Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Rough month for Belize, like everywhere...Preparing for Hurricane Nana...

A recap of the last 30 days.....30 days ago - things had been looking up a touch...the island was hopping with domestic tourists, we were looking forward to re-opening the international airport on August 15th, and hotels were all working on obtaining the necessary "Gold Standard" to reopen safely for tourists. There were a lot of social and fun events occurring, and there was a feeling of getting back to some normalcy. There were concerns about some individuals crossing the Mexico border for duty-free shopping, as there are places where this border crossing can happen, that cannot be monitored. There was a concern that this may have been one place where some individuals were possibly picking up the virus and then bringing it back into Belize (the international borders are all supposed to be closed except for repatriating residents.)

About a month ago, some clusters of positive cases started to show up on the mainland, and then started to show up on Ambergris Caye. After a series of tracing, it was found that hundreds of new positive cases were occurring, and it also led to some hospitalizations and deaths. Here is the most current count of where Belize is at with COVID:

Ambergris Caye had to go back into quarantine about a month ago, due to the increase in cases on the island. We got out of the quarantine last night at midnight, only to find out this afternoon that we were thrust into another crisis, as this morning it was reported that a hurricane is predicted to hit Belize on Thursday (in 2 days). 

This past month has been a particularly difficult bummer as the island worked SO hard to build back up to prepare for tourists. The airport reopening was pushed back from August 15th, to the recent date of October 1st (the Prime Minister reported that "barring a hurricane" we will open, so we shall see....) Right now it is a quite unsettling to see the below projection showing that the eye of the storm is headed right for the middle of the country. 

Hotels are working on getting the "Gold Standard" to be able to prepare for safe tourism - but - most are concerned that the restrictions on tourists, such as not being able to leave the hotels at all without a Gold Licensed tour guide - are going to severely limit any real tourism. This is considered the Phase 3 of 5 phases that the Belize Tourism Board has been working on, and on Phase 4, tourists will be able to stay where they like and move about the country as they want. We do not know yet, when Phase 4 will be announced. As of today, it is reported that the October 1st opening will still be Phase 3, but this could change. Here are some relevant links for those wanting to follow the BTB's changes for tourism:

Please visit the Belize Tourism Board’s page at any time for the most up-to-date information about Belize’s cleaning protocals, latest tourism news, and regulations for tourists entering the country. This information can change quickly. Here are FAQ's about travel to Belize. 

- HERE is a link to the cleaning standards Belize has adopted for post-COVID travel.
- HERE is a link to the “Gold-Standard” Hotels that have adopted the enhanced cleaning procedures.
- HERE is a link to the matrix to follow when entering the country.

After we get through Thursday, most of us will immediately get back after it, to continue to prepare for opening - but it is feeling like a very long window before we get back to a sense of normacly at the moment!

Friday, May 22, 2020

A Perspective from Belize: The Wildly Unpredicted Success, in the first 60 Days of the COVID Crisis

A Perspective from Belize: The Wildly Unpredicted Success, in the first 60 Days of the COVID Crisis
I have spent the last 60 days experiencing this worldwide crisis in the tiny Central American/Caribbean country of Belize, where I moved six years ago. Before that, I was living in the US, working in the field of psychology, and I moved here to pursue my dream of living in the tropics, thus changing the course of my life to the field of hospitality. I currently own two small boutique hotels in Belize.  Like so many, I have been profoundly impacted from watching the stages of this crisis from an individual level, to the cultural shifts of the world. The experience of living through this crisis, as a person in an industry that is one of the hardest hit in the world - international hospitality, has also been intense. I sense a readiness at this point to have a look at this first phase - and to offer some previously unknown, and recently uncovered, cultural and demographic reasons that have made me feel very lucky to have experienced the first 60 days in this country.

