Living Vibrantly—Embrace the Process, Love the Journey!
Published Feb 1, 2010 - (Updated Aug 30, 2013)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2010 issue.
After years of career obligations and parenting responsibilities, many in the second half of life discover an incredible opportunity for reinvention. Dreams put on hold re-emerge in the psyche. Plans relegated to “some day” beckon with renewed fervor, fanned by the potential of realization. Pursuits placed on the back burner move to the forefront of possibility. La vida buena calls out seductively with the enticing promise of reFIREment for those willing to rise to the challenge.
But how does one start this exciting process of transformation and revitalization? An essential preliminary step is getting in touch with who you really are and what you value. What stimulates your creative juices and awakens your joie de vivre like no other? What brings peace, serenity and a sense of well-being? What is important in your day-to-day existence? What personally constitutes living vibrantly? (Can’t wait to find out? Go to the sidebar for a quick summary. But why not give yourself the gift of time, kick back for a bit and leisurely read all the details below?)
There’s only one good thing about snow, it makes your lawn look as nice as your neighbor’s!
Once equipped with self-knowledge, many conclude that a complete change of locale is the first order of business. Weary of cold winters, slippery streets, icy walkways, overcast days, endless rain and other less-than-ideal weather, many look to more temperate climates for a kinder, gentler way of life. Intent upon escaping the harsh elements, some Canadians and Americans set their sites on Florida and Arizona.
Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
For others, climate is but one facet of a more inclusive criterion that guides their decision to relocate and accounts in large part for the contingent of expatriates who opt for Mexico—Puerto Vallarta, in particular. The near-perfect weather here—averaging 300 sunny days per year and temps of 73 degrees, with virtually no rainfall November through May—goes hand-in-hand with an unparalleled ambiance that combines the breathtaking natural beauty of lush vegetation, exotic animal life, spectacular sunsets, hidden waterfalls, lazy rivers, pristine beaches and crystalline sea, stunning architectural designs, funky sidewalk cafes, elegant restaurants, chic boutiques and a casual, yet sophisticated air. The area’s natural diversity offers a radical change in scenery and climate within an hour’s drive and precludes having to choose between the mountains and ocean—offering both, as well as a verdant jungle teeming with wild orchids, vanilla vines, bamboo, rubber trees and some 400 varieties of tropical and migratory birds.
Stateside, a deer dashing across the highway is an occasional delight. In Vallarta, a prehistoric-looking orange iguana lounging overhead as one dines al fresco, a chirping gecko scurrying across one’s wall, a flock of green parrots fluttering from palm to palm, a humpback whale breaching in the bay and dolphins cavorting are regular occurrences. “It’s magical” is the phrase often used by expats to explain their love affair with Vallarta, and it seems to resonate on many levels that nourish mind, body and soul.
Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.
In addition to the beautiful physicality of this place, another equally compelling aspect of the “ambiance” is the genuine charm of the Mexican people and the appeal of their attitudes, culture and way of life, combined with the small-town feel of the community. For many an expat who has long endured the impersonality, formality and complexity of big-city life and corporate careers, the warmth and friendliness of the nationals and a simpler approach to most everything are a significant draw. Being able to walk to one’s grocery store, dry cleaner, gym, coffee shop and theater—and enjoy the attendant camaraderie and discovery along the way—is especially appealing to those more habituated to navigating suburban sprawl and negotiating busy four-lane highways.
Customs, activities and sights—perhaps unremarkable to locals—are an ongoing source of delight for those unaccustomed to being addressed as “amiga” in lieu of “ma’am” by smiling vendors, enjoying an impromptu serenade while riding the bus, discovering hand-crafted piñatas or homemade tortillas in the making while wandering the neighborhoods, routinely receiving a greeting kiss from casual acquaintances encountered en route, hearing the insistent bray of a donkey over a romantic candlelit dinner, driving behind a truck full of friends enjoying the open-air transport, observing children at play on the cobblestone streets amid family elders communing at day’s end on plastic chairs just outside their doorstep.
Life is change. Growth is optional.
