Aug 112016
 
Hurricane Earl Slams Belize

Hurricane Earl first Struck Ambergris Caye in Belize during the wee hours of the morning. Just after midnight on Aug. 04, 2016. With sustained winds of 80MPH Earl had only just made the Cat I hurricane classification hours prior to hitting Belize.
Photo Courtesy of RobertjHawkins of “Bound For Belize”.

Hurricane Earl Arrives Overnight.

Hurricane Earl first Struck Ambergris Caye in Belize during the wee hours of the morning. Just after midnight on Aug. 04, 2016. With sustained winds of 80MPH Earl had only just made the Cat I hurricane classification hours prior to hitting Belize.

Ambergris Caye Was Hit First.

In San Pedro, although there were no deaths reported at the time of this post, most of the businesses and infrastructure along the shoreline were totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Here is a link to a photo tour of the devastation reported by Robert J Hawkins the morning after. 

Belize City Was Lucky, But Not Unscathed.

In Belize City, flooding was reported. Earl hit the mainland north of Belize City which is fortunate for the city. The effects or the counterclockwise motion meant the winds would have been blowing offshore reducing the effects of the up to 5 ft. Storm surge and wave over effect. Much of Belize City is below sea level and when hurricanes hit south of the city the onshore winds pull the storm surge onshore having a much more devastating effect. Here is a video of the flooding and damage as reported by News 5 lives video the morning after. 

Hurricane Earl Weakened As It Moved Inland.

In Bullet Tree almost at the west border, Hurricane Earl weakened considerably. We experienced heavy wind and rains but other than small tree damage there was not much to mention. In Bullet Tree and I suspect in other parts of the country the danger didn’t end when Earl passed.  Hurricane Earl brought up to 12 inches of rain and with it a threat of flooding as the rivers swelled. People with homes by the river were ordered to evacuate yesterday as the Mopan River was rising at a rate of about 6 inches per hour and threatening those in the low lying areas and beside the river. Here is my YouTube video of the river yesterday and this morning to give you an idea of just how fast and to what degree flash flooding can occur.

A Reminder To Take These Storm Seriously and Be Prepared.

This is a reminder of the importance of taking all precautions during a hurricane watch. Hurricane Earl was a Cat I, and the destruction to Ambergris Caye was devastating. But as the Hurricane classification increases, so does the resulting damage increase exponentially. Here is a link to the National Hurricane Center that has a model at the bottom of the page that illustrates this.

The History of Hurricanes in Belize and how to be prepared is outlined in my article published on June 06, 2016 titled Hurricane Season In Belize – How To Be Prepared.

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Jul 042016
 
Belize's Low cost living

Low cost living can be realized with the help of economical appliances. Our clothes dryer which is usually one of the worst energy guzzlers has been replaced with this Solar/Wind powered unit. It does require a bit planning around the weather, but It will run for 24hrs a day (or until the cows come home) if needed for $0.00. So, we have two.

Finding Belize’s Low Cost Living.

We now enjoy low cost living compared to that of Canada. After almost two years in Belize, there has been a bit of a learning curve, and in our case an attitude adjustment as well. Here are just a few of the tips we have learned.

Five Tips To Low Cost Living In Belize.