On the heels of the news this week, in early May, that Belize is the first country in the Americas to report no active cases (see HERE and HERE), those of us living out the crisis here in Belize, are starting to process the experience to gain understanding of why it is, that we have had such a remarkable and unexpected experience. Belize was also, notably, the last of the Americas to report its first active case, on March 23rd. This was the second indication that things here were not/are not currently being experienced the same way as what we are watching in the rest of the region. Our first indication of a profound difference, was that life in Belize continued mostly as normal, throughout March. The personal accounts of the ranges of experiences in our own corners of the world, have just started to come out, and what has contributed to Belize’s success in this first phase is worthwhile to examine. If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that there are no promises or guarantees of tomorrow, next week, or next month, with regards to unexpected or unforeseen changes. The purpose of this article is to inform and report on the first 60 days of the crisis from a first hand account, of an individual living and working here. I want to identify, as objectively as possible, specific factors unique to Belize that have become apparent - only recognized now for the value they have brought to the unpredicted success here.

I also wanted to share the experience of watching this crisis unfold in North America. Trying to follow the cultural shifts in the media, was, and is, much like watching a large school of fish in the sea. Fish who collectively change direction instantly, no one knowing exactly the driving force. We are all following as the cultural norms have gone from somewhat ridicule of the virus, to fear, to support of lockdown, to exhaustion with lockdown, to different camps being formed about the correct future course. What follows are observations about some stark differences about the culture and response in Belize, compared to other countries, to provide one perspective for those examining the sociology unique to each of our corners.

Possible Factor #1 
In Belize, during much of the March worldwide chaos - it was still life as usual here. Other than many tourists leaving, the lifestyle here barely changed, and it started to seem like something from which we would be able to stay distant, and watch from afar. I made the decision to stay put, and never really considered leaving - despite hearing dire warnings (mostly from concerned people not living here) that everywhere outside the “first world” was going to be hit, any minute - with terrible projections of what it could be like. Belize is a place that is so laid-back, natural, and non-materialistic, and this was my first notion that the way of life here, may have some previously undervalued benefit.

When life is already simple and uncomplicated, and not as tied to the consumer culture as the US is - you have much less to lose in many ways, and that only became apparent during this intense time. In Belize, life revolves around fishing, farmer’s markets, biking, hammocks, swimming, free games and entertainment at open-air bars, beaches, barbeques, hiking, pets, daily walks, and a long list of other activities that are almost always free, and not vulnerable to permanent damage by the crisis. There are no big box stores, shopping malls, concert venues, arenas, golf, or the cadre of other indoor/pay-to-play activities that people rely on for their social lives. Incidentally - while Belize is not the cheapest place in Central America to live - this is one of the primary reasons that cost of living goes down when living here. Most who move here become a minimalist whether intentional or not; it is so deeply embedded in the culture here, that one loses interest in the keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s mentality that is such a driving force in other countries.

Possible Factor #2 
It is common to read about how this crisis has exposed previously undiscovered weaknesses, in the hierarchy of laws/regulations between country/state/townships/village/city etc., in countries all over the world. Although we are all tired of the word “unprecedented”, one of the consequences of an unprecedented crisis, is that you only know what those weaknesses are, when a crisis brings them to light. While we did not escape the impacts of this in Belize, what we did figure out quickly is that the experience of living in small communities, gave the opportunity to see in action, the power of small groups of passionate people making profound differences for the larger community. Belize has its critics of its government, like everywhere, and here, the Ministry of Health, tourism boards, mayor, and other prominent figures are constantly on the local radio and TV stations, and in our small towns, we are able to call in and voice personal thoughts directly to these individuals.

I will never forget what I have watched first hand, on the island of Ambergris Caye. I am from a mid-size US city, where my ability to have any sort of impact on the greater community was always quite limited. Trying to figure out a way to have a meaningful impact in a city of a million people is completely overwhelming - here, we are dealing with small towns and villages. This has led to a feeling that we could get our arms around the vulnerable areas quickly, and the success of very small groups of people in the initial stages, has continued to feed passion and creativity to this day.

