YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Jen: I moved to Yucatan in January of 2000 to start off the Millenium with a new life, after selling real estate in San Antonio, Texas for 22 years, raising my son and becoming an empty-nester.
YL: Why did you move?
Jen: I believe that Life should be exciting and fun. Over the years, although San Antonio is a great place to live, I needed a change. Many years previously (1969 to 1973) I had come to Mexico with my (then) husband, with the intention of beginning our tour of the world in a Ford Falcon with a Union Jack painted on the hood. We ended up spending four years living and traveling all Mexico and I totally fell in love with the country, the people and the way of life. I was also, ironically enough, fed up with selling real estate, and made a fast decision to move to Yucatan when a friend offered me the job of managing his bamboo plantation in the jungle near Uxmal. That sounded exciting, and certainly offered a new life, so within six weeks I had referred my real estate clients, packed up, sold or given away all my possessions, rented my house and with my two cats in their carrying cases was on the plane to Merida.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Jen: As you can see from the above, Merida was actually serendipity…the job was here. However, I have always been fascinated by the Maya culture and welcomed the chance to get to know the people, learn a little of the language and was very happy to have the chance to start off living in the village of Muna. I also love hot weather, and had had several chances to visit Merida and to get to know the Peninsula, which I very much enjoyed.
I am originally from England – my family are all still there – and I have been a traveler most of my life. I could never move back to England – too cold, and I love the sun. I just try to visit as often as possible… and I combine each trip to England with one to Turkey, Egypt, Morocco etc. Always somewhere exotic and preferably hot! I have a degree in Sociology which I have never used except as a license to be a dilettante, exploring languages and cultures. Whenever I am in a souk or listening to a language I can’t understand I am tempted to think it would be fun to live there, and I actually started looking at houses in Fez, but when I get home I realized I am very happy to be here. Just have a gypsy’s heart.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the
Jen: I came to the area with no money, and had to rent while in Muna. Whilst there, I also rented a small apartment in Merida to be able to visit on weekends. After eight months, the job at the plantation ended – I am not an easy employee and must have been a torture to my boss! I have always been independent, and punching a time card went against the grain. At that point, I moved permanently to Merida, not knowing what to do next. My old realtor habits soon had me knocking on doors, asking prices and helping friends find homes….and the prices were so great, the old houses so beautiful… how could I not buy something for myself? I KNOW I made the right decision!
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?
Jen: Well, as you see, yes and no! I suppose I didn’t come here to sell real estate, but it was a natural match, and I really do enjoy what I do. Every day is different, I meet the most interesting people and am able to help give people the information to make the right individual decision for themselves (what to buy or even whether to buy), which is very satisfying to me.
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?
Jen: Life is constantly full of surprises, which keeps things interesting. You have to stay flexible and accept the magical realism – reading One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great introduction.
YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?
Jen: Just about everything; especially since a recent bad accident in the US, loving local people ready to help hand and foot. Then there is the sun, the proximity of the beach, the Maya ruins, the fresh seafood…
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Jen: Just about nothing!
YL: What don’t you miss from your "former life"?
Jen: The stress, and a lifestyle which keeps one constantly in debt – car payments, house payments and pressure to “keep up with the Jones’s”.
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Jen: Fresh seafood! Try the shrimp fajitas at the Marlin Azul (Calle 62 x 57 y 59) and you’ll have to agree.
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Jen: The rainy season…because it really doesn’t rain all day – just a really heavy thunder and lightning show in the late afternoon, which cools things down while you have your siesta swinging in a hammock. Everything is SO green and pretty.
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Jen: To cenotes off the beaten track, where they can see real village life in Yucatan and the hidden underground treasure of Yucatan. Of course, always Uxmal, too.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Jen: My last dinner out was a delightful evening with my oldest friends here at Villa Maria in Centro. It is so beautiful, you can sit outside in the courtyard, the food is good and the service attentive – a lovely place to enjoy good company at leisure.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Jen: I live in a Maya village of 2000 souls and am the only “gringa”. The only other “foreigner” is an indigenous lady from a Oaxaca village who married a local and uses a different huipil design! There are no tourists here. But I expect you mean Merida. The main difference is that one soon has a wide circle of friends, and the hammock sellers know you and stop to chat but don’t try to sell you anything.
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?
Jen: Many, many friends in the local community as well as all my incoming new friends from all corners of the globe.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?
Jen: I love running my business here; on the whole there is less regulation here than in the US…and frivolous law suits are almost unknown. At one point in the US there was discussion about whether we could use the phrase “master bedroom” – that perhaps this constituted a discriminatory bias, as we did not also offer a “mistress bedroom”…
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Jen: Much easier and much more fun.
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Jen: I am able to take more time off to do the things I want to do, but I still work long hours because I love it.
YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Jen: I learned Spanish when I first came to Mexico in 1969-73, on the job (no classes), and had some opportunities to practice with my workmen and clients in San Antonio, but it took a whole new vocabulary to run the bamboo plantation and then again for real estate. Now, my Spanish is fluent (maybe not perfect) and presents no barrier.
YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?
Jen: Not Spanish, Maya: chachak = stew (my maid brought me venison stew for breakfast today)… and xek = a mixture of different ingredients.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Jen: Yes…I keep intending to do this, but the photographs look so awful (no hair over your forehead, no jewelery etc.) that I haven’t been able to bear the thought of having them on a permanent document. Oh vanity… But I WILL do it!
YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favorite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?
Jen: I have been lucky enough to be able to explore just about every state – I think I am still missing Colima, and I would love to get off the beaten track in Tabasco. The area I am in at any given time is my favorite…but the Huasteca is maybe my current favorite for its variety. This covers the eastern coast and inland stretch of the country from Veracruz to Tamaulipas, with amazing mountains and amazing music. Hidden attractions are the Sotano de Las Golondrinas – a huge cenote-like sinkhole and cave full of swallows and with one of the most impressive bat-flights in the world…. Xilitla, the fantasy in the mountains built by excentric English millionaire and surrealist Edward James…..the sulfur hot springs at Taninul, and an enormous and mostly empty spa-hotel near Ciudad Mante.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Jen: Always welcome, and especially in Yucatan
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?
Jen: I see things getting better and better. Merida has so many more amenities now than it did ten years ago and it is obviously flourishing.
YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?
Jen: I look forward to seeing the electrical and phone wires buried underground in Centro. The city is so beautiful and getting more so as more houses are rehabbed and more facades repaired. Now we need to get rid of the wiring strung everywhere. And some of the buses. Traffic is quite a problem in Centro.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Jen: As always to redo yet another house for myself, this time in Barrio La Ermita, and I hope, to keep on doing what I do.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Jen: Learn as much as you can in advance from all the available sources, and find someone you like and trust to help you through the process without pitfalls. Ask a lot of questions!
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
Jen: Thank you!
YL: Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan, former Yucatecans, people planning to visit for an extended tour…)?
Jen: Just don’t be afraid to write and ask questions – I would love to help answer them, or put you in touch with someone who can! And use our office as home base while you’re in Merida.
Jennifer Lytle is the owner of Tierra Yucatan, one of the most successful real estate agencies in Merida. She has helped many extranjeros make a smooth transition to the Yucatan (including the Working Gringos…). She can be reached at jen [at] tierrayucatan [dot] com