“Kathleen, I read all your letters you send out,” Franklin told me when I saw him this weekend in San Ignacio. “I know there are lots of interesting places in the world. But, for the right person, Cayo, Belize, is a very special place. It’s so versatile, so flexible…”
My friend Franklin is German. He and his wife moved from Germany to Belize six years ago. In Germany, Franklin was a management consultant. In Belize, Franklin has become a master builder.
“On one hand,” Franklin continued, “here in Belize you must be careful, because, unlike in Germany, there are no regulations, no licensing processes. The only professionals that require a license, as far as I know, are attorneys and doctors. Otherwise, you wake up one day and decide, say, I think I’d like to be a builder, like I did… or whatever… and that’s it. You’re a builder. That means you can’t take for granted that someone doing a thing has any experience doing that thing.
“On the other hand, this is what makes this country so appealingly flexible.
“When we moved here from Germany, my wife wanted to buy bread, but she couldn’t find any. You can buy ordinary white bread and whole wheat bread, but that’s it. Nothing like the bread we’re used to back in Germany. So my wife thought she would bake her own bread.
“But she couldn’t even find flour to buy other than ordinary wheat flour. There was a ban on imports of flour. This has since changed, but, at the time, the one Belize flour company had a hold on the market.
“My first Christmas gift to my wife, our first year here, was 20 pounds of bootlegged rye flour. I had to become a smuggler to get flour for my wife to bake us bread.
“My wife made some bread and thought she’d take it to town to see if she could trade it for eggs. We didn’t have any chickens at this point. She found someone to trade with, one loaf of bread for a dozen eggs.
“Word spread about my wife’s bread, and, in a few months, we had people from all over, including from Belize City, getting in touch to ask if they could order bread from my wife. We bought a commercial oven, and today my wife has a successful business.
“So, here in Belize, my wife is a baker, and I am a builder.
“In Germany these things would have required forms and filings and fees and permissions and inspections. Here, my wife simply bought an oven and started baking bread. And I have learned from study and practice. Plus, for me, architecture and construction have always been interests. Back in Germany I renovated old houses as a sideline business.”
Lief and I spent the weekend in Cayo, Belize, with Franklin and other local friends and a small group of readers interested in learning more about self-sufficient living in this part of the world.
“One of the best things about living a self-sufficient life in Cayo,” another expat living here, Thomas from Canada, told the group Sunday afternoon, “besides how healthy, pleasant, and just plain nice it is, is how low cost it can be once you get established.
“I bought my land and built my house,” Thomas explained. “Now my wife and I have no mortgage. We have no heating bill. If you build your house right, you can live here comfortably without air conditioning, so we don’t have that cost either. I capture sunlight for power and rain for water. I buy a tank of propane gas every now and then for our stove, diesel for my truck, Internet, and beer, because I don’t brew my own yet.
“My point is that, most of the bills you have now disappear living off-grid here. And, if your retirement budget isn’t enough even given the very limited cost of living here, you can easily do something as a natural extension to your self-sufficient lifestyle to earn some income on the side.
“If you’re already keeping sheep, for example, keep a few extra and take them to the local butcher when they’re ready for slaughter to earn a little extra cash. If you’re already keeping chickens, keep a few more to produce extra eggs to sell at the market. You won’t get rich this way, but you can supplement whatever income you have. Plus these kinds of things help you to become part of the community. It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors.”
Over the course of the weekend, a dozen experts and expats with off-grid living experience addressed our little group on everything from how to master plan your gardens to how to design and service your house. Our weekend in Cayo culminated with a barbecue and a tour of Maya Springs and Carmelita Gardens, two already established self-sufficient lifestyle options here.
Ten off-grid houses have been built at Carmelita. Late Sunday afternoon, as the sun was beginning its descent for the day, the bunch of us wandered among these homes to see for ourselves the different architectural approaches and how each owner is developing his property for self-sufficient living. These houses are near enough to each other that standing on the porch of one you can call out to your neighbor on his veranda across the way. That’s intentional. An important part of the Carmelita plan is community. Being self-sufficient doesn’t have to mean being uncomfortable, as we saw touring these houses. Neither does it have to mean being lonely.
The vision for life at Carmelita is a return to what life was like in the States in the 1950s, when people sat out on their porches every evening chatting and sharing news, enjoying each other’s company and being part of each other’s lives.
Life at Carmelita will revolve around the like-minded community and, as important, the gardens. My new friend Thomas will play a role here. Thomas is a farmer who has spent his time in Belize studying the local farming methods. Now he’s adapting them to Carmelita. Thomas showed me neat rows of vegetables he’s planted outside one of the homes, as well as the “banana circle,” as he called it, a small grouping of banana plants that he says should produce well beyond the ordinary thanks to the composting area at their center.
For the hedge around one yard, Thomas has planted pineapple plants and coconut trees in sequence, two pineapples then a coconut, two pineapples then a coconut, all around the property’s border.
“It’s my signature piña colada hedge,” Thomas told me proudly.
P.S. This year’s Live and Invest in Belize Conference, our biggest ever, concluded Friday in Belize City. Then Lief and I traveled out to Cayo for the weekend Self-Sufficiency Seminar. This was a pilot program that was a big success.
Both events were recorded in full. The bundles of audio recordings are being edited now. While that work continues, you can purchase the new programs pre-release for more than 50% off the regular price. Details are here.