The Mindful Adventurer: A Relocation Workshop in Yucatán

“I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference” – from the poem by Robert Frost

There are more new faces in town. Nothing surprising about that — Mérida is ever-popular with tourists. But I’ve overheard a few of the conversations and it sounds like some of them might be considering a permanent move here. And they won’t be the first, will they?

I was only 23 years old when I chose Mérida. I’d not been planning a move at all, but after just 18 hours here, unbelievable as it sounds, I met the man I wanted to marry. Happily, he felt likewise, and a year later, that’s what happened. It was romantic and exhilarating, but confusing too, because I could find no information about moving to Yucatán.

Nowadays, we have the internet and many sites bulge with opinions on the topic. But if you are new to the idea of relocating to a different country, you maybe wish you could gather the professionals you want to speak with in one room, and definitively find out all you need to know. 

If you are looking for answers, you’ll be pleased to know that Yucatán Magazine is sponsoring three relocation workshops in early 2023. This is exciting for me because I have been asked to coordinate the events. The weekend-long program covers issues I wish I’d been aware of way back in 1976. Several of my friends who also live here have suggested more topics to be included. The featured speakers and guides are all well-seasoned residents and professionals who will cut through the guesswork for you.

During the three-day workshop, you’ll receive an accurate timeline of all that’s needed for a move to southeastern Mexico. The logistics of shipping your belongings, finding a home to rent or purchase, getting a residency visa, and a lot more related topics will be covered amply. Such information will help to ensure that your transition proceeds as smoothly as possible. The two sides of living internationally – advantages and drawbacks – will be addressed. The discussions, presentations, and field trips are designed to be interactive and engaging. You won’t be confined in one spot for hours on end.

I will lead a seminar on the cultural differences and sensitivities you will likely encounter.

I often look back to when I left western Canada and moved to Yucatán. As I settled in, I realized it was unusual to meet people who were not native-born Meridanos. Intrepid archaeologists, tourism entrepreneurs, and a few federal bureaucrats seemed to be the only Mexicans from other states who settled in Yucatán. Only a handful of international residents were to be found. I didn’t meet another native English speaker until 16 months after my arrival. The day I spoke with Lynne – a California native – she was in a hurry to finish her shopping, and she turned to leave after just a few minutes of conversation. Honestly, I had to hold myself back from grabbing her ankles and not letting go. I felt starved for fluent conversation in my language.

Mexicans from other parts of the country have long-considered Yucatán an exotic place – almost a different country. The peninsula’s distance from Mexico City, the heat and humidity, as well as the mosquitos and other bugs, kept them away – until recently. Now that living in Yucatan is more comfortable, a huge number have taken up residence here. Canadian and American tourists did not use to consider Yucatán a typical vacation spot. And really, it was not too long ago that many of those living north of the Rio Grande didn’t even know where Mérida was located. Neither did they know about the beaches of Progreso, Chicxulub, Chelem, and Chuburna. But this is no longer the perception. Mérida is now well-known for its large and vibrant international community. As well, the services have been substantially updated.

The shift began when SECTUR, the federal Mexican tourism agency, started seriously developing Cancun, and word of the peninsula’s attractions leaked out. I worked for a Canadian airline in those days, and part of my job was to accompany travel agents and journalists on familiarization trips to up-and-coming destinations. On these complementary junkets, the groups toured hotels, saw the sights, and of course, wined and dined at top-rated restaurants.

I went with such a group for a week to Cuba. Later we traveled to Merida, but the folks felt exhausted. I helped them settle into their rooms, pointed out the hotel’s lobby bar, and then walked on my own through Merida’s Main Plaza. Even though it had been a hot afternoon, at dusk, cool breezes swept into the city.

Enjoying a Sunday treat.

It was Sunday; big families were out in full force. Throngs of darling, dark-eyed children chasing pigeons around the fountain waved as they ran past me. I clapped my hands and tapped my feet in time with the local band – made up of primarily elderly musicians – who enthusiastically accompanied a silver-voiced crooner. I knew right away that I had stumbled upon an extraordinary place.

In Mérida, the moon tips at a different angle than up north, and familiar constellations look higher in the sky. Fallen red blossom carpeted the plaza, reminding me of saffron. It had rained earlier in the day, and the tangy smell of rich earth lingered. As I’ve already mentioned, the following day I met Jorge Rosado, the man who would become my husband.

I admit we did not put much deep thought into my move. I did not read much about where I planned to be for the rest of my life. Nor did I bring many of the household items I could have. As I settled in, I began to understand that adjusting to life as full-time a resident of Mérida (not just a tourist bopping around) would be more than I had allowed myself to consider. I wished I’d been better prepared for it all. Cultural shock and homesickness set in for a while.

During my more than four and a half decades in Mérida, and especially in the past five years, I’ve met many new residents from all over Mexico, Canada and the U.S., parts of Asia, and Europe. A lot of them asked me questions about relocating to Yucatán. So many questions in fact, that I wrote two books on the subject.

