Adventures In Belize

Belize—Still For The Intrepid


Aug. 10, 2014, Panama City, Panama: Kathie returns to Belize, 30 years after her first adventures in the country.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Returning to what has been one of my favorite places on earth for a long time for my first extended stay in years, I find Belize's Cayo hardly changed. Me? I'm a little harder to recognize.

I came to Cayo for the first time almost 30 years ago. I had seen little else of the rest of the world by that time, but I recognized something in this part of Belize that I appreciated immediately—a big-time potential for adventure and discovery.

"This is what's great about Cayo," I told my 14-year-old son Jackson as he, his father, and I drove around lost in the dark on the unpaved, unmarked, unlit jungle roads last night trying to find our lodge.

"You can always count on having an adventure."

On my first visit to this part of the world three decades ago, my first friend in Belize, Mick Fleming, wondered just how much adventure I was up for.

Sitting next to me at the wooden bar of his Chaa Creek jungle lodge my first night in the country, Mick turned and asked, "Do you want to go on a guided tour of the Mayan ruins...or would you be up for a real Belize experience?"

Being 22 years old, how could I resist an opportunity for a real Belize experience, even though I had no idea what that might mean.

Mick had one of his staff drive me deeper into the jungle, to the two-room thatched-roofed home of a Mayan family. Alongside their little house, Mick had helped them to build a second, smaller place, a single room that they rented out to tourists. I've always wondered if any other tourist actually ever stayed in the place. This tourist has remembered my night there ever since.

Mick's man dropped me off and said he'd be back for me the next morning. It was just past lunchtime.

The family consisted of a mother, a father, and three children. The oldest child, a 13-year-old boy, spoke a little English. He asked what I'd like to do and then suggested a hike to a nearby cave. I smiled agreement.

I followed the boy up the side of the nearby mountain, through the bush. When it began to rain, the trail became slick, but the boy continued on, so I did, too. He used his machete to cut branches and growth from the trail we followed. Finally, he pointed with his machete toward the ground. I followed the machete's point and saw a small hole in the muddy earth. "The cave," the boy said. "Do you want to go inside?"

"OK..."

The boy lay down on the ground, on his stomach, then reached into the hole with his two hands, then his arms, and then he pulled himself through the mud and was gone.

I stood on the side of the hill, in the rain, in the mud, and considered my options. Really, I had only one. I got down on the ground the way I'd seen the boy do and slithered hands and arms first through the hole.

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Buying Property In The Languedoc—The Other South Of France

A Pied-A-Terre In The Other South Of France?


Aug. 8, 2014, Languedoc, France: France’s Languedoc region represents the best of the South of France but with lower prices. It’s still possible here to find attractive property for US$100,000 or less.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

I'm on my annual, part-vacation, part-work month in the Other South of France—the Languedoc region in the true south of the country on the shores of the Mediterranean. My chosen summer location is mainly driven by my parents' choice to live here since 2005.

Almost nine years on, they're very happy here but have one problem. Their house is now too big and too tricky to manage for two almost-octogenarians. Last year, I was on a mission to find them a smaller, bungalow-style property. (You can read my first report here...and a follow-up here.)

I did find several properties that fitted their search criteria and budget of around 250,000 euros. I even managed to get both parents to view one of the properties, twice. But, in the end, they both felt a move to another reasonably sized property would not provide a sufficiently great enough benefit to warrant the upheaval at their age. As I wrote last year, "you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink." However, you can continue making suggestions...

As he drove me to the airport for my return to the UK last year, my father said that he was thankful for my property search but was keeping his options open. What he really meant was that he was considering a move back to the UK, something neither of them were sure they really wanted to do, but they both felt the tug of the familiarity of home soil (a common experience of ageing expats) and more regular family contact.

Why not have the best of both worlds, I proposed: an apartment in the UK and a pied-a-terre in the Languedoc. They could come out here as often as they wished, renting the French property to family and friends when they're away. When the number of visiting family members is too big to fit in their smaller home, the family can rent a summer holiday property (there are plenty of those to choose from in this area), or we can camp, as we've often done, for 20-odd euros a night in the municipal campsite next to the river.

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Crossing The Border From Poland To Lviv, Ukraine

Crossing Into Lviv


Aug. 7, 2014, Lviv, Ukraine: The city of Lviv has changed hands many times in its history. Today it’s a UNESCO Heritage Site that could work well as a European base.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Here are the WikiTravel instructions for traveling from Poland across the border to Lviv, Ukraine:

"From Przemysl, take a bus to the border (granitsa in Polish)...

"When you exit the final border control, walk straight ahead and you will come out on to a street which cars use to cross back in to Poland. Follow this street up past the shops and money exchanges, and take your first left. About 50 meters down on the left hand side is the new bus terminal where buses run regularly to Lviv for approximately 23 UAH [hryvni]. Get your ticket from the driver.

