The expats in Mexico can range from the most ordinary people in the world to the roughly one fourth of them that may be here on the lam. But naturally I can’t say that I’ll be on the lam from the law, which is not very likely, but maybe from an ex-wife or child support. Who knows?
Mazatlan is an easy, laid back community. It’s a very easy place to be an alcoholic, so we do have some of that. I like having a direction because of my artwork but I would have to say that most expats come here and they either start drinking too much, a lot of times, or they just hang out all day, exercise, they run their errands, etc., but that’s what they want. They don’t want to have anything to do all day.
A lot of the expats here in Mexico do volunteer work. I sometimes think that the Mexican community at large doesn’t quite get that the Americans and Canadians that are here in Mazatlan are helping the orphans, rescuing street dogs, getting them spayed or neutered, feeding them and find homes for them. Between October and May, when all the winter and snowbirds come, every week there’s a fundraiser. Come have a dinner, pay 500 pesos (US $30.30) it all goes to Rancho’s Orphanage Home For Boys. We do a lot of that.
I personally wouldn’t change it, but I do really think that there are a lot of oddballs. If you think about it, who leaves their home country? Statistically, the happiest retirees are the ones that stayed in the same house in the same neighborhood and in the same community, and never went anywhere. Most retirees would never consider taking up roots and living to any foreign country; Mexico or anywhere. They don’t want to be far away from their grandchildren.
I also believe that probably at least half stay for four years. They buy a house, they’re in love, they’ve never been to such a small place, and then, four years into their move, they just miss their grandchildren too much, It’s too hot, they don’t like the locals; whatever.
Somebody once asked me, “What is the thing that you don’t like about Mexico?” I laughed and then I said that the culture can be frustrating. The people are always late, they never have any money; they want money from you, etc. As a result, some people go home.
On the other hand, I know an American gringo lady who owns a restaurant here who I asked how long she had lived here. She told me that she has been here for 35 years and owns several businesses. Being in business here is not such a great idea, but if you can get past all the red tape, it’s okay. People come here for a variety of reasons. Some stay long term but a lot don’t.
Expats are just a different breed. These are not the same people who would move to a move anywhere to a big Del Webb Sun City, like around Phoenix. I went to see a friend of mine there years ago. I went to her cute little house that looked like everybody else’s house and I said to her, “This looks like Stepfordville to me.” There wasn’t even a gum wrapper on the ground. And I said, “I couldn’t live her, Peg. It’s just too pristine. It’s all the same little squares, and everybody’s got to fit in the same little peg.” It just didn’t appeal to me at all.
When my husband and I thought about retirement, all our kids wanted us to move to one of those little places where they got it all: golf course, shuffle board, and a clubhouse. I just said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it. It’s just not my style.” That type of living fits a lot of people because it’s safe and secure and gated and all that. It just wouldn’t be what I wanted to do. So it’s a totally different breed of person who comes here. It’s risky. We they take a risk. They’re going to hop off the edge of the world and do something and want to eat different food and live differently and meet really different people.
I very much like that real strong sense of community we have as expats here in Mazatlan. An example, at 4:30 in the morning, my friend John (whose wife is in the US) thinks he’s having a heart attack, so he calls my friend to help him. She immediately put him in the car and rushed him to Sharp hospital. She goes every day to check on him. As a group, we have to figure out what to do with the dog because the dog can’t stay in the apartment by himself, so everybody’s rushing around trying to figure out how to pitch in with the dog, to get John the things he need in the hospital, and to talk to the doctors.
When I first moved here in 2006, my husband dropped me off this little tiny house, and couldn’t stay with me. It was July, I had no car, I didn’t know one person. I didn’t even know where to get food, and I did manage to find a grocery store where I bought some things while I still had the car and at one point I ate frozen waffles for three days because I just didn’t know where to get groceries and I didn’t know who to ask. Well, finally, I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I think somebody told me that the market was in a particular direction. So I put on my hat and my walking shoes and I just kept wandering until I found the supermarket. I bought some rice, shrimp, chicken and I went home and I think that was the best meal I’ve ever had in my whole life.
Next, I needed to find a better place to rent. Within a couple of weeks I knew 14 people and they knew who I was because I’m asking everybody where I can find another rental. One of these people referred me to a fabulous apartment. Next, I had to move. We hadn’t brought very much; a bed (which is kind of a weird bed because it came apart in pieces so it’s easy to move), my computer, my personal items, a few dishes, a patio table, umbrella, and four folding chairs. All in all it took several trips because I didn’t have a car. Eventually, I had two laundry baskets and two cardboard boxes left. I loaded those things up a little at the time, got in the taxi, and took it to the new place. I started to walk up the three stories to my apartment when one of the expat ladies that I just met drove by.
She saw me and asked, “What are you doing?”
I said, “I found a great place to live, Sue.”
She said, “Well, what are you doing?”
I said, “I’m moving my stuf.f”
She said, “Well, how are you doing it?”
I said, “Well, this would be my 11th trip in a taxi.”
She said, “Why didn’t you call me? I could’ve helped you. I got a big old SUV!”
I said, “Because I don’t ask for help.”
And she said to me, “You are in Mexico now. You’ll learn to ask for help.” And that was really true.
So that’s the deal now. As an expat in Mexico, you’re much freer to ask for help. If I were in the US, I wouldn’t have asked any help. It would have to be a dire emergency for me to walk next door to my neighbor and ask for help. But here, it seems like you can’t do that any longer. You need to say, “Hey, Sue.” So sure enough, she helped me load up the last of my stuff and helped me haul it up it late August, up 3 flights of stairs, in a big, hot apartment. To this day, although she lives back in the US now, we’re great friends.
That’s what I think is so great about this sense of community. We help each other. We borrow things.
We have a younger couple that has lived here for a good number of years. He’s only 51 years old but he’s going to die because he’s got cancer everywhere. I’ve got to tell you, this community rallied to help him. They sit with him when he goes for his chemo treatments, food, they drive the wife around, hold her hand, all that.
When my children were young, when you lost a couple and they all went to the same school, sure, we did a lot of things together, and at that time, we had a great church group and we did a fund raiser. That was the only other time in my life where I felt that there was that sense of community. So that’s one other thing that keeps me here.
After my husband passed away, my kids said, “You’re coming back to the States, right, mom?”
I told them, I wasn’t, because I knew, instantly, what that meant. Come back to the US, buy a little house, by a little condo, just sit there, and do what? Go to work at Walmart? Go to work at the big grocery store? Babysit my grandchildren? I’m not a babysitter. I raised my kids, and now they’re on their own. I love my grandchildren, but I knew that I didn’t want to just sit around hoping that maybe they’d be able to ask me for dinner on Sunday. Here, I could be doing something eight nights a week if I wanted. I don’t choose to do that but there’s plenty to do, plenty of people to see, plenty of parties to go to, there’s plenty of great places just to hang out and just watch people walk by. Maybe you don’t do anything else; just go up on the seawall if you want a gorgeous sunset. There’s just things that keep me busy and my mind active. If I were to live there I would just waste away.
(Orphans wrap themselves in donated blankets, Mazatlan, Mexico, pictured.)