I'd heard rumblings that the Central American country of Belize is the new, cheap and fashionable retirement site for Americans. My one day port stop in Belize did not encourage me to pack up and move south.
If you want to get the official PR version of retirement life in Belize, go here. Maybe it's true. Or, if you like, check out the retirement "Villas at Cocoplum." That's the luxury route. Want to go cheap? This site claims you can retire in Belize for $450 month.
The one cool thing about our stop in Belize was that the ship anchored about five miles offshore, then we were ferried into port. The picture above is a pretty accurate representation of this process. Once we arrived in port, my enthusiasm began to fade.
The water in the small bay was filthy. We pulled into the dock and got our pictures taken by the Carnival crew, and quickly discovered that the accessible area extended about four blocks long and one block deep. This area was walled off and heavily patrolled by security guards. Those guards tried to discourage any of the cruise passengers from exiting the walled off area. While the Karaoke Queen looked at jewelry, I walked around and tried to learn something about the place.
All around the walled off area, black guys were waving placards and shouting at the tourists, trying to lure them into escorted trips around the city.
An Australian couple who had walked through the security gates into the surrounding city stopped to talk with me. They were out of breath.
"We tried to walk around a little, but at the end of the block we saw heavily armed troops in armoured vehicles," they told me.
I needed to check my e-mail, so I left the walled off area to walk to a Radisson Hotel that had an internet cafe. Belize is an astonishingly poor country. The locals were dirty and poorly clothed. Buildings were rotting and crumbling into the ground. Every few steps, I was hassled by somebody offering to sell me something or to simply escort me to my destination.
Belize is next door to Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. These countries have experienced savage political violence for decades. Hundreds of thousands of people have been disappeared and executed. A rigid racial caste system rules, with blacks on the bottom, mestizos in the middle and whites and light skinned natives at the top.
The little walled off port had virtually nothing to offer. For the remainder of the cruise, passengers joked with one another about what a shit hole Belize had been. Every time I spoke with another passenger about Belize, he or she mentioned the threatening aura of violence in the port.
Hard to form an opinion about an entire country from such limited experience, but I wasn't sold on Belize as a retirement destination. It's cheap, but that's obviously because the country is so damned poor and desperate.
The Karaoke Queen and I have talked about retiring to the Philippines, or living part of the year there. Filipinos also often live in dire poverty, and political violence is endemic. But, if I lived there, I would live within the protective shell of the Queen's family. I could still move about in Cebu, without being imprisoned in a walled environment.
My little visit didn't encourage me to believe that this would be true in Belize. Looks like American retirees would have to live in total isolation from the locals, behind walls and protected by heavy security. Maybe I'm wrong. Don't know.