I’m in the process of deciding where to unpack my suitcases and hang up my art. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been traveling in Mexico as both a vacation with a friend and a bit of scouting. As I ride buses and trains and ponder the upcoming years, I have been compiling a list of both needs and preferences for a home-base.
Here is the check-list so far:
- Family and friends. My family is mostly in the US, and my friends are all over the world. Where are they likely to come see me, and how easy will it be for me to travel to them? I’ll make new friends, of course, but on this trip I’ve been visiting old friends and family, and I’m reminded about how much I have missed them.
- Affordability. I have to be able to live on my $1300 a month from Social Security, so it is a prime consideration.
- Legal Status. Each country has a variety of requirements to obtain legal status. It may be fine to make a regular visa run when you are in your 6os, but it will become much more difficult with age. Proper legal status is important for me. In Thailand the current military government is making it difficult on expats and some are having to leave. Having to leave a place you’ve made home when you are old is traumatic.
- People. The most important thing of all is a mix of people with the probability of friendships and companionship. Finding a core group of people with shared values and interests is necessary.
- Language. For a gringo relocating to a Latin American country, this may not be a huge hurdle. Spanish is actually easy to acquire, and most people from the US know way more or it than they may think. Asian languages are much more difficult, and aside from some food names, little of these languages has entered the American vocabulary. That is a very clear distinction to consider.
- Culture. This can mean a lot of different things, but for me it means a variety of peoples, not high art. In Durango a couple of weeks ago, I was in the main plaza on a Friday night. At one end, down a pedestrian street, young people gathered at bars and live pop, techno and hip-hop music competed. In the main plaza there were mariachi bands and guitarists, and at the far other end, outside a colonial church, there was a free opera performance. In Creel, a town in Copper Canyon, the town square filled with Raramuri, the local indigenous people, while the young Mexicanos cruised the streets in their cars. For me, that is culture.
- Climate. I am coming to realize that, after 13 years of sweating in Asia, I’m ready for someplace cooler, but not cold! More than that, a comfortable climate now feels like a necessity. I’m currently in Mazatlan, and I dread going out in the sweltering heat and humidity.
- Beauty. I learned a long time ago that I’m not really happy in a place that lacks physical beauty. Beauty is subjective, of course, but for me it means elements of natural and human-created soulfulness.
- Access to medical care. Yes, after beauty and climate comes medical care. My priorities are not always so pragmatic. Access to medical care includes proximity and affordability.
- Terrain. A consideration these days for me is having a flat enough terrain to get around on foot. I don’t want to have a car. I had a place in mind in Mexico, and had even bought some land there, and now I realize that I couldn’t navigate the hills and the cobbled and stone streets now, let alone 10 years from now.
- Food! When I go to markets as I travel, I find that some of them make me want to stop right there and get a kitchen. I prefer to cook my own food most of the time, and I love a lot of different cuisines, but there must be availability of fresh, local varied ingredients.
- Coffee. Not a deal breaker, but it does matter. When I lived in Bangladesh I had to bring coffee from neighboring Nepal or Thailand. There was some canned and instant stuff in the stores, but I tried to make sure I never ran out of fresh beans.
- Amenities. Internet, electricity, and the basic necessities. I’m not too fussed by not having access to big box stores, or even variety stores.
- Tranquility. One thing I noticed while spending time in one Mexican village was that there was noise at all times of the day and night. It wasn’t just when the fireworks factory exploded in the middle of siesta, but rather often at unpredictable times. Another town, considerably larger, was much more tranquil at night and during siesta.
That is the operational list at the moment. More things may come up. If you think of something, please respond. I’d love to hear suggestions.