Monday, December 31, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The steroids are having no effect. He has gone from merely limping to now avoiding most movement. He manages to hobble outside to take care of dog functions, but he is more than willing to simply sleep on his couch. Even his food does not interest him.
If I do not manage to post before Tuesday, I would like to wish each of you a joyful 2008 -- and to thank you for your assistance on this journey.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Circumstances may change, but presence makes the difference.
Nancy and Paul posted a list on their blog entitled What We're Excited About. I thought it would be appropriate for me to post a similar list. One big difference is that they had decided where they were going to live and buy property when they posted theirs. I still have several scouting trips to complete before I know where I am going to start my life as a serial renter. And all of that is to say that I am probably far more at the whim of circumstances than I would ever admit.
For obvious reasons, mine is a work in progress -- even though I suspect several of the items are universals.
- university nearby
- archaeological sites within driving distance
- central location for other archaeological sites
- warm, sunny days; cool nights
- new acquaintances -- some with a love of food
- the challenge of a new language
- time to read; time to learn; time to rest
- daily learning to survive
- facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed
- long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset
- living outside of a car
- offering help to others
- graciously accepting help from others
On this topic, I truly welcome comments. I realize much of this is personal. But I have already altered the list as I have learned from each of you.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
So it goes. There are a lot of correct answers; I just do not know which answer is correct for me. All together now: You will not know the answer until you go to Mexico and try each one for yourself.
At least, I am not starting from scratch. Fortunately, many pioneers have gone before me and have been good enough to leave their findings behind. (See my reading list posted below.)
The following list is going to change. I am certain of that. But here are my random thoughts.
- I love being near water. I have always wanted to have a house on the coast. I cannot afford one here in Oregon – and the weather is not conducive to beach living. In this category, I initially included Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and Zihuatanejo. My Pacific Mexico Moon handbook convinced me to add Chacala and Barra de Navidad to the list. And an internet listing for a house that had already sold caused La Manzanilla to join the ever-growing crowd.
- I started with Puerto Vallarta because it had been one of my favorite vacation spots for years. That passion soon cooled, though, when I saw the prices for houses. Puerto Vallarta’s success as a resort had also turned it into a sleep beach town to a city with stretched infrastructure. I will visit, but I could not abide living there. I started looking north and struck off all the likely candidates because they were already suffering overload from Puerto Vallarta’s growth.
- I took a look at Chacala as the result of the great write up in Pacific Mexico and from reading Andee’s blog (My Life in Chacala). A little research convinced me that Chacala was every bit the physical paradise it was advertised to be, but it did not offer as many cultural opportunities as I was looking for. In particular, the archaeological sites in the area are limited. There are some great petroglyphs that I will go out of my way to see on a future trip, but Chacala did not make the cut.
- A visit to Zihuatanejo in October 2006 convinced me that it would be too hot for a year-round residence, but I loved the town. If I could be close enough for occasional visits, it would be a nice vacation spot.
- And Mazatlán. I have visited several times and it struck me as Ensenada on steroids. I obviously was not looking close enough because Nancy and Paul extol its virtues. I need to take an additional look.
- Because I was enthralled with La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad, I took a quick trip in November-December of 2007. My travel journal is posted below. I could live either place even though there are negatives. The first is the summer heat. Even the natives stay inside as much as possible during that season. Everyone who can skips town. La Manzanilla has the additional problem of ejido land. I cannot bring myself to overcome that problem – for purchasing. Renting is not a problem. Barra de Navidad is still on the list to purchase, but I would like to avoid a fideicomiso if I can. If I am buying property, I would like to own title. Between renting in La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad, I would prefer La Manzanilla for ambience and Barra de Navidad for infrastructure. They are both still in the running.
- For culture, weather, and archaeology, Pátzcuaro is going to be hard to beat. I am going to spend some time there in February or March with my brother getting a feel for what the town and area have to offer. I will look at a house for sale that interests me, as well as rental possibilities. Who knows? Maybe I can convince my boss to let me spend some time telecommuting from Mexico.
- Michael at La Vida Bougainvillea has convinced me to take a look at Querétaro and San Luis Potosí. Nancy and Paul visited there, but chose Mazatlán. I should, at least, take a look. I have not yet done any research on either city – other than to read the odd paragraph here and there. The highlands have only recently become a strong option for me.
- And, of course, I should not forget about Guanajuato. Doug and Cindi Bowers make a compelling case for it in their books. I had seriously considered visiting until my interest focused so intently on Pátzcuaro. Back on the list it goes.
The answer to this question is yet to be decided, but I think I am on the correct track. I know when I will go to Mexico. I know I will try to sell my house. Between now and April or so, I need to spend at least a week each in Pátzcuaro and Mazatlán – with followup visits to Huanajuato, San Luis Potosí, and Querétaro to see where I should start renting.
After all, this is just the beginning of the journey. I need to keep in mind, as so many of my fellow bloggers have already warned: there is always the possibility that the first date will result in residential marriage. At least, the Gulf of Eternal Peril will not be my “reward.” I doubt there is a wrong answer on the list – for rentals – and that was the question.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Every article I have ever read on Mexico divides people who move to Mexico into two groups: people who maintain a lifeline to their old home, and those who head out like Lot’s family not looking back (with the exception of poor Mrs. Lot who turned into the family salt shaker).
