Leaving Belize Was The Perfect Move

Eight months ago we left Belize because we wanted to spend more time with our parents. Five days ago my wife’s amazing Dad, Jack Himschoot, unexpectedly passed away here at home, in our presence. Leaving Belize when we did was one of the best decisions we ever made.

As much as we enjoyed Belize while we were there, there has never been a moment since we left that I wished we were back. We had our adventure and are now on to matters we consider more important for today. If we had received a message that her father had passed while we were in the jungle we would have regretted it forever.  I have lived most of my adult life away from my parents but as I have just lived through Jack’s passing I am incredibly grateful that we have been here for these last 8 months. Belize, nor anywhere else for that matter, cannot offer a replacement for that.

Since being in the US we have struggled financially. After eight months here I am working three businesses part time.  I have put faith in the development of those businesses that simply hasn’t produced as well as we had hoped. With the death of her father, we are at a crossroads. Is it time to move closer my parents now? My father has serious health issues. Should we stay here and live near her mother? At this moment we do not know.  We like the flexibility and income potential of being self employed but the security of a J.O.B. sometimes seems appealing.

We are plugged into our church, the Boy Scouts, Little League, dance lessons at Grandma’s dance studio and more.  Change is hard yet constant. Knowing when to make the move and when to buckle down and press on is a key to success and at this moment I am at a loss. I am trusting in God’s guidance to help us make another great decision and am confident we will not be disappointed.

Posted in Belize, Belize Culture, Ex Pats in Belize, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Perspective

Goodbye Outpost ??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????Little League??????????????????????????????? Himschoots Reunited

At the end of January 2013 we put Barton Creek Outpost on the market and by the middle of February we had a deposit on it. The Outpost sold, we hugged some necks, shed some tears, packed a few things and after 8 and a half years, left Belize.

We are now three weeks into readjusting to the US and I have realized a few things during that time. American grocery stores make my head spin. The pledge of allegiance at Little League games makes my eyes leak. I like good roads and air conditioning. The US is incredibly wealthy.

The abundance in the US is hard to get used to after being surrounded by so much poverty. NEWSFLASH: The people of the US are not in financial distress. Oh but everyone is in debt, it’s all credit cards, blah, blah blah. Here’s an idea, take your family to a 3rd world country for a year, live in a similar fashion to the locals. Return home. Notice how nice everything is, notice the air conditioning everywhere, notice the pavement on the street, notice the highways and mall parking lots & restaurants packed with shiny cars, notice the lack of burglar bars on every window. If the Fickle Financial Wonderers of Wall Street use the spending habits of average Americans to help determine confidence in the economy, look around and see how much money is being spent. It is staggering. Don’t listen to the fear-mongers, you are still wealthier than most of the world. Chillax…

I am not opposed to people making and spending money. Some of my Belizean friends extoll the perceived virtues of the “moneyless world” and the peace it allegedly brings… I mean, apart from the murder rate, alcoholism, physical abuse etc….AND, even though, according to a friend of mine, “the u.s. is the known leader of detestable excess” I am personally happy to see nice things again. I don’t think abundance, wealth or having nice things is detestable or evil. Even my 5 year old daughter (born in Belize) appreciates the smooth roads in the US. I subscribe to the Ann Ryand view, “America’s abundance was created not by public sacrifices to the common good, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance- and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

I love Belize for its natural beauty. I love Belize for the freedom its people have. I love living there because of the perspective it gives a Tennessee redneck on racism. I appreciate that it is not a “stuff driven” society and keeping up with the Jonses’ isn’t a way of life. I love that about Belize. However, I do think that the majority of the Belizean native population could use a good dose of M.O.T.I.V.A.T.I.O.N.  I have said it a hundred times, Belize doesn’t have an unemployment problem, Belize has a work ethic problem. That might ruffle a few feathers but I know this, if you are a foreigner and have lived in Belize for a few years you just said, “Amen”.  Can I get a witness?

Are there hard working Belizeans? Of course.  Do I want Belize to be like the US? No. Can Belize and the US learn from one another? Yes. Let’s face it, Belize is laid back. People go to Belize on vacation and want to move there because it is laid back. They soon find out their contractor is laid back, the electrician is laid back, the mechanic is laid back, the waitress is laid back, the majority of the workforce is laid back. Its great to be laid back until you need something done.  Want the opposite of laid back? Visit the Mennonites in Spanish Lookout, Belize, for example. The streets are awesome, the buildings are nice, the bathrooms are clean, there is “customer service”, gasp. Customer service is so foreign to most Belizean businesses that I doubt there is even a word for customer service in the kriol dialect. (Easy, I’m kidding, some have a vague understanding the general concept.)  Are there exceptions? Of course, but they are exceptions. Is there bad customer service in the Midway Restaurant in Spanish Lookout? Yes!  Could the US benefit from being more free, less uptight and generally more laid back? Yes, yes and yes.

