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THE ROAD TO AN EXPAT LIFE
Wither thou go-est ...
The Reverend Macarena Rose appears frequently on various expat-oriented websites extolling life abroad, particularly in her adopted land of Belize. For instance: “A simpler, less hectic and less materialistic lifestyle in a country where the emphasis is on interconnectedness.” And that is a comparatively restrained example.
Here Ms. Rose shares a stream-of-conciousness narrative about her path that led to her new home. Her motto for those thinking along similar lines is “Just Do It!!” ... that is, after “doing your homework first!” Currently she owns Rainforest Realty in Belize “and continues with a busy personal schedule as an inspiration as to how to live a fulfilled life.” Her contact details are at the bottom of this post.
Enquiring minds want to know ...
Does one need special DNA to become an expat? Is there a secret sign-up sheet? What makes one a potential expat?
I have been discussing my own expat experiences in previous articles. Now I find I have become fascinated by this topic! After all, what does motivate someone/anyone to pack up and move to a foreign country – to become part of another culture. Wow! That is a huge undertaking!
A Simpler Life
Recently, I was on an airplane chatting with a seatmate. It turned out she had spent her honeymoon in Belize. She loved her experiences there and said she could see moving there to live. I was amazed how she expressed herself – and how she totally “got it” and understood what Belize has to offer.
We are not talking Starbucks or upscale malls here. We are talking about a more relaxed culture in a gorgeous natural setting that offers rest and respite along with every recreational activity that sand, surf and jungle can supply.
A simpler, less hectic and less materialistic lifestyle in a country where the emphasis is on interconnectedness.
What this perceptive lady understood is the allure of living a simpler, less hectic and less materialistic lifestyle in a country where the emphasis is on interconnectedness – between people and between human beings and Mother Nature. She admired the rewarding possibilities of living in an environment finely attuned to people and nature – where both are greatly valued and appreciated.
And she was respectful of Belizean culture which emphasizes different values from those we find in the U.S. That refers, of course, to the ever present quest of the almighty dollar and in “keeping up with the Jones.” That is hard enough to do when times are good – much less when we now face shaky financial futures.
Peace and Sanity
She appreciated that living in a country like Belize can be a chance to pull away from the endless financial and social stresses that families in first world countries encounter. She could sense the calm, peace and sanity that might be the result!
What impressed me the most, however, was how this young mother, obviously under many stresses herself, understood how a move to a less materialistic, less driven culture like Belize can facilitate an inner process of development.
She had a fine sense of what it must be to get to know and experience your own self in a calmer, less stressful environment which still honors Mother Earth and nature.
The Inner Expat
She is not alone. I feel the same way and other expats I have talked with refer to this inner, spiritual dimension of living in Belize. It has to do with living a simpler, less consumer oriented lifestyle ... making do with less material goods.
Can you imagine yourself saying this – as an expat friend of mine does, “I have more spiritual moments in a day in Belize than I get in a year in the States ...”
Wow – what a great way to feel!
And of Belize what resonates most is another friend’s comment, “... we know very well why we love Belize. ... Its simplicity, its inner beauty and its soul, and the live and let live vibe.”
Another expat here says, “Belize is for those willing to let go of false needs of comfort and live simple ...”
Aha! And in doing so, one confirms that old saying, less can mean more! More time to share friendships and to enjoy what is around you, more chances to explore about the countryside and one’s inner heart. So adventure comes in many forms in lovely Belize, from the recreational pursuits so readily available as well as those that come from time to think and contemplate.
“Belize is still primal in many ways and that is very appealing as well. ... It is a true adventure and not one you can pay for anywhere else.” Does that environment appeal to you? Ready to get a passport? Read on!
More About “Less”
And speaking of “less” – there is another aspect to living in Belize that greatly appeals to many. In fact, I was surprised at the reaction of an acquaintance when we were discussing this matter.
“No place is perfect but my experience with ‘1st world’ countries is too many rules and too much competition which erases the warmth and friendliness that attracts us all to Belize and her people.”
Less restrictions and less competition – now that does sound good! Here is more on what someone told me about “less” – “The out of town building regulations are also phenomenal. Build your house, live in it, and if it falls down you have yourself to blame. If you want, you can have building inspectors and architects, but there is no law requiring it. I can also own and slaughter my own livestock here. I don’t need to fill out endless forms for some faceless bureaucrat or transport animals to an abattoir.”
If you feel the same way about too many regulations controlling your life then you may indeed be considering the expat life offered in Belize.
Stretching Your Dollars
We cannot ignore the hardcore reality of what it takes to live a middle class lifestyle in modern day America. So I would say that for many, financial considerations are a major motivation in choosing the expat lifestyle. And if you are a retiree – whooee! Those hard earned pensions stretch further in a country like Belize where you can live well, buy land and have something left over, too.
I think all of us are appreciating this fact more than ever, given the uncertain status of the U.S. economy today. It is my own personal theory that the lessening of economic stress contributes greatly to personal happiness and probably leads to better health and longer life!
My Own Journey Continues
I know what happened to me, and you do too if you have been following my tale. I am the lady who was living very comfortably in Florida with my children and dogs. Who went to Belize on a mission with my church and got the strongest “calling” you can imagine – to come back and live life in Belize!
I listened to my inner heart and took a chance on life. I took the kids and dogs and off we went. But only, of course, after I had done much soul searching and extensive internet searching, too – to find out everything I could about living in Belize. To prepare myself so I would know what to expect.
(Please remember my mantra and advice which I am always dispensing in my articles) DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST! MOVING ABROAD REQUIRES EXHAUSTING RESEARCH ON YOUR PART! CHECK IT ALL OUT!
Off We Go
So we loaded up, took off, landed in Belize and I have never looked back. It was the right move at the right time to the right place! I consider myself most fortunate to now reside in Belize and greatly enjoy life here. I have been greatly welcomed and made to feel at home. Belizeans are like that – very friendly folks!
I felt so comfortable here that I even started my own business enterprise. I opened Rainforest Realty to enhance the reality of my customers who consists of many expats from all over the world. I am dedicated to making their home buying a safe, ethical, rewarding experience. Everyone in my company loves to please our customers who end up becoming our new friends.
Reality of Owning Real Estate
I thank the kind client/friend here who says one of the reasons he is pleased to be an expat in Belize is the “low cost of purchasing wonderful property with the aid of a great realtor.” This same person says he also appreciates “actually owning property with a deed.” This is what we at Rainforest Realty strive to provide and have worked so hard to achieve. We are very proud of this accomplishment!
Another client/friend says, “The upsides to Belize over Mexico and a lot of the Caribbean is the land ownership laws. You get clear title to your land in Belize [thanks to the pioneering efforts of Rainforest Realty] and also there are no punitive taxes on the purchase or sale if you are a foreigner.”
Plus, you are pleasantly surprised every time you go and pay your land taxes, and also the ability to pay them up to 10 years in advance is a real bonus. Hey, if you are interested in owning land in Belize, what is not to like!
The Road to Becoming An Expat
You know my story. Now I am wondering about yours. Are you already an expat or thinking about becoming one? Do you, like me, wonder what expats experience when moving abroad? Are all experiences pretty much the same or do they widely differ? What makes for success – and what about failure?
I plan to further explore these issues in the future, but here are a few thoughts.
The Expat Path
From my own observations, most people in the U.S. seem fairly glued to their fast food restaurants and TV remote controls. Most of us can relate to the necessity of earning a living and getting totally caught up in the daily grind of getting by. This is very understandable. Been there, done that. And heaven knows all we read about is how exhausted Americans are by nightfall. And then, they cannot sleep!
So what has to happen - what kind of intervention takes place – to set one on the expat path? What process begins within that has someone heading off for the wild blue yonder – to another country and culture? We read all the time how immigrants from other countries are willing to take great risks to get to the United States.
So why are U.S. citizens headed out the other way – and making their way to live abroad? Is there something we do not know or is it the grass is always greener syndrome? It certainly makes one pause to think, contemplate and speculate.
Activating the Expat Factor
I myself like to muse that there is something, a spark within all of us – that when activated, gets us going! Over mountains, across oceans and deserts, and even into outer space! Human beings are amazing in how once an idea is generated they pursue it so single-mindedly. And, we have chosen the expat life for thousands of years – as archeological discoveries constantly remind us!
Why We Become Expats
Think of your ancestors leaving Europe and Asia to sail across the oceans to America because they heard it was the land of opportunity. They left for many reasons and faced many obstacles in doing so. Think of the chances they took and the unknowns they faced. But that did not deter them, did it!
