The final adventure

hourglasssIt was a dark and balmy night.

Fifteen years ago today, I began my final adventure.

I stepped off a Delta jet from ice-bound Atlanta that landed in warm Guadalajara around midnight. I went to baggage claim and picked up my two suitcases. From the taxi kiosk I took a cab to a downtown hotel, the name of which has faded from memory. I was 55 years old, alone, and spoke no Spanish.

deltaTwo days later, I took a bus on the posh ETN line to a state capital high in the middle of Mexico where I lived two months in a frigid, thinly furnished room above a garage and studied Spanish in a private school. After the two months, I rented an almost empty house nearby for another six months.

That capital city is a 40-minute drive from my current colorful, Colonial mountaintop town which I happened upon by pure good fortune. I moved here after those eight months in the capital.

* * * *


In the past 1.5 decades, Mexico has changed dramatically, mostly for the better. We were still a one-party oligarchy when I arrived. Now we are a democracy. The downtown of the nearby state capital, a beautiful Colonial city, was hidden behind thousands of street vendors who clogged sidewalks. They have been swept away.

Cell phones were primitive and service was sketchy. Service is now excellent. The internet was only available by telephone modem. Now we have wireless. Highways were usually bad, and directional signs were just not there. Highways now are often better than above the Rio Bravo, and signs are clear and informative.

sombreroAt that time, you could drive neither to Mexico City nor the border — which is 700 miles distant — nor the beach on nonstop autopistas. Now you can. Driving to San Miguel de Allende, about 140 miles away, was slow and cumbersome, averaging about 45 mph.

The autopista to the beach is now just a three-hour jaunt. And San Miguel takes fewer than three hours. Mexico City takes under five hours. And soon a new highway bypass will be completed that will allow us to circumvent the state capital completely.

That circumvention will reduce the time and hassle to most points north, east and west significantly.

The state capital back then was likened to Topeka, a dull backwater. There was one Walmart, a Costco, and a few movie screens. A couple of humdrum shopping malls were available. Now there are four Walmarts, Starbucks, shopping malls that rival Miami or Rio, massive cineplexes with cushy seating.

* * * *


There were a couple of relatively small but reportedly good hospitals in the state capital. Now there are huge health complexes that serve our every medical need with modern facilities and reasonable prices.

The manner in which we get our healthcare hasn’t changed much. It was excellent 15 years ago, and it’s excellent today. Two systems, two levels: Government-subsidized for the needy or anyone who wants to use it, free or very low-cost. Private system, also for anyone who wants to use it. Level Two costs a good bit more, but still just a fraction of what medical care costs above the Rio Bravo. And nothing is coercive.

stethSince most folks use the public system, that does this to the private system: Little or no waiting. Speedy appointments. Next day? No problem. And no sitting endlessly with hordes of other people in waiting rooms or little cubicles. Very personal service.

Since we are not a litigious society, doctors don’t need to pay astronomical malpractice premiums, so they can afford cushy waiting rooms, high-tech equipment in their offices and reasonable charges.

You don’t need medical insurance.

* * * *


PatioThis patio is where I got married in 2003. There were a surprisingly large number of guests.

And the bride was beautiful in a blue dress. She later regretted not picking white.

* * * *


Fifteen years ago, public transportation was plentiful and cheap. That has not changed. What has changed are the vehicles. Here on my mountaintop, apart from taxis, the public transportation, 15 years back, consisted of aging Volkswagen hippie vans and rattletrap, belching school buses recycled from above the Rio Bravo.

vanThe belching school buses are all gone, and so are most of the VW vans, replaced by late-model Nissan and Toyota vans. And all remains plentiful and cheap and fast.

Back then, we milled about in mobs in a government office to pay our annual car taxes and get license plates. Now we print the forms from a website and pay online or in a bank. Getting a driver’s license is relatively fast and painless. I hear horror stories of DMVs in the United States.

Mail a letter? Go to the post office. It’s cheap, courteous and usually no wait. Mail is slow, but it gets there. I’ve experienced U.S. post offices, the long lines, the surly service. Pay property taxes (generally very low), water bills, phone bills, electricity bills? Can be done online from your bank account. We now live in modernity.

For years, after we built the Hacienda in 2002-03, our water came from periodic visits from a tanker truck that filled an underground cistern. Now our water comes automatically from the town just like yours does.

We still don’t drink it, however.

* * * *


kindleFifteen years ago, finding books to read in English was dicey. Our town’s library had a few shelves of novels that tourists had dropped off, available for borrowing. Sanborn’s in the capital city would have four or five popular novels in English at sky-high prices.

Most of my reading material, and I still only read books in English, came down in box-loads from Half Price Books during our then-yearly visits above the Rio Bravo, usually from San Antonio, Texas.

Kindle to the rescue. Amazon will send a Kindle to my front gate in three days. I have three now. One for me. One for my wife, and a spare. Problem solved. About any book I want comes via cyberspace.

