You Know You Live on Ambergris Caye, Belize When…
Never in a million years would I have thought I’d move to another country…permanently.
I visited San Pedro Belize for the first time 17 years ago…and made the decision to move here just a few months later. I felt so comfortable on Ambergris Caye – everyone was easy-going and friendly! Everything felt simple. So much less stress than the day-to-day grind of working in finance in New York.
And while Belize does feel so comfortable when you visit – you are in a different country! Obvious but so very easy to forget. And every the most basic activities – eating out, shopping for food, going to the bank, cleaning my clothes – are different from what I was used to.
No matter how much research you do or how many visits you made before the move, it’s going to take a while before you feel like “you get it”.
I’m 16 years in…and I’m not there yet!
For more articles about My Expat Life – from getting a job to learning to shop in Belize, click here.
But…you know that you have arrived, that the adjustment is happening when you start doing and thinking like this:
When something breaks, you don’t think about replacing it, you think about how to fix and/or MacGyver it…
When I lived in the US, something would break and you would either order a new one (probably on Amazon) or, if it was more expensive, call my building’s handyman. Here in Belize, there IS no Amazon.
And to find a handyman is another challenge. You can’t just google “best handyman in my area” – it’s word-of-mouth and actual phone calls. For some, the name of a great, reliable plumber or air conditioner repairman is a closely guarded secret.
And don’t expect instant service…you could be waiting a day or two or more.
On Ambergris Caye, the sea air chews away at everything. I have pried open all sorts of things that shouldn’t be opened – from iPhone chargers to digital clocks. Maybe there was rust I could blow out or a wire I could wiggle.
And for larger things? There’s a whole lot of jerry-rigging going on.
A friend has a great story about how he tried to build a new frame for the rusted washing machine out of wood.
This stuff is EXPENSIVE on the island…you want to make it last!
An invitation for your neighbor’s new baby’s baptism says 5pm, you arrive at 7pm and you are still the first one there
Time is relative here. And when you first get down here, it’s a huge adjustment. “Right now” means later today, tomorrow or never. 5pm NEVER means 5pm. For different events, it means different things. A San Pedro Town Council meeting might start 15-30 minutes later. A nighttime party – 2-4 hours later than the time specified.
EVERYONE Belizean seems to know this but you.
You come to a screaming halt to allow a dog/iguana/snake to move out of the road…or not
Animals here love to lie in the road sunning themselves. Even in busy areas, you will find an elderly, mostly deaf potlicker lounging on a heavily trafficked turn. You stop, he MIGHT get up and amble to the curb. But maybe not.
It’s been his spot before the road and YOU even arrived. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
You can call your doctor and get an appointment in 20 minutes
Good grief what a change from the states. As an employer, I remember being shocked by how quickly Belizeans go to the doctor. A sniffle, the beginning of a sore throat? Many are off to the Polyclinic. But why not? Drop in…see the doctor immediately…, and get meds all for a very reasonable price.
Plus, you are almost SURE to get a note that gets you out of work for 3 days. It’s always 3 day.
When you order a beer, you mean Belikin regular…duh
In 2009, CARICOM beers were allowed into the country for the first time. Presidente, Red Stripe, Heinekin, Carib…the brands come and the brands go.
But when you order “a beer”, you always mean Belikin. After a good long total monopoly, it is the beer of Belize.
If someone asked, you’d consider cole slaw and potato salad your daily vegetables
If you eat local, you RARELY get a green vegetable on your plate. Breakfast would be tacos (you can request cabbage or onion inside), lunch, stew chicken, rice & beans with cole slaw and potato salad and dinner more of the same.
Want broccoli or lettuce or asparagus or any other imported vegetable? It’s going to cost you. And if you have Belizeans over, they may not touch it.
You wave at almost every golf cart you pass especially in September or October
Ambergris Caye is a small island but then, when you think about it, it’s really not that small. I would guess there are 20,000 people here. Maybe more? I think we are still waiting for the 2020 census.
BUT if you have been here long enough, especially in the “slow season” when there are very few tourists, you know who lives here full-time and you wave.
It’s just what you do.
You START to understand how EVERYONE San Pedrano is related
There are a few prominent names on the island – families that have been here since the island was a coconut plantation. Alamilla, Nunez, Guerrero, Paz…
You might find that your grocer is related to the cousin of your handyman who is the uncle of the head of police. Personal relationships are everything on the island – and it takes a long time to find out how everyone on this island, or even in this small country, is connected.
I’m still working on my white board “org chart”.
