Thursday, November 26, 2015

Leave Winter Behind And Head For a Caribbean Island Paradise

Leave Winter Behind And Head For a Caribbean Island Paradise
By Ann Kuffner
When asked why she and her husband Bob chose Ambergris for their second home, Lonni Skrentner, 68, is quite clear. "No snow! And it's totally different from the Midwest: different animals, plants, flowers, birds. Not to mention the beach and the sea breeze."
Neither Lonni nor Bob, 70, had any interest in Florida or Arizona. They wanted to spend time in a warm environment, on the sea, but were seeking a location with diverse residents. Lonni notes, "We like the variety and age range of the population on Ambergris Caye. Bob likes the fact that we are only minutes from the reef for scuba diving. We both love the almost-constant Caribbean breeze that keeps the beachfront cooler than the mainland. We also appreciate the fact that it is English-speaking, which allows us to operate beyond the expat community."
The Skrentners split their time between Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Ambergris Caye. They've lived and worked in the Minneapolis region for 37 years. In 2011, nearing retirement, they bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on Ambergris Caye, nearly three miles south of San Pedro town center.
Lonni says, "Each winter we've spent more time on Ambergris Caye. In 2012 we spent six weeks. By 2015 we were up to 14 weeks. We may never live full-time in Belize, but eventually we may stay from the end of October to the end of June."
Having obtained their QRP retirement residence visa for Belize, the couple can come and go as they please. Lonni feels that they have the best of two worlds. "The quality of life is great in both places, just different—and variety truly is the spice of life. We find Ambergris Caye, as small as it is, to be truly cosmopolitan, because of the variety of cultures. We have potable water, A/C, WiFi, cellphone service, grocery stores. The biggest difference is the super-friendly people, which is what just about everyone notes about Belize. That, and folks driving golf carts instead of cars."
Lonni and Bob like to enjoy their time on Ambergris. Lonni splits her free time on Ambergris between leisure and volunteer activities. "Part of my fulfillment comes from fun—water fitness, painting classes, lunches with friends, photographing animals, flowers, plants, or just reading on the beach. The other part comes from being useful. I spend about four-and-a-half hours a week tutoring at Holy Cross Anglican School and probably another four hours planning and grading. We also socialize regularly. Almost every Friday night we sample wines and share a cheese platter with friends at [wine bar] Wine de Vine."
Bob still enjoys being an engineer, so he works when visiting Belize. He conducts work-related video/audio meetings from Belize, since the internet connections are generally solid. "I generally log into work first thing in the morning, usually around 7 a.m.," he says. "If it is a scuba diving day, I block out my work calendar for the morning ‘meeting,' and go out to our dock to wait for the scuba shop to pick me up. I generally dive two to three days a week. While working during the day, I take several breaks to walk along the beach or to the palapa at the end of our dock."
The Skrentners also enjoy socializing and eating out regularly. They allow $700 a month in their budget to eat out. Lonnie finds the cost of eating out at nice restaurants on Ambergris comparable to the Midwest. But fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables are more reasonable on the island.
"Bananas are wonderful, at five for 50 cents on the island, versus 69 cents a pound in the U.S. right now," she says. "There's a guy in San Pedro Town who buys fresh fish from the fishermen (grouper and red snapper), filets them beautifully, and sells them for about $2 a pound. Bob came home one day with two pounds of snapper, two pounds of grouper and two lobster tails for $14! That's five entrees for $14. In Minnesota, grouper or snapper sells for about $12 a pound!"