This is the story of the journey that led Deloris and Alan Stamm to the village of Placencia, Belize, Central America. It shows how they were compelled to buy a hotel that neither of them wanted or needed. This story is yet but one example of how tropical fever entangles the human soul and encourages a person to embrace a fantasy in which they’d never imagine possible. The tropical air is intoxicating, the aqua-blue seas of the Caribbean are like no other on earth, and the people of Placencia helped to set the plan in motion for the couple to unwittingly become a part of the community that they so dearly love now.
In the story, you’ll witness the hardships, as well as the giggles that the savvy American couple went shared as they took on the project and began the journey to Paradise. This is the first of three books, and you’ll begin to see the evolution of Paradise as well as the changes in Deloris and Alan as the books progress.
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Read an Excerpt
The first-time Alan and Deloris went to Belize, they hated it. It was nothing like the travel books had promised or what they had imagined. They were on a cruise ship that stopped in Belize City. Their longtime friends, Cindy and Greg Thompson were with them on this cruise. Deloris found Belize City dirty, scary, and crowded. While the ship was anchored off the coast of Belize City, Alan and Cindy went diving the famed Blue Hole. Greg and Deloris chose to go on a Mayan Ruin tour to Lamanai (derived from Yucatec Maya word "Lama'anayin" which means submerged crocodile) about fifty miles north of Belize City. The Mayan ruin tour included what was billed as a "Jungle Cruise" up the New River. The trip up the river may have been beautiful, but the tiny boat kept breaking down in the middle of the river and the area was deserted and seemed a million miles from anywhere. You will come to know how much Deloris dislikes having to be in a boat, but there was no other way that the cruise line offered to get to the ruin. Her love for these ancient structures outweighed her dislike for having to ride in a boat. The two other boats that were part of the group, simply left them to fend for themselves when the motor on their boat refused to run. The boat was a tiny little thing with no cover and the boat driver, she simply refused call him a captain, had to change the spark plugs before they could catch up with the others. Once they were at the ruins, Deloris couldn't enjoy them because she was afraid the boat would not make it back after the tour. Even Greg who was experienced with boats, expressed concern that it had been necessary for him to help the "captain" change the spark plugs two times on the trip up. He strongly suspected they were not using new spark plugs. Since he was also anxious to begin the journey back up the river, Deloris had a hard time enjoying the sights.
In addition, when the cruise ship began to leave their mooring off the coast of Belize City, it ran aground on a sand bar. This was a demonstration of how shallow a large portion of the ocean is around Belize. This area is covered with small cays that rise out of the ocean with little warning. While stuck on this sandbar the ship was leaning at such an angle the elevators wouldn't operate and the dishes wouldn't stay on the tables. Then to top it all off, they were ordered to drink bottled water, even though the cruise staff kept telling them that there were no problems. Still, if they took a shower they smelled like gasoline. They stayed on that sandbar for about twelve hours before tugboats freed them. That was their first impressions of Belize. They would never have returned if Alan's battle with cancer had not left him a changed man whose love of adventure was honed by this experience.
For now, let's get to know a little about the small Central American country of Belize. It is comprised of six Districts. They are Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo. As of 2016, the estimated population of residents was about 370,000. That is much less than the state of Wyoming and just a little larger than the population of the City of Tampa, Florida.
Belize is an unorthodox country, by US standards. The need to be bigger and better in all things has not come to Belize. There is very little interest in most world affairs. They do not feel the need to be involved in all things global. The use of cell phones has progressed and most homes have a functional television set, but there is no need for upgrading every few months. The vehicles are mostly imported from Asian countries and the occasional wealthy businessman who moved there to escape the mundane happenings in their home country, import a vehicle from the states or Canada. Although the Belizeans have modern technology available to them, their opinion of "Being and staying connected" is unlike many other countries. Social media is a huge part of their daily communications; however, you are much more likely to find a post asking where someone can get a needed part or item that is unavailable in the village, than to see opinions of world or even national issues. Of course, personal opinions about local situations are abundant, because their world revolves around things that are happening right in the village. People in Belize still sit around a table or a bar and visit with one another on a daily basis. In fact, that pastime seems to be one that expats adopt as soon as they arrive in Belize. If the world's problems could be solved by talking, the expats in Belize would have solved all of them because the activity of sitting around with a beer or rum drink occupies the majority of the hours in many of their days. The Kroil (Creole) word for gossip is "shush" and is the lifeblood of the villages. (Kroil is the shortened version of English that is spoken as the primary language in the homes of most Belizeans even though proper English is the official language.) Everyone knows what is going on at their neighbor's house and who is mad at whom and usually the reason for the dispute. I was very captivated by the country's simplicity and beauty, its people, and its slow, enchanting life style. Sometimes, when people from other countries spend time in Belize, they seem to lose their logical thinking ability and do the most unorthodox things. Logical thinking seems to vanish when visitors are immersed in the beauty and tranquility of the Caribbean land of Belize.
