“As I gazed out the window of our 15-seater turboprop airplane at the turquoise Caribbean waters below,” writes new Belize Correspondent Ann Kuffner, “I could barely contain my anticipation. It was February 1999. My husband Mike and I were on the last leg of our trip to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye…’Temptation Island.’ I was so mesmerized by the sight of the distant waves breaking on the offshore barrier reef that the size of the oh-so-small airstrip barely registered.
“Growing up in Michigan, I’d spent the summers of my youth frolicking in warm inland lakes and local swimming pools. As a Pisces, I’ve always gravitated toward the water. When I moved to San Francisco, I was disappointed to discover that the Pacific Ocean is cold, dark, and dangerous. Still, I learned to scuba dive in my 20s, venturing many times into the wild waters off the California coast. But I yearned to travel to the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, where the waters were said to be warm, clear, and alive with sea life.
“Eventually, I visited each of these places. But, for me, nothing compared with diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean–the color and clarity of the water and the abundance of life in the Caribbean Sea, for me, was unparallel. I had to put my aquamarine fantasy aside as I climbed the corporate ladder, but I never forgot my Caribbean experience.
“In the late 1990s, I began reading about Belize and Ambergris Caye, reigniting my repressed desires for a Caribbean adventure. Belize had not yet been ‘discovered,’ so land prices were still within reach (unlike in St. Thomas, Virgin Gorda, and other Caribbean islands, where property prices were in the stratosphere. I did my due diligence and signed up for a one-week vacation tour focused on investing and living in Belize.
“Only one problem: My significant other wasn’t nearly as excited about the idea as I was.
“‘What about Guatemala? Aren’t they ready to invade Belize?’ he asked.
“‘Isn’t it humid?’
“‘Aren’t there a lot of bugs?’
“‘Is the government stable?’
“I’d done enough research to satisfy myself that Belize was the place and this was the time. After all, there are only so many English-speaking islands in the Caribbean that are easy to reach and reasonably priced. I was a professional woman who’d made up her mind. I was going on that Belize tour, with or without my husband-to-be. And, if I liked what I saw, I knew I would buy.
“In the end, Mike did join me. That trip was the beginning of an adventure that continues to unfold. The tour was fantastic. During that week, our group flew to three different regions within the country. It was a whirlwind trip to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye and then to the mainland to see Placencia on the south coast and San Ignacio in the Cayo. At each location, we listened to speakers, met local politicians and real estate agents, sampled the local cuisine, and enjoyed the sights and entertainment.
“By the end of the week, we were on information overload. Each location had pluses and minuses. The barrier reef was but a half-mile offshore from Ambergris Caye, where there was also an established community, a definite town, and a lot to do. Placencia had the best beaches and the lowest beachfront property prices. It was quiet and laid back. The Cayo was lush and mountainous, with Mayan ruins and lovely eco-lodges. Each region had its own charms.
“We went through the critical process of analyzing what was most important to us. At the end of the week, we were leaning toward San Pedro. We extended our trip a few days and decided to return to Ambergris to dig deeper.
“Mike and I walked the beach in San Pedro, cross-examining every expat and local resident we met willing to tell his story. Each one fascinated us, and it was these conversations that pushed us over the tipping point. We were ready to leap, ready to commit to a property purchase. It would be easy to re-sell later, we told ourselves, if we decided we didn’t like San Pedro as much as we thought we would…and likely for a profit.
“After meeting with one of the recommended real estate agents to view condos and land, we decided on a lot purchase. Mike is a contractor, so we felt comfortable taking on the challenge of building our own place. We plunked down our money.
“Then something occurred to us. How would we know if we liked Belize if we didn’t have a place to stay when we visited? We wanted to be able to spend time in Belize starting immediately. It would take time to build. Plus, would it be wise to try to build something right away, before we’d had a chance to really get to know the place?
“As we flew back to San Francisco, Mike was already into designing our new home in the Caribbean. The week before a doubter, now he was now diving enthusiastically into this design/build adventure.
“I was about to step into my new position as a VP in a Fortune 500 company. I expected to be traveling a lot, so I was pleased Mike was embracing the house-building effort whole-heartedly. Although he owned a contracting company, he was burned out dealing with difficult clients. At this turning point in his career, I encouraged him to take a break from contracting in the Bay Area and to focus on designing and building our first home in Belize…”
P.S. Don’t worry. We won’t leave you hanging. Ann’s promised to continue the tale of her and Mike’s adventures in Belize. Watch this space for Ann’s Part II, coming soon: “Building Our Dream Home In Paradise.”
“Another place where it makes sense to look at buying farmland right now,” writes Latin America Correspondent Don Ellers, in response to the reader question earlier this week,” is Paraguay.
“Over the last couple of years, the Argentine government has increased taxes and trade tariffs for farmers and others trading internationally in meats and produce to a level that has incited protests and riots among farmers and truckers. You could understand their beef. They were being taxed at rates that totaled 50% and more. Exporting/shipping was particularly hard hit.
“It became so difficult to make money in the agro-trades in Argentina that Argentine farmers began looking to Paraguay, where the land and the climate are both similar to what they’re accustomed to working with–but a whole lot cheaper to buy.
“Things have settled down, and an agreement has been reached between the Argentine government and the agro-industry in that country, but the cost of land and of production are still lower next-door in Paraguay. Many Argentines who left Argentina to start over in Paraguay have stayed on…”