Monday, June 30, 2008

The Determining Factor

When we decided to retire early and move to an island, there were many questions which had to be resolved before making our decision. The most important question, could we afford it? Having never lived on an island, or in a 3rd world country, we decided that we had to question people who lived there; locals and foreigners alike.

One would think that open-ended questions such as how much is your budget for food, electricity, gas, health care, etc. would be questions easily answered. We also had questions about building our home, taxes, residency requirements, which lawyer to use, etc., all of which would help us make sound, rational decisions. However, we were to learn that such was not the case. From locals and foreigners alike we got zip, nada, nothing.

We discovered that locals don’t budget. They buy things according to how much money that have available that day. As to paying bills, well, if they have the money they may pay their bills. If they don’t have the funds, the merchant or business they owe money to must wait until they can come up with the money. The surprising fact is that they continue to get credit even when they haven’t paid in months. People here buy 1 rib of celery, 1 cigarette, 1 aspirin, 1 bouillon cube, or whatever is necessary at that moment to get them through the day. We also discovered that when one hears the phrase “Can I borrow….” it doesn’t mean to take temporary possession of something with the idea in mind to return it or to repay money that was requested. It means, “Give me what I am asking for and do not expect to get it back or repaid!” This phrase is used to supplement their income or living situation at any given time. So, no islander could tell us with any accuracy what our monthly requirements would be.

Foreigners usually have a steady income but since they all live on a different income scale, they could not advise us either. Even those individuals with the same approximate income level as we were not forthcoming. Now, it was not because they did not want to help us, it was simply that their needs were totally different from ours at any given time. While some can live on beans and rice and tortillas, others need or want specific foods to make them comfortable. Some want T.V. in their homes, others do not. Some require different appliances to make their lives more comfortable, i.e., dishwashers, dryers, air conditioning units, microwave ovens, phones, etc. While we could live without a dishwasher, dryer or air conditioner, we did contemplate having a telephone. However, telephones were hard to come by so getting one was out of the question as there was a long wait list for them. Transportation requirements also varied so determining what type of boat and motor we would use was something we had to figure for ourselves.

One thing we knew, after canvassing health insurance options, we decided to remain self-insured. So far it has worked. Medicines are cheaper in Honduras and those people over 60 can get up to 25% off the price of their prescriptions, along with discounts for airfare, food, hotels. Hospital and doctor costs are cheaper and screenings (MRI’s, CAT scans, etc.) and blood tests are also within a manageable range. We have been lucky because we have been relatively healthy. But we are now 11 years older than we arrived and a few health issues are presenting themselves. For the most part living here, we believe, has kept us healthier than our counter-parts in the U.S.

Building costs here are another thing all together. Lumber, cement, sand, gravel, nails, PVC, all building material must be acquired from sources on the Mainland. One must fly to La Ceiba or San Pedro Sula and spend days hunting down various materials. Once the items are found they must be paid for in advance and arrangements made for its shipment to the island with the hopes that the purchased product will arrive when promised, in the amount ordered and in the condition one saw it in when making the purchase. If something comes that is damaged or not what you ordered, you are stuck with it! No refunds are made and to get an exchange would mean shipping it back, flying to the coast and making sure that it is delivered to the merchant and then usually arguing with them about the fact that the product was shipped in bad condition or wasn’t what you ordered. No matter what you may believe, you never, never, never get your money back and, on occasion, they will not take the item back and/or exchange it.

Trying to determine what labor will cost to build your home – well, believe me when I tell you that you should take your original figure and double or triple it and then it may be close! Competent construction workers are almost impossible to find and those that are available, albeit few, are busy and booked up. The same goes for trying to determine the length of time that it will take to complete your project. Thank goodness my husband was in the construction business and knew how to build our house to our satisfaction. We found by observation that there is little if any advanced planning that goes into building a home; i.e., doors open inward when they should open outward, electrical outlets in inconvenient places, tile laid haphazardly, poor block work to which their solution is cover everything up with stucco!

It took us a lot of trial and error to figure out a household budget and as far as building the house, well, we just dug our heels in and went ahead and built it trying to stay within what we felt was a reasonable cost. The only thing we did not figure on was a three-day, Category 5 hurricane striking and disassembling our house which was 3/4ths roughed in!

