It all started for Dawn Fleming on the 405 freeway in L.A. in 2003. After years of living the SoCal lifestyle in Orange County, she and her husband Tom were in culture shock. They looked at each other and said, “This is our life? What are we doing here?” That conversation started them on a journey that took 13 years before finding the end of their rainbow in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
Dawn Fleming, 60, graduated from the University of Minnesota, close by her hometown of Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis. She took a degree in anthropology and got married while in school. Following graduation, her first husband went on to medical school and then the couple moved to Irvine, California in 1989 where he was a resident at the University of California, Irvine.
The couple split not long after moving to California, so Fleming enrolled at Western State University, Fullerton to complete a law degree and get on with her life, establishing her own business called Themis, named for the goddess of justice. She married her second husband Tom, who is now 70, in 2003.
Destin, Florida was the couple’s original destination back in 2003, but things got complicated and life interfered with their plans to escape L.A. immediately. Although the housing market was crashing, they were able to purchase a 48-foot center cockpit ketch called the Santorini. Before long, they headed south to sail in the Baja Ha-Ha race from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. But they did not stop there. They pushed on to Mexico’s Caribbean coast and Isla Mujeres, floating in turquoise water just 18-minutes by passenger ferry from Cancún, and a place Dawn Fleming had been visiting regularly since 1992.
“When we stopped at Isla Mujeres in 2010, it really felt like home,” Dawn Fleming told us. “But we were not yet ready to call Mexico home. We had shipped all of our belongs from California to Panama City on Florida’s panhandle. We lived there for two years, but it was still too cold for us. Punta Gorda, located on Florida’s southwest coast, seemed to be a good fit for us. But again, it wasn’t the end of the rainbow. We had been following the real estate market for more than a decade, so I did some research and found a need for three- and four-bedroom homes. There were a lot of condos and hotels, but not many villas.”
In 2016, they found a large home right on the water for US$475,000, but financing was expensive, topping 16 percent at the time. But with a little work, the owner was willing to self-finance at 4 percent, making the deal possible.
The property was a double oceanfront lot in a great location, but with a few design flaws. The couple lived on their boat while sinking all of their available resources into the villa to make it a profitable rental property.
“We built a pool and a third floor with the idea that we would live there and rent the units on the first and second floors as vacation rentals,” she said. “Our apartment on the third floor is high enough to give us sweeping views of the island, especially from the roof. We also installed solar and a dipping pool on the roof.”
The first floor holds two-bedrooms and two-baths, a great room, a kitchen and a dining area. The second floor is two oceanfront suites that have full kitchens and full bathrooms and, of course, living and eating areas and water views. Both have separate entrances.
The third-floor owner’s apartment has ocean views from every window, a full walk-in closet and master bathroom, kitchen, living area and the latest modern appliances and amenities.
Although they sailed the west coast of Mexico and spent time there, the couple prefers the warmer weather and turquoise water of the Caribbean, and most importantly, the Maya people.
“The people are probably the number one reason why we love this area so much,” she said. “They are just such lovely, welcoming people. I’ve always felt like this was home, but unfortunately, it is not the hidden gem that I discovered in 1992. We now get about 25,000 tourists a day, who arrive from Cancún by ferry.
But the peace and quiet of her third-story aerie high above the beach provides just the right environment to let out her creative self.
“I’ve been threatening to write a book for over a decade,” she said, “so I am now really excited that it will be released by the end of this month on March 29th. I got a head start on “Claim Your Dream Life, How to Retire in Paradise on a Shoestring Budget” with the Kindle version and it’s already number one in business travel reference books on Amazon.”
Her book’s DNA lies in her dreams of Mexico two decades ago.
“I really started dreaming about leaving California for Mexico in 2002,” she said, “but we didn’t make it here until 2017. We had a lot of twists and turns on our journey, but you learn as you go along. What’s attractive about following somebody else and learning from them is they already have made many of the mistakes you can potentially avoid. They have already figured out where the landmines are.”
Fleming also has a podcast called, “Overseas Life Redesign,” which is available on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify and other platforms.
“The podcast focuses on many things about Mexico, but the Maya people get a lot of coverage because they and their culture are so welcoming, and they just bend over backwards to help you here. A little bit of consideration goes a long, long way. I also would be remiss if I didn’t talk about our fabulous Caribbean beaches of white sand. We have one of the ten best beaches in the world! We also have convenient access to Cancún’s international airport, and of course all the shopping a large, developed area provides.”
But for the Fleming’s the end of their rainbow just may have moved a bit farther north. They now have their eyes on an area about 20-minutes from Progresso on the Gulf of Mexico, which has a harbor deep enough for their boat and easy access to the great Yucatán lifestyle of Mérida. If they can sell their current property for around US$2million, they just may be on their way.