I’ve been told many times I’m brave but really, I’m not. But, you want to know who in my life was brave? My friend Barb who packed up her truck and cat to retire in Mexico. She was a strong, brave woman and although I am not going to share her challenges and triumphs, I will share with you her journey south to retire in Mexico. Barb passed away earlier in the week and a year ago, I reached out to interview her for an article I was working on for an expats’ newsletter. Following are her responses about her journey to retire in Mexico.
What were your biggest challenges moving and retiring in Mexico?
Barb: The actual, physical move was probably the biggest challenge, but that was based more on my age (60 at the time) than it was on the fact that i was a solo female. I drove down to the Lake Chapala area of central Mexico from northeastern Arizona in my 2004 Nissan Frontier short-bed pickup. Getting the pickup actually loaded meant i had to ask some of my young male friends for help with large and/or heavy items. After getting those into about half of the back of the pickup, i learned to pack the rest of my things in smaller boxes or containers that i could move myself. It was just a matter of playing to my strengths (organization, access of lots of medium size boxes from the gift shops at the site where i worked) and accepting my weaknesses (my physical inabilities).
The real payoff for doing the move and the 4-day drive by myself (well, okay, with my solo female cat friend, Lukita) was the sense of accomplishment i felt after i did it. For three days, i drove in Mexico using my only map, one 8-1/2 x 11 page in a book that was 12 years old, to navigate an area in Mexico in which i had never driven (the west coast along the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean). By myself, i dealt with immigration and customs at the border, military and federal police checkpoints, and finding food, shelter, and gasoline in a country where i barely spoke the language. It was a great feeling!
How did you handle the language “issue.”
Barb: Do yourselves a favor, folks, if you are moving to a country where the language is not your native tongue, learn as much as you can BEFORE you move! i’ve now been living in Mexico for eight years and i’m still at probably the level of a not particularly bright second grader in my language skills. Except in restaurants grocery stores, and drugstores; there i’m practically fluent! Now i live in an area (Lake Chapala in the Central Highlands of Mexico in Jalisco state) where there are a pretty fair number of local folks who speak some English, so i’m lucky.
For the first few years, i had to rely on Spanglish, charades, and the kindness of strangers. One of my best charades was acting out my request for “a flea collar for a cat” in a small pet supply store. These days i mostly get into trouble when i need to provide or get “highly technical” information, like “i think my vehicle needs a new radiator” and “the G and H keys on my laptop don’t work and i need them.”
What advice do you have about meeting other people in Mexico?
Barb: Friends — the making thereof. Lots of expats in my part of Mexico already knew somebody who lives down here, but i didn’t, so i really had to start from scratch to make friends. i’m not really very social, though, so i just kind of waited for friends to come to me, as it were, and thus my group of friends is composed of friends of friends. My first landlords here are long-time expats from New York and they introduced me to a couple of their friends, who introduced me to a couple of theirs, etc., etc and Mexico beach rentals are relatively cheap so my family were able to come and see me over here when they wanted me to.
But there are actually lots of ways to meet people down here, particularly other expats if your language skills are as bad as mine. Many people do volunteer work and meet people that way. There are expat groups, both large and small, where you can meet new folks. In this area, it’s really not that hard.
Why did you choose to retire in Mexico?
Barb: i knew that when i retired, i could never afford to live in the USA on my measly Social Security payments so i had to look elsewhere. Mexico was the closest place to the USA that i could afford to live. And it has totally been the right decision for me. As a solo female who has moved and travelled (albeit only in the USA) a lot and has an educational background in social anthropology, i never had any qualms about moving to Mexico. Also, my support system in the USA was rather tenuous and my family ties extremely small (my son), so those were not considerations for me, as they might be for many people.
What else would you like to share?
Barb: The only thing i wish i had done before i moved here is learn Spanish. As an anthropologist, i knew that i would never be completely integrated into Mexican society, but i would love to be more a part of my community and be able to discuss more with my Mexican friends. But, again, that has nothing to do with being a solo female. It has to do with me being a lazy person who didn’t take the time to learn the language of my new country. (And, yes after eight years here without any return trips to the USA , i DO consider myself to be a citizen of Mexico, even though my immigration status is “Permanente”, not “citizen”).
As a solo traveler/expat, do i ever feel that i’ve been missing something or treated differently by Mexicans who highly value family? No. Have i ever felt discriminated against here because of my solo status? Only by some expat women who seem to feel threatened by and/or suspicious of single women.
My own personal experience as a solo female traveler through life who’s approaching 70 is that the times i’ve been saddened by my single status occur when i’m not moving and not experiencing and discovering new things, not when i am. So don’t wait to be part of a couple to go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do. (Thank you, John Phillips.)
A note about Barb’s non-capitalization of “I.” To paraphrase what she told me when I inquired about it years ago, she believed only one person/entity was worthy of having a capital “I” and that is God.