We have managed to live on the same income for 11 years and only recently, because of the price of fuel skyrocketing, we have had to increase our income by an additional one-half. A large majority of the locals do not have a steady income and how they manage to handle the high cost of living is a real problem. There is no welfare here; the government does not bail them out nor furnish any programs to help.

Our needs are basic here; food, fuel, fun. Taxes are low, no insurance premiums, no new car every 3 years or so, no necessity for new clothing, no malls to spend our money in foolishly, and only about 4 restaurants to go to for a change in pace. Nevertheless, we are content and fulfilled. We have found outlets for our energy and, in general, keep ourselves occupied with hobbies, maintenance work, entertaining, or exploring the world around us. We do spend time “resting” and observing nature and, to tell the truth, sitting on the front porch watching the sea roll in is not all bad! Added plus – the view is free!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cool Breezes

Well, winter has passed and summer will be upon us in a few weeks. In the meantime, we are back into that time of year where the wind blows and blows and blows. The seas get rougher making travel by boat a little more taxing shall one say?

Normally our temperatures hang around 80-82 degrees Fahrenheit. August and September are the hottest times of the year and this is mainly because the wind stops and it is absolutely still. Then we lay around, under a fan, and read a book because moving around is just too much work.

For the most part, we are very comfortable in our home on the island because 10 months out of the year we have some type of breeze flowing through the house. My husband constructed our home to take advantage of the wind by putting in many tall louvered windows which allow for greater circulation. We have 4 ceiling fans; one in the kitchen (a must), one over the computer area (another must), one in the bedroom (an absolutely necessity which I will get to) and one upstairs in my "craft room".

In allowing for wonderful ventilation, there is one area however that is a "dead area." We have one wall that divides the living room/kitchen from the bedroom. This wall blocks most of the breeze that we would get from the living area and even though we have 6 windows in our bedroom, when the wind dies down or it is just a "gentle" breeze, that room is the hottest. So, the ceiling fan is just perfect.

Some people on the island (mostly newcomers) have air conditioning for various reasons. One individual has a health problem and needs the added relief it provides so that he doesn't overtax his system. Another couple is here once a month, on average, and it is very difficult to acclimate oneself to this heat if you only spend a week at a time here before returning to the air-conditioning of the U.S. Some people have a unit only in their bedroom, and some of the islanders are included in this group. A few stores, over the past few years, on the Cay have air conditioning. Not so much for their customers (which we appreciate in the heat of the summer), but to also keep the groceries they stock fresher.

Heat here affects many things, not just humans. For instance, do not buy large quantities of band aids. Over time they lose their effectiveness and the sticky part ends up, well, not sticky anymore. Rubber bands are another problem. Over time they become brittle and lose their elasticity. Medicines can deteriorate much faster and it is an absolute must to keep spices in your freezer! I have had packages of dry onion soup in the package turn to liquid over a short period of time - and the package is sealed and in a Zip-Loc bag! Bread molds faster so it, too, must be kept in the refrigerator. Vitamins in the form of gel capsules are not a good thing to get because they turn to goo in a very short period of time. Elastic waistbands - well, eventually they lose their stretch and not necessarily due to weight gain!

I am very glad to be able to live where I do not have to have air conditioning. I find that when I am in an air-conditioned room for any length of time, my sinuses start plugging up. Even when I return to Florida for visits, I find that after a few days sealed up in an air conditioned house takes its toll. I want to throw open every window and let the fresh air in. But, alas, this is not possible because people now have security systems on their windows which preclude them from opening them!

I have always liked my house open with the fresh air circulating through and even when I lived in Florida I would hold out to the last moment before I would turn the A/C on. Once I made it to the first of July!

We just had two storms affect the island; Tropical Storm Alma (on the Pacific) and Tropical Storm Arthur (on the Atlantic). They brought 2 days of rain and the skies were overcast for 4 days. The wind was really howling at night and temperatures dropped considerably. The seas were rough and not pleasant to be on. But, when one must go to town to shop for groceries, well, there is no choice but to grin (ha) and bear it. On with the rain jackets - not for rain but for the sea spray that will douse you on the way to town in rough seas. Today, the sun is trying to break through so now I can get back to a regular work day.

For you see, when we have rain and wind and rough seas there is nothing to do but inside work or, failing that, lay around and read. Poor us!