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He Joined the Circus and Wound Up in Mexico

Apizaco, Mexico
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bob Cox is an expat “old timer” who knows a lot about Mexico after living here for over five decades. He had not planned on it, but after high school he joined the circus and wound up in Mexico.

“I was born in Columbus, Georgia 80 years ago and after reading Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” after graduating from high school I hitchhiked to California and back again,” Cox told us. “When I got back I lived with my brother in Fort Walton Beach, Florida and one day saw a circus being put up. The manager asked me if I wanted to work and I said yes and he said pack your bags. Little did I know that I would end up living in Mexico.”

Cox has lived for years in Apizaco in the state of Tlaxcala, about two hours east of Mexico City and an hour north of Puebla. How he got there is quite a story.

“When I joined the circus, I worked mainly in concessions, where the money is made,” he said. “I worked for Clyde Beatty, Cole Brothers and other circuses that took me through the U.S. and into Canada and Mexico. During the winter, there is no work so I returned to Columbus and ran into a Mexican girl I knew from the circus at a Thanksgiving Day parade. She and her husband were going to Mexico to work during the winter and invited me along.”

That winter of 1966 Cox and his friends worked in Guanajuato and other cities, but ended up in Mexico City where he learned from some tourists that it was snowing in Laredo.

“My friends and I did not want to go back to that, so we went to Puebla where their uncle had a circus,” he said. “That’s where I met my wife in 1968, the year of the Olympics in Mexico City. We started dating and got married that year.”

Now married to a Mexican citizen, Cox thought it would be easy to obtain Mexican citizenship. Not so.

“I went to immigration and told them I was married to a Mexican citizen,” he said, “and want to become a citizen. They were very anti-American at the time and I said to hell with it. I told my wife that I’m going to be the eternal tourist so I had to go to the States every six months for decades to work at the Indianapolis 500, the San Antonio Fiesta Parade and other events before heading back to Mexico.”

But things changed dramatically for him in 2005 when he was working as an interpreter for orphanages and medical caravans sponsored by Americans.

Mount La Malinche, Apizaco, Mexico
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“I was on a bus on my way to Puebla when Immigration stopped the bus to check our papers, looking primarily for Central Americans,” said Cox. “I was six months overdue on my tourist visa. They asked me how long I had lived in Mexico and I told them about 35 years. They said those years would not count, but I should apply for a resident visa. So, I started the process and eventually became a citizen of Mexico in 2011. It took five years, but it was well worth it.”

Cox and his wife, who teaches English as a second language at local schools in Apizaco, were fortunate to qualify for government housing when they first moved to the city.

“It’s like Social Security housing, which comes with very low rates,” he said. “We bought our place for around US$40,000 and it had two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living room. Since then, we have added two more rooms and a garage.”

Most of the people who live in their neighborhood are teachers, but expats are far and few between in this quiet city of nearly 90,000 people.

Railroad monument in Apizaco, Mexico
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“I would say there are about five or six expats that I know of, but there might be others,” Cox said. “We have a good friend in Santa Cruz, which is about six miles from us. He and his wife are from Iowa. This town is more industrial, a railroad town, so is not a magnet for expats, although the cost of living is very low.”

Apizaco is in a mountainous area, nearly 8,000 ft. in elevation, which suits Cox and his wife just fine.

“You have pretty nice weather year-round here,” he said, “because of the elevation. It can get into the mid-40s F at night during the winter but seldom ever gets above 80 F during the day. We have just two seasons, the summer rainy season and everything else. It’s like spring all of the time.”

Shopping is fine in Apizaco, Cox said, and when they need something they cannot find there, they hop a bus to Puebla, which is a city of over 2 million people. Their son and daughter live in Puebla, so they know the route well.

Although now retired because of glaucoma and loss of peripheral vision, Cox has done many things in his life beyond operating concession stands at circuses.

“When I first came here, I did not have a work permit, so I had to figure out how to make a living on a tourist visa,” said Cox. “So, I became a freelance photographer and worked a while on The Sun newspaper in Mexico City, which published in English. I also wrote articles for about a year before it folded. More recently, my wife and I became accredited tourist guides and for the last 20 years specialized in tours of haciendas around Tlaxcala.”

Life has slowed for Cox, allowing him to savor his very full life in Apizaco. He has seen many changes over the last 52 years in Mexico, most for the good.

“When I first came down here with my friend and his wife,’ he said, “my friend picked up a shovel and put it in the car. I asked him what it was for and he said we might need it because so many of the roads we traveled were that bad. Today, they just opened up a super highway that runs from Apizaco to Mexico City!”

If he did not live in Apizaco, Cox said he thought he might live in Mexico City because there is so much to do there, or Oaxaca, especially for the world-renowned food found there. But Apizaco, has been their home for so many years and the birthplace of their two children, who live just down the road in Puebla. We hope they are able to travel that road for many more years.