The time has come! We have retired from our day jobs; now we can begin our retirement in Mexico! Retiring abroad will be our very own IMMERSION EXPERIENCE. Full time! We’re excited to share a few of our experiences. (By the way, Immersion Part 1 and Immersion Part 2 can be found on our other website by following the highlighted links.)
As the moving van, loaded with most of our possessions, drove off, we too began our journey south. We had done our homework and talked with friends to learn how to prepare to enter a different country. We had been given many tips and great strategies, such as: don’t try to cross the border on a weekend or during the middle of the day, stay on toll roads, drive during daylight hours whenever possible, etc. Over and over again, we were told to be friendly, confident and very compliant with any requests of officials. As foreigners, we were also aware that we could be targets of scams and money seekers.
With the support of our well-wishers and prayer warriors, we arrived at the border at approximately 7:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. We both exited our vehicle and met the border patrol with a smile and greeting. We showed our credentials, including the papers our vet had carefully prepared for our four dogs. With a smile in return, and a few words I didn’t understand (my Spanish is more limited than I thought), they waved us on.
From there, we followed signs to the location where we would register our car and obtain our 30 day pass to be in the country. On our 5-minute drive to that location, we encountered our first seeker of American wealth. A man with one leg wanted to give us direction for a fee. We contributed a few pesos to the cause, and he pointed in the right direction. We did encounter short lines that time of the day, but only one clerk, too! At 7:30 a second clerk arrived, and we were very quickly on our way to the toll road!
We learned a lot of Spanish on our drive that day. Nineteen hours in all! I suppose it took us longer than Siri told us it would at the onset because we took a few wrong turns, and had extra potty stops due to having four dogs along for the ride!
What struck me most I think was the beauty and the mountains. Why didn’t I realize we’d be up and down and around mountains most of the day? Breathtaking! After driving for several hours without seeing a soul, much less a gas station, the words of a gentlemen in the car registration line played over and over again. “Don’t expect Mexico to be like the U.S.” So very true.
There were a lot of “SOS” phone stations, but not a lot of gas stations. Certainly no “exits” or “oasis centers” like you would encounter on a toll road in the U.S. giving you food options and gas every 30-40 miles. I even paid 5 pesos to use a bathroom. I was given a ration of toilet paper, even though I’d stashed some in my pocket before exiting the vehicle (another word of advice we’d been given).
After a very long, tiring day of driving, we arrived at our new house in Chapala, Mexico. There we were greeted by our neighbor, the rental manager who kindly brought home the keys to let us in long after business hours! He may have been in his pajamas, but he had turned a few lights on ahead of time to make us feel welcome, and we did!
The doggies explored, and we unloaded our very full Prius (and car topper) of the few possessions we had packed to get us through the initial weeks till the moving truck arrives. Over the last week, I have felt like a college student stuffing my belongings into the car as well as a newlywed, having only the basics to get started in our new home, having to go out and buy a few things like food, soap, and a toilet brush!
So how is the immersion going so far? David and I love to take walks; so we do and with each encounter, whether it be on the street, or with the clerk at the store, we always try our Spanish first. Or I should say, David tries his Spanish and I listen in awe.
As we walk down the street, I think of things I want to say, or should have said, and am beginning to take the words I know and put sentences together in my head, and then practice them with David. I’m getting there. I even added the word “grande” to a conversation David was having with the clerk today when we were asking for a big bottle of vinegar for cleaning. We were looking at a small bottle in front of us, and I felt so proud to have added the right word for the context!
You have to start somewhere! I will probably sound like Tarzan for a while. We’ve met a few neighbors, too, and they are Mexicans who speak a “little” English. We are English speakers who speak a “little” Spanish. We will be best friends before long!
We are even starting to talk Spanish around the house. It is helpful to work through my vocabulary. We carry an English/Spanish pocket dictionary with us in the car, and look up words as we see them on buildings, signs, etc. It’s another fun way to learn the language.
I’ll share a new word with you. Tuna. I’m sure you thought of a smelly fish, but the tunas around here are fruit! On our first or second day, we came upon a fruit stand on our walk around our neighborhood, and there were these green fruits with little black spots on them. I asked what they were and was told tuna. I smiled and nodded. I do that a lot now, as if I understand everything.
So when we got home I googled tuna, and found out it’s known as “prickly pear” or cactus fruit. Now I wish I bought one, and will next time. Once peeled, it looks like a cross between a kiwi and a cucumber. I’ll keep you posted on what it tastes like.
There are other interesting looking fruits and vegetables at the market, and I will look forward to trying each one. For now, I’m enjoying my homemade fruit salsa, guacamole, and regular tomato salsa! Adios, hasta luego!
As always, I encourage you to share your reactions and questions below. And, if you’re interested in the possibility of retiring abroad, I should add that we got a huge amount of information and support from our friends at Live & Invest Overseas. Check it out!