12 Days to Go

We’re leaving in 12 days! It’s a whirlwind around here. We got the storage unit a couple weeks ago, and we’ve been taking loads there every day or two and trying to stay organized. But we’re getting to the point of just throwing things in boxes and dealing with it later.

I must say, it’s nice to clean house. We’re selling most of our big furniture, to avoid paying for a larger storage unit. (Of course, we got a big unit anyway, and our stuff will be swimming in it. I guess it will be easier to find stuff if we have to rent a little apartment when we get home in a year and can’t move out of the storage unit entirely.)

Work has been crazy for both Angela and me. As if it wasn’t busy enough, our office moved to a new building last week, while we’re trying to launch two major projects with a bunch of new staff.

Stressed? ¡Por supuesto! Excited? ¡Absolutamente!

We can hardly wait to get going.

Why Ajijic? God’s Leading

And finally, the fundamental reason we chose Ajijic for our year abroad: we’ve sensed God’s leading to come here.

We’re Christians, and we’ve been praying for God’s guidance throughout this process. One way I sense His leading is through peace—or the lack of it—in my heart. Many times over the last two years Angela and I have discussed an option, settled on a choice, then woke up the next day unsettled. Our friends will tell you about the many times when they’ve heard us say, “We’ve decided to go to this place!”, then discover us talking about someplace completely different a week later. (At this point, some of them probably won’t believe we’re going to Ajijic, either, until we’re actually there.)

But with Ajijic, we have felt peace. It’s kinda cool, actually. We feel peace about our decision to spend a year abroad. My coworkers feel peace (mostly) about me working remotely. My children are excited about spending a year in México. And we feel peace about Ajijic.

Frankly, this town isn’t at all what we had in mind when we started this journey. We thought we’d be helping out at an orphanage, or a girl’s home, or a school. We thought we’d be in a more economically-challenged area. We thought we’d be participating in some mission associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But Ajijic has none of these, from what we can tell.

Still, God has something in mind for us. We believe God wants us in Ajijic. We have peace about this decision. So off we go on an adventure together.

Why Ajijic? Expat Community

Why did we choose Ajijic? Another reason is a relatively large expat community.

(Expat is short for “expatriot,” which means someone living outside their home country. Having lived as an expat when I was younger, I can tell you that this term can have negative connotations to some in the foreign country you’re living in. Nonetheless, it’s a convenient word widely used in expat communities around the world, so I’ll use it here, too.)

Ajijic has about 1,000 expats living there full time, mostly retired Americans and Canadians. This represents a little less than 10% of the population. While we don’t want to just move to a gated community filled with American grandparents (which wouldn’t be the cross-cultural experience we had in mind), it does give us the opportunity to connect with others who share our experience.

The Lake Chapala Society in Ajijic is the focus of a lot of expat activity, offering language classes and social events. We’re hoping that the large expat community in Ajijic will help Angela find people to connect with to give her a support network and help her feel less isolated during our year abroad.

Why Ajijic? Schools

Another reason we chose Ajijic: bilingual school options for the kids.

Ajijic has 4 different bilingual elementary schools (though we’ve heard that one closed last year), all with tuition running under $500 USD per month for our two students. We’ll be selecting their school once we’ve arrived, but for now we feel very comfortable with having more than one option, and that they’ll have some schooling in both English and Spanish.

We had been planning to send the kids to a regular school where everything would be in Spanish. That would certainly help them learn the language better, and besides, Iquitos didn’t have any bilingual school option. When we switched our search to Mexico, our thinking didn’t change initially. But as we explored locations in Mexico, we discovered a school in Sayulita that looked like a great experience especially for our 6th grader, Z. That led us to change our thinking, and a bilingual school for the kids became one of our top priorities.

Both our kids have done well academically. (Z was disappointed that she got an A- in one subject in her final grades in 5th grade.) I’ve been telling Z that she’s not going to do as well in Mexico, preparing her for the fact that she won’t understand half the classes for the first few weeks or months. But I think her drive to succeed academically will push her through that barrier. And she has told me several times that at least she’ll be able to get an A in English class.

