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A Path Less Taken

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on September 12, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Imagine this. It’s a Tuesday. You get a call from an old college friend. Out of the blue he asks, “What are you doing Thursday?”

“Going to work, as usual,” you reply.

“How about coming to Belize?” 

 “OK. Sure. But where is Belize?”

Below are a few great stories of people much like you and me who decided to try living outside the box. They perhaps enjoyed an adventurous spirit and a desire to expand their life experiences, taking the “road less traveled,” to borrow a line. Let me share a short version of my story and then we’ll hear from a few others who took action and colored outside the lines a bit.   

It’s hard to imagine that 24 years ago I didn’t even know where Belize was, let alone think that I might live there someday. To be somewhat fair, it had been British Honduras when I had studied it in school. Selling computers while sitting in my “corner” office in Springfield, Virginia, that Tuesday, I had no idea how my life would change because of one simple “yes” and one short weekend in the Cayes off the coast of Belize. 

A Path Less TakenBritish Honduras and a computer from a similar era.

 I had been in the computer business for ten years at that point. And even though the money was good, great actually, I was no longer satisfied with what I was doing. The challenge was gone and I was just putting in time. So sure, this trip to Belize was a fun, long weekend. But it was also the first glimpse of a new wave of opportunity that held the promise of adding meaning, excitement, and challenge back to my work life once again. 

The weekend trip turned into a couple more trips back in short order, followed by the purchase of my first rental property, a condo in Ambergris Caye, Belize, in 1994. Seeing the need for mortgage financing, my business partner and I went on to set up a mortgage company a year later that eventually became Caye International Bank. To this day, Caye Bank provides North Americans who want to buy property in Belize with a way to finance up to half their purchase. Something unique in the region.   

A Path Less TakenExotic Caye Mortgage Company’s evolution into Caye International Bank Ltd. on Ambergris Caye.

Shortly after buying the condo and setting up our mortgage company, a small group of us purchased a small resort in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye. We saw the need for an affordable product and an affordable lifestyle – this was lacking, with most property priced out of the range of affordability for many middle-class consumers. We looked for additional property around the region and have since grown this small business into a regional company, with over 5 miles of oceanfront property, 4000 acres, in four counties. At one level, this is surprising, but at another level it is not.  

A Path Less Taken3.5 miles of Pacific beachfront purchased in the year 2000 for the Gran Pacifica community.

For me, just having a condo on the beach in Belize was nice for about 10 minutes. Then it was about brainstorming how we could serve people like us who wanted to own property in the region with financing and products they could afford. The interesting thing is that when you start to spend time in Central America, opportunities present themselves very quickly. You can’t help but notice lots of things that need to be done, or could be done differently and perhaps serve clients in a new or better way. My entry to living in Central America was unintentional. For others, it is consciously intentional.  

Over the two-dozen years working and more than 14 years living in both Nicaragua and Belize, I’ve gotten to know literally hundreds of expats who each have their own stories and adventures. Six of them who moved to Ambergris Caye at some point highlight the spectrum of reasons people want to move overseas. Their stories also reveal the types of lifestyles that are either planned or simply evolve over time.

Rick and Carol moved to Ambergris Caye knowing that they’d want to have a small business to supplement their incomes in retirement. So instead of waiting until they were 65, they decided to get a jump on things and move early, so they could ramp up a business that would give them the income they wanted later.  After arriving, they saw the need for fine wines and gourmet foods on the island and opened a delightful shop which also showcases local fine arts. A friend back in Napa Valley exclusively provides them with their own brands of wine, olives, and tapenades. They’ve since sold the business, but be sure and pop by Wine de Vine when you are there for a rich culinary experience. On top of that, you’ll really enjoy the new digs, recently remodeled for cozy and comfy.   

A Path Less TakenWine de Vine – A culinary treat in San Pedro, Belize.

There is my friend Nancy from Calgary who came to the Cayes to relax and enjoy life a little more. She did end up starting a small business renting baby cribs to hotels after the opportunity presented itself. She also had leased out a few cabanas, but her main goal is to spend her days enjoying the company of other friends on the island. Most evenings you’ll find Nancy on the beach, under the stars, dancing to the live music provided nightly by one establishment or another. Sunday afternoon there is the weekly “beach jam,” where anyone who can play jumps in for a song or two in between BBQ and beers. The bands are made up of 50-somethings playing their favorites of the 60s and 70s, some nights country, some nights rock-and-roll.  

