Tips and Observations About Living in Baja California for Six Weeks in a Little Mexican Town

Chuck Bolotin with Pemex attendants in Baja California Sur, Los Planes – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingHere is some flavor of what it’s like to live in a small village in Baja California Sur for six weeks and some tips that could save you lots of aggravation.
It’s Just Like…
Renting our home in La Ventana for six weeks was just like camping, except without the bugs, uneven and hard sleeping services, the work setting up and breaking down, everything being dirty, and very dicey bathroom and shower accommodations.
Watching the NBA Finals Series at Las Palmas, a local restaurant in La Ventana, was just like watching it in my own house, if my own house was right on the beach so it had an incredible view of the sea and an island in the distance, and people were bringing me great food at 70% off what I would expect to pay in the US.
A Potpourri of Tips and Advice
  • Chuck Bolotin wearing the same cargo pants as manager at San Ignacio Springs, Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingYour pants.  If possible, wear cargo shorts or cargo pants because they have more pockets, especially on the sides and in the front, and get the ones with pockets that close.  If you’re like me, you would like separate, secure, easy to access and easy to remember places to store: 1) wallet; 2) keys; 3) passport; 4) phone; and 5) camera (if you’re not using the camera in your phone), etc.  If you always put each of these items in the same pocket, you can free up mind share to worry about other things or just enjoy yourself more.  (Your shorts don't have to be green, but you will fit in better.)
  • Plan B.  Always have a Plan B. Ask yourself, “If this doesn’t work, what will I do then?”  Here are some examples of Plan B’s that served us well:
Have a backup hotel (or two) that accepts dogs if you couldn’t make it to the one you planned.  Know the address and how to get there, phone number, who you talked to, if they have a vacancy, etc.
Have cash.  What if the vendor doesn’t accept credit cards (many don’t); your card doesn’t go through (happens all the time in Mexico); someone steals your credit card number so your credit card company cancels your card (happened to Watching the NBA finals in La Ventana, Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingus).  Also, Mexico is more on a cash basis than the US or Canada.
Have ATM cards that were issued by different banks.  If anything goes wrong with one bank or card, you can use the other one.
Have duplicate ATM and credit cards.  Yours may get stolen, lost or unusable because its scratched.  Give the other one to your traveling partner and you keep a duplicate of theirs.
When you get to a place, as soon as possible, know where the doctors and vets are.  If they will give you a phone number, have it with you.
Have extra water.  What if you’re in a place (like much of Baja California) that has its water trucked in, and your storage container (“pila”) runs dry? Do you have enough stored water to drink?  Do you have extra water to flush a toilet?  If you lose power, you probably won’t have any water, because the water probably works on an electric pump. If you have municipal water, this is less likely, but it does happen.
Have all important papers scanned, stored on your computer and stored remotely (for example, on DropBox).  Examples include your birth certificate, marriage license, passport, drivers’ license, health insurance cards, ATM cards, credit cards, and proof of car insurance.  In addition, make a hard copy and take all copies with you. 
Great waiter at Gran Sueno, Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingGet an ATM card that has privileges at a popular Mexican bank, with no fees to make withdrawals.  For example, I use my Bank of America ATM at Santander (a bank in Mexico with lots of branches) at no charge.  If I use another ATM card or go to another bank, the charges can range up to several percentage points and an additional $3 to $5 each transaction.
Get a credit card that doesn’t charge a fee for accepting payment in pesos, like my American Express PROPEL 365 card from Wells Fargo.
Have double… no, triple the amount of medicine you think you’ll need until you can refill it.  This also includes items like contacts for your eyes, if, like me the ones you have are disposable.   Also, if you have an issue like lactose intolerance, make sure you have enough pills to last you much, much longer than you anticipate.  (At this point, it looks like Mexicans have no problem digesting milk, so I can’t find any Lactaid at all.)
Not all of these things are likely to happen, but will one or more of them happen Jet Metier by the beach in La Ventana, Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingwhen you’re traveling?  My bet is that it will.  And it’s best to be prepared, so it will barely faze you.  Nothing I wrote above is difficult to do, takes a lot of time, or costs a lot of money.
At this point, we don’t have much to say about safety because it hasn’t been an issue.  In preparation for the trip, we purchased security cables with combination locks (we used the same combination for all of them) that easily attach our computers to heavier, larger objects.  The brand we purchased is made by Sendt, which we highly recommend.  It’s easy, fast, and cheap to do, and would be silly not to.
Other than that, we don’t flash our cash, our van has been very dirty (not 100% by choice) so it blends in as well as a huge, extended top van could, and we’ve primarily been in small towns.  We have never (not even once) feel threatened or had anything stolen.  On the contrary, the Mexican people have proven to be extremely honest.  (See my previous article about the Baja Mexican people.)
Exchange rate sign in Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingPay With Pesos
The first reason to pay with pesos is that it is more likely you’re getting the Mexican price; i.e., the lower price; i.e., not the Gringo price.