Living in Belize, you can take on a leadership role, set up and implement programs such as charities, food donations, and more. I have watched as needs are identified right down to the individual, and watched passionate individuals form small groups, and directly address problems and needs. I watched as business owners raised tens of thousands of dollars and brought in medical equipment, private businesses helped put together a temporary hospital on the island, a private charity gathered names of the needy families, gathered food together, volunteers bagged up food, and development of a delivery program to the families most in need. Hotel owners started small groups to be sure that we were presenting a unified position in the country for the guests having to cancel their trips. Countless social and supportive groups came together, and the common theme was making sure no one from lonely expats to needy families, slipped through the cracks. The many restaurant and bar owners on the island have come together in groups to attack the problem of raising the tide for as many businesses as possible, because we have the collective goal of making sure the country is ready for tourists, when it is time to reopen. The government took a stance with certain strict rules and guidelines, focusing intensely on some that have been successful - for example, an 8pm nightly curfew has led to a decrease in crime, and most are reporting a feeling of peace and calm here, not experienced for decades. While some have had complaints about the relative slowness of some responses or perceived lack of urgency, the need for action has led to an unspoken openness that those with something to give, are relatively unrestricted in their options to assist. Anyone from a small-town culture knows how powerful that community monitoring can be, especially in the age of social media, and this has kept the positive projects known and utilized.

There is a feeling here like what you read about from the foundational days in the US - for those that ever daydreamed about experiencing being a part of the foundational growth of a young country - I have been able to deeply experience that here, and that freedom and opportunity has been profound.

Possible Factor #3 
This emotionally wrought time has caused me to look around and wonder why the level of frantic-ness in the US is significantly less here. Belizean culture is one of a laid back, flexible, spirit - those that fit in well here, are people with grit and resilience, people that are risk takers, and people that are patiently taking a watch and see attitude (in addition to those with a greater-good mentality) - as opposed to an urgent reactivity and stubborn insistence on the status quo. Belizeans across the country have roots of strong family ties and sense of loyalty, and these systems take care of one another without a second thought. Most Belizeans can remember (fondly) a time in the not-too-distant past, where the current tourist hotspots were quiet fishing villages.

You get a sense from the Belizeans here that they are not going to frantically cling to their pre-crisis expectations - you see a more relaxed state here that shows a flexibility, and a confidence, that they are ready and willing to adapt and change to a wide range of outcomes. Belizeans as a whole have a happy, laid-back culture and there is a palpable difference in stress here - while in the US, the roots lie more in a resistance to lifestyle change, and a persistence in figuring out how to get back to pre-crisis normal, STAT.

Restaurants here in Belize have already seen changes in menus and operations to adjust to the populations that are being served now - more authentic local food, lower prices, and an overall shift to the desires of the locals as opposed to the tourist market.  We are seeing on the island, an emergence of a rising tide mentality, evidenced by examples such as two bakeries in town, who decided to switch days they would operate, to allow both to have a share of the business, and work more efficiently, with the new variables.

Possible Factor #4 
The following factor may just be the tipping point of why Belize has been successful thus far. Belize is decades behind many countries in some categories, and is still a young, developing country. Belize has one of the lowest population densities in the world. Despite having world-class offerings, including the second largest barrier reef in the world, world-class scuba diving, cave tubing, Mayan ruins, rainforests, and hundreds of tropical islands, Belize still has the lowest rate of international tourism in Central America, and remains a secret to many. Belize is somewhat slow to develop, and is much less open to accepting the corporate culture that has sanitized so many tourist spots in the world. While these factors may have been graded as “needs work” in the past - this slow growth, low population density, relatively low international tourism, all have played a role in the reasons why we have been hit so profoundly less hard than almost all other countries. When Belize proudly announced this week, early May, that in addition to being the last country to experience the virus in the Americas, they are also the first to report no positive current cases of the virus in the country....this has led to a national sense of pride and wonder. No one would have predicted or expected Belize to be in this position 60 days in. The pride in the country right now is palpable, and is starting to be recognized on a worldwide level.

We are not immune here in Belize to the constant sea of media, constant shifts of rules and projections, confusion over the national vs. local laws, worries over the ongoing relief and assistance being made available, conflicts over which expert is the correct one to follow, confusion over the right way to open again to international tourism, fear of a “second wave”, and most of all, the powerlessness we all have, that some distant entity, is ultimately the only one that can make the profound decisions that alter the course of our future (stay closed or reopen). What does set apart the experience here, is the power and control one has to put energy into solution-oriented actions that can actually make a difference. You can change the course of your business to meet current needs of the community. You can change your cost of living in Belize in a much more impactful way than you can in the US. You can take part every day in assisting with the neediest to reduce desperation. You can take an active leadership role in shaping the new protocols we will be following when we reopen.