—Karen Kaiser Clarke
While the slower pace and intimacy of a small-town community attract many, opportunities for personal development are also essential to Baby Boomers, many of whom measure life not by “the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Relieved of career obligations, active Boomers are not about to spend their precious discretionary time watching paint dry, no matter how quaint and friendly the town or how ideal their surroundings.
Many a visitor has made Vallarta a longer-term home after seeing its impressive offering of recreational options, including golf, tennis, fishing, kayaking, water parks, boating, snorkeling, diving, parasailing, beachcombing, horseback riding, zip-lining through the rainforest, cruising and swimming (with or without dolphins), to name but a few. Such recreational activities, combined with more ecological adventures in the mangroves, sea and jungle allowing for up-close-and-personal encounters with wild manta rays, migrating turtles and majestic humpback whales, among others, provide all the ingredients for a jam-packed agenda of thrilling activities.
Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.
Also important is the presence of interesting, vibrant people and amenities that nurture cultural, educational and spiritual development. Vallarta serves these needs through numerous fine art galleries and weekly art walks, an international film festival now in its sixth iteration, a gourmet week that draws culinary masters from around the world, a community choir and chamber orchestra that present semi-annual concerts, public sculpture walking tours, a stellar botanical garden, free twice-weekly municipal performances in the Main Plaza, Spanish immersion schools, cooking and art courses, an unparalleled variety of restaurants and ethnic cuisines, a writers group and annual literary conference, a library with both English and Spanish texts, meditation groups and all levels and disciplines of yoga, dance and acting classes from tango to improvisation, multiple-screen movie theaters, places of worship for many denominations, music ranging from Peruvian pan flutes, reggae and Cuban to ranchera-style Mexican fare, a nearby university and gastronomical institute for those fluent in Spanish and—perhaps most important—a unique cadre of active expats whose eclectic life experiences, exposure to other parts of the world and taste for adventure are an excellent base for developing fulfilling friendships.
With the opening of a new convention center last season and a performing arts center currently under construction in El Centro, Vallarta will be poised to attract ongoing international talent and conferences. An English-speaking, well-supported community theater troupe, season and venue, such as expats relish in Ajijic, would complete the cultural picture.
The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.
As often occurs in mid-life and beyond, many Boomers have a compelling need to “give back” and make a difference in the lives of others, lending vitality to both those receiving and those giving. In Vallarta the opportunities for personal, hands-on involvement in charitable and social justice efforts are multiple and fulfilling, whether it’s helping realize the lifelong dream of a terminally-ill teen, assisting a financially compromised family build a home, providing an education for a deserving student, brightening the existence of an orphaned child with one’s presence, facilitating medical treatment for a birth defect, teaching school children English, or assisting abandoned animals. The possibilities are endless.
If you stay safely on the ground with the turkeys, you will never know the exhilaration of flying with the eagles.”
While some are daunted by the challenge of living in a different culture, others are attracted specifically because it stretches one’s comfort level and expands horizons for learning, tolerance and stimulation. Observing or, ideally, participating in Mexico’s many colorful celebrations, nightly fireworks displays and holiday rituals, such as Christmas posadas commemorating the Nativity, December peregrinaciones (street processions paying homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe) or Easter passion parades that reenact the trials of Christ before his crucifixion is a wonderful source of fulfillment and meaning. Witnessing a new way of being in the world positively informs one’s personal “journey.”
Use time wisely, never being in too much of a hurry to stop and sip life, but never losing our sense of the enormous value of a minute.
Despite the excitement of experiencing a new culture, the relative ease of doing so with the ultimate pay-off of assimilation and acceptance is undeniably an integral part of the equation. Ideally, one hopes to retain some comforts of “home” while adapting to new ways of thinking and operating. For transplants from the USA and Canada, the accessibility of Mexico is most appealing, allowing convenient travel to visit family and friends back home via international airports such as Vallarta’s Gustavo Díaz Ordaz—served by many major airlines and charter companies offering daily flights to hundreds of destinations in the USA, Canada and Mexico. The two- or three-hour flight from most locations in the southern USA even allows many second-home owners to commute for the weekend. Driving down from California, Arizona or Texas—a 24-hour trip—is another very doable option.
Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh
With the availability of Skype, Vonage and other Internet telecommunication systems, international courier services, high-speed wireless Internet access, satellite television, US newspapers and magazines and English-language bookstores in active expat destinations such as Vallarta, keeping in regular communication with one’s family, friends and the rest of the world is effortless.
Where thou art–that–is Home
Establishing and maintaining residency in Mexico—albeit the latter a time-consuming annual requirement—is easy and offers several worthwhile benefits, including discounts on many services and goods. Foreign investment is encouraged, and a multitude of properties are available for purchase or lease. Land situated 50 km (30 miles) from the coast or 100 km (60 miles) from the border is not directly available for foreign acquisition, but may be purchased via a bank-held trust that offers virtually the same benefits as full-out ownership. In Vallarta, home to so many full- and part-time expats, property managers, as well as independent and onsite concierges, are economical and readily available to handle maintenance and other needs while residents are absent.
Yet another comforting convenience, currency denominations in Mexico are similar to those in the USA, the (approximate) conversion easily made by eliminating the last digit ($100 pesos is roughly equivalent to $10 USD, for example). Credit cards and US dollars are also widely accepted, all easing the angst of paying bills, shopping, banking, etc.
Variety is the spice of life that gives it all its flavor
The proximity of other compelling and diverse destinations from Guadalajara’s thriving cultural metropolis and Yelapa’s kicked-back beach community to the tranquil charm of historical San Sebastian and quaint seaside towns in the north—all accessible by modern bus, water taxi, plane or private vehicle—is another plus for those with a zest for exploration and adventure. Even within the town proper—officially defined as the entire area stretching from Mismaloya in the south to San Pancho in the north, comprising 40 miles of coastline—there is a diversity of lifestyle options, including the centrally located older section of town, sometimes known as the Romantic Zone; Marina Vallarta for boating enthusiasts; Nuevo Vallarta with its array of exclusive luxury condos and self-contained active-living communities, such as Sensara and Luma; inland developments such as Fluvial; and surrounding colonias and modest single-home neighborhoods.
If, in New York, you arrive late for an appointment, say, “I took a taxi”
Getting to and from places on a day-to-day basis, even without benefit of a car, is convenient and inexpensive via omnipresent taxis (numbering 1,000+ at last count) that arrive within minutes of phoning for a pick-up, local buses and walking. And the presence of mega stores and discounters, such as Home Depot and Costco, makes familiar brands and products readily accessible. Although speaking Spanish significantly enriches the experience of living in Vallarta, it is not a necessity, which lends comfort to those unable to acquire a new language. The presence of local English-language news publications, social groups, events and neighborhood associations, combined with the genuinely welcoming attitude of Mexicans and the receptivity of established expats to newcomers, also eases the transition.
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship
Safety and health—always considerations when selecting a home base—are other important criteria for those in pursuit of a vital, active life. Protected by horseshoe-shaped Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre Mountains, minimizing exposure to hurricanes and devastating storms, Vallarta is uniquely attractive among coastal communities. Well-maintained interstate roads, clean, unspoiled beaches, municipal water treatment assuring the best quality for drinking in the country, a shark-free bay, a large infrastructure of modern hospitals, specialty clinics and bilingual physicians and dentists are essential components of active living. Without one’s well-being, all else diminishes in importance.
In addition to a wide variety of health clubs, fitness centers, gyms, yoga and Pilates studios, physical and massage therapists and alternative medicine practitioners available to facilitate wellness, Vallarta offers a personalized one-on-one patient advocacy and referral service to guide expats toward the best-suited medical care and, if need be, to serve as an on-going intermediary. In contrast to the USA and Canada, treatment is virtually immediate and available for a fraction of the cost, even without insurance. The patient-physician experience is personal, attentive, caring and egalitarian, with paperwork at a minimum. To assure accessibility, many physicians routinely offer patients their personal cell phone number! And many drugs required for chronic conditions are available economically, without the hassle of prescriptions. Wellness resorts, such as Nuevo Vallarta’s Taheima, are also emerging, offering residents a luxurious independent-living experience, combined with a variety of programs and courses to nurture health. Additional adjunct services, such as onsite medical assistance, are a new amenity likely to be offered in such developments targeting the growing number of retirees settling in Vallarta.