Being away has given me perspective that I hope I am forever grateful for. Coming back to the States I am astounded by the relative wealth the people of this country enjoy.  The wealth here is not an accident but the product of abundant natural resources and generations of dedicated men and women with vision and an incredible work ethic. In the US today we are “standing on the shoulders of giants”, products of the great generations before us. Like many others, I am dismayed by some of the things happening in the United States. Unlike many others I just returned from life in a “developing country” and I see the US as an incredible land of opportunity and wealth. My fellow Americans,  quit whining, you’re embarrassing the giants.

A final note, for those of you who continue to tell me how screwed up the United States of America is but you haven’t lived anywhere else, save your breath.

Posted in Belize, Belize Culture, Ex Pats in Belize, Living in Belize, Travel Belize, Uncategorized | 50 Comments

Tobacco Caye, Belize; An island paradise with some rough edges.

Tobacco Caye SunsetStrummin at SunsetFish CleaningConch FishermanUnderway with AC   Jim's Tarpon

I have lived in the Belizean jungle for over 8 years but I have spent most of my adult life on, in and around the ocean. When I need my salt water fix, I like to go to Tobacco Caye. This 5 acre hump of sand on the barrier reef has a hook in me like the hook my Dad had in this 4 foot barracuda. Despite my love for the island it has its drawbacks.

At first glance this tiny place seems like everything one could want from a tropical paradise; palm trees swaying in the island breeze, the sound of the waves lapping at the shoreline, lots of hammocks, the promise of snorkeling in an aquarium-like environment, smiling locals greeting me in their Caribbean dialect & conch fisherman selling their haul from their dugout canoes. As I walk around the island though I cannot help but see the dilapidated structures in various states of disrepair, garbage strewn nearly everywhere, most of the docks are falling apart and several of the locals who work on the island wear a permanent scowl. I think it’s the garbage that makes them surly.

Tobacco Caye CrapGarbage

The island is primarily made up of 6 “Lodges” that provide accommodations and food. Nearly all are very modest and consist of a small cabin or room with a couple of beds and a bathroom with a cold shower. On my three visits here I have found the food to be consistently mediocre with only a few exceptions. The Lodges are generally leased out by the owners and some change hands every few years.

On this visit my wife and I are less than a month from moving away from Belize but the opportunities out here threaten to draw us in. As I write this we have been here 4 days and two Lodges have either asked or insinuated that we could take over their leases. This isn’t my first day in Belize and I see the challenges of running a business out here but there is no doubt in my mind that we could make it work. Running Barton Creek Outpost for 8 years has given us some insight into this business and Jacquelyn and I have been discussing how we would do a few things to make minor improvements and do some marketing to bring more people in. I also know this, it is easy to look at other peoples’ challenges and talk about how you would fix them, walk a mile in their shoes and things often look different.

Regardless of what we would do here I am sure of this, someone could seriously benefit from taking their game to the next level on Tobacco Caye. Only two of the six lodges have websites, only one place appears well kept and almost no one has a staff that excels at customer service.

Here is a look at the Lodges of Tobacco Caye:

Reefs End Lodge

Reefs End DockRefs End PorchReefs End CabanasReefs End Cabana

www.TobacoCayeBelize.com

www.ReefsEndLodge.com

reefsend@btl.net or info@tobaccocayebelize.com

011-501-542-2419 or 011-501-670-3919

2 Cabanas at $50US per night

1 Cabana (The Honeymoon Suite) at $100US per night

All three cabanas are right on the water and worth the money.

A large hotel-like structure with 4 rooms upstairs and 4 rooms downstairs, all facing the water.

Upstairs: $40US per room per night

Downstairs: $30US per room per night

Meals are as follows: Breakfast $10, Lunch $10, Dinner $15US

I like Reefs End, I stayed there and went fishing with them twice and we caught fish and had a great time. Their guides were good. Like many other small “resorts” in Belize, their facilities & equipment could use some work. Overall, I would recommend Reefs End Lodge, the price is good, the location amazing, the people helpful and they are one of only two places where you can get online. The owner and the manager were interested in us and wanted to make sure we were happy and that goes a long way with me.

Lana’s on the Reef

Lanas By The SeaMaing Friends at Lana'sLana's RoomAC Catching Bait

No web site or email

011-501-665-5661 or 011-501-532-2424

4 Rooms, $40US per person & includes three meals.

2 Rooms have 2 double beds, 2 rooms have 1 double bed. These are very basic accommodations.

Snorkeling is $25US per person and fishing is about the same.

Camping for $10US per person, per night if you have a tent.

Lana’s is being run by long time islander A.C. and his wife Julie. We had used A.C. for outings on our two previous trips to Tobacco Caye and like him. He is very friendly, knows the area well and works hard to accommodate, once you go on an excursion with A.C., you are friends. He took us fishing this trip and we caught fish like we have each time before. Julie was also friendly and helpful, she gave some us some medicine when our baby had a fever and she arranged for us to get a few things from the mainland. They are both good people and their place is just right for the lower budget, backpacking type crowd. The accommodations are very simple, don’t expect much except good service and good company.

