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Living Abroad in Belize


© Lan Sluder, from Living Abroad in Belize, 1st Edition. Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.

Living Abroad in Belize

To start with, Belize is simply beautiful. It is a place of incredible natural beauty, mint green or turquoise seas and emerald green forests, and the longest barrier reef in the Western and Northern Hemispheres, with more kinds of birds, butterflies, flowers, and trees than in all of the United States and Canada combined. Massive ceiba trees and exotic cohune palms stand guard in rainforests where jaguars still roam free and toucans and parrots fly overhead. Rivers, bays, and lagoons are rich with hundreds of different kinds of fish. Belize is one of the world's wild frontiers, a kind of pint-sized, subtropical Alaska.

Belize also has an interesting mix of cultures, ethnicities, and heritages. It's a dilemma, an enigma, and an exception to most of the rules of its region: an English-speaking country in a Spanish-speaking world, a British colony in Latin America, and a Caribbean culture in a Latino society.

With a stable, democratic government, Belizeans treasure their freedom, but politics is intensely personal and often cutthroat. Belize is usually safe and friendly, but it can be dangerous; there are sharks on land, as well as in the sea. Theft is endemic. Belize is a little country with big problems to overcome. It has both corrupt politicians and proud bureaucrats who expect respect, not bribes. It's a poor, developing country, but even so, it seems to pay more attention to the environment than do its richer neighbors to the north. Belize is a nation in the making, but also a land with a 4,000-year history of achievement. While Europe huddled in ignorance during the Dark Ages, Belize was the center of an empire of wealth and sophistication and a land of a million people, four times the population of the country today. The Maya were mathematicians, architects, and theologians of great skill, who erected buildings that still remain the tallest in the region.

Belize is probably not like any other place you've ever been. Despite the palm trees, frost-free climate, and slow pace of daily life, it's not a land where the living is always easy. It's cheap or expensive, depending on how you choose to live. You can't just move to Belize and vegetate in comfortable retirement or hide behind the gated walls of a housing development for expatriates. It's not a place in which to make easy money, and it's all too easy here to lose the money you have.

Take a little bit of Africa, a little of Europe, a little of the Caribbean, a little of Mexico and Guatemala, and a little of the United States, and you almost have Belize. Yet Belize is more than that.

You've probably heard someone say about a certain part of the world, “I like it, but it is not for everyone.” Of course not. Not everyone likes New York City, not everyone likes London or Montana or New Zealand or any other dot on the map. No place is for everyone. But Belize is really not for everyone.

Some years ago, I was a business newspaper editor in New Orleans. A real estate agent I interviewed one time told me he could tell within minutes of meeting a prospective new resident at the airport whether that person would like New Orleans. He said that people either got off the plane complaining about the heat and humidity, swatting bugs, and yelling at workers to hurry up with their bags, in which case they immediately hated New Orleans; or else they were enchanted by this most storied and eccentric of American cities and fell in love with it from the moment they stepped off the plane.

Coming to Belize for the first time is a little like that. You arrive at a little airport at the edge of nowhere. The hot, humid air hits you like a steaming blanket. Inside the airport is a confusing mélange of people of every color and station in life, speaking many different languages, and everywhere you look is a mix of anxious tourists and laid-back locals.

En route to wherever you're going, you soon pass a wide, dark river that looks like something out of a Joseph Conrad novel. You see run-down, pastel-colored shacks like those in Jamaica, unfinished concrete houses such as those in Mexico, and new homes with chain-link fences and signs in Chinese. You pass by bars and brothels that would have attracted the famous novelist and jammed streets with rickety wood-frame buildings. Just when you think you're ready to turn around and go back to where you came from, you catch a glimpse of an unbelievably blue sea, a group of friendly schoolchildren in khaki uniforms who wave and shout, or, perhaps, the mysterious Maya Mountains in the far distance.

Belize may not be for you. But then, maybe you are that one person in 10 who will fall in love with Belize, with all its failings and frustrations. You won't find it paradise. You won't find it perfect. But you'll wish you'd found it sooner.

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