I have rehearsed the logic behind each choice, and decided that logic is going to be a stepchild on this question because the question is almost entirely an emotional one. I like my house in Salem, but I have no emotional investment in it. What I have is a financial investment. I had hoped to use the proceeds from the sale of this house as a backstop for medical emergencies. And I have not changed that goal.
That means that I could sell the house today and not shed a tear, not suffer a single twinge of trauma. Where the trauma would come would be in the eventual selling price.
Salem has not suffered the same fall in prices as California or Arizona. But there are two houses within a block of my house that have been on the market for most of the year. The only action I see is the ever-decreasing listing price. And still they sit. On my walk with Jiggs, I noticed at least three other houses for sale. In January, I am having dinner with a realtor friend, her business partner, and his wife (the wife serves on the Salvation Army board with me and has taught Spanish for years). That should be an interesting dinner – developing a sales strategy while trying to learn some new Spanish phrases.
So, I guess that is the answer. I will sell the house (if I can) trying to get the closing date to match my retirement date as close as possible. Nancy and Paul of Countdown to Mexico were lucky enough to make the timing work. I hope it works as well for me. If not, my mother could always take over the house (the mortgage will be paid in full in 2008) until it sells. She is also a realtor.
The only reason to keep the house would be as a refuge if my adventure in Mexico falls flat. Not having a house for a refuge may be an asset – a bit like a marriage that is not working well. But why should I have the advantage of returning to an ex-wife when I should simply do my best to make the new marriage work? Even that is not a good analogy. I can always seek refuge throughout the country with friends and relatives in Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington. If Mexico does not work out, I will not be returning to Salem; I will be seeking adventures where the sun leads me.
Answer: Sell the house when it will bring a fair price. Until then, keep it.
Monday, December 24, 2007
This has turned out to be the most difficult question of all. And, of course, all the other decisions I will make follow from this one.
In the last few years, I have watched several people retire only to take up a full-time job somewhere else. I can look around Salem and see attorneys in their 70s and 80s. I have long suspected that due to the years it took to get through school and get to the heights of our careers, we attorneys do not want to give up helping people solve problems. And, yes, there is the prestige of being called an attorney.
I thoroughly enjoy my job. It is challenging; I am given an incredible amount of professional autonomy; and my colleagues appreciate my work. I am literally sitting at the top of my career – and it could get better.
I am as happy as I have ever been in my life outside of my job, as well. I have developed an extremely comfortable routine. Each Sunday, I teach an adult Sunday school class at the Salvation Army. My students are interested and engaged – and their questions are always challenging. On Sunday evenings I assist with a learn and play time with children at the Salvation Army shelter. I am also the chair of the local Salvation Army advisory board. That entails several meetings each month. On Wednesdays, I have a small group Bible study at my house. One day a month, I attend our neighborhood association meeting. And I am a season subscriber to a local theater group – with productions about once a month on Friday evenings.
Each night I eat my dinner in my hot tub trying to catch up on several magazines. In addition, I try to read at least one book a week – on nearly every subject.
Walks with the dog in the evening. Dinner with friends. It has turned out to be about the right mix for me – and just when I have the proper balance (I struck politics from the list several years ago), I am ready to toss it all out by retiring.
Like all dog owners, if I only listened more to my dog I would be far wiser. On our walk this afternoon, Jiggs insisted on taking a course we have never walked in the last 12 years. We both got to see things and people we would have never seen on our usual walk.
Dogs are creatures of habit; golden retrievers are the epitome of compulsive obsessives. Who knows why he chose the new path? What I know is he provided me with a very helpful metaphor.
The reason I need to retire is that I am too comfortable in my current life. Leaving my job in the near future will let me leave while I am still on top of my career. I do not want to stick around long enough to overhear someone say: “Oh, that’s Steve Cotton. He used to be a good attorney. Years before I got here.” – assuming I could still hear the comment.
All I look for is a waking up facing new adventures each morning. Mexico, because it is close. But the adventure could come from anywhere. All I know is I have a date in mind, and it will be the correct decision.
And when the lady of the house emerged, she was better than an ersatz princess or a fairy tale witch; she was the very essence of Mexico.
When they ask him: Why move to Mexico?, He will show them the picture of the cottage where their own adventure might reside.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets. Sitting here, looking out the window behind my screen, my eye wanders from the serifless world of computers. The raindrops on the glass. The ivy on the garage. The dying Spruce branch swaying in the breeze like Black Jack Ketchum. Each reminding me of a Billy Collins poem. But which? I cannot remember, and look through thin tomes (can a tome be thin?) to no avail. Until my eyes fall on an even more appropriate goose to bag.
The first stanza of "Forgetfulness:"
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
That is why I like Billy Collins. His is the essence of poetry. Few words. Universal truths.
An incredibly clever video of the same poem with Billy Collins reading.
- When should I retire?
- Should I keep or sell my house in Salem?
- Where in Mexico should I start renting?