Tobacco Caye Lodge

Tobacco Caye Lodge CabinsTobacco Caye Lodge OfficeTobacco Caye Lodge RoomTobacco Caye Lodge Dock & Bar

www.TCLodgeBelize.com

Bookings@TCLodgeBelize.com

011-501-668-8699

$55US per person, per day includes three meals, double occupancy

$99US per day, single occupancy

Three, duplex-like cabanas. These are well kept structures and maybe the only rooms on the island with a fresh coat of paint.

I have stayed at Tobacco Caye Lodge on two separate occasions and the accommodations were good. They might be the best maintained place on the island. On this trip we did not stay there but I went by several times to speak with the staff, have a meal and make use of their snack shop and bar. The staff was mostly friendly although I was surprised several times to find the bar not open and when it was the bar staff was less enthusiastic than I would have imagined. Additionally, the person now managing the place, Captain Fermin, was dismissive with me and could not be bothered with several attempts by me to give him business. He might be a good Captain but he is not a personable man and I give him an “F minus” on customer service. He is not the person to be managing that place and his attitude trickles down through some of his staff, as one would expect.

Tobacco Caye Paradise Cabins

Paradise CabinsAt Paradise CabinsParadise Cabins CabinParadise Porch

No Website

011-501-532-2101

TobaccoCaye.Paradise@hotmail.com

6 Cabins

3 Cabins have 1 double bed

2 Cabins have a both a double bed and a single bed

1 Cabin has 1 double bed and 2 single beds

$40US per person includes 3 meals a day

This is a very cool spot, I have wanted to stay here on 2 previous visits but had been unable to get in touch with them to work it out. Their tiny cabins are well kept, very simple and over the water. Nearly everything about the place is well maintained and I interacted with nearly all of their staff while I was there and everyone was great. I like this place, they are doing a good job.

 

The Blue Dolphin Lodge (formerly Gaviota)

Blue Dolphin LodgeLana's Bunks

No Website

011-501-542-2032 or 011-501-665-9837

BzBrownGirl55@yahoo.com

6 Cabins with both a double bed & a bunk bed

3 of those have private bath

$40US per person for private bath, includes three meals

$30US per person for shared bath, includes three meals

4 Other rooms:

1 with both a double bed and a bunk bed, private bath

$40US per person, per night, includes three meals

1 With ½ bath & double bed, $35US per person per night, includes three meals

2 Rooms with two bunkbeds per room, shared bath, $30US per person per night, x 3 meals

We stayed 2 nights at the Blue Dolphin and I liked it just fine. The cabins are nothing but cheap huts but they don’t pretend to be anything else and that works for me. If you need more than a cheap hut, stay somewhere else. The lady running the place, Tina, was very accommodating as was her hard working husband, Giles. We ate there once and had a nice lunch. The place was very simple, clean and the people were friendly.

Fairweather Place

Fairweather PlaceFairweather Room

011-501-802-0030, 011-501-660-6870, 011-501-636-0971

Hevf7@yahoo.com

4 Rooms total:

3 Rooms with a double bed

1 Room with a single bed

$15US per person, per night, no meals

Monthly rates available

Common kitchen available for guest use

I have not stayed at Fairweather Place but I would. The rooms are very simple but very clean and the building is well maintained. There is fresh paint here and there and Pandy (the Owner) has even painted some funky, colorful designs on the bedroom doors, not a big thing but an indication that he goes the extra mile to make the place nice. For only $15US per night I love it, I can cook my own food in the guest kitchen or have meals at one of the other lodges on the island. I think this place is a great value, it is cool and the owner is on site and cares. Well done.

Tobacco Caye Marine Station

The other fixture on the island is Tobacco Caye Marine Station. This is a privately funded marine education center that brings groups to Tobacco Caye and customizes programs to fit their groups. They have been on the island since 2008 and the station managers, Sean and Jen, run a tight ship. The place looks great, their snorkeling gear (rentable for $7.50US per day) is in excellent condition and you can hook up to their wifi for a small fee.

Most places on Tobacco Caye need a fresh eye, I guess it is easy to get used to dilapidated buildings and an abundance of trash.  The buildings cost money to fix but the trash would be easy to pick up and it would go a long way to making the place look better. The reef that the Caye is on is absolutely covered with trash. Owners have told me it comes from the countries to the south and if they pick up trash it will be right back the way it was in two weeks, so they don’t. It would be a monumental effort to clean that reef but if I had a lodge close to the reef I like to think I would clean up the immediate area anyway.

Another potential sticking point for visitors is that nearly everyone’s gear is not well maintained. Almost all the boats, motors, fishing poles, snorkeling gear and dive gear reflect their 3rd world status. We brought our own fishing gear and I am very glad we did. I can see where guests would be disappointed in the condition of some of the gear, as some Tripadvisor reviews reflect.