When you walk into the Bank and there are 10 people in front of you and you think…meh…not so bad
Like I said, time moves a bit slower down here. And going to the bank is a PRIME example.
In my 10 years in Manhattan, I don’t think I actually went INTO Bank of America once. Everything is done online…everything.
In Belize, if you want to cash a check or make a payment, you actually GO INTO the bank. You know when the lines will be long (end of week or end of month) and you can do your best to avoid them. But during “the season”, a line of 10 or less is a home run. Don’t worry…they have the air con pumping, the TV on and there is always someone in line to chat with.
Gecko poop on your bed is no surprise, in fact, it’s a positive
Go away for the weekend and odds are, that on your return, there will be small turds on your bed. No, you don’t have rats…silly you! Rats don’t go on the bed! You have geckos and you should rejoice…these guys eat sand flies (that go through screens) and mosquitos (that ride you inside like a bus).
If you are like me, you greet them each night by name as they emerge in the evening from god knows where.
“Hey Timmy Timmy No-Tail…I see your tail is start to grow back in…”
You don’t expect the power to be on ALL the time
The lights go out on the island at the most inopportune times. Our electric company, Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), schedules outages for maintenance. Usually at 6am on one of the hottest Sundays so when your fan and AC go off, you wake up immediately and sweat in the dark.
It also just goes out. You can COUNT on a power outage (or as the locals say “the current”) on Christmas eve, when the island is packed with power-hogging tourists. 😉
In the same vein, the water pressure is usually very low for the busy Easter weekend. One year, no one who lived above the ground floor on any building could take a shower.
You are often out of phone credit
Unlike where you used to live, few people are on phone plans. Here you buy a SIM card for your phone and then buy phone credit. $10, $20s at a time. You try to remember which days are “double up” but even if you do remember, you usually forget to buy phone credit.
It is completely unclear how much a call costs. So sometimes you make 2 local calls or send, what seems like, a few text messages and BAM. There goes your credit.
You hardly ever use your oven
The only Belizean foods that seems to require an oven are breakfast foods like meat pies or johnny cakes. Most people grab those at a local deli.
And all other food, from stew chicken to fry chicken, rice & beans and tortillas is made on the stove.
You use your comal WAY more often than the oven. If you even have an oven.
Rain brings about a wide range of emotions
During the busy season (late December thru May) we see almost no rain. People rejoice when it first comes…the flowers! the cisterns!
And that road dust that plagues everyone in the drier season just disappears…
But when it starts raining hard, things change. That road dust? It’s now mud flicking up your back as you bicycle or walk in flip-flops (we certainly can’t go out in this!) and then…the mosquitos. Oh the mosquitos.
You stock up when you visit the US states
Most imported items are WAY cheaper in the US. When you take your annual or bi-annual trip to your old home, you stock up on certain things.
For me, it’s usually toiletries. Why pay $25bzd for a tube of your favorite Dove Body wash when you can buy it at CVS for $3.99US. I also love to hit Old Navy for some low-priced COTTON clothes.
Or real maple syrup.
You no longer do a double-take when you see a baby on a motorcycle or in a bike basket
In the US, we are used to lots of safety measures – in moving vehicles especially. It’s even common now to see all kids wearing helmets on bicycles and plenty of adults as well. (That still surprises me when I visit the US but it’s become standard issue)
On Ambergris Caye, almost all residents drive golf carts, motorcycles or mopeds or bicycles to work, town, to school and everywhere. Car seats aren’t…really a thing. Do they even make car seats for mopeds?
So you’ll often see a baby in a front bicycle basket sitting on a pillow riding with Dad to town – or a toddler seated in front of his mom on her motorbike heading to work.
My visiting friends often gasp…but me? I think it’s super cute.
You start working BAD Kriol into your conversations with your Belizean friends
It’s inevitable. You’ve been hearing the accent and the language for years now…it’s going to start coming, awkwardly, out of your mouth.
People ask you in the street: “Wadda gwan?” (or what’s going on) and you are going to start answering “Straight”.
Or instead of saying “I don’t know”, you might say “me no no”. It’s the accent that is going to be way off…sometimes your friends will laugh at you…sometimes they will let it slide.
You Smother Your Food with Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce Before Even Tasting It
Even five-year-olds do it. It’s time to man up.
I know there are SO many more you can help me with! Like “Smothering your “Fry” chicken with sweet ketchup”.
Please feel free to comment about how you know you live on Ambergris Caye…
I’ll keep the list going!