The Unsinkable Catriona Brown
YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and where did you move from and why did you move?
Cat: I moved at the end of 2001 from Sydney. After having sold the house I loved and had spent years restoring and having finished producing a major event, I decided it was time for a break before getting back to work and buying another house.
I enjoyed a sunny happy Christmas with my family and friends, joined in the New Year’s Festivities, went sailing on the harbour whenever possible and indulged in the fabulous Sydney Arts Festival.
Everyone is on holiday in Australia at that time of year and the atmosphere is fun and friendly and a little hard to leave. But mid-January saw me in New York! I was staying in a fairy tale apartment on 5th Avenue with a girlfriend. It was snowing as I arrived. I walked in Central Park with the snow drifting down... walking in the snow while you are all rugged up is a delicious experience for an Aussie girl.
Then of course, things got crazy, as they seem to do in Manhattan. So I headed to Mexico. Having traveled extensively around the world, including Mexico, I set off for the Yucatan for the first time, feeling a little concerned at the numbers of US people here.
After traveling to Merida and touring the wonderful sites and towns of the Peninsula, it was crunch time as Cancun loomed ahead on the bus. I knew Cancun was not to be my destination and went to the very next town, Puerto Morelos.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world
Cat: I planned to spend 2 nights in Puerto Morelos and then head back to visit friends in Zihuatanejo for a week and then return to Sydney.
It was 8 months before I left Puerto Morelos again.
The day I arrived, January 22nd 2002, I stored my suitcase and walked the town. My heart felt light, the people were friendly, the place was delightful, I smiled all the time, I slept all night, and I knew I was home.
I had no intention of living in Mexico; my heart belonged to Bali. The bombings in Bali had destroyed for me part of the soul of that exquisite island. So when I discovered Puerto Morelos, it was as if a hand had reached out and showed me another special place on the Earth. They call it a vortex here. Not sure about that, but it is certainly a unique and blessed place.
YL: What did/do you plan to do after you move(d) here?
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Cat: I had no idea what I was going to do but one thing led to another and I decided the town needed a first class scuba dive shop. The existing ones were old and tired and not up to PADI standards. So I found a building, bought the gear, hired the staff and ran the business for 2 years. Of course I had to learn to dive as well! At the same time I was offered 4 blocks of land for sale in the residential area of the village and I snapped those up. It was the best investment I ever made.
I sold my dive shop 2 years ago and have since built 2 houses for sale and plan to build 3 more.
Anyone that lives here knows that the above statement is simply said but hides a multitude of complications.
An Aussie blonde woman without a word of Spanish running a dive business and then constructing houses, huh! I know people laughed at me at first. Then came a grudging respect. Now I am known and respected in the town and my word is taken seriously. Except if I have more than 2 margaritas!
Tourists I meet say how brave I am but really I am just terribly determined and I have no fear. I worked doing major public events in Australia and it taught me how to manage in layers and through complexities and that there is always a way to go around a problem and get things done.
YL: Now that you live here, how do you like it?
Cat: I walk on a beautiful wide white sandy beach every morning and swim daily with the fish in the Caribbean Sea. I eat fresh fruit from my garden and seafood caught that day by friends. I can call anyone if I need help from the mayor to the fishermen, I know the names of all the dogs in my street, I have wonderful new friends and interesting visitors. Palm trees wave outside my bedroom window, the sea calms me at night, the moon lights up the house and each day is full of friendly smiling faces.
It is also the most incredibly frustrating, annoying, constantly changing and daily challenging country. You just want to scream sometimes. Well, a lot of the time really. At least that’s a step up from crying in the car park in Cancun while I was building the first house and the paperwork was defeating me.
Then I walk on the beach again, the gentle breeze caresses me and it all goes away.
YL: Would you ever return to your former location?
Cat: Of course I try to return to Australia every year to visit family, it used to be to visit friends as well but most have moved on and we seem to have little in common. A handful of the best friends are always there. The advances in communication mean I can speak to my mother and friends frequently at no cost which makes a big difference.
YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living where you lived before?
Cat: Language, culture, food, water, politics, sexual equality, education, landscape, the stars, wrong side of the road and there are a lot more straight men here.
YL: What do you love about living here?
Cat: The people, the beach, the climate, my pool, did I mention the beach, the food, the stars, the culture, the music, the laughter, the children, the men, the women, the gentleness of life.
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Cat: I miss having my family and oldest friends around and Thai food, Vietnamese food, good Chinese food, art galleries, theatre, parrots.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here?
Cat: Incredibly frustrating and an enormous continuing learning curve. First the dive business. Then that turned in to a construction business and on top of that we started a charity for the village, for which I am the Administrator. We started the paperwork for that in October and it is still not finished.
YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?
Cat: Most people do. In my case:
- Selling a house and renting it as weekly vacation rentals for tourists
- Overseeing a beachfront pool and casita construction
- Managing 2 beachfront rental apartments
- Scouting for investment property for US investors
- Managing the charity (but that is done for love)
YL: Do you work as much as you used to "back home" or are your work habits different here?
Cat: Shivers go down my spine to think what it would be like to have to get up every morning and be somewhere 0800-1900 as in the old days. I still work hard but my hours are my own to manage as I see fit. If I feel like taking a couple of days off to visit Merida or Punta Allen then I can. I don’t have spare money anymore for fancy cars and high fashion but cute cars just fall in the potholes and really a fine bikini and a cool pareo are as high as fashion needs to be here.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Cat: Tourists are on holiday, they eat out, they play all day and party all night, oh dear yes, what is the difference? I know, I know – I have a dog!
YL: How is your Spanish?
Cat: Terrible! I remember with embarrassment when I was a child giggling at the Greek and Italian immigrants in our street and the weird way they spoke English. Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. I am trying!
YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Cat: It is not a problem in daily life. I can certainly get by nowadays with that. The people here in the Riviera Maya area are so used to tourists and what they do to Spanish that I come off fairly well (my friends reading this article are laughing hysterically now). The barrier is more a social one. Easy conversation over dinner, jokes, wit… all escape me, making it more difficult to mingle outside the English-speaking population.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone planning a move to the Yucatan?
Cat: Bring Spanish and Patience.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?
YL: If you aren't, do you think you will become one?
YL: Why would or wouldn't you?
Cat: I will be applying this year. I want to vote, I want to help the women of this country in as loud a voice as I can.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico?
Cat: Extremely positive (I am a developer; what can I say?) But really there is a very positive feeling here and extraordinary development on this coast. Can some one please do something about the hurricanes? They are a little inconvenient and scare the tourists. By the way if you Meridians want a really cheap beach place to rent, try Puerto Morelos in September and October! Come on over.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Cat: I will build three more houses and then see what I want to do at the same time as remembering to laugh and not stress.
YL: Do you see your business growing?
Cat: Only if I let it.
YL: Do you see yourself staying?
Cat: Five days out of the week I will answer 'Yes' to that. But then I have a choice so those 2 days of 'No' are more an exercise of choice, a celebration of the ability of being able to leave more than anything else.
YL: Any last words?
Cat: Warning! Do not leave home with money in the bank, no job and no house; you never know where you may end up! And 'Thank you Mexico, you are one of the best things to happen in my life.'
Catriona Brown can be reached through her blog at www.catinmexico.blogspot.com.