Predicting the future right now is like throwing darts with a blindfold, and here, we are watching and waiting to see the impacts of the world reopening. Belize is not going the route of being the first case study of how the “second wave” is going to play out. Instead, Belize is taking the stance of maintaining extremely strict guidelines for those here - possibly among the strictest in the world at the moment. Although we have no active cases, with none reported for weeks, we are still all planning on up to almost 60 more days of heavy restrictions - you only have to watch the US news to imagine how that guideline might go over with the culture there. Here, while you will definitely hear the expected complaints, disagreements, impatience, and stress from the substantial sacrifices being made, the culture continues to show underlying behaviors that indicate a willingness to shift in the ways required. There is a goal one can sense that in the end, we all want to be known as a country that did well in the crisis, to be known as a place that is safe to reopen for tourism, with a compassion and high regard for the safety of the Belizean community. Although common sense says that the best predictor of the future is the past - and we would love to believe that the first 60 days of success is going to continue - one of the “unprecedented” experiences is that there are still too many absolute unknowns at this exact time for a credible opinion about what is the right path.

In the meantime, it felt right to share Belize’s accomplishment up to now; this small country feels like the little engine that could. Belize has a passionate following of visitors, and these visitors are very eager to return. As a hotel owner, I can report that not a day goes by where we don’t hear from guests wanting an update, and reporting that they will be on the first plane back here. At this moment in time, we are, as a country, waiting on the news in the near future about what changes hotels, bars, restaurants, and the airports will be implementing to increase safety. We expect in the near future to get a concrete date of reopening, and the community is preparing to manage anything from June to the fall.

Although the world has been consumed by the crisis for a while now - there are signs here indicating that the culture in the world is headed into its next “school of fish”-like shift. Real estate agents are reporting that at the beginning of May - calls and inquiries about Belize real estate have doubled. Hotels are booking guests starting about late summer and beyond, and the hospitality industry here is making many changes, to make travel less of a financial risk, with no deposits, free cancels, and more, to remove barriers to booking travel in these strange times. Reports about the positive outcome thus far in Belize, have been fueling interest in this country, and we are just starting to see some worldwide attention. There has been a new and previously undiscovered recognition and curiosity, about the value of living in a place like Belize. There are reasonable and understandable mixed reactions to any positive news in the media right now. Positive reports are often met with skepticism, and the purpose of this article is not to predict a perfect outcome here, but a desire to acknowledge a small country that has exceeded expectations thus far. We expect significant challenges to come, but this does not extinguish the remarkable 60 days that the country of Belize has already achieved.

Guest Blog - For those struggling right now: How one bar owner survived past crises in Belize - the mindset, grit, and mentality that got them through....

I wanted to share a guest blog from Jodie of Jodie and Scott from the Palapa Bar. Of all the expat business owners I know, these two have shown the most remarkable grit and courage, facing multiple devastating incidents over their years here - each one seeming to be the very worst you could face - but coming back again and again. The grit these two are showing now, and have shown over the years, made me want to share Jodie's story, because so many right now are scared, uncertain, and we don't yet have the luxury of looking back yet on this current crisis....because it is still currently happening. Hearing about the fact that others were in the lowest of low points in the past - yet made it - is the kind of story that needs to be told right now, and I hope it helps everyone who reads it as much as it did us!!! 
THANK YOU Jodie and Scott for sharing your story, and for staying put, digging your heels in yet again, and supporting your staff and community!

Living Life Amid Crisis... on an Island in the Caribbean

In May of 2007, we moved here from Florida, USA. We came as a firefighter and ER nurse, to start a new life of owning a small bar and grill. It was just my husband and I running it at the time, until we were able to build a good reputation and grow the business. Little by little, we were able to hire staff, which allowed us to stand on the outside of the bar, visit and get to know all the wonderful guests, from locals to tourists - many now are our life-long friends.
The original Palapa Bar - north of the bridge - courtesy of San Pedro Scoop
The old Palapa Bar Location Re-Opens Quietly as Rum Dog Bar - San ...
We have always lived on the water, but this is an isolated island so dealing with crisis here is very different - especially in dealing with emergencies, utilites, etc.

