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In fact, our chef is our new neighbor. He and his partner also have invested at Maya Spring Estates. They've already begun tilling their 3-acre parcel, preparing the earth for planting. James is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef with decades of experience, his partner a world-class baker. The pair has made their way to this spot in Belize to open a boutique restaurant. They'll prepare meals using ingredients grown on the property, one set menu each day.

Last night Chef James' menu was cheeseburgers prepared over an open fire. Delicious.

Another neighbor has begun construction of his guesthouse on his 5-acre parcel. This will be followed by gardens and then, later, the main house.

Lief and I also plan to build a guesthouse and a farmhouse on our plot at Maya Spring. First, though, we're interested in getting some trees growing. The Maya Spring community barbecue last night was a chance for us to formulate a plan with resident horticulturist Con (the one with the flat tire).

We have 9 acres to work with. About 1.5 acres will be given over to the farmhouse, guesthouse, and kitchen gardens. The remainder of the land we want to treat as a mini-plantation. Our idea is to plant timber intercropped with specialty plants prized by florists. Lief and Con considered different Belizean hardwoods—mahogany, cabbage wood, cedar, rosewood—and Con suggested two varieties of palms whose fronds are in great demand and saleable for relatively large sums even locally in Belize.

"Let's start by planting 100 neem trees along the far perimeter," Lief suggested. "That'll create a wall for privacy and also help control pests."

"No problem," Con replied.

"Can you get 100 neem trees?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so," Con admitted. "People here, they grow a few trees and sell them. You don't find anyone with large stocks of inventory. But I can work with a grower to produce 100 neem trees and everything else you guys want."

"What about the harvests?" I continued. "We want to keep this experiment as simple and low-key as possible. We're working with a small piece of land. We won't be growing enough to make exporting the harvests worthwhile. Would we be able to sell the timber we're thinking of producing in Belize?"

"Definitely," Con said. "The timber and also the palms. I've been working with a hotel out on Ambergris, for example, that wants hundreds of the specialty palm fronds I'm suggesting you plant per month, but they can't source them."

Lief and I know next-to-nothing about farming. But we have an interest, based mostly on a natural curiosity and an affinity for growing things. We're not doom-and-gloomers, but we do also like the idea of learning how to be more self-sufficient. Our 9 acres at Maya Spring Estates is our first focused effort at this. We feel lucky to have connected with Con, the friend of a friend, who shares our passion for planting and backs it up with experience, know-how, and local connections.

"Make it so!" Lief proclaimed to Con with uncharacteristic enthusiasm after we three had agreed a plan. Maybe he'd had one too many One Barrel rums.

The Cayo sky was fully dark by now. Above us a bright moon and a blanket of stars...in the distance, beyond the hills, the lights of nearby San Ignacio.

"Time to head out," I said to Lief and Jack.

"Couldn't I stay here?" Jack asked. "I could sleep in one of these hammocks. Just cover me with bug spray and come back for me in the morning..."

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Whether you're after a place by the beach...or in the interior Cayo region (with its Mayan ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls, and rain forest)...
you'll find many options in this safe, welcoming, English-speaking haven. Registration for our Live and Invest in Belize Conference opens soon. To get on the Hot List—for VIP perks and to be notified of the best discounts—go here now.

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Two off-grid projects I know well and like make a good case study. One is in the Yucatan region of Mexico; the other is in the Cayo region of Belize.

The development team behind Los Arboles near Tulum, Mexico, has launched this, their second project just up the road from their first successful off-grid development. Los Arboles is designed similarly to the group’s first undertaking in that the lots are all relatively big, ranging from 1.25 to 9 acres, and all of the land included in the development is jungle and 85% of it will remain jungle. Lot owners essentially are permitted to clear enough to build their houses.

Amenities planned are basic, including a community center with a pool and a picnic area. Nature trails will be cut through the jungle, and an amphitheater is being built for outdoor events. Otherwise, it’s you and nature. In fact, the jungle is so thick in most parts that you won’t see houses from the road. Living here, you likely wouldn’t even know you had neighbors unless you wanted to.

Carmelita Gardens in Belize has been designed with a very different objective. The property in this case was farmland rather than jungle, so there wasn’t much nature to preserve. It’s an open expanse on the banks of the Belize River.

With Carmelita, you definitely will know you have neighbors. You’ll see them all around you. And, indeed, the community has been designed to facilitate interaction among neighbors. There are community gardens and orchards for owners to tend together (if you want...you’re not obliged to work in the gardens). The property even has what is suspected to be a small Maya ruin, and the plan is to invite owners to participate in its excavation under the oversight of the Belizean Archeological Society.

Los Arboles is only 15 to 20 minutes away from the beaches near Tulum, which is the nearest town. Cancun is the access point for international flights, and it’s about two hours to the property from the Cancun airport. Chetumal is about three hours to the south for big shopping trips if you want to avoid the tourists in Cancun. The climate at Los Arboles is tropical, though there’s some relief from the sun thanks to the jungle canopy.

