Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Very First "Five Year Plan"

The current "five year plan" has come to an end, but not the activity it was based on. We had intended to travel North America for five years....and then figure out what to do next. Apparently the decision has been made to extend that plan by as much time as we see fit- as we are still having fun, and still think there are places to go, things to see and many more things to do. The lifestyle just seems to fit us for now.

Last post I looked briefly at the "five year plan" which preceded the current one: life on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida in a house on the water in Cape Coral. While there, we started a couple new businesses and just generally had a great time with great friends. But our activities in Cape Coral were at least in park, directed by the "five year plan" that preceded the Cape Coral plan. The Cape Coral plan, began in large part, because we felt we could no longer justify living a life outside of the country. Having parents with health issues put us in the frame of mind that we should be closer to home, more readily accessible in case of emergency, and so we sold what we had built on Roatan- an island roughly 50 miles off the coast of Honduras and part of the Islas de la Bahia, or Bay Islands. As it had turned out, our time there was also to be a "five year plan," although, honestly we went there without any such time limitation in mind. It just worked out that way. And ever since, we have thought about our choice of lifestyle(s) as a series of "five year plans."

So everyone always wants to know: "What ever took you to an island off the coast of Honduras- of all places?" It was a series of dive vacations actually. I carry a certification level of dive master and assistant instructor and Marilyn has achieved her "advanced" certification. I started diving in salt water in mid winter Maine, where the water is like ice even when it isn't ice. I got Marilyn started in a bathtub in Maine. A reluctant "water person" at first, I stuck sea life stickers on the bottom of the tub in our old farmhouse there, placed an air tank on the floor by the tub, strapped a mask over her face and a regulator in her mouth...and the rest is history. She went from "reluctant" to amazingly enthusiastic and over our time diving together it was often much harder to hold her back than it was to get her in the water. We traveled at length and dove many of the Caribbean waters, but it was the island of Roatan, and the association we formed with Anthony's Key Resort, the premier dolphin encounter program in the world, that started us thinking about actually living there and pursuing our passion on an every day basis. I think it was probably something on the idea of 7 times that we stayed there on vacations that increased by a week or so each time we went there. It got to the point where we felt more at home on the island then we did when we were at home ....and so the planning and the adventure of actually transitioning from US life to Ex-pat life began in earnest.

It wasn't easy! These days we watch as "shoppers" on House Hunters International get on a plane, visit an island in the Third World for the very first time, decide they love it, look for and buy a house- all over the course of an hour or a half hour show. Not saying it can't happen like that- just that it shouldn't. In depth research is required- many visits, many questions, many considerations are necessary to avoid the pitfalls that can cost you big time if you don;t get it right the first time. We've seen it over and over again. In the course of our preparation, we traveled to the country more than seven times, interviewed with the Honduran Embassy on Wall Street in New York City twice, with the Department of State (Honduras version), and needed to prepare documents from all sources in both the US and Honduras requiring by our count needing to be fingerprinted at least seven times. And even when all was said and done, we needed to hand Honduran Customs a letter of recommendation of character from the Chief of Police in Rockland, Maine, where we moved to Honduras "from" upon arrival to begin our status as "residents of Honduras."

We spent the better part of a year looking for and buying land. Good land. On the Bay of Honduras and overlooking the reef- but high enough not to be subject to storm damage should it ever come- an effort that was to pay off big time before our stay was over and quite possibly a decision that saved our lives. More on that later.

Once we secured the land (also not an easy thing to do- getting clear title in a foreign country where the deadline for everything is "manana" (tomorrow)) we designed and built a house of about 1500 sq. ft. The actual enclosed portion of the house was not that big. Unlike most places, "space under air" has nothing to do with life in the tropics and on an island. We did not have, nor did we ever need, a heater. We did not have, nor did we ever need, an air conditioner. We did not have, not did we ever need an inside dining room; we took our meals on one of the decks, usually one without a roof, but we had two with roofs so if it was raining, we had a dry place on either side of the house to eat no matter which way the wind was blowing. The house itself had 570 panes of glass- they were part of the louvered windows and they wrapped all the way around the house. So each room of the house had unbelievable views and vistas, be they water, beach, or lush tropical gardens. Only the bathrooms (two of them) had wooden louvers for privacy when desired- and for safety sake in case we needed to duck away from the glass in case of a storm- another wise decision on our part.

For us it was the perfect house. We had an island contractor who we had checked out THOROUGHLY! He was a gem. His crew was likewise wonderful and we all became close friends and still are to this day. We had beachfront 75 feet wide by 200 feet deep. We enclosed the beach with a stone wall and planted a coconut grove, about 30 trees in all. Then there was a hill that raised up from the beach about 30 to 50 feet in elevation. The house sat on the edge of the hill overlooking the reef. Behind the house we had rain forest landscaping and vegetation. I'll do a separate piece on all that later. All in all the property was about an acre and a half.

The main house was our first project and we spent 10 months full time building the house. Here are some shots to give you an idea of how things looked inside and outside the main house: (our house is the higher of the three and in the center of the photo....the other two houses were not visible through the thick vegetation from anywhere other than the dock...which we also built.)

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