Since our move here, we have had our share of “hard knocks”  - but we have come through them learning the Belize mentality that it will all work out! Or as one of our sons favorite quotes “It will all buff out”.

Our first experience came in the form of Hurricane Dean shortly after moving here. We have always lived on the water, so were very respectful of severe weather and storms; we did our best to prepare. To our amazement, new friends we had just come to know, all showed up and helped us to clear what we could, from the bar, and store it for safe keeping. We even moved a huge freezer to our living room with food in hopes of saving what we had bought! My husband went to the hardware store the day before it hit, to see about a generator, as we had no idea how long we would lose power. It was the last generator left for sale on the island and he practically had to sit on it to secure the purchase! Funny thing was, afterwords, we were looking at it.....it was supposed to be a Honda Diesel generator that he bought. I asked him how do you spell Honda? .......as the generator had....... "HONDDA". Oh well ------ good news is, it worked!! 
Hurricane Dean 2007 - courtesy of Ambergriscaye.com
Belize dodges Hurricane Dean, Ambergris Caye Belize News
 The night of the storm was very scary, as it was a reality that we were on an island, in the middle of the Caribbean. Not like the states, where you would have help and emergency services readily available. Coconuts were hitting the house and sounded like bomb shells going off, water was coming in through the door. We actually had our dive BC’s, snorkel and mask by the front door just in case! About the last radio notification said “pray for us here in Belize” and all went silent including all power to the island. About 5:00am, it was over, and people slowly started coming out of there houses . Trees and palm leaves everywhere. But than we saw our bar .........and she was still standing!! The thatch roof on the bar took some damage, but it withstood other than that. We were without power for a week, which also meant no water. So thank goodness for our trusty "Hondda" generator, that we could power up for coffee, showers, and to keep the freezer closed. The community all stayed together though. We would check on each other every day and have a buffet of food for each other to share.

Power was out about a week, which for being out on an island, really was not bad. We were than able to open back up about 3 weeks later, and we were then threatened with another storm. We took all the same exhausting precautions. Good news was, it did not even rain. But we did have a heck of a good hurricane party and celebration with our friends!

Years went on, and our business continued to grow and expand. We learned the ups and downs of the island but always were in awe of its beauty and kind people.

In December 2015,  a series of unfortunate circumstances led us to have to relocate our business into town. Good news was, we bought and no longer were leasing! We did some renovations prior to the move with the help of our staff. Things were a bit different in our new location, but we quickly made our way and continued to grow. On August 3rd, 2016, we were again hit with a hurricane. This one was not to be near as strong as the last, but we still took all precautions, moved out and secured everything we could. We even took our trusty "Hondda" Generator and elevated up off the deck, plugged our freezers in, just in the event we lost power. 
New bar in town.....courtesy of tripadvisor images
We stayed at a hotel very close by, just to be able to watch over everything. We went to bed looking over the bar and the big thatch roof, and I remember saying “see you in morning”. At about 1:00am, a rouge twister came in through one of the cuts in the reef, and totally picked up the whole bar and pier (which, by the way, had been standing 20 years)..... and washed everything up on the beach...... everything was completely destroyed! That moment in time, and the coming weeks, was the worst feeling of devastation and despair. We stood on the beach that morning as the sun rose, and could not even comprehend how to start over. 
Palapa Bar after Hurricane Earl
Courtesy of ambergriscaye.com
Hurricane Earl - Ambergris Caye Belize Message Board
Courtesy of the San Pedro Sun 
Hurricane Earl leaves a path of destruction on Ambergris Caye ...
Our staff heard of the news, and one by one, showed up. They immediately asked what we were going to do. Scott and I sat for a bit, shed lot of tears, and than said, we will rebuild and bring her back again. All our 16 staff said, if we were going to rebuild, they would stay with us and help. Again, our friends, and neighboring businesses, all came out to help clean and sort through planks and anything that could be salvaged. Our son even flew in and surprised us with his love, support and help. 