I will tackle each of those questions in separate posts this coming week. Smaller posts seem to be far more palatable to readers. And I should have time to do that. The weather between Salem and Bend will keep me from celebrating Christmas with my brother and his family. It will also give me time to start dividing up my "earthly treasures."
Saturday, December 22, 2007
"Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." P.J. O'Rourke
- The People's Guide to Mexico, Carl Franz and Lorena Havens -- website
- Live Better South of the Border in Mexico: A Practical Guide for Living and Working,"Mexico" Mike Nelson
- Heading for Mexico: The Renegade Guide, Don Adams -- website
- Living Abroad in Mexico, Ken Luboff
- The Plain Truth About Living in Mexico: The Expatriate's Guide to Moving, Retiring, or Just Hanging Out, Doug and Cindi Bower -- website
- Choose Mexico for Retirement: Information for Travel, Retirement, Investment, and Affordable Living, John Howells and Don Merwin
- Guanajuato, Mexico: Your Expat, Study Abroad, and Vacation Survival Manual in the Land of the Frogs, Doug and Cindi Bower
- Pacific Mexico: Including Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Acapulco, and Oxaca (a Moon Handbook), Bruce Whipperman
- Gringos in Paradise: An American Couple Builds Their retirement House in a Seaside Village in Mexico, Barry Golson
- Cashing in on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border, Tom Kelly and Mitch Creekmore (This book is not for any person who believes that a home is what builds a community -- rather than a nest egg.)
I would be pleased to provide my general impressions on any of these books if you are interested. Just post a comment and I will act accordingly. (Is there a person on the internet who is not a frustrated reviewer?)
By the way, my heart has been warmed by each comment you have have posted. I truly feel like part of a growing community.
Two things have altered that concern. First, Nancy's (Countdown to Mexico) description of how well her dogs are doing in Mazatlan gives me hope. Second, for two nights in a row, Jiggs has been running during our walks in the park. Tonight he was literally frisky.
If I can arrange to get down to Mexico during the coming year, it appears I will be taking my best friend with me.
Jiggs during younger and friskier days.
Friday, December 21, 2007
No matter what I plan, events will lead me a different way. And I welcome that prospect with joy. I want adventure, not predictability. Even if I lived the rest of my life in Salem, that guideline would be true. Anne Lamott said it best: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
At every turn, go back to guideline #1 before planning any further.
Relationships trump all other concerns. In Mexico, that means that I simply must learn Spanish. I have already allowed my inability to communicate to keep me from meeting new people. And this is all about pride. I do not want to sound as if I am an idiot or a five-year old or an idiot five-year old. That description would be a euphemism for my current Spanish skills. I need to get over myself, and simply start learning. I have an adequate computer program from The Learning Company: Learn to Speak Spanish and a marvelous computer and CD program from Learnables. I have taken the first lesson in both programs about eight times now. The reason is the same for everyone: I get started; I get interrupted; I need to start over. I just need to dedicate a specific time every day.
I have enjoyed reading Nancy’s plan for learning Spanish on Countdown to Mexico. She used several techniques that I will not be able to use, such as, listening to Spanish television programs. I do not have television. However, I can listen to favorite movies on DVD and turn on the Spanish voice-over and subtitles. That will allow me to read and hear at the same time.
I also have two additional sources I am going to explore. A number of my fellow employees are native Spanish speakers, others are taking Spanish courses. I would like to set up a table where we could spend our lunch hour conversing and learning in Spanish. It would be a completely non-threatening environment. A second source is my Bible reading. I try to read through the Bible every year in a different translation. This year, I am going to try a Spanish translation. I have a program on my PDA that allows me to see multiple translations simultaneously.
Andee on My Life in Chacala tells some of the most heart-warming stories about the value of knowing Spanish – and eventually learning its associated culture. She has put her Spanish to use by assisting with rentals. I would like to know enough Spanish by the end of 2008 that I will feel comfortable speaking and making mistakes -- giving me more grist for anecdotes. No story is better told than when the narrator does not come out well in the end.
I need to avoid becoming a prisoner of the great American fear: finance-itis. Somewhere along the way, money becomes an obsession with us. What we own, where we live, what we drive, what we do for a living define us far more than the depth of our character and our commitment to each other. In fact, the first list almost always negatively impacts the second. I am not anti-material. We live in a real world where we must take care of our basic needs. But I must stop worrying about where money is coming from beyond today. In reading my earlier posting, it is quite apparent that I am not where I should be on this issue. There is plenty of money for me to do what I want to do right now.
Even though I look forward to making new friends in Mexico, I want to be close enough to my old friends that it will be convenient for them to visit. That is certainly true for La Manzanilla and Barra de Navidad. The flights from Portland to the Manzanillo airport are very quick and easy. Pátzcuaro presents more problematic logistics. The Morelia airport is close, but flights arrive after midnight. Most visitors seem to fly into Zihuatanejo and then drive three and a half hours –-through admittedly beautiful country. I would like to keep the travel as simple as possible.
