My first trip to Belize, about 30 years ago, was organized courtesy of the Belize Tourism Authority. I was a starting-out travel writer; the BTA was looking for press. This was well pre-“Survivor,” pre-“Temptation Island.” The only people who knew this tiny country existed way back then were divers and backpackers.
And Morley Safer. Around this time, Mr. Safer broadcast a “60 Minutes” segment from Belize, in which he traveled the Belize River in a small wooden boat. From that humble perch, on the river, looking up into the camera, Morley declared:
“The good news from Belize is… no news from Belize.”
The sentiment stuck. It was repeated to me by several I met during that first scouting trip, and, over the years since, I’ve borrowed it many times myself.
Today it comes to mind again as I sit down to write to you…What can I tell you about this country that might qualify as new, interesting, and worthwhile?
What Belize Is All About
On paper, Belize doesn’t add up to much. This is a sleepy Caribbean nation with but 400,000 people, three highways, and little other infrastructure to speak of. As Morley Safer remarked decades ago, nothing much happens here, an observation that is as relevant today as it was back when Morley offered it.
It is difficult for me to write of Belize without waxing philosophical and sentimental. Because, for me, Belize is a perfect example of why you can’t spreadsheet your live- or retire-overseas choice. The things Belize has to offer can’t be plugged into a spreadsheet… but I’d say they’re the things that matter most.
Belize, A Paradise For Many Expats
On my first visit to this country, I met two men who would become two of the greatest friends of my life—Emory King and Mick Fleming. Emory King was a local legend when I met him. In his 50s at the time, he’d been in Belize since the age of 21, when he and three friends had set out from the States on a small boat only to shipwreck on Belize’s mainland coast. The friends fixed up the boat and carried on. Emory liked what he saw in Belize and decided to stick around. He went on to marry a Belizean girl and to raise a family in a house he built himself a little ways outside Belize City. Emory died some years ago, but I think of him often.
For he was my first and then my regular Belize guide. Emory showed me the Belize he’d fallen in love with at first sight at the age of 21… when I was close to that age myself.
“The United States was founded by puritans,” Emory told me the first time I met him and then many times over the years to follow. “Belize was founded by pirates.
“A country never escapes its origins,” he concluded.
“This is a land for pioneers,” Emory told me, too. “A frontier.”
Everyone in Belize back then knew Emory… and they all knew Mick Fleming, too. That’s true still today. Everybody knows Mick.
Like Emory, Mick and his wife Lucy came to Belize in their early 20s in search of adventure. They put every dollar they had into a piece of land in the country’s Cayo District that they bought from a guy they met in a bar in Belize City. First they farmed. But that was hard work, and, as they were struggling trying to make a living off the land in this super-remote region, they noticed that, as time passed, Cayo was slightly less remote. Passers-by appeared on the scene, backpackers looking for a place to spend the night.
“So I built a little hut,” Mick told me when I met him long ago, “and I offered these passers-by a bed, a box of matches, and a shaker of salt for the night.”
That first little house has evolved over the decades into Chaa Creek Resort, the premier jungle resort in Belize, rated top jungle resort in the region by Caribbean Travel & Life more than once.
This, then, is what unassuming little Belize offers—a chance to start over. Emory and Mick and the thousands of other expats who have sought this place out more recently all have come in search of adventure and a clean slate. Belize is a land of do-overs.
That’s why we continue to sponsor conferences in this country that most of the world still doesn’t understand. We want to introduce you to the Belize that Emory and Mick helped me to appreciate so long ago. So you can appreciate, too, the unique opportunity Belize offers for escape, reinvention, independence, and adventure.
The unique chance to make your own way, create your own reality, and build your own future. Belize remains a pioneer’s playground.
The very good news from Belize, even today, is no news from Belize. And I am more delighted with every passing year to be able to continue to offer that observation.