We have now lived in Mexico for two years and though we have managed to see a few of you, we miss you all. I hope this letter helps to bridge that gap a bit. I’ve included our contact info at the end to encourage you to write back or come visit!
Background – last fall we bought a house in San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. It is clear that Pacific Mexico will be too hot for us during hurricane season – roughly July to December. We plan to continue sailing half the year and live in the house during hurricane season. We are in San Miguel now.
After almost two years in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle near Puerto Vallarta we decided that COVID wasn’t going anywhere but we could. In May we started sailing north into the Sea of Cortez, a 1000 mile trip.
That six week trip was spectacular – everything we went sailing for – and you can click here to start reading about it. We arrived in Puerto Penasco (in the Sonoran desert just south of Phoenix, Arizona) in mid June and hauled out the boat for a later repair phase. Jon got a ride to Phoenix, flew to Puerto Vallarta, and picked up our car. Three long days of driving got him to our boat to pick up me and Zoë. It was already beastly hot so we headed north to Bellingham, first stopping in Phoenix to get our first vaccine since we had not been able to get them in Mexico. A month later, in Bellingham, we got our second shot. In Bellingham we were able to see Marilyn and Chuck, Gerry, the Smiths, Susan, Mara and Erik, and met Laurie for the first time.
On the way north by car we stopped in southern Washington to see the grandkids, Killian (2/20) and Amelie (5/21). Soren, Mirja and the kids had recently moved onto a 5 acre farm which they were already turning into a working farm with chickens and pigs and goats. Sadly it was during the heat dome event and it was 117 degrees. We left the next day to head to Bellingham which was a bit cooler. There we ruthlessly unpacked everything in our storage area and divided it into three piles: Things we wanted in Mexico, things to throw or give away, and things that Soren could use or store at his house. That took a month, the pictures and albums taking the longest to go through. Finally the storage area was empty, a small storage area was packed with boxes and 3 small pieces of furniture for the movers to retrieve in August, and then we packed a small U-haul with the stuff to take to Soren’s and I drove that down to Vancouver area. Soren and his friend had the truck unpacked in no time at all, leaving the rest of the weekend for me to hang out with the family.
After that we drove to Wyoming for a reunion with my mom, sister, and niece Sophia – a group that included five dogs for a truly perfect dog vacation. As always we had a fabulous time hiking, swimming, cooking, entertaining, and listening to classical music in Jackson. Then off to Phoenix again, stopping overnight in Salt Lake City to see my brother and his wife for a memorable talk and dinner. And a three-dog play session.
From Phoenix I flew to Tampa, meeting my sister and other niece, Hazel, to attend my brother’s funeral who had died unexpectedly in March. We had a warm reunion with his wife Cory and two of his kids, Jay and Sima. Why do we wait for funerals to get together with family? It meant a lot to me to visit the family in Tampa and I wish I had gone while my brother was still alive.
Then back to Phoenix to rejoin Jon and Zoë who had been staying cool in the hotel. We headed south again, driving for 4 days to get to San Miguel via the boat.
In San Miguel we met our house-sitters Koa and Chandler for a wonderful dinner before they headed back to their own boat in the PV area. We had a week to settle in then Jon flew to Bellingham to join Steve Schwartz on Tortuga, a Saint Francis catamaran, for a delivery to San Francisco. That trip (“5 days, tops”) took a month and he rejoined me in Mexico in early October after meeting Steve’s wife Kirsten and visiting Rebecca & Ralph in Santa Cruz.
In mid October the moving van arrived and a few days later my mom and niece Hazel arrived for a week of exploring the town. We had a blast! In November our friends Chuck and Marilyn and Joan interrupted their Puerto Vallarta visit to fly in and stay with us for a few days. Though it was a bit chilly during their visit we had some marvelous dinners, great laughs, a visit to the hot springs, and shopping in the eclectic artisans’ shops.
Early December brought more visitors – Cynthia who we had met last summer in Wyoming and her family Leslie, Mark, Alex & Claire from Colorado. The five of them stayed in a house just a few blocks away. We had two fabulous dinners and hours of talk.
Now in December we have finally placed and hung all the artwork that came in the moving van, have removed the few bits of furniture that didn’t work for us, and are getting to know the town. Mostly we are recuperating from the extensive travel and busy-ness of the last six or seven months of chaos. Lots of reading, some sewing and tasks, some house work, lots of cooking and a bit of entertaining. We have another six weeks or so here before heading back to boat life, and sadly, more travel as we probably will close out our place on Lasqueti in British Columbia this summer and try to get it on the market. San Miguel is just a much better place to live year round for us, and a little closer to places we want to sail.
That is our life this year. We encourage any of our friends and family to visit San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato – either when we are here fall and winter, or when the house is empty, late winter and spring and into summer. To find out more about the house, please visit our Casa web page .
Love to you all and hopes for a good year to come.
For more pictures of Mexico see our blog.
Jon: firstname.lastname@example.org. texts by US phone 360.593-9692
Marie: email@example.com texts by US phone 360.593-5524
If you are wondering about life in Mexico, these are some of my random thoughts on the subject after a couple of years here.
