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Here are a handfull of shots from Plancencia. Our internet connectivity was pretty terrible and these never went up.

(WordPress.com marked all of these photos as “unattached”, so they were deleted in a bulk action.  I can’t replace them until I get back to The States since I don’t have them with me. Overall I’m okay with wordpress.com, but the photo management has been a constant struggle. If you see any other dead links like this, please post a quick comment alerting me to them.)

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Charts!

11.07.12

I’m re-working a lot of this content into a book (more on that later) and part of the result are these pie charts about how each city’s costs broke down into categories.  Enjoy.

Placencia cost of living breakdown

White sand

01.28.11

This is the view from Lydia’s Guesthouse in Placencia, Belize.

At the narrow tip of the eponymous peninsula, Placencia is a safe, comfortable, English speaking beach town. It’s an excellent relocation option, though toward the upper reaches of our budget.

Pros: Clean local municipal water, welcoming transplant community, miles of Caribbean beach and reasonable proximity to Belize’s numerous tourist draws including jungle lodges, river tours, remote cayes and some of the world’s best diving, affordable and plentiful domestic produce, English speaking.

Cons: Expensive for the region (though other parts of Belize are more affordable), dysfunctional domestic economy greatly reduces available goods, flights into and out of Belize are significantly more expensive than to and from neighboring destinations.

Distortions: Our studio would not have been appropriate for a longer stay; recent flooding in Honduras has caused a severe increase in litter washing up on the beach, tourism has been way down during the global economic turn down, we visited for 28 days starting in mid July.

The girlfriend and I loved Placencia. We even considered staying on for an additional month when a friend asked us to house sit her enviable apartment. But we feared that moving on was now or never so we steadied our resolve and bought a boat ticket out of the country. In fact, plenty of transplants mentioned that they ended up living in Placencia by canceling similar plans.

There are a few different local communities in Placencia, with plenty of overlap and intermingling. The Placencians, most of whom have lived in the town for decades rather than generations and many of whom have transplant parents, mix easily with the predominately American, Canadian and European transplants. The village’s small size leads to easy recognizability after only a few days out and about. The transplants that we met were welcoming and fun loving, a varied mix of ages and origins enjoying a continuous cycle of beaches, bars, beach bars, water sports, restaurants and work.

The multiple groceries were all within a short walk of each other; most of Placencia is. Rice and beans are local staples, unsurprisingly, as grocery selection is low and prices on imports high. A few American imports like Velveeta and Cheeze Whiz make the shelves intact, thanks in large part to their frightening shelf life, but other items like chocolate bars and cream cheese arrive worse for the wear, whether due to freezing or, alternately, a lack of adequate refrigeration in transit. Produce is widely available, both at the groceries and from well stocked trucks along the road. As with most places in the region, the key to avoiding disappointment is shopping from amongst the available goods rather than against a mental wish list. We prepared rice and beans, eggs (which were of excellent quality), pasta with olive oil and garlic and later with a cream cheese/Cheeze Whiz sauce, a bean and vegetable salad and a passable approximation of humus. Avocados, tomatoes,onions, bananas and mangoes were common snacks.

Eating out offered limited options but high quality. Pizza is widely available and generally in the style of New York. Barefoot, a local mainstay that relocated from the beach to the main road a few years ago has a well deserved reputation for good food (try the tamarind pork) and stiff drinks (a source of pride). Menu items come in around US$7.50 per person. Rumfish is higher end palm-tree Italian though it was hard to find a night they were open. Cheap local carryout centered around rice, beans, chicken, plantains and cole slaw and comes in either US$3 or US$6 portions. The larger portion was enough for The Girlfriend and I to split as a light lunch.

The infrastructure is average for the region; internet and electric outages were common, local buses were repurposed American school buses, major roads were well paved and all others were dicey. The major exception here is city water, which is entirely drinkable and tastes better than it’s counterpart in many American cities.

Entertainment centered around drinking (we spent about $200 or nearly 20% of our total expenditures on booze; the vast majority of that at bars socializing) but pulled in beach activities and diving/snorkeling regularly. Our snorkeling trip with Avadon Diving, who came highly and repeatedly recommended, cost us US$63 per person and was rumored to get down to US$35 with a package or understanding of frequent repeat business.

We dealt with Antony Whorton at Remax to tour the local real estate scene; their website can give you far more info than I can. Rental and house sitting was common among the expats and often they would have to move within/out of Placencia for the 3 month high season when rents can quintuple. We knew people with outstanding accommodations for US$500/month (no utilities). We started out our stay at Lydia’s Guesthouse and decided to stay on by renting her studio for US$300 a month, water, power, cable, internet and a view of the beach included. Ultimately we realized that it was too small to consider for any longer period, but Lydia is a wonderful landlady with other units available. She provided us with invaluable advice, let us use her washing machine, gave us all of the rum that the backpackers left behind and occasionally treated us to cookies and breads from her kitchen.

