Sunday, July 06, 2008

Where to Retire

For many years while we were still working, we thought we would stay in our house in the far suburbs of Houston that was part of a golf course community. We talked about having the chance to play golf any day we wanted to play. It seemed like a good plan.

But over time things changed. Some of the people that are good friends and golfing buddies move away and some developed physical problems that limited their playing. We changed. I started doing more and more photography. We drove into town more for gallery openings and other cultural activities. And let's face it. We got older too and wondered how the old back was going to take 4 or 5 days of golf in a week. Another thing changed....The inner city. It was being revitalized and it was looking more and more interesting as a place to live especially since the lazy, country road that was the main thoroughfare in our suburban setting had now become a 8-lane congested road lined with strip centers, large box stories and shopping malls.

So after maybe 10 years of looking in the inner city and thinking about it, we bought a lot and built a contemporary house that you see above. This was it. This was our retirement home. But you know, life is full of surprises. Two years later we bought a second house in San Miguel and two years after that, we moved here full time. Yesterday we had visitors who are probably 10 years from retirement but they were asking questions. Not necessarily that question that we get frequently, "What do you do all day in San Miguel when you are retired?" But their questions were more about how do you decide where to retire. I don't think they are interested in San Miguel for their retirement but they are trying to sort through the possibilities.

I know some couples are very methodical in their search and planning for a place to retire. We weren't. It just seemed like we started heading in a direction and opened doors. One door led to another and another until we found ourselves in San Miguel.

How about you. If you are retired, how did you decide where to live?


Jonna said...

I thought that we would spend winters in our condo in QRoo when I retired. Then I hurt my back and decided to buy an RV so I could move around while we traveled there instead of sitting for hours. Then, we fell in love with living in the RV and got sidetracked for 7 years just traveling. So, finally last year we spent 3 months living in the condo and discovered we didn't like living where our neighbors change every week and are on vacation trying to drink up a year's worth of work woes. So, meanwhile we had fallen in love with the city of Merida so we bought a house there and now, that's the newest plan. We'll see.

Steve Cotton said...

Billie -- Great topic. I will be watching this one with keen interest. As for me, I am in the "preparing to retire" stage -- probably within the next 9 months. My plan is to start on the Pacific coast. I have always loved the ocean, but I do not much like the humidity. I also wanted to be away from a foreigner enclave. So, I decided to start out by renting for 6 months in Melaque. I will then probably try 6 months in Patzcuaro or Morelia. Like Joanna, I will probably find some place that I have not yet considered. To me, it is a lot like dating.

jennifer j. rose said...

I always knew I’d end up in Mexico, but I didn’t know where. Mexico City holds world-class fascination, but there’s a reason even the idle rich have second homes elsewhere. Chapala had just too many gringos, amenities be damned. I couldn’t afford to live the way I’d like to in the D.F. San Miguel de Allende struck me as full of artistes etching, sculpting, and writing odes to the parroquia, speaking in hushed reverential tones about the city’s charms in a Mexican version of Solvang. Cuernavaca merited serious consideration but for the hordes of Chilangos descending upon Cortes’ summer palace every weekend. And any city that boasts the world’s most perfect climate has got to have something wrong with it. Life on the beach is seldom a day at the beach. Just as some people have to be near water, I have to have mountains within view.

Puebla and Valle de Bravo would be second contenders to Morelia. The air quality in Puebla isn’t good, and Valle de Bravo is just too far from anything. As countries, Uruguay and Argentina might come in second to Mexico, if only there were mountains within striking distance of an international airport.

Morelia became my home because it had all the resort potential of Pittsburgh. While the downtown’s quaintly European, shopping centers and suburban developments ring the perimeter. Sure, the Centro Historico is, well, historical, but I’d rather see it from a distance than up-front and close.

“What about Morelia’s fame as a musical center?” you ask. Ever the philistine, I yawn, reflecting that the five hundred or so years it has existed will endure without my patronage. Even though live music and other matters cultural are inexpensive, nary a day passing without some event, my focus lies elsewhere. I’d rather tend my roses and have shopping centers at my fingertips than “culture.” Starbucks and a book are more my style than galleries and concerts.

About halfway between Mexico City and Guadalajara, only two inches from the beach, depending upon which map you’re reading, a single day’s drive from Laredo, Morelia’s international airport, less than a half hour distant, is an additional draw. Daily flights to and from Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles are almost always booked. Add in regular commuter service to Mexico City and Guadalajara, to buses leaving hourly for hither and yon, and problems of access are solved. San Miguel de Allende is now only less than a two-hour drive on the cuota.

