When I came to first spend a winter in Mazatlan, I was 50. This August, I will be 59.
I remember what it felt like as a total newbie, a woman on her own down here for the first time. I knew so little and so few people. It felt like a grand adventure, discovering and learning – the buses, where to buy food, taking little pulmonias to get around and conversing proudly in rusty Spanish with the drivers. I remember learning the words for left and right – handy for directing the taxi drivers to where I was living. It was all so new and exciting and challenging. Every day in the beginning was like a dream come true to me. I was really here, living in a foreign country, using the language – all on my own.
I wasn’t familiar at all with Old Centro. I knew where the public market was, the Cathedral and the public squares like the Machado. I wasn’t entirely sure it was safe to walk around then, especially in the evening. It wasn’t as busy and popular as it is now. Going to the Machado Square on a Friday or Saturday evening was something special. Vendors set up booths all around the square selling jewelry, scarfs, clothing. It was lit up and bustling with locals and westerners. There was frequently good live music outside for free. Amazing place to sit and sip a drink or have a meal and watch the people in the warm tropical night air. It still is. I and my new friends back then would often look at each other and grin – can you believe how lucky we are to be here?
We knew we were a special type of people. Everyone had experience with friends and family back home who seriously questioned their judgement to live (at least for the winter) in Mexico. It isn’t safe! We could only shake our heads at such silliness, and order una mas, por favor.
I particularly got a kick out of meeting a wide variety of individuals, with different backgrounds and means, some very eccentric. But it was fine to be eccentric in Mazatlan. Everyone was very accepting of differences. Why not? We all had Mazatlan in common, if nothing else. Among my large circle of friends I have collected over the years, there are wealthy people living in gated communities and people who live in virtual poverty getting by on Social Security or a small pension in old, decrepit hotels and apartment buildings. There are people younger than me, and much older than me. Couples, singles and the widowed. Gay and straight. Loners and socializers. The almost certifiable and the very sane. I’m somewhere in the middle, ha ha.
I tended to be a “floater”. I had a core group of friends, mostly married couples, but being solo much of the time I could mix with a variety of people or just hang out by myself in comfort, knowing someone I knew would wander by sooner or later. There were so many weekly “events” or regular get-togethers , fund-raisers, art walks – that you had to turn things down or be out every day and evening of the week. Karaoke Tuesdays was one of my favourites for several winters. I had never done karaoke and had to get over a huge amount of nerves the first few times I got up, but the group who came regularly were so fun and encouraging that I soon became very comfortable and proud doing it and I found my voice. It was fun and psychologically uplifting.
Over time, the initial frizzle of newness did wear off and everything became very familiar and comfortable. No less enjoyable, and no less beautiful. But you take it for granted. Every once in a while, when walking the malecon and looking out over the beach and ocean to the Tres Islas offshore, the sun sparkling off the water, the sky blindingly blue – or watching yet another gorgeous sunset – it hits you: I am so lucky to be here.
I have overcome many challenges by returning here every winter, and even staying longer than that – right into the sweltering summers – and now, dare I say it, much of it has become old hat. But I still love it and will return again I know, and I will miss my long-known friends here. Many of them are retired and choose Mazatlan as an economical place to live on fixed incomes. They are content to return year after year and step right back into the happy routines of life here, or stay year-round. And I think that is great for them. Maybe in 10 or more years, I will settle down and lose my strong desire to travel and see new places. I’m pretty sure I won’t be in a position to retire except in a low-cost place like this.
But right now, I am ready for new challenges.