I think at some point a smart, industrious person with some money to invest will swoop into Tobacco Caye and make one of these places great. I don’t think it would take much, good marketing, a dynamic staff to help make the place fun, serve better than average food, maintain the gear, offer wifi, and provide cash advances on credit cards (there are no ATM’s). Someone will come in, do it right and they will suck the business from the other places so fast their heads will spin. I wish it could be me but the timing is all wrong. Check this out to see the lodge for sale at a reasonable price and offering owner financing.

There are some downsides to Tobacco Caye but the upside wins in my book. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back or to recommend it to my friends. If I wasn’t on the way out of Belize I’d probably move out there.

Posted in Backpacking in Belize, Belize, Belize Adventure, Belize Culture, Belize Tours, Budget Travel in Belize, Ex Military in Belize, Ex Pats in Belize, Land in Belize, Living in Belize, Navy Divers, Property in Belize, real estate in belize, Tobacco Caye Belize, Travel Belize, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Life in Limbo, Leaving Belize?

Making Jungle Ice Cream Jacquelyn at the MarketKaitlyn DrawingJim with mud Jack at Taco Stand Hodes Place Friday NightLogan watching moviesHaving decided to leave Belize we priced Barton Creek Outpost to sell quickly and put it on the market. We immediately received responses and it looked as though friends of ours were going to buy the Outpost. We put numerous other inquiries on the back burner and waited three weeks for them to come back and say they couldn’t make it happen. It was heartbreaking for our family but Jacquelyn and I had prepared ourselves for the possibility and in the end determined we wanted this place to go to the right people at the right time. Of course we want the right time to be right now, we have made our decision and are ready to move along.

As we are now proceeding with our daily lives in limbo I am filled with a sense of appreciation for many of the little things I have been prone to take for granted. Even our 9 mile dirt road now has a certain charm to it that I had forgotten about. My wife and I were in a small taco stand yesterday waiting for cheap food and I suddenly saw the place in a whole new light. The cheap plastic chairs, the dusty crew of thickly mustachioed workman coming in for cold bottles of coca-cola, the local music my 1 year old son was dancing to, the selection of “shilling chips” hanging in the window and the sweet, slightly mustachioed woman who ran the place trying to figure out how many 3 for a dollar panades we would get for $8.00. I am going to miss it all. As we were on the way home, along our dirt road, my 1 year old riding in my lap as I was driving, the wife and I were a bit melancholy as we passed beautiful Mennonite farms and then groups of Mennonites who greeted our familiar faces with waves and smiles. I will miss many things about Belize but the natural beauty of where I live, the neighboring Mennonites and our close friends top that list.

Two nights ago we went to Hode’s Place to join several of our friends for the regular Friday Night Fun. All of our kids run free in their orange grove and large playground while the adults chat it up and eat rice and beans, chicken fingers and the best garnaches in town.  (I then sneak off with the kids for a giant ice cream cone)  This particular night there was a new couple there, they had been in Belize about 3 months and were considering making a permanent move. I contemplated how we were at the opposite ends of our Belizean adventure.  They had a little experience here already and were getting plenty of input from others so I didn’t engage them much but it made me think about the adventures they had in store for themselves. I might have even been envious until I heard a few comments that reminded me that some of their opinions would soon change and many of their adventures would be hard learned lessons. Good luck guys.

Lying here in my hammock on a Sunday afternoon, overlooking our swimming hole and trying to organize my thoughts into something that makes sense is an activity that I will miss as well. I cannot imagine that the life I go back to will be interesting enough to write about, much less expect someone to read about it. I have enjoyed sharing my experiences. For those of us who live here, especially those who live in the area where we do, daily life can be an adventure. We all pretty much take it for granted and forget that there is a world out there that doesn’t have to drive 30 minutes down a dirt road to get home, they flip a light switch on and get electricity, there aren’t hundreds of deadly snakes living on their property, some people may not have had to talk their way out of being killed by a drunken, machete wielding jungle-moron. Maybe some people haven’t even spent time in a 3rd world jail cell, been on multiple day jungle expeditions or even rode white water on a mahogany, makeshift raft with a wild Mennonite.  What am I going to write about when I go home?

I am hoping it will be the joy of watching my parents with their Grandchildren, fishing with my father in law and my Dad, working with my brother and getting to know my sons, their wives and my Grandchild. In the end, I am choosing that over marathon canoe races across 3rd world countries.  Admittedly, I will miss the adventure.

Posted in Belize, Belize Adventure, Ex Military in Belize, Ex Pats in Belize, Living in Belize, Property in Belize, real estate in belize, San Ignacio, Belize, Travel Belize, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Leaving Belize

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 2004 we moved to Belize without ever having visited. After over 8 years of blood, sweat, tears, joy and heartache, all to the extreme, we have decided to move back to the United States. The primary reason for our decision is to be near our families, especially our parents. We want to make sure our children have a chance to know their Grandparents and other family as they grow up.