Think of their descendants loading up the Conestoga wagons to head into western America because they heard land was cheap or free (the Homestead Act) for the average person. Now think of yourself in today’s world contemplating moving to a country which is more affordable, where your dollar can stretch much further – and where the purchase of a home and land is feasible. Uh huh ...
It is an exciting challenge. Some things never change – and the drive to own land certainly has not. So that is one strong motivation inspiring many people including retirees, to move to Belize – the chance to live comfortably on what you have got and to own tantalizing real estate at affordable prices!
I know that those who become expats are very strongly motivated. There is something within them driving them on. It may be the call of adventure, the challenge of a new culture and different values, or the lure of less expensive land and housing.
In today’s economy it is also about the need to really stretch those shrinking dollars and extend that retirement pension. Throw in a yearning to lead life at a less frantic pace and find solid “people” values in your community ... there are, I am sure, an endless array and combination of motives that set people on the expat path. We have discussed some here and I hope this will encourage you to continue to do your research.
Expats Need Info
All moves require research and planning. Whether headed to a new neighborhood in America or to a new country – it is up to you to plan and anticipate. Only you can determine what you and your family want and need – what you must have and what you can do without!
A move within the U.S. means you have family, friends, your company, the chamber of commerce, etc. from which to obtain information. That is not the case when contemplating a move abroad.
A move abroad means you need to find reliable sources of information. That was not available in Belize so I have made certain that Rainforest Realty serves as an informal community center for expats and those contemplating a move to Belize. We sell real estate here, but we also gladly share our relocation expertise. We know this topic well and will cheerfully answer your questions about moving and becoming an expat as honestly as we possibly can.
Here is a comment from a Belizean expat that sums things up pretty well. “Think it through ... and do your homework. Be real with yourself about EVERYTHING. ... Can you do without all the conveniences? The more you make these decisions and address your REAL feelings, the better decisions you will make in regards to life in Belize.” I could not have said it better myself!
Here is an apt comment from a wise man on Caye Caulker that seems to say it all: “Belize is paradise, but it isn’t heaven.”
Yes sirree – there are pluses and minuses to any decisions we make in life and that includes choosing to become an expat. That is a decision you make after asking lots of questions and doing your homework!
So there you have it – some thoughts and considerations to help you continue to explore the possibilities of an expat life.
Author: Macarena Rose is an Ordained Minister, Inventor of the Prop-Up Pillow and a Master in Healing Arts who, after raising 8 children in St. Petersburg, Florida, picked up and moved to Belize. She has lived there for the past six years and has never looked back or regretted her decision! Currently she owns Rainforest Realty in Belize and continues with a busy personal schedule as an inspiration as to how to live a fulfilled life. ... Her motto is “Just Do It!!”
Email: Rev. Macarena Rose
GUYANA REVISITED: A NATIVE SON RETURNS (PART 1)
Expatriating back to the land of one’s birth.
In the travelogue below, a man born in Guyana recounts his visit back to his native land many years after the fact. Noteable is the sense of trepidation he encounters despite his basic familiarity with the grounds, similar to what most people experience the first time they visit an unfamiliar foreign country.
The travelogue was actually written 15 years ago by a friend of the article author. The author lives in Guyana today, and notes how little has changed since the travelogue was written. “More than anything, Guyana is very much a country of un-change, there is nothing wildly progressive about it, and in that lays a fascination for many of us born there as well as visitors who fall in love with the land of rivers, vast jungle wilderness and pristine rainforests,” he writes.
For the pioneering types, who can take an occasional arrow in the back in stride, Guyana still sounds like a ground-floor opportunity.
A friend of mine sent me this travelogue written by a fellow expatriated countryman almost 15 years ago. This travel dairy is captivating in many ways, primarily because the writer’s descriptions of various locales and the people (from almost 20 years ago) – none of which, to this day, have really changed. More than anything, Guyana is very much a country of un-change, there is nothing wildly progressive about it, and in that lays a fascination for many of us born there as well as visitors who fall in love with the land of rivers, vast jungle wilderness and pristine rainforests.
Since immigrating to the United States over 15 years ago, I have traveled to my country, Guyana, five times on holidays, the last time in the mid-‘90s. With each visit there was always a presentiment and a sense of uneasiness mixed with anticipation and excitement. I migrated from Guyana when the political and economic climate left a lot to be desired. Usually upon arrival at Timehri Airport there was a fear, indefinable, as to what forebodes at the Immigration and Customs, and also who might be looking at you.
Would it be the police, ostensibly or in plain clothes? They seemed or at least were perceived to have unlimited power that they could wield arbitrarily. Is it the con men, listening and watching you, posing as legitimate taxi and helpers? Horrible stories of “taxi” hijacking have been told up to that point in time. In 1993, this semi-paranoid condition was dispelled. Things were definitely different, although I still kept my guard. This time, during my recent trip in November/December 1995, there was no foreboding and trepidation.
Throughout 1995, I was anxious to visit Guyana. I was receiving quite a lot of written and anecdotal information about developments since the new government took office. I wanted to have first-hand information, but personal matters were keeping me back. Without much planning, I seized an opportunity when BWIA advertised a good travel bargain.
After 40 minutes delay, BWIA 425 left JFK International at 10:40 am on a nice and pleasant day. The liftoff was excellent; the flight attendants were helpful, trying their best to organize their routines in the full-to-capacity trip. Flight attendants generally appear to be busy doing many chores – mandatory ones – but not especially compliant with certain passenger requests. For example, I had requested an aisle seat so that I would have been able to stretch, massage and exercise my injured and painful left knee.
When I was buying my ticket, I was advised that I should put my request to BWIA personnel at the airport. The check-in clerk advised that I should ask the flight attendant, which I did upon entering the aircraft; but only to be told that someone would take care of me after I was seated. After a few reminders, I am still waiting. ... On my return flight, I made a similar request at Timehri. Guess what? The same responses, but worse, making this flight my most pain and distressful.
Also, the attendants were noticeably keen and particular about having upright seats and seat belts as per regulation. This is good. At the same time, however, I observed two babies held in their mothers’ laps with no seat belts or other forms of protection. I wonder if this were true for other airlines. If this is the case, remedial action should be prompt.
The flight was uneventful. There was a 3-hour waiting period at Grantley Adams Airport in Barbados. Suddenly, you realize that you are in the Caribbean. You are hit with high humidity and high temperature, and you perspire profusely. The airport is small, but very nice. The people are helpful and courteous. As I sat in the waiting area to pass the time, I took out my new book, Ageless Body Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra MD, lay it on a table, and comforted myself for a good read. Picking up the book, I found it extensively saturated with water – the table had a pool of water that I could not detect. Needless to say, this changed my mood for reading.
I looked around and realized that other tables were also unkempt. This must have been a bad day since everything elsewhere was up to the highest standard. BWIA 435 departed Barbados at 5:40 p.m. for the final leg to Guyana via Trinidad. After a lengthy and tiring wait in Barbados, one would expect some form of appropriate action to refresh the spirit. Instead, passengers were treated to a small, cold, horrible sandwich with hard bread. This was not in good taste (pun not intended).
At Timehri Airport, Immigration and Customs were efficient and quick. I had nothing to declare, and I was out of the building in a short time, only to find that my contact person was nowhere to be seen. The taxi men started to approach me, slyly and whispering, yet hawk-like, trying to disarm me, thus wooing me to use their taxi. The old foreboding returned. Minutes seemed like hours, and after about half an hour, the taxi men approached again.
I started to feel uneasy and intimidated. Unwarranted fear, maybe, but real, at night especially. There was no police, no security and no one in authority in the arriving lounge area. The only prominent people were several taxi men. There were no public phones, and so your options were very limited indeed.
The car ride to Georgetown was quiet. Small talk was interrupted by sudden jolts caused by potholes and accompanied by mild expletives. The East Bank road is narrow, and work was being done to repair and widen it. But it will take more than stopgap measures to solve its heavy traffic problem. Possibly, an additional road behind the cane fields will ease the problem and at the same time augment development in the overall region.
The night was quite silent except for the monotonous hum of our car. Villages were asleep with dim security lights or none at all. Drivers appeared not to care about certain considerations. Most of the oncoming traffic had high beam, blinding us, and no one seemed bothered about this. Arriving in Georgetown, our first stop was one of my old haunts. The very cold Banks beer was excellent, and did wonders for a hot, sweaty and tired person.
Later that night, sleep came fast. I was awakened by the incessant coughing of a dog, only to find myself drenched in my perspiration. But by this time, I had enjoyed a good, restful sleep. My host looked fresh and cool.
The next day I traveled to the city to do basic business, namely, to purchase Guyana dollars, which was the only thing I could do because the heat and humidity drained my energy. I returned home, and fell asleep. My physiology would adapt in due course. That evening I telephoned friends, and decided to spend the night quietly.
