Our Trip to Belize

Since we briefly thought that Belize might be a good alternative for living out our island fantasy, we booked a trip there this past February. Of course, by the time that we got to Belize, we had already decided that making a home there would be too difficult so this trip was going to be all about vacation and nothing about real estate. (or so we thought – see previous post!)

We started our trip in Ambergris Caye, a peninsula northeast of Belize City. It was a short flight in a small airplane which flew very close to the water. There were many hotels and resorts to choose from on Ambergris Caye, but we had decided to stay in the main city of San Pedro. We were also trying to keep this trip on the cheap so instead of staying at one of the big resorts, we stayed in a small resort in the middle of town called The Tides. The Tides had twelve rooms and was right on the beach. They also had their own dive shop which was very convenient. The Tides was definitely not the Four Seasons – we had one washcloth, no box springs on the bed, very little light in the room, and it was next door to a school with screaming kids in the morning and band practice with drums in the evening. That being said, the general location was great. We were able to walk to the restaurants in town and never felt unsafe.

One day, we rented bikes and rode up the shoreline and saw some of the other nicer, larger resorts. To ride north of San Pedro, you have to cross a bridge where no cars are allowed. Most people use golf carts. While the accommodations were much nicer up north, I’m glad we chose to stay in town where everything was more accessible.

We stayed in San Pedro three full days. One of the days, we went scuba diving. This dive was probably the most interesting dive we had been on in terms of seeing wildlife. The boat took us out to Hol Chan Park, a national park in the middle of the ocean. As the boat pulled up, I began to see fins circling. “Don’t worry, they’re just nurse sharks,” our dive master said. Needless to say, that did not reassure me, but I did get in the water. Sure enough, the sharks stayed away from us. On our second dive, we went out further and deeper. The dive master had brought some “treats” and large grouper began to follow him like little puppies. They stayed with us throughout the dive. We also saw an enormous stingray which had a wingspan somewhere around 8 feet.

From San Pedro, we flew back to Belize City and drove 3.5 hours south to Placencia. We had planned to fly, but the airstrip was shut down to be repaved. This is just one of the examples of how Third World Belize still is. The drive through the countryside was absolutely beautiful. The land was lush and green, and I have never seen so many orange trees in my life. The drive was uneventful until we turned off the main road. Luckily, we had rented an SUV because nothing could have prepared me for this “road”. It was unpaved and had potholes the size of small canyons. Unfortunately, we had to travel twenty miles on this road to get to our guest house.

We stayed at the Maya Beach Hotel in the bottom floor of a guest house. The house was literally right on the beach, and we had our own pool that was shared with the couple on the top floor of the house. The house was perfect. I felt like we had the beach all to ourselves. The main hotel was next door and had some of the best food that I ate on the whole trip. (Everything that I ate in Belize was excellent, and that’s saying a lot because I am extremely picky).

To go into the main town of Placencia, we had to get back on the unpaved road and travel about ten miles. As a result, we only made 3 trips into town. On the way into town, you travel through a fishing village called Seine Bight. Throughout this area, the road was probably in the worst condition. It was also a little sketchy. People were sitting in the middle of the road, and just expected you to drive around them.

Placencia was also a little sketchy. To get to the beach from the main road, you basically had to walk through people’s backyards. None of the walkways to the beach had sidewalks or decks, and they were all unlit. At nighttime, it was a little unsettling. The town itself was cute, and had a little bit of a hippie vibe. Most of our time in town was spent trying to send faxes, but I think we saw a representative sample of the town.

On the evening of our anniversary, we drove almost all the way into town for dinner at Turtle Inn, a resort owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Turtle Inn (even at night) was stunning. The restaurant had a very South Pacific feel, and the waiters were wearing long sarongs. The grounds were beautifully landscaped, and if the restaurant bathrooms were any indication, the accommodations were incredible as well. Oh well, maybe on our next trip – after we win the lottery.

We Found a Lot! What Now?