So.... bartenders and cooks quickly turned into construction workers, and worked side by side with our contractor. Some businesses even helped out our staff by offering part time work to give them a little break from the construction. We dug deep into what savings we had built to rebuild, purchase all new, equipment and continue to pay our staf. A wonderful number of benefactors even donated to us to help. Something we will never forget, I never had the experience of so many people helping and donating. It was very hard for me to accept, yet so humbling. We were down to our last resources. It took us 144 days, and we opened with a huge show of support from our community and friends.
New Palapa Bar!
Courtesy of tripadvisor images
PALAPA BAR AND GRILL, San Pedro - Restaurant Reviews, Photos ...
We are now still in the current crisis state of COVID19 Pandemic.   When it first started here, there were 2 cases on the island, and so to be safe, we closed our bar for 2 weeks. We had no idea what was to come. The government then made the decision to shut everything down, and put the country in lockdown and quarantine. It has been over nine weeks....   

They have slowly allowed businesses to reopen, but still with very strict rules and regulations . We have an 8:00pm lockdown, where country-wide, no one is allowed out, everyone has to wear mask, socially distance, and of course practice hygiene. We made mask with smiles on them for each of the staff, so guests know they really are smiling back! 

The hardest part for us is, this country and especially our island, depend on our tourists to support our businesses. The boarders to the country remain closed with no actual reopening date. When looking back, this causes so much uncertainty vs the devastation of the hurricane. We could see a light at the end of the tunnel rebuilding. With this, there are so many unknowns. Our whole country is covid-free at this time, but the government is afraid to reopen, as new cases of the virus might emerge. We all are frustrated knowing that life must go on.... and we can't remain in this bubble, and economically survive.  
We are all trying to be creative and come up with new promotions to bring in guests, but the hard reality is, there is just not that many people left on the island, and those that are, are watching their pennies right now. So we have no choice but to wait it out .....and do the best we can.  Many businesses have closed their doors until the boarders are reopened, and our tourists can come back. We have kept our staff and have kept them with even partial salaries, to try to help them as they are our family. There basically is no government assistance here for anyone. Palapa Bar, along with many island businesses and the community, are all trying to assist with those unemployed, to ensure they have basic food and necessities.

Our good friend and mentor has seen us through all of these experiences and left us with two sayings that our now our mantras...  “what defines us is how well we rise after falling”.... and .....“always be humble and be kind”.  We hold out with all our hope that the phoenix (our Palapa Bar and Grill) will rise again, and flourish, as we and all the other businesses on this island have worked so hard, for so many years. We miss everyone. We crave the day where we won’t be told to socially distance, wear a mask and we can hug each other again!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Update from Placencia, Belize - Restrictions loosening in-country, possible July airport opening?

Thank you again to Randy for the update on the experience of this crisis in Placencia. Although Belize is a small country, the impacts have been SO different in each area.....I (Laura) will be keeping you updated about Ambergris Caye, and Randy is holding down the fort in Placencia. (HERE yesterday - with some info about why I moved here!..... and HERE is one from about a week ago, this one explains the VERY different personalities of the popular areas throughout the country - hope this helps you in your search for your next perfect Belize itinerary! - these are a couple videos that I have recently posted on the International Living page, that can hopefully better explain the recent experiences on the island)....

Just today, the Prime Minister came out with the latest news. We are now allowed to SWIM! This was a big deal and something VERY missed here. Restaurants are allowed to open to "eat-in" customers, and hotels are allowed to open to in-country guests. A BIT of the alcohol law was lifted but you are only able to have alcohol when ordering food. There are still limits - no local food stands, still have to wear masks, and of course - all the safety precautions that the rest of the world is following (social distancing, sanitization, etc) must all be followed at all establishments. The biggest news we have been all waiting for - when is the international airport going to open?? The PM said that he is working hard to make this happen by July - but a lot depends on the news out of the US - and the availability of rapid testing to ensure that no one is traveling with the virus. We will keep you updated as we get more info!

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that we are super proud of Belize - NO ONE would have guessed that this tiny country would have been the last in the Americas to have the first positive case, and this week, it was announced that they are the first in the Americas to have NO positive cases in the country at this time. We all know that things can change quickly in this weird time - but for this country to have this success over the first 60 days has us all in wonderment, and extremely proud!

PUR Boutique Cabanas will be opening today - YAY! Lots of limits, but a step in the right direction!