Another place that we considered had two units, a dark one bedroom ground floor apartment for US$325 a month and an airier two bedroom upstairs for $375, both set in a pleasant garden. I don’t have the exact amenities recorded, but I know internet was included and I believe electric and cable as well. If you’re in town, contact Lee at The Secret Garden for info. If you need to contact her from afar, let me know.

We came in comfortably at US$1100 for two people for 28 days. A partying diver living alone, sparing no expense but with local (non-import) tastes lives for US$15k to US$18k a year. A shut-inn author living alone and trying to crank out a novel in peace could probably get by for about US$8k, two bottles of rum a week included. Neither of these estimates account for medical expenses, should they be necessary.

If there is any info that you’re interested in that isn’t covered here, let me know. I’d be happy to include some comments now and make sure not to neglect that info in future summaries.

And for those of you playing along at home, detailed expense info can be viewed here and downloaded in a variety of formats including .csv.

Price of beer in a bar: unchanged at “just cheap enough to be tempting” and “expensive enough to eventually undermine our budget”
Song currently stuck in my head: Neighborhood 3 (The Arcade Fire)

The town’s power is getting shut off in about an hour, if it gets turned back on early enough I’ll post an update. In the meantime it’s a mad dash to get laundry done before it powers down during the wash cycle, then later it’s lunch at a local place with a generator.

Low res because uploads move at the same pace as everything else here.

Price of beer in a bar: Who cares? Traveler’s Gold Rum is US$4.75 a fifth, 76 proof and tastes like butterscotch. But beers out still run US$1.50 during happy hour and about US$2.25 during the rest of the day.
Song currently stuck in my head: IRM (Charlotte Gainsbourg)

David Byrne once said “People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit.” I take solace in this as my wardrobe degrades and my options slowly dwindle from chemical exposure (DEET, antiperspirant, sunscreen, etc), perpetual sweat, rough wash cycles and line drying in the brutal sun. I didn’t pack any new apparel, though some things were recently purchased second hand. I intentionally brought a number of things that I intended to wear a few times and throw away, but a lot of people set out with this plan and most of them end up clutching to the threadbare t shirt until the bitter end. When you’ve consolidated down this far, every item feels like it matters even when you’d be better off without it. I brought somewhere between 15 and 20 pairs of underwear and I’m glad I did. Nothing extends your time between washes (saving time, money and hassle) like extra socks and underwear and they’re likely to be the smallest and lightest apparel in your kit.

Six years ago I bought a used pair of New Balance hiking boots for US$2.50 at a thrift store; they were near perfect in shape and fit. I haven’t used them much in the interim, but I did pull them out and put them through the paces, literally, for a couple of months before I left. They seemed to be in top form, but two weeks ago I had to nearly rebuild them with repeated applications of contact cement. They lasted exactly 8 minutes in Placencia, where some combination of heat and the “boot stuck in mud” feeling of walking in sand with a heavy pack pried the soles off of each shoe on the walk from the bus to guesthouse. My sandals having been giving me foot trouble (Pro tip: don’t move out of a second floor walk-up in sandals; it tends to put some stress on the Achilles) since the heel is worn down slightly lower than the ball. That’s all okay; I brought these things to get me by until I could replace them with local goods. I’m waiting for just the right pair of knock off Crocs (which seem to be popular amongst natives and expats alike; only the backpackers are trendy enough to scoff). The things are indestructible (a single, injection molded piece with no stitching or adhesives) and ultra-lightweight. I try real hard to care that they look stupid and always find that my efforts fall short.

The girlfriend and I are hiding from The Sun today, recuperating from yesterday’s overexposure during a snorkeling trip to a local caye (pictures forthcoming). The snorkeling was fair to good, though the currents were too strong to consider it leisurely. The tour company, Avadon, came highly recommended by everyone we talked to. The level of service was high; they arranged local transportation, served a continental breakfast on the (big, clean, modern, well appointed) boat, made a terrific lunch and addressed all of our concerns directly. This all came in at about US$65 per person, though I’m told locals (including expats) often negotiate a lower rate or package deal.

Earlier in the week we toured real estate offerings with a friend and local agent. The options were impressive and the prices were reasonable, if beyond our current means. We met a local contractor named Dan and toured two of his projects; one completed and one in progress. Both were far up on the high end; gorgeous with big open floor plans and luxury touches. Dan builds the furniture for the houses as well and each place had it’s own consistent aesthetic that surrounded you throughout the tour. Both were nicer than the houses of anyone I’ve ever known, save one guy.

Our spending remains on track for our budget. We’re probably looking at US$1100 for the month, rent included. About US$150 of that is booze, since drinking at Barefoot is by far the most popular social activity in town. I usually drink to get drunk, if only a little, so I’ll need to either socialize less or recalibrate my intake and cultivate the habits of a social drinker. We’ll see.

After we move on I’ll put together a summary of Placencia with more real estate and spending info, as well as post the raw numbers, but right now I’m hungry. Take care.