Birding in a Mexican Nature Reserve” to learn more.
Birding in a Mexican Nature Reserve” to learn more.
Three new museums open in the Yucatán that you won’t want to miss. Read the SF Gate article here.
Blogger and mother Beth and her family live in Mexico. Her post “The Mexico You Don’t See on the Nightly News” will resonate with all of us who live in Mexico (and love it here.)
Thinking of moving to Mexico? Have kids? You’ll want to read “8 Powerful Lessons I have Learned from a Year of Mexican Adventures.”
The Sault Star of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario published a piece recently you’ll want to read. Thesalon correspondent Pauline Clark and her husband, Gerry, recently ventured to Mexico to see first-hand what their photographer daughter, Courtenie raves about. Pauline then wrote “The Real Mexican Experience.”
After more than twenty-five years of dancing around the idea of being an expat, a year ago I became one.
In the previous post, we mentioned several things that we love about Mexico after living here for one year.
It occurred to me that I should tell you why. Why did we move? Why do we love it?
Flash back to 2008. My 16-year marriage had just ended and the photography world was changing faster than I was. I sat alone in a new apartment, in a new town for three months and tried to figure out where my life was headed.
I’ve had quite a life: traveled to more than 45 countries, lived in Paris, hiked the Himalayas, criss-crossed India by train, skied expert runs in Colorado, and indulged myself with good food and wine at every opportunity. I have made a comfortable living as a photographer since 1981. I have traveled into the Sahara, been swarmed by bugs in the Cameroon rain forest and boated down the Niger River for National Geographic; shot assignments for books and magazines; and have always been grateful for my photography career.
But, here I was, single and middle-aged (hell, late 50s is middle-aged if you are going to live past 100!). The thought of dating in my 50s was about as much fun as being nibbled to death by ducks. The economy at that time didn’t add to my overall mood.
Jennifer and I had met in a small mountain town in Colorado a few years before we started dating. She was leaving as I was arriving, making changes to her life at the time. Jennifer had worked for several years as a massage therapist and owned a day spa. She wanted to pursue her dreams of travel and photography and was leaving Creede for Brooks Institute in California.
Three years later, I spotted her, loaded down with camera gear, working a 4th of July parade. I asked her out on a date, she said yes, and we have been together since the summer of 2009. Business partners, life partners, best friends.
After a couple of months of dating, we talked about living in a Spanish-speaking country. The U.S. was feeling less like home and we both wanted something new, someplace we would be passionate about, a place to start a new life and a new business. A three-month road trip (rental cars, buses and trains) through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina gave us wonderful experiences and a decent library of photos to submit to National Geographic, but no great prospects for a new home.
A series of discussions and inquiries led to a drive through Mexico, with the intention of living on the island of Cozumel for six weeks, working, shopping and test driving the town, island and country. My travels over the years have taken me to Oaxaca, Michoacan, Chiapas, much of the Yucatan, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Cabo, D.F. (Mexico City) and numerous trips to Cozumel for diving. I already had a serious love affair going with the country. It was Jennifer’s first visit. Luckily, she fell in love, too.
What We Love and Why
We love the architecture and setting of San Miguel de Allende. Our first meal was posole and chile rellenos at the rooftop terrace at La Posadita. The quality of the food and the setting across from the Parroquia has made this our obligatory stop when we are there.
Posole at La Posadita, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
We have been to Chiapas twice together. Hands down, it is our favorite place away from the ocean. The small, charming, cosmopolitan city of San Cristobal is a visual and edible feast. It has Argentine, Italian and Mexican restaurants; wine bars with good wine, bocaditos and fair prices (don’t get me started on a rant about inflated wine prices at restaurants) and great coffee bars. Surrounded by mountains and permeated by a rich, indigenous culture, there is something about the place that keeps pulling us back. We hope to be there soon. If there was Caribbean water within a couple of hours, we would probably live there and not here. (see December 2010 posts)
Real de Guadalupe, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
But, we are here – in or on (I’m never sure which is right) the island of Cozumel. Why?
It’s the water: warm, calm and clear with stunning coral reefs on the leeward side; wild and treacherous on the unspoiled, windward side. We like looking at it, being in it, being on top of it and being underneath it. There is not enough money in the world to get me to live in a humid climate (reared in Missouri, college in Florida) if there is not an ocean and ocean breezes to moderate that climate.
North lagoon, Cozumel
Artificial reef, Dzul ha, Cozumel
There are interesting people here, too. Not just the usual tropical, hard-living beach bums, but people who are artists, creative cooks/chefs, and entrepreneurs. The relaxed pace of life seems a world away from the hustle of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
The free salsa music in the plaza on weekends, the astounding quality of the costuming and dancing at the Carnaval parties and parades, and the feeling that the island is large enough to be diverse, but small enough to feel intimate are a few more reasons why we live here.
