For those of us who’ve spent a decade or three or four listening to the music of Jimmy Buffett, there’s this little section of our brain to which we can retreat whenever we sip a margarita, strum a six-string or lie in a hammock — or, on a really good day, all three.
It’s our own little mental “Margaritaville” — where we can nibble on sponge cake in our flip-flops until someone shakes us out of our perceptual paradise with a “I thought you were gonna take out the trash!”
“I can’t. I might step on a pop top! You want me to cut my heel?!”
In lieu of ditching this hectic, materialistic American life and heading down to the Caribbean to live in a grass hut and sell T-shirts or run a tiny bar on the beach or a floating one on the water, we decorate our patios and porches with little sailboats, signs touting that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere and light-up plastic palm trees. It’s our lame replacement for not having the guts to chuck it all and throw caution to the tradewinds.
Guilty as charged.
My grilling pad, adjacent to someone-I-know’s she-shed, is decked out with all kinds of tropical décor. I’ve given almost as much money to Jimmy Buffett as my wife has to Jeff Bezos. It’s where I play island-y music, grill and sip an occasional margarita. It overlooks a hill that runs from my backyard to a tiny branch of water that I consider Chris’ Ocean. My beach is covered with leaves, and I have oaks, pines and crape myrtles instead of palm trees. I call it Margaritahill, and I’m quite happy there, although I expect a cease-and-desist letter from Jimmy any day now.
I’ve been to a few tropical places such as Belize, Nicaragua, Grand Cayman, Roatan, Cozumel, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and the like, and at nearly every stop I’ve thought, “I could live here.” (Well, except Grand Cayman — too busy, too crowded and too flush with tax-dodging Americans’ money)
But I always wonder about the Americans and ex-pats I meet along the way, though usually I don’t wonder enough to ask them what made them pull the trigger and ditch the States. This week, though, I chatted with a fellow who followed such a dream — moving from the lovely Cleveland, Ohio area on the shores of Lake Erie to tropical Belize and the shores of the Caribbean.
Dave and Laura Diffendal moved to Placencia a decade ago. They bought a half-acre lot with two cabanas. They lived in one and rented out the other while they built a little resort. It grew to 15 rooms, two restaurants and 30 employees. Today, they also have a resort on Ambergris Caye. In case it sounds like they’re living the dream, Dave explains:
“It is living the dream,” he said. Why couldn’t the guy just say, “It’s horrible. Don’t do it!”?
He continued. “I wake up every morning with Caribbean breezes that blow through my hair. I bike to work on a shore. There’s palm trees. I went there with my wife specifically because we wanted to do something different. We wanted to be bold. We wanted to live extraordinary lives.”
I checked out the website for their two resorts and … holy moly! No one should get to live like this for more than a week! Before you go hating on Dave for actually living the dream, though, know that I was talking to him from a Fuller Center for Housing volunteer job site in Virginia, where he was spending an entire week of his on time on his own dime helping a family in need build a home. He hasn’t exactly turned his back on the U.S.
“America is the best country,” he says, noting that he doesn’t consider himself an ex-pat, simply a resident in Belize. “I’ve traveled to 30 and worked in three. Belize is fantastic, but America is the best country. When I come back and get the chance to work with Americans on an American project, that’s inspiring and that’s great.
“Ex-pat is short for ex-patriot, but I’m still a patriot,” he stressed. “I do live in an ex-pat community, but I’m a Belizean resident, not a citizen. I have a big stamp on my passport that says I’m able to do everything but vote in Belize. But I’m still an American all day. I’m an American working abroad. I’m very passionate about Belize, I’m passionate about our product, and I’m passionate about the Belizean people, but I’m still a visitor there and I probably always will be.”
Does he have any words of caution for folks who entertain the kind of fanciful notions that they can simply drop everything and chase a dream? Would he talk them out of it?
“Make the leap! Just do it! You’ll figure it out as you go. As I tell people all the time, quit thinking about it — just do it!”
My wife and I have a 10-year anniversary next year. We just might visit one of Dave and Laura’s places down in Belize — and we just might forget to come home.