"Whether to [choose this crossing] depends on your stress tolerance, Polish language skills, and ability to push and shove at the border."

Simple. Vicki and I crossed easily at midmorning, without any pushing or shoving, without anyone else around.

We jumped on the bus to Lviv just as it pulled out. We settled into seats, but bags and people blocked my way to the driver. How to pay? I pulled out 60 hryvni (about US$5), held up the bills, and looked at the guy next to me. He took the money, passed it to the woman seated in front of him, and so on up to the driver. Back came my change. No ticket. No receipt. I guess that's the way Ukraine works.

Three years ago, my friend Dag and I crossed out of a different Ukraine border and faced long lines. We were told smugglers lined up to transport goods from Ukraine (non-EU) to Europe (high, fixed prices). While waiting in line, I pulled out a book and started reading. An immigration officer saw me, came over, grabbed the book from my hands, and studied it. Once he determined I was reading in English, he waved Dag and I to the head of the line. I guess that, in this part of the world, smugglers don't speak English.

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Dental Care In Cost Rica—A Real Life Story

The Half-Price Dentist Of Costa Rica


Aug. 6, 2014, Uvita, Costa Rica: Costa Rica was the first in the Americas to push medical tourism. Care is high-quality, staff are highly trained, but is there a downside?

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Costa Rica was first in the Americas to fully embrace the concept of medical tourism and has a government-backed marketing campaign to push it to the forefront. Here, you can get a knee replaced, have heart valve surgery, get your tummy tucked or your bum lifted—all neatly bundled with round-trip airfare and a vacation at the beach—for a fraction the cost in the United States. Everyone brags about the service, the quality of care, and the amount of time the doctor or dentist spends with you. But is it always so picture perfect?

Four days before our final due diligence trip to Costa Rica, my girlfriend Kristie lost a filling. While we were here to sign the purchase agreement on our place, she lost another small one. (I should add here that Kristie hates the dentist. She takes care of her teeth religiously on her own time, but a fondness for sticky sweets has left her teeth in poor repair.)

We'd heard all the stories and decided to find a dentist to do a quick fix while we were in town. We checked out the recommended dental office of "Dr. V" and found the staff were nice and had all the right equipment, and they had an opening in two days.

On the appointment day, a miserable Kristie turned up for the dentist to perform an oral exam, take bite-wing X-rays of the large filling, and find there was enough damage to warrant a crown. After cleaning up the teeth, removing what was left of the filling, and drilling out the underlying cavity, the dentist gave us two options for the damaged tooth: Kristie could get it fixed on our return to the States, or our new Tico buddy could do a temporary crown that would last a few months until our full-time move. We opted for Dr. V's temporary crown. The cost for the whole day? Just US$200.

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How Editorial Coverage Effects Overseas Destinations

Welcome To Paradise—Please 
Lock The Door Behind You


Aug. 5, 2014 León, Nicaragua People sometimes complain that increased editorial coverage of an expat destination can have a negative impact. Here’s the truth.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

As a writer covering overseas living and real estate, I get my share of comments and complaints. No matter what topic you touch on—from prostitution to condo deals to Wi-Fi on the buses in Uruguay—there's someone out there with something to say. This feedback is good for a writer—and the publisher—as it keeps us connected to the readers.

But there's one topic that I have trouble responding to. It concerns the impact that our coverage can have on the destinations that we write about.

Readers sometimes write to say that our reports are changing the character of a destination...or attracting too many people...or driving up real estate prices. At times, there's even a feeling that the increased attention is changing the very attributes that made a destination attractive in the first place.

The truth is that all of these can be true at times. Editorial impact on an expat destination usually has one of three effects...

For some larger destinations, the effect of more expats moving in is insignificant. In places like Fortaleza (Brazil), Medellin (Colombia), or Montevideo (Uruguay) the high level of reader interest is a drop in the bucket. In Medellin, I see more North Americans all the time...but in a town of more than 4 million people, a few hundred expats is hardly changing the culture. 

In other destinations, the coverage (and influx of expats) unquestionably benefits the local community and expats alike. In Quito, for example, North American expats were virtually the only people who were buying the dilapidated, abandoned buildings in the historic center. Today they've been beautifully restored into colonial homes, tasteful condos, restaurants, and boutique hotels. No one can deny that everybody won: the historic city, those who initially invested, and the end-users who got a good deal on the restored properties. 

But the third effect can be a problem. The dilemma arises in cases where the influx of expats has actually changed the character of the destination. And whether you perceive it as good or bad depends on your personal role in the situation and when you came on the scene. In this category I'd include places like Roatan (Honduras), Vilcabamba (Ecuador), Granada (Nicaragua), and Boquete (Panama).

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.

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