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.