All of us are incredibly sad to leave this place and as I sit here on my deck, looking out over Barton Creek and into the jungle, I am convinced that I will never live anywhere as beautiful as this. I have tried to be candid about Belize and our experiences here but I doubt I have adequately expressed the extent of my love for our slice of paradise, nor the extent of the personal challenges I have faced while here.  From the pure, inner joy of days with my children on our jungle beach to standing on the side of a busy road on Christmas Eve, fighting tears, because I did not have the money to do a few simple things for my family on Christmas. This has been a life of extremes.

It has been less than a week since we have come to this decision and our future is somewhat uncertain. What will become of Barton Creek Outpost was a major question. In the last couple of days our partner has commissioned me to sell the Outpost. I look forward to finding just the right person to turn this place over to. There is nowhere in Belize I would rather live (well, maybe Caye Chapel, the island golf course).  I have this 165 acre piece of heaven listed on a couple of our websites but the Barton Creek Outpost website has the best selection of pictures and the most information. You looking for a slice of paradise? Let me know.

As for us personally, I have an opportunity to work with my brother and help grow a business that is the product of something he and I started about 15 years ago. The money would be good and the work would allow me the flexibility to split time, to some degree, between Florida and Tennessee, the respective homes of our parents. I have not closed the door on other opportunities (even a traditional j.o.b.) and am communicating with a couple of friends from my military days about other options.  As a matter of fact I am open to other opportunities out there and, although this is obviously unusual, I wanted to use this forum to share my resume and see if anything interesting comes of it.  For better or worse, my writing here offers an insight into who I am and if you think I might be an asset to your team or you know someone who might benefit from my unique skill set and experiences please let me know.

As the days go by I will update this blog more frequently than I have previously and keep those who are interested apprised of our progress. When we do leave here I will continue to write about Belize and our experiences and may very well turn it into a book.  I look forward to see what adventure lies ahead!

Posted in Belize, Belize Adventure, Ex Military in Belize, Ex Pats in Belize, Land in Belize, Living in Belize, Property in Belize, real estate in belize, San Ignacio, Belize, Travel Belize, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

A Military Option

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the summer of 1982 I barely graduated high school. My preoccupation with smoking weed and doing anything but actually going to school made my graduation an issue that was open to question. Like many other mislead, 17 year old knuckleheads of the day, college was not on my immediate horizon.  After a year of working in a pizza place I found myself in a navy recruiter’s office seeking a better way.

I knew I needed training and I knew I wanted to travel so the recruiter convinced me that I wanted to be a Hull Maintenance Technician (HT). That same year I went through boot camp in San Diego and then went to San Francisco to receive training in welding, pipefitting & damage control. From there I went to Charleston, South Carolina where I worked on navy tugs and other small boats. Advanced training was ongoing and I soon became good at my job. I spent a lot of time cutting out rusting and busted metal pieces of tug boats and replacing them with new steel. I learned about basic seamanship, cleaning up oil spills, standing watch and many other aspects of life in a navy tug yard.  I also learned nautical terms like “scuttlebutt”, “skylarking” and “balls to 4”. At the advanced age of 20 years old I married my girlfriend from Nashville and we had a son, James Henry Britt III.

Woven throughout all of my training and much of my daily work was “damage control”. In the navy, damage control means controlling flooding issues, handling Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) threats and firefighting. I did all of this but particularly liked the firefighting aspect. Directly across the street from where I worked was the base firefighting school and it was run by the most fearless men I had ever seen. Every day they started giant, jet-fuel fed fires in steel reproductions of navy ships and sent firefighting teams into the blackest, hottest, scariest productions of hell I could imagine. I went to that school many times and learned how to safely open steel doors, beat back flames and then, amazingly, get inside, track down fires in the black smoke and put them out. Everyone in the navy gets firefighting training and part of my job was to train others so for two years I did that in weekly sessions.

“A sailor’s place is on a ship and a ship’s place is at sea”. In 1986 I reported to the Fast Frigate USS Joseph Hewes (FF-1078) in Charleston.  While the ship’s primary function was anti-submarine warfare (the submarine wins) my job remained much the same. I did lots of maintenance on piping systems (including sewage, another story for another time), some welding and lots of damage control. Shipboard life is arduous and while at sea, 12-16 hour workdays were common. In addition to our normal work, we ran lots of fire drills. The alarm would sound, the speakers (or “1MC”) blare, “This is a drill, this is a drill, fire, fire, fire, class bravo fire in compartment ………….” and off we would go. Protective gear is donned, hoses are broken out, firefighting equipment is staged in a military fashion, communications are established, commands fill the air, and what might look like chaos is a well-oiled firefighting machine. It was good training and generally I enjoyed it.

I spent about 2 years on that ship and it was very hard work with lots of time away from home. As I look back on it now the memories of the hard times have faded & primarily what I remember is traveling the world with Sherm, Bear, Dan the Man, Doc Pounds and others.  We explored castles & volcanoes in Naples, got tattoos in Spain, danced in a disco inside the Rock of Gibraltar, marched in a parade in France and had many adventures of many kinds.