We followed our dream. We took some chances.
In the summer of 2009, neither of us imagined that two years later we would be living on an island in the Caribbean. Many times, I have imagined I would live in an apartment in Paris or a villa in Italy, or on an island in the Caribbean, but I never believed I would.
We started a Mexican corporation and have been busy promoting our photography business. We are shooting destination weddings, family portraits, advertising jobs for resorts and restaurants, and we still contribute images to National Geographic. We have never been happier.
Family portrait session, Cozumel
So, here come the cliches: follow your dream, take risks, open your heart to love, don’t fear failure, work and play hard, and live every day as if it is your last. I used to place a saying at the bottom of my emails, but I stopped because I think everyone had seen it.
“Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt and dance like nobody is watching.”
That is how we try to live everyday and it works for us.
EIGHT THINGS WE HAVE LEARNED LIVING IN MEXICO
One year ago, Jennifer and I left the United States with a fully-loaded Toyota 4Runner and moved to Mexico.
Our first year as expats was eventful and full of surprises. Looking back, we have wonderful memories, several new friends and an enthusiasm for the future.
Jennifer had more experience with the expat life than me. She had lived in Germany and London for four years during high school, but attended international schools and never quite became an expat. My summer in a Paris apartment hardly qualified me as an expat, but I did get a taste of it and wanted more.
We have been content to rent a house on the island of Cozumel while we went about the business of setting up our photography business. We interviewed lawyers and accountants and started the process of creating a Mexican corporation, which would allow us to work here legally. While the paper work was making its way through the system, we attended language classes in Chiapas, saw some of Mexico and made new friends. One month after arriving on the island we got married. So, a big year.
Here are a few of the high points and things we have learned in the last year:
1) We loved driving here, have done it three times, and highly recommend driving as the best way to see this beautiful country. Get a Guia Roji, the best road map for Mexico, a Mexican chip for a Garmin GPS (sometimes helpful, sometimes woefully inaccurate) and plan your trip carefully. We were coming from New Mexico, so we could essentially cross the border at a number of places. We crossed early on a Sunday morning at Laredo. A quick pass through customs, then immigration, then getting our car permit and we were on the road by 8:30am, arriving in San Miguel de Allende before dinner. More than 80% of our route was on four lane roads, many of them cuotas (toll roads). A bit more expensive, but you make good time. Our second night in Fortin de las Flores, third night in Palenque (if the road to Villahermosa isn’t flooded – it was last year at this time, see the blog post of Oct. 1, 2010) and we catch the 6:00pm ferry to Cozumel on the fourth day.
We NEVER drive at night. We don’t know the roads, there might be a few vehicles on the road without lights, there are pedestrians (sometimes inebriated), animals and hundreds of topes. Plus, eight hours a day should be enough. Slow down, the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination.
You don’t want to see the room!
If, for some unseen circumstance, you don’t end up in the town where you planned to stop and it is getting dark, look for a “Love Motel”. You’ll recognize them by the fence that obscures the entire motel and the curtain or garage door that covers the parking area for each room. Created for couples who want privacy, the rooms are available for four hours or for the entire night. The secure parking for an auto full of your stuff is invaluable.
2) We lived here as locals for a six-week test run before moving. Being here as a local, going about your work, shopping at the markets and stores, arranging for cable tv, a cell phone, etc. will help you to decide if you will like living in the place where you had only previously vacationed. We made the decision to rent until our business will support us. The island is loaded with houses and condos for sale by people who bought while on vacation and then decided that the expat life was not for them.
3) When setting up a corporation, ask other expats who they have used, then interview a couple of attorneys and accountants. You will need both. If you don’t speak Spanish well, make sure your accountant and attorney are fluent in English. You don’t want miscommunications when setting up your company. Our entire process was smooth and we now shoot destination weddings, advertising photos and contribute travel photos to the National Geographic Image Collection.
Mark & Miranda on the east side of Cozumel after their wedding.
4) Learn the language!!!!! Take classes, read the newspapers, keep a dictionary close by, watch television in something other than English. Change the language settings on DVD movies and watch it in the language you are learning while using English sub-titles.
5) Travel and discover the amazing country of Mexico. Long coastlines, rugged mountain ranges, vast deserts, mysterious jungles, lush rain forests, bustling modern cities and beautiful colonial cities, are only a few of the reasons to leave your comfortable home and see Mexico. I am constantly amazed at the number of expats on my island who don’t try to speak Spanish or who have never seen any of the country.