The journey to Paradise began in Jacksonville, Florida. Alan and Deloris Stamm were both in their very early sixties when they first came to Placencia. Coming from meager beginnings, they are very appreciative of what they have earned. They are the rare couple who have been married for more than forty-five years and still seem to really like each other. They are childless, and it seems that this is by choice. They have experienced many successful business adventures.
Their story began much like that of many couples, a friend of a friend and so on ... Alan's friend asked Deloris to invite him and Alan over for a home-cooked meal. Deloris agreed because this nice Mississippian boy told her a sad tale of how he and his friend were craving a southern-cooked meal. Thus, the meeting of Deloris and Alan. From that first dinner, they were inseparable friends. They were the odd couple; Alan, who intended to remain footloose and fancy free for the rest of his life and have an adventure every day and the planner and rule-follower who assumed that someday her prince charming would ride up on a white horse and take her to the house with the white picket fence and they'd live happily ever after.
After several months, Alan told Deloris that he thought she would make someone a very good wife, and he thought she should be married. Deloris laughed at Alan's attempt to solve all problems, even if that meant he had missed the obvious. The friendship had reached the point that Alan decided that marriage did not mean that one person was the boss all the time. He thought that Deloris would be the wife who would let him live his life the way he wanted. He knew she worried when he did crazy things, but she did not insist that he not do them. He decided that with Deloris, he could have a home and still be allowed to follow his dream of fortune and adventure, so he proposed to her. She could not have been happier because Alan's wild nature was the perfect balance to her steadiness. Balance was what Deloris thought life should be about. Soon they were married, and Alan found that he was not cut out to climb the corporate ladder. With that way of life, he could not keep his promise to himself, that no one would tell him what to do. Therefore, corporate life was not for him. Alan would have to start businesses for himself, in order for them to be successful. Deloris found jobs she loved in accounting and rapidly progressed in the companies she chose to work for. She was confident that someday Alan would need her to do the accounting when he discovered the idea for the business of their future. As most couples do, they faced good times and bad times financially, but Deloris always seem to have a plan when things turned bad. Alan could try his ideas and he always seemed to have another. They both became insurance agents and open their agency while still pursuing building a dog breeding business where they raised and sold show quality Chow Chows all over the world. Alan traveled showing the dogs and Deloris remained at home and dealt with customers and maintaining the insurance agency. They always tried to give the customer what they would want if they were using that service. Both businesses were relatively successful. A friend, Ernie Bennett, was a veterinarian that they had met while establishing the successful Chow-Chow breeding and showing program. Ernie and Alan shared the love of adventure and became friends quickly. Never a couple to just do one thing at a time, Deloris and Alan started buying houses, remodeling and reselling. This appealed to Deloris's love of designing and decorating. There was never a dull or slow moment. Alan loved to fish and he loved to dive even more. Deloris didn't enjoy either but always loved to accompany him. Their friends Greg and Cindy Thompson, usually went along and while the others were out on whatever adventure had been planned, Deloris would read a book and take a break from their hectic lifestyle. She often laughed and called Alan an adrenalin junkie, telling him that if he went on a dive and something did not try to eat him, he classified it as just an alright dive but not a great one. He loved to dive with sharks and did so whenever he had the chance. His main complaint about Deloris was that she worried too much when he was on one of his adventures. However, it was not something she could control, and he knew it. Deloris is a tall, dark-eyed woman with dark hair and skin much more suited to taking the sun than Alan's, but he was the one who always wanted to be in the sun, and she was content with sitting in the shade and reading to escape their whirlwind life.
Lots of their friends were from the dive community, as members of these clubs, they had the chance to go all over the Caribbean to tropical dive sites. They did not have much free time to travel but made the most of the time they had. They were always going to new places because Alan tired quickly of doing the same dives over and over. He dove not for the beauty of the dive but for the adventure of diving into the unknown. They had been to most of the Caribbean countries and none had met their expectations, or captured their imagination. Alan and Ernie's friendship grew with Alan often going out and spending the day at his animal hospital and helping him when he needed an extra pair of hands. If he took one of their Chows in for treatment, he would spend the whole day helping in the animal hospital. Alan and Ernie often went fishing together as well and the conversation always came back to Ernie telling Alan how he was building his business. One night, after a full day at the animal hospital, Alan came in and said to Deloris, "Why don't we build an animal hospital on the land that we bought next door to this house."