And on to Randy's Update!!!
The world is slowly awakening from it’s induced slumber. COVID 19 is still a very real threat everywhere, and we here in Belize have been weathering the storm in unison with the rest of the world. Hopefully today we will learn if our Draconian laws and regulations may be lifted a little, as the Prime Minister makes his press conference later this afternoon.

What is life like now down in Placencia? Much remains the same in our little hamlet by the sea. People are generally still smiling and optimistic as before, but there happens to be a weathered varnish that now accompanies each expression. Having been raised and spent the majority of my life in the United States, life was easily taken for granted. So much of this new chapter of my life has been focusing on what Belizeans already knew. Less is More, which is part of the charm and ironic freedom of being in Belize. When the curfew law was mandated 6 weeks ago, I thought it would drive everyone insane. But as humans do, we adapt and continue on. It will be interesting to see the cultural shift that occurs when our “night ban” is lifted. So when we can go out after 8 pm without fear of being arrested, what is everyone going to do? Besides storming the doors of Barefoot like they were that of Versaille, the village will still remain quiet, charming, and inspiring. The Caribbean has been so serene every morning. The biggest shift in the water is the wonderful lack of plastic! The breeze lazily wafts towards my veranda, through my open windows carrying a smell of warm sand, lemongrass, and fresh mango.

Tutti Fruit has reopened along with a handful of other village favorites. The shops are now staying open later than before. We often joke down here in Belize that life is just like the film Groundhog Day. Every day is exactly the same as the previous one. Thankfully we have Mother Nature to remind us that summer is upon us. The winds have shifted bringing their much needed Tropical rainstorms every night. And the humidity has returned as it does every year in May and June.

For those who have yet to come down to Placencia, rest assured that all will be as wonderful and dreamy as it was prior to this medical hiatus. Perhaps it’s living as our ancestors did 100 years ago. We are still connected, but with a distance that cannot be breached. I’ll never forget taking my first trip to Europe in high school and having to call collect from a payphone in Paris to talk to my family back home. That very idea would have sounded so antiquated and laborious two months ago. Now things changed. How things have changed.

The kids are still all being homeschooled, with one month to go before they are out for the summer. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Funny how this saying can apply to all of us now at the moment in which we live. Placencia has changed so much by having so little open with very limited options. But didn’t we have that, to begin with? So life is still beautiful down here. It’s still as mystifying as ever. The peace and quiet are like nothing I have ever heard before. Get down here as soon as you can. I implore every one of you to come and bear witness to what I have been so lucky to have experienced first hand every day for the past two years.

Thank you Randy!
I always like to close with images from Placencia - I feel like sometimes we repeat some of our favorite images...but they never, ever get old :) We are all waiting with open arms to have you all back here (safely) asap!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Guest Blog! The quarantine experience in Placencia, Belize.....Thank you Randy!

Thank you to Randy for the Guest Blog to share the experience in Placencia, Belize over the last few weeks!!
(Forward by me - Laura :) )
We have our teams a bit split up right now, with staff at both PUR Boutique Cabanas on Ambergris Caye, and in Placencia at Caribbean Beach Cabanas. I have posted a couple times about the unique island experience.

The experience in both these places, since the first positive case was found in the country of Belize, on March 23rd, has been quite different. Placencia has always been considered a somewhat remote fishing village. There is only one road in and out of the 16 mile (skinny) peninsula. Although it is not an island, of course, like Ambergris Caye, Placencia has the unique ability to control somewhat - the traffic coming in and out of the village. Placencia, although well-known to Belize visitors, is still considered a place that is off the beaten path. Placencia is never crowded, even during high season. There are somewhere around 1,000 full-time residents in the village of Placencia, at the most southern tip of the Placencia peninsula.

The amount of tourism in Placencia has always remained a small number, and this has kept it holding on to its rustic, funky, artistic, small-town charm. Like the island figuring out, that by quarantining the island, we were much luckier than trying to control a mainland place, Placencia Village is now finding that they are in a uniquely lucky position of having a small population in which to take care of, and to get their arms around the needs of the village, at this time. Much like the island, the small village has banded together and created food banks for the needy, and the Rotary club has stepped up to make sure no one slips through the cracks. It is a very heartwarming and touching experience to see the lengths that people with any amount of resources, are willing to give, to those less fortunate.