Descending into Fortin de las Flores on the road from Puebla
6) We love: the island of Cozumel with its relaxed atmosphere, colorful Carnaval celebrations and clear Caribbean waters; small, lesser known Mayan ruins like Ek Balam and Calakmul; the architecture and sophistication of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato; the vast number of Reservas de las Biosferas; everything about Chiapas; tacos al pastor, Bohemia beer, Centenario tequila, sopes for breakfast, jamaica, pork any way it is cooked, Campeche camarones, warm handshakes and cheek kisses when we greet our friends; the love shown to children; salsa music; and the general love of life that permeates the country.
Dance competitions during Cozumel’s Colorful Carneval
Uxmal, Yucatan – Palacio del Gobernador
Mexico’s Bicentenario in San Miguel de Allende
Downtown San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
Las Gemelas Antojitos in Cordoba – open 24 hours
7) If you are an animal lover, adopt a pet. Although don’t be surprised if one adopts you first. While more and more Mexicans have pets and are responsible pet owners, there is an overpopulation problem, due to the lack of a spay and neuter program in most places. You can practice your Spanish on the dog or cat who shows up on your doorstep.
Squirt, the bilingual cat
Don’t be in a hurry to get things done (mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means “not today”), don’t compare habits, rituals, government, service providers or drivers to the country you have left. Prepare yourself for a change in thinking to go with your change in address.
Fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe in San Cristobal, Chiapas
Let us know if you have any questions about living in Mexico!
Yesterday I had the chance to ask some questions of a recent traveler to Cancun. She and her family were nervous before traveling to Cancun, but came here anyway and ended up having a great time. Here are my questions and her answers:
Why were you nervous about traveling to Cancun?
Stella: I was nervous about traveling to Cancun due to all the media coverage in the US and the travel alert that was in effect. Also, there were a lot of colleges warning their students not to travel to Mexico over spring break.
Why did you decide to come to Cancun and not go somewhere else?
Stella: This was our third trip to Cancun, we love the turquoise water and white sand. In addition, we have gone to other islands over Easter break and have not found the impeccable service that we receive in Cancun.
When you arrived in Cancun what were your first impressions?
Stella: When we first arrived, I felt a little nervous, but as soon as we walked outside and felt the warm sun and saw the palm trees blowing in the wind I actually began to feel at ease. Minutes thereafter we saw our service waiting for us with our name on a board and within 20 minutes we were at the front desk of our hotel.
How long were you in Cancun before you were able to relax and know that you would be safe here?
Stella: I actually felt at ease driving to Le Meridian. Our driver was so nice and kind.
What places did you visit while you were in Cancun? Did you go out and have fun?
Stella: We didn’t do any of the tours, because we have done them all before, we actually just wanted to relax. We did go out every night to a different restaurant and/or mall. We walked some of the time or took a taxi. We had no bad experiences.
Will you come back to Cancun again?
Stella: Yes, we will definitely be back.
What advice would you give other travelers who want to come to Cancun but are nervous?
Stella: I would advise other travelers to read your blog and be well aware of what is going in the country, but also to realize Cancun is some 2300 miles away from all that stuff. When traveling to another country you always need to be informed and aware. As long as you are respectful to the country and their people, I don’t see how you could have a problem. You were right, the only thing we came home with was sunburn.
Thanks again for putting my mind as ease prior to our trip.
Prior to asking the above questions of Stella she and I had an exchange of comments on my blog, I’ve shared that exchange here: Back Safe & Happy From Cancun.
Thank you to Stella for answering my questions and giving me permission to re-post our comment exchange.
The following comment exchange appeared recently on my blog. It illustrates the fear many travelers to Mexico have before they arrive and shows how unfounded those fears turn out to be. I thought it would be relevant to share this exchange here.
Glad I found this website. We are leaving 4/8 for Cancun, Le Meridian, by husband, myself and 2 kids. I am scared to death that we will be in harms way. My daughter can’t wait to go to Sr. Frog’s and I haven’t told her yet, that we probably won’t go downtown. I need your honest opinion as to whether or not we will be safe. I have arranged for the hotel concierge to pick us up at the airport, thought that was the safest way to go and figured we just won’t leave the resort until its time to head home, but that doesn’t give us many dining options. Please give me your honest opinion on all this. Also, if you know anything about the Le Meridian that you care to share, I would appreciate it.
Thanks so much for your time and info.
Reply from RiverGirl – April 1, 2009
Stella – First off Señor Frog’s is not in downtown Cancun it’s in the Hotel Zone. Second, even if it WAS downtown it would be perfectly safe to go there.
I understand your fears Stella but they are completely unfounded! I’m serious!
I wander around in Cancun all the time, alone as a white American woman. I’ve never been at all nervous for my safety and only once or twice (in large crowds) was I nervous that some purse snatcher would try to grab my purse (though no one ever did).
Le Meridien is a lovely hotel, it’s one of the nicest here. I don’t think the beach near it is very good right now, so you will want to walk north or south to a better beach.
