to Belize with two chain saws, a suitcase, and a plan. He was ready to clear the land where they would build their new tropical retreat. “I arrived first to build the cottage, which was eventually to become our guest house. Kim followed me in February 2006 with our five dogs and six cats, ready to begin our new adventure in life.”

Having fallen in love with the warm climate, the friendly people, and the less expensive lifestyle in Belize, the two reflect on their old life back home: “The U.S. mentality was, ‘If you don’t have credit, you’re worthless. If you’re not in debt to everyone, you’re worthless.’ We worked harder every year and only got further behind.”

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In Belize, it’s not common for people to buy things using credit. Most people own their homes outright. “Here, you pay as you go. We do it the way the real world does it. Millionaires and poor people live in wooden houses right next to each other. No one cares how much money you have. No one cares about ‘the Joneses,’” says Doran.

Unlike south Florida, traffic in Placencia consists of three cars in the middle of the pastel-painted town. When they want to leave Placencia for the day, they pay no tolls and often feel as if their car is the only one on the wide-open road. Mountains in the far-off distance are often ringed in a purple mist. Air fresher than any they could get in Miami blows in their windows.

The salt-blooded Doran has his sea life with none of the stress. The Placencia Peninsula is a sliver of land reaching south along the coastline. Pristine sailboats glide through the turquoise waters alongside local fishing boats. Fresh seafood is available year-round, as are healthy fruits and vegetables…and at a fraction of what the couple was used to paying.

Another of Placencia’s many charms is its year-round temperature of 84 F—which for Doran and Kim is near-perfect. The two didn’t even bother installing air-conditioning. Instead, they designed their home for maximum air-flow and use the ocean breezes to cool them. “We only have a small amount invested in our multi-level house, with a pool and a guest cottage,” Doran says. “Sometimes I just sit on my dock looking back at the house, and stare in amazement of where we live and what we have built for the small amount of money we have in this property.

“We still pinch ourselves,” Doran says. “Here we live richer for less. Even our property taxes are cheaper, at only $18 a year!” Typical U.S. foods can be expensive, so the Younts eat as locally as possible, feeding themselves and all their pets for $250 a week. They relish the fact that their utilities are so inexpensive, considering their beachfront location. Garbage pick-up twice weekly only sets them back $13.50 a month, while their Internet is only $26 a month.

As the Younts walk down the streets of their new hometown, they pass expats and local Belizeans alike. Everyone speaks English. Everyone is friendly. “This place has taught us to be open, to be ourselves, and to be understanding of others and not judge them. Here, we take the time—and we have the time—to get to know people for who they are. It’s not only the place that has fulfilled us. It’s the people.”

Most evenings find Doran sitting at his desk in front of open windows. He faces his beloved sea, which is only 175 feet away, and lifts his face to the cooling, salty breeze. “I often think of my friends in the U.S. and Canada who are busy running their furnaces to the max and shoveling snow. Here I am in shorts and a tee-shirt, watching the moon rise,” he says. “We love it here. We are home with the ocean, palm trees, pool, and all of it so affordable,” Doran says. “We have freedom. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Here in Belize, We Own Our Life”

Living on a hillside in San Ignacio, Belize, just a short car ride away from the Guatemalan border, Michael and Amanda Cyphers have finally found the simplicity they looked for so long. “I wake up every day and think, ‘What do I do with all this freedom?’” says Amanda. “At home, we had to do, we had to perform. We had bills to pay, places to go, schedules to keep. So much so that we were up at night worrying about how to get it all done.”

The couple retired early partly to give their 14-year-old son, Colin, a better way of life, away from the hustle-bustle of their Las Vegas suburban home. They find they have more quality family time now. “I have more time with my husband and son, because I’m away from the 101 things, the 3,800-square-foot house, the cars, everything we had. We live a humble life here. We’re not surrounded by things. And we have less stress.”

“That life in the U.S. felt like a chain or a leash,” Amanda explains slowly. “That life owned us. Here in Belize…we own our life. “And here we’ve found it easier to connect with people,” says Amanda.

It used to be that they’d plan time with friends, she notes, but no one ever had the time to follow through with the get-together. Months would go by, with no interaction. “Here I have real friendships I wasn’t able to have at home. I was too busy. My friends were too busy. Here I can actually implement my friendships.”

When they first moved to Belize a few years ago, another couple drove by to wave at the new Americans in the neighborhood. The next thing Michael and Amanda knew, the two couples were sitting on the Cyphers’ porch, enjoying drinks.

“It’s totally a function of time,” Michael says, laughing. “I can get together with friends… today, tomorrow, whenever! My schedule’s not that busy!” Amanda uses her free time doing things she loves. One of her passions is getting expats together for morning coffee or dinner with their families at a local open-air restaurant, Hode’s.

“Once a week, we get together with expats from all over the world. We let our kids play at the adjacent playground and chat about our week,” Amanda says. “Those who have lived in San Ignacio for a while offer insights to those who just got here. We have common ground now that we all call Belize home.”

The couple also discovered a new passion: wildlife. Michael comes from a government background, while Amanda was in real estate. They now volunteer at a local wildlife clinic, where they’ve even helped with surgeries. Michael also volunteers with the local neighborhood watch, and they’re both involved in their new church.

“I worked four days a week, 10 hours a day, for 22 years,” Michael explains. “Now, life is completely different.” For the first time in their marriage, the Cyphers own their home outright. They bought their place a year-and-a-half ago and were actually excited to be featured on House Hunters International during their early days in Belize.

“If you’ve seen that episode, you’ll hear the word ‘simplify’ a lot. We really wanted to simplify our entire life,” Michael says. The family had traveled to Belize many times over the years. They’d fallen in love with its slower pace, its people, and its weather.

“We are Parrot-heads. It’s that whole Jimmy Buffet dream.” As they planned for their future in Belize, certain things fell into place. “The moons aligned. The Las Vegas real-estate market dropped. We lived in a house that lost almost two-thirds of its value. And then Michael was offered a buy-out at work. It was time to live our retirement dream,” says Amanda.

“Now we live a much better quality of life on half of what I made in the States,” Michael says. “Ever since we married, we were planning this move. Now, we’re not planning anymore. Now we’re living in the moment. Our New Year’s resolution was simply to have fun.”

View a slideshow of photos from Belize here.

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