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Living the Expat Life in Guanajuato

Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato in Guanajuato
Credit: Billperry | Bigstock

Mary Jordan grew up on the Oklahoma farm her grandfather staked his claim to during the land run of 1893, but decades later staked her own claim to living the expat life in Guanajuato.

Mary Jordan in a field near Cuanajo, Michoacan
Mary Jordan

Her path to Mexico was a sinuous journey, first to North Carolina to start a business and then to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she married and established a new life in Morrison, Colorado, just west of Denver.

Along the way she received an undergraduate degree in English, a graduate degree in Journalism and a Ed.D. in Education/Communications from Oklahoma State University, to prepare her for her life’s work as the Executive Director of the International Electrical Testing Association (IETA), which she founded and ran for a quarter of a century.

“When I first started my business,” Jordan said, “the electrical engineers I worked with were primarily male. When I got my doctorate, though, I was able to ‘pull rank’ on them when I wanted to.”

Although she and her husband loved living in the shadow of the Rockies with its sunshine and clean, clear mile-high air, they decided to invest in a condo in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, sandwiched between Cancun and Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean Sea.

“I loved the small town fishing village feel of Puerto Morelos,” she said. “They do not allow any building to be higher than three stories to retain the quaintness of the place.”

Sadly, Mary’s husband passed away in 2009, so she decided to sell their home in Colorado and move permanently to their condo in Mexico in 2011.

“I sold our home to my daughter and began a ‘slow move’ to our condo in Puerto Morelos,” 68-year-old Jordan said. “It took me several years to finally move all of the things I value to Mexico. I moved two bags at a time.”

Jordan said Puerto Morelos lives on tourism but has a large expat community made up primarily of Canadians and Americans. She knew everyone there and felt very safe.

“I could always sit at a bar, have a glass of wine and always see someone I knew,” she said. One evening in the moonlight in Puerto Morelos she met someone who changed her life.

“I met Peter Pope Jones in 2013, a musician from England who had lived in Mexico for the last 23 years,” Jordan said. “He is now my partner and mi amor.”

The two became inseparable and while on a trip through Sonora, he suggested they visit Guanajuato, a place where he had performed and always liked.

“I just said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this place is gorgeous.’ It is one of the major music centers of Latin America, has seven universities and wonderful culture. Guanajuato is very different from Puerto Morelos and other resort towns in Mexico.”

Image credit: Smej | Fotolia
Image credit: Smej | Fotolia

One of the richest silver-mining cities during Mexico’s colonial period, Guanajuato is situated in a narrow valley about 170 miles northeast of Guadalajara. This city of several hundred thousand people is unique in that many of its main streets are partially or fully underground.

Life in Guanajuato is strongly influenced by one of the oldest universities in Latin America, the University of Guanajuato, which first opened in the 18th century as a Jesuit school for children.

“Guanajuato is so perfect for us,” she said, “ because Peter is a musician and there is live music all of the time. There are symphonies and other cultural events to attend and, because it is a university town, there is a lot of energy, nightlife and things to do.”

Probably the largest annual music event in Guanajuato is the Festival Internacional Cervantino, which has grown to become the most important international artistic and cultural event in Mexico and Latin America.

After owning a condo in Puerto Morelos, she decided this time to look for a home the couple could lease.

“While on a bus from Sonora to Guanajuato, Peter and I made a list of about 20 things we did not want in the house and we also did not want to own anything,” she said. “We were staying at a hotel and just asked a guy if he knew anything about any long-term rentals and he said he had a friend who had a place that would meet all of our requirements.”

The three-bedroom house was formerly used for student housing because it is located close to the universities, so it was a bit run down and would require some renovation.

“Because homes in Guanajuato are known for being very colorful, we asked the owner if we could paint the house in orange, yellow and blue,” Jordan said. “We love the bright color combination. Our new home is one of those wonderful Mexican homes that sits perched on a hillside close to the center of the city, but mysteriously hidden behind a high wall.”

Jordan said that although Guanajuato is over 7,000 feet in elevation, the city is far enough south that its climate does not require homes to have heating or air conditioning, a big utility bill bonus.

Mary Jordan
Image credit: Mary Jordan

The couple has settled in well and now has many friends, both Mexicans and expats.

“We have met many people at concerts because Peter is a musician and Guanajuato is such a music center,” Jordan said. “Peter is primarily a guitar soloist but he also has a band called Gypsy, which plays everything from English folk songs to modern day rock and roll and blues.”

Like many Americans who move abroad, Jordan struggles with learning the local language. She is taking Spanish classes at an independent school called Plateros Spanish School, which provides more personalized small group instruction.

“My Spanish still sucks, but it is coming along,” she said.

Although the couple loves spending time in their new home and using the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables from the markets of Guanajuato to cook for themselves, they also love sampling the street food of the city.

“We cook at home a lot but the street food is amazing,” she said. “You cannot pass it up. It is almost like dying and going to heaven.”

Jordan is a very happy expat in Mexico, and Guanajuato in particular. She recommended that anyone thinking about moving to Mexico “just do it.”

“I love the United States, but when I get back here it’s like a sigh of relief, a breath of fresh air.”