photo by aidan lynn-klimenko

"It was pretty magical. It still is."

The morning after Ms. B drank Parker and I under the table was not an easy one. I awoke in my hammock on a beach in Hopkins, Belize right as the sun crested over the Atlantic Ocean and disrupted the peaceful bliss of my rum-soaked dreams. My head thronged as I made my way over a nearby beachfront restaurant, and plopped myself down at the nearest table. Without having to say a word, Shannon the restaurant owner placed a cup of coffee in front of me, winked, and went back to raking the sand and throwing away trash from the Independence festivities of the previous night.

That table became my home for the next four hours. I sat and downed cup after cup, watching the ocean and taking in the salty sea breeze. Besides the war going on in my head, it was a peaceful scene and before long I was pretty zoned out just gazing at the early rising fishermen on the dock casting line after line, effortlessly pulling fish out of the water. Without realizing it, the table next to me had become occupied by two British people, and their Belizean friend. I looked over and said good morning and we struck up a conversation.

I should back up the story for a moment. When we first got to Belize we had no idea what to expect or where to go, but we learned from Hasta Alaska, another van-traveling adventure, that there is an island off the coast of Belize owned by a British woman who is building a hostel and restaurant. She had been welcoming anyone to her island that was willing to lend a hand. She dubbed this endeavor The Island Project. We talked about how amazing it would be to find this island, but in the rush of travel we had forgotten it. It was all the more an exciting coincidence when it happened that Willow, the woman sitting before me now with her best friend Joe and her boat captain Breeze was the owner of the island.

I jumped out of my seat and ran to tell the others, and to make a long story short, two hours later we were all crammed into Breeze’s boat heading out to Willow’s island. As the boat puttered closer to the island, a blob of land started to take shape, and soon we could very clearly see an absolutely massive palapa (a thatched roof hut built on stilts over the water) coming into view.

Willow had become a successful entrepreneur in her native United Kingdom by opening a pub that, in her words, had “taken off,” and allowed her to dream about her next enterprise. She knew she wanted to buy land in another country, but had never really anticipated owning an island until she just came across it online. She went to the bank with a loan proposal to allow her to buy it, and to her genuine surprise, they granted her the loan and 24 hours later she was the proud owner of a Belizean island. And how much does an island cost? About 300,000 euros.

Since January she has been living full-time on the island, bringing in volunteers whenever she can to help landscape, and build the necessary infrastructure she needs to run a hostel and restaurant on it. It’s a work in progress, but it’s coming together. And honestly, it was one of the most breathtaking places I had ever been to. As soon as you set foot on the island you can feel the stress and worry of the outside world slipping away, and an overwhelming sense of freedom and serenity rushing in. As Joe told me, it is the only place he has ever been to in the whole wide world where he can simply sit there and just “be.”

I asked Willow what it was like her first time stepping onto the island that she had just bought. “Yeah, it was pretty magical,” she said as she gazed out over the water. She paused for a couple seconds to take in the reality of her unbelievable life and looked back at me. “It still is.”

If you are going to be in Belize someday and want to check these guys out, and maybe even volunteer on the island, then please visit their Facebook group page here: