Posts Tagged ‘International living’

“We’re going over to Belize for the week,” I said. “Where’s the long-term parking?”

We’d driven down to the Mexico-Belize border that morning from our home in Merida in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s only a four-hour drive, and we figured we’d park the car at the border and take the bus into Belize before dark.

However, we hadn’t reckoned on the parking situation at Santa Elena, the border town just south of Chetumal. The streets of the bustling little pueblo were choked with taxis, hired vans, buses, trucks, and hundreds of people crossing the border in both directions on foot. But the place seemed unprepared for anyone who actually owned their own car and wanted to leave it at the border for more than a day.

“I think maybe you can park down there,” said the attendant, pointing down a back street. “Go two blocks, you’ll see a house on the left with a wooden door. Next to it is a big green aluminum garage door. Go in there.”

We drove down the street and found the big green aluminum door. Behind it was Dona Maria.

Dona Maria lives in a small house at the back of a large walled-in yard. Toward the front of the yard, her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren played on the back porch of their own small house in the compound.

We asked if we could park in her yard. “One hundred pesos per day,” she said with a smile. “It’s safe. Somebody is always here.”

“We’ll be gone about six days,” I said. “Should I pay you now?”

“No, that’s OK,” she said. “I have your car.”

So, leaving our SUV and keys with a complete stranger, we rolled our suitcases to the border and entered Belize.

After parking at Dona Maria’s, our next leap of faith was that the hotel we planned to stay at in our first Belize destination, Corozal, would really be there and that the rooms would be ready. We’d found the hotel on the Internet, but we’ve learned that there is often no connection between the photos and descriptions on a website and reality on the ground.

This time, however, we were quickly rewarded for our leap of faith when we settled into the newly remodeled Las Palmas Hotel. Our room was ready, the place was clean and serviceable, and it turned out to be a good place from which to explore Corozal.

For a town established in 1849, Corozal looks like it was built in the 1960s. That’s because it was. The town was founded by refugees from Mexico’s Caste Wars in the 1800s but was completely wiped out by Hurricane Janet in 1955. Today Corozal’s 8,000 residents live in a town that looks like it was built from scratch out of concrete and rebar, which is in fact the case. Here and there are reminders of the pre-hurricane town… brightly painted wooden two-story house fronts in the old Colonial style… but for the most part, the overriding architectural style of Corozal is brightly painted 20th-century Blockhouse.

That’s not to say the town isn’t charming… the people of Corozal are amazingly friendly, and the main pastimes seem to be walking around the sunny streets and tiny main square (filled with playground equipment), greeting other people.

Tiny diners and shops line the streets, along with dozens of Chinese grocery and dry goods stores and several Chinese restaurants. The number of Chinese in Corozal is surprising until you learn that thousands of Chinese came to Central America to escape the Japanese invasion of China just before World War II, and many established themselves in Belize. Years later an economic citizenship program with Taiwan brought even more Chinese to the country.

Needless to say, you can get a good Chinese meal in Corozal… but don’t expect ambience in the “Grand Imperial Palace of the Heavenly Emperor” style. Corozal is more the “Plywood Counter With Four Tables, a Beer Cooler, and a Great Wall Poster” kind of place.

That being said, there are several very nice hotels and restaurants set on one of Corozal’s best features… the long shoreline along the Bay of Chetumal. This huge, calm body of water provides a cooling breeze and a breathtaking view, and it’s the bay that attracts the boaters, the fishermen… and the developers.

Several major residential and mixed-use developments are located on the vast bay around the Corozal area. The locals have seen a lot of projects come and go, and many of them think the most viable current development is about a 20-minute boat ride across the bay from town.

There is a lot going on at this project, including an equestrian center, a condo complex, and a small commercial village. The timeline for full development goes out for years, but the developers quickly established a tidy waterfront casita village on a piece of the project’s best bay frontage. This bit of smart thinking is one of the reasons the locals are impressed with the project. The 1,150-square-foot casitas can either be rented out, used as temporary residences by lot owners while their estate homes are being built, or just plain lived in. The casitas are freestanding with screened-in porches and small yards, and starting at $159,000 they rank as one of the most affordable non-condo residence options anywhere in the Caribbean.

After checking out Corozal, we flew out of the town’s newly improved airstrip to continue our Belize trip. Six days later we returned via the same airstrip, then headed for the border again… hopefully to retrieve our car in Santa Elena.

We arrived at Dona Maria’s about midday. Crossing our fingers, we went through the big green aluminum door… and there was our SUV right where we left it, with Dona Maria sitting in the shade nearby.

“Todo bien, Dona?” I asked.

“Si,” she said, producing my keys from her pocket. “No problems. That will be 400 pesos.” ($30)

I did the math again quickly in my head… six days, 100 pesos per day… and I didn’t say a word.

I didn’t say anything because Dona Maria knew exactly how long we’d been parked in her yard and how much we’d agreed to pay. I think she also knew what a leap of faith it was for us to leave our car in the yard of a total stranger for a week.

I think discounting our parking fee by a third was her way of thanking us for the trust.

I thanked her right back, and we drove home to Merida.

Editor’s note: We’ve just published a new report called Belize: Live the Caribbean Dream…For Less. If you’re interested in a place in the Caribbean sun…but you don’t want to pay typical Caribbean prices…

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International Living Postcards—your daily escapebelize

Dear International Living Reader,

Wedged between Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, Belize has no strategic importance to anyone. Maybe that’s why it has such a peaceful history. The pirates of the Caribbean thought so—when they needed a base in the 1600s, quiet, little Belize was their first choice. The 200 islands scattered off the coast made perfect hideaways. Later, when the Spanish tried to settle the mainland, it was a disaster. The pirates didn’t like the idea of someone else telling them what to do.

Today, Belize retains that fiercely independent streak. It’s one of the best banking and tax havens in the world. They don’t believe in taxes—no capital gains tax, no inheritance tax, no corporation tax. If you join the special retiree program, you don’t pay tax on foreign-earned income. A special Belizean retiree is loosely defined—you can be in your 40s or 50s and still working, and get all the program’s benefits.

Whether you chose to be a retiree or not, the lifestyle here will tempt even the most committed workaholic to relax. This is picture postcard Caribbean. Divers and snorkelers explore its 176-mile barrier reef. (The largest living reef in the world.) Sport fishermen are equally happy. They reel in snapper, grouper, barracuda, bonito, tuna, kingfish, sailfish, and marlin.


You’ll be blissfully free from commuter crush, 24-hour news, and workaday stress. This is a land of few cars, abundant fresh food from the sea and the trees, and great natural beauty. Belize is undeveloped and sparsely populated. You’ll have lots of room (on the beaches, in the jungle, in the rainforests) to stretch out. There is no rush. Where would you rush to? Yes, there are fiber-optic phone cables, computers, and cell phones, but these things are conveniences, not obsessions.

Everyone who visits English-speaking Belize talks about the friendly people. Of course, lots of countries have friendly locals. But in Belize you can quickly and easily make friends with them—because you already speak the language. You can buy a home on a Caribbean island for less than $100,000…and a house near the beach on mainland Belize for $35,000.

For a country where not much happens, there sure is a lot of opportunity in Belize. That’s why we’ve created a brand new report called Belize: Live the Caribbean Dream…For Less. If you’re interested in a place in the Caribbean sun…but you don’t want to pay typical Caribbean prices…you need to read this report.

Meantime, stay tuned to these postcards. We’ll reveal some Belize secrets over the next few days…

Len Galvin

Managing Editor, IL Postcards

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