Leaving Belize

Part Nine // Final Days

The sun returns

The following days unfolded to the fury of a Category 4 hurricane. We managed well enough with our accommodations despite being moved several times to different rooms at the Great House due to invading water and high winds. Eventually we are moved by Steve to The Radisson Fort George across the street for safety reasons. We spent a total of four unplanned nights in Belize City, but although this hurricane had scared the wits out of us, we were well taken care of by others in various kind ways. The Radisson offered us half price meals as well as lodging while we stayed with them. They ran a backup generator from the time we lost electrical power until 6 days after Hurricane Keith had lost most of his steam. Dining by candle light is very romantic during a hurricane, we laughed. We enjoyed a great 4 piece band from Guatemala who happened to be performing that week at the hotel and like us, did not escape the storms path, so they performed each night in the dining room playing beautiful pan flute and guitar music. It crazily brought to mind the sinking of the Titanic …… music before all is lost. Our families went five days with no news from us, but thankfully they never fully realized the danger we were in.

Eventually we made our way to Houston, rented a very small U-Haul truck, picked up our Belizean wood crates and pointed ourselves North to no where in particular after flipping a coin. It felt different being back on native soil, yet somewhere in our hearts Belize remained.

It was many months later that word reached us that the Yachter’s were both arrested by the FBI late one dark and sultry night as they slept on their yacht the “Emerald Isle”. The story played out they were tracked down and charged with crimes of extortion, fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, to a sum of over $160 million dollars. Jim was sentenced to 40 years in a Federal prison and Marni was handed a 3 year visit to a womens prison somewhere in Tennessee. We never received notice to appear before the FBI or anyone else. But we know our names are on paper somewhere, someplace. I got a call one day from a reporter with the St. Louis Dispatcher asking us for a phone interview. Somehow along the way he found our names. He was very willing to share information with us, having written all the newspaper stories on these two convicts from the beginning of their history nearly 10 years before we met them. It always rang in the back of my mind of the comment Marni had said to me, that they were from Maine. But where was the Eastern accent, I always wondered. It turned out they were from St. Louis, Missiouri, just a few hundred miles from our launch pad in Kansas.

It was ironic how our paths crossed and what tied us together at the end. The two parcels of land we had sold to the now convicted felons, were eventually sold and a lovely island home was built. I was glad to know the house was never given the name of Sea Joy. So there you have it Readers. A near thrilling ending of what began as a dream but was never caught; in a way, for both us as well as Jim and Marni. It’s possible this story holds all the right ingredients for a best seller …. danger, crime, money and greed. So remember dear Readers, always ….  Be Careful What You Wish For.


A few Hurricane Keith statistics

September 28 – October 6, 2000

Catagory 4 Hurricane

137 mph winds

Extensive damage to Mexico and Belize (including costal islands of Belize)

68 fatalities

$135 million in damages

Leaving Belize

Part Seven // Finding Shelter

The Eye of Keith is Near

We’ve spoken with an airport porter who tells us the storm has quickly advanced and it will be hurricane status by the end of the day. The airport will be shutting down within the hour with doors locked and everyone gone. We were fortunate to get off the island as we were the one of two flights that were able to depart. His suggestion is to quickly find a taxi and seek shelter for the coming days to wait out the hurricane. We hail a taxi which just pulled in and explain our need to find a hotel, if possible. Everyone is scattering in other taxi’s and we know there will be competition for lodging. Our drivers lapel tag reads Collette and I’m not certain if it’s his first or last name. Being British settled, Belize has an oddity of first and last names and many hold the female suggestion. Like Pat or Pat. Who is what? Mix in some Garifuna, Mennonite and Mayan culture names, and we all get a surprise. He’s a cautious driver yet understands the urgency at hand. We try first the Biltmore Hotel, just a mile or two from the airport. Do not let the name fool you, it’s not the Biltmore in the US. The clerk at the desk tells us they are full and knows of no other nearby places. Really? We rush back out the door to shout for Collette to STOP! He hears as well as see’s our flagging arms and stops and gets out. “Yes, Mon?”, he asks. We quickly tell him our dilemma and ask if he can take us to another hotel. There are many hotels to try he says but he favors one especially, as he knows the proprietor.

