Looking back over the last couple of decades we have made numerous trips to Mexico. The majority of these have been vacation ‘packages’ escaping our jobs and enjoying a reprieve from Canadian winters. For some unremembered reason the resorts we enjoyed were always along the western coastline. There have been many trips to Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, Manzanillo and Zihuatenajo. Looking back, the reason was most probably price related followed by familiarity and the development of a certain ‘comfort level’ with these locations.
I have my own theory also, that the east coast destinations seem to have the majority of hurricanes. I’m not certain why in particular that I have been sensitized to this fact but it is something I have wanted to avoid. Indeed, having checked out the science of this observation it is in fact true that most storms developing in the Pacific are carried out to sea away from the coast. On the other hand, storms developing in the Atlantic tend to be carried inland and develop greater force. Though Hurricane Patricia defied these characteristics due to much warmer water temperatures and other factors, chances are still better on the west coast for avoiding big storms. But I digress.
Though we thoroughly enjoyed all of our Mexican trips we actually fell in love with more of the ‘real’ Mexican experience on a visit to Zihuatenajo. Not being satisfied with the usual two week packages, I had begun to explore the possibilities of staying at smaller Mexican facilities away from the big chain hotels. I was really looking for more ‘bang for the buck’ so to speak. And to my great delight, I began to understand that a person could stay at a Mexican hotel for half the cost of the major Riviera’s. Or, as my head quickly calculated, we could stay twice as long! Now I was motivated and the real search began.
So the following winter finds us in the beautiful hills of Zihuatenajo. We have found a lovely small hotel overlooking the bay. There are eleven suites complete with small kitchenettes good for making our own breakfasts and coffee. All suites face an infinity pool. It is a ten minute walk down to the beaches, fishing boats, restaurants, and blocks of artisan markets. We enjoy floor to ceiling walls of windows overlooking the bay and a view of the lights at night that makes one breathless.
Everything about our perspective on Mexico changed on that trip. Away from the isolated venues of the past, we discover the Spanish language and find ourselves tackling communication with the gracious locals as we slug through our very bad ‘resort’ Spanish. We know we’re hilarious but that doesn’t stop us from adventuring into our new experience. We tackle grocery stores for coffee, eggs, bread and so on. We wander into local liquor stores, art exhibits, and even a tiny little movie theatre on a side street. I’ll never forget the movie. It was called ‘Babel’. Who knew the story line would involve three continents thus producing Spanish subtitles to take us through parts of the movie that took place in the Middle East. It would be years before we would see the movie again and truly understand some of the dialogue. It was wonderful fun. Our love affair with Mexico was well on its way.
When you change venues such as we did, you meet people with a different ‘mind set’. Call it more adventurous perhaps. At our stay in the hills, the people we met seemed to be exploring more of the Mexican lifestyle too. They were learning Spanish, exploring historical sites; one couple had toured through the U.S. and Mexico on motorbikes. There were Danes on a fishing adventure, off at the crack of dawn complete with rods and reels and having the time of their lives. One American woman named ‘Dolly’ came every year with an entourage of friends. Well into her seventies, she represented a vision of how our future retirement might be. To this day, I am still in touch with a few of these lovely impromptu friends.
So now we’ve fallen in love with Mexico and plans begin to form. During our one month reprieve that winter, we headed out with a realtor to scope out the ‘lay of the land’ and look at potential real estate. Basically, this is how we began to arm ourselves with information about the possibilities of winter retirement in Mexico. Smitten as we were, the real research began with gusto when we returned to our jobs and winter in Canada. Retirement was not that far away in our future but we had time to really do some critical thinking about ‘living’ in Mexico. With that in mind we developed a list representing what we truly wanted and actually needed for a good retirement. This ‘wish’ list ultimately led us back to Manzanillo.
Our wish list:
- An ocean front condo. (the Canadian prairies can make one yearn for seaside beaches)
- Affordable pricing and adequate space for family and visitors. (minimum 2 bdrm, 2 bath)
- Solid year round management and maintenance. (leaving minimal worries while away)
- Reasonable condo fees.
- Reliable banking services.
- Low cost of living, and property taxes.
- Prime location and access to transportation and amenities. (we did not own a car for 6 years) Ease of access by air.
- Health care, hospitals and emergency services.
- Viable internet, cable and telephone services
- A private and peaceful environment.
- An ability to assimilate life with the local people, learn the language and be a part of a community.
Most of the research for our winter home was carried out over the internet. Our first look at real estate in Zihuatenajo had been a bit discouraging. We couldn’t find property near the beaches that we could possibly afford. The other problem was the lack of a general hospital though there was one for the navy. As we age we tend to be more practical about needing such amenities. Other areas we ruled out for reasons such as property pricing, location, topography (we like the green tropical mountain ranges) and general community activities. The process involved a fair amount of time and lots of dreaming. You view some very awesome properties for sale in Mexico on the internet. But we knew what we could afford. The following year we booked a trip to Manzanillo complete with a list of properties for viewing and preliminary communication with a few realtors. We had vacationed in Manzanillo before and had noticed the lack of commercialized tourism. We could walk the streets without being accosted by sales people though one must make allowance for the fact that we definitely didn’t look like locals.
We found our seaside condo on the beach in Manzanillo bay. We are within walking distance to shopping, movies and restaurants. All of the wish list items we had listed were realized here in Manzanillo. We love our home and our Mexican neighbors. It’s a bustling port city with a wide array of commerce and a very reasonable cost of living. We are continuously improving our Spanish and the first year here, I actually attended school every weekday morning for a couple of months. Now I study regularly on my computer. This has made a huge difference not only for our ability to communicate better but the locals really appreciate the effort and are very encouraging. (Many Mexicans speak excellent English so it’s easy to be lazy about learning Spanish.)
Over the past six years we’ve hopped the buses and taxis and meandered the markets and local streets. Now that we do have a vehicle we have begun to explore further afield to see more of this beautiful country. We enjoy the local expat community here as well and have met many wonderful people. Communication via internet is quite good for the most part and we are able to call and write directly to family and friends. But we’ve also made a life here. We are active in the community and truly enjoy the Manzanillo people. As they go about their lives we feel welcome among them. We know we’ll always be a bit of an oddity like anyone settling in another country and they are extremely gracious about our being here. Lastly, we have access to air travel that lands us directly in Canada in 4 ½ hours, allowing us to visit family and friends and of course, vice versa. Now eight years later we still feel that good fortune definitely smiled upon us.
Suzanne A. Marshall hails from western Canada and has been living the good life in Manzanillo over the past 8 years. She is a wife, mom and grandma. She is retired from executive business management where her writing skills focused on bureaucratic policy, marketing and business newsletters. Now she shares the fun and joy of writing about everyday life experiences in beautiful Manzanillo, Mexico, the country, its people, the places and the events.