Deloris, smiled patiently and said, "Why would we do that? Between the insurance agency, dog breeding and showing and work on the house our calendar is full." Alan apparently had been thinking about this for some time. Deloris, always the one to present the problem side of any idea, so that Alan would focus on the details, asked, "But neither of us are vets so who would you hire as the veterinarian? Neither of us are practice managers, so who would run it?" Nonetheless, Alan was ready.
"We will get the building up and then we will advertise for a young vet that wants to someday own his own practice. I have been working with Ernie and I basically know what's required to give good customer service. I know what it takes to manage an Animal Hospital. We'll set up our hospital so that the clients get the kind of service they want. We will be different from most hospitals. We will be customer oriented."
Deloris knew that look in his eye when Alan had an idea that he thought would lead them to the type of business he was seeking. He was like a little boy trying to talk his parents into a new bike for his birthday. To discourage him at this point would be hopeless, he sensed that this could be their next big adventure. It was her duty to plan step by step, how they could accomplish this next goal. Alan depended on Deloris, the rule follower, to never say no, but to point out all the possible problems. Sometime her observations would deter him and sometimes they seemed to fuel his dreams. Deloris had great faith in Alan's ideas and faith that he would work as hard as it was necessary to bring success to anything that he did. So, the adventure that Deloris thought would be the wildest idea they would ever tackle, began.
This adventure would just begin to prepare them for their plunge into the world of Belize, years later. Even this unorthodox project, did little to prepare the couple for situations like one that happened to them once they were in Placencia, Belize; when the Belizean police inspector, asked Alan to take the local drug taskforce out on his boat looking for drug smugglers. This story was actually one that occurred on their journey to Paradise, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Ernie helped the couple establish their animal hospital by providing advice and tutoring the vets they hired. The new venture proved to be the successful business they had been seeking. Soon it was very busy and they started a second hospital. Alan and Deloris sold the insurance agency and curtailed their breeding program. Deloris handled the financial side of both animal hospitals, while still managing the placement of their Chows into show homes around the world. Life was always interesting and there was not much relaxation for either of them. Although, they often worked seven-day weeks and ten to twelve hours a day, they loved the hectic life they were living. They even found their dream home on a small island on the St. John's River with a boat dock for Alan to keep one of his prized boats. It was a beautiful home with lots of windows and a tropical feel to the yard, which Deloris loved. Then tragedy struck!
At age 55, Alan was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The prognosis was that without experimental surgery he had no more than eighteen months to live. He also had only a fifty/fifty chance of surviving the surgery. However; if he did survive, he had a good chance of a full recovery. It did not take Alan long to make the decision to have the experimental surgery. Alan had a planned diving trip just three days after he received his diagnosis. Deloris was shocked when he told her that he was going diving and would have the surgery a week after he returned from his weeklong stay in Cozumel. This was one of the rare times that the two did not plan to travel together. She regretted the decision not to go with the group when she realized that they would be separated for a whole week, probably the most stressful week of their marriage. However, nothing that Deloris said would deter him from going and it was too late for her to accompany him. Alan promised Deloris that they would talk each day and that he would be fine.
It was the longest week of Deloris's life. Even so, when he returned he surprised her once again by saying that she had four days to plan a big party. She was shocked. Alan was unorthodox in most things he did, but a party, just before he underwent a procedure that only gave him a 50/50 chance of surviving. There was no deterring Alan from his party. Alan invited sixty people to what he called his, "Going Away Party." He left the planning and food details to Deloris. As he created a new will, and attended to the details that he thought needed to be taken care of, if he wasn't going to be around. Deloris suspected that the party was to keep her busy until the surgery. However, she was wrong. At the end of the party, Ernie approached Alan and said, "Man, I knew you were a gutsy dude, but to hold a "Going Away Party" when you are facing death is unheard of. Why are you doing it, really?" Alan, walked Ernie a short distance away from the rest of the group and said quietly, "Because if I die, I want you all to remember to look after Deloris. I know she will try to do everything herself and I thought if we were all here together, y'all wouldn't forget to take care of her." Then in typical Alan style, he wisecracked in a voice loud enough for the entire group to hear, "I wanted y'all to see my beautiful new home and I knew this was a way to get you all over here, so I only had to give one tour. Ha!"
Ernie, not to be outdone, jested, "Well if you don't kick the bucket, you'll have to agree to come to Belize with Amy and me. We'll show you what a real adventure is like." Everyone laughed and the night continued to be a happy one rather than a morbid one.
Excerpted from "Belize"
Copyright © 2017 Will Wesley P.E. and Deloris Stamm.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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