When you’re safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home
Like most major countries throughout the world, Mexico is not immune to crime. However, in destinations such as Vallarta, where the economy is dependent on tourism, safety is a priority and crimes of violence are a rarity. Nonetheless, as advised in any tourist locale, the best deterrents are common sense, vigilance and observance of normal safety precautions.
I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something
With discretionary income limited for the majority of retired Boomers, the cost of living in one’s ideal active community is a deal-breaking consideration, particularly with portfolio values substantially less than anticipated as a result of the global recession—hence, the huge appeal of affordable oceanfront real estate in Mexico’s coastal cities, often otherwise inaccessible.
Living in Vallarta, in particular, is a realizable dream for many, with a two-bedroom/two-bath condo unit on the beach starting as low as $300,000 USD (ranging up to $3 million for something more luxurious). Off-beach condo properties can be as low as $100,000 USD, depending on proximity to the sea. And in neighborhoods a bit more removed from the center of town (yet still within a 15-minute bus trip) such as Paso Ancho and El Pitillal, single-family home prices start between $50,000 and $100,000 USD. In locales about 45 minutes north of Vallarta, such as Bucerias and La Cruz, homes within five blocks of the beach, without a view of the ocean, start at about $70,000 USD. And property taxes are an unbelievably low 1/10 of 1 percent of value!
Save a little money every month and at the end of the year you’ll be surprised at how little you have
Ground transportation, both local and interstate, is reasonably priced (with bus fares around town the equivalent of 50 cents and cab rides between $4 and $12 USD), as are most home and car maintenance and repair services. Medical and dental treatment, including otherwise financially prohibitive elective procedures, are well below comparable services Stateside, with many visitors traveling to Vallarta solely for its more affordable state-of-the-art treatments. Depending on one’s lifestyle and personal choices, groceries, dining out and entertainment are less costly than in American or Canadian cities, or at the very least, comparable.
The greatest power that a person possesses is the power to choose.
— J. Martin Kohe
There is no question that many places around the world offer some of the components deemed essential to a vibrant, active lifestyle. Several US locales, such as Texas and Florida, hold appeal because state income tax is not required and winters are not as harsh as in the north. Others, such as Manhattan and San Francisco, are especially attractive because of the plethora of cultural and social opportunities they offer. Smaller towns, such as Williamstown, Massachusetts, are intriguing because of the availability of top-notch academic institutions, allowing for lifelong learning. Outdoor enthusiasts may be drawn to Moab, Utah, a magnet for mountain bikers. Mount Airy, North Carolina, like Vallarta, comes highly recommended for its near-mystical friendliness. Oceanfront properties in Nantucket are a great possibility for those with unlimited financial resources. Jackson, Wyoming, is another option for those who have long dreamed of owning a ranch, if money is no object.
Similarly, European cities rich in history and culture are a viable possibility for many with greater financial resources. The more affordable Caribbean promises picturesque sunsets for those who need little other than temperate weather. Costa Rica offers wonderful natural diversity and mild weather, though its location makes it less accessible to Canadian and US citizens. Panama, a Central American bargain with its US-style infrastructure (due in part to the 90-year American presence there), tropical climate, ocean views and political/economic stability is Paradise Lost for many unhappy living in the States. Ecuador also is a top overseas retirement choice for its beauty, weather, political stability and affordability.
¡Bienvenidos a Mexico, amigos!
Yet, Mexico has been consistently rated one of the happiest countries on earth in travel media surveys, with the highest overall scores as one of the most ideal places to retire. San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato and Lake Chapala/Ajijic are among popular inland locales, while La Paz, Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo, Puerto Escondido and Puerto Vallarta are among Pacific Coast favorites.
Como se dice “the good life” en español?
For all of the reasons delineated in this article, many with first-hand experience deem Vallarta the ideal community for Boomers who wish to live with intention, zest and passion, walk to the edge, play with abandon, continue to learn, practice wellness, and enjoy the camaraderie of interesting friends—surrounded by natural beauty, embraced by legendary friendliness, and bolstered by modern conveniences juxtaposed to Old World charm and traditions.
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, totally worn out and screaming, “WOOO HOOO, what a ride!”