Construction Diary Update--Dirt Is Flying!
Jan. 20, 2013, Los Islotes, Panama: Infrastructure work has begun at Los Islotes, the premier and full-amenity master-planned community on the east coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula.
Also This Week: One Expat-Entrepreneur's Chocolate-Covered Adventures In Ecuador...One Secret To Making A Success Of Your New Life In Ecuador...What Gets Your Blood Flowing?...Letter From Glengarriff...
Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,
After work Friday afternoon, Lief and I loaded Jackson, our overnight bags, and Jack's beach things into the back of the car and headed west on the PanAmerican Highway. We were on our way to check on progress out at Los Islotes.
For more than two weeks, since the start of the New Year, we'd been delighted by the day-by-day with reports from the scene from Project Manager Gary Moseley. "Today we started cutting the roads into Phase 1," Gary reported one day. "We've moved so much dirt in the past few days!" he exclaimed another evening when he called to check in.
"Things are taking shape," he told us most recently. "The really good news is that we haven't been exaggerating when we've told people that nearly every lot on the property has a great view. Now that we're clearing away some of the brush, the perspective is changing. 'Wow!' is all I can say. Some lots of 360-degree views. It's something to see."
Indeed, we wanted to get out there to see for ourselves, so, Friday, we drove from Panama City to Santiago. Until we build a place to stay of our own on the Los Islotes property (more on this in a minute), Santiago is the most comfortable place to overnight in the area, especially since the opening of the new Mykonos Hotel in this city. I don't really get the Greek theme at work at the Mykonos, but I greatly appreciate that the hotel is now in operation. It sets a new standard of accommodation in this part of Panama (and rooms are only US$75 a night, a bargain considering both the property and the service).
When the Mykonos opened a few months ago, Lief and I wondered about its prospects. Again, we were awfully glad to have it as a place to stay, but, while every other hotel in Santiago is a couple of dozen rooms or so, the Mykonos has nearly 100! How will they fill all those rooms, we wondered, worried that they wouldn't be able to stay in business.
We shouldn't have been concerned. We got the last room in the hotel when we called Friday morning to make the reservation. A Ministry of Education conference and a rally for President Martinelli had every hotel in Santiago just about fully booked, including the Mykonos. This isn't uncommon, we learned, asking around. It seems this was the plan all along. More and more groups from Panama City are looking for options for places to hold meetings and conventions. Santiago is emerging as a top alternative.
Waking early Saturday morning in Santiago, Jackson remarked, "It's fresher out here, isn't it? Nicer..."
Indeed. Panama City is an increasingly urban and gritty place to be. Santiago, while one of the biggest cities in the country and, by some accounts, the fastest-growing destination in Panama, is still very much in the country. From the window of our room at the Mykonos we had views of cow pastures all around. Driving into the city Friday evening, we watched the local farmers harvesting their sugar cane.
Saturday morning, we made the drive down the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula from Santiago through the little towns (villages, really) of Mariato, Malena, Torio, and, finally, Quebro, to reach the turn-off to Los Islotes. We saw Gary's handiwork straight away. Wide new roads led us into the property. We three hopped out of our car and into Gary's truck for a complete tour of Phase 1, possible now thanks to the new roads.
We'd come to see the roadwork for ourselves, but also to finalize the lot selection for the Founder's Lodge we intend to build now. "I recommend you look at lots 1, 2, 9, and 10," Gary suggested. They sit along a ridge that I think would be a great choice for where to locate what you want to create. Lots 3, 4, and 5 would be great, too, but they're spoken for," he added.
We started at the edge of lot 1 and climbed the ridge through to lot 11. As Gary had explained, now that some of the underbrush has been cleared away, the views both of the Pacific Ocean in front and the mountains behind are even more impressive than we'd expected. When we reached lot 10, I was particularly taken.
"This is it," I said. "This is where we should build the initial small clubhouse and guest suites we need. Let's get the dimensions and the topographical details to Ricardo, our architect, this week. The sooner he can begin designing, the sooner we can break ground on the structure."
That agenda item taken care of, we wandered around the property a little more, enjoying the increased access. Some of the land we explored on Saturday we'd seen in the past only on foot and with the help of a machete to clear the way.
"It'll be a year at least, thinking realistically, before the Founder's Lodge is finished," Lief mentioned as we were driving around. "In the meantime, it'd be nice to have a place to come out for picnics and visits with friends. Let's build something up on that high point over there, a simple open-air structure with a red clay-tiled roof where we can sit and enjoy a cookout or a rum and coke as we watch the sun set over the ocean."
"I can have that spot cleared in a few days," Garry added. "And I can bring in some guys to build whatever you want as soon as you send me a drawing to work from."
We're on it. Now that dirt is flying, Lief and I intend to be out at Los Islotes at least twice a month. We'll need to create a place where we, the kids, and friends who accompany us out to the property can enjoy all the Los Islotes has to offer in shade and comfort.