I’ve been really quiet on this blog for some time because we really thought we were going to have to put our dreams on hold for a while. With the increasing prices of the St. Croix real estate market and our inability to sell our lake home, it just wasn’t looking like a good time to try and buy property in St. Croix.
Well, 2007 started off in a completely new direction. We started thinking about alternate locations to live out our ocean fantasy. As mentioned in a previous post, we talked about Roatan. Then we looked at Belize. Belize seemed to have some advantages over Roatan. Most importantly, it is an English-speaking island. Also, you can live on the ocean without living on an island which can make beachfront living a little more convenient, especially for moving your belongings and that sort of thing. Plus, the prices were so much lower compared to St. Croix. Sounds perfect, right?
We bought a book on living in Belize (after we had booked our annual February trip – pictures to come) and quickly realized that living in a foreign country was not for us. First of all, for me, a lawyer, it appeared that there would be no way for me to practice law without returning to law school. There is no law school in Belize – I would have to go to school somewhere like Jamaica. After practicing law for over 7 years, there is no way I am returning to school! Secondly, being a foreigner presents difficulties for finding employment. You have to have a work permit, and to get a work permit, you have to demonstrate that you have an employable skill that no Belizean possesses. If we could afford to retire at this point, these work issues wouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately, we are not financially stable enough to retire. (see above reference to law school – I’m still paying for that)

We still took our trip to Belize, and it was wonderful, but we decided with all the obstacles that living there presented, it was not the ocean home we were looking for.

Just before our trip to Belize, a new property came on the market in St. Croix. It was on the North Shore where we wanted to be. Our realtor emailed us the listing on Thursday. The lot was waterfront and relatively in our price range. I told H that I thought it was a sign. He agreed and quickly began making travel arrangements to go view the property – who would make a life-altering purchase without seeing it? Well, apparently that logic was flawed. He was supposed to fly out on Tuesday morning. On Monday, we found out the lot already had a contract on it and had been removed from the MLS. We were absolutely shocked. This property literally sold in one day! Lesson learned: we would not try to view the next property that came up. We would just put an offer down on it. And that’s what we did when the next listing came up.
We took our trip to Belize and were there for two days when we got an email from our realtor – 4 acres on the North Shore! The price was crazy cheap. Instead of thinking, “there must be something wrong with this lot,” we just thought, “crap, we better offer way over the asking price.” So we did, 25% over. Then we attempted to deal with the Third World technology that Belize had to offer. After spending half the day trying to fax the offer back to our realtor, we got an email from her saying that the seller wanted only cash offers or pre-qualifications. No problem – we had been working with a wonderful woman at Scotia Bank on St. Croix and felt like she would help us out. She was happy to help us out, but first, we had to fill out an 8 page mortgage application. So here we were in a tiny town in southern Belize trying to find an Internet cafe where we could print out the application, copy our passports and send them to her. It was about 10 miles into town on an unpaved road – and by unpaved, I mean potholes the size of canyons. We decided one trip per day on that road was plenty so we tried to fax the application from the hotel where we were staying. It literally took three hours! Apparently, their faxes are sent through a satellite server, and it was raining so the connection was very slow. Needless to say, the paperwork was not returned in time, and we did not get the property. It turned out that this was a blessing in disguise. The property had some building challenges, including finding a way to access the property and several drainage “guts.” Getting building approval on this lot would have probably been very difficult and expensive.
We returned from Belize a little dejected – we had missed out on two lots in two weeks. We decided we would not get our hopes up on any other lots. Two weeks later, we broke our promise to ourselves. A lot came on the MLS in the same gated community we had missed out on last summer. We weren’t going to let this opportunity pass us by. It was way out of our price range, but Scotia Bank had changed their mortgage terms, and we figured we could find a way to make it work. This was our dream after all.
We sent in our offer – the seller countered at $10,000 more. What the heck – we were already almost in over our heads so what was another $10,000? We accepted the counter and started the buying process. First, we figured we should get a look at the property. We still had video footage from our trip last summer to the same community, but we weren’t sure exactly where the lot was so H booked a trip to St. Croix.
He just returned this weekend and said the property was wonderful! Even though I have only seen the pictures and video, I have to agree. The property is perfect for us. The streets are really safe for me to run and walk the dogs, it’s located on a beautiful beach, and it’s close enough to town to be convenient, but far enough away that you feel like you’re getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city. (at least as “hustle and bustle” as Christiansted can get!)
Our next steps are waiting on the appraisal which hopefully the property will appraise for more than the purchase price, then the survey, and finally the closing. Luckily all of this can be done off-island, although not cheaply. Every party to a real estate transaction has to hire an attorney so that is approximately $1000 more than a regular transaction. However, with being off-island, an attorney makes things much easier for us.
So that’s what is going on with us – Step One of our plan to move to St. Croix is complete. Now the fun starts – finding an architect, starting the building process, and finally the Big Move!