“Mail Call” was a time of great joy or bitter disappointment and we all shared our letters, pictures and care packages from home. If weeks would go by with no word from home we would begin to wonder if everything was ok. I have seen many men get the news that their wife had left them while at sea or even return home to find everything and everyone gone. It isn’t easy being deployed in the military, for the husband or the wife.

In 1988 I was sick of the hardships of being deployed and left the navy. I returned to Nashville, Tennessee to work as a shipfitter, building barges on the banks of the Cumberland River. We had another son, Eric, while in Nashville. I wasn’t very long on the job when I started looking around thinking, “Is this what I want to be doing in 10 years?” I contacted a recruiter and told him I had been thinking about being a US Navy Deep Sea Diver and asked him to look into the possibility.  He told me he could put me in the navy again but being a diver would take time and was up to me. The selection process is tough, the training is harder yet and the job itself was not for the average man. (He might not have actually said the part about the “average man” but the previous statements inferred the latter.)  I would have to rejoin the navy and could apply for the dive program after a year and might be able to start training in 2 years. That was not what I wanted to hear but they offered to send me to the Pacific island of Guam for those two years so I jumped at the chance.  In my absence, my old HT job had changed, the navy had separated the duties of hull maintenance and damage control. I could now go back in as a Damage Controlman (DC), I would be focused on firefighting and I wouldn’t lose any rank (I was an E-5) despite my 11 months out of the navy.

In April 1989 I packed up my young family and we left for Guam where I was to report aboard the Combat Stores Ship, USS White Plains (AFS-4). After a couple weeks of getting my family settled in Guam I flew to Thailand to meet the ship which was on the way home from a Persian Gulf deployment. Seventeen days later, 9 May, 1989, while conducting Underway Replenishment (UNREP) in the South China Sea, a partially disassembled valve shot fuel all over a giant boiler and caused an explosion killing 6 of my shipmates. While trying to contain the fire I suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns on my hands, arms and face and, along with 4 other injured sailors, was medevac’d to Clark Air Base in the Phillipines for treatment. It was a tough time but the outpouring of support from my family and the military community helped the healing and recovering in the same room as my other injured shipmates was beneficial. Eventually the ship was patched up in the Phillipines and we, like many before and since, went on to resume our duties.

I diligently trained for navy dive school, took the physical tests, submitted myself to the scrutiny of accomplished navy divers and was eventually accepted into the training program. In March of 1991 I reported to the Navy Diving & Salvage Training Center in Coronado, California for training. My shipmate and closest friend from the USS White Plains, Chris, reported with me and on the 1st day there we took the Physical Training (PT) test to see if we were even in shape to start dive school. I passed but Chris failed the test. We had driven across the US together and in a 10 day party that spanned the American Southwest we had undone months of physical training. Normally he would have done the “Seabag Drag” or the “Walk of Shame” out of there but because we had just come from sea duty in Desert Shield & Desert Storm they allowed him to stay. Instructors submitted him to serious “PT” for two months and he joined the next forming class.  He ended up graduating and went on to become a Navy Chief.

Navy Dive School was by far the hardest thing I had ever done. I thought I could run but was humbled by men who could run 8 or 10 miles in the soft sand of the Coronado beaches. I thought I was good in the water but these instructors were powerful men who seemed to have gills.  I thought I was mentally tough but was pushed to new levels and overcame fears I didn’t even know I had. The academics were tough and memorizing flow charts, medical terminology and all manner of underwater physiology required endless hours of my off duty time. Some in our class quit and others were dropped for academic reasons. My younger brother’s half joking words rang in my ears as I struggled, “Don’t come back here if you quit.” I thought of how proud my father was that I was training to be a Navy Diver, an elite group that he had grown up seeing train on his father’s navy bases.  I thought of my Grandfather, Papa, who had been a Navy Diver long before I was born. I thought of all of these things as I struggled on long runs in the sand and fought creeping fear during underwater survival drills when instructors attacked us and tore off our gear. In the end I earned my 2nd Class Diver pin and received orders back to South Carolina.

I drove across country with a two other newly minted Hooyah Navy Deep Sea Divers and my 5 year old son, Jimbo. We drove Route 66, hiked the Grand Canyon, visited meteor craters in the desert, dove in a cenote in New Mexico and made a pilgrimage to Lynchburg, Tennessee. I recently was given a copy of the video we made documenting that trip. Great stuff.

Amidst a newfound identity and despite the impending end of my marriage I learned my new trade in the dark Cooper River of Charleston. Beneath navy ships I learned how to work underwater despite the current, the cold, fatigue and the darkness. We replaced huge propellers, repaired underwater sonar and worked on all kinds of fun stuff under the surface. It was a joy to work with highly motivated, well trained individuals who had paid the price to be doing what they did. There was the very rare, “How did that bonehead get through dive school?” but overall these were an impressive bunch of guys and I was proud to be working with them.

