The price of sanity

If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you know that I had a lot of reasons for deciding to move to Latin America.  But if I had to boil them all down, I’d say it was to finally, once and for all, seize the day.

Remember days?  They used to have them up in the States also.  We used them for reading books, hitting baseballs and petting our dogs.  Sometimes we’d get an ice cream. Every once in a while, we’d have a bad one; a day when a plan fell through or a toe got stubbed.  But we had a secret weapon against those.  It was called tomorrow and–like an unopened gift–there was no telling what was inside.

Then something happened.  We could debate just exactly what it was, but the net effect was that days started colliding together and melting into each other.  They became this sort of amorphous blob of gadgets, money problems, politics, sleep aids and fear that no longer seemed to have any discernible structure.  Pretty soon we were setting calendar alerts to remind us to wash our underwear.

Here in Mexico, I’m living my life in 24 hour increments again.  Each generally begins with plucking a small drowned rat from the pool and flinging it across the fence.  This is a daily gift from our cat who goes out into the night desert, brings them home, and makes them walk the plank.  It is what it is.

Next I’ll fire up the coffee maker and practice my Spanish as it drips.  Then, if it’s a workday and I have projects waiting, I’ll step out to my poolside office armed with a laptop and flip flops.  Remember trying to study outside back in college?  Well for some reason it works much better at age 49.  I suspect it’s because my testicles have dropped.

My writing seems to be evolving as well.  It’s as if someone unscrewed a plate in the back of my head, remove a filter clogged with First World trappings, swished it around in the Sea of Cortez and reinserted it.  Professional writing projects are being completed and approved in record time.  My own writing–little bits of fiction mostly–has never come more easily.

This blog, however, has been neglected.  There are many reasons for this, but it’s a trend I plan to reverse.  After all, this is “The Big Reveal.”  The payoff I promised you all back in May of 2012 when I suddenly realized I was about to do something crazy.

Although we chose NOT to live as cheaply as possible for the first 6 months, we are learning that life can be very inexpensive here, if it needs to be.  Our large Mexican adobe–with a boat, a pool, more than a dozen citrus and mango trees, and a groundskeeper to take care of it all–is not cheap.  Frankly, telling you the rent would be counter-productive.  Most of you are interested in how inexpensively you can live, and this is not a good example of it.

However, if we were older and trying to live on a couple of social security checks, there are ways to do that here and maybe even put a few bucks in savings at the end of the month.  As I’ve mentioned before, Loreto is struggling economically.  There are brand new apartments just down the road from us, in a very safe, almost too-quiet, area of Nopolo for just $300 per month.  But apparently even that is considered extravagant by some expats we’ve met.  One lady we encountered on the street told us she rented a “great little place” in the Saragosa district for $100 a month.  Of course we met her because she was handing out flyers offering a reward for her recently stolen laptop.  If that sounds just a little too “affordable” for you, any number of large, like-new homes with pools, garages, furniture, dishes, linens and modern appliances can be rented for $800-$1,000 while they sit abandoned, waiting to sell.  If you have negotiating skills, it’s anyone’s guess what you could work out.’

As for the cost of groceries, gasoline, electricity, etc., most of it is cheaper than the States, some of it is not.  The Baja is a bit unique in that very little is grown or made here.  It’s a strip of desert surrounded by saltwater.  So gasoline, for example, goes for about what it does in the States.  Here are some other indications of cost for you to consider…

Produce: cheap if you buy it as the farmer’s market on Sundays.  A solid week’s worth of can be hand-selected, bagged and drug home for $15-$20 US.  There are produce-only markets in town, called “Fruterias” if you happen to miss a Sunday.  The prices are comparable, or a few pesos more.  Of course you are free to pay too much, if you choose, by simply going to the gringo-style grocery store.

Meat: it’s a similar story as produce.  The farmer’s market has beautiful meats and cheeses, more or less shaded from the sun, for reasonably low prices.  Careful when you reach inside that chicken to remove the giblets, though.  There are a couple of feet in there, with pointy talons.

Tortillas: hot off the press or, my favorite, precooked (“precocida, por favor”) for the first couple of coins you find in your pocket.  Purchase these at “Tortillerias” located up and down Benito Juarez Street.