The Basic Needs Trust Fund
The following day, I was invited by a friend to a dedication ceremony at a local Primary School. My friend headed up the Basic Needs Trust Fund, whose objective is to inspect schools that got into a state of disrepair over the years, and rehabilitate them according to needs.
This dedication was a completion of one such project. The Hon. Minister of Education, as well as other key persons at the function. The children recited poems, sang and danced, and the Headmistress was very thankful. Schools are being rehabilitated countrywide – on the coastland, in the remote interior and riverain districts.
The Basic Needs Trust Fund shows that under good leadership and management, things can be done with tangible results in a short period of time. Often, and more usually, these outcomes are the results of acute necessity, hard work and dedication rather than the application of any special genius or altruistic open-handedness. Later that evening, there was an impromptu socializing, meeting old friends and acquaintances, and discussing topical issues.
Sunday, the day for rest, was not meant to be. My old buddy coerced me to accompany him to the Abary. In the past, I loved this trip, but at 5:00 a.m., this was a little too much on my holiday. Along the East Coast road, I was looking both left and right, trying to renew familiarity with villages and things that used to be part of my day-to-day routine. It was a bit difficult to fathom how once I was quite able to drive on the two-lane road, jostling with vehicles of every type, bicycles, pedestrians of all ages, horse carts, cows, sheep, and other animals.
Nights in the Abary are fantastic. it is quiet, serene, and magical. the air is fresh, clean, sweet, not yet polluted. The sky is starry ...
Driving was possible from the main road into the Abary, sometimes rough, but pleasant. Rice cultivation was flourishing; some fields were already reaped. After learning about the profitability of rice cultivation, I inquired about the possibility of buying or leasing land for this purpose, only to be advised that there were virtually no vacant land available in the area.
The weather was dry, and a brief shower had a welcome cooling effect for me, but was horrible for the driver on the dirt road. I enjoyed the natural beauties, recognizing plants, and birds especially. There were many birds, flying, chirping and soaring.
I recognized the kiskadee, robin, old witch, white egret (crane), gray and white long-neck (gaulding), hawks, snail hawks, water hen, dove, spur wing, scissors tail, wren, cotton strainer, shine cock or oatsy, chow, yellow plantain, and a few others, the names of which I could not remember. Duty bound, my host decided to return the same day. Nights in the Abary are fantastic.
It is quiet, serene and magical. The air is fresh, clean and sweet, not yet polluted. And the sky, starry, is always brighter, with individual stars wanting to pop out towards you. Night or day, the Abary is beautiful as a resort, to spend a day or weekend with friends and family. Undoubtedly, your mind becomes clear, and your body invigorated. It is highly recommended.
Essequibo, the Coast
It was a sunny, bright and hot Tuesday morning when we left Georgetown in the company of my friend and a few other people whose acquaintance I made later in the day. We drove across the floating bridge, and then along the West Coast public road to Parika. As usual, I kept an inquisitive alertness, poking questions, but got very little answers. There was nothing special. The drive was quiet, probably because the other members were not fully astir. Children were on their way to school, and the few individuals seen were going about their business in a casual manner. The road was good except for small sections at Leonora and Uitvlugt.
Parika, at the Stelling vicinity, was quite different. There was a cacophony of activity. People of almost all walks of life attended to their tasks – passengers, truckers, taxi drivers, hucksters, peddlers, dawdling onlookers, in all shapes and conditions, contributed to an incessant, brisk and seemingly chaotic state of affairs. Men, shirtless and barefooted, plied the concrete roads and hard wooden bridge, fetching bags of produce, beads of perspiration dripping noticeably from their bare bodies.
These men, young and older, were skinny, but with compact and taut musculature. The taxi men were doing the usual, menacingly badgering passengers. Hucksters and peddlers teasingly solicited with well-practiced effusiveness. This kind of behavior and commotion will be seen again and again, day after day, as though rehearsed. There is a pattern and sense to this apparent madness – all the activities are unwittingly fine-tuned to coincide with the arrival and/or departure of the steamers to Leguan, Adventure and Bartica. Parika is a very important harbor.
In previous years, this Stelling, like all the others, became dilapidated, and was a hazard to the public safety. Now, expeditious reparatory measures removed most of the fears, and major reconstruction was being undertaken.
After partaking of some nice ripe bananas, and refreshing ourselves with water coconuts, we boarded the MV Malali, and prepared for the long, 3-hour journey to Adventure. I looked down from the upper mezzanine, and I was impressed by the diversity of activity as the steamer was slowly being occupied to full capacity. This vessel caters for passengers, cars, trucks, produce, cattle, and sundry goods for personal use or trade. I observed, with some degree of disquiet, the many speedboats idle on their moorings.
These small boats once did a lucrative business, filling a void when the Transport and Harbours steamers became dysfunctional due to committed dereliction. Now that the government had quickly rehabilitated the vessels, competition became stronger.
The Crew worked feverishly to avoid a delay and keep to the schedule. And so we departed Parika Stelling near on time. For some, this journey is tedious and for others, it is relaxing and could even be romantic; for me it was a jaunt. As we settled down for the journey, the Stelling slowly faded away. Being a native of Leguan, I stared across to the island to figure out if I could identify any landmark. A sense of nostalgia crept over me, an inexpressible good feeling. Leaning against the rail, I listened to the uninterrupted and monotonous lapping of the waves against the hull. Soon, this became background sound, and my attention was directed to my fellow passengers.
People were generally well attired. Some women with their children were especially well presented in their best clothes and shoes which were, for the most part, uncomfortable. They shared foods and drinks that were either prepared beforehand for the trip, or they otherwise obtained their delicacies from the cafeteria on the middle level.
People were in high spirits as they tried to make themselves comfortable on the hard wooden seats for the long journey ahead. Personally, I found this markedly hurting on the gluteus, but no one else seemed bothered by it. About an hour after departure, the excitement and activities subsided somewhat. The cool, refreshing, untainted breeze had a calming effect on most of the passengers. Others entertained themselves in lively conversations, with or without the aid of intoxicating beverages available from the tavern. Candid camera takes would be very embarrassing to those who slept unashamedly and recklessly.
I remained alert throughout, observant of little details as the boat circumnavigated Leguan, Hogg Island, Liberty, Troolie and Wakenaam. Occasionally, speedboats hurried past, and birds soared aimlessly. Human presence could be detected in large clearings interspersed in virgin forests, either engaged in crop cultivation or cattle rearing.
I had done this trip several times in years gone by, and have never failed to enjoy the pleasantness. It is wishful thinking of course to be able to bottle the clean, salubrious air for future use. Many years ago, excursions were organized, and this was good for fun and business. But before this can be contemplated again the boat must be properly maintained by Transport and Harbour’s Department and its crew.
For several years, the boat was permanently moored due to disrepair, negligence and lack of maintenance. Upon assumption of power, the present government, recognizing the need for good transportation, quickly rehabilitated it, and placed it again into service. However, simple routine maintenance, like having working toilets, and keeping the seating areas regularly clean and sanitary would sustain a more acceptable ambiance.
We arrived at Adventure, a surprisingly sleepy stelling; since it catered for the entire Essequibo Coast you would expect more activity. Without hesitation, we drove to Anna Regina. It was early in the night, and our host, owing to miscommunication, did not seem fully prepared for our arrival. We were all tired by now, and we quietly waited for the hurriedly prepared dinner.
That night, as I lay in bed, I mumbled things inconsequential to my roommate, reflected on events of the day, and imagined with anticipation the next day’s sojourn. The quiet, cool night, accompanied by the background lapping of the Atlantic waters on the sea walls, must have raised my endorphin level. My breathing became deeper and heavier; sleep came at last, and drowned my fancies into forgetfulness.
Daylight certainly brought some degree of rationality and focus in our responsibilities. Everyone exhibited convincing signs of a restful night. We consumed a sumptuous breakfast, and began the ride to Charity. The smooth ride was interrupted by occasional bumps, resulting from potholes; but the road was being repaired. All along, rice was cultivated on a grand scale. Generally, private homes were in rather decent shapes.
However, most of the government buildings, notably schools, still remained eyesores. Sources close to the government pointed out that the authorities must prioritize their spending and target those structures that warranted more immediate attention. This Wednesday at Charity was not busy. Nevertheless, I shopped for what is presumed to be the best quality “casareep,” and enjoyed the energy-producing, ice cold sugar cane juice. We boarded a speedboat, barely large enough to carry five adults. It was powered by a Yamaha 40 [horsepower] outboard engine, and we sped along at 20 m.p.h.
The place was exquisitely quiet. Although simple and in the main basic, the environment is very healthy, and yet ruined by “progress.”
