A light rain is falling outside as I use the time I would normally spend enjoying a dip in the translucent turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea to contemplate my experiences as an expat over the last four years or so.
With all the sunshine and surf that typically characterize my life here on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, I must accept the occasional rainy day as well. After all, joining the ranks of North American expats living abroad offered me the chance of a better life…not a perfect one. But considering the richness of my experience thus far, that’s a deal I’ve never for a moment regretted making.
After spending two years in a small fishing and farming village on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, my husband Don, IL Riviera Maya Correspondent, and I began the next leg of our expat adventure by relocating to Cancun. A modern city of over 600,000, Cancun is a bustling tourism mecca dedicated to recreation and relaxation of the tropical variety.
Major American chains such as Costco, Walmart, Sears, Starbucks, McDonalds, and Burger King offer familiar wares and labor-saving conveniences that were harder to come by in Ecuador. In addition to small local tiendas and mercados, there are also upscale malls featuring high end retailers including Prada, Burberry, Cartier, and Fendi, as well as everything in between. Scarcity is never an issue in Cancun.
The lower cost of living allows us to live in a gorgeous, modern, multi-level condo directly on the beach, with spectacular views of not only the Caribbean Sea, but Laguna Nichupte as well. We have the sand and surf, along with a meticulously well-maintained swimming pool and tennis court, available for our enjoyment mere steps from our door. The apartment itself occupies three floors, has two master suites with full bathrooms, a large, eat-in kitchen and comfortable living room, a laundry room with a half-bathroom, and my personal favorite, a roof deck from which I can survey not only my beloved shoreline, but virtually all of Cancun’s skyline as it wraps around the lagoon to our west. Our rent? $1,000 a month.
But even in this dream home, there are trade-offs to be made. One being the famously unreliable mail service. There are no mailboxes for the apartments, so when it’s delivered, your cable bill might just be tossed on the floor in the general vicinity of your door. With the amount of breeze we get here on the beach, envelopes tend to become air mail after delivery. On one occasion, we happened to locate our cable bill about five minutes after our service was interrupted, and three weeks after the postmark on the envelope.
Cancun is a very international city, drawing visitors from North America, Europe, and Asia. As a result, there are a lot of English speakers around, particularly in restaurants and other places which cater to vacationers. But when you get out into the community, Spanish is clearly the dominant language.
While our skills have greatly improved and we more than get by now, Don and I are not yet fluent. For the most part, we are able to function perfectly well using Spanish in our daily lives, but we do occasionally run into challenges. One is just accepting that sometimes you have to be satisfied with not understanding everything fully. You have to just be okay with only catching about 50% of what is being said. That can go against our nature, but as our skills improve so will our ability to take in subtleties we may miss out on now.
Every life involves challenges and inconveniences, and that’s true whether we remain ensconced in the very community in which we were born, or whether we strike out for distant, exotic shores. It’s simply a part of the human experience that no one can avoid. But Don and I would rather face those stresses amidst a backdrop of beauty that feeds our souls and a lifestyle that we could never attain back home in the States.
Every corner of the globe is subject to occasional raindrops, but when the sun comes out here, it shines on a place that feels a lot like paradise to us. Whatever little difficulties we’ve encountered in our life as expats pale in comparison to all we have gained through the experience.
I suppose the old adage is true, and that even into the sunniest life, a little rain must fall.
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