“My life here is as close to ideal as I could ever imagine…it’s amazing,” says Salem Orion, who lives in the beach city of Mazatlán on Mexico’s Pacific coast. “Every morning I wake up with anticipation, not resignation.”
Salem owns and operates the Funky Monkey hostel, situated just outside Mazatlán’s Golden Zone, a stretch of golden-sand beaches with luxury resorts and condo towers by the water. Founded by Europeans in the mid-1800s, Mazatlán’s architecture has an authentic Old World feel to it—the charming plazas and sidewalk cafés of the city’s historic center could have been plucked right from a Spanish village.
In the past, Salem, a passionate traveler, had stayed in hostels many times overseas and saw the potential for a laidback and fun business he could use to finance his life overseas. After selling his house painting business and home back in Michigan to finance his idea, he spent a year traveling throughout Latin America to source the perfect spot for his hostel.
“During my last trip from Panama through Latin America and up the west coast of Mexico, I landed in Mazatlán in the winter of 2013. I couldn’t believe how warm it was in January,” says Salem. “It’s so cool to be able to wear shorts and sandals all year around.”
Salem had the usual expat wish list—excellent weather, low cost of living, and accessibility to modern conveniences—but as a foodie, he was looking for a locale with good food and a wide variety of craft beer. “The food between Panama and Guatemala was okay and there was local beer,” says Salem. “But when I reached Mazatlán, I fell in love with the quality and variety of everything—especially the ceviche. The palapa (small, thatched-roof huts) restaurants along the beach make great ceviche. An afternoon of ceviche and cerveza at any of them is less than $10.”
With $260,000 of his remaining funds, he purchased a house in the upscale Lomas de Mazatlán neighborhood and converted it into the Funky Monkey hostel. “I found a big five-bedroom, five-bath house in a great area, with an awesome patio and pool. All the place needed was furniture, a couple of refrigerators, and bunk beds…lots of bunk beds. I could never have found anything like this back in the States.”
“I have a real blast taking my guests around Mazatlán and showing off this great town,” says Salem. “So many of my guests have become friends. I love to take people to the shrimp market, buy a couple of kilos and have the cantina around the corner prepare a huge shrimp feed.” Shrimp prices vary through the season, but the cost of large shrimp is about $8 to $10 per pound and thumb-sized shrimp average $4 to $6 per pound.
While Salem loves living in the tropics, he is still an avid traveler. Last year, he took a two-month trip to Colombia and will, every few weeks, visit remote surf spots within a day’s drive. “I have been trading lodging for short-term management so I can get away a few days a month.”
Salem is almost at the end of his three-year temporary residency visa and is looking forward to becoming a permanent resident in January 2017. “Becoming a permanent resident means a lot to me. I feel like I’m at home here in Mazatlán. I’m living my dream and I can’t imagine what could be better.”
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