  • Our Motto ~ “Live on what you need, not on what you want.”
    Back in Canada we didn’t give much thought to  low cost living. With two good paying jobs and savings building, we would just go out and buy whatever we wanted whether we really needed it or not. The latest shiney items, sometimes on sale, but most times not, were just purchased on a whim at one of the many “Big Box” stores, Electronics outlets, or our choice of several shopping malls. Usually without much price comparison, we learned that they were all usually within $20. or $30. of each other, so it wasn’t even worth the time to price check. What’s $20. Right? (We’ll talk a bit more about that later).
    In Belize there is certainly not the selection, or the number of outlets to purchase many things, but we have learned that it does pay to shop around, or if it’s a want item, to wait for it to go on sale.But always now, we ask each other, “do we want it, or do we need it?” and you might be surprised at how often we leave empty handed.
  • Shop Wisely
    Shopping wisely, or like the Belizean’s do will also help to guard your low cost living. Convenience can be a budget killer. If you want to purchase everything at the grocery store because it is one stop, then you can expect to pay more, while sacrificing some quality in the process. Get fresh vegetables on delivery day at the local markets. Get fresh meat cut to your specifications at the local Carnicero(Butcher). Fresh fish can be bought directly from the fisherman if you are by the sea. (A little myth buster here though, we found fish are actually cheaper per pound inland then they were on the islands).
    Also know that it is generally assumed that we gringos are just visiting. We are charged more just because it is assumed that we are all rich (another myth), and therefore able to pay more.We have found, that if at first we shop around to find a vendor that has what we need, and that they are friendly and cordial with us, then we will keep going back.It only takes a few trips, and maybe a subtle hint, and they will soon realize that you are not a visitor but living here and you will see prices go down.Also, we avoid grocery stores that don’t put prices their merchandise.
  • Forget US Dollar Comparisons.
    One of the things that we did when we first moved was to convert everything to US dollars in our heads. It helped us to justify making some purchases. For example, that box of chocolates (my favorite, Ferrero Roche to be specific) was BZ$42.50, “hey, that’s only US$21.25, what’s $20.00” you might ask yourself as we did. Well, (I told you I would get back to this) at the local market we spend BZ$18.00 (US$9.00) for a whole week’s supply of fresh vegetables. US$20.00 (BZ$40.00) will purchase 160 oranges at 4/BZ$1.00 or 400 fresh bananas at 10/BZ$1.00. So if keeping up a low cost living is important to you, forget US$ and compare prices of “want” items to what can be purchased in “need” items for those same dollars.
  • Location
    The right location will also be a factor to consider if low cost living is one of the reasons you chose Belize. We had our personal reasons to select the cayes as our place to land initially, so it wasn’t something that I look back on as a mistake, but rather part of our education.  However hindsight being 20/20, one thing that we would probably have done differently, was to move to the mainland rather than the Cayes (islands). Our budget was literally cut in half when we moved from the island to Cayo District just outside of San Ignacio.
    Rent for a two bedroom apartment in San Pedro was BZ$2000.00/Mo. whereas our rent for a comparable two Bedroom house here on the mainland is BZ$1000.00/Mo.Fruits and Vegetables were typically about BZ$45.00/week on the island at the docks where the mennonite boats would deliver on Tuesday mornings. You had to get there early (like 5:00AM) to get a good selection. As I mentioned earlier on the mainland at the San Ignacio Market we pay about BZ$18.00 for the same quantity and get a better selection of fresher product.
  • Economical Appliances Keep The Cost of Living Low.
    One of the other things that I have learned is that your appliances are also important in maintaining a low cost living. This is something you may not have much control over when you are looking for places to rent, but is good to know when you are building, or when trying to estimate what your monthly rental expense might be. In San Pedro we paid anywhere from about BZ$140-180.00/Mo. For electricity. That covered an electric range, washer, dryer, hot water tank, and the difference in monthly cost was probably the A/C unit which was only used during really hot months.
    In Bullet Tree the house we rent has all economical appliances, and the experience has convinced me that when we build our own home to lay out a bit more initially to keep the monthly utility bill down.It has been hot the last few months requiring the AC unit and the electric bill last month was BZ$68.00. That’s half to a third of the island, and here are some of the reasons why.Our Range is gas (butane in Belize), and yes that is an expense, but the tank lasted for three months, then was picked up and returned full for BZ$40.00.Our Hot water is produced with a heat on demand hot water tank that is also gas, but after almost four months of use, I still can’t lift the tank, so I expect it is still good for at least another six months, and it’s controls are powered by 2 “D” batteries.
    Finally we do have a washing machine, but our clothes dryer which is usually the energy guzzler of the two is pictured above. It does require a bit planning around the weather, but this Solar/Wind powered unit will run 24hrs a day (or until the cows come home) for BZ$ or US$0.00, so we have two.

Summary

A simpler, healthy lifestyle with a low cost living, is easily obtainable in Belize. Certainly for far less than that of Canada and the United States. If you watch your habits. Shop wisely. Compare BZ prices to the buying power in Belize rather than to the US dollar. Choose your location knowing that a premium will be payed on the Cayes. Try to follow our motto of, “live on what you need, not what you want”.

