As you may have surmised from the title of my blog, my name is Pat. Patrick, actually, but I go by any of the derivations of that name, including (soon) Patricio, as I intend to become an expatriate, or expat for short. This blog will record my experiences in becoming and enjoying the life of an American expatriate in Mexico.
The term expat is somewhat confusing. It simply means a person living outside his or her nation of citizenship. Some expats leave their homelands due to politics; several liberals and Hollywood types have declared they will leave the United States due to Donald Trump’s election to President. This type of protest-expat gets a lot of publicity, although they rarely follow through on the threat. So some people think expats must be running away from something. Other people think the word is ex-patriot, and believe it means one who is no longer a patriot or supporter of his or her nation. Finally, for many people, the notion of living outside of the culture you grew up in is just crazy. In reality, expats have a variety of reasons for being expats, and I’ll try to highlight a few by interviewing local expats from time to time.
I will at times segue into politics, religion, sports, or just general opining, because that’s what we all do, expats included. When I do, I’ll try to alert my readers with an appropriate heading, so those only interested in one type of post can ignore the others.
My journey to becoming an expat began, like so many others, by accident. Back in 2011, my wife (Judy) and I were preparing to buy a vacation house in the woods somewhere outside Washington, DC. I was about 5 years away from being eligible to retire from my government job, and we looked forward to continuing to stay in the DC area where I planned to work for the government as a contactor. We figured we had another fifteen years in the DC area before really retiring to somewhere warm and sunny like the US Southwest. We had plenty of time to figure out the final retirement location.
The vacation home, probably a log cabin in western Maryland, would be a weekend retreat, and a place where our two grown daughters, sons-in-law, and three grandkids could gather. For those unfamiliar with the DC area, there is a distinct cultural divide between Virginia on the south side of the Potomac river, and DC and Maryland on the north side. We had lived in Northern Virginia for thirty years, so the prospect of buying a house in Maryland felt like moving to a foreign country.
While beginning my research on the vacation home, I ran across a “click-bait” headline for “the 5 best climates in the world.” Now I have traveled a lot in my life, so I was curious what this article had listed as great climates, and I clicked on the link. That mouse click started my journey to becoming an expat.
A headline came up claiming these results for the world’s best climate were from the National Geographic Society. That was not true, although I only determined that much later. You can search the NGS website and archives and you will find no such article. Anyway, the first-place finisher was somewhere in Kenya, where living near the equator but high in the mountains made for a uniquely great climate. “Right,” I thought, I had never been there, but I wasn’t impressed. Second place was someplace called Lake Chapala, Mexico. Now I had been to Mexico: Cancun and Cozumel, great beach climates, but unbearable in the summer. The article described Chapala as Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, high in the Sierra Madre Mountains near Guadalajara. It said the weather was perennially spring-like, and the area hosted a number of American and Canadian expats. Mexico? Springlike? I closed the window on this obviously ridiculous article and went back to log cabin hunting.
But the description kept haunting me. See, my wife and I knew we wanted eventually to retire somewhere warm. I grew up in northern Indiana (South Bend), and the track of my life has been gradually southward and away from the snow. But we aren’t really beach types, and we don’t like high humidity. That’s why the Arizona/New Mexico area seemed about right, but we had lived near Fort Huachuca long ago, and it still got pretty cold. So perennial Spring was just too tempting to ignore. And the mention of expats meant there should be some way to verify the description. I started with a simple Google search for “expats” and “lake chapala.”
There was a wealth of resources: the Lake Chapala Society (LCS), a webboard owned by a local real estate company, several blogs, and something called Focus on Mexico which seemed to be a cross between a chamber of commerce site and a relocation service. Soon I was diving into the data available, and annoying the heck out of my wife. But that’s a story for another day.