But do leave your hotel and go out. Cancun is perfectly safe for tourists. When you get here and see everyone wandering the Hotel Zone night and day you will relax, I’m sure.
Just wanted to let you know you were RIGHT!! Cancun was more perfect than we remembered. We had a blast and were completely as ease once we checked-in and got in vacation mode. There were no signs of violence at all and actually the people, employees and everyone in general were much more pleasant and accommodating than you will find in Pennsylvania.
Thanks again for this website.
Reply from RiverGirl – April 15, 2009
Stella – I’m really glad you had a great time!
After this exchange of comments I wrote to Stella asking her for permission to re-post our exchange. I also asked her some questions about her fears and her trip to Cancun, a post with her answers will appear here soon.
Thank you to Stella for permitting me to re-post her comments here.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of email from people who are concerned about the safety of traveling to the Cancun, Mexico area on vacation. I thought that it might be helpful to others if I share one of these email exchanges publicly. Here is a typical email, my response is below it:
Thank goodness I found you, my wife and I are planning to visit the Cancun area soon. But because of recent news reports about violence in Mexico our families are scared and have asked us to cancel our trip.
What can we say to them to calm their fears and convince them that we will be safe while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico?
Jack in Seattle
Dear Jack – The data simply doesn’t support avoiding tourist areas of Mexico. There have been exactly ZERO tourist deaths in the Cancun area due drug cartel violence.
In 2008 more than 4.5 million international tourists arrived at the Cancun Airport. The vast majority of these tourists went home with nothing worse than sunburn and a hangover. Tourists do die here, just like they do in every tourist destination, but if you look at the statistics you see that they die from drowning (usually because they swim while drunk) or from heart attacks or sometimes they die in car accidents.
If you read the US State Dept warning carefully you will see that it warns people away from the border areas, primarily Tijuana and Juarez. Those areas are 1200+ miles from Cancun. Would you avoid going to Miami, Florida because of violence in Detroit, Michigan? I wouldn’t.
It would be a shame for you to cancel your trip because of worry over violence toward tourists here. Tourists need to use common sense here; there is the normal petty crime you find in any tourist destination. But there simply isn’t violence against tourists here in Cancun.
Hope this helps,
Ok, people, enough’s enough. Too many people are finding Heather in Paradise by researching “crime in Playa del Carmen,” and the US media has been going on a frenzy trying to sensationalize crime in Mexico in an effort to deter Americans from traveling here.
Here is the most recent travel advisory from the US State department. Read it for yourself and then come back.
Ok, they’re warning you that there has been drug cartel violence as well as some robberies, etc. in some of the border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. They recommend restricting travel to Durango.
Have any of you seen a map of Mexico? Here you go:
Quintana Roo, which is Playa del Carmen’s state, is the grey/purplish state that is on the far right, curled up little Yucatan peninsula. In other words, it’s really, really far away from the border.
If you are a regular in the Mexican blogosphere, you know that Rivergirl wrote of this topic today and Gabatcha shared her thoughts on this matter yesterday. We were all set off by a recent article found on Associated Content written by Julia Bodeeb that is inaccurate and obviously written without any real knowledge of what is happening in Mexico. The article was posted on a Cancun information forum and we soon discovered that attempting to comment on her piece was futile. Several of us have posted comments that dispute her statement that tourists should avoid Cancun, we’ve asked her for evidence that Cancun is unsafe for tourists and she is consistently (and rapidly) deleting the comments that disagree with her blatant lies and misinformation. One poster contacted the writer directly to challenge her about deleting comments and she replied with a delightfully courteous “You blow”. You would think that a professional “journalist” would be able to engage in debate and support her arguments, but apparently she has nothing to back up her claims that tourists are in danger in Cancun. Why? Because they are not.
With the apparent hysteria in the media about the dangers of Mexico and the anxious emails I’m receiving about upcoming trips, I thought I would touch on this subject one more time (see previous post here). In Cancun and Quintana Roo, at this moment in time, all is peaceful, all is calm and tourists are safe. According to today’s local paper “El Periodico”, the US State Department released a letter stating that their warning was intended to urge people to exercise caution in the border areas of the country, not to prohibit travel or imply that resort areas are unsafe. There have been no tourists killed in Cancun as a result of the war on drugs. Do people die here? Why, yes they do, car accidents, heart attacks, drownings, suicides, of course people die here, but random murders just don’t happen. The entire city of Cancun had only 65 murders last year, none of the victims were tourists. For a city of about 700 000 residents with millions of tourists visiting each year, that is not a scary statistic. Does crime against tourists happen? Yes, this is not Disneyland (and I am sure there are pick pockets there too), robberies occur, credit card fraud, rape (usually of the “date rape” variety, not random assaults on the street), all things that happen in any major city. Use your common sense and don’t put yourself or your things in dangerous situations.