* * * *


ponytailI never grew a ponytail.

Nor a stubble, and I never started dressing like a hippie.

And I don’t smell of patchouli.

* * * *


All is not positive,  however. When I arrived in my small mountaintop, lakeside city, there were about 40 foreigners, mostly Gringo* crackpots, living here. Now there are maybe 400, significantly more normal people, and they are setting up art galleries and saving pooches and feeding old folks.

In short, turning the place into another San Miguel de Allende. This is a mixed blessing, mostly negative.

Soon, waiters will respond in broken English; burglars will move here from all over; rents and housing prices will soar; and everybody will dress like an artist. Then some wiseacre will start a blog to make fun of us.

* * * *


One of Mexico’s most notable characteristics is the racket the natives love to make at all hours. In some respects living here is akin to living among millions of unsupervised children.

This long drove me nuts, but not anymore. Amazingly, I am now used to it. When the lunatics light explosives a block away on the plaza at 6 a.m., sometimes I don’t even wake up. If I do, I go right back to sleep.

This is a positive development. And it’s not the only way I’ve changed. Mexico is incredibly different from the United States and Canada. The language is different. The way of thinking is very different, all of which unsettled me a lot when I moved here, in spite of my previously having visited fairly often.

But after 15 years here and — perhaps as important — not having set foot in the United States in seven years, this Mexican world has become the norm. If I ever visit above the border again — which I very well may not — I will find that old Gringo world of mine strange and unsettling, I am sure.

* * * *



The absolutely best result of my moving south is pictured above. My child bride, caught in the middle of a giggle in our Mexico City apartment about four years ago.

Note to the guys:  You can do something similar if you are reasonably presentable and didn’t move south with a wife in tow. If you did, there’s nothing that can be done for you. Sorry. You’re out of luck.

* * * *


These 15 years have been kind to me.  And I live in a cool, refreshing world of green, mountain beauty. It’s been my final adventure, one that has yet to end.

It started as quite a challenge. The first couple of years I would have returned to the United States in a nanosecond had I been able to afford it. Now, however, returning is unthinkable. Mexico has greatly improved while the United States has significantly worsened. This was the best move of my life.

* * * *

* Many people will tell you Gringo is disrespectful, an epithet. They are mistaken. It is simply what Mexicans call us, usually behind our backs because they don’t know how we’ll take it. It is a neutral word that can be disrespectful depending on the tone and intent. But, basically, it’s just the locals’ name for us, and has been for ages.

(For my first five years here, I was a pretend Mexican. In 2005, Mexico made me a bona fide citizen and gave me a passport. No more visas, and I can vote, which is great fun.)

(TOMORROW: Drinking, smoking, drugs.)

28 thoughts on “The final adventure

  1. We are in the same boat, Felipe, the exception is that I came during the Olympics (1968).

    A Mexican friend asked, “You don’t feel offended if I say ‘Gringo,’ do you?” I told him, “Only if you say Gringo and spit after saying it.”


          1. Hey, Felipe, I was already too old to be canon fodder by then. The closest I came to being drafted was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The draft board called me and said, Where the hell have you been? I told them, Don’t you war mongerers read Kerouac? I’ve been on the road. Do you think I’m going to send you a postcard from every town I’m in? This was in Georgia, a fat bald-headed redneck was in charge of sending boys to their death. He said, “We can send your ass in the army. I clapped my hands and said, in my best Southernese, HOT DAMN! I’ve always wanted to steal one of them HELIO-COPTERS. This might be my chance. Baldy was fuming. I asked, Why did you call me to the draft board? (They had sent a letter to a friend’s house, and I just happened to be in town that day). He said, We’re changing your status to 1Y. I asked, What does that mean? He said, In case of a national emergency, you will be called.

            I didn’t know we were playing brinkmanship at the time, and the Atomic Clock was at 1 second before midnight. So I got my new draft card and went to see my friend. He asked, What did they want? I said they changed my status to 1Y. My friend’s mom was there and said, What does that mean? My friend said, It means he’s yellow, mom. My friend said, How is it a letter for you came to my house? I said, When I registered they asked for an alternate address and I gave them yours. He said, Dont ever do that again. All they want is a hot body, and if they can’t find you they may grab me.

            This was in Columbus, Georgia, right next to Ft. Benning. I never got called, but I did try talking some of those paratroopers at the base into going to Canada. All’s fair in love and war.


              1. Just a note about medical care. Because my wife was an English High School teacher in the federal system, I got cut in on ISSSTE medical benefits. The system has improved over the years. Now I can make an appointment online, and they’ll email me which day and hour. So far, so good. Usually the wait is between 15 to 30 minutes. They give me anything I need, doctors, specialists, medicine and, if necessary, operations and hospitalization, 100%. The only thing I feel isn’t complete is dental. So far they’ve cleaned my teeth but that’s all. Thats okay. I have a good dentist. He was a chopper pilot. I told him I thought he got his training by torturing confessions out of people, like Lawrence Olivier did to Dustin Hoffman in “The Marathon Man.”