If there were a single compelling factor defining my choice of Morelia it would be the city’s ability to exist totally without me. Or even an expatriate community. Don’t get me wrong: tourists bring dollars and so do expatriates. Morelia has an insular stability that’s not dependent upon either, drawing upon its strength as a regional center.

As meritorious as a simple lifestyle might sound, there’s a limit to just how “native” I was willing to go. It’s one thing to contemplate life in an adobe, and it’s another to do without the creature comforts and communications that city folk take for granted. Proximity to the artisan villages is nice enough, but I wouldn’t want to live in one of them. I didn’t put in my time in a Midwestern village to relocate to a Mexican version, sacrificing privacy.

All right, so we cheated. My mother was the first to move to Morelia, deciding in the space of a few days to buy here years ago.

1st Mate said...

It was always our dream to live somewhere close to our boat. The boat came down here to Mexico in 1997 with the Baja Ha Ha and never went back, and after that first year we knew it was only a matter of time before we settled here too. We're a five minute drive or a ten minute walk to the dinghy which takes us to the anchorage. But we're still working on a seasonal basis, and when we leave that behind we'll probably head further south. We have a list of places we like on the mainland coast. Haven't explored the east coast yet. But we'll probably always want to be near or on the boat.

Babs said...

I NEVER intended for it to be San Miguel - it was going to be the beach or Guadalajara - probably the beach since I'm an avid sailor! Then I came here, didn't fall in love with it for a few years of coming and going. Wanted to find a tiny place to stay so I wasn't always looking for a place to stay when I visited and voila, found the two houses I have on one piece of property....still without the intention of moving here anytime soon. There was a tenant in the guest house so I didn't NEED to move here! Well the "gods" or the "forces of nature" or whatever took over - sold the business, the house, and everything else within 5 months and was retired! Lordy, I now look back on that and shake my head.
I have never regretted my choice. The perception that there are a lot of gringoes here is a false, in my opinion and I think I'll do a "blog" on that! I was in the jardine yesterday afternoon and saw about 3 gringoes - the rest Mexicans.....I love the full integration of the people here and the many, many things to do - if I so choose! It's nice to have the it IS an 8 hour drive to the border, when I do drive back to see friends and family a couple of times a year!
I DO miss the water but I sure don't miss the humidity and the threat of hurricanes!

Nancy said...

I always knew I would end up down here - especially once my son enrolled in Tec and fell in love and all the rest. I travelled around Mexico with him and his wife's family many times and loved it here - everywhere we went.

Paul and I got married 11 years ago and we started vacationing down here a couple of times a year, and we always considered them scouting trips for when we could actually move.

We would do a ton of research and after really getting excited about someplace would find out that there was something about it that turned us we developed our must have list.

- near the beach
- community large enough to have multiples of things (coffee/grocery, etc)
- enough expats so we won't feel isolated while we learn spanish
- not too much rain (remember we came from the Seattle area)
- easy air access to the west coast for our friends and family

It's funny though, one of the most important things wasn't on our list - how a place feels. We knew right away that Lake Chapala was a NO, Queretaro -NO, and Mazatlan, Yes.

As Maz continues to grow and more expats come we may find we will move somewhere else in Mexico. But by then (cross your fingers) we'll have better command of Spanish and can explore much deeper into this amazing country.

Heather said...

Love this topic. We're far from retirement, but we talk about it all the time. But not just where to retire, but if we should try some other place on for awhile. We live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, although I work in Wilmington, DE and not Philly. DH works from home when he's not traveling for work a few times a month. It was interesting about your journey back to the city. We talk about moving into Philly all the time. It would be a great opportunity for me to take the train to Wilmington for work instead of driving and we'd be able to go to all the places we like to go at a moments notice. Only time will tell, but we're open and just watch out for our opportunities.

islagringo said...

It was a no brainer for us. We fell in love with this quaint little island the first time we visited. By the third visit, we knew we wanted to live here permanently. Now, 5 years later, the bloom has faded from our love affair. Is it us or has the island changed that much? Time to move on? I guess I'm saying, you never know if you have made the right choice until you live with it for awhile.

Billie said...

To all of you who have responded, thanks. I think that reading how others make the decision of where to retire, is helpful to those who are thinking about it.

I go back to my friend Jay's advice who said that once you get to be 60 or 65 you should be working on 5 year plans. What is good today may not be right in 5 years and so Ned and I are trying to be flexible. You never know what door you will want to, or have to, open next.