Beer: Not super cheap, slightly less than in the States, I guess.  Whiskey is hard to find and also not cheap.  The finest Tequila money can buy however (100% agave) can be had for as low as $12 a 950ml bottle.  About 1/3 of what it would go for in the States, I’m told.

Dish Satellite TV: we haven’t gotten around to this yet, because Netflix works down in Mexico now.  But if we did, it would go for $12 US a month.

Telephone service: So far, we can’t figure out why anyone would pay for it.  You’ve seen the Magic Jack commercial right?  Well it’s not bullshit.  I talk to family, friends and clients as if they were right next door.  It’s reliable enough that I’ve used it to make large presentations to corporate vice-presidents without a hitch.  Next week I’m going to try it on a CEO while he lights cigars with $100 bills.

Electricity: We just discovered a bill for our first two months, rolled up and wedged in the wooden slats of our front gate.  Good thing it wasn’t windy.  $100 a month.  Not horrible considering we’ve got both pool and well pumps kicking on and off regularly.  Like the rest of Mexico, we use lights sparingly at night, opting for your standard, government-issue Jesus candles at 10 pesos apiece (about 80 cents).  There is irony here that I won’t go into.

WiFi: This goes for something like $30 a month and comes with a Mexican phone line as well.  The broadband is First World fast and reliable.  The phone line sounds great, but every time we answer it a flurry of Spanish gets thrown at us.  We hope they’re just sales calls, because either way they’re getting hung up on.

Sea Bass: Pitched fresh from the Sea of Cortes daily.  Delicious and made even more so by its price of perhaps a couple bucks a pound.

Clams: Even fresher than the sea bass as evidenced by the fact that they are often served open face, uncooked and, yes, still moving.  My brother Mike and I enjoyed them on his birthday.  Diana ate one so she could say she did it.  For the record, none of us detected anything wiggling on our tongues.  About $7 bucks for a plateful at a beachside restaurant appropriately named The Clam Shack.

Dove Ice Cream Bars: $5 apiece.  Don’t buy these if you can avoid it.

Hasta manana.  And by “manana” I mean, pretty soon.












15 thoughts on “The price of sanity

  1. John

    thanks for the update, lots of people following you. need more pics! what happened to the pics of your dad with the shark? I may have to go to mexico soon, if i am in Lorato i will try to look you up
    Keep having fun. oh, i like the dead mouse in the pool story.

    • Thanks Steve,
      By the way, I don’t know if you know this, but you were one of the first people to point us toward the Baja with your recommendations of Conception Bay and Mulege. Just another example of why I recommend blogging to anyone pondering a big move like this. Be sure to look us up if you head this way. We’d love to buy you dinner and meet you personally.

  2. Hey been following this blog for a while glad to see that you got back to writing something cause I checked out for a while. Went to loreto last summer with my daughter and we loved it. Hadn’t been there in 20 years. I looked for some rentals but certainly didn’t find the prices you talked about. I am thinking of living the endless summer when I retire and loreto is on my list. How do you find some of the rental deals you were referring to.


    • Hi Dave, and thanks for reading. So far, in our experience, driving around an area looking for signs is only marginally productive. The best approach is to find someone in the property management business, preferably a gringo unless you know conversational Spanish, and pick their brains. The $300 studio condos and $500 two bedroom apartments (all brand new) were completely unmarked when we visited last October. It wasn’t until we found a Canadian gal in property management that we started learning what was really available and at what actual price. Here’s one more quick example that I’ll probably blog about in more depth soon: we went to Todos Santos the other day to look around and met with a property gal who showed us a beautiful 2 bed, two bath, adobe style home, less than four years old on a 1/2 acre lot with a view of the ocean. The internet had it listed for $249,000, which seemed reasonable actually. When we verbally asked us the price, however, she said $129,000 or make an offer. I don’t use the word “shocking” very often, but that qualified. Like many other houses in the area, this one was available for rent while it was languishing on the market. We got edged out by someone else the day before who signed a longterm rental agreement, sight unseen. For $600/month.

      • Thanks John. I am looking at coming down in July hopefully so I may try to get with a property manager and see what they can show me.

        On another note have you ever gone over to Yucatan area? That is another area I am considering.

      • Hola,

        I don’t know if you will see this since the post was a while ago but do you remember the name of the girl/property company who showed you the house? We just moved to Todos from the States and are in a cheap short-term rental we found online but hoping to find something a little nicer. We are hoping to hear of something through word of mouth but we’ve only been here two weeks and don’t know many people yet. Anyway, hope you post again soon, your blog was inspiring to me while we were planning this move and it’s always great to encounter some like-minded people. 🙂


      • Casey, I think Diana said she got you this info on that, but please let us know how it turns out for you. Todo Santos is a great little town. Strangely, the biggest downside for me was that almost everybody speaks English there. I’m really enjoying learning Spanish, but I know my motivation would go away if I didn’t need to use it on a regular basis. If you haven’t already, try some of the beers from the Baja Brewing Company. Some of the best micro-brews I’ve ever had!

      • Thanks, John. We ended up renting a great little house near the beach through someone we knew, but only have it till November so I will probably be in touch with the gal you guys used. Diana sent me her info. I totally know what you mean about everyone speaking English, though I’m learning that’s really just people in the service industry, which makes sense since this is a tourist-oriented town. Most of the Mexicans we’ve met here who don’t work at hotels/bars/restaurants speak limited English so there is still strong motivation to learn in order to make Mexican friends. A lot of gringos manage to live here a long time without learning Spanish, kind of sad.

        A couple of places in town serve Baja Brewing Co beers and I agree, they’re excellent! I went to the main location in San Jose del Cabo a couple of days ago and they also have great food. Anyway, thank you both for your help and keep in touch. :)- Casey

  3. Hey John,

    Just found and read your entire blog today. What an experience! I’m very jealous and inspired. My wife and I are hoping to move to Latin America in the next 2-5 years (when I’ll be a BMW technician, my wife will be a certified ESL teacher, we’ll have no debt, no kids and both be fluent in Spanish – essentially when all the stars are THEORETICALLY aligning). We intend to live as cheaply as possible and both work in our respective fields. I was wondering if you had any more pointers you could give us that you’ve learned since your big leap (other countries you’d look into, insider tips, etc.) Anyway, if nothing else, I’ve loved reading your blog today and I hope you continue to update it. Thanks!

    -John D.

    • Thanks John, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I definitely do have more tips and ideas for anyone thinking to making the leap in the next few years. I’m hoping to get my next post out this weekend and it will be specifically about all the questions we had coming down, and the often very simple answers we’ve arrived at since. In other words, the information I wish I had known about a year ago. Still, the learning is an experience of its own, and really is all part of the fun.
      Thanks again for your time and interest!

      • Great, thanks! Really appreciate you taking time to answer questions and share insight when you could be out exploring.

  4. Help! I’m having trouble living vicariously through your experience without more posts 🙂 I’m stuck here in the first world with three young kids.

  5. Lol – Matt! I feel the same way. Im looking to make the leap to a brighter future as well.

    John has gifted us with his travel and relocation experiences through incredible wit and talented writing. I check this blog regularly, eager to soak up both. Alas, he must be (understandably) busy.

    Hope all is well with you John… Thanks for this blog too!

  6. Hey John,

    I got completely hooked on your blog and just finished reading from start to finish today. You are an inspiration, as is Maya, and the others seeking out a new “manana’ lifestyle. I live in Los Angeles and am so anxious to get out of here. Anyways, I was reading these great business ideas and had a couple questions. First off, do you have any insight or info on how difficult it would be securing a work visa in Ecuador? Or more simply, how hard would it actually be to start a small business or even find work down there? My other question is, since you have stated there is one type of cerveza down there, could I possibly pay for the rent using my home brew skills? It seems there would have to be some expats down there craving some good IPAs and what not. Hope Mexico is treating you well. I have sent your blog to others, as it has truly been inspiring and a great tool in the process of pursuing a new life outside of the US.

  7. Hey John,

    Just waiting on your next installment! All is well here, as I have negotiated my job to be done remotely, as long as I spend 3 months in the US. Tina is working on the same type of gig. Make money in dollars, spend money in pesos. At this point, it looks like the best possibility. Everything is falling into place. We are going to Chile and Argentina in November, and Costa Rica in February. My retirement will begin in July of 2014. We are going to live in 6 destinations of my choice for 1 month each, and 6 places chosen by Tina. After that, we will choose 3 or 4 to spend additional time in. Glad to hear all is well with you, but we need more posts! Thanks for the blog, and raise a glass to the possibility that our paths will cross someday!

    Ed & Tina

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