Because of the quarantine, we are not able to travel back and forth of course, so I have Randy, our wonderful general manager who is living in Placencia during this quarantine, writing this guest blog to help us understand the experience the village is having down there during this time. Placencia is a much-loved, special place, and we have been extremely touched by the number of past guests who have reached out with their best wishes. It means the world to us to hear from you! We wanted to share what is happening down here for those that are concerned or curious. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook, and we are going to do our best to continue to document what is happening in Belize. We are so excited for the time when our beautiful communities open back up for visitors from all over the world again!

On to Randy!!!!

Life in Lockdown - Placencia Version

300+ hours. That’s about how long we here in Belize have all been locked down. Together in unity, we are all learning how to navigate the landscape of being trapped in a fishbowl. A wee bit dramatic I know, but it’s a great way to grab your attention.

What is the purpose of this essay? Since mostly everyone reading is collectively at some level of lockdown. Perhaps as humans, we are able to overcome adversity by hearing our own stories. I don’t know if it will benefit anyone in particular, but I often want people to know that we are connected. Albeit we may hang our hats on different tenets and ideals, we still have a desire for happiness and a safe place to call home. What is your daily life like now? How have things changed for you? Is it temporary? Permanent? Have you shifted any of our past behaviors to positively affect the future?

Things have come to a definite pause down here in our sleepy Caribbean fishing village. Luckily, the pace of life was never one of immediacy and frenzy, so the facade of Placencia remains quite the same. Here in our little village of about 1200 people, the storefronts are all boarded up. The constantly chipper banter of the local villagers in the morning has ceased. We are only allowed to be out for exercise between the hours of 5 and 8 am. Throughout the day there is the opportunity to secure more staples of everyday life. Groceries, pharmaceutical medications, and fried tacos are all great excuses to hop on your bike and get outside.

Our village depends on the sole business of tourism and living off of the land. Our fishermen aren’t able to catch the fish that feed hundreds of mouths daily. There has been a ban placed upon their means of making an honest living. I do believe that most people are ok with the bans, but it’s the constant change that is throwing everyone for a loop. The uncertainties of what tomorrow may bring cause the parents to keep an extra vigilant eye upon their children. The parents who practice “free-range parenting” are even taking extra measures to prevent the worst-case scenario from affecting their families. Suspicion when you hear a normal sneeze or cough, now are a cause for paranoia and distant behavior. Another strange new adopted behavior is ordering your groceries remotely from outside the store. Even permitted to shop normally in the store, I often take my time. I have intentions to set out for a specific item, but by the time I walk through those open doors, my mind is a blank slate. So this ordering process is forcing some of us to be more organized shoppers. Not necessarily a bad thing either lol!

But I don’t want to focus only on the slightly negative differences that have taken place here in Placencia. The villagers are banding together to make sure that everyone has enough food to eat. A local young woman has organized and executed the Placencia Food Bank for anyone who may be suffering any woes brought upon by these difficult times. The Placencia Rotary has been painstakingly working neighboring villages to see how they can financially assist any families in need. The police are constantly walking the sidewalk, checking the properties for any activities that seem out of the ordinary. And the Belize Defense Force, BDF, is presently represented by a few of its esteemed members here on the peninsula. The weather has been very cooperative in our favor. 85 and sunny day in and out with a nice breeze in the evenings as the brilliant full moon slowly rise above the ever ebbing Caribbean Sea. The nights are so peaceful. As I walk the dog down the lone sand path to the sea, there isn’t a soul around except for the occasional swath of light cutting the darkness from a security guards beam.

Everything will eventually begin to function again and life will get back on track. But I refrain from claiming it will go back to normal, because what is the new normal? Will we as a species continue to be leary of the common unseen virus as a potential life-ending threat? Or will it bring us together more than ever before to combat our fears together? I am hopeful for the tensions to be lightened and the constant companion of anxiety to be lessened. We here at PUR Belize Hotels aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We have utilized this time to reflect upon our future, and how fortunate we are to have you all as amazing loyal guests. The future will be brighter than ever. Belize will rebound. The world will heal. If we can all take one lesson learned from this isolation and apply it to the future, maybe it’s not all in vain? I wish you all health and wellness and Belize will always be calling.

And to remind you all of the kind of images that make Placencia so special.......