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International Living Healthier & Happier in Belize

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After years of working hard, I’ve traded Michigan’s four seasons for Belize’s two (wet & dry)…and I’m loving it. Now, I’m enjoying Belize’s year-round greenness, the chance to be by the water all the time, and the joy I’ve found in simplifying my life.

In Michigan, I worked for 20 years as a consultant for our state’s educational department. Before that, I worked for Michigan State University. When I left, I gave away a closet-full of suits and I’m reveling in the freedom of wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops for nearly every occasion. No more ironing, no more dry cleaning, and no more bundling up for me!

After spending most of my adult life working in hermetically sealed office buildings, it feels wonderfully energizing to constantly breathe in the sea air. It was a big part of why my husband and I chose to build our retirement home on the Placencia peninsula. We wanted to live on the beach and now we have constant access to our own beach. Many of our recreational activities center around it; we kayak, snorkel, swim, and take long beach walks with our dogs.

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It’s a pleasure to experience the many moods of the sea here—a far cry from enduring Michigan’s long and stormy winters like we used to. The sea’s color varies depending on the weather—gray-blue, sky-blue, turquoise, dark blue—and, when calm, is often a variety of colors reflecting the various depths of the water.

I also love to kayak in Placencia Lagoon, a 15-mile, mostly shallow estuary. The water there is nearly always calm. The mangrove islands are home to such interesting ecosystems. We’ve seen manatees and dolphins in the lagoon (and on the ocean side, too).

In terms of the number of people living in our geographic area, we’ve significantly “downsized.” We left the state capitol’s metropolitan area, which housed a population of close to half a million, to a 17-mile-long peninsula that contains just three small villages (with a total population of less than 3,000).

We live just north of the Garifuna village of Seine Bight, but we do most of our shopping in Placencia village (seven miles away). That’s where the majority of the peninsula’s restaurants are. Placencia village is a pleasant place to be. It reminds me of how Key West was 40 to 50 years ago—laidback, charmingly ramshackle, and unique.

I’m fortunate to have a yoga studio nearby and I take classes there three times a week. My husband enjoys beach volleyball at a bar just two miles up the road.

We still enjoy cable television and the Internet provides entertainment, information, and connection to loved ones back in the States. I belong to a local book club and, thanks to Kindles, we can each easily read our “book-of-the-month” without needing to share a physical copy.

While I no longer have access to entertainment such as the symphony I’ve been entranced by the music of tropical birds and dazzled by incredible lightning displays. Getting acquainted with the celebrations, foods, and customs of Belize’s diverse ethnic groups has become my cultural outlet.

I’ve happily given up the anonymity of urban life for the friendliness of village life. Giving back to the community no longer means writing a check to a local charity; I have enjoyed the diverse volunteer opportunities sponsored by our local Rotary Club, and working alongside native Belizean members to provide meaningful services to those in need.

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I’m eating more simply, too. Fast food joints and fancy restaurants are nonexistent, so it has become easy to make healthy choices. The local restaurants are inexpensive and include Garifuna, Creole, Mexican, Thai, and East Indian cuisines.

Since there are fewer packaged and prepared foods available, my home-cooking has also become healthier. A local fisherman delivers freshly caught filets (snapper, kingfish, and my personal favorite, snook) to our home for only $5 a pound. I find Belizean chicken to be more flavorful than the mass-produced poultry in the States. A few vegetable-stand owners truck in a variety of fresh fruits and veggies from the agricultural areas of Belize and Mexico. I’m in heaven during mango season and I’ve discovered some new favorites, too, such as guava and dragon fruit.

With the sea breezes, regular exercise, healthy food, and lack of job stress, I fall asleep quickly…and sleep deeply, happy and relaxed in Belize.

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