It’s nearby the Caribbean waters edge right at Kings Park and it’s named The Great House .…. and indeed it’s a Great House.

Leaving Belize

Part Five // The Winds are Changing

The transaction is completed. Our US bank has notified us of the funds being deposited into our account. Arrangements are made for remaining large items to sold by good friends here. They will retain 40% of whatever they can sell and mail us the remainder. We trust them fully. I’ve made a hotel reservation at the Sun Breeze across from Tropic Air for our next morning 7 a.m. departure to Goldson International. I’ve cleaned the apartment the best I can and have returned the key to our landlord upstairs. He is sad to see us go and I will miss his beautiful baritone voice singing at all hours of the day, as well as the fresh bread he would bake and share with us. He mentions casually there is a storm brewing about 100 miles out to sea and to be watchful. We’ve been so preoccupied with last minute things that we’ve paid little heed to the weather or the news. This is prime hurricane season still. But for now, the sun is shining and the trade winds still blow. We take one more look around and say farewell to our little abode and once again it’s the Clampett routine but this time we are booking down Coconut Drive.

We plan to have dinner with our friends who will be tending to selling are large belongings which we can’t take with us. We reminisce about our time here, both the good and the bad and things we will never forget about this experience. There is small talk about pending bad weather not too far away but they both seem unconcerned about anything. We say our goodbyes after a memorable meal and turn the golf cart over to them. We are once again homeless and but now without a vehicle. We turn in early; it’s very breezy and humid but typical for evening weather. Tomorrow will be a long day for us. But what we don’t realize is that a tropical depression has developed over the Caribbean and is moving at a fast clip towards this little plot of sand.

Leaving Belize

Part One // The Offer

We have decided to return to the States. It’s been a painful decision and we’ve spent many hours talking about our options, all the while gazing out on this beautiful sea and reef in front of us. I have missed my family these past months and I’ve come to realize it may not be possible for them to visit as frequently as once thought. And island living is much different when being a resident opposed to being a vacationer. Word has gotten out that we are contemplating a move and we are approached by a wealthy couple who have moored their yacht close to town. We get invited one morning to their home on water for an evening cocktail and to “get acquainted”. Of course we have a good idea what this will be about. We’ve known through friends this couple are buying up beach front lots to build a condo complex and to dredge the seabed deeper for the mooring of deep draft boats such as smaller yachts and large boats. We are boated out to their yacht by their Captain in a small yellow skiff and are meet at the ladder at the side of the yacht by the Mr. and Mrs. Greetings and handshakes are exchanged and we are ushered into their opulent cabin room. They claim to hail from Maine yet I detect no upper Eastern accent in their conversation. A pleasant couple, perhaps in their late 50’s. She is very easy going while he is jittery and seems to be off course at times. He talks incessantly about currency, who the best money changer is besides Atlantic Bank and how much land they have been purchasing along the coast. He tells us their plans to build all along the beachfront, of “6 figure” condo’s. A gourmet restaurant with imported wines and cheeses, a tennis court and swimming pools. He touches briefly on the dredging of his waterfront and crows about how he paid the environmental commissioner to bypass the inspections for permission to dredge. He appears to have much horsepower behind him. And he wants us to know this upfront, regardless if there is truth to what he’s just now told us. He gets to the point promptly by offering to buy our two lots which would sit behind his beach front. We can see this would be a valuable transaction to him. He then states ….. name your price. We are having a hard time keeping up with his train of words strung together and we beg off from giving an answer right there. We need to talk this over between ourselves and put some figures together and will get back to them in a few days. As we prepare to leave the Mrs. presses my hand and says, “you can call us Marni and Jim”. We boat back to the pier in complete silence, knowing the door is now open, and all we have to do is step through it.