Random explosions to celebrate any and everything is part of life here. Sometimes as late as 1 in the morning, sometimes as early as 530 in the morning, it takes some adjusting. But it goes with the territory and it’s part of the exuberance of life here. Luckily it’s not all firecrackers, there are a lot of lovely fireworks as well. I do worry about the animals but maybe they get used to it as well.
The Mexicans love dogs, they almost always are delighted to welcome Zoë and inadvertently smile when they see her. They love their own dogs as well, although clearly not all dogs are treated well. Although there are pockets of cultural resistance, the spay / neuter movement is catching on, which will eventually help reduce the number of homeless street dogs. Homeless suffering dogs are frequently taken in by rescue groups and treated and fostered when possible. The dogs-on-roofs as a security measure may be more difficult to address, but even some of those are allowed in with the family at times. The predicament of Mexican dogs may be hard to take at times, but there is love there as well. The constant background of barking has been less an annoyance than I feared – I hear it if I wake up but it never wakes me up. And it does mean that if Zoë gets barking no one is going to be inconvenienced. She does love her rooftop vista where she can check out all the barkers.
Aging in Mexico is a pretty good gig. Instead of being invisible to youth as I am in the US, here the teenagers and young people see me as an abuela, similar to their beloved grandmothers. I’ve been offered seats on busses, I always get a smile and a Buen Dia or Buenas Tardes, it’s like I actually exist!
Homeless-ness and Hunger
It’s also a relief not to see people sleeping on the street as they do by the thousands in most US cities. Is it because everyone has family here and is willing to squeeze one more in? Certainly most people live with extended family and can’t imagine doing otherwise. And street food is everywhere – half the country feeding the other half. We are still struggling with stomach distress at times but I’m hoping that a couple of years more that will be less an issue.
Medicine and Medical help
The doctors here charge far less than in the US, about the same as a co-pay in the US. Part of that is because they generally do not have medical school debt, the non-litigious society means they don’t have high insurance bills, and the ethos is one of serving rather than becoming wealthy as part of the elite. It is sensible and reassuring to pay what we need rather than paying high fees in case we need it.
Religion appears to be everywhere, though I usually only see the elderly in the churches. Bus drivers will have images or even a mini altar at their seat, shops will have a saint image on their sign or at the entrance. But for most of the young it seems to be a arm of general celebration – the churches sanction the fireworks and even build them into the services. Some churches report that when they try to direct the budget away from fireworks and towards social services the parishioners complain. The sheer number of saints that are celebrated every year is mind-boggling, but again, at least from the outside appears to be cultural and celebratory rather than spiritual or religious. It will be interesting to see what this looks like in twenty years – do the aging return to church or will the churches reduce in number?
Like any immigrants we love to enjoy the local food but we also love to cook our own regional specialties. Just as I do not expect Mexican or Indian families in the US to stop cooking their familiar foods I feel perfectly okay cooking my favorites. However it is fun to introduce local ingredients and tastes into our home cooking as well.
We do end up using the high-end grocery stores to supply some of the ingredients that are hard to come by here. Heavy creams are hard to find – but sour cream is everywhere, albeit a thinner version than what we were familiar with. I prefer the cultured version (lactose bacteria) to the acidified (citrus juice) version and have been able to find a local Mexican brand for that. I have also been able to find UHT (long-life) whipping cream from Europe that seems to work. Likewise I buy European butter rather than the Mexican mantiquilla which tastes weird to me. I have been instructed to try unsalted Mexican butter for a more European taste – I will check this out. The eggs are wonderful and inexpensive. I don’t refrigerate them. The local Mexican cheeses are good, but I do seek out European ones as well. Despite what you see in Tex Mex food they use very little cheese here. Canned tomatoes have been difficult to find in some areas, but they are easy to find in San Miguel. In the PV area they would point me to the fresh vegetable area. I guess if you can grow tomatoes year round the canned ones would not be necessary, but I like to have them in my pantry. Habits. I also make bread frequently, the local breads tend to be sweeter and softer than I like. The local tortillas, not surprisingly, cannot be beat and are available piping hot from a tortilleria on every street, as are roast chickens.
Our neighbors and random shop keepers, bus drivers, pedestrians, street-food vendors are all amazingly welcoming. I think they genuinely like people – what a concept! They appreciate our fumbling attempts at the language but also enjoy using their English with us. We truly feel welcome here, not just for our pocketbooks, though we do tip well and often as the virus has hit hard here.
Mask use is pretty ubiquitous. Even though the vaccination rate in Mexico is 52%, almost as high as the US, they cannot afford to get sick and so sensibly continue to protect themselves and their children. The death rate has been slightly lower per capita than in the US – shocking if true because the availability of hospital beds is far lower.
Puerto Vallarta in the jungle with about 60 inches of rain a year. We love the heat and humidity of PV from December to June or so, but after that it’s too much unless we are actively sailing.
San Miguel is a semi-arid climate with 24 inches a year of rain. San Miguel is pretty nice all year round, but the evenings are cool. It is never muggy or humid, but the days are 70s in the winter and 80s and 90s in the spring when it is hottest. The rains come July through September but it is pretty clear the rest of the year. The clear sunny weather is a balm most days.
Puerto Penasco, where the boat is for a year or so, is full-on desert with about 3 inches of rain a year. However being right on the water it is more humid than the rest of the Sonoran desert.