The top goal here is the cross-cultural experience, not learning Spanish. Having the kids experience the social dynamics of a school environment in a different country will be critical to that. But we also don’t want our kids to fall behind academically. We’ll have both of them working on math and English language arts at home, using the curriculum from their stateside school.

Why Ajijic? Cost of Living

Another reason for choosing Ajijic: the low cost of living.

Our final list of candidates included both Sayulita, on the Pacific coast north of Puerta Vallarta, and San Miguel de Allende, a couple hours north of Mexico City. But our research indicated that the cost of living in Ajijic was lower than either of those locations. We’ve seen 4 bedroom houses for rent in Ajijic for under $800 USD per month, while we couldn’t touch that in other locations for less than $1500 USD.

Ajijic is also a walkable town, with great public transportation, meaning we don’t need to purchase a vehicle. And school tuition is less in Ajijic than either of the alternative locations. It all added up to a place where we could actually live on our budget, with a little left over.

Why Ajijic? Weather

Next on why we chose Ajijic: the weather.

While we can’t speak from experience, we’re told that the weather in Ajijic is like spring all year round. Lows in the 50s, highs in the 70s to low 80s. Lake Chapala is on the high plateau of central Mexico, at about the same elevation as Denver, a mile high. Plus, it’s surrounded by mountains.

From the Wikipedia entry for Ajijic:

The Chapala Lake basin has a year-round average temperature of about 72 °F (22 °C). Due to Ajijic’s tropical latitude, the sun is warm year round; due to its relatively high elevation, it is seldom unpleasantly hot or humid. The rainy season begins in June and lasts until October with an average rainfall of approximately 34 inches (860 mm). Even during the rainy season, precipitation generally occurs during the evening or at night.

December and January are the coolest months and May is the hottest, just before the onset of the rainy season. Overall, there is very little temperature variation year round: daytime highs in January are around 75 °F (24 °C); daytime highs in May are around 80 °F (27 °C) to 90 °F (32 °C).

Sounds good to us.

Update on 17 July 2016:

After being here for a week, I can say that the weather is pretty incredible. There’s a steady light breeze of cool air blowing through the house when the windows are open. The sun is definitely hot, being almost directly overhead in early afternoon—at over 5,000 ft elevation, I can feel the UV rays on my scalp. But move into the shade, and immediately the breeze cools you off.

We’re told it’s the rainy season, but it has only rained overnight. Even so, it doesn’t feel humid. It feels pleasant all day long.

Why Ajijic? Proximity

This is the first of a series of posts talking about why we chose to move to Ajijic. First up: the location.

When we were planning to move to Iquitos, we began bracing ourselves for the travel. The quickest path from PDX to Iquitos was 3 flights taking nearly 20 hours. The cheaper tickets had longer layovers, pushing it to 24 hours or more. And cheaper still wasn’t cheap, with round trip airfare running $1,400 each. We were going to be spending over $10,000 on airfare alone over the course of the year.

Mexico, as it turns out, is much closer. Flights to Guadalajara are more frequent, quicker, and far less expensive. I can have breakfast with the family, hop on a flight and be into my office in time to tell the staff good night. Round trip tickets can be found for a touch over $500. Best of all, Alaska Airlines flies to GDL, making it relatively easy for me to maintain my status in their mileage plan.

Plus, Alaska doesn’t penalize you for booking one-way. A round trip ticket costs the same as two one-way legs. So we bought four one-way tickets to GDL for the whole family for under $1,000.

Share Our Adventure!

We’ve decided to spend a year living in Ajijic, Mexico, on the shores of Lake Chapala. We want our kids (age 7 & 11) to experience immersion in another culture, and this is where we felt led to live. Larry will telecommute to his job, the kids will attend a bilingual school, and Angela will hang out and work on her Spanish.

Our family is excited, and we’d like to share that with you! Here you can read our story, and some of the reasons we chose Ajijic. In this blog we’ll share our discoveries of life in Mexico, and we welcome you to join us in this unfolding adventure together.