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My personal experience.

When I was 7 years old I had a vision of a candid white beach, calm waters, short shadows cast by green mangroves, crystal clear water, a small boat at the dock, coconut trees, sun. A simple life, just enough to survive. No worries. Closer to nature. At peace.

When I told my wife, 14 years ago, she told me I was insane. Life should be here, close to family and friends, with safe hospitals and infrastructure, schools for our children, a career.

 

Our house is big, in the suburbs, the dogs run in the fenced in yard. The children go to private school and to their classmates’ birthday parties.

 

The jobs are nice, rewarding, demanding, tiring. The electric bill is expensive, the oil bill even more so. The children’s school is too expensive. Every week there is some extra responsibility coming from the job, it’s stressful. In order for us to keep the house we need to work more, and more, and more. So, life becomes a production chain. All the money that we make and that we try to save goes into the bills. It’s like trying to fill a bucket without a bottom, but every trip to the water well becomes longer and longer. Keeping the bucket full seems harder by the month.

We grow, we also grow older. We learn and look, we listen to the world.

Having a career is a 19th century invention.

After 1 year into her new business, my wife tells me that the island idea wasn't that crazy after all, she thought about it more: let's go!

We start researching online; in the Atlantic, we have been to many islands already on vacation, but they are all too exclusive and expensive. So we keep looking and researching, I board many lonely flights to countries kissed by the Caribbean sun in search of a perfect property. Tobago, Cayman, Panama, Anguilla, Tortola, Costa Rica, Barbados, St. Thomas, Guadeloupe, Bermuda, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica. I might have forgotten some.

Long story short: we find Roatan.

In 2006 we go to a small Villa for rent in Roatan, we spend 10 days with our 6 years old daughter, we love it!

The smallest piece of beach we could find for sale was $350K. No water, no electricity, no dock, no shops, lots of bugs. You can get "close" to it with a car and then you need to jump in a golf cart to reach the property.

It's just breath taking, on the North Shore; with a killer view.

Completely out of our budget.

We come back home with not much hope left.

All the beautiful places are already taken. Some are for sale by speculators and we cannot afford them. No dream.

The internet is magic and you can keep looking even when you don't know what you are searching for.

There is this guy in a picture, he looks like a retired hippie, one of those people that use "dude" a lot in a sentence.

He lives on Utila, for some reason my wife thinks he is a very interesting person.

So we get on a plane, again, and travel to Utila, the smallest of these Bay Islands. Thanks to some communication issues we arrive in San Pedro Sula and we faithfully wait for the charter pilot we hired to meet us after customs. He is not there.

So we call the friendly hippie. He tells us that we didn't understand what he told us: we should take the charter flight from La Ceiba, not San Pedro Sula!

$120 and 3 hours later we arrive in La Ceiba, Goloson "National airport". Hurry hurry! The plane cannot leave if it gets too dark, the landing strip in Utila has no lights and we must leave as soon as we can.

In Honduras, when you come, leave or stay at the airport, you have to pay some come, leave or stay taxes. (not entirely true, but I liked it for the sake of the prose).

In the past 3 years I have noticed that when you give the teller your tax money, they give your their papers, and after a while they present you with your change. The first 4 times I paid my airport taxes, received my papers, watched the teller thank me with a smile and then  left forgetting to wait for my change. They have this peculiar habit of handing your change out after just a little bit.... In retrospect, I believe I was made a fool of, and wonder how many tourists have fallen into the same time trap. You fool me once: shame on you, you fool me twice: shame on me, you fool me 4 times: I am an idiot!

My wife's flying terror immediately transforms into marvel. A little single engine four seater "actually" flies!

She means: it feels like being on the back of a huge eagle, you can really feel the wings' lift keep you up in the air, like swimming, flying is a "fluid" experience.

Selene is an amazing pilot and his landing enhances the feeling of safety.

Kurt, the hippie, and Andy are waiting for us in their blue mini-mini pick up truck and motorcycle at the landing strip.

I light up a Camel, Kurt is pleased to see another smoker.

Welcome to Utila.