After 2 years in Charleston (that included meeting my future wife, a female Navy Diver) I was selected to go to First Class Diver training in Panama City, Florida. First Class school primarily focuses on running the dive station, and specifically, learning how to recognize and treat diving related disorders that some people call “The Bends”.  (We called these people “civilians”). Since we were already 2nd Class Divers I was told that 1st Class School wasn’t very physically demanding and there would be a lot of volleyball and football for “PT”. WRONG! School was surprisingly physically tough and I often wondered just where they found these instructors who could PT like this! I will forever remember the words of a man who went on to become a mentor of mine, Chief Warrant Officer Tim Siddle, “It’s PT! It’s supposed to be hard!!!” I very much enjoyed the focus of the school and the pressure they put us under in the endless drills that helped form us into well rounded, competent Navy Divers. I think everyone graduated from that class and earned the 1st Class Diver pins.

First Class dive school was also an important time for me because my search for I did not know what ended when I responded to an alter call in a small church and my life was changed forever. A Chief in my class and Warrant Officer Siddle played a part in that process and I am forever grateful.  Since that day I have often acted like I didn’t know God & didn’t care what He thought but that is a reflection of my compulsion towards selfishness and not His character. If there is any lesson to be learned about God by observing my behavior it’s that His mercy is great.

When I completed First Class school my father, stepmother, mother, brother, sister, two sons and my betrothed came down to Panama City to support me and see me graduate. It was a great family gathering.

The navy ordered me to Trident Refit Facility (TRF) in Kings Bay, Georgia after school. Our primary mission there was to work on Trident class submarines. I have been at sea with aircraft carriers, battleships and a number of other impressive naval vessels but those submarines are probably the most powerful weapons on the planet.  They can launch intercontinental nuclear weapons from underwater. Enough said.

At TRF I continued to hone my skills in the water but, as I was becoming more senior, I spent a lot more time supervising dive teams than actually diving. Not only was I running dive teams but I also coordinated all the underwater maintenance for ½ of the navy’s Trident submarines.  In addition to those duties I had the opportunity to become intimately familiar with the recompression chamber. TRF was periodically responsible for handling all diver related injuries of military personnel on the lower east coast. We had a fairly regularly flow of “bent” divers coming through our doors (mostly recreation divers) and we also handled aviators who would get a similar problem called aviation decompression sickness. Any time someone was “in the chamber” they needed a qualified medical person in there with them, an “inside tender”. I spent many, many hours as the inside tender taking care of our patients. After some time I became a “Chamber Supervisor” and was able to evaluate incoming patients and supervise their treatments. All in all I loved my work, I advanced to Chief Petty Officer, I made great friends and enjoyed being active in the local church.

While at TRF I became engaged to Jacquelyn and we were married in the historical waterfront area of Charleston, The Battery.  She was eventually transferred from Charleston to Jacksonville, Florida where  we rented a home and commuted to our respective diving commands. Jacquelyn and I wanted to have children so we started talking about getting out of the navy. I had been on shore duty for 5 years and sea duty was looming in my future. I had experienced sea duty before and although being at sea had to be better as a Chief the time away from home could be about the same. To the surprise of nearly everyone, in 1997 I left the navy after 12 years and Jacquelyn did the same only a couple of months later with 10 years under her belt.

I often miss the life I led as a Navy Diver and a Chief. I dream about the navy a lot and I long for the camaraderie. I still keep in touch with some of the guys from back in the day, we call each other “Brother” a lot and we mean it. Relationships, like people, that are forged under pressure tend to be solid.

For me, as a young man, the military was a good choice. I am grateful for my time in the United States Navy. My country does not owe me anything today, I was trained, I worked and I was paid. I see a lot of flag waving and “We support our troops” and that is all great. The people serving certainly appreciate it although they do not expect it and are often embarrassed by it. Obviously there was a time when our veterans were not treated well and it is nice to see public sentiment swing the other way. As you read this there are men and women out there right now, at sea, in the desert, in the jungle, recruiting, all over the world doing their job. Many of them look at their job like you look at yours, it’s a job.  They are caught up in the daily responsibilities of their work and may not consider the big picture on a daily basis. If you see them in an airport or on the street please consider shaking their hand and telling them you appreciate them. It is a small thing but it goes a long way.

My 2nd son, Eric, is 25 years old and in the navy right now. When he was graduating high school and was discussing the navy I was against it. He was a great student, super sharp and I would have preferred that he go to college first, maybe then go in if he wanted to. In my mind, there were better options for his financial future. He has been in about 5 years now and he likes it and I am happy for him. Our shared experiences give us a connection that I appreciate. He is still super sharp, is a Navy Recruiter and represents our navy well. He has a bright future ahead of him whatever he decides.

I may or may not encourage my other children to pursue a military option but I will always encourage them to take on big challenges, do the hard things and face their fears.  None of which are easy but all are worth it.

