Shortly after I married my soul mate, we put a down payment on our version of the American Dream – a seven acre horse farm in Virginia. I started a horse boarding business and Bob suited up for his six-figure job in upper management. Ten or twelve hours later he’d come home too tired to enjoy the latest wonders, mushrooms in the woods, shoots emerging from an old garden, the newest horse. Six months in I told him, “This isn’t right. I have the life, and you pay the price.” I wanted to do something better. What, I wasn’t sure. It was as if we were in the kitchen and the whole room was on fire. We needed perspective. We needed to get out.
This isn’t right. I have the life, and you pay the price.
So we held weekly meetings in the tub under the stars. We thought back to a place we’d stayed in the Cayo district of Belize, and came up with an exit strategy. Bob wrote a letter to the owners of the lodge, proposing we trade a year of our time for room and board.
A few weeks later, we received an enthusiastic “Come on down!” We sold the house, shrugged off the loss, gave away nearly everything including our animals, picked up Bob’s three young daughters and got on a plane.
Stepping from the air stairs onto asphalt pulsating with heat, I felt instantly at home. Driving west along the Belize River I gazed down at the women washing clothes on river rocks, their children leaping like dolphins. My heart swelled. I knew we’d made the right decision.
Over the next fourteen months we teamed up with the two local couples that lived on the property. We were all as committed and connected to the land as if we owned it. We had traded five horses on seven acres for twenty on one hundred. And no mortgage! Stewardship, it turned out was just as rewarding as ownership.
Guests came from everywhere on the planet to ride our horses. They depended on us for all their meals, their safety and comfort. Our children stayed that summer and came back the next, doing laundry, putting away groceries, helping with the horses, rooms, and kitchen. They charmed our guests, became familiar with the wildlife, and got really good at pitching a Frisbee into the avocado tree to knock down ripe pears.
Twenty-five miles from the Guatemalan border, the BCL land-mobile radio we shared with six nearby lodges was our only contact with the outside world. We kept that radio on twenty-four hours a day for news of forest fires, marauders, and the occasional patched-through phone call. For security we had a shotgun and a big, white Labrador named Gringo.
Armed with a copy of “Where There Is No Doctor” we learned to take care of ourselves. I found out how to pierce a horse’s jugular vein with a syringe. We rode with machetes, swinging them to clear the trails. When one of the guides sliced into little Sombra’s ear, we radioed for a veterinarian. Two weeks later, his truck came bumping up the drive. When our well went dry, we filled thirty-five gallon barrels from the river. Isolated, sometimes panicked, but mostly happy and secure, we were learning resilience.
If you are seeking perspective in your life, I encourage you to step away and immerse yourself in another culture.
Eight years after leaving Belize, we were back in the States looking for a nourishing lifestyle and stumbled upon an “unintentional” community in North Carolina. Neighbors in the woods, this group of farmers, fuel makers, and artists were committed to living in harmony with each other and their land. Bingo!
We bought a couple of acres and stitched ourselves into a resilient quilt. We did what Bob calls a “stage dive” into a community of light-hearted idealists who weren’t afraid of hard work. Together we weave a safety net, a buffer against boom and bust economics. Last year we built a community cemetery and buried two of our neighbors. Our world pulses with laughter, children, wildlife, open space, and farm food.
If you are seeking clarity in your life, I encourage you to step away and immerse yourself in another culture. I am certain we would not have our new American Dream were it not for the lessons we learned in Belize.
About the Author
Camille Armantrout lives with her travel buddy and husband, Bob in rural North Carolina. Their adventures began in 1997 with Belize and from there to China, Guam, Hawaii, Nicaragua and back to the States. In 2012 they found themselves in Ghana, bitten once more by the travel bug after a few years of normal life. Camille wrote about her time in Africa in Two Brauds Abroad with co-author Stephanie De La Garza. You will also find her at Amazon or on her blog, Plastic Farm Animals.