My wife and daughter are exhausted and thrilled at the same time. Something is terribly right about this place. The ride to Slumberland villas is smooth and slow. Andy's truck beeps frequently, the locals wave back or mumble "Ok" which here means:" hey man, good to see you, hope everything is all right with you!".

Personal note:

In Utila, the locals understand walking time differently from the rest of the world. Slumberland villas are about 2 miles from downtown, yet for them it is about 10 minutes walk!

After settling down in our beautiful accommodations, we walk to find a restaurant for dinner. 10 minutes later we are still far, far away from town. The first place we find after 25 minutes is Fidi's restaurant. we stop, rest and ask if they have dinner.

The owner is very friendly and shows us to the table, a plastic surface propped up under a palm tree, surrounded by chairs too low to let you reach the table with some sort of manners.

The fish is outstanding, the beer and the sodas are cold and the light up sneakers of Fidi's 4 years old son provide great entertainment.

We stumble back to Slumberland helped by my trusty yellow flashlight and call it a night.

Kurt takes us all over the island, inside it and around it.

His boat is old, skinny, smells funny and does not cut into the waves too well.

He is an experienced bare-foot walker, I used to be one.

We stop at a dock on the South shore and he wants to show us around a bit.

His "a bit" is different from my "a bit".

I start the scouting without any shoes since I see white coral sand around the dock.

The coral gets hot in the sun. My daughter gets whiny when her feet star burning. I pick her up when she whines.

We walk 20 minutes from the dock all the way to a brand new, still under construction resort: "Utopia Dive Village". You know the feeling of walking bare foot over extremely hot, sharp, prickly surfaces? yeah! add a 50 pound daughter on your back.

Sweet.

Anyway, we get a first glance at the local building skills, Utopia is truly outstanding, it is going to be a great resort.

We get the mandatory tour, and the best part of it is a long, quaint stop at Susan's fish burgers restaurant on Pigeon Key. The restaurant is a stone's throw (1 min. by boat) from the beach we will actually purchase 5 days later. Susan makes the most amazing fish Burgers ever, period.

Things are easy, people are sweet, the sun is gentle, the temperature is perfect, the seas are calm, Kurt is a hippie (ex hippie), the food and the beer are dangerously cheap, the smiles feel real and the price of the beach is just about right!

Once you put together a recommended lawyer, some corporation dealings, a jumbo mortgage on your house in the US and some outstanding leap of faith, that's it! you are the happy owner of 2 beach lots and a dilapidated building in town.

 

Two years later.

Kurt and I are really good friends now.

The website representing his real estate company is faithfully being built and updated by me. The same is happening for the Slumberland villas website. It belongs to Kurt as well.

Kurt came to stay with us in the US for almost a week, we shared stories, cigarettes and TV shows. Kurt is a chiropractic doctor and I have seen him rolling around the living room carpet with my wife, but that was a professional encounter.

If you think about it, Utila is a very special place. Kurt came to Utila some 12 years ago, wives, businesses, children and all sort of shit behind. In Utila he met Linda, a gorgeous brown colored woman, a native. Now they have a 6 years old chocolate boy,  a dog who loves boat rides, a house that happens to be on the same property where Linda was actually born and some  amazing future to share together.

Like Kurt, I have met many people whose stories would be too long to recount here, but all of them show how incredible a place Utila is.

In August 2008 Kenner (the builder), starts demolishing the termite infested house we purchased downtown. We agreed on a building contract. The price wass right, the timeline was too. Kenner came highly recommended by Pastor Wilson, a catholic priest on the island, he told me that Kenner is so honest that when he is done with a job he will actually remove his tool belt and empty it in front of you to show you he wouldn't take any materials he bought with your money. Pastor Wilson also showed me his own house, built with some help from Kenner, the amount of detail is stunning, the finishes are really smooth, the cuts in the trims meet so perfectly you think the whole house was made out of one single piece of wood.

Once you spend some time on Utila you quickly realize a few essential things. I remember Kurt telling me once:" In Utila, believe none of what you hear and half of what you see". Imagine; he told me that phrase before he sold us the land and the house!

