It has been a while since you have heard from me (Momma Mim,) and Shasta, and Sherlock. That is because it is hard to find time to peck at a keyboard when deciding where, when, and how, to start a great adventure. The first question I usually get when I tell people my adventure is permanently moving to a new country is “WHY?” This requires a blog post of it’s own and I will address it later. But the important thing is: we are here!!! Our adventure in Ajijic, Mexico is well underway!
Once I decided it was time to leave the USA it was easy to make a list of the “wheres.” Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Adelaide, Vienna, Helsinki, Melbourne, Singapore, Stockholm, Luxembourg…. Then I started researching living expenses for the places on my list. One by one I saw I would have to choose between the city of my dreams or luxuries like toilet paper and a home with electricity. So I started a new list.
Affordable countries were reveled through research: Croatia, Panama, Portugal, Mexico, Vietnam, Ecuador, and Morocco all made the cut. I loved the idea of Split, Croatia so that is where I started my search. Split is amazingly beautify and is indeed affordable to live in but most of the expats are German and the locals seemed to be either depressed or withdrawn. I did go in the off-season when the tourist dollars weren’t abundant so that may have had something to do with it. I also decided that the plane flight was too far to be able to go back and forth visiting the states with the dogs as they are so large they have to fly cargo.
The long-flight dread made me cross off Portugal, Vietnam, and Morocco. I was down to Panama, Mexico, and Ecuador. Diving deep into expat forums for Ecuador and talking to people living there, I discovered some deal breakers that I hadn’t seen when just researching the country and reading the glowing articles about moving there. Next on my list – Panama. Everything about it sounded perfect until I got to the part about the weather. I could not see moving my Spoos to a place so hot and humid year round. We had already struggled in Houston, TX during the summer months as we couldn’t walk on sidewalks except early morning and late evening. And, they refused to wear the hiking boots I got them. So….Mexico here we come.
I first checked out Mexico City. Love love love!!! The drawback was Mexico City is like any other city – fast paced. And since I do not know how to speak Spanish, I found myself holding up lines, lost, and frustrated. A large portion of people in the area I was in spoke English but as they were living the rat race, it was hard to find someone with time to help me out. Don’t get me wrong. Mexican people are so kind anyone would have stopped and given help if I asked; but, I just didn’t want to be constantly intrusive. It was clear I would have to find a smaller village to live in while I learned Spanish and then move to Mexico City.
I immediately crossed off any of the tourist beach towns as I don’t like even myself when I’m a tourist in Mexico. The idea of living with a bunch of loud drunk Americans cycling in and out of my town was shudder worthy. This resulted in a list of four places that appealed to me where there was a large enough population of English speaking expats to assure an easy transition. They were Puebla City, Ajijic, San Miguel de Allende, and Merida. I bought my ticket for Ajijic because I like to do things alphabetically and off I went.
The minute my taxi drove over the hill and I could see Lake Chapala I felt like I may had found home. The next day, walking the malecon and having coffee in the plaza, I KNEW I was home. The search was over. I felt it in my heart. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes delighted me and the friendliness of the people gave me a huge sense of joy. I looked for the negatives but they seemed so small that a gentle breeze could blow them away. I started house hunting the second day there, found one the third day, and spent the rest of the week falling further in love with Ajijic (even though I had no idea how to pronounce the name of my new love.)
The next decision was the “when.” I knew I did not want to move during the heat of summer. I also knew because of the oil recession, homes took about three months to sell in Houston then one month for the buyers to close on the house. I got out my fingers and counted. September would be when it would finally be cool enough to move enough to move. It was the last week in May. Perfect time to list the house to have a moving date around the end of September. The house went on the market.
That is when all heck broke loose. The first day the house was listed, seven people came to look at it. Five of those seven made offers. Four of those five started a bidding war. The one winner could close in three weeks. Liars!!! Oil obviously was not as recessed and buyers repressed as the news let on. Oh – and the house I found on day two in Mexico fell through. I found myself on the internet looking at houses and found one with pretty pictures. So I did what any insane person who was moving to a country where she didn’t speak the language or know anyone would do: I bought it sight unseen.
The buyers of my Houston home sweetly let me back rent my house in Houston for a couple of weeks so I had five weeks to pack/sell/give away my belongings, get a Mexican visa, wrap up business, attend to dogs healthcare, deal with friends and family who watch too much TV (“you will get kidnapped;” “you will die of infection when you go to the dentist;” “Mexicans are rapists and murders [fu$%^&# Trump;]…….) and learn to say, “help me. I have lost my mind” in Spanish. Somehow I did it all WITHOUT losing my mind or any fingers, (although the finger loss came close.) But of course, I did it all in the heat of Houston’s summer. I have never been one to time things well. No matter how much effort I put into it.
