Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Travel: Where to Find an Endless Summer...

Where to Find an Endless Summer...
By Michael J. Fitzgerald
My wife Sylvia and I landed in a Pacific coast village of 302 (300 Mexicans, two gringos) six years ago. We bought a half-acre vacant lot in the center to build a modest, hacienda-style place.
We had sailed from San Francisco on our 48-foot sailboat, Sabbatical, but were easily lured ashore by the tranquil lifestyle. A huge draw for us here in the village of Arroyo Seco is two undeveloped swimming and surfing beaches a kilometer away. Boat or no boat, we remain die-hard water people.
We first considered Puerto Vallarta for a Mexican winter home. But one major retirement goal was to improve our Spanish and dive into the culture. What better way than to live in a village where no one speaks English and the old ways are the ways still practiced, for the most part?
Our other goals were to build an affordable hacienda—and to live simply and comfortably. We’ve achieved most of our goals—our Spanish today is passable and we do live simply and comfortably. And the hacienda? Almost finished.
We spend around six months a year in our Mexican home and the other six split between our home base in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and California where several of our children (and grandchildren) live.
In our part of coastal Mexico, there is a cadre of people who migrate annually from the Northern U.S. or Canada. Like us they enjoy the warm months in the north, and the warm winter months in Mexico. We sometimes call our lifestyle, "the endless summer." I rarely have to wear long pants and own more pairs of sandals than shoes.
During our time in Mexico, we rent out the small mother-in-law apartment attached to our main two-bedroom house, with the understanding that the person who rents is also a house sitter for the whole property. The rent covers the cost of all utilities with enough left over to cover our plane tickets from New York to Mexico and back home via California.
Our cost of living in Mexico is astoundingly low. Electricity is $8 per month on average. The landline telephone is $13—jumping to $40 if the high-speed Internet is turned on. Fresh vegetables and fruit, picked from local fields, costs less than half of what it would in a chain-style Mexican grocery store. (And it tastes better, too.) Two beach restaurants sell prepared fresh fish and shrimp meals for the equivalent of $5 with a to-die-for ocean view. Evenings, people in the village prepare food in their homes and sell it out front on tables.
Property taxes average $150 annually. That’s not a typographical error—$150. Taxes are low because Mexico funds infrastructure with a 15% IVA sales tax.
My wife and I are blessed with good health. But on occasion we need to visit the medical facilities at a clinic in Careyes, 10 minutes away. The Mexican and American-trained doctors speak excellent English, are thorough, and have a full supply of pharmaceuticals in their cabinets. For visits we pay cash—about the equivalent of our health insurance co-pay in the U.S. Perhaps the best thing is the doctors are familiar with common local illnesses and suggest remedies that don’t always require pharmacy solutions.
Taking money out of the equation, we like life in the village because of how the people have embraced us as part of the community. We are invited to every birthday party, quinceaƱeara celebration for 15-year-old girls, wedding, beach gathering, fiesta and soccer match.
Several years ago the villagers asked me to ride one of the relatively tame bulls in the annual village rodeo anniversary celebration. It was meant as an honor, I’m sure. Luckily, I knew how to say "I am too old" and begged off.
But we can’t (and don’t want to) beg off from celebrations.
To say thanks—and to give back to the village—one winter we hired a teacher to offer free English classes. We have also offered free veterinary clinics and given music lessons to the children. It’s all been appreciated.