If you are contemplating the idea of moving to Mexico for a varying number of reasons, I highly encourage you to do so as I am a hundred percent confident that it will take you out of your comfort zone, change the way you see the world and turn you inside out in ways that you would have never thought possible. And even if you decide it’s not for you after trying it out for six months, what the heck, you’ve at least had the opportunity to live abroad and no one can take that away from you. 

As an avid traveller with over twenty years of quasi nomadic living under my belt, the best education I’ve ever received to date is experiencing culture as a local and embracing everything that the country and its people have to offer. 

There are places in the world that move your soul in ways that are frankly difficult to put in words. It’s the kind of feeling that you’ve come home without really knowing why or how but as I write this from one of my favourite cafes “Ah Cacao” on la quinta at 38th in PDC, having ordered my third tea to continue to have access to wifi codes, my music of inspirational tunes cranked from my itunes and a little dark Mexican chocolate mousse to keep me energized and engaged, I am beyond grateful that Mexico found me. As I write this, goosebumps elate my being with pure joy which is something that I now use as a gauge to determine whether something is worth pursuing. Yep, does it move my soul? If not, is it really worth my time? Let’s face it. Life is short, time is precious and living here has certainly been worth my while. 

I will share a few things about how this country has changed my life in ways that I didn’t anticipate and even though there are uncertainties as I embark on the next chapter of obtaining my official Mexican residence, I do however know one thing is for certain: Destiny and God’s plan led me here for the first time when I was fourteen years old to set my life’s path in motion. 

A family trip to Mazatlan in 1986 turned out to be much more than a vacation for me and one that honestly ended in tears as I quite honestly didn’t want to return to Canada. My vulnerable, and naive teenage heart did not understand why but I acknowledged when I wrote to my penpal Roberto from Chapultepec in Mexico City who I had met poolside one day on this unforgettable trip, that I would become fluent in Spanish. They say that death and taxes are the only certainty in this life but I know that without any doubt as Lady Gaga put it: “Baby, I was born this way.” Yes, I was proudly born ‘latina de corazón’ and that has stuck with me as a kind of mantra and has been a driving force that has kept me truly alive in my 46 years of life.
 
Almost four years ago, even though I was at the height of my entrepreneurial endeavours and athleticism as an Educator, Private Tutor online, Coach, Writer, Marathoner as well as my side gig as a Service Director with the airlines, I knew that I had to start thinking about simplifying my life as I had accumulated a significant amount of debt. If my goal was to retire from the airlines at the 25 year mark or earlier, immediate action needed to be taken! I also acknowledged with every fiber of my being that I no longer wanted to be on the gerbil wheel; paying interest for the rest of my life on stuff that when all was said and done, I could not afford. 
 
When I was given the opportunity to move to in to the family casita that belonged to my boyfriend (at the time) and his brother, was a little hesitant because I knew that it meant giving up the usual comforts and quasi luxury that I had been used to as a former timeshare owner and hotel dweller as a travelling nomad for a living, I knew that it was the right decision. And frankly when I look back now, it was an incredible gift from God and I will be forever grateful to the two hermanos (who I will not name to protect their identity) and their family for giving me a new way of life and a renewed paradigm that I would not give up for anything!

The cute and charming dwelling located in the open, friendly, and relaxed community of Palmas II about 15 minutes from the centre of Playa del Carmen, was the tiniest place that I’ve lived in to date. We even had another one of the guys’ friends from their home town of Huatulco move in with us for a few months so you can well imagine how crowded an up and down town home of about 500 sq. ft. was! We didn’t have a table to eat on, nor chairs to sit on but these were some of the most character building and impactful moments of my life. There were moments of "God what have I done?" but for the most part I wholeheartedly embraced the experience. Instead of feeling a lack of or wishing things were different, I immediately embraced what was to become a big part of my personal metamorphosis. I additionally came to understand that when all of the so called modern conveniences to which we become accustomed are stripped away, this is when existence stares you in the face and forces you to look at what is really important. In essence, who you truly are has absolutely nothing to do with ‘the fancy’ stuff and when all of the so called comforts are removed from everyday living and this bizarre and constant hunger for more of the material lessens, laughter and anecdotal moments take their place and life becomes less of an uphill grind. Acceptance sets in and resistance becomes clearly futile as you go with the flow. In retrospect, I would not have changed a thing and have come away from this experience a better, stronger, more grateful and adaptable person for it.