Linda, a well-known artist from California, decided to make tiny San Pedro her new home. She set up shop on the beach and opened a gallery that features the veritable rainbow of blues and greens that make up the Caribbean Sea. Linda shipped work back to the U.S., proving that some things you can do from anywhere, and there are a lot of nice “anywheres” out there to choose from. On top of that, she inspired painting classes on the beach for residents and tourists alike. Community takes many forms.  

A Path Less TakenLinda gets residents and tourists excited to paint in Belize.

Jessie retired and moved from Kona Hawaii to Belize 28 years ago. He started writing an email update to friends for fun, but soon more and more people wanted to tune in. He then turned into the San Pedro Daily, which was published every day. Before he passed away, he told me that he made more money from his “daily” than he did from his pension. But for Jessie, it boiled down to this in his words, “More than the money, though, is the feeling I get when people tell me that it’s the first thing they read every day when they log in. You can’t beat that.”

Diane, an expat traveler for two decades, felt at home the minute she reached the warm sands of Ambergris Caye. At 5’1” she weighed in at 140 when she arrived and decided to embark upon a healthier lifestyle. She rode her bike to town each day to fetch her mail and would also pick up neighbors and friends at the same time. This morphed into a small courier service to deliver mail and packages to your door. As the business grew, so did the time on the bike. Diane told me at one point that would clock in over 200 miles a week riding the beach delivering packages. She related that what she loves most is smiling and saying “hi” to about 300 people a day. When we talked about 2 years into her business, she weighed less than 100lbs and was in the best shape of her life.   

Many people arrive still a long way off from retirement. One couple arrived in Belize on a real estate tour, knowing they wanted to be somewhere warm and tropical. So they set about arranging their affairs back home to make it happen.  The husband was a builder in the States and knew that those skills could be leveraged in a Caribbean beach location. They didn’t have to wait for retirement. They could have the quality of life they had always dreamed of right now.

Their analysis showed that homes and residences for full-timers were sorely missing from the island and, in fact, most resort destinations. Most condos are built as resort condo-hotels. Typically, they have small bedrooms, tiny closets, and very limited cabinet and pantry space. While this is fine for a week’s vacation, if you plan to live there some part of the year, tiny closets can have a huge impact on your quality of life.  

The couple immediately jumped in and started building an apartment building that incorporated the simple and easy items that make living more comfortable. All the units were rented before the building was complete. As expats themselves, they understood the needs and wants of people who plan to move overseas for part, most, or all of the year – like just how important a little extra storage space really is, or that you’ll probably need a place for a trash can under the sink.  

A Path Less TakenBaymen Gardens – Serving the San Pedro long-term rental needs.

A growing community of exceptional and interesting expats is emerging in San Pedro. People like Rick, Carol, Diane, Nancy, Jessie, and others are transforming the island into a wonderful community of independent free thinkers who enjoy the company and association with friends of a like mind. As you’ve seen, some of them already had an idea of what they wanted to do, while some waited and let serendipity take them on a new course. Others like the relaxation a tropical island can provide and read a library of books, talk with friends, enjoy a day on the water, or take siestas in an oceanfront hammock every day to rest up for a night’s dancing under the stars.

A Path Less TakenKelly McGuire rockin’ barefoot in Belize, and a day along the reef with friends.

Regardless of your intentions, or what actually takes place, something only happens when you make a decision and then take action. Say yes to something that sounds just a little bit crazy to all your “normal” friends, and perhaps change your life for the incredibly better in the near future. These adventurous souls know they made the right choice and they have a terrific story to tell.  Consumer Resource Guide

As for me, I’m sure glad I said “yes” twelve years ago to that weekend trip to Belize. You can, too. Consider this:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.

A great tale. Until next week, find your path less taken and enjoy the adventure.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on September 12, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Michael K. Cobb is the CEO and co-founder of ECI Developments which has properties throughout Latin America. He speaks all over the world on international real estate and is a board member of the National Association of Realtors.

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