Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Launching the Adventure

This adventure wasn't launched on a whim. It was a long time coming, including years of research, and much soul-searching by me about giving up my 31 year career, and by my wife about giving up our beautiful, comfortable, paid-for home in Oregon to make a leap into the unknown. It took from January 2006 when I finally said "enough!" and decided to retire from a job I had loved but was ready to leave, until June 30, 2007 when we actually crossed the border.

In the Winter and Spring of 2006 we intensified our research, drew up lists, set priorities, and made a test visit to Ajijic that summer to see what it felt like when our boots were on the ground. I completed my final day at work December 15, 2006 and we then spent the next six and a half months totally focused on the move.

We decided to utilize my union organizing skills, long in service to others, now refocused to help keep us on track. We made plans and time lines and task lists and all the rest, and we needed them all. We had to sell our house, even as the real estate market began to teeter and groan, in preparation for its later crash. We had to consolidate our finances so we could access all of our investments and bank accounts on-line. To dispose of most of our possessions, including some furniture I had clung to from my early-70's Air Force days in the Far East, we decided not to sell things, but to give them away, much to the delight of my coworkers and the Goodwill. Passports, birth certificates, immunizations and all the rest of the endless details of an international move consumed our final weeks. And then it was done.

We drove our small Toyota, packed to the roof, through the scorching summer weather from Salem, Oregon to Laredo, Texas. Taking a deep breath, we braved the maze of Mexican customs and immigration, an astonishingly easy and reassuringly friendly process. Of course, a big part of the ease was due to the research and preparation we had obsessively pursued, and these have paid off handsomely and repeatedly for us throughout our first four months in Mexico.

In recent days, Carole and I have been working on our Spanish. Last month, we took a four week course (four classes, once a week) which got us familiar with some basic pronunciation rules, numbers, weekdays etc. The kind of stuff you need to make sure you're ordering soup and not a carburetor repair.

The class was offered by the Lake Chapala Society, a 3500 member volunteer organization of expatriates which has wonderful facilities in Ajijic. The LCS was founded decades ago and one of the key figures was Neill James, a female WWII Mata-hari who was nearly incinerated not once but twice climbing local volcanoes. She lived to the ripe old age of 99 and donated her property, including mind-boggling gardens, to be the headquarters of LCS.

The town is crawling with unusual Gringo types, off-beat, up-beat, down-beat, and some just plain-vanilla Beats. Some of them look like Jack Keroac characters, others appear to be gray-haired survivors of Woodstock. And then there are the artists, both Mexican and expatriate, who have festooned Ajijic with wall murals, sculptures, kinetic art, and paintings. Everyone seems to have gotten into the act by treating their homes as art media, bringing wildly extravagant colors together that anyone outside of Mexico could never imagine would work. But it does. I have scores of pictures of the most remarkable doors, windows and various chatzkes people have installed, some functional, some esoteric, some just for fun. And in truth, humor is a thread that runs throughout the art of Ajijic and of Mexico in general. It is great fun just to wander the streets, never knowing what you might encounter.