I recently moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize, from Portland, Oregon… While preparing for the move, the topic of how most people who move here only last six months came up again and again.
As I sit on my lanai, the gentle breeze wafting up from the ocean just steps away, I can’t help but wonder what would cause someone to pack up and move back home… Did paradise fail to deliver?
I want to know what brings about this change of heart. After months of research and plenty of expense to get here, I certainly don’t want to be in the same boat and on my way home after only five months… I’ve worked too hard to get here.
I have a hard time finding fault with paradise, especially Belize’s brand—turquoise waters and wind-rustled palm fronds. Even with the hostile mosquitoes and headaches of Belizean bureaucracy, what my partner and I loved about the Caribbean as tourists is still here now that we’re residents.
Locals hypothesize that too many expats try to recreate the lives they had in the States here in Belize. “When they try to make their life here like it was there, they are miserable.” While I believe in tradition and maintaining one’s culture, I can see their point.
One thing people struggle with in the here-versus-there adjustment period is food. For most of us, living in Belize means adapting… cooking in a new way with new ingredients.
When I moved here, I promised myself I’d avoid American convenience food for cost and health reasons. Embracing Belizean food has required abandoning beloved recipes and long-trusted products. Instead, I improvise using what’s available.
Belizeans love coconut. Back in Oregon, the only coconut products I was familiar with were sweetened flakes, toasted chips, canned milk, or, more recently, bottled coconut water.
I’d eye the imported fuzzy husks and wonder how on Earth you work with them. I never pursued my curiosity, opting instead to pay for the convenience of machine-prepared coconuts.
On a recent shopping trip, I visited the roadside stands (consisting of folding tables and coolers) where you find the best local produce. They’re also where most locals eat, rather than in fancy sit-down restaurants.
I met Maria, the self-appointed “Coconut Lady” at one of these stands and quickly succumbed to her marketing efforts. I defy you not to do the same when her sales pitch and booming voice are propelled in your direction.
Maria is a fast-talking lover of all things coconut, even making her own fragrant coconut oil. She sold me a gallon of fresh coconut water and a handful of cooking tips to go along with it.
She also convinced me to buy a large bag of coconut flesh, which was about the same size as the gallon jug of water. To say it looked unappetizing would be an understatement: It looked like slimy fish flesh. Without knowing exactly what I’d do with it, I bought it.
This brings me to my first question for anyone thinking of moving to Belize (or any foreign country): How open are you to trying new things?
Coconut flesh is rather bland… I thought about adding it to my morning fruit plate, but a little would go a long way. After some research, I learned I could make coconut milk from it easily once my food processor arrived. From there I could make coconut yogurt… and I’m totally excited to try these new recipes out.
For now, I’ve been dehydrating the coconut flesh into chips. My condo smells amazing, and I have a novel snack that visitors love. I plan to save some of the flesh for a while, too. Maria said it should keep in the refrigerator for seven days.
I also have a new fish stand that a local introduced me to, and Maria says wrapping the fish in the coconut flesh is delicious. Her advice for coconut rice was off the charts, so I’m eager to try her next suggestion.
In just a few weeks in Belize, I’ve already learned a valuable lesson… Without getting over my qualms about trying something new, I wouldn’t have this glorious scent filling my apartment and a unique bag of homemade treats on my counter.
These were the benefits of overcoming the fear of the unfamiliar and embracing being taught by someone completely new. A lot of us battle between the desire for everything to stay the same and the desire for novelty and newness…
One of the keys to success here in Belize is embracing the novel. Leave as much of your previous life behind, including familiar foods. You never know what new source of comfort and enjoyment you’ll discover.
This article was first published in 2019 and has been recently updated.