To give you an idea of what US$ 800.00/Mo. will rent you, Check out this house that we rented when we first arrived in Belize.

I would Love to hear from you,
let me know if you enjoyed this post.

Leave a comment or ask your questions to help
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Jun 062016
 
Hurricane Season In Belize.

June 1st to November 30th Is Hurricane Season In Belize. While Belize has only suffered five major direct hits (Cat. II or above) since 1900, history tells us to prepare each year for the inevitable. With due diligence, the knowledge of this article, and of course proper preparation, you should easily weather the storm.

 Hurricane Season In Belize.

Hurricane season in Belize is from June 1st to November 30th. While the most severe weather is typically in the later half of the season, June is the time when residents prepare and vigilantly watch the weather patterns forming in and around the Caribbean. Belize has only experienced direct hits from 5 major hurricanes (Category 2 or above) and one category 1 since 1900. However, history reminds us to be prepared for what seems to be the inevitable. This is not to say visitors shouldn’t come during this time, weather prediction has become much better in Belize meaning surviving these tropical storms is simply a matter of due diligence, knowledge, and of course proper preparation which I will go into a bit more later in this post.

History of Hurricane season in Belize.

On September 10, 1931 Belize was hit by a Category 4 hurricane which remains the worst in documented history. 2500 were killed and about half of the homes in the Yarborough settlement near Belize City were destroyed. The main reasons that this was the worst was due to a few contributing factors. First there were no weather prediction services in Belize at that time, secondly little was known by the public at that time of the dangers of these tropical storms. As the sea receded many ran to witness the phenomenon not realizing that the sea would surge back, which it did killing several hundred that day. These factors combined with the timing of the storm that hit during St. George’s Caye Day celebrations, people received little warning of the impending disaster.

On September 28, 1955 Hurricane season in Belize brought more death and destruction. Janet struck near Corozal destroying that town, leaving only about ten homes in her wake as she moved on to destroy the neighboring town of Chetumal in Mexico. Janet a category 5 recorded winds in excess of 175 mph. Janet also brought excessive rain, many places in Belize recorded more than 24 inches of rainfall in 72 hours causing severe flooding. Janet was responsible for as many as 3000 deaths.

On October 31, 1961 Hurricane Hattie another Category 5 recorded winds of 160 mph with gusts up to 200 mph. Hattie made a direct hit on the then capital bringing with her a storm surge 13 – 15 feet higher than normal tide levels that totally destroyed Belize City. Hattie was responsible for about 400 deaths and left 1000’s homeless. Many of the residents of Belize City were evacuated and rebuilt in what is now known as Hattieville. Also after Hurricane Hattie Belize’s capital was moved inland and rebuilt on the higher grounds of Belmopan.

On September 19, 1978 Hurricane Greta just made Category 4 status with sustained winds of 130 mph. While her winds downed many trees along the coast, her high storm surge resulted in very little flooding inland. Greta hit the land in Dangriga where it quickly became a tropical depression but not before destroying or damaging just over 100 homes in that town, as well as, the town’s main hospital. All in all Greta caused about BZ$ 50 million in damages. But as a result of better public knowledge and awareness of hurricanes, and also as a result of much better weather forecasting within Belize only four deaths were recorded.

On October 8, 2001 Hurricane season in Belize saw Iris as she ripped ashore on the southern coast of Belize between Monkey River Town and Independance, just southwest of Belize City. Iris was a category 4 with recorded winds of 140 mph. Iris is considered the most destructive of Belize’s hurricanes as she reportedly left more than 13,000 people homeless. In some areas 90% of the buildings including schools and community centers had sustained significant damage. Most of the food stocks and all of the countries standing crops of rice, cacao, coffee, bananas, corn, and papaya had been destroyed. In addition the downed power lines interrupted power creating a significant health risk as pump delivered water supplies ceased to flow. In addition, if the mass devastation was not enough, what made Iris particularly devastating was that she hit while Belize was still rebuilding  just one year after Hurricane Keith had caused $200 million dollars in damages throughout the country.

