Wednesday, December 19, 2007

starting the journey

About two years ago, I decided that I was going to retire to Mexico. The reason was simple. Retirement was drawing near -- and I had no idea what I was going to do. I work for a workers' compensation company in Salem, Oregon, and I live (or more accurately, reside) in Salem. I had looked at buying property on the Oregon coast, but I wanted something more adventurous: I wanted to wake up each morning not knowing what type of skills I would need to get through the day. I do not remember what triggered the thought, but I remember where I was -- in my hot tub. Mexico! My mother, my brother, and his wife could join me in Mexico when I retire. I knew very little Spanish, but I had visited Mexico several times, and I liked it.

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.


Andee said...

Hi Steve,
Great job. Nice photos. I like your writing and the way you are really taking the time and doing the research to find the right place.

Take care, Andee

Marie McC said...

Found your blog through My Life in Chacala. Will be watching your progress, as I'm on the same path (but have a lot longer to go before I retire) and have the same concerns. Good luck!

Nancy said...

I saw your link on Andee's site and wanted to say that you have a wonderful adventure ahead of you!

My husband and I moved to Mazatlan in September from our home in Washington State....and love everything about it.

We kept track of our decisionmaking process and the projeect of planning and moving on our blog,

There's a great community of bloggers out there that were a huge help to us and still are....Welcome!

Steve Cotton said...

Andee, Marie, and Nancy --

I am very pleased that you have taken a peek. I look forward to your combined sage advice as this journey continues.

Todd said...

Hey Steve

Thanks for the add.
After I get through the holidays I have to do some blog links myself!

Hey, that house you have been watching in Patzcuaro is in the Corazon! One of my neighbors.

Merry Christmas!


Steve Cotton said...

Todd --

I thought the house might be close to yours. I have enjoyed watching your house grow. Nice tour of your home, by the way. Who knows, we may soon be neighbors.

Brandon Smith said...

Hola, mi amigo:
Jackie Maltzan referred me to your blog. I've decided to start at the beginning, and follow your adventure.