Carmelita is about two hours from the international airport in Belize, but it’s up in the "mountains" of Cayo giving it some elevation and somewhat cooler temperatures, especially at night when you don’t necessarily need air conditioning. To get to the beach, you could catch a flight to Ambergris Caye from one of the two nearby local airports. For shopping, San Ignacio is about 15 minutes away in one direction, Spanish Lookout about 15 minutes away in the other direction. Note, though, that nowhere in Belize does the shopping compare with that in Cancun or Chetumal. Big Box stores don’t exist in Belize. For that kind of shopping, ironically enough, people from Belize drive to Chetumal, which is just over the country’s northern border.

Prices for lots in both projects are low compared with the cost of buying into a full-infrastructure development...because the developer doesn’t have that level of infrastructure cost. When buying into an "off-grid" development anywhere, though, you need to remember that, while the lot cost will be lower compared with a full-infrastructure project, the construction cost for your home will be greater, because it will have to include the costs of systems for solar power and waste management.

At both Los Arboles and Carmelita, the developers are working with the latest in solar technology, contained wastewater systems, and rainwater catchment systems. The construction design styles fit the locations. In Mexico, you find more Spanish-style homes. In Belize, the typical style is more Caribbean or Key West. Both developers are prepared to help with house designs and construction.

Prices at Los Arboles start at US$48,500 for the 1.25-acre lots and go up to US$130,000 for the largest lots. Carmelita lots are smaller (most are less than 1 acre) and start at US$28,000.

As I said, I like both these off-grid communities in the making. Which one might be right for you? Do you want river or jungle...Mexico or Belize...tropical weather or a bit of a cooler climate in the foothills...a large lot where you could live very privately if you chose or a community designed for interaction among neighbors?

You can get in touch here for more information on Los Arboles and here for more information on Carmelita Gardens.

Lief Simon

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One thing that attracted Jim and Kathy to Belize was its tradition of banking privacy. FATCA has diminished the opportunity for "private banking" anywhere, but Belize is still one of the best options for where to have an offshore account.

Jim and Kathy also liked that the language in Belize is English. "Learning Spanish wasn't something we wanted to deal with," Jim admits.

"Another thing we really appreciate about this country is the people," Kathy adds. "We've lived all around the world with the military, and we find the people in Belize to be wonderful and friendly. Belize is one of the top 10 happiest countries in the world. When they say 'good morning,' they actually mean it."

"On the other hand," Jim adds, "living here, you need patience. Belize moves at its own pace, and Belizeans are on mañana time. Monday may mean Monday, but not next Monday."

Here are six more tips Jim and Kathy offered for attendees at this week's conference, things they wish someone had told them before they made their move:
  • Birds are noisy. "They wake us at the crack of dawn most mornings," Jim says...
  • Bugs are a part of life here. This is the tropics, after all. "Ants came into the house," Kathy explained, "and they found something in our storage area they liked. We had a sea of ants. 'Cleaner ants,' as they're called, migrate through every four or five years. They clean out spider webs, mites, etc. When they come to your place, just go out for a few hours. When you get back, they'll be gone..."
  • Belize has no big department stores. "You must look for what you want in small shops, and you'll find things in unusual places," Kathy explains. "The best place to find electrical parts in San Ignacio is the Esso station in Spanish Lookout. You can buy Victoria's Secret-style underwear at the bakery. They have some drawers off to one side. We bought our car insurance at the auto-parts store and our phones at the local hotel..."
  • Check your canned goods before purchase. "I bought three cans of beans," Kathy told the group, "and two cans out of the three had no beans. So now I shake my bean cans to make sure they have beans in them and not just bean juice. A friend bought a can labeled green beans but opened it to find corn. These are U.S. brands coming from the United States..."
  • Don't ask if a price is in U.S. dollars or Belize dollars. "Assume that everything is priced in Belize dollars. If you ask, they may tell you U.S. dollars and you just paid twice as much as you should have," Jim says...
  • Which side of the road do Belizeans drive on? The side with the fewest pot holes...
Lief reports that Jim and Kathy had everyone in the room laughing out loud with tales of the trials and tribulations they're facing as they work to build their new lives and a home of their own in Cayo, Belize.

"Would you do it again?" one attendee asked.

"Absolutely," Jim and Kathy replied in unison.

"This is a beautiful country with beautiful people."

"If we could offer you one final word of advice," Jim continued for those assembled in the meeting rooms of the Ft. George Hotel this week, "it would be this: When you come here, embrace what Belize has to offer. Embrace the country and the way of life it offers. And adapt. Don't bring the United States with you. Come here to discover Belize. Come with an open mind and an open heart. Belize will reward you with the adventure of your lifetime."

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. I've got much more to share from this week's event in Belize City, including opportunities for volunteering in this country and business suggestions for the would-be entrepreneur.

As usual, we've recorded all the goings-on so that if you, like me, weren't able to join the group, you don't have to miss out. And, as always, we're making this bundle of conference resources available for 50% off pre-release while the recordings are being edited.

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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.

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