Cathy Thayer: So, after 32 years of marriage and four children, David and I were retiring to Belize in six weeks…
Being married 32 years and raising four children results in a lot of stuff. What were we going to do with all of it? Our plan was to move to Belize for a year, to try out the idea, so we decided we’d take six of everything with us. The rest we’d put in storage.
I packed six plates, six forks, six spoons, six tank tops, six pairs of shoes, six, six, six, because I thought that’d be enough for a year.
Then we showed up and unpacked our six of this and six of that. Now what?
Our first two challenges in Belize were food and relationships.
How do you go about finding food in this country? Don’t laugh. It’s not all that easy. You start with the Chinese grocery stores. All the grocery stores in San Ignacio and Santa Elena, the “twin cities” of Cayo, are owned by Chinese. They stock basic supplies and also some imported goods. What we imported from the States cost about twice what they cost back home, so we don’t buy them. We keep our costs down by buying either local packaged goods, or from Mexico.
You get your basics from the Chinese grocery stores, but not your produce. For produce, you go to the open-air market. Find a vendor you like and get to know them, ask their name. We’ve gotten to know a very nice lady. She gives us good deals, teaches us about Belizean fruits and vegetables, and shows us how to prepare and eat some food we had never seen before.
Here’s another tip: If you see something in Belize that you want, buy it. It may not be there the next week. I learned that the hard way.
Shopping for food here is similar to shopping for food in Europe. You go to meat stores to buy your meat, you go to a bakery to buy your baked goods. It’s all fresh. The cattle you see grazing in the fields… that’s the beef you’re buying in the meat shop. It’s all very healthy.
Back in the States, I didn’t cook much. Here, I realized quickly, I had no choice. I went online for recipes, started cooking, and realized cooking is something I actually enjoy. I’ve also discovered that I like to wash dishes. It’s hard to find dishwashers here. If you build your own home, you can import one to install in your kitchen, but rentals aren’t going to have them. So I learned how to do dishes. I had to go online. Seriously. I never washed dishes by hand before. A dishwasher sterilizes, and that’s what you need to when washing dishes. I learned this the hard way after getting a parasite. When I went to see the doctor, he gave me some instructions on washing dishes and preparing food.
Belize doesn’t have fast-food restaurants. I like that. Belize does have fast food, though. It’s called beans and rice or rice and beans, and they’re not the same thing. Beans and rice are mixed together; rice and beans are separate. Try it either way with “stew chicken,” as Belizeans call it. It’s great.
The other big thing we had to figure out when we got here was maintaining and creating relationships. My family, our kids—everyone thought we were crazy for doing this. “You’re going where and why?” they wanted to know. Staying connected with friends and family in the States who didn’t understand what we were doing was the first challenge we faced.
The second challenge was meeting new people here. This part was easier to navigate because it’s easy to meet new people here. I thought I had a lot of friends in the States, but we have many more friends in Belize, all different, interesting kinds of friends. Not just people like us, in our age group, in our church, or at our gym. I’m talking diverse ages, ethnicities, and mental health (no kidding!).
When I moved to Belize I decided I was going to be outgoing. Being shy when making a move like this is just not an option. As soon as we arrived, we started going to every expat event we could find.
David Thayer: Once a week, we shoot darts. I had never played darts in my life, but in San Ignacio there is an open-air bar with New Jersey-style pizza. A couple of people from New Jersey make the pizza and provide free beer. You can’t beat it.
We also go country line-dancing. There are a lot of people here from Texas who think that country dancing is the only way to go.
We go to potluck lunches and dinners.
All of these activities are done with different groups of people. In other words, there are a lot of expats living in Cayo, many more than we would have guessed at first.
Cathy: We’ve found a church here that we like. I didn’t think that would be possible, and I never could have guessed how it would turn out to be. It’s in Spanish Lookout, which is where the Mennonites live. So when we go to church in Spanish Lookout, we’re hanging out with the Mennonites.
We’ve gotten to know so many people here, and these relationships are taking the place of what I used to distract myself with. We used to go to the movies or watch TV. We don’t do those things here. Winter in northern Idaho, where we’re from, is cold. For seven or eight months out of the year, people cocoon in their houses because it is freezing. Everyone is isolated for much of the year. Here it is beautiful year-round, and everyone is outside all the time.
David: Of course, it’s not all sunshine and flowers. Some challenges are ongoing. In the area where we live, the internet is beyond slow. In the States, 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps is slow. Where we are living, I’m not even getting 1 Kbps. I’m getting 500 bytes. I scheduled a software upgrade, and I got a little message on the side telling me how long it would take: 23 days 14 hours and 8 minutes. In other areas of the country, the internet is better—not super fast, but a whole lot faster than what we’ve got. It depends where you choose to live.
Cathy: Electricity and gas are expensive. On the other hand, a lot of other things are cheaper here than they would be in the States. A big example is medical care. We have paid half or less than we would have paid in the United States for different kinds of care. David has even had surgery here, which was very successful and very affordable.
So here we are at the end of our trial year. What are our plans now?
We’re staying put. We have no intentions of returning to the States. We love it here.
I came to Belize with the idea that I would suffer through a year for my husband. It was his dream, so I agreed to give it a try. Now it’s my dream. I feel like this is my dream come true, a dream I didn’t even know I had.
This year in Belize has taught me that I can do anything I want. A year ago, I didn’t feel that way. A year ago, I felt my life was over. I was quitting a job that I loved to sit at home. Belize has changed everything. Here in Belize I’ve made new friends who are just as close to me as family. Belize has given me a second chance… a whole new life.
Cathy and David Thayer