Posted in Belize, Ex Military in Belize, Ex Pats in Belize, Navy Divers, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Changing Direction

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Wayne Gretzy

In October 2004 my wife and I sold everything we had, packed up our two small children and moved to Belize. We had never even visited Belize but a friend of ours bought 165 acres in the jungle and was looking for someone she could trust to set up a business there.  I left my idyllic life as a fishing guide and the comforts of home for the unknown challenges of Third World living. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We arrived in Belize to oversee the final stages of construction on a restaurant and our home. Two months later we opened for business serving food and renting canoes to people visiting a nearby national park, Barton Creek Cave. The many challenges of our business included the cost of getting supplies down 9 miles of bad dirt road, the uncertainty of daily business & thieves. We established good relations with many local tour guides but we also unknowingly extended our hand to a few unsavory characters and eventually that bit us in the backside, as it does.

Four and a half years later we shifted the focus of our business to hosting backpackers. Initially we had them sleeping all over our restaurant deck for free and made money by feeding them and getting them on tours. Eventually we bought a bunch of tents that we would rent and a couple years ago we built a dormitory style bunkhouse to house our young travelers. During the course of this time we brought a few university groups in from the US to do some community service work in the area and we hosted a couple church mission groups as well.  Financially, we often struggled but we live in such an amazing place that it seemed palatable.

Running Barton Creek Outpost gave us the chance to meet an array of interesting people who were traveling the planet. Some carried large backpacks, hopped busses and hitchhiked while others were in customized Land Cruisers, VW Busses, motorcycles and bicycles. I admired their courage, enjoyed their stories and often wrote reassuring emails to their parents who hadn’t heard from them in weeks. Many stayed with us for a month or more and I am grateful for the insight into the lives of so many young people. In many cases they left here & wrote glowing reports about us in online forums although there were a few disparaging remarks. Who knew I had a “…condescending, alpha male attitude”?  (This, from a Los Angeles florist. We rest our case.)

After hosting international travelers for 8 years we have recently decided to make a big change. No longer will the Outpost host overnight guests! No longer will my wife be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen making meals for travelers! (To be fair she was only pregnant 19% of the time.) No longer will we be obliged to answer the same questions over and over! (“How did you end up in Belize?” “How did you find this place?”) No longer will our holidays be exclusively devoted to other people’s enjoyment! No longer will we have the steady income from travelers who sought us out through internet, guidebooks and online forums! No Mas!

The past few weeks have been very nice. The Outpost is our home and it feels more like it today than ever. I have taken over the homeschooling of our 14 year old daughter and we are learning Algebra together! My 11 year old son and I are sharing the joys of long division! As I lie in a hammock and write this I can gaze out over some of the most beautiful jungle scenery Belize has to offer. Due to the recent rains there are a few mosquitoes hovering around me but I have had Dengue Fever twice and I don’t think I can get it again. Maybe I’ll Google that.

Over the last 8 years I have learned how to build websites. Mostly I have muddled through on my own but some friends have also helped me along the way. I recently started Belize Websites and now spend the better part of my days on my laptop building, updating & marketing websites. Belize is not a country full of opportunity but there is no question that business in Belize needs to be dragged onto the internet. I am building websites for a few people and I have just launched another one of my own, www.ForSaleByOwnerinBelize.com. I offer people the chance to list their homes, property or businesses for sale, no up-front cost but a 2% commission if I provide them a buyer. Additionally, I operate www.CraigsListBelize.com where people can list all kinds of stuff for free. The real estate listings appear on both sites and in the last 5 days have averaged about 500 views per day. The numbers rise weekly since I have been putting my efforts into marketing the sites.  I only launched the For Sale By Owner in Belize site just over a week ago and am getting new listings every day. The Craigs List Belize site has been up about a year. I have sold 12 acres of ours and two of our vehicles through that website as well as many things for other people.  I am hopeful about the future of the business those sites can create.

We are about to list our house on a couple of vacation rental by owner sites so we are doing some improvements there to get that ready. It also looks like we will subdivide a few lots from the 165 acres here and sell them to people who we can stand to live next to. We will offer our care-taking services to buyers who want to build and may not live here full time. We can also oversee building efforts when that time comes. The Outpost facility & swimming hole would be a kind of community center to the few owners we would selectively bring in.  Our new neighbors may consider renting their homes through us for vacation rental in their absence.

In addition to the real estate side of things my wife is focusing her energies on making the most of things here at the Outpost. Jacquelyn is doing an incredible job of putting flower arrangements together and we sell those. For years we have operated a quasi-nursery here and she is ramping up her efforts to sell more potted and bagged plants & flowers. We are also making Barton Creek Outpost available to rent for daytime events, luncheons and retreats.

There have been major changes in our lives since we moved to Belize. We have adjusted the focus of our business more than once, we had the two new children that are currently playing at my feet, we have made new friends and we have lost people close to us. Prior to making this decision we gave it much thought and prayer and sought counsel from several people we respect. I am a big fan of people who will tell me the truth when I ask them and appreciate the input we received. This is a huge change for us and we did not make it lightly. As soon as the voice in my head stops asking me what I’ve done I’ll probably sleep better but in the meantime, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Stay tuned.

Posted in Belize, Belize Adventure, Ex Pats in Belize, Land in Belize, Living in Belize, Property in Belize, San Ignacio, Belize, Travel Belize, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments