A self-described Army brat, Jack Hamilton is a world wanderer who finally found peace in La Paz, Mexico after sailing into the city on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Cortez over a decade ago.
“I guess I got the wanderlust early in life and never lost it,” Hamilton said. “I have lived longer in La Paz than any other place in my life. The name says it all for me: Peace. It’s very peaceful here, very tranquil.”
Hamilton was living in Seattle, Washington in 1995 when he first sailed down to La Paz as part of the annual Baja Ha-Ha cruise that originates each year from San Diego, California.
“La Paz was one of the places to visit after you got to Cabo San Lucas,” he said. “You could either cross the sea to Mazatlán or Puerto Vallarta, but I headed north to La Paz and cruised for about a month in the Sea of Cortez north of La Paz before crossing over to mainland Mexico.”
Hamilton, 75, was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, but soon began living all over the world as an Army brat before settling in Tacoma, Washington and graduating from Clover Park High School, a highly regarded local school. His next stop on the education ladder was Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business, a master’s in psychology and finally, a doctorate in psychometrics, the science of measuring mental capacities and processes.
After graduation, Hamilton served in the military as a missile systems analyst before living for a while in Blacksburg, Virginia as a professor at Virginia Tech. After five years of academic life, he worked for Dow Chemical and Dow Brands in Michigan in a variety of scientific and management positions before moving on to Seattle.
But he had been a sailor for nearly 50 years and began to feel the itch to explore the world again. Impressed by La Paz during his introduction to the city in 1995, he decided to move there permanently in 2006.
“La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur and is a city of about a quarter million people,” he said. “We’re about two hours northeast of Los Cabos, which is an easy drive on a major highway. It’s a quick trip, about 100 miles, but we have everything Cabo has, except a Costco.”
A surprising number of expats live in the La Paz area year-round. According to Hamilton, the number of expats living there may number close to 10,000 and that does not include the snowbirds who fill up the marina during the winter.
“People from all over the world come to the Sea of Cortez to sail,” he said. “It’s some of the best cruising of any place in the world. About 100 miles north, there are probably no fewer than 50 beautiful anchorages and islands to explore. And within 50 miles of La Paz, there are at least 10 gorgeous beaches, like Tecolote and Tesoro. The Sea of Cortez is a very special place.”
Sailing and other water sports are available every month of the year with sea temperatures ranging from the 70s F in January to the mid-80s F in summer, influenced by the sea-level desert climate along the shore of the Sea of Cortez.
“It’s pretty hot and humid here during the summer months, but I’ve gotten used to that,” he said. “A good time to travel is July, August and September when it gets warm. The rest of the months are stunning, though. November through May and even into June, the weather is gorgeous. Although it is hot in the summer, I can use fans and open the doors and windows to capture the breeze to stay cool without air-conditioning. The breeze is called the Coromuel, which blows in late spring and summer from the Pacific Ocean across Baja to the Bay of La Paz. It starts in the late afternoon or early evening and blows throughout the night into the following morning. It’s just another reason why I love living here.”
La Paz also experiences hurricanes from time-to-time. The last one that swept through the city was Odille in 2014, which caused wide-spread damage to many parts of the southern Baja.
Hamilton rents a three-bedroom apartment in the center of La Paz just five blocks from one of the city’s main marinas. He pays $5,500 pesos each month, about US$275. Excluding groceries, water, gas, electricity and Internet are an additional US$50 each month.
“I gave up owning things when I moved to La Paz,” he said. “I felt over the years that the stuff owned me, I didn’t own it. So, I sold my boat, all of my property and virtually everything. I can now pick up and leave to take advantage of opportunities whenever I want.”
The cost of living in Mexico very much depends upon the lifestyle you want to have and what your perception of “being comfortable” is, Hamilton explained. He believes that most people could easily live comfortably in La Paz for US$1,000 a month.
“I dine out at least five times a week, often for less than US$10 a meal,” he said. “We have some absolutely outstanding restaurants that I would put up against anything you could get in Mexico. We have top chefs, good food, and a lot of very fresh seafood. There are eight restaurants within five blocks of my place, and all are excellent.”
Hamilton has a good working knowledge of Spanish, enough, he said, “to entertain my Mexican friends.” He meets many of them at salsa lessons he attends, as well as in his apartment complex where he is often the only expat in the group. He has lived in La Paz for over 12 years and thinks that if you have not made friends with Mexican people by then, something is wrong.
But even though he loves his life in La Paz and his many friends, the old wanderlust still resides within him.
“Since I sold my boat, I have traveled extensively within Mexico and have just a few places left on my bucket list,” he said. “I’ve been to the Yucatán five or six times, Chiapas, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and the other port cities, Puebla, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Copper Canyon, Chihuahua and Durango, but I still want to visit Veracruz. I’ve never been there.”
But La Paz, Hamilton said, will always be his home.