The Pomeroon River is not very wide, but probably the deepest river in Guyana, allowing ocean-going vessels easy passage. The water was placid, reflecting the mostly cumulus clouds and hawks soaring high above. It is very dark brown color due to plant tannin constantly leaching from the decaying vegetative matter on and in the soils. Riding in the boat can be fun if you are not too scared of this kind of activity.
Except for the monotonous droning of the engine, the place was exquisitely quiet. Although simple and in the main basic, the environment is very healthy, and not yet ruined by “progress.” On both banks of the river, vegetation – virgin as well as cultivated – swayed in the wind in all their verdant and luxuriant growth.
Coconut plantations and lumbering had been the mainstay of the local economy, although people were self sufficient in cash crops, poultry and fishing. Many years ago, the Pomeroon yielded a surfeit of coffee, citrus, and fruits of all kinds in places like Pickersgill. Mangrove trees were easily identifiable from afar by their aerial roots buttressing into the mud flats.
The inhabitants of the region are predominantly Amerindian or of Amerindian stock. The primary mode of transportation is the ubiquitous small “ballahoo” and “dugouts” or “corials.” Children of all ages paddled to their schools, rowing in unison and maintaining accomplished balance. Our first stop was at Jacklow, and then we moved in the opposite direction to Hackney.
The children attending the schools possessed remarkably impressive qualities – from my casual observation. They upheld attributes that tend to be diminishing in our society – they were well dressed in their uniform, tidy, courteous, polite, respectable and smiling.
We retraced our journey homewards on the same day. Everyone bore degrees of weariness from exertion; it was indeed non-stop traveling, mostly in seating arrangements not designed for the unprotected rear end.
Part 2 of this article was published in December.
The country’s natural attractions are impressive, unspoiled and on a scale that dwarfs human endeavor. Guyana remains one of the world’s most exciting destinations for adventuresome travel and exploration.
The narrative above offers an indication of why Guyana has not appeared, to our knowledge, on even the “B-list” of expatriation destination. It is too underdeveloped. But as a ecotourist destination for the adventureously inclined it would appear to be one of the top candidates in the Western Hemisphere.
Dutch and British colonization made an indelible mark on Guyana, leaving behind a now dilapidated colonial capital, a volatile mix of peoples and a curious political geography. The country’s natural attractions, however, are impressive, unspoiled and on a scale that dwarfs human endeavor.
Guyana has immense falls, vast tropical rainforest and savanna teeming with wildlife. If the government does not destroy the environment in a bid to pay off its huge foreign debt, Guyana could be the ecotourism destination of the future. Right now, it is the place for independent, rugged, Indiana Jones types who do not mind visiting a country that everybody else thinks is in Africa.
Life in Guyana is dominated by mighty rivers, including the Demerara, the Berbice and the Essequibo, which provide essential highways into the rain forests and jungles of the interior. Mankind has made little impact here, and today Guyana remains one of the world’s most exciting destinations for adventuresome travel and exploration.
For the adventurer, Guyana is a place of wonder; for the ecotourist, it is a country where nature has placed its greatest riches. This is truly that place where you can feel the beauty of the nature whisper across your heart and discover an experience never to be forgotten.
Guyana’s Quest for Ecotourism
Developing countries throughout the world especially those in the Caribbean and the West Indies are paying keener and keener attention to the creation of an ecotourism and sustainable development base to satisfy a growing niche market that could pave the way for socioeconomic growth and development for their respective population.
The work that is being undertaken at the 370,000 hectares [37 million acres] Iwokrama (International Center For Rain Forest Conservation and Development) project in Guyana’s hinterland could well become the prototype for the ecotourism and sustainable development goal that so many nations are seeking.
The project on which the future generation of Guyanese and indeed other countries of the world will depend, has its mission clearly defined: “The mission of the Iwokrama International Center for Rain Forest Conservation and Development is to promote the conservation of the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rain forests in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general, by undertaking research, training and the development and dissemination of technologies.”
It was recognized by the Government of Guyana that ecotourism is a potentially valuable and sustainable use of tropical forest ecosystems, and this recognition led to a World Bank/Commonwealth Secretariat grant for study on the potential for ecotourism in the Iwokrama Forest.
The study concluded that ecotourism is a viable and appropriate endeavor for the Iwokrama Center, which has several characteristics that give it a potential comparative advantage in the development of ecotourism.
The Iwokrama Forest itself is a unique resource of natural and human communities, with extraordinary scientific and global conservation value, and a combination of attractive elements that have tremendous appeal to potential visitors interested in natural history, social anthropology and conservation.
Tropical rain forests are currently high on the list of popular destinations for nature and adventure travelers. Work at the center is continuing against the background of a world demand for a substantive demonstration that the conservation and sustainable management of tropical forest can provide tangible and lasting benefits to the governments and communities that own these resources or depend on them for their very livelihoods.
In most parts of the world, forest development has not been sustainable; hence the emphasis on what is being done in Guyana at the Iwokrama Center. As part of the ongoing projects at Iwokrama, the Wilderness Preserve (WP) was established in an area comprising approximately half of the Iwokrama Forest. The WP will give maximum protection to Iwokama’s rich biological diversity while allowing opportunities for some income generation from low-impact activities such as ecotourism, scientific research and conservation sponsorship.
The management plan for this area will emphasize management issues such as boundary demarcation, environmental monitoring, patroling and provision and maintenance of an access network of creeks for canoeing, foot trails and primitive campsites among others.
The development of management plans for the other half of the forest, the Sustainable Utilization Area (SUA), is more complicated as the main purpose of this area is to use the multiple resources of the tropical forest so that they yield the greatest benefit to present generations while maintaining their potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations. The word Iwokrama is derived from the Amerindian word that means “place of refuge.” Among the striking features of the Iwokarama forest is the abundance of several large and often conspicuous animals that are close to extinction in other parts of the world.
Extraordinary Flora and Fauna
Guyana, on the north eastern tip of South America, is home to an extraordinary wildlife that includes Giant Anteaters, Anacondas, Black Caiman, Arapaima, Giant River Turtles, Giant River Otters and Jaguars. Of all of these animals, the Jaguar is perhaps the most important as the largest predator in South America.
Guyana’s forests have healthy populations of jaguars and the nation may be home to one fifth of all of the jaguars remaining in the world today. The Makushi people of the North Rupununi recognize 18 different kinds of big cats in contrast to the six species recognized by scientists. Jaguars have been decimated over the years by hunters for their furs as well as by ranchers, but today the concern focuses on the destruction of the habitat.
Of the estimated 15,000 jaguars left in the wild, about 100 are said to be found in the Iwokrama Forest.
The Arapaima, Arapaima gigas, also known as the Pirarucu or Paiche, is one of the world’s largest fresh water fishes. Adults can mature up to four and a half meters in length and weigh 200 kilograms. Arapaima are found throughout the Amazon and associated river systems in the Guyanas. They are also the most popular form of food in the Amazon region and as a result, populations have been declining throughout South America over the years. However the Arapaima is a protected fish in Guyana.
The black caiman is the largest of the alligators and caimans in the world. Adult males can be longer than four meters. Black caimans are distributed throughout the Amazon in the Rupununi and Essequibo drainages of Guyana and the Kaw region of French Guiana.
Scientists working at the Iwokrama project are becoming increasingly concerned over the threat of pollution from gold mining, particularly in the form of increased sediment and mercury loads in the system. In addition, the presence of gold miners can affect the behavior of giant otters; when breeding giant otters are disturbed, mothers may stop producing milk and the cubs can starve to death.
These are among some of the urgent issues facing the movers and shakers at Iwokrama, who are giving careful planning, development, and management of tourism enterprises. Iwokrama needs to develop a more substantial level of internal management and oversight expertise if its tourism initiatives are to be successful. It is taking advantage of the Majestic Kaietuer Falls, one of the wonders of the world, which remains one of the greatest attractions in the 83,000 square mile country.
As the only English speaking country in South America, its population includes a variety of cultures with West Africans, Native Amerindians, Dutch, British, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese, with the motto: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
Under British rule for 152 years, the country is bordered by Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela, and the river Amazon to the south, with a population of just over 775,000 people concentrated along a narrow coastal plain, beyond which the land rushes towards the uplands where gold, diamonds and bauxite are mined.
There are hundreds of rivers, lakes and creeks with four huge rivers ... the Demerara, the Berbice, the Corentyne and the biggest of them all ... the mighty Essequibo, 21 miles across at its mouth and over 370 miles long. The Essequibo traverses the country from south to north. Its head waters begin in Brazil and flow north, covering some 370 miles before emptying into the Atlantic.
