FIRST YEAR OF RETIREMENT
Everybody from work I bump into asks how I am liking retirement. The short answer is that I love it. What’s not to like? Getting up at your leisure, enjoying your first coffee of the day in peace and quiet and then determining what else you want to do that day. It is a luxury that I only now appreciate to the full extent, after experiencing this marvellous gift for a couple of months short of a year. It took a few months to completely relax and to let the world of work fade into the background.
I decided that was the time to retire and I set the process in working at the end of 2015. The sale of my home of 15 years would provide me with substantial more than I paid for it and allowed me to pay off my debts. Leading up to the day of retirement, I first took my vacation days for an extended stay at my borrowed, second home in Mexico.
I was enrolled in an on-line writing course with UBC that started in the new year. I worked from the roof top mirador (literally: view point) in the sun. I wrote the outline of my third novel with the smell of Mexico in my nose. I returned to Canada in mid-March.
On March 1, 2016 I put up my home for sale and sold it within three days for above-asking price, with a couple of offers on the go. I was lucky for it was the right time in the real estate market. After paying off my debts, I had enough left over to put an offer on a home in Mexico the following week, in the quaint village where I have been visiting for a number of years. I had been looking for years while asking the locals about anything available that I might be able to afford.
Until this year, I wasn’t able to move on actually buying. My offer (significantly below asking) was accepted. Houses do not sell quickly in Ajijic and it had been for sale for some years, while the winter rentals provided a nice income for the owners in the meantime. How could I lose?
The photo is blurry, because the ladies were jumping, trying to avoid the cucarachas they imagined climbing up to their legs. I had not fumigated the casa before our arrival and there were some of these Mexican creatures running around when we arrived.
I spent two weeks in June in my Mexican village together with two of my friends to take possession of my new home and to get things organised with the caretaker. My home there is larger and more beautiful than anything I owned in Canada, although it is still simple, built and decorated Mexican style.
In November I made the trip again and I will stay here until spring 2017. The weather is perfect to me, between 22 and 27 degrees with cooler nights, sunny most days or at least for part of the day.
A year of not working, what is that like?
My home in Kelowna in the strata complex was not as restful as expected, with a new problem of second hand smoke from all the smoking neighbours penetrating my digs to a significant level throughout the day. I was glad to lock my door and leave for Mexico.
My days here in Mexico and in Kelowna have evolved into a general routine. I work through the mornings on my book manuscript and writing stories. Then I shop for my daily groceries. It feels like I have returned to the rhythm of my home country in the Netherlands with daily shopping for what you need and not anything more. Stockpiling is a waste and not necessary.
Here in Mexico I have a small tienda (shop) across from me, and three more around the corner; the baker brings daily fresh bolillos (buns) to the shops. By 11 a.m. these are sold out and the lunch preparations already started everywhere. Many small shops and restaurants offer food for low prices, and most shops have their specialities. No need to make your own tortillas, others will do that for you, and every day fresh. Beans, or refried beans in small or larger containers, tamales and empenadas, or for the Gringos more usual fare. Hamburgesas are everywhere available. From 2-4 most shops close for a rest. I have come to appreciate a little snooze at siesta time.
The afternoon here starts after 4 p.m. and are really evenings, as it gets dark after 6:00. Most people work till 7 p.m. after which their dinner time starts. I generally am a bit earlier, and I take most meals at home.
Mexican families in my neighbourhood enjoy their leisure time in the streets, half on their narrow sidewalks, and half inside, with kids playing on the streets. The children are out late, but by 10 p.m. all is quiet. At fiesta times it is not unusual to see a group start a small fire on the cobblestones in the street, to chase the cooler night air away while socializing, sitting on the sidewalk, or on plastic chairs, or just standing around, while the kids are playing.
The toro and the Zayacas are important symbols of the culture. The bull fighters are the Charros who represent courage and agility and form an integral part of the community and its history of bull fighting, giving young men an opportunity to show courage. Some cities still have bullfights. In Ajijic the bull does not get killed or injured. During the last fiesta the previous year, too many kids had entered the bull pen, so the event was cancelled. Horses are plentiful and mostly pets. During Carnaval there is bullfighting in the evenings.
