With their children grown and out of the nest, Rick and Darla Mallory were looking forward to seeing some of the world. But they never dreamed their wanderlust would lead them to a new home overseas…
Living in Boise, Idaho, Rick ran the state drinking water program and Darla had a career in radiation oncology. In 2000, they took their customary two-week vacation and visited Belize. “It was our first visit to Central America and we were impressed with the beauty of the country and easy pace of the residents,” says Rick.
On the return flight the couple began wondering what it would be like to take a year off and live in a foreign country. “We chose Belize because we wanted to easily communicate with the people. Neither of us speaks a second language, and as English is the primary language of Belize, it made good sense,” explains Rick.
By January 2002, Rick and Darla had made arrangements to take a year’s leave from their jobs. They rebuilt a 1969 Volkswagen camper for the trip. “The freedom we felt driving out of Boise toward Mexico was phenomenal,” says Rick. “We drove down the Pacific Coast of Mexico, camping in amazing places and exploring the country. The trip took almost two months and ended in Punta Gorda, Belize, where the southern highway ends in the heart of the Toledo District.
The picturesque road into town follows the shoreline of the Bay of Honduras. PG—as the locals call it—is an easy-going place with the benefit of cool bay breezes. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, it comes to life as nearby villagers pour into town for market days.
The 6,000 residents include Garifuna, Maya, East Indians, Creoles, Lebanese, and Chinese. At first, Rick and Darla rented a modest apartment with two bedrooms. It cost them $200 per month plus $20 for water and electricity.
With five months left on their one-year plan, Rick and Darla noticed an abandoned house a short walk from their apartment. Walking over the fallen gate, they chopped through overgrown vines to find a beautifully-tiled veranda. “The place was surrounded by an old adobe wall and, with thick jungle and trees hanging over the wall, it was hard to see,” explains Rick. “I guess simple curiosity made me walk through the gate that day to discover it.”
After a little research at the Lands Department, they learned the property was owned by Dr. Kopple, a 91-year-old retired British medical officer still living in Belize in Benque Viejo, on the western highway near the Guatemalan border.
Rick and Darla wanted a project to keep them busy for their remaining time in Belize, so they contacted Dr. Kopple to see if he would allow them to renovate the property in exchange for free rent. “Dr. Kopple was a bit suspicious of us at first and asked if we would visit,” says Rick.
“We enjoyed a yummy lunch on an outside veranda at Dr. Kopple’s home,” recounts Rick. “Before we’d finished eating, Dr. Kopple had convinced us to buy the house…and the three adjoining lots!”
They returned to Punta Gorda in a state of shock, having never intended to buy anything. After much discussion, they decided it was time to go back to Boise…and make preparations for a permanent move to Belize.
Rick recalls, “We signed the final land-transfer papers for the property in the parking area of the bus station in Belmopan, and our notary was a taxi driver…not exactly the signing situation we were accustomed to in the U.S.!” That old house, along with the adjoining lots—one on the sea—cost Rick and Darla just $66,000. It’s now the Coral House Inn bed and breakfast and has provided them with an income large enough to meet their needs for the past eight years.
There have been adjustments, of course, like figuring out and navigating the bureaucracy. But the fact that English is Belize’s official language has made the transition much simpler.
Editor’s note: Learn more about Belize and other countries in our postcard e-letter. Sign up for IL’s free daily postcards here and we’ll send you a free report: Belize: The Top English Speaking Retirement Haven in the Caribbean.