On October 27, 2010 Hurricane Richard was the last hurricane to hit Belize. Richard only a category 1 with sustained winds of 90 mph came ashore about 20 miles south of Belize City. It proceeded to travel through the City and then continued through the center of Belize impacting Belize, Cayo, and Orange Walk districts. Richard included in it’s path the new capital Belmopan which had generally been considered the safest haven from hurricanes. When the storm cleared Richard had left most of the country without power and damages amounting to almost BZ$ 50 million.

Four other hurricanes should be noted, and although they did not hit Belize directly, they caused significant damage as they ripped along the coast. Mitch in 1998, Keith in 2000,  Chantal in 2001, and Dean in 2007.

Things to know and Expect during Hurricane Season in Belize.

  • Be aware of the strength of impending hurricanes as described by the “Saffir-Simpson Hurricane” Scale.
    Tropical Storm (39-73 mph)
    Category 1 (74-95 mph)
    Category 2 (96-110 mph)
    Category 3 (111-129 mph)
    Category 4 (130-156 mph)
    Category 5 (157> mph)

    Hurricane Season In Belize

    During Hurricane Season In Belize, A Four Stage Flag Warning System is Used To Warn Of Impending Danger.

  • Flag Signals (Belize has a four-flag warning system)
    Preliminary Alert (red flag) – Hurricane may threaten within 72 hours.
    Red I Watch (1 red flag with dot) – Hurricane may threaten within 36 hours.
    Red II Warning (2 red flags with dots) – Hurricane may threaten within 24 hours.
    All Clear (green flag) – Hurricane has passed.
  • Expect Evacuation of Island, Coastal, and Flood Prone Areas will Occur.
    As people move from these areas to the inland mountainous areas like Cayo and Belmopan City, highways may become congested, so leave early and be near the front of the line.
  • Expect Flooding.
    Belize is noted for it’s many flood prone areas, talk to the locals about your area and expect that as the rains intensify, many streets may/will be flooded.
  • Expect Supermarkets To Be Crowded Until They Run Out Of Stock.
    Grocery stores will be filled with residents trying to stock up on last minute items such as food, protection equipment in the form of shutters, plywood, tie down materials, etc. The practice of price gouging is illegal but still common and should be expected as vendors take advantage of the law of supply and demand.
  • Expect Businesses & Schools To Be Closed.
    Expect most businesses to close shop 24 hours before the hurricane hits as workers prepare their homes or evacuate some areas. Schools and other large institutions require more time to prepare and can be expected to close 48 hours before an impending strike.
  • Expect Evacuation Shelters To Be Open.
    Shelters are public, but expect that most will require ID and documentation with your address to enter. If you fear that your lodging may not be adequate to withstand the impact of the impending hurricane and it’s winds, rains, and related flooding, you will want to locate your shelter(s). Each area should have one or several hurricane shelters. know where yours is and be prepared to go.
  • Expect Increased Military & Police Presence.
    Expect to see an increase in Activity by local police departments and the Belize Military (Belize Defence Force – BDF) as officers are dispatched to ensure smooth evacuation procedures, as well as, to prevent looting and other illegal activities that often occur during these times of distress.
  • Expect Flights To Be Cancelled.
    Expect most international flights and many domestic flights to be grounded or cancelled on the day of the expected hurricane. As a result expect other forms of tranportation such as water taxis to become crowded with people who have waited until the last minute to evacuate. Again, leave as early as resonably possible. It is better to be waiting in safety a little longer rather than still fleeing for your life when the storm does hit.

Tips to help in preparing for the hurricane season in Belize:

These tips should not be left until the last minute. I recommend a cupboard for non perishable food supplies to be stocked immediately so that last minute shopping may be avoided (just be sure to watch those expiry dates). Have a mini check list and I recommend a backpack(s) that can be quickly filled with items you will want to take with you in case of evacuation, items such as important documents, clothing, communication equipment, etc.

