In 2011, doors were closing for former Henderson City Councilwoman Amanda Cyphers and her family.
She had lost a 2009 bid for mayor, she didn’t have a job, and the mortgage payment on the family’s 3,800-square-foot home was about to shoot up to an amount that exceeded the salary her husband, Michael, earned as Henderson’s emergency management coordinator.
“We rolled ourselves into this big home that really wasn’t us,” Cyphers said during a recent interview.
With the collapse of the housing market, the couple were already at least $300,000 underwater in their home.
They knew they couldn’t stay. But where would they go?
Although they had long dreamed of retiring to Belize, a Central American country they first visited in 2001, that goal was still five years away.
But since they had already booked another trip to Belize, they went ahead with their travel plans that May. On vacation, they fell in love with a home.
And when the city announced it would be offering another round of its Voluntary Employee Severance Program, which had been introduced the previous year, the couple found themselves at a crossroads. The program uses one-time incentives to help workers make the transition to retirement or other employment.
The lump sum Michael Cyphers would receive would pay for the house in Belize, but accepting it meant he would lose 60 percent of his pension.
Amanda Cyphers said the couple sat down with their teenage son, Colin, and explained his father’s options.
“Either he takes the VESP, and we can buy a home outright that no one can ever take away from us again. Or we can stay, buy a trailer and live in that for the next five years until he has full retirement.”
All agreed to buy the home in Belize. Since it was summer, they could move before the new school year began.
Amanda Cyphers, 46, was born and raised in the Las Vegas Valley. She moved to Henderson in 1990 and married Michael, a chemical engineer, the following year.
Her interest in politics began with involvement in her Henderson homeowners association. In 1995, at the age of 28, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Henderson City Council.
She represented Ward 1 and was twice re-elected. But in 2007, after 12 years on the council, she decided not to run again.
Cyphers was tired, and with Belize already in her heart, she wasn’t sure she could commit to another four years.
The Republican decided to support Democrat Gerri Schroder’s campaign for the Ward 1 seat. Schroder, who won the race, exhibited the energy that Cyphers said she was lacking at the time.
After leaving office, Cyphers sold real estate for a while but soon realized she “was missing the city.” “That was my family for 12 years,” she said.
In 2009, Mayor Jim Gibson was being forced out by term limits. Cyphers gave up her real estate license and decided to take a shot at the open seat.
“If I thought someone else could do this, I wouldn’t be running,” she told the Review-Journal at the time.
She finished third out of five candidates in the primary, with 16 percent of the vote. Councilman Andy Hafen went on to win in the general election.
It was Cyphers’ first significant defeat in life, and she said it stung a bit: “You kind of realize that your time has passed here.”
BOUND FOR BELIZE
In August 2011, the Cyphers family headed off with two dogs and two cats to their new home in San Ignacio, Belize. A few months later, the family was featured on the cable television show House Hunters International.
Amanda Cyphers, whose mother lives in Las Vegas, has returned three times, most recently when she came alone for the first time.
On April 16, Cyphers was introduced at a special meeting of the Henderson City Council. Hafen, who was re-elected mayor in early April, took the oath of office during the meeting, which also served as a celebration of the city’s 60th anniversary.
Cyphers, who no longer follows Henderson politics, said Hafen is doing a fine job as mayor, and she expressed no bitterness about his victory: “If he wasn’t where he is, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
She was, of course, referring to her new life in Belize.
The family had made four trips to Belize before moving there, buying property they have since sold on an island in November 2001.
One week after moving to San Ignacio, a town of about 20,000 people, they interrupted a burglary at their home. They lost only $40 cash but were traumatized. They now have bars on their windows like all their neighbors, although Cyphers said the community suffers more from petty crime than anything else. They also participate in a neighborhood watch program.
Cyphers, whose mother and stepfather both worked as police officers in North Las Vegas, owned a handgun when she lived in Henderson. She said she feels “exposed” without a gun for protection in Belize, where it is difficult to obtain a firearm license.
Because of its British colonial heritage, English is the official language of Belize, which is bordered by Mexico and Guatemala. According to the government’s website, English Creole and Spanish also are common.
Cyphers said her family lives in a simple 1,200-square-foot home. It sits on a hill 1,000 feet from a Mayan ruin, “and that’s so cool,” she said.
Everything is green, and sometimes she is disoriented when she wakes up to the jungle smells and sounds.
“I am so out of my element, because I’m a city girl,” Cyphers said. “I’m used to the concrete jungle, not the real one.”
Her new community, which is 12 miles from Guatemala and 90 miles from the Caribbean Sea, has two rivers.
“I’ve gotten E. coli twice since I’ve lived there,” Cyphers said, adding that it probably came from swimming in the river.
And what about the crocodiles?
“They don’t bother you,” Cyphers said. “They’re little.”
Geckos live in her house and “help control the insects,” she explained. Toucans fly overhead. “I have parrots in my tree, and at times it sounds like PetSmart,” she said with a laugh.
Her home is air conditioned, which has helped Cyphers survive the intense combination of heat and humidity that Belize sometimes experiences.
She regularly posts photos of her new life for her 836 Facebook friends.
MISSES HENDERSON CHURCH
What does she miss most about her old life? Cyphers says it’s Henderson’s Central Christian Church, which she and her husband still consider their “home church.”
The couple helped build a church in Santa Elena, Belize, which is nearly complete, but they are no longer affiliated with it and are looking for a new place to worship.
They have also facilitated mission trips to Belize for a nonprofit organization from Boulder City called Pride in Purity, allowing members to stay in the apartment that comprises the first level of their house and to use their vehicles for free. Cyphers said the group teaches “the importance of purity to girls, the importance of waiting until marriage.”
They also have started a business, Twin Town Transport, which rents out their four vehicles at a low cost to small mission and educational teams or newcomers to the San Ignacio area. Since their house is paid for, their only goal is to make enough money to cover their utilities.
They also volunteer at the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, providing free transportation for injured animals, such as a howler monkey recently.
“We feel very whole, because we’re in a position where we can help others,” said Cyphers, a self-proclaimed “hugger” who smiles often.
She and her husband home-schooled their son during their first year in Belize, but the 14-year-old now attends a private Christian school. He begins and ends each school day with a one-hour bus ride.
Cyphers said her son has become more outgoing and vibrant since moving to Belize.
“He likes the slower pace,” she said. “He likes exploring.”
Although Cyphers wants to obtain dual citizenship, she said she is “very aware” that she’s an immigrant in her adopted home, and she still loves the United States.
“I will always pay U.S. taxes till the day I die,” she said. “I will always vote U.S. till the day I die.”
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.