                I’m satisfied. It’s more than they do for me stateside.


                1. Señor Mystic: As I’ve written here many times, I think the Mexican healthcare system is stupendous, and I sure wouldn’t trade it for what goes on above the Rio Bravo, either before or after ObamaCare.

                  Don’t know why your comment went to moderation this time.


  2. The noise was something I got used to as well in Honduras. They are a noisy bunch. The quiet of semi-rural Louisiana is nice, too. The call of the birds, the sounds of the tree frogs and crickets, and the occasional knock of the woodpeckers are very nice. My dog was used to the raucous noise of Honduras, and he actually has been, at times, scared of the quiet, I think, here in our new digs.


    1. Laurie: The racket here used to drive me absolutely nuts. But now? Nah. I guess people can get used to most anything in time. We have a railroad track very near our house. We got used to passing trains in the middle of the night in about two weeks, as I recall.


  3. Felicidades por tu Quinceañera, LOL. Will you be having a fancy party with fru fru dresses? A Chambelán?

    Even without the party, it does seem like an excellent adventure. I’ve been reading your blog for years (as you know), since at least 2006, maybe a smidgen before, and I’ve followed the sentiment swings too. I’m happy for you that it has all worked out so well, though I doubt any other gringo guy is going to get quite so lucky in the mujer department.

    As for noise, that’s my biggest worry about Mexico, though as you’ve noted, it’s less in DF than in many other places. In Edgar’s neighborhood there are lots of annoying noises, probably the worst of which is a guy who sells tortillas off the back of a Honda 90 motorcycle. He doesn’t have any way to alert you to his presence besides honking his horn. And he seems to think that he needs to pass the house every ten minutes in case you’d like to buy tortillas every 10 minutes. So every 10 minutes, he passes by honking furiously.

    It’s a good thing I didn’t have a gun while in Mexico.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it’s hard to think of anything but Mexico with the cold temps we are getting.


    1. Kim: I got the last good-looking Mexican woman alive who was over 30, had no kids, no troublesome ex-husbands, no dogs, no cats, none of that usual stuff. Lucky me.

      As for the noise, you do get used to it in time, so it should not be a deal-breaker as far as moving here is concerned. Of course, some places are noisier than others. You must take care.


    1. Ms. Shoes: I was thinking about that party just yesterday and the fact that it was the first time I laid eyes on you. You couldn’t stand me?! Why on earth? I am ever lovable. You are mistaken that I did not like you. I recall thinking that you were an odd bird, which is quite true. I also recall thinking that you seemed to not really want to be sitting there. You were a bit grumpy. You did not smile. But dislike you? Not really.


        1. Carole: Ah, now I understand. You gotta remember that I’m not the brightest marble in the bag. Once I overheard my mother tell my second wife: “He don’t understand subtlety.”

          And she was pretty much correct.


  4. Very nice post. Congratulations on your fifteenth anniversary here.
    Overall, I agree with you about medical care in México. Most doctors are very humane as well as expert. But there are a handful of pendejos, (Jerks, schmucks) I I have had the misfortune of being under their insensitive, often arrogant care.
    In our experiences, we have waited as much as two hours or more in some doctors’ waiting rooms. This is not a rare occurrence. Once we waited over an hour in our capital city’s top hospital for an appointment with a noted surgeon, only to find out that he hadn’t yet left Mexico City. We had to make a return trip a day later. But in the end, it was worth the wait.

    Long waits are commonplace in the waiting room of Dr. A. G. In Pátzcuaro but he is a really good guy so it’s worth the wait. Other times he was able to see us almost immediately. (I also have to say that his main secretary, Sra. J. Is a lovely person. And the weekend substitute, Miss V. Is a cutie.)

    Don Cuevas


    1. Señor Cuevas: I have not had those waiting experiences for medical care. However, you’re correct about Dr. A.G., who is a good doctor, but you can wait a spell. I have pretty much given up on him for that reason. You might try the new clinic that has various specialties, near where Federico Tena runs into the Libramiento. I’ve been there a number of times, and have been very happy. Here’s their website:

      For anything that might be serious, I have a doctor at Star Medica whom I’ve used for a decade. Love him. No waiting. Fast appointments.


  5. Congratulations on the 15 years. Mexico indeed has become more livable to Gringo standards by having all those NOB stores arrive in the last decade. It is the lack of nannying that I find the most rewarding and uplifting here. The liberties that we enjoy now, which used to be common up North, and are a fond memory, hopefully will remain for us to utilize for awhile during our remaining days. I appreciate each day as a breath of fresh air each morning. And I kinda pity the lemmings north of the border.


    1. Tancho: Since neither of us is a kid, to put it mildly, I wager we will live out our days in glorious Mexican liberty. Each day is indeed a breath of fresh air. It’s a wonderful element of living here that never entered my mind when I decided to move down. An unexpected consequence.


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