Colleen Spring hears a noise in the bushes and asks her husband Alan to add a log to the fire. Extra light never hurts when you’re warding off jaguars.
Muscled four-legged ambassadors formed part of the welcoming committee when the young Floridian couple first made camp on eight acres of Belizean property in 2002. They had set out to create a new home for themselves, but they brought little more than a tent, a 4×4 jeep and a machete to clear their path.
“The first night was sleepless,” Colleen recalls. “There were many unknown noises, and at every one I thought, ‘Is that a jaguar? Is that a jaguar? Is that a jaguar?’”
On discovering Colleen and Alan nestled in the brush the following morning, the astonished locals laughed. “Crazy foreigners, why aren’t you at Saint Ignacio Resort?” one implored.
But the Springs persisted with their plan to build a jungle resort for eco-travelers. They are among a growing number of young entrepreneurs whose business goals are more to finance a lifestyle than to make large profits.
“We are trying to make money so we can live a certain way,” Colleen explains. “We get to live here.”
The Springs’ ability to face down jaguars and build from scratch has paid off.
Today, Colleen and Alan preside over 105 acres, 15 citrus crops, and six sturdy cabanas at a lush retreat they have named Table Rock Jungle Lodge. They have over $500,000 invested in their business, and their Belizean entourage has expanded beyond felines to include 19 employees, seven donkeys and a flock of hens – as well as three 4×4’s and two machetes.
All of this sprang from a marriage vow.
Before their move, back home in Florida, the Springs were doing well. Colleen taught special-needs students and Alan headed a thriving private-investigation firm.
There was just one problem: Their careers were going almost too well. They rarely saw each other.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Where is the life of adventure we promised each other at our wedding?’” Alan explains.
Finally – after four visits to Belize, where the couple had honeymooned – they decided to stay.
When they announced their impending expatriation, family and friends didn’t bat an eye.
“We knew you’d do something wild and crazy,” one said. “We just didn’t know what or when.”
Before moving, the Springs sent money to a property manager who had helped another expat. It was a calculated risk. They didn’t know the manager personally, and there was a good chance he might abscond with the money.
But the manager turned out to be a find. He began by clearing a road so the Springs could drive to their property and built a shelter for their firewood. He is still the Springs property manager today.
If the Springs’ greatest boon has been the Belizean people, the biggest challenge is procuring items for the lodge in an underdeveloped country. The rate of breakage in Belize vastly exceeds that in the U.S. due to humidity, rust and the roughness of the roads. If an item – such as a blender or a car part – cannot be fixed, residents must wait up to a month for a replacement to arrive from the U.S.
“You can’t just go get an avocado in the middle of winter,” Colleen says. “You appreciate them more in the summer.” She now cooks more creatively, substituting local ingredients like coconut milk and spiky guanabana fruit into old favorite recipes.
One mouth she feeds these days is that of her two year-old son, who will have an enviably international upbringing. He will attend local school but also mix with travelers who visit the lodge.
About 20 travelers each week brave 200 minutes of off-road track to get to Table Rock. The trip is guided not by road names but by landmarks, such as Belize Zoo, Caracol Ruins and the National Prison. (The prison “does have a nice gift shop,” the Table Rock website notes.)
Asked the secret of success, Colleen emphasizes flexibility.
“A lot of people realize living in paradise is different from expectation,” Colleen says of expats who have returned home. “We’ve been open to what the universe is going to throw our way.”
Visit Table Rock at www.TableRockBelize.com.