Anyway, when a builder gives you a quote and a delivery time for a project, you could safely estimate that your final package will be delivered above budget and not on time. I am not saying this as a derogatory statement. Rather, as a matter of fact. Once you understand how it works; it is just a matter of doing your own math to come up with a realistic price and timeline by yourself. The way of doing business here is a little different, maybe even better than most other "civilized" countries. It is customary to account for drinking nights and holy weeks, and power outages, and delayed material, the boat is late, the boat didn't make it today, the boat was sinking and they had to crane it out of the marina's bottom, my friend and I were racing the motorcycles and I fell so I cannot work for 3 weeks now, and so on and so on.

In Europe or in the US you would fire the contractor and find another one. In Utila, you order another beer and enjoy the sunset. Maybe tomorrow, maybe, your builder and his crew can work again if the materials arrived on the boat. It's an island. it's a small one. I did not come here thinking I would find timeliness, organizational skills, professionalism, legal recourse. I came here to start slowing down, to have the chance to bring my family to a place where time feels differently. If we wanted a new vacation/retirement home to be built respecting the architectural specs, on time, on budget, leak proof and ready to be lived in, well; I would have chosen the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard. Utila is fascinating for what it IS. So I am almost glad to see our home come along late, quite different from what I designed it, missing a room here and getting another there. I am happy to hear about the freighter's delays, the wrong material being shipped, the glass windows being broken by the dock workers, I am also happy to hear that the manifacturer of the windows is actually coming to the island to replace the broken glasses for free! All of this is part of Utila, it's people and culture. Wait; one more thing: if you hire a contractor to build something for you and just leave him to his own demise, you will probably end up with your down payment transformed in booze, clothes and motorcycles and no work being done. Therefore, we hired Kurt to be the project manager on site.

We are lucky to have Kurt on the island to oversee the work and the buying process of all the building materials. His office happens to be across the street from where Kenner is building our townhouse. We have the lucky opportunity to chat online when the internet is running in Utila. We touch base almost daily and discuss matters that range from the super-trivial to the really important, about the building of the home and our friendship and future plans. I would like to strongly recommend to anyone who is seriously thinking about building anything on the island; to either BE there or hire a trusted person to be there for them.

Utila is a place to stay in.

It's a life's choice. A philosophy. I believe that not too many people are ready for a commitment to a strong, back to the roots approach to life. The vortex of civilized life takes out of us all the good will to stay young and simple. It is my strong belief that it is a real vortex, it makes you feel that you need and really cannot live without making and doing and buying and having. You need to go to school, you need to graduate and go to college, you need to find a high paying job, you need to marry and have children, you need a big house, you need big cars, you need to go away on vacation, you need to have cable tv, you need to continue this vortex for your children too or they will not be happy people.

In no particular order, I believe that: people probably need food to sustain them, they need love to please their souls, they need clothes to protect them, they need medicine to cure them, they need time to heal themselves, but most importantly they need freedom to let them chose and understand what they need. I fell into the vortex. I am now peaking my head up to see if I can find a way to get out of it.

Utila seems pretty good to provide what we need, for now.

We are lucky, extremely lucky. Both my wife and I are self employed professionals and we have the immense luxury to be able to chose when and how much to work. But I also know many people who are living the simple life of basic needs without coming from a comfortable background. It's about choice, not means. (although means really help!)

Anyway, skipping over the philosophical parts of my drunken stream of consciousness, I hope that many lucky and free people will start thinking about what in their lives they really need, and try to fulfill their wishes.

I have met people in Utila who have their 3rd home built on the beach just because they can, also; people who spent all their savings to put a down payment on a 1/5 acre lot far from the water, because they want to go there when they retire. All in all, I met people that desired to live life in such a meaningful and purposeful way, I met people with a strong wish to enjoy their lives.

Do we want to be in the US, stuck in a never ending cycle of earn and spend, or can we live life in a simpler way? In 2009 you can live a very plush life in Utila for less than $1500 per month.

I believe in simpler not being synonym with less rewarding or less interesting; I like my simpler "idea" to be just about less stuff, less demands, less stress, less time constraints, more time for thinking, more freedom, more beach time.

 

That's it for now.

More... coming soon.