The tumbling rivers and dense rainforests of Guyana are filled with extraordinary natural sights. Kaieteur Falls, is situated in the heart of Guyana on the Potaro River, a tributary of the Essequibo, where the 400-foot wide Potaro River plunges. The water flows over a sandstone conglomerate tableland into a deep gorge, a drop of 741 feet, and then down another 81 feet of rapids and falls. It is one of the world’s great waterfalls. The magnificence of Kaieteur stands beyond any comparison in its majesty and sheer size. While Kaieteur Falls continues to be one of the principal attractions in Guyana, there is a wide range of other activities and endeavors one can choose from.
The waterways offer many sites along the way ... 17th and 18th century Dutch ruins nestled in the shoreline, flora and fauna and glimpses into the culture and daily life of the Guyanese who live there.
As the tourism industry develops and the Iwokarama project expands, it is necessary that steps are taken to ensure that the indigenous people, the Amerindians, are provided with alternative jobs and food, and that tourism will not lead to environmental degradation, which is of growing concern for travelers the world over. The nation and the population of Guyana owe it to their future generations as well as to the entire region, if not the world, that steps taken now would safeguard the environment and ensure sustainable development. Another important project in Guyana is Project Guyana.
History of Project Guyana
In December of 2002 Foster Parrots’ Executive Director and Board Chairman first visited the Amerindian tribes of Guyana. What they found there were a friendly, culturally rich people with a great respect for the natural bounty of their land and an eagerness to share the beauty of this world with travelers. Although parrot protection and conservation were the primary motivations for becoming involved in Guyana, the two men soon became acutely aware of the need to preserve the ecosystem as well as the cultural heritage of a truly remarkable and inspiring people.
In the spring of 2004 Marc and Brian returned to Guyana and began talks with the Amerindian people about the need for a parrot/wildlife protection initiative and the possibility of addressing this issue through the development of an ecotourism project.
Traveling to the Rupununi district of southern Guyana they met with the elders of several Amerindian tribes. It was during this time that they met Guyana Member of Parliament who was a Arawak Amerindian and a strong advocate for Amerindian rights. The M.P. had also been highly active in conservation and environmental protection issues.
It was a perfect meeting of minds and motivations. The resulting relationship between Foster Parrots and the M.P. created the platform that would support the similar interests of each party, offering an economic alternative to Amerindian tribes while helping to protect thousands of acres of pristine habitat.
Soon the M.P. was appointed to the Board of Foster Parrots and assumed responsibility as on-site Director of Foster Parrots' Project Guyana. Her tireless efforts on behalf of Project Guyana have won the interest and support of several additional tribes including that of the friendly village of Nappi, located at the base of the Kanuku Mountains. Embracing the project with tremendous enthusiasm, Nappi has dedicated 250 square miles of tribal territory as parrot protected conservation land and was chosen as the site for the first ecotour lodge complex.
Guyana’s Indigenous People Income Sources
The country of Guyana, famously rich in biodiversity, is one of the least populated tropical countries in the world with a population of only 850,000 inhabitants. With only 3% of its 80,000 square miles inhabited it is, unfortunately, one of only two countries in South America that still legally exports parrots and other wildlife for the pet trade. In fact, Guyana has been one of the top exporters of wild parrots in the world and remains active in trapping parrots, wild cats, primates, reptiles, sea turtles and various other land and sea animals.
Trapping and exportation of native species has been, for generations, one of Guyana’s only means of generating income for the indigenous people. However, closer examination of the trade in wildlife reveals grim realities of the animal export trade; decimation of native wildlife species and habitat is leading to irreversible elimination of the very source of income.
The native people, who are essential in the harvesting of these resources, earn an abysmal fraction of the value of the exported animals. In a country where the average annual income is little more than $1,000.00, the income derived through the capture of wildlife and habitat destruction remains attractive.
Ameridians, want to take control of the ecological destiny of their country rather than bow down to the exploitation of animaltraders, miners and loggers currently at liberty to devastate their natural heritage.
The native Amerindian tribes of Guyana, now becoming aware of the need to protect their forests and wildlife, are expressing the desire to take control of the ecological destiny of their country rather than bow down to the exploitation of animal traders, miners and loggers currently at liberty to devastate Guyana’s natural heritage.
Protecting the Treasures of Guyana
Project Guyana enables the first steps towards protecting and preserving Guyana’s native parrots and other wildlife by offering a more financially attractive and culturally desirable alternative. Through the development of this viable ecotourism project entire Amerindian communities can benefit from the income derived from hosting visitors, who are often sympathetic to their needs.
Ecotourism will create sustainable employment opportunities for the indigenous people of Guyana who can bring their acute knowledge of their natural resources and their many skills and crafts to a new and exciting international market. It will not only lend economic strength to participating communities, but will provide a canopy of protection for the native species whose values as wild animals far exceeds the cost of a destructive and self-serving exotic pet trade.
Foster Parrots’ Project Guyana, now underway, originates in the country’s south central region around the village of Lethem. While an airstrip to the west of the nearby Kanuku Mountains remotely links six Amerindian villages to the more modern civilization of Georgetown, this area remains untouched by industrialization and the villages remain unspoiled and steeped in their cultural heritage and wild savanna settings.
Although trapping for the pet trade has impacted the wildlife of this region to some extent, this is an area where relatively abundant native animals still roam and fly freely promising to provide prospective tourists with remarkable opportunities to view wild animals in Guyana’s vast natural habitat.
Future Projects of Project Guyana include:
Nest Boxes and Observation Structures
Construction on the first observation blind was completed in 2005. Nest boxes will be hand built and established in key areas of the territory. Nesting activity will be carefully monitored from strategically placed observation structures, thereby allowing records to be maintained as to numbers of active nests and successfully fledged chicks. Observation of nesting activity will also provide security against potential illegal nest raiding activity.
Hand Rearing and Reintroduction Program
This program will further ensure the proliferation of various parrot, reptile and turtle species. In many Macaw species only one chick is raised to adulthood. Second or third chicks are usually killed by a sibling or starved by the parents. These second and rare third chicks would be hand raised and hacked back into the wild, thereby establishing the flocks that once populated this area.
Eté Palm Tree Planting Program
In order to accommodate the diet of the large Macaws a program involving the planting of hundreds of Eté Palms and fruit trees will be implemented. An abundance of mature trees will support the growing Macaw populations and will be a focal point for tourists seeking to observe wild Macaw feeding habits.
Native Handicrafts and Cultural Arts
Preservation of Amerindian culture through the perpetuation of traditional arts and crafts is one of the most valued objectives of the Project Guyana initiative. The project will be influential in reconnecting young Amerindian people with nearly forgotten, but historically important, cultural arts and ceremonial activities. Time is running out as the village elders, the living repositories of the past, are now passing away without transferring these skills. The people with these skills must be given the opportunity to pass this unique knowledge on before it is lost forever.
It is all here Guyana, a country of exceptional natural beauty – one that is a splendid combination of the Caribbean and South America, with fascinating touches of a sometimes turbulent past. From its picturesque capital and primary port, Georgetown, to its extraordinary natural heritage that spreads out like a tropical carpet. And with its commitment to ecotourism and nature preservation, soon more of the world will become aware of this special country.
Author: Lulu Basuil is an environmentalist, avid diver, a lover of nature, and an educator by vocation. Born in Portugal, she considers herself a global citizen and spends as much time as possible traveling around the globe and writing of her travels and observations.
Email: Lulu Basuil
WHY THE ONLY DIRECTION FOR THAILAND IS UP
The only place in the world where you can get a massage, play with a tiger, shoot an assault rifle, ride an elephant, and bungee jump – all within about 3 hours and $50.
Last month we included a posting from “Sovereign Man” Simon Black alerting his readers to an attractive speculation on Thailand’s currency, the baht. Continuing on his postings from a trip to the country, he explains why he is so bullish on Thailand in the long run: the “extreme pricing imbalance” there, the service-oriented people, and – most of all – “the country controls vast quantities of two resources that will be absolutely critical in the future – productive agricultural land, and fresh water.”
I arrived into Thailand at 3am this morning from Shenzhen, and instantly I felt a bit happier. China is undoubtedly a booming colossus full of opportunity, but culturally it can be a bit grating after a while. After a month on the mainland, I needed a break, and Thailand was the perfect choice.
Aside from being one of my favorite countries in the world, I wanted to spend some time scouting Thai investment opportunities. I think the country is ripe for growth, but there are signs of a short-term correction. I want to be ready when that happens because there will be a lot of buying opportunities.
Additionally, some friends from Europe have met me here, and we are putting in for visas to Burma. Thailand is the best place to apply for a Burmese visa, and if approved, I will be hopping over there for a few days to get a feel for the place and its opportunities.