Visiting with friends is great, but I do not want to set up a vacation destination in my new home. I am single. I have a dog. Those two factors are my habitation destiny. At most, I need one bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen (cooking is not only a hobby; it is a social ritual for me), and some living space. More than that is merely show.
And the dog. The venerable Professor Jiggs will be 12 in ten days. For a golden retriever he is very big. I am surprised he has survived this long. He already suffers from arthritis and nerve impingements that restrict his mobility. But if he is still alive when the move day arrives, his needs will play a large part in where I decide to live. That means that hot weather is out of the question. (If he could type, he would have typed that sentence himself.)
The common wisdom is that people new to Mexico should rent for six months in a given area and move on to another place to get a feel for neighbors, neighborhoods, and infrastructure – and then move on to a new spot for another six months. In other words, do some serious dating before you get married. Because I am rather impetuous, this advice is just the opposite of my inclinations. (That is an odd statement for a fellow who has managed to spend 58 years avoiding any personal commitments to either marriage or long-term romances. But that is an entire entry – or blog – of its own.) Some of my favorite blogs start out parroting the advice and the bloggers end up buying a house before Hamlet has an opportunity to assess the state of Denmark (to mix my metaphors). This one I will need to play by ear. My default is to seek a place to rent. But if the right “woman” shows a bit of ankle, an earnest money agreement will probably be on the table.
But not ejido land. If I have larned anything from my fellow bloggers and from my reading, it is that purchasing ejido land is trouble. I will undoubtedly post more thoughts on this topic in the very near future.
I want to live where I can walk or ride a bicycle in my daily routine. I will take my truck to Mexico for hauling large items and – see Guideline #9. Relationships are difficult to create if one party is isolated in sheet metal.
Archaeological sites need to be within driving distance – or on overnight trips. Living in Greece taught me the joy of archaeology. And in Mexico, it is difficult to throw a rock without hitting a mound – if not a pyramid. It will also give me a good chance to catch up on my old college studies. Back during the Punic Wars when I was at school, the general view was that the Aztecs were like Nazis and the peaceful Mayans were the equivalent of 1939 Poland. We have learned so much more since then. I need to read – and I hope I can find some recent studies in Spanish. Two birds. One stone. Point and match.
(And last – simply because we are a decimal people) Sound and light. I am not retiring to Mexico to seek a tropical paradise. If anything, I want to have enough sensual stimulation that I know I am alive and thriving. A view of the sea or of mountains would not be bad, but they are not deal busters. But there must be sound and light.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
29 November 2007
Left Portland on a very uneventful flight to Los Angeles. Very full flight, but it went quickly and uneventfully. The flight to Manzanillo was only about half full and quite rough at spots. Manzanillo has a very small airport. In a matter of minutes, we were through Customs. I then had my first gringo-Mexican moment. A Canadian family was trying to book a taxi, but they were surprised at the cost -- by the way, the father was one of the most arrogant Canadians I have ever seen. But he was outdone by another Canadian who immediately started “negotiating” loudly – and aggressively -- in passable Spanish with the fellow on the taxi desk. The two groups combined forces and took two taxis -- paying exactly what the taxi guy had originally proposed. And the Canadians thought they had won. (Personal note. I love Canadians. I regularly sail in Canadian waters, and I have always found them to be the most polite and gracious people in the world. I count these two experiences as being mere anomalies.) Lesson one: Listen before you start arguing. Defensiveness is not a good way to learn a new culture.
I then arranged for a taxi to La Manzanilla. The driver spoke no English. But we communicated in our own broken languages – with bad pantomime.
The taxi ride was about an hour through the type of country I had learned to expect from reviewing the internet -- coconut palms and bananas everywhere.
My first impression of La Manzanilla was that it was a little more tawdry than I had expected -- and that was silly because it looks just like the pictures I had seen on line.
My apartment at Brisas del Mar was perfect for my needs. It had a full kitchen – and I used only the microwave and the refrigerator.
The weather. That was the first thing I noticed when leaving the airport in Manzanillo. It is hot and humid. I did not see a thermometer, but the forecast was for 85 -- and it felt at least that hot. I noticed on the drive to La Manzanilla that the temperature in the surrounding hills was noticeably cooler. I changed into shorts and a fresh shirt and walked through the village in the evening cool. The beach is everything that it is advertised to be. I started at the south end and walked through a group of fishing boats tied up on the beach. This is not a place that would please OSHA. Collapsed sidewalks (from the flooding in September, I suspect) and lines across the beach call for constant vigilance. We used to call that “paying attention.” I then walked through a portion of the village out the main highway to see if I could see the houses I saw on line. (I did not see them.)
I should have stopped to buy some food at one of the local stores, but I allowed the language issue to arise. Lesson number two: Living here is supposed to be an adventure. And you cannot have an adventure unless you are brave enough to try. I eventually did, but I still need to get back to studying my Spanish before I make my next trip.
I was so tired that I went to bed at 9:30 (7:30 home time) without supper. I would like to say that I slept well. I did not. But I do not sleep well in new beds. I suppose that plus I had a headache and Mexico can be real noisy. I could hear yelling through the evening and the church bells are right next to my balcony. But I did get some rest.