The second reason to pay with pesos has to do with the exchange rate, which you should know. Currently, the exchange rate is close to 19 pesos to 1 dollar. This can play to your favor.  For example, most Mexican vendors now will use the exchange rate of 17 to one or even worse because most Gringos pay in dollars. As an example, if an item is 170 pesos, the Mexican vendor may tell you that the exchange rate is 17 to one and ask for US $10, which most Gringos pay. However, at the real exchange rate of 19 to one, that 170-peso item should only cost about US $9.
Meal in Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingIf you know this, you can often play the game in reverse to your advantage.  For example, I recently had lunch in Cabo San Lucas at a place where lots of Gringos go and ordered food for US $10.  Near the cash register was a sign that said that the exchange rate was 17 to 1.  I asked nicely if I could pay in pesos.  “Of course,” they said, so I handed them 170 pesos, or the equivalent of US $9 for a US $10 meal.  Is it a big difference? No, but it does add up, and frees up more money for good tips.
For the Same Lifestyle, it is Much Cheaper to Live in Baja
In the first article in our road trip series, I stated that one of our objectives was to see if we could live a better quality of life in our opinion for less money by using vacation rentals in Mexico.  The results for the “less money” part of the experiment are very impressive: we reduced our expenses by 62%, all while reducing the risk that goes along with home ownership, getting seriously ill in the US and having the cost wipe us out, etc.  As for our quality of life, there is absolutely no comparison—our six and a half weeks have been fantastic.
Headless scorpion in Baja California Sur, La Ventana – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingMany Things Are More Fearsome In Anticipation Than In Reality
Afraid to cross the border with your pets?  Afraid to drive In Mexico?  Afraid to be in Mexico if you can’t speak Spanish well?  Afraid to step on a scorpion?  While of course, it is prudent to plan for each of these things, if you do plan, these things tend to be much less fearsome in reality than when thinking about them in the abstract.  Each one of these things happened to us or me personally (the scorpion sting), and not only were they much less scary in reality than we had assumed, but after they’re done and you’ve successfully dealt with it, you feel really good about yourself.  (By the way, I had thought that if a scorpion stung you, you would be writhing in pain as they took you to the hospital.  In reality, at least in my situation in Baja California Sur, a scorpion sting about as bad as a bee sting.  Within a few hours, I had completely forgotten about it.)
Best Mexico Movers
Mastery of New Things
Whenever you come to a new place, whether it is in the US or other places, there is a natural element of stress, anxiety, etc., because you don’t know where things are, how things work, etc.  The more differences there are, the more stress and anxiety there is, so moving across the street would be less stressful than moving to San Diego, which would be less stressful than moving to Mexico.
Office with a view in La Ventana, Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingWhat you’ll find after you figure out how these things work, is that most things aren’t that difficult at all; they’re just different.  (After all, the people who live there do it all the time and they’re not all that much smarter than you, are they?)  After you learn how things work, not only will you experience a diminishing of the anxiety and unhappiness you had before these events, but your unpleasant emotions will be replaced by a sense of accomplishment, competence, and even mastery that makes you happier and more at ease in all aspects of your life than you were before.  (Even going to the grocery store is not that scary, as this video shows.)  So as far as going to new places, experiencing new things and mastering new skills, I highly recommend it.
Join the “I Know Baja Club”
There are so many misconceptions about Baja, especially with regard to safety and overall living conditions, that most people are afraid Chuck Bolotin with dogs at office in Baja California Sur – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingto go, or have no desire to go.  As a result, the beaches are less crowded and the prices are lower. We ran into many, many people who know this little secret and either live in Baja or come to Baja all the time to enjoy its many gifts. I named them, “The I Know Baja Club”.  They’re having a really great time at really bargain prices.  As people find out the truth, more people will come. (For some reason, the Canadians seem to be ahead of the curve on this, given how many we met.) My advice is to enjoy it while you can and there’s still lots of misinformation about it… just don’t tell anyone else.
So this marks the end of our six and a half weeks Baja experience.  I say “experience” because it really was. Did things go wrong?  Of course they did. Was Playing on an empty beach in Baja California Sur, La Ventana – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingeverything perfect?  Of course not, and I hope I didn’t convey that.  Here’s what I assume is an incomplete list of what went wrong:
  • They wouldn’t let us through at the first border crossing.
  • It was hot.
  • The water went out in our rental.
  • The power went out in our rental.
  • The Internet didn’t work in our rental.
  • The road wasn’t paved in certain areas.
  • Someone stole the number off my credit card
  • I stepped on a scorpion.
Did these things bother us?  Of course they did.  Did their occurrence keep us from enjoying our overall experience?  No, they did not.  Almost each one was an opportunity to learn something, and none of them left a lasting scar.
Jet Metier at dog friendly hotel in Cabo San lucas – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingPerhaps the main reason these things didn’t ruin our experience is because, overall, there was so much to like.  As you consider whether you would enjoy something like what we did, ask yourself today, as you read this, “In five years, what will I remember about my last six and a half weeks?”  If your answer isn’t as good as what you would remember if you experienced something like what we had and wrote about and created YouTube’s on up until now, perhaps you may want to consider something along the lines of our trip
Next, my wife and I, our two dogs and our big white van take the ferry from La Paz, Baja, to Mazatlan and drive to a town just north of Puerto Vallarta.  It should be interesting… and fun.

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