Meanwhile, I am spending the next few days hiding out in Pattaya, a great little Thai beach town that ranks among the cheapest civilized places in the world.
Aside from a few marquee western brands, it is practically impossible to spend more than $100/night in accommodations here, and everything from drinks to taxi rides to motorcycle rentals is so cheap the prices are almost cute.
There are a lot of westerners here, mostly older men who troll around the city looking to pick up younger Thai women. You see it everywhere – the proverbial “age mismatch” between a pasty white gentleman in his 60s with a beautiful young thing in her 20s. The Thais do not seem to mind, and neither do their male companions.
As such, the place is fabulous for hedonists and retirees ... you can live on the cheap and have a great deal of fun in Pattaya, regardless of what you are into – outdoor sports, firearms, aquatics, food, nightlife, spa pampering, exotic animals, etc.
I would say that it is probably the only place in the world where you can get a massage, play with a tiger, shoot an assault rifle, ride an elephant, and bungee jump – all within about 3 hours and $50.
Thailand is one of the easiest places in the world to relax. The culture of service here is one of the most deferential in the world.
More importantly, though, Thailand is one of the easiest places in the world to relax. The culture of service here is one of the most deferential in the world – Thais will wait on their patrons hand and foot and cater to their every possible whim.
For example, Thai bathroom attendants give backrubs to grown men who are in the middle of using a urinal, and everyone from elevator operators to hotel porters will snap their heels together and render a formal military salute to patrons who pass by.
To say that the Thai people make you feel welcome is a massive understatement ... sometimes it can even make you a bit uncomfortable, especially when you consider the price (or lack of) that you are paying.
The country controls vast quantities of two resources that will be absolutely critical in the future – productive agricultural land, and fresh water.
In the long term, I do not see any direction for Thailand but up ... it is hard to imagine things becoming much cheaper here, but more importantly, the country controls vast quantities of two resources that will be absolutely critical in the future – productive agricultural land, and fresh water.
Given the extreme pricing imbalance in Thailand as well as the country is natural resource wealth, I believe there is strong support for long-term investment here, despite any short-term fluctuations that occasionally arise due to geopolitical instability.
I will be discussing this more in future letters, but as I mentioned last week, an easy way to take a position in the country is through its currency, the baht. You can buy baht through an online FOREX platform like GFT Forex or at major banks.
Medical Care in Thailand
One of the things Thailand should be better known for is medical tourism.
Medicare tourism, first mentioned in these pages back in 2006, is asserting itself as an ever-larger issue as the costs of (so-called) health care systems of the U.S. and other western countries overwhelm individual and government finances. Here is Simon Black’s report on the subject, Thai version.
The short of it is that countries without the cost and regulatory burdens of the U.S., a country can easily outcompete the U.S. on both cost and quality. Lacking the administrative overhead, doctors and other healthcare providers and freed up to deliver what really matters to the patient. In the U.S. they have to run a gauntlet of hurdles to satisfy the drug companies, AMA, health insurance industry, a multitude of bureaucrats, etc. before they can then devote a little care to the customer.
As Black summarizes his approach to medical care: “For me, medical tourism is the cornerstone of my health care plan. I have a high deductible U.S. insurance plan that covers me against emergencies and catastrophes when I am in the states (only about 3-months each year). For smaller issues, I pay cash at specialty clinics, which I have found to be fairly cost effective. For larger issues, though, I am on a plane.”
And for those who live overseas, there is no need for the plane.
I was reading a menu, but I was not in a restaurant.
Tummy Tuck: $1,250
Breast Enlargement: $1,125
Sex change operation: $1,625
I did a double take. Yep, that was not a misprint.
Thailand is renowned for a lot of things – beautiful beaches, crazy nightlife, political instability, etc. One of the things it should be better known for is medical tourism.
I sincerely hope that I am overseas if some bad accident or disease should happen to befall me.
People often ask me because I travel so much, “Simon, what would you do if something happened to you – wouldn’t you be scared to go to a hospital in a foreign country?”
In a word, no. In fact, I sincerely hope that I am overseas if some bad accident or disease should happen to befall me, because I am confident that I will not die in the waiting room filling out insurance paperwork.
Health care in many developed countries is either bankrupt, too expensive, and/or incompetent. Here in Thailand, private care is among the highest quality and most efficient in the world.
Realistically, hospitals are luxurious 5-star resorts that happen to be staffed with highly-skilled, western-trained physicians.
It really makes one wonder which countries should truly be considered “developed” ...
Bangkok has a few marquee private hospitals – Dusit Medical, and the more famous Bumrungrad. To call them “hospitals” is a bit of a misnomer ... realistically they are luxurious 5-star resorts that happen to be staffed with highly-skilled, western-trained physicians.
Doctors in Thailand are actually free to practice medicine in a low bureaucracy environment without constant fear of regulation or litigation.
Whatever is ailing you, they can handle it – plastic surgery, cancer treatment, hip replacement, etc. The nice thing is that the doctors in Thailand are actually free to practice medicine in a low bureaucracy environment without constant fear of regulation or litigation.
This, along with the lower wages in Thailand, results in substantial cost savings. As for the quality? Well, I would like to pass on a note from my friend Croc who recently had two surgeries at Bumrungrad in Bangkok. Croc is active, fit, in his late 30s.
I have just done something that in the U.S., or most of the world for that matter, is impossible: three days after arriving in Bangkok, I had underwent two surgeries, complete with the requisite tests and appointments.
For the cost of typical yearly insurance premiums in the U.S., I had facial plastic surgery, and I had my torn meniscus repaired. What really impressed me, aside from my $360 MRI and my $42 x-ray, was the kindness, professionalism and shocking efficiency of Bumrungrad Hospital.
“Finding efficiency, kindness, quality, and great value at a hospital is certainly worth passing on.”
Thailand is not a country generally known for Swiss organization ... but when you consider the financial dire straits that western civilization has found itself in, especially regarding health care, finding efficiency, kindness, quality, and great value at a hospital is certainly worth passing on.
One million patients are treated at Bumrungrad Hospital every year, and roughly 600 thousand are foreigners. Most of the staff speaks English, and they have translators for just about every language you could imagine.
The hospital’s pricing is out of reach for most local Thais, but Bumrungrad’s a la carte menu of services is priced at a phenomenal discount to what you would pay in the U.S. There is no shame in being uninsured here. On the contrary, people paying cash are accorded a VIP status.
From the moment I entered the hospital, I was checked-in and awaiting my first consultation in under 15 minutes. After my initial consultation with an English speaking knee specialist trained at Harvard, I was sliding into a GE-brand MRI machine.
In all, I met with three doctors, had two surgeries, blood work, x-rays, and an MRI. It all cost me around $5,000 and took three days. In between visits I sat next to the pool at my hotel getting a $20 massage.
Bumrungrad makes no bones about its desire to cater to paying foreigners. The business model works, as evidenced by waiting rooms of Arabs, Aussies, Europeans and even a few Americans.
For a few thousand dollars you can actually get some real medical work done in Thailand – teeth cleaning, heart surgery, breast augmentation ... you name it, anything is possible here.
Simon again. Thailand is not alone, there are at least a dozen other places in the world with top quality medical care at a paltry cost, and as Croc’s story testifies, there is no sacrifice to quality or service.
For me, medical tourism is the cornerstone of my health care plan. For larger issues, I am on a plane.
For me, medical tourism is the cornerstone of my health care plan. I have a high deductible U.S. insurance plan that covers me against emergencies and catastrophes when I am in the states (only about 3-months each year). For smaller issues, I pay cash at specialty clinics, which I have found to be fairly cost effective.
For larger issues, though, I am on a plane. The cost savings of the medical care alone more than makes up for the travel expenses of the trip.
I am curious to hear what you think – would you fly to another country for medical care? If not, why not? Bear in mind, the cost savings of the treatment more than covers the travel expense
Customer Service in Thailand
“It’s not your problem, it’s my problem.”
Simon Black continues posting on his trip though Thailand. He relates an experience in ordering a custom-fitting wardrobe to convey the customer service and value still available in Thailand. “For about $1,000, you can completely redo your entire wardrobe; right down to custom-fitted underwear should you so choose.” This is less than the price of one nice suit in the U.S.
Thailand will eventually move on to making higher value-added items than clothing, assuming the people do not elect some socialist government and bring this natural economic progression to a grinding halt. Black notes that Thais are flocking to university and technical training schools, so the progression is happening. Until the gap with the west has closed, you can get services like healthcare and custom tayloring on the cheap.
Tony looked the part – measuring tape draped over his shoulder, wire frame spectacles, and ashy hands that had been sullied by the chalk marks he had been making on my garments.