A great morning. I got up and took a few pictures from my balcony. Beautiful. La Manzanilla will never be noted for its architecture, but it does have great charm. Right now I am looking at two small domes that could be from Mykonos.
The insects have not been bad. When I went for a walk last night, I noticed that a hole in my deck shoes had allowed something to bite me on the side of my left foot. I saw lizards on the roof of the balcony, a few moths, and some small ants eating a dead moth, but that has been about it. I am surprised -- being this close to a mangrove lagoon.
I am sitting about 4 blocks away from the beach, but I can hear the whisper (literally) of the surf. The waves are so small that they barely break on the shore.
I am heading out for breakfast and to meet the real estate salesman.
But, lest I forget. Noise. I was greeted by a sound this morning that I knew about but had yet to experience: a chorus of roosters. There was one champion who could be heard through the entire valley. At 8:30, they were still crowing. And I quickly came to love the sounds of the roosters, the gas and water trucks with their loud speakers, and the general commotion of a village that was truly alive.
I was also hit with a bout of scenery stare this morning. I had pulled out a magazine to read. I sat down and looked out at the ocean. I soon realized I had just spent an hour staring with the magazine on my chest. I think I could do that full time.
I met the realtor after having breakfast at a family Mexican restaurant (huevos rancheros, fresh milk -- probably not pasteurized, and fresh tortillas -- all delicious and for 40 pesos). He came down from Malibu about 7 years ago. He has that hip surfer look.
We looked at the ocean view house I liked on line. It was disappointing. Great views, but the interior is cramped. But it was better than the other house I wanted to see. The second house was completely overgrown by the jungle with no true view. That can be fixed. But the house is little more than a shack. Too small even for a downsized retirement. It has some major maintenance issues (with slippage) as does the first house. I then looked at another house -- no true ocean view -- except on the roof. It would take a great deal of work to renovate -- and it is new. I may be better off looking at a piece of property and building.
My biggest concern is still the ejido land issue. I feel very uneasy about buying property in the name of other people -- especially if it does increase in value.
This afternoon does not feel as warm as yesterday. I walked north to the lagoon entrance to see the crocodiles. And they are right there. One was basking next to a restaurant.
And I slept. The siesta has to be one of the Mediterranean’s greatest contributions to western civilization. Hot afternoons are not designed for doing business.
The realtor invited me to his office after hours for an informal gathering. I also met a the fellow who bought the house that first caught my eye on the internet and introduced me to La Manzanilla. He is originally from London, but has lived all over the world -- most recently in Virginia City. I also met the wife of a minister who runs an English-speaking church in Melaque, and a couple from Canada who are in the Spanish immersion course here. They will be renting in La Manzanilla in the near future -- with the realtor’s assistance. La Manzanilla appears to have no dearth of interesting people.
I bought a can of refritos for dinner and ate it with some potato chips and Coke light -- hardly the high life. I am going to the roof to look at the stars and then head to bed. And the stars were perfect. No moon. Nothing but the Milky Way -- and Mars. (Now, I sound like a candy commercial.)Tomorrow, I look at another house.
What a glorious day. I had trouble sleeping last night, but somewhere around 4 I fell asleep and slept until 9:30. After all, it is a vacation. Even the skim milk tastes very good down here -- fresh.
The house I saw today was not quite what I had expected. The lawn has gone bad -- and I do not expect to see landscaped lawns at the beach -- especially with the informal look of the neighbors’ yards. The house has some very nice features, but it simply did not hit the spot with me. There is a beautiful roof view, but a cell tower is in everyone’s way on the north side of the village.
The realtor told me that a multicultural center in a condo complex is going on the market for $150,000, but it would require massive work. [It turns out that the place has listed for $195,000 – far too much.] I walked through it imagining a number of creative options, but it would be an expensive proposition.
The realtor then took me to another house. I have seen it online, but it did not look very interesting. It has no ocean view and the yard is not landscaped. However, it has a great valley view and the house is certainly functional. It is at the end of a road next to a very expensive hotel complex -- so there will be tranquility. (I just noticed that I can see the dome of the house from my balcony.) I would not have believed it, but it has possibilities for a very great garden. The danger is water runoff from the jungle during the rainy season. And the deep ruts in the road in front of the house are the best evidence of how forceful the runoff can be.
I had a great comida at Jolanda’s -- Indonesian pork over rice with pickled beets.
The weather has been perfect today. I have been able to see everything on the bay all day long. Even though hot and humid, there is a pleasant breeze -- and time for a nap.
But no nap. Instead, I read a bit and joined the realtor and the two Canadians (a delightful couple -- just as I expect Canadians to be) at the office for the sunset celebration. The Canadians left for Puerto Vallarta and another Canadian stopped by. Her luggage had been delayed in Los Angeles and she needed a key to her house. We had dinner at Coco Loco -- a new Italian restaurant -- where I was very original in ordering a pepperoni pizza. But it was good for two more breakfasts. I wandered around La Manzanilla trying to take night pictures. I have no people studies as of yet. Those always feel so intrusive. To bed.
