By Chuck Pattinian
What, retire in Mexico?! Not the plan we had envisioned when we thought about early retirement from our consulting business. We had been fortunate with our business to have lived and worked in many parts of the world from exotic to rubble. These opportunities provided a springboard for us to get a sense of the country and its customs and to see whether we could adapt. Even though we had experienced many of these different cultures, we often fantasized about retirement places we had not seen.
The Algarve in Portugal, the Tuscany region, Costa Rica and even Scottsdale, Arizona all bounced in our heads. We thought we would rent in each of these unknown places to see which area we would like before taking up residence. That plan would have been logical, cautious and safe, if not for Ajijic.
One blistery day in Bucharest, Romania with a five-week break between the start up of our new contract in the Czech Republic, we decided we needed a stress free vacation far from the neon, concrete and the din of the city. After searching the internet for vacation ideas, I came across a Lake Chapala web site. This rang a bell with me because my wife had just finished reading a book describing Ajijic, the artists and writers that had colonized there since the 60’s.
We were enchanted because it sounded like the perfect, stress free relaxing get-away. We had traveled in Mexico many times to the coastal all-inclusive clubs and the colonial cities. In addition I had worked in Mexico City back in the 70’s so I thought I knew everything there was to know about Mexico. I was wrong. Lakeside was not the Mexico we had known, it was far better.
We awoke the first morning in Ajijic to the booming sounds of the “cohetes” which scared the living you know what right out of me. Surely Mexico wasn’t involved in a civil war? I was such a gringo. That first morning and many thereafter, the roosters were in competition with the roof dogs as they crooned out their tunes to let the whole world know who owned which piece of land. Day after day we found new discoveries in this enchanted village; the blue and crimson skies, majestic mountains, perfect weather, friendly smiling people, wonderful street food, concerts and plays, a rock ‘n roll band, two traffic lights, no strip malls, gentle topes, a smiling cop, and even though at that time the lake level was far below normal, we thought Lakeside life was magical.
Oh, oh, what was happening to us? Before we left Romania we actually shook hands in agreement that we would not enter any real estate offices, as this was a common occurrence when we worked and lived overseas. On one assignment we even considered a gated community in the steaming, snake invested jungles of Brazil – must have been something in the mangos we bought from that girl who walks on Ipanema.
We honored our no real estate peeking commitment for four weeks while in Ajijic. Then one day the “bromine” must have weaved its magic into our bloodstream. This is a condition described by our friend Ray as a vapor that emerges from Lake Chapala and seduces you even further into the lifestyle at Lakeside. It acts as a filtering process against preconceived notions about retiring in a foreign country. The “bromine” nullifies the doubts and accentuates the positive. The seduction is subliminal because past safe rationale behaviors are traded for new unknown ones and the reason is not quite clear.
We were hooked, now the race was on to find a house. The last week at Lakeside found us in and out of over 30 houses but none we could call home. Building a home was the last thing we’d ever thought of doing, but there we were on the way to the Guadalajara airport finalizing the purchase of land, approving the drawings to our house and selecting color schemes. In the departure lounge we were on the phone to the bank transferring money. I turned to my wife, Carol, and said. “So, how is this stress-free vacation working out for you?” I had seen that glazed look before and I had learned over the years to let it go.
Friends here say if you are going to build a house, be there every day to check things out. We broke that rule by being overseas for the duration of the project. But there is another rule that we live by: “Trust and let go.” We trusted our builder while we were away and we let his team do their job. They delivered beyond our expectations.
This is our fifteenth year enjoying the Lakeside seduction and we have never regretted it. In the interim there have been changes. Most have been good, while some have been unwanted. That was to be expected when we stepped out of our cocoon and moved into the unknown.