“SAHM SIP!” he said in Thai, announcing my 30-inch waist to an anxious-looking recorder. The fitting was almost over, and Tony’s crew was about to spend the rest of the evening cranking out an exquisite wardrobe of new clothes for me – pants, shirts, ties, blazer, and a new suit.
Another great reason to come to Thailand: Cutting out the middleman.
This is another great reason to come to Thailand ... what I call, “cutting out the middleman.”
For about $1,000, you can completely redo your entire wardrobe; right down to custom-fitted underwear should you so choose. Throw in another $2k in travel expenses, and you have an amazing experience, all for the price of one nice suit in the western world.
It is no secret that the vast majority of clothing retailers outsource their labor to cheap countries. There is nothing wrong with this; if Canadians were doing it, a pair of socks would cost $12 in Toronto.
The fact of the matter is that countries should specialize in what they can do the most efficiently – Saudi Arabia should not be growing orchids, Switzerland should not be producing cheap knickknacks, and Bangladesh should not be designing particle colliders.
It is not about human worth or intelligence, but rather a question of economic capability based on available resources – land, water, commodities, education, labor, etc. Directing available resources towards products and services that can be produced the most efficiently is how economies create wealth.
In the long run, economic conditions change. China, now a center for low cost labor, will one day soon have to transition itself away from cheap manufacturing; it will be a painful readjustment, but as the economy grows and the currency appreciates, the Chinese will not be able to compete against Vietnam and Indonesia in the market for low-cost labor.
The same thing will happen one day in Thailand; they will graduate from making clothes for $15/day to designing software for $15/hour. In many ways, this transition is already under way as more and more locals flock to university and technical training schools.
In the meantime, though, you can still come here and enjoy the fruits of economic progression; this includes ultra-cheap, high quality medical care that I discussed yesterday, as well as a first class retail fashion experience.
I have always had an aversion to buying clothes in the west – it never made sense to pay $300 for a pair of jeans that I know were made for less than $5. Here in Thailand, I am cutting out the middleman, and whatever I buy is custom fit to my body.
The best part, though, is the level of service.
The first time I met Tony the tailor several years ago, I literally had less than 12 hours to go in Bangkok ... it was about 6:00 p.m., and I was departing on a flight at 5:55 a.m. I ordered half a dozen garments, and I explained my situation to him – “Look, I am leaving in 12 hours and I know it’s already closing time, is that a problem?”
The combination of service and value for price stands in stark contrast to the west’s level of service and overpriced goods.
“It’s not your problem, it’s my problem.”
To this day, that is probably the best answer I have ever received from anyone, and it is reflective of their incredible service and dedication.
This combination of service and value for price stands in stark contrast to the west’s level of service and overpriced goods ... and it is just one indication of Thailand’s upward trajectory.
In another posting which had Thailand-related content, Black writes:
Howard writes about Thailand – “For investors and businessmen, Thailand is a culture based on deceit and power; a major business expense here is corruption payments ... and nothing here is clear, honest, or straight-ahead.”
I agree entirely. Doing business in most places overseas, particularly in developing nations, is fraught with challenges (read: corruption), and Thailand is no different. More specific stories and solutions on this in future letters.
Elsewhere in that same posting, mostly a reader Q&A, Simon writes: “If ... a major catastrophe turns the world into Mad Max, I think everyone will be wishing s/he had invested in bullets and crop land instead of precious metals. You might want to check out a great book called Emergency by Neil Strauss for an interesting read about a potential breakdown of our social and financial system ... I highly recommend it.
Real Estate in Thailand
For the right person, Thailand is paradise. For others, there may be much better locations where property purchase and residency go hand-in-hand.
Another post from Simon Black on his trip though Thailand. Restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate in the country – with no easy end-around such as setting up a controlled Thai company which owns the property – along with no easy route to permanent residency means it is a hassle for a foreigner to stay there. For those who think they might really want to be there, you can rent a nice property in Pattaya for $500 a month.
Today I want to talk about real estate in Thailand, and particularly here in Pattaya. I have spent the last few days scouting property, and talking to agents, developers, and buyers. Overall, some aspects of the market are reasonably attractive in the long-term, but I need to give you a bit of background first.
In general, I dislike countries that place restrictions on foreign ownership ... buying property in Panama, for example, is great. Foreign ownership is allowed and protected to the same extent as a local Panamanian’s. Plus, buying property can often lead to residency.
Foreign ownership is limited by law; however, the private sector has found a few ways around these restrictions.
Thailand is completely different. Foreign ownership is limited by law, and this is a big negative to me. For people that are interested in moving here, though, the private sector has found a few ways around these restrictions.
First, a foreigner can establish a Thai company and buy property through that company. S/he would be the largest individual shareholder, but have to give up at least 51% of the company in order for the transaction to be legitimate. Usually a team of attorneys would be the remaining shareholders.
In this case, a buyer would clearly need to have a high degree of trust in the attorneys who are the legitimate controlling shareholders of the company and property.
Second, a foreigner can buy a property for a domestic company or individual, then lease it back from them. The lease term is capped at 30-years, then renewable for another 30-years. This is known as the “2×30” scheme.
For example, you pay $100,000 for a property, and then deed the property to a local Thai. You would then “rent” the property for a nominal fee for 30-years, renewable for another 30-years. At the end of 60-years, unless they change the law, you/your heirs will lose access to the property.
In this case, you need to have an iron-clad rental agreement that ensures you cannot be evicted from your own property over the two 30-year periods, plus provisions for your estate.
Frankly, I find both of these options to be rather risky and unappealing. There is an attractive loophole for condominium projects, though, which stipulates that up to 40% (or 49% in some cases) of the project can be owned directly by foreigners.
For this reason, you frequently see condo listings advertise “Foreign Owned,” which means that buying the property will have no effect on the building’s foreign ownership quota.
Mid-range condo prices in Pattaya average between $900 and $1,500 per square meter, while high-end condo projects can cost upwards of $2,500 per square meter.
At the moment, though, there is excess inventory on the market. Developers started too many projects in the last 24-months, and the volume of buyers has decreased dramatically from the peak.
It is the same story around the world, and Thailand’s foreign ownership restrictions make things even worse.
To boost sales, developers have started offering financing in this traditionally “cash-only” market. Financing incentives consist of a 10% to 20% down payment, followed by fixed payments for 5 to 10-years.
Other developers have come up with other gimmicks, like giving away free Toyota SUV to buyers, or even a Thai wife. As you can imagine, these are generally signs of a real estate market that is wallowing near the bottom.
Many people simply do not have $100,000 for a condominium in Thailand ... many more, however, have $20,000 for a down payment and $600/month to pay the note.
My assessment is that developer financing will probably kick start an increase in sales. Given the erosion of wealth that has occurred around the world, many people simply do not have $100,000 for a condominium in Thailand ... many more, however, have $20,000 for a down payment and $600/month to pay the note.
This includes North American and European retirees, as well as another key market in Pattaya – Russians.
Pattaya is crawling with Russians, and their influence is omnipresent – there are signs and billboards everywhere written in Russian Cyrillic, and Thai musicians have even learned Russian songs that they play on the streets and in the local bars.
Many real estate agencies cater specifically to Russian customers, and at a fraction of the price of Dubrovnik, Pattaya is an attractive location for them.
There is no place in the world quite like Thailand, but you really have to want to be here to go through the hassle and bureaucracy of the visa.
One final note about property in Thailand – unlike many other countries, a large purchase in Thailand does not guarantee residency. Many people who have lived here for years still have to do a periodic “visa run” to neighboring Laos or Cambodia to reset their visas for another 30 to 90 days.
You should strongly consider this if you are thinking about moving to Thailand; there is no place in the world quite like it, but you really have to want to be here to go through the hassle and bureaucracy of the visa.
For the right person, Thailand is paradise. You can test it out on the cheap – a nice, clean property rental is about $500/month.
For other people, there may be much better locations where property purchase and residency go hand-in-hand, like Malaysia’s “My Second Home” program. More on that in a future letter.
Fight Night in Pattaya, Thailand
Thailand is chaos. It is fun and has a lot of great potential, but it is chaos.
Needing a break to “soak in some raw carnage,” Simon Black attended a “Mauay Thai” match in Pattaya, and found it a “compelling episode of quintessential Thailand.” Some videos are attached.
The air smelled of sweat and blood, and I could barely hear my friends talking to me over the screaming crowd. With each blow, bookmakers were shifting odds and taking bets with such a frenzy that the arena may as well have been the New York Stock Exchange on Black Monday.
This was the scene tonight at a local Muay Thai match here in Pattaya ... and aside from being a much needed break for me to soak in some raw carnage, it was also a compelling episode of quintessential Thailand.