Another night of no early sleep, but I did sleep in. The day was not as clear, but I ate my pizza and struck out to the campo to look at the house I had come to like. I did get some interesting neighborhood shots. The walk back to the village is an easy one if I decide to buy the house. I need to weigh the pros and cons.
I had lunch at Lora Loka where I met the father of our waiter at Coco Loco. It turns out that they are both archaeologists. The son is a Sumerian expert; the father is an Egyptologist. I gave the father my current National Geographic with a short article on mummies. He cooked up a nice paella with a piece of peach pie with chocolate sauce. He leaves for New York tomorrow to renew his visa. What a great opportunity to share a hobby interest. La Manzanilla looks better all the time.
I strolled around the square this evening, but I am still struggling with the heat. Even walking slowly, I started sweating as if I had been at the gym for an hour. As I sit here writing this, I am still dripping. The archaeologist said that he leaves every summer due to the heat. I just noticed that the usual breeze is not as pronounced tonight. (I should have tried the ocean today. I need to do that before I leave.)
I thought today was a bit more humid than normal. Looking at the haze on the ocean, I must be correct. But who is to know here? I doubt too many people track such things. The weather is as the weather is; it was like yesterday, but more like it is today.
I walked out to the house today (it is now The House) and talked to the next door neighbor. He is retired from Canada living here full time. I had a very good conversation about the internet, paving the street, buying houses, and how La Manzanilla is growing. It turns out that there are a number of Canadians who are building in that portion of the neighborhood. As a result, there is a mix of national and social factors at play. I have no doubt that I could fit in. (I have not mentioned one concern. When the arroyo seco floods during the rainy season, that portion of town is cut off from the rest. I am not certain how people get around the river.)
And the heat. I had trouble sleeping last night. Too much caffeine? Too much noise? I am not certain, but I got by fine today without a nap.
While at the house, I took a quick trip through a trail in the jungle. I think the land belongs to El Tamarindo -- an exclusive resort -- but I did not find a fence. Nor did I spot any jungle animals other than some rather healthy spiders with webs that seem to be made of teflon.
The animals I did discover were two dogs I befriended on my first trip. They belong to the neighbors. Professor Jiggs (my dog) would not be happy. This is not a spot for him.
I saw another house today in town. Very nice view, but expensive. The best thing about the house is the view, but it could be lost to more building.
I ate lunch at Jolanda’s -- the Dutch-owned restaurant that specializes in Asian food. So, off to bed. Tomorrow the bus to Barra.
I did not sleep soundly, but I was up at 7:30 to catch the 8:30 bus to Barra de Navidad to look at houses there. I went to the zócalo where two local workmen helped me find the correct bus.
The ride to Barra was not bad. I had an open window that provided a nice breeze, and I got to see things I missed on the taxi ride in.
I stopped by the realty office in Barra . Our email exchange gave both the realtor and me an idea of what to expect. She reviewed some listings with me and we went to see them in her car.
I had seen the first two on line. The first has never impressed me. The pool is in the front yard -- right next to the parking place. The living room and kitchen are now enclosed in glass. When I first saw them, they were open. The kitchen is very primitive without appliances – with space only for a small stove. Two bedrooms (including the master) are on the first floor with two bathrooms and a laundry room -- with bat issues. The third bedroom is upstairs with a nice tile terrace. There are three beds in that room with a bathroom. That bedroom should be the master bedroom. A little work could dress up the house nicely, but it is already priced over $200 K.
The second house was Casa Riley -- right across from the house that sold that was my original interest. It is an older home at a good price, but it shows its age. It has a hot tub, though, a good selling point for me. It also has a full apartment on the roof. The kitchen is small -- and essentially part of the living room. I have noticed that is a theme in many Mexican homes.
The third home is not one of the realtor’s listings. It is “for sale by owner” built by a Canadian and his wife. They build and turn -- and this house is almost complete. It is fascinating, but eccentric. It was designed by a well-known Barra architect -- Alejandro. Everything curves in the house. It has a nice kitchen. Once again, the dining, living, and kitchen areas meld together. There is a very nice laundry area with a “forest” accent. The back yard could be an excellent garden. The builders have a good sense for what grows well. (I would find a place for a hot tub somewhere.) The really unusual feature in the back yard is what fills the rest of the yard -- the master suite -- a very nice bedroom and bath setup with a partially-outdoor shower. I cannot remember now if there are 1 or 2 bedrooms on the second level. I do know there is a great study on the north side of the house. On the south, there is a small palapa that looks out onto the street -- with a limited ocean view. On the north is a narrow terrace that overlooks the garden. The terrace has a metal spiral stair case leading to the roof. The roof is just a flat roof. But is has slight ocean views -- for now. There are two empty lots to the west -- one is for sale by the same builder -- and he is willing to deal.
I like this house a lot. It is a bit too dark inside. There may be several reasons for that -- one being the furniture setup.
I really like the builders. Both are very active in the realtor’s nondenominational church. (I met the pastor’s wife in La Manzanilla several evenings back.) She has a dream of teaching Bible studies in Spanish. She lost part of her right arm in a terrible accident on a trip down from Canada. Their truck flipped. But she is an incredibly active person -- as evidenced by the garden and her dreams.