In a nutshell, I have acquired a lot of life lessons (I will only share a few as the rest will come in more detail in my upcoming book) that I know I never would have actualized if I had remained living the North American way:

 

1.The Illusion of FOMO

The idea of staying at home before living in Mexico was frankly daunting! I had constant FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that would keep me operating energetically on a level that was frankly, in the long run, not sustainable. The illusion that this adrenaline high signified an incredible state of productivity, kept me going like an energizer bunny until eventually, after a few bouts of ill health, I came to embrace the importance of adequate and sound sleep. The guys were big sleepers (dormilones) and I too began to embrace the siesta. I came to realize after becoming a bit of ‘a dormilona’ myself, that it is somehow trendy and cool in North America to not have sufficient rest and there are associated bragging rights that go along with it. Yep, I used to always comment on how I was operating on two hours of sleep after an overseas flight and then raring to go for the rest of the day, building my business as an entrepreneur who would never slow down. I would tell people how I ran the New York marathon for the second time in 2016 on 90 minutes of rest; not intentionally of course as I was sharing a room with a dear family of snorers but heck, I beat my time from the previous year. This is no joke folks! Well, when I became injured in 2016 post Honolulu Marathon and didn’t get the proper treatments and listen to my body when I should have, I woke up one day not being able to move at all. Yep, I got a big wake up call! 

 I remember when I travelled to the Caribbean for the first time and noticed how slowly people were walking which upon first glance, just seemed bloody slow and lazy. I can proudly say after living in PDC for four years, that I have come to truly understand that moving at a slower pace is mandatory for survival and a way of not collapsing in the heat! Yep. It is ok to take it down a notch sometimes. 

 

2.) When you don’t have cash, credit doesn’t cut it

For the commoner in Mexico, obtaining outrageous credit limits isn’t something that to which they have access. God, what a blessing! Living in this country has taught me to live more like a commoner and change my perspective all together on consumption. I immediately observed the forward thinking mentality of the hermanos who would always put the necessary funds they needed to pay the basics in an empty protein canister, almost like the envelope system that many financial books teach. When there wasn’t money left over to go out to eat or for entertainment, they would find creative ways of entertaining themselves at home with workouts of their own making, karaoke to YouTube tunes (with the interruption of ads of course), conversing about the absurd and important, Netflix series, parrilladas (bbqs) with friends and picnics at the beach and the list of creative forms of entertainment went on. I learned to adopt this way of life and I know for certain that my culinary skills improved as a result of following their lead and using whatever was available in the fridge instead of obsessively hoarding food as though the apocalypse were about to happen. Well, ok, so I did buy a little too much food here and there but it was all because I love to cook and made many homemade meals for us to enjoy. 

This drastic change of lifestyle was seriously one of the best things that could have ever happened to me! I strive to transfer my new habits when I go back to Vancouver by taking inventory of everything that I have in the fridge instead of obsessively following my cravings and allowing my curiosity to compulsively purchase the latest in culinary delights. Frankly though, in certain cases, buying groceries can be a lot more expensive than eating out at a cheap Asian restaurant in Van City! I get a lot of satisfaction when I come out of Chedraui in PDC with 6 bags of groceries for the price of 2 bags that I would get at Safeway! 
Something else that I must mention is that I used to have a lack of understanding of the cultural context of what ahorita meant as it is literally a diminutive for the word now but when pronounced in slow motion with a slightly elevated enunciation in the end, it signifies later in Mexican Spanish. Haha. Well, this word alone has taught me about the importance of patience and being a lot less impulsive than I used to be. 

 

3.) Learn to Laugh at Yourself and Don’t Take Life so Damn Seriously

One of the most endearing things about Mexicans that I learned from living with los hermanos, is their ability to laugh at themselves and their circumstances. We can beat ourselves up forever and a day and analyse the crap out of our wrongdoings and past baggage, but really, why bother? Life is too damn short to be caught up in this rhetoric. While I wholeheartedly embrace self reflection and self improvement, remaining stuck in an old story just isn’t useful.

Living in the moment is something that Mexico has taught me and that nothing is as bad as it seems or can’t be fixed with a little mezcalito and belly laughs among friends. The sense of humor that has a touch of silliness, sarcasm and satire is indeed a very charming part of the culture that I have fully embraced. Being fluent in Spanish and in tune with cultural nuances have helped me to develop a more profound understanding of what it means to be mexicana. And so my journey continues and I very much look forward to the adventures that lie ahead in a country that has changed my life for the better. I am definitely looking forward to buying real estate in Mexico in the near future to make this special country more of a permanent home.


By Leah T. Sakata