According to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), here are some tips to help you prepare for the hurricane season in Belize:

  1. Have stock of non-perishable food and drinking water (enough for at least 5 days), including special foods needed for young children and animals.
  2. Make arrangements for pets & livestock.
  3. Have a flashlight with extra batteries, or candles.
  4. Have portable battery operated radio with extra batteries to keep in touch with the outside world should power be lost.
  5. Have your first aid kit stocked and ready and keep extra stock of required medications (again, watch those expiry dates).
  6. Find out ahead of time which is your emergency shelter along with it’s exact location.
  7. Have good quality shoes ready in case you need to get out and walk.
  8. Have cash on hand. ATM’s may not work, and banks may not open if the power is interrupted.
  9. Protect your windows, doors. and other glass structures from flying debris.
  10. Trim branches (or coconuts) that might break free, also remove all objects from your yard that are likely to become flying hazards. including if possible, communication equipment such as TV and radio antennas, as well as, satellite dishes.
  11. Develop & have available an emergency communication plan.
  12. Fuel up your car and stock extra fuel if you have a generator, gas (Kerosene) lamps, or gas powered tools for clean up after the storm.
  13. Store all valuable documents/papers in waterproof bags high off the ground.
  14. Check your home and auto insurance.
May 182016
 
Working in Belize, what you need to know

Working in Belize is not as easy as showing up and looking at the classifieds. There are procedures to follow as Belize rightfully protects it’s jobs for Belizeans.

Working in Belize is not easy, but not impossible.

Working in Belize is not as easy as just showing up and looking at the classifieds. There are procedures to follow as Belize rightfully protects it’s jobs for Belizeans. Belize is a small, generally poor country with high unemployment. It is practically impossible to just move here and get a work permit for any job that can be done by a Belizean. If you have a rare skill or one not common in Belize then it becomes easier. For example, maybe a French restaurant might hire you if you spoke French and no French speaking Belizean could be found.

Jobs You may find difficult to land.

If you are planning on working in Belize, normally jobs for waiters/waitresses, cleaners, driver jobs, gardeners, general laborer, etc. are the ones that will be hardest to acquire as any Belizean can do those. Even what I consider skilled trades like plumbing, electrical, mechanics, etc. are often done here by locals that an aptitude for it, or have been trained down through the generations by other locals. It will also be very difficult to convince someone to hire you under the table or off the books for cash. Belize is a small country and little goes unnoticed, so even if you were hired for a cash in hand job it would probably not be very long before you were discovered by a local that wanted that job and were reported. If caught, the fines would probably be more than you made at the job and may well lead to you being deported. The fines to the business are also so high that it is usually not worth their effort or reputation to get involved with this practice. In Canada I know this happens all of the time, wages are much higher there and foreigners can often be hired much cheaper than local trades people for cash. The wage savings for some small companies make the risk worthwhile. In Belize however, the wages are already rock bottom, the average Belizean (and probably so will you) makes about BZ$5.00/hr. or BZ$40.00/ day (US$20.00/day) which is about what I made in a half hour as an electrician back in Canada, so there is no advantage for a business in Belize to hire an expat for cash.

Your unique skills may help you qualify.

Highly skilled jobs if you are qualified may be easier to acquire, like a Doctor, Nurse, Architect, engineer etc. as not many Belizeans can just come off of the street to do these jobs, now that been said it is not a guarantee, there are not a lot of these jobs available and many Belizeans do go to the US, Canada, and throughout the Caribbean to get quality training and degrees, and then return to take those jobs as well.

Expats Working in Belize Have a Few Options.

The main options expats working in Belize tend to exercise are firstly, to work online for a business outside of Belize, or to open their own business. Also permanent residency is an option that if you can wait for up to three years will allow you to do any job and solve your problem of working in Belize.

  • An Online Business.

    An acceptable online business is one that can be done from Belize for a foreign company. You would probably want to be paid in the currency of that country, and have your cheques deposited in an account in that same country. You would then bring your money into Belize as required maybe using an ATM machine for daily expenses, or wire transfers for large purchases. For expats with that ability to do their jobs online, this scenario is a perfectly acceptable opportunity for you to be working in Belize because you are not taking a job from a Belizean.

  • Open Your Own Business.

    Belize welcomes expats that open businesses and then hire locals. Sometimes this is the way to go and the cheap labor here often makes it feasible. That being said, IMHO it is important to find a niche that provides a needed service and does not compete with another local business, otherwise growing your business may be difficult. That is not to say that a motivated individual could not be working in Belize for themselves, hire local labour, and find customers that might pay for gardening or other labor services. Again building a client list, and reputation will require spending time here, and getting to know people. You will also be competing against every local that has a machete and a rake and is calling himself a gardener, and likewise every local that owns a hammer and is calling himself a carpenter, and so on.