I am tempted to purchase the house and the lot. I could afford an additional house payment until I retire. At that point, I would need to sell my home in Salem or make other arrangements. Of course, that works only so long as I am working. The only advantage in moving early is that if I want to live in either Barra or La Manzanilla, I should consider moving quickly. I have watched prices increase. So far, the housing problem in the states does not appear to be having an effect here.
I had lunch with the realtor at Casa Senorina, a new establishment I have seen on line. The lunch was good and the realtor had some interesting insights about life in Barra. I was correct in believing that she will be a major source in navigating through life in Barra.
I walked around Barra. It was as I expected. There are more paved streets than in La Manzanilla, but the shops are similar. Nothing big, but adequate.
I missed the last bus to La Manzanilla and had to hire a cab that turned out to be more expensive than my dinner tonight at Coco Loco: shrimp sautéed in white wine sauce. It was superb. Lesson number three: Buses are on time. Taxis are too expensive when buses are available.
I need to choose between La Manzanilla and Barra. I just realized tonight that La Manzanilla reminds me of Powers and Barra of Seaside. Making that choice will help. Every time I mention Pátzcuaro, everyone here -- not surprisingly -- complains that it is cold. A restaurant host added a new observation that I think I have heard before: there seems to be some sort of odd depression in Pátzcuaro. Perhaps, they are more reserved than coast people. He found it weird. I guess there is only one way to find out -- go there.
This has been the best day so far. I am beginning to feel the project pulling together. If I buy the house along with the lot, the lot would be a great place for my brother to build -- or it would be a nice spot for more garden.
I was almost uncertain of the date. This has been my first day of full relaxation -- and I did almost nothing. Last night seemed a bit cooler. I slept well.
I walked up the beach as far as I could go. The beach is justifiably famous for its beauty. It was easy to walk about. And there were all types of shore birds. There are some very expensive houses along the beach (something about the foolish man and sand) with several lots for sale. Right across the street is the lagoon -- where I found plenty of no-see-ums and mosquitoes. (The mosquitoes found me on the deck last night. I have at least three good bites.) And then I had a very odd experience. I just missed getting beaned by a coconut. As I jumped out of the way, I felt something hit my neck. I walked on, but decided to take off my shirt to see if I had picked up something. I had: a leaf hopper disguised to look like a thorn. I took a couple pictures and moved on. I saw a hawk-like bird catch a rodent and what I think was a pair of evening grosbeaks.
The beach road ends up at the washed out bridge over the beach end of the lagoon. I had the fun experience of walking within feet of a large sleeping crocodile. I then saw my first pileated woodpecker. As I was watching it, a crocodile near the shore must have caught my scent and started stalking. I kept my eye on him because we were separating by a fence that appeared to have the consistency of chicken wire.
I took the afternoon off -- reading, checking in with the office, napping.
Tonight I ate at a great restaurant -- Martin’s. The special was dorado in a mustard sauce. I decided to brave it – because fish is not my favorite food. Extremely good.
Tomorrow I will need to talk to the realtor about one last look at the house on the edge of the jungle. I may also ask to look at the ocean view house.
A lazy day. I slept in and then sat on the deck most of the morning. When I went out, I intended to have breakfast. Instead, I stopped bythe realtor’s office for a discussion on purchasing ejido land. He has some ideas of putting together a deal. We will have dinner tonight at Café de Flores.
I did not eat breakfast. Instead, I walked over to the house -- again looking around the neighborhood. Even though the neighborhood is primitive, that is one of its charms. When I arrived at the house, a man was there weeding. I assume he was the owner, but we could not communicate with one another, once again, due to my lack of Spanish skills. So, I walked back to the village where I spent the afternoon on my blackberry -- as well as reading and snoozing. This has hardly been an exhausting visit.
I had dinner with the realtor at Café des Flores -- seafood lasagna with alfredo sauce. It was good. We talked a good deal about life in a rather college dorm manner -- including the inevitably of a Ron Paul presidency. (That gives an idea how connected with reality we were.) We also touched a bit on the process of buying ejido land. Between the borrowed name and lack of title, I am not certain this is the place to buy. But I want to show both places to my mother and brother – perhaps in January or February.
I have packed what I can for my flight tomorrow. If I can sleep, I would like to get up early enough to walk around town and perhaps actually have a dip in the ocean.
I did not get up early, but early enough. I waded in the ocean and took a walk along the beach. I stopped at the restaurant where I had breakfast my first day in La Manzanilla. It was great.
I then finished packing, walked down the steep hiking trail that passes for a driveway, and caught a taxi to the Manzanillo Airport. One thing I will need to adjust to is Mexican driving. No distance is left between faster and slower cars. The next trip down, I will need to rent a car and get a feel for playing in a bit part in the drama that is Mexican transportation.
I was three hours early for my flight. To kill some time, I decided to sit in the café and have lunch. Most of my fellow diners were either Canadians or Americans -- slightly older than I am. But I felt that there was a wide cultural gulf opening. One group was having a discussion whether Taco Bell was better than the Mexican food they ate during their week in Manzanillo. They concluded Taco Bell was better because the taco shells are crisp. I decided that weeping was not an option on my part.
