The real Mexico sits beyond the boundaries of a tourist’s holiday resort. Many Americans don’t step beyond the protection of their 5-star gates. And it’s easy to see why. News reports say Mexico is dangerous. The country’s residents would do almost anything to flee to the United States. America, after all, has long been viewed as the land of opportunity. Mexico, in contrast, is full of danger and corruption.
Janet Blaser’s new book doesn’t fuel that kind of fear. Nor does it claim Mexico is perfect. Unlike many of the “retire in Mexico” stories in popular magazines, Blaser’s accounts are multi-dimensional. That’s because
Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, offers experiences from 27 American women. Each lives in Mexico. A few of them are raising children, managing their own businesses or teaching at an international school. But most of the stories come from retirees.
Some live in seaside havens. Virginia Saunders tells her story from Puerto Vallarta. Joanna Karlinsky reflects on the journey that brought her to Cozumel. Others, like Cat Calhoun and Gayla Jones, settled into high-altitude homes in San Miguel de Allende and Jocotepec. Many tried on several shoes before finding the perfect fit. The women all explain why they love Mexico. But they’re also honest about the challenges they face.
As a result, Blaser’s book combines how-to-retire-in Mexico guidelines, while weaving an account of each woman’s personal life. Each story is unique. I think you’ll like these women. Some might occasionally make you bristle. But their stories are as genuine as their love for their adopted country. They all enjoy the culture and warmth of Latin American life.
Mexico is also cheap compared to the United States. The country’s low cost of living helped many retire early, when they were still fit enough to physically challenge themselves. “I began body-boarding,” says Janet Blaser, who lives in Mazatlan. “That turned into surfing, something I’d always wanted to do but never had the time or money for. I was 55 when I starting surfing on a surfboard.”
Many of the women, however, face a different kind of challenge. They might hire a contractor to fix something at their home. He says he’ll arrive around 10am. But he might arrive at noon, or even two days later. Mexicans often tick to a different clock. Family and friends come first. Business comes second. The literal meaning of mañana is tomorrow. But when Mexicans say “mañana” it really means “not today.”
Lisa Lankins has lived in Mexico since 2006. She says, “If you can’t learn to relax and take things slower and accept that things happen at a slower pace here, you just might go crazy and become a nervous wreck.” Many expats, however, learn to love the slower pace. Kerry Watson retired to Chapala, a lakeside town that’s just a 30-minute drive south of Guadalajara. She says, “The cultural mirror into another culture also teaches you to question the values you were brought up with. Is efficiency always an important value? Does business always come before pleasure, work before family?”
Some of the expats mention the poverty they see. One woman, identifying herself as PC Nordhoff, formerly worked as a flight attendant with TWA. She’s now retired on the Yucatán Peninsula. She says many local families live in one-room homes with dirt floors. “Chickens and clotheslines and skinny horses are crowded into cramped, small front yards.” She teaches English to primary and secondary students for free. “I couldn’t ask for better pupils,” she says. “They’re so polite, eager and willing to learn.”
Dianne Hofner Saphiere moved to Mazatlan with her husband, Greg, and their young son, Danny. She says Danny struggled to adjust, at first. But it didn’t take long before he found his groove. He’s now fluent in Spanish. Strong grades and –I would imagine– an eye-opening college admission letter had universities scrambling to offer him scholarships. “Danny was accepted to all but one of the universities he applied for,” writes Dianne, “and [he] received four or five scholarships of $80,000 or more.”
You might wonder if these women fear for their safety. “I feel safer here than I do in the United States,” says Janet Blaser. “When I visited my daughter and grandkids in Colorado a few months ago, I was really nervous about going anywhere because of the random shootings. Such shootings don’t exist in Mexico. American media exaggerates the cartel violence. It exists, but it doesn’t affect expats or tourists. If you aren’t involved in drugs or other illegal activities, you’ll be fine.”
If you’re considering moving to Mexico, plenty of other expats have also written helpful guides. It’s always best to do your research. Dive into their stories. Look for pros and cons. Sometimes, we do get stressed and rushed by U.S. culture. You never know. Years from now, you might echo one of Janet Blazer’s essayists, Cat Calhoun: “There is no rush,” she writes. “Take it slow and steady and you’ll get it all done without stress. This is one of the things I love about Mexico.”
Other Resources Written By Expats in Mexico
Mexico: The Complete Story: Brian Burke (a series of 4 books)
Living in Mexico, Lessons Learned: Healthy Living in Mexico #3: Terry L Turrell
Moving to Mexico, Relocation as a Rite of Passage: Sydney Metrick
Living in San Miguel, The Heart of the Matter: John Scherber
Mexico, Places in The Heart, Retirement GPS: George Puckett
On Mexican Time, A New Life in San Miguel: Tony Cohan
How It Goes In Mexico, Essays from an Expatriate: Carol Montgomery Merchasin
Living in Lake Chapala: Judy King
Margarita Wednesdays, Make A New Life By The Mexican Sea: Deborah Rodriguez
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas