There are probably dozens of ways to live well in Mexico. Last year I chose a quiet condominium in Mazatlán’s north end. Practically vacant during the summer months, I enjoyed solitary walks and Mexican sunsets from under palapas only a water taxi trip away from the El Cid Marina yachts and pelicans.
This year, I decided that a little more humanity around me during the day might be welcome during my periodic breaks from working. In the northern end of El Cid, I rarely found anyone to chat with during my strolls and a cup of coffee or lunch were a cab ride away. Any writer or aspiring writer would find it ideal if desiring beautiful seclusion.
In Mazatlán, the further south you go on the Malecón (the beach strand), the more activity you find. No doubt one day I will be living in El Centro, the historic area of the city at its southern tip, where the Plaza Machado is alive with people and culture and the noise of the city seems to sift down to the the bottom of the Malecón at the southern end when it drops into the sea.
But for now, I am taking advantage of an offer I couldn’t refuse: a twelfth-floor condo in the Golden Zone, which lies in the between the two districts.
Unabashedly tourist, the Zona Dorada is chockablock with tiendas of the type typical in Mexican tourist areas, and loaded with hotels and restaurants both casual and upscale.
Having lived in the garden district of New Orleans, in Pacific Beach in San Diego, just across the Potomac from Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC and two blocks from Union Station in Denver, I have lived in "tourist" areas my whole adult life.
They are tourist areas for a reason. They are places people like to be. No reason to feel less authentic as an expat in Mexico out to live in one here.
The offer that I couldn’t refuse was a condo in a (and I am not embarrassed to admit this) resort hotel.
For a little over half of what I pay in rent for a one bedroom apartment in Denver, the 1,800 square-foot condo is on the corner of the building, which from the twelfth floor offers sweeping views of the ocean and the city at night. Housekeeping is included in the rent.
There are probably hundreds of condos just like it up and down the coast for those willing to brave the heat of the low season and understand how electricity bills work here. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, this life costs half of what life in Colorado costs. The lower cost of housing is where you find a big percent of the savings.
It amuses me to think about how I used to interpret people’s disparaging remarks about Mazatlán in general and the Golden Zone in particular of being too “touristy.”
I always thought touristy in Mexico mean't overrun by Americans and Canadians, - the last thing I'd want on a foreign vacation. You won't practice much Spanish sitting around the pool with a bunch of expats.
Some resorts don't even feel like they're in Mexico, they just feel like hotels in California with lots of Mexican staff.
Perhaps mine will be over-run by expats in the high season, when I understand over 20,000 expats visit the city. Once December arrives, the areas offers the charms most people prefer; balmy weather, lively bars and restaurants and the full social calendars common to most snowbirds.
But for now, in the temporada baja, the tourists in my resort are Mexicans on summer vacation. I was delighted to find the pool area made up of exclusively Mexican families, whom at one time I had forgotten could also be tourists.
What I love most about the condo being in a resort hotel are the children. Soulful and well-behaved, they run slapping their wet feet into the elevator in dripping bathing suits and water wings, looking up with melting chocolate-colored eyes waiting for their heads to be touched by their attentive parents.
Mazatlán gets a bad rap from people who know Mexico well. “So why did you choose Mazatlán?” seasoned travelers to Mexico always politely ask me. It’s a little annoying because I know full-well what they really want to tell me is all about the places they think are better.
Part of the reason I chose Mazatlán is that it’s still a working town (tuna, not tourism is its primary industry) as well as an ocean tourist spot. Part of it is that with over 400,000 people, Mazatlán is larger than Puerta Vallarta, Cancún, Cabo or any other beach town.
Its population size is big enough to support an active cultural scene. You can see excellent ballet, opera or concerts at the Ángela Peralta cultural center along with two-man stage plays in satellite salons.
Say what you will about Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs ruining a city’s character. They come in extremely handy. Mexicans think so too, and another reason bigger is better in an Mexican town.
Even by Mexican standards, Mazatlán is a bargain, as pointed out by one of my past dates, a Mexican visiting from Guadalajara who was surprised by the prices himself. You can spend a few weeks in Sayulita or Cancún, but for living I haven’t heard of any other place in Mexico having all these advantages.
But mainly it is the people I have met, especially my Mexican girlfriends, all of whom for awhile I thought were named Lupita (They kind of are).
Another key advantage is Mazatlán’s proximity to San Diego and the new airport just on the other size of the border in Tijuana.
By flying through San Diego from Denver, then walking across the bridge to the Tijuana airport and taking a domestic flight from there to Mazatlán on Volaris, the Mexican carrier, I can cut the price of my flights back and forth to Denver almost in half.
The Tijuana airport is modern and people can actually park their cars on the street outside the airport when they drop you off. Unbelievable.
Now In my fourth year in Mexico, I have grown accustomed to the gummy warmth which keeps me from taking how I look too seriously. Just like people all over America in the summer, when you are here off season, you find things to do inside in the afternoon.
I was surprised that the panoramic view from the condo immediately invoked a desire to get my daily work routine and schedule in order. I feel uncomfortable with out a plan. As writer Fran Lebowitz so eloquently put it, "For me, not having an itinerary is like not being able to change your underwear."
The resort has personnel on staff to help with internet glitches immediately, a real luxury when I think about what it’s like to stalk computer expertise here. Whether arriving anew to Denver or Mazatlán, either end takes several days to work the technical kinks out anew.
Sometimes what does work surprises me too. When I made calls on my regular phone to the U.S. recently, it congratulated me on my success and let me know I just made a call over the internet, which my plan automatically chooses if available.
While you settle in, a lot of your time is spent troubleshooting phone and internet connection problems. In my case is was why the internet would connect on the old laptop on the top floor but not to the new laptop downstairs. Things can send you over the edge the first few days, not withstanding the view.
I had to remind myself what a laughable dilemma this is when you are living and working in paradise.
Even with the problems that you will always have reintroducing all your technology to a new location (You can almost hear it saying, "Where am I? This just doesnt' feel right!"), you can't help asking yourself, in this age of free international calling, Skype/Zoom, online banking and secure internet, why doesn't everyone do this?
Hola - I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico, which provides resources and insights for potential expats and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online."
See the reviews on Amazon from expats! Interactive links take you to the best free tools on the web, organized by level and skill. Most recently, I released "If Only I Had a Place," on renting in Mexico.