    As I mentioned earlier, many of the what I consider to be skilled trades are performed by locals that have the practical knowledge of their trade passed on, usually on a need to know bases and with less and less theoretical knowledge passed on through the process. As a result the quality of workmanship is often below the standards we are used to in other countries. This is where some expats may see an opportunity to open a competing business but are successful because of their superior training, customer service, and overall work ethic.

  •  Permanant Residency.

    Another option for working in Belize if you have the time and patience is to become a Permanent Resident. This can be a long process that can take between two and three years. In order to qualify for Permanent Residency you must live in Belize for one full year and not leave for more than 14 days total in that year. After that time you may apply to become a Permanent Resident. It will usually take another year to be accepted but can be up to two years depending on your country of origin and how fast information is shared during the investigation process. In reality to be safe, you should have enough savings to sustain yourself for up to three years. Once you have been granted residency, you will have all of the same rights as a Belizean except for the right to vote (unless you are from a commonwealth country), and although you would still not be considered a citizen, you would be entitled to work any job you might find. Here is a link to my post on Residency Options.

 

Conclusion.

Belize is not a country that makes processes easy for expats (or for locals for that matter), but it is not impossible either as long as you have time and patience and “go slow” with a positive attitude. I have found that most things in Belize including jobs, home rentals, etc. are not generally advertised in the classifieds but are made known by word of mouth. Having that down time while we wait for our Permanent Residency to be approved, has allowed us to get to know people, explore the country, and ultimately has put us in a position to find better opportunities for working in Belize, as they present themselves.

Jan 272016
 
Golf Carts are the Cars of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Life in Belize ~ Golf Carts are the Cars of San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, Belize

Golf Carts are San Pedro’s Car of Choice.

Golf carts are the choice of those that are not among the many people in Belize that either walk or ride bicycles in San Pedro, Belize. There are cars here on the island but they are usually used by service companies and as delivery vehicles (there are some exceptions). Taxi cabs account for a large number of these vehicles and can sometimes only be recognized as cabs by their green license plates.

When a motorized vehicle is needed, many people drive scooters and motorcycles and although they are not used much (if at all) on the mainland, golf carts are the car of choice for most on the Cayes (islands) like Ambergris Caye where San Pedro is located, golf carts far outnumber the traditional vehicles that we are used to driving on a daily basis back in Canada and the US.

Select your color, shape, and style.

Golf carts come in many colors, shapes, and styles that range from the typical cart with a bench seat in the front and a second in the back facing the rear. Sometimes the rear seat is removed and replaced with a cargo box converting it to a pickup truck, some even with ladder racks on top. Some are longer with three bench seats facing forward and a fourth facing backward to provide the equivalent to a limousine.

Safety Features of a golf cart.

Safety features are few other than brakes, a horn (that usually doesn’t work), and of course headlights are required for night driving and must be turned after 6:00 PM. Although some do, most do not have signal lights so keep an eye out for the sometimes very discreet hand signals that are used. I have noticed that there is no real rules pertaining to right of way, it is more of a first come, first served attitude, and I wouldn’t count on that golf cart entering your lane from the side street to stop (or even slow down) at the stop sign, if a sign even exists.

Golf Carts are available to rent.

Golf carts are readily available from one of the many rental companies to tourists (visitors) that have a valid driver’s license and credit card, but be sure to pay attention to the basic road rules orientation that will inform you of  things like;

  • Which roads are one ways (not much signage to let you know).
  • That you cannot park at a curb that is painted red.
  • Always lock up your golf cart when not in use and never leave personal belongs behind on the cart when you walk away from it, even for just a minute.

My tip of the Day.

Many people overlook the obvious, after all it is just a golf cart ………….. right?

Well, as you would anywhere when renting a vehicle, save yourself some grief and money later by doing a walk around and have any damage on the cart documented, and finally check under the seat to be sure that the gas tank is full of gas and remember that it must be returned that way.

If you would like to get an idea of how many people drive golf carts I have included this short video that can be found on the video post page of this site or at this link on my YouTube channel