Australians Emile and Alix Badawy thought they would spend the rest of their lives living the tropical life on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. Then they stayed in a room with a view at a B&B in Ajijic. They loved it so much they bought it and now are living happily ever after along Lake Chapala.
Badawy, 71, is a true internationalist who has laid his head to rest in many countries throughout the world. Born in Egypt to a Lebanese father and French mother, his family migrated to Melbourne, Australia when he was 12. His father worked for the United Nations, so he lived in many countries, including the Congo, before settling down under.
“When my father left the U.N. he applied to Brazil, Canada and Australia,” he said, “but Australia was the first to accept us. That’s how we ended up being Australians.”
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and an MBA from Deakin University in Melbourne and took a job with a bank, but that lasted just 10 months. He became the chief executive of Australia’s national organization for certified public accountants for the next 10 years before leaving for a variety of corporate jobs in Singapore, the U.S. and other countries before returning to work in Australia.
His Scotland-born wife, who is 70, graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a BSC and began teaching. She married and moved to Australia when she was in her late twenties, had two daughters and began a 35-year career in real estate.
“Alix and I met in Maui in the early 1990s and fell madly in love,” Badawy said. “We were both in transition from marriages at the time. Because we met in Maui we kept going back there and actually made an offer on a property in Maui but the deal fell through. Alix then got out her real estate book and found Ajijic. She said, ‘This is where I want to be.’ Since Maui was out of our price range by then we flew to Mexico in 2002 and stayed at the B&B we now own, which had been open for just one year.”
The couple returned for visits to Ajijic for the next three years and fell in love with a home right on the shore of Lake Chapala.
“We keep saying that the lake is magical,” Badawy said. “We just absolutely fell in love with it and bought our home in 2005 so we could spend six months a year in Australia and six months in Ajijic.”
It worked for a few years, but in 2008 Badawy returned to Australia to take a position as chief executive of the Australian Institute of Radiography. Shortly after signing his employment contract, though, his wife called him and told Badawy that the B&B they had first stayed at in Ajijic was for sale. It was an easy decision for him, so he struck a deal with his new organization to find his replacement and six months later became the proprietor of Casa Tres Leones in Ajijic.
“I went from running a business with 1,200 people to an eight room B&B with just four employees,” he said. “I had spent my life making other people rich but now it was my turn to do something I love in a place we love”
Built as a home for the previous owners and then turned into a B&B, Casa Tres Leones has the look of a century-old colonial inn. Each of its large eight rooms has the ambience of old Mexico. When they took ownership, they refurbished most everything, including the gardens and the solar heated pool. You can walk to Ajijic’s main plaza in less than 10 minutes but still enjoy a view of the lake and its cooling breeze.
Felice and I stayed at Casa Tres Leones earlier this year in its very romantic Mexican Love Suite, which had a private balcony with a view of the gardens and lake. Rooms are priced from US$100 to US$150. Breakfast is served on a balcony overlooking the pool and garden and is included in the price.
Because Badawy’s Spanish skills are very good, transferring ownership was relatively easy and no legal assistance was required, except for help with securing visas and work permits. The couple does retain an attorney to handle their tax payments and a few other things.
Like most of Mexico, their high season starts around mid-October and runs through Easter. During the off-season they rely more on weekend visitors from nearby Guadalajara, other areas in Mexico and Americans from the southeast part of the country fleeing its oppressive summer heat and humidity. Badawy also said they now are receiving more month-long bookings.
Badawy manages Casa Tres Leones’ day-to-day operations while his wife works for Century 21 real estate. He proudly points out that she is the #1 sales person in her district and #3 in the country for her company.
Culture shock was minimal for them when they finally moved to Mexico because they had spent so much time in Ajijic as visitors.
“Mexicans are very, very friendly people and we had no problems integrating with them,” he said. “We both come from international backgrounds so we’re quite good at integrating with other cultures.”
Although the Lake Chapala area is well known for attracting many expat retirees, Badawy told us the mix of foreign residents is beginning to change.
“We are starting to get a few young people to the area,” he said. “Quite a lot of them have started their own businesses, like chocolate maker, dressmaker, and even a tool operator. A young person also just started a booking service for going on tours.”
The Badawys love Mexico for a lot of different reasons, but it is the relaxed Mexican lifestyle that tops their list.
“You don’t have to worry about the pressure of having to live in a big city or a big country,” Badawy said. “And of course the weather is perfect. We’re told that it is the second best climate in the world, although we say it is the best. The cost of living here is also a big plus. It’s about 45 percent lower than the U.S. and around 35 percent cheaper than Australia.”
For those of you interested in the cost of living, you can compare where you live with the cost of living in Ajijic at Numbeo, a popular crowd-sourced cost of living website.