David Huff was born and raised on the banks of the Missouri River and traveled to 21 of Mexico’s states before the boy from St. Joe found his nirvana in Ajijic, Mexico on the shore of Lake Chapala.
Huff, 68, and his wife Catherine sampled many Mexican cities and towns before finally settling in arguably Lake Chapala’s most popular town for retirees, artists, writers and other adventure seekers.
“We were introduced to Mexico in 1986,” Huff said, “because there was a private school close to where we were living in St. Joseph, Missouri at the time. The school had young men from all over the world, but predominately from Mexico. During holiday breaks the school looked for local families that could host those who could not go home, so my wife and I started hosting young Mexican students in 1986. We did that for more than 10 years. Each time we hosted a young man, their family would invite us to Mexico to stay with them.”
The Huffs began visiting the families of the Mexican boys and over a 25-year period had the opportunity to visit about two-thirds of Mexico’s 31 states.
“We got a feel for where we would like to visit and where we would like to live,” Huff said. “We kept coming back to Ajijic because of its hospitality, culture, expat community and small Mexican fishing village environment.”
After graduating from Rock Hurst University in Kansas City with a degree in political science and a minor in secondary education in 1970, Huff began a long career working in the federal prison system in administration and medical clinics.
“I was 13 years in the federal prison system before I decided that I should try a job in the private sector,” Huff said. “In 1984 I took a vacation and met a former elementary school classmate who had just taken over a funeral home business. He asked me to join him as a funeral director and business manager of his corporation. I did that for the next 17 years.”
His last job before retiring in 2007 was with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Kansas City.
“My parents had both died prematurely in their 60s,” he said, “so I convinced myself and told my wife that I am not going to do that. I made up my mind that I was going to retire before I was 60, and I did.”
When Huff and his wife told their families they were moving to a small fishing village in Mexico they thought the couple had lost their minds or were having a mid-life crisis, telling them they would be back in the U.S. after two years.
“We love the weather in Ajijic and of course the cost of living was a big factor,” he said. “But I think it was the hospitality of the people, the warmth of the people that we were first exposed to when we visited Mexican families that made the difference. Those families opened up their homes to us and introduced us to their extended family. They made us feel like family. That gave us a wonderful sense of what Mexico is all about.”
The Huffs felt that the colonial interior of Mexico was the real Mexico for them, so they settled in Ajijic in August of 2007 in a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home with a beautiful garden in the Villa Nova area a few miles west of central Ajijic.
“At our age, we didn’t want to buy a home,” Huff said, “because if something happened to either of us, we didn’t want the survivor to be burdened with trying to sell a home, which could take several years down here. We have a long-term lease on our house and pay less than US$700 a month for our place.”
Inexpensive housing is not the only benefit of living in Ajijic. Huff said the cost of living has been attracting expats to the area for decades.
“You can find almost anything here that you can find in the U.S. or Canada,” he said. “We have plenty of shopping lakeside, including a Walmart Supercenter. I find that the supermarkets take care of many of our needs, but for fresh fruit and vegetables the local street markets have a greater appeal for us.”
The Huffs spend about US$40 a week on groceries, relying on a mix of supermarkets, local shops and street markets. Guadalajara is less than an hour a way and provides big city shopping malls that offer a wide range of goods and services.
“Down here we go to some of the finest restaurants,” he said, “and have all the margaritas we want, often at no charge, appetizers and a wonderful dinner for US$20 for the two of us. Sunday brunch at one of the restaurants we frequent is about US$8 for the two of us.”
Other expenses are low, also. For example, with Lake Chapala’s mild year-round climate, the Huff’s spend about US$10 every two months for electricity. Telephone and Internet connection runs about US$20 a month.
Although Huff and his wife are active in their church and the Lake Chapala Society, they spend most of their time with Mexican friends they have formed relationships with over the last 10 years.
“We have many Mexican friends in our neighborhood, which is a mix of expats and Mexicans,” he said. “Understanding at least some Spanish is very important to developing relationships. I took two years in high school and three semesters in college. I can now go into shops and get my business taken care of. I still speak primarily English but my Spanish vocabulary has gotten better each year.”
When his Spanish lets him down, Huff can depend on his wife Catherine to bail him out. She speaks Spanish, French and a bit of Italian and Croatian.
Whenever they feel the need, the Huffs head north to the big city of Guadalajara for culture, shopping, dining and other pleasures, but they let someone else do the driving.
“The bus to Guadalajara runs every hour from lakeside,” he said, “and is ridiculously inexpensive. We have senior discount cards so the roundtrip costs us about US$5.50 for two people. The bus terminates at the old bus station, which is close to Guadalajara’s city center.”
They also use Mexico’s modern and inexpensive busses to visit other cities. Leaving from Guadalajara’s new and expansive bus terminal southeast of city center in Tonalá, the couple has traveled throughout the country. They usually take a taxi to and from the bus terminal, which costs about US$22 each way.
After 10 years in Ajijic, Huff has moved beyond the initial culture shocks most new expats experience.
“When you’re retired and live in Mexico,” he said, “you find that time is irrelevant. In fact, they have what they call the Mexican time system, and after 10 years we have learned it. I still get impatient occasionally, but I’ve learned to become patient, to become very accepting of Mexican time.”
How time is viewed in Mexico is just one of the adjustments that new expats must be prepared to make, Huff said.
“Come down with the idea that you want a new adventure in life. Be willing to expose yourself and immerse yourself in a whole new culture. Don’t come down here with the idea that this is going to be a small taste of the U.S. or Canada or that you’re going to live the same kind of lifestyle down here. If you do, you’re going to find yourself disappointed and unhappy.