To give you a bit of background, Muay Thai is the country’s national sport and famous martial art – it is a cross between a Buddhist ritual and a fantasy death match. Referred to as the “art of eight limbs,” Muay Thai is essentially a clash of knees, shins, elbows, and chins, all without protection, in front of howling spectators and bookmakers.
Tonight’s event was a bit unusual because the local fight promoters imported a rival gang of fighters from Europe. The gimmick worked; European tourists packed the house to see their countrymen duke it out with the locals, even though the $36 ticket price is considered quite expensive for Thai entertainment.
I saw boys as young as 8-years old fighting it out in the ring. One of the kids was knocked out cold, much to the delight of the cheering locals who were in attendance. The Europeans in the crowd were rather shocked to see such a young boy being pummeled comatose, though to be honest, there are far more violent sports out there.
In Afghanistan, for example, the locals play a version of polo/rugby/suicide/bestiality called Buzkashi (pronounced “BOOZE-ka-shee”) ... you might be familiar with it – it is the one where the Afghan horseman wrestle each other at top speed for a dead animal carcass. Buzkashi has to be one of the most violent sports on the face of the earth, and people die regularly from participating (and watching).
And even the very-civilized French have a rather strange ritual called Toro Piscine, which means “bull, swimming pool.” As the name suggests, the event involves a small ring, an inflatable swimming pool, and an angry bull who attempts to impale spectators. Occasionally children get caught in the line of fire, which is usually a big crowd pleaser.
Given other countries’ penchant for ritualistic violence, tonight’s Muay Thai event seemed right on the money, notwithstanding the concussions, broken arms, and shattered ribs. What was so uniquely Thai about the event, however was not the violence, or even the fact that pre-pubescent boys were pitted against each other.
It was the chaos ... the commotion. Bleachers lined with prostitutes scouting for old men, frenzied spectators throwing money at the bookies, ritualistic fight music being played continually by the band, the free flowing booze, the smoke, the stench, the homeless kids, the nasty seats and floors, the angry lunatics fighting outside of the ring, etc.
It is a little something like you would imagine Deadwood City in the Old West. If this event were in Singapore, for example, it would take place in a spotless venue next to a 12-story shopping mall and have a legion of security guards and ushers to ensure that everyone was enjoying themselves in the most orderly way possible.
Thailand is chaos. It is fun and has a lot of great potential, but it is chaos. I hope you enjoy the videos.
WHAT THAI REAL ESTATE CAN TELL YOU ABOUT GOLD
A real estate ad speaks to westerners’ concerns about inflation.
Simon Black saw seeds of a gold mania in China when he was there most of the last two months, and saw the same in Thailand this month. Meanwhile, an ad for a real estate development in a Thai newspaper caught his eye. The development promoters were “giving away” a gold bar with each sale.
Sales gimicks like that which address a going concern or need often succeed beyond what they seemingly ought to. The ad in question was printed in English and was placed in a foreigner newspaper, ergo it was clearly catering to Westerners. So the development marketer perceived that a concern of foreigners was ... well, take your pick. People buy gold for various reasons, assuming their buy decisions are analytically based at all – as a hedge against inflation getting out of control and against economic chaos are historically sensible reasons. The point is mostly that the offer of gold is an attention-getter. Come the peak of the gold mania they will probably be offering a free house to go along with a gold bar.
I was having breakfast this morning at my favorite Bangkok cafe – they do a delicious American breakfast with eggs, bacon, toast, orange juice, and fresh fruit for under $3 ... and it is delicious. For another $3 I could get a backrub while I eat.
As I was reading the local paper, something caught my eye in the business section – a full page ad for a real estate development about 2 hours outside of Bangkok. The development looked generic enough – another condo tower with a pretty view of the ocean, nothing special.
The catch? They are giving away a gold bar with each sale.
Particularly in tough times, sales managers come up with all sorts of gimmicks to improve their numbers. If the sales gimmick speaks to a specific need or concern in the marketplace, chances are it will probably succeed.
In Missouri, for example, many people report concerns that President Obama will modify their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. In fact, there has been a massive wave of gun sales across the US since Obama won the election last year. To capitalize on this fear, a Missouri car dealer decided to start giving away a free handgun with each new car sold.
His sales volume quadrupled.
In China, uneven demographics have young males substantially outnumbering by young females, and it is becoming harder and harder for men to find available women. Capitalizing on young men’s concerns, Chinese development company Jin Tai Cheng that promised a $9,000 to anyone who would buy a home and marry one of their pretty sales agents, most of whom were single and good looking.
Naturally, the promotion was of great interest to male buyers seeking a wife.
These cases indicate that the market responds quickly when promoters address a specific need or fear. In Thailand, at least one developer seems to have hit a chief concern squarely on the head.
According to local agents, sales activity has jumped since the developer started running the “gold bar giveaway” promotion, though I was not given precise figures as they are a private company.
Asians in general have a deeper gold tradition than western cultures; Thailand, for example, has been issuing gold coins for centuries. I saw seeds of gold mania in China when I was there most of the last two months, and I have seen it here in Thailand this month.
Gold is quoted in the daily papers in both U.S. dollars and Thai baht, and there seem to be gold shops on just about every block.
The majority of gold shop inventory is jewelry, but the local Thais (similar to the Chinese) have been buying it up as an investment, not because it looks pretty. Gold bars also tend to be bought up very quickly, the most popular of which is the “10 baht” variety, roughly 4.9 ounces of 965 purity.
To me, the most interesting part of the story is that the advertisement is specifically catered to Westerners ... although the condo price points are within reach of well-to-do Thais, the ad was printed in English and being marketed in a foreigner newspaper.
The pickup in sales activity suggests that foreigners are attracted to the sales promotion because it speaks to one of their major concerns – perhaps inflationary expectations, perhaps economic misgivings, or perhaps the fear of being left behind the gold boom.
Either way, the increased interest at the consumer level translates into increased retail bullion sales activity, and this should have a positive price affect for both gold and silver. I would not be surprised to see more of these types of promotions, and I will be on the lookout for similar signs when I arrive to Europe next week.
Five Ways to Cruise for Free (and Maybe Even Get Paid)
When I was a cruise ship crew member, I saw it all. Some passengers would complain about the food (only after finishing four courses) or about “finding” dead bugs (one went on a butterfly farm tour, then smuggled some rare “stowaways” onboard). Often they were just angling for a free cruise.
Take it from me, spurious complaints will get you no more than a well-rehearsed speech (and sympathetic head-cock) at the reception desk. And maybe a cheap platter of chocolate-covered strawberries ... if you cry.
Thankfully, there are legitimate ways to cruise for free. Richard Detrich is an avid blogger and writer who “retired” in Panama several years ago. He started cruising for free as a ship chaplain, and today gets paid to lecture on everything from the Panama Canal to rum-running. “My goal as a lecturer is to entertain and educate; it’s a lot of fun,” says Richard. He has since been on free cruises to places like Trinidad & Tobago, St. Bart’s, Cartagena, Rome, and Casablanca.
If you cruise as a lecturer, you can usually bring a guest to share your cabin. And lectures are usually on sea days, so you do not miss out on precious port time. Even if you lecture several times per cruise, you will still have the leisure time to soak up the sun and pose for pictures with Vegas-style showgirls (or hunky deck officers).
If public speaking is not your idea of fun, there are other ways to go to sea for free…and maybe even get paid by the cruise line. See if any of the following apply to you:
Then you can cruise for free, too. I explain how in the current issue of International Living Magazine. Subscribe to IL right now and get instant access to my full “cruise for free” article ...
- You are a single man over 40 ...
- You have a family reunion coming up ...
- You belong to an active professional society or a club—bridge, chess, even a book club
- You are a doctor or a nurse
- You can you swing a nine iron ... or critique modern art ...
The Way to India’s Heart is Through Ecuador Foods
The second annual Ecuadorian Gastronomy Festival is underway at ITC Grand Central in Mumbai, India, where the taste of Ecuador foods is being used to promote Ecuador as an Indian tourism destination. ...
“India is a huge and potential market for Ecuador,” says Carlos Abad, Ecudaor’s Ambassador to India, “The motive of holding the food festival is two fold: To promote tourism and hospitality of the country and to create awareness about the food industry of Ecuador. Food industry is the second largest contributor to the GDP of Ecuador.” ... “Depending upon the response, we will look at organizing such food festivals in Chennai and Kolkata in near future,” said Abad.
The quality and variety of Ecuador foods is well known to vacationers and expats living full or part time in Ecuador. Thanks to its position on the equator, Ecuador has a virtually year-around growing season, and its produce is some of the best in the world.
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