Sunday, August 14, 2005

Review: Live Well in Mexico

Ready to change your life, your retirement or your occupation? A really big change.

We are expatriates in Mexico and have been for more than seven years. It has been both wonderful and horrible beyond imagining. We ended up here at the southern frontier for a few reasons: health, a slow life on a higher level than our income would allow in the States and because it reminded me of the Cuban area of Tampa where I grew up.

It was a great decision. It was a great mistake. One never knows which unless they did both things. It has been the best of times; it has been the worst of times to paraphrase the English master of fiction. Dickens never even went to Mexico to learn that line.

I might call this a recurring theme to this "sinister cabal". I have written on Manuel Alvarez Bravo, the great Mexican photographer, Edward Weston & Tina Modotti's love affair
with each other and with Mexico, Alan Riding's book, Distant Neighbors and Bernal Diaz del Catillo's story of the Conquest.

My new photoblog is "Expatriate Diaries" and replaces an older one. The first
included a guide for foreigners in Mexico that I thought of turning into a book. However, Ken Luboff did something similar in Live Well in Mexico: "How to Relocate, Retire, and Increase Your Standard of Living". Ken Luboff's book has its own site: Live Well in Mexico

How does his book stand in the pantheon of gudes and self-help works? Sometimes good and complete but too often weak and limited, I think.

We must start with the pictures since I, a photographer, always look at the pictures. They are black and white in a country and culture of color, amateurish and lacking in the most important thing they would bring to this book -- information. OK. He is not a photographer but around San Miguel Allende there is little excuse for visually ignoring Mexico.

For a quick tour of some interesting places not in his guide; try my albums at Architecture and
Tropical Flowers.

Next is a reason the book doesn't relate to a lot of people. It is about the central, urban heart of Mexico which is far different from other parts of the country. It centers on San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato along with Guadalajara and Lake Atitlan. As much as I would like to see San Miguel it is too high for my heart condition and so remains a mythical place where Kerouac's pal, Neal Cassady died, run over by a train. These places and every location he writes of are those with huge English-speaking populations. Here in Quintana Roo there are already places with big foreign communities: Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, etc.

Luboff writes of prices (from 1999) that are 25-50% or the prices in the U.S. I cannot argue except to remind readers that he is writing of the most expensive neighborhoods of the most expensive towns of Mexico: San Miguel, Puerto Vallarta, Cuervevaca, Cabo San Lucas... These are places with lots of English, prices in $'s, and where the foreign and Mexican communities look fearfully or hatefully at each other from a distance. In spite of problems with individual Mexicans (and Americans), I much prefer a mixed community of cultures.

He is right about prices then and now. Here on the southern frontier the prices are far, far lower that his foreign resort towns. Here it was inexpensive and quiet until the developers and the chilangos "city people" brought their tensions and prejudices to the Mayan villages down the coast from the "international zone". He is right that there is much in Mexico that is cheaper. Medications (usually), labor, food and housing. But much is more expensive: gadgets, electronics, good medical care, cars, food beyond the Mexican staples. Some things are given up for others gained.

We have a big, lovely house on the shore of what was the most beautiful swimming hole in the hemisphere, a guard/gardener and a maid 5-6 days a week. We can hold our heads high on a budget that, in the US would be near "poverty level".

Luboff is not always right: limited to a certain part of Mexico and somewhat dated. On the other hand for those who dream of a different, slower, higher scale life than they have in the States; the more information the better. It is hard to find enough to sift through. As a result, the book is well worth the price. Just realize that there is so much to learn that a lot of research and experience will be necessary. In short, research a life change very carefully and take it slowly.

A highly respected Blogcritic asked, "With all the problems you have had (robberies and attacks); why do you stay?" That is a good question. So is the one about where one could go to find a better life. Other third world countries have similar or far worse problems. Mexico is close, relatively stable, definitely looking for its unique path to democracy and a new society.

Mexico Mike Nelson also has a book out on living in Mexico. I have not read it but have read much of his guidebook style guides to driving through Mexico when we did just that and got his material from Sanborn's Insurance in Texas. He was helpful in those guides sometimes and sometimes far off the mark. We almost missed our favorite motel in Catemaco, Veracruz since he wrote that the manager held him there an hour to check the room on checkout. But we stayed perhaps five times for a few days to a couple of weeks since it was so clean and pleasant. Mexico Mike must have given them quite an impression. There were other discrepancies and there were also incredibly fine finds from his writings.

With my website looking for its unique path, there will continue to be posts on life here, life as a stranger in a strange land. Blogcritics will be a part of My Website or the other way around. There is room for stories and advice on living as an expatriate in Mexico or another haven for the disaffected, pensioners and would-be entrepreneurs.

The site US Expatriates Abroad notes that "The Dallas Morning News highlights the growth of the population of U.S. citizens in Mexico and forecasts that it will continue to increase as baby boomers retire. "The U.S. State Department estimates that the number of Americans in Mexico has increased from about 200,000 a decade ago to between 600,000 and 1 million today," the paper reports."

They go on to report that 10 million Americans now live abroad although I have also heard the figure as 12 million.