In retrospect, many of my deal-breaker moments seem minor now, but at the time, they were humongous. Our little house tucked away on a quiet street in the García Ginerés neighborhood, was certainly sparsely appointed. Really though, I could manage without some material comforts for a while, but no toilet seat in the bathroom had to be remedied immediately.

There were also major challenges that are still hard for me, like driving. I did not want to drive in Mérida, not for anything in the world. I learned to ride the rickety buses, and all the shake-rattle-and-roll endured on rock-hard bus benches was preferable to getting behind the wheel. The traffic moved way too fast and erratically for my nerves.

Yet, after much cajoling, l did go with Jorge to get my driver’s license. He assured me the process would be a mere formality; I had a Canadian license, so I’d automatically get one from Mérida’s motor vehicles department. Ha – not so fast!

“You know I can’t drive a standard,” I hissed at Jorge while an officer escorted us to his parked VW bug. Reluctantly, I got in—the policeman beside me and Jorge in the back. I lurched and squealed around a few blocks, and when we returned to the starting point, the examiner turned to my husband and said sternly, “You have to let her practice more.” Then he smiled at me and said, “You’ve passed.” I felt shocked to have my license, and slowly I learned to navigate the streets. Not too willingly, but I did.

Right through the 1980s Merida had few international restaurants, and not much of the entertainment I would have liked. Shopping was limited and recreation facilities lacked infrastructure. But I did have a wonderful group of friends. We organized all sorts of parties and met regularly at one another’s homes. I believe a strong network of like-minded friends is essential when living in a country that is not your birthplace.

First-run English-language films have played in the cinemas ever since I started my life in Mérida. With sandwiches and snacks stowed in my oversized purse, we often enjoyed “dinner and a movie” in air-conditioned comfort. I particularly recall the night we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The Milky Way blazed brightly across the night sky as we exited the theater. I smiled and felt a bond with Richard Dreyfus’ character and all the others who’d been searching for something elusive all through the film. I squeezed Jorge’s hand when I realized that despite the challenges, I’d found my special place, thousands of miles away from the land of my birth. Increasingly, I knew it was the right one for me.

Looking back, I know I should have been more culturally aware, but not many of us are at 23, are we? The majority of those who relocate to Yucatan nowadays are closer to the age I am now – nearly seventy. For some, the desire for profound change creeps up over time, and for others, it arrives suddenly and full-on. When the desired change involves moving to a place with a warmer climate, many choose Mexico.

Just as I progressed through the cultural and linguistic maze, those who want to will do likewise. There are many helpful organizations and amenities in place now, so the stress I experienced and the isolation will not be significant issues for today’s newly arriving residents in Yucatan. However, the cultural differences will likely cause some confusion. The legal hurdles can also be daunting.

Investing in a weekend to learn about all the pluses and minuses of international relocation seems like a smart move. And it’s even smarter to do so in winter when the cold weather storms up north!

For more information, visit https://relocationworkshop.com/

You can also subscribe to this blog for workshop updates. Leave your email address at the end of any story, where it says “Follow Blog via Email,” and you’ll receive a notification each time I post.

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Published by Changes in our Lives

I am originally from Canada but have lived in Mexico since 1976. My husband is from Merida, Yucatan and we raised our family here. We both worked for many years at Tecnologia Turistica Total (TTT), the tourism, language and multimedia college we founded for local and international students. Now retired, we enjoy spending time with family and friends, My other interests include reading, painting, cooking and travel.

5 thoughts on “The Mindful Adventurer: A Relocation Workshop in Yucatán

  1. Joanna, What a wonderful post and I hope the seminars are a huge success. For me, when Gordon and I bought the house in Merida, we were delighted to find MEL, the Women’s Club and the Merida Men’s Club. All were such valuable resources for us. Later Gordon joined a local Rotary Club which expanded his horizons. I wish you the best as you prepare for this new venture.

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  2. I’m back. I was remiss in not mentioning your first book, I still have my copy here in NC.
    And your second book was also so helpful that I left it in our house when we sold it in December 2020. I hope the book encourages someone else.
    Thank you for all your thoughtful advice during my time in Merida.

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  3. I researched my move to San Miguel de Allende for 15 years prior to being able to retire and move. The first 13 of those years I’d never been to Mexico, but I knew San Miguel was home. My parents were still living then and each year during vacation time I went to help them. During those years I read everything I could get my hands on about Mexico, its culture, immigration, etc. Of course, the most interesting and helpful books were by those (especially women!) who had already made the move. Your book “Magic Made in Mexico” was by far the most helpful, and I still recommend it to everyone I encounter that’s either thinking about moving to Mexico or already here.

    I’ve been here six years now, and it’s the best, happiest life I’ve ever created for myself. I’m still learning of course – that will be ongoing for life – and still struggling to learn Spanish (masks haven’t helped!) and it’s all so fascinating, so beautiful, so enchanting, that I’m forever grateful for living long enough, and being fortunate enough, to have this adventure.

    “Magic Made in Mexico” remains my very favorite book out of the many I read, not only for the helpful information but also for the love story you shared. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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