A second group -- two couples -- treated the waitress like dirt (at least, the women did). And then they started talking as if they were the only people in the restaurant. Loud. Simultaneous. No wonder most Canadians and Americans find Mexicans to be shy. We tromp through the world like herds of elephants -- oblivious to our own actions. I am not even certain they realized what they were doing. I suspect I may be guilty of the same sins.
After eight days of thinking through this process, I know the following:
1. I should not retire before January 2009.
2. However, I could afford to buy a home before retiring – even though it would change my deferred compensation plans.
3. If I decide to rent when I move to Mexico, my lessons learned could stop here. I would simply leave Salem in 2009 and head to Mexico.
4. That would be fine if I had some idea on what will happen to the Mexican housing market. It appears to be steadily rising -- any Californian in 2005 would have said the same. All of the arguments for buying and renting in retirement are the same in Mexico as they are in the United States.
5. If I decide to buy in July 2009, I can deal with financing at that point.
6. If I decide to buy now, I will need to figure out a financial strategy.
7. Then I need to decide what to do with my Salem house.
Plenty of questions to discuss.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
So, where does someone start on a life change like this? The obvious first question was: When? That was easy. I could not do it before January 2009 when my Air Force reserve retirement started. I would have my house loan paid off about the same time.
Then came the more difficult question: Where? I had visited the usual tourist sites: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Ensenada, Cozumel, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo. I had also visited Mexico regularly while I was in flight training at Laredo. Of that group, Puerto Vallarta was my favorite. That idea crashed on the reef of reality: real estate prices. I had no idea how expensive Puerto Vallarta had become. And it was really too busy for what I had envisioned as a retirement site. I eliminated Cabo San Lucas because it was just a southern extension of southern California. I wanted to move somewhere where I could learn about a new culture and new people.
Because the Oregon coast interested me, I stuck with searching the Pacific coast of Mexico. Sayulita sounded nice, but I think I was about ten years too late to find what now interested me: a fishing village. Then, I stumbled across the blog: My Life in Chacala. The woman who blogs on that site presents a very realistic picture of living in a small Mexican fishing village. Chacala sounded like the place for me – until I realized that it probably is just a step too small.
While cruising the web, I ran across two other possibilities: La Manzanilla and Barra de Navid. The real estate prices were just about right, so I decided to start looking in earnest. I booked a flight to Manzanillo for late November and spent 10 days looking at both places. I kept a travel journal that I will post after I edit it. But here are a few random thoughts:
I found several houses in Barra de Navidad and La Manzanilla that I was tempted to buy. But I am trying to maintain the model in all of the books I have read: I need to rent in an area and live there -- to know the people and the neighborhood. However, I am now certain that I will retire in Mexico within the next year or so.
La Manzanilla has a lot of the charm of Chacala – a fishing village with very friendly people -- but with more infrastructure because of its larger size. There are more expatriates -- from all over the world – than I expected. The cosmopolitan atmosphere is nice. The price is that German, French, Canadian (I ran into more rude and demanding Canadians on this trip than I have ever encountered in my entire life. As a people, they are usually far more laid back. Maybe their strong dollar is changing their footprint in the world.), and American money are changing the character of the village. To a degree, that is fine because some Mexican families are now able to experience a better life. The down side is that the outsiders have not been very careful about how they have overlain their culture on the fishing village culture. That is not an original observation. But it is easy to forget that not all change is progress. Having said that, I would gladly live in La Manzanilla; it is lovely. My chief concern in buying property is that all of La Manzanilla is ejido land, without title.
Barra de Navidad is like most beach resort towns. It has a very good infrastructure, but the people are far more oriented to cajoling tourist dollars (mainly pesos held by Mexicans from the highlands) into their own pocket. The commerce is pretty low key. But where La Manzanilla was charming, Barra is trading. The middle class homes in Barra are all walled. Even though the gates are often open, the message is clear: don't come in. I was looking for a community that was a little more -- well, communal. I grew up in a small town in southern Oregon where people would sit and talk on their front porches -- or simply walk into a house because the front door was never locked. Barra will never be that type of town. Any place that thrives on income from strangers will never be attuned to the rhythm of local life.
That, of course, misses one factor entirely. I doubt that I would be able to acclimate to the weather in the summer -- or even the winter. I knew this would be an issue. I have lived in Oregon most of my life -- with the exception of several years in the 70s when I lived in Texas, Colorado, California, Greece, and England. And I have a broad range of travel experiences. One factor sums up my tolerance for heat: I keep my house at 55 degrees in the winter -- and it seems comfortable to me. My stay in Barra and La Manzanilla was nice, but I did have trouble with the heat -- even after learning to walk slowly and to enjoy the most civilized of Mediterranean traditions: the siesta.
That now leaves me with one more place to explore before I start making final plans. I want to visit Pátzcuaro in the next few months: maybe February. There is a house I have been watching on the internet for a few months.
That is the outline of how I got where I am now. I will try to post my thoughts and observations as I begin this journey. So far, I have met a number of people who have been very helpful with information and suggestions. I wanted adventure, and it has already begun.