The Zayacas are men impersonating women, a complicated symbol of a complicated gender relationship. They will have a bag of flower and will”spray” you with flour, if you get too close or are tempted into a dance with them.
Sometimes I am out in the evening to see the procession for a fiesta when there is one happenin or go for a walk along the malecon (boulevard that borders the lake) or I stroll around on the plaza in the centre of town, where all roads lead to. I meet some friends/acquaintances and chat for a minute in the street. I meet new people while having a coffee at the coffee shop, or a margarita rocas at the Music Box pub. When at home, I watch my TV news and a movie on my Apple gadget in the evenings.
Occasional visitors are staying at my place the odd time. We try to do various activities in town and in the region. My last visitor and I have visited the hot springs and pools in the next town over, San Juan de Cosala, and went for a change of scenery to the larger town of Chapala a few times, where I also paid my tax bill for the year—less than the price of a dress. (I now pay my own bills, since I lost my house manager; she found me too demanding and since I am not going to rent out the place in winter, that was just as well.)
For the first time, I went with my friend for a spell at the casino located between the two towns, where a modern mall with food court and a Wal-mart outlet across the road attracts a different kind of clientele, mostly young people and gringos. We even found a Danish bakery there with a breakfast and lunch deli that sold excellent sourdough bread.
It is easy to get around without a car. The local bus in Mexico costs 7 pesos (CAD .50), and the express bus 10 pesos. The latter will go to Guadalajara, which costs more. The local bus runs every half hour and more often at rush hour.
Local agencies offer day tours in the area for about $30 for nearby trips that include a guide who speaks English. For longer trips including hotel around the state of Jalisco you pay more of course, such as to the Monarch buttefly sanctuary.
Guadalajara’s oldest church in Centro
My visiting friend and I took a trip to Tlaquepaque and Tonala, old towns that have been absorbed by the city of Guadalajara and are famous for their craftsmanship. We visited the workshop (taller) of a well-known, ageing ceramic artist who also took up painting. His family runs the front of his casa where they sell tacos and other Mexican delights.
On this trip we were granted an exclusive visit to a vast warehouse full of decorative metal products where we could purchase anything, if so desired. The trip then brought us to a glass workshop where the recycled glass was used to make decorative as well as functional products.
Everything you saw in that home decor store in the US, Canada, or Europe was most likely made in Tonala, although China has started to copy its products, so look for the Hecho en Mexico sign.
Salvador Vasquez’ depiction of a Spanish ruler.
My real work is the writing work in which I can determine my own pace. My manuscript for a third novel is now in advanced stage and I am polishing it up, to be ready for the agents I will meet at the San Miguel de Allende Writers Conference in February, just in case they ask me to send some of my work.
Occasionally I meet others here in the streets, as some gringos on vacation seem nicer here than at home and more open for a chat and making a connection, although many gringos at first walk by you with their noses in the air and hardly bother to greet you back. I found that those who live here full time are nice, and the Canadians are definitively nicer than the Americans here, generally speaking. But then again, I might be biased.
The patio where I work.
I have gone to another dimension, here in retirement. The life of work is so far behind me that I can’t believe it has only been a year. The nervous tension caused by expectations of others and the demands of supervisors and the conventions of social control is such an invisible environmental pressure that it takes to be completely away from it for an extended time before it even hits home what it was that made one feel tense.
Being away from my country makes it more obvious that the secret of a successful retirement is finding a comfortable environment. The living is very easy in Mexico. Live and let live. Everybody leaves me alone unless I indicate I seek connections. My neighbours know me and say hello and chat when I chat, although with my limited knowledge of Spanish it won’t be a long talk.
The odd creepy feeling comes over me and then I check where it comes from. Mostly it is from warnings from others that have taken up the media prejudice against Mexico: Is it safe there? That in the USA more attacks and more shootings occurred in which the general public was the victim than in Mexico from violence between the cartels is an inconvenient fact that most ignore.
It took a while to find out that the collection of youth gathering most nights in front of my home, are just that: Friends who gather, have a drink, or smoke up some, and quietly spend time together, talking. They remember their friend, Cleo, who killed himself some years back. His name is on the pedestal of the statue that forms a small altar for the Virgen de Guadalupe. They politely return my greetings when I arrive at my place when they are there.
I feel great.The first year of my retirement has been a success.