The “how” to the move was something I changed my mind on daily for the first few weeks. I knew my belongings would go with a professional moving company as I had no desire to drop box after box on my toes. But getting the dogs and I down there was problematic. I found out my car could not be nationalized in Mexico, (I envisioned a ceremony with a bunch of cars raising their right tires and swearing their allegiance Mexico roads and mine not being able to because she was of Japaneses descent) so I would have to drive it to the boarder every six months if I wanted to keep it. Heck no. The only time I drive anywhere every six months is when I go to the grocery store (I don’t cook so every six months works well.)
So, I could rent a car, leave it at the boarder, walk the dogs across to Mexico, rent another car, then buy a new one after my visa paperwork was finished. Or I could fly then buy a new car. Options with less steps always have appealed to me so to the sky we were bound. I bought my ticket and purchased two cargo tickets for Sherlock and Shasta. Easy breezy – NOT. I got an email after a few days that because of the crate size of the dogs and the size of the airplanes that flew into Guadalajara, only one could go on the plane at a time. The option to ship one on a flight ahead was given but, that meant the dog flying alone would have to go through cargo customs as opposed to inter-airport customs. It was not an option for either of my babies to spend the night in a customs office alone. So, since I’m a brain sturgeon, I came up with my flight plan. I would fly someone from Ajijic to Houston to fly back with my one of my kiddos. After all my back and forth between flying and driving, flying was written in stone.
At first I stressed day and night about flying my dogs cargo. There were so many horror stories – so I thought. Turns out there were just a few horror stories as documented because the airlines are required to keep records of animals being lost or croaking in flight and the numbers were very very low. People just tend to tell the same stories over and over adding, “a friend of mine” before each to make it seem like millions of animals take off into the wild blue to never return again. It is SAFER to fly your dog than to drive unless you have a short snout dog. Dogs die in car crashes, are stolen from cars when owners stop to eat, or get loose and ran over at pit stops way more often than being harmed in flight. But no one has a friend who tells the story of how they were side swiped at red light and Fido died when you mention your driving your dog to the dog park with you.
I followed the instructions of doing the paperwork to a tee and even had Spanish speaking vet tech review it all. I got the proper sized crate and secured it like instructed. Dropping off the dogs, filling out the paperwork, having them and the crate looked over, and saying sweet long goodbyes was so easy. The problem came with me flying – not them. Shasta and the young lady I had flown in to fly with her had zero problems. My flight was the last of the day and I had checked Sherlock in with ease. But when I went to check in, I was told because my gate had changed and my seat was not assigned yet, I would have to go to the customer service counter to get my seat assignment. The line to customer service was insane because of the “last flight” time period (I stood there for a total of 75 minutes,) and everyone who was bumped or on canceled flights were taking forever to get on a plane the next day. I waited until 20 minutes before my flight then said, “screw it” and ran to the gate to plead my case (which I had tried once already and was sent back to customer service.) I was told I had no seat on the flight. My dog was being loaded into the cargo hold and United had failed to get me a place on the plane. I started crying telling them to get my dog off the plane or get me on. People started taking out their cell phones to record the drama. One nice woman offered her seat as she was a dog lover and couldn’t imagine a dog at baggage claim over night without an owner. Five minutes before they shut the door, they “found” me a seat. Turns out it was assigned to me all along but hadn’t been synced??? Yeah right 😦
As soon as I was seated the flight attendant notified me the captain had been told there was a dog in the cargo area and my baby was fine as reported by baggage. Once again, the dog was SO cared for. I was put through hell. When we got to Guadalajara it was after midnight. Sherlock’s crate was so big it wouldn’t fit through any of the luggage doors so they had to find a person with security clearance to open a people sized door. I could see through the window and there were a group of people around him sticking their fingers in his crate, and from looking at their body language, making baby talk in Spanish to him. As soon as they got him in, the customs vet looked at his papers then took us to a small room to examine him. Everything went smooth. As it was late, the vet even helped me get my luggage and the big crate through the rest of customs. Sherlock danced out of his crate when we got out of the airport and peed his first Mexico pee on a patch of lovely green grass outside the terminal.
We had our arranged driver take us to pick up Shasta and then we went to our cute Airbnb (I still had to sign papers on the house so we Airbnb’ed it for three days.) The dogs were no worse for wear from the trip. The joy of the new smells and new sights had them prancing on air. And they didn’t miss one single night hogging a king sized bed and making me sleep on the edge. The adjustment to the new house went even better as I think they sensed my ease at being home.
So here we are, six months later and mind boggling happy. I treat culture shock as learning experiences and laugh when things go wrong because they always go wrong in such a way that I feel like I am living a sitcom. I will add some of the experiences I have been sharing with another forum and keep you all up to date on living and loving Mexico.
La maleza vuela al sur cuando truena. I think that means “Wishing you all happiness and health;” in Spanish. (I have only had time to look through chapter one of “Learning Spanish in One Afternoon.”)