MAZATLAN, Mexico – At one time or another, those of us with even a trace of adventure in our souls dream of chucking it all and living the good life in a tropical paradise.
Few are immune. Even my cautious, conventional parents dreamed about it for decades. At one point, they and my cautious, conventional aunt and uncle hopped on a plane to check out the possibilities in Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica for a sun-drenched escape from the routine of daily life at home.
It didn’t happen, of course. They came home, resumed their old lives and never looked back.
Except for my mother the romantic. Mom occasionally waxed wistful, declaring with a faraway look in her eye that she wished they’d pulled it off.
Gene Morgan is one of the relatively few who have.
A Texan by birth, Morgan served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, worked in marketing for Holiday Inns in the United Kingdom and at one point was making $200,000 a year as a hospitality-industry executive on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
For the last 14 years, he’s lived in Mexico. His home there is near Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast, but he travels all over the country. When he tires of the routine at home, he packs a bag and spends several months in whatever part of Mexico sounds good to him. He’s had extended visits in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, Zihuatanenajo …
What does he do there?
In the big cities, he enjoys the cultural attractions. In the resort cities, he does pretty much what he does in Mazatlan. He meets people and makes friends. He goes to the beaches. He plays golf, drinks beer, enjoys life.
“My home in the states is Memphis, Tenn., but I haven’t been there in a long time,” he said. “I like it here too much. I love living in Mexico, and from here I can go anywhere in the country. I can fly to Mexico City round-trip for $150. I can take a bus to Guadalajara for 650 pesos ($35). And it’s not a Greyhound, either. It’s a beautiful, first-class bus with big, comfortable seats, wi-fi and a complimentary lunch. You eat lunch, watch a couple of movies and you’re there.”
I asked him which of all the places he’d been in Mexico he liked best.
“Right here,” he said. “When I come through that gate, I’m home.”
The gate is the entrance to the resort community where he lives and works as a real estate resales specialist.
Translation: he resells condominiums when their owners decide to make a change. He shows properties, answers e-mails, handles the details of closings. He keeps busy, but it’s not what you’d call a high-stress job. He makes a point of spending an hour every day on the beach with his iPod and a cooler of beer.
The beach, from a point on the north to another on the south, is five miles long. On a busy day, you might see eight or ten people there, swimming collecting shells, building sand castles. On a slow day, there might be two or three people. Or none at all.
“Some people wouldn’t like it here,” he said. “They’d rather be in town, where they’re closer to restaurants, stores, clubs, that sort of thing. But I love it here. I love the peace and quiet, the tranquility of it.”
In July and August, when most of the condominium owners have gone back to Canada or the U.S., he’s virtually alone at the resort. You’d think it would get lonely, but he doesn’t mind.
“I like it then, too,” he said. “We get lightning storms every day, and you’ve never seen such a light show. The lightning strikes light up the sky for miles. It rains so hard you can’t see those buildings over there (about 50 yards away). The storms make it lush and green. When the sun comes out, you can’t believe how beautiful it is.”
No argument. It’s beautiful even in the dry season. But it has to get at least a little bit lonely rattling around a resort development with almost everyone else gone for the off season.
“I never get lonely,” he said. “I have lots of friends here, and lots of girlfriends.”
Living there is cheap, especially when the exchange rate for Americans is as favorable as it’s been recently.
“You can get a pretty good car down here for $3,000 to $5,000. And there are guys here who can fix anything that goes wrong with it for a fraction of what it costs in the U.S. Groceries are cheaper, the cost of going out to dinner is cheaper … everything costs less here.
“… A lot of the locals live on 200 pesos a day (about $11). They’re poor, but they’re happy. If they like you, they’ll do anything for you. People are out walking at night, enjoying life. Everybody knows everybody and takes care of everybody. If a kid has a birthday here, everybody chips in and buys a present. It’s like a big, extended family.”
So … are there any drawbacks to living so far from what used to be his home in the U.S.? He is an American, after all.
“I miss certain people in the states. I go visit them every now and then, but I don’t impose. I’m the guy who comes to visit but stays in a hotel so I don’t put you out.
“When I’m through visiting, I come back. These days, this is where I’m happiest. Maybe I’ll live in the U.S. again someday; anything’s possible. But for now I really love being here. Here, every day here is another day in paradise.”
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.