P.S. What else this week?
Owning and running a chocolate business can be a bittersweet experience. Owning and running a chocolate business in Ecuador definitely is both bitter and sweet. I moved to Ecuador in 2007 with my wife Maria and our two kids, aged 9 months and 3 years at the time. For years we had been looking for another opportunity to relocate overseas, as both of us had worked in the international development field and spent numerous years living in various countries including South Africa and Nicaragua. That opportunity never came. We finally realized we'd have to create it for ourselves. We sold our house just before The Great Recession, packed up everything, and relocated to Quito, Ecuador...
One of the major challenges facing expats, especially those living in a country where the people speak a language other than the one the expats spoke back home, is communication. Finding reliable service providers can be difficult. And being able to keep up with local news and events, even with each other, is often the difference between a fulfilling life and chronic frustration.
In Ecuador, specifically in Cuenca, the answer is an e-letter service and website called GringoTree...
If you have a particular agenda, your challenge is mitigated. If yours is a strict and modest budget, for example, you must choose a country where the cost of living is low (Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Thailand, and Vietnam qualify).
If you intend to start a business in your new life overseas, then your top choices are entrepreneur-friendly jurisdictions (Panama is the front-runner).
If you have an ongoing health concern, then you can think about moving only to those places that offer top-notch medical care (typically this means sticking close to a city big enough to have international-standard facilities).
If you're moving with children, international-standard schooling options are the make-or-break issue (Panama and Colombia offer great choices in the Americas). But what if you're not limited in any of these ways? What if you're not restricted by cost of living or health issues or school-aged children or the need (or desire) to start a business and earn a living?
Well, then, you could go anywhere.
And that's the trouble.
PLUS--From resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon:
The idea behind Mahogany Park is straightforward. This riverfront community in the Cayo District of Belize has been conceived as an opportunity for retirees looking for a place to enjoy the simple life in a charming rural setting and on a very modest budget.
Mahogany Park isn't a gated community. This is more low-key than that, more for retirees more interested in becoming part of the existing local community rather than creating one of their own.
Mahogany Park is also about a year-and-a-half in the making. That's how long Belize developer-friend Phil Hahn and I have been working to put the pieces for this into place.
The piece of land where Mahogany Park is being developed was chosen carefully. The property sits on the Mopan River just outside the town of Bullet Tree. The location is quaint, quiet, and back to basics. The river situation means cooling breezes and pleasant views.
As I said, this isn't a "gated community." No clubhouse, no gym, etc. All of that adds cost for the owners, both upon purchase (every amenity must be amortized over the prices of the lots) and ongoing (in the form of HOA fees). Plus, all of that would change the face of what's on offer here. If you want a full-amenity situation, you have other good options in this country. If you want sweet and simple country living, Mahogany Park could be just the thing.
While this isn't a master-planned community in the traditional sense, the property will be supported by roads, water, and electricity. You won't have to dig your own well, for example.
In addition, Mahogany Park will include a half-acre park with access to the river for use by all owners, a nice place to meet with your few neighbors and maybe share a cocktail at sunset. Otherwise, the property is being given over to dozens of mahogany trees (hence the name). Three of the lots are riverfront; owners of these will be able to step out your back door and be right at the river (note that there's a 66-foot government setback from the river's edge for construction).
With lots ranging from about 1/8th to 1/5th of an acre and prices starting at US$25,000, Mahogany Park is a very appealing option for someone looking to retire to Belize on a budget, build a second home, or invest in a small rental property. You could put up a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot house for as little as US$70,000, including the septic system, meaning that you could have a comfortable home of your own in this riverfront setting within walking distance of town (Bullet Tree) for a total of less than US$100,000.
Belize is generally best known for its Caribbean lifestyle. That's out on Ambergris, and that's where you should look if you like to spend your days diving, snorkeling, and fishing. Belize's Cayo is a different place entirely. This is inland, in the mountains, in a region that has managed to remain largely undiscovered and undeveloped despite all the attention other parts of this country have attracted.
Frankly, the Cayo is my favorite part of Belize. The older I get, the more I appreciate the attractions of simple country living on the banks of a slow-going river. If that lifestyle appeals to you, too, the Cayo is one of the best places in the world to enjoy it.
Finding serviced lots in a riverfront setting at the prices on offer at Mahogany Park isn't easy--not in Belize or anywhere. And at Mahogany Park, there are only 23 of them.
Phil likes to launch any new project with a special offer. In this case, he's convinced me to offer a US$5,000 discount off the price of the first five lots sold. That means you could buy a lot in Mahogany Park for as little as US$20,000. I don't know of any opportunity anywhere that compares. And, again, this one is very limited in scope.
For more information, you can get in touch with Phil here.
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