The 2008 real estate crash in the U.S. profoundly affected the fortunes of Monica Rix Paxson, and led her first to an eco-village in the mountains of Mexico and then to a blossoming career as an expat healthcare author from Cuernavaca.
Monica Rix Paxson, who just turned 67, is the author of the best-selling book, “The English Speaker’s Guide to Medical Care in Mexico,” which is now in its 4th edition.
A self-described autodidact, or self-educated person, Paxson was born in Lawrence, Kansas but lived most of her life in Chicago prior to moving to Mexico. She attended classes at The Art Institute of Chicago for a while before discovering that her real talent was in the new digital field of desktop publishing.
“I started out working for an insurance company that insured veterinarians with large animal practices and also painted mannequins,” Paxson said. “One of my best jobs, though, was selling Macintosh systems for an Apple dealer. I loved being a Mac evangelist and learned how to use it for desktop publishing before people really knew anything about desktop publishing.”
Her new found digital skills enabled her to teach classes in the use of desktop publishing software, which eventually led to a job as manager of the writing department of the world’s largest commercial printing company in Chicago.
“We mainly wrote for travel and office supply companies,” she said, “and served as the in-house agency for the company. I loved my job, but in 2008 the job and my salary became a target and I, like many others, lost my job.”
She found herself alone in a big apartment in Chicago with no job, no husband and no child. Paxson, by this time, was divorced from her first husband and her daughter had left home.
“It was if the universe was telling me to make a change,” she said. “The only job that was available to me at that time was writing for a cardboard box company, and I just couldn’t imagine spending time doing that.”
Meanwhile, she had struck up an online relationship with her future husband, Luis Felipe Garcia Perez, and visited him in Mexico 15 times during their courting years.
“He lived in Mexico City but I didn’t want to move there,” she said, “so I drew a circle around Mexico City and told him I would look at anything within 50 miles.”
Fortunately, she reconnected online with a friend and former student who she had not seen in 20 years and was now living in the beautiful mountain eco-village of Huehuecoyotl. Meaning “Old Coyote” in Nahuatl, Huehuecoyotl is due south of Mexico City and close by Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos.
“It had been founded in 1982 by a group of nomadic entertainers who were basically hippies who traveled in vans throughout Europe and South America,” she said. During their travels to Mexico they fell in love with the place, and so did I. There were organic gardens and everything was recycled.”
She rented a house on the mountainside that had not been occupied for 17 years but had been well maintained.
“I loved living there but the six-story climb up to the house on a zigzagging sidewalk took its toll on me,” she said. “It was fine until the rainy season when everything turns green and slimy, which made it very dangerous to walk on. I had a couple of falls and decided to close this chapter of my life because the area was a little too remote for good medical care.”
The next chapter of her life began three years ago when she moved a half-hour south to Cuernavaca, which is about 60 miles south of Mexico City. Nearly a mile high in elevation with over 350,000 residents, this city of perpetual spring has long been a getaway for the affluent of Mexico City and home to an international expat community.
“My husband and I live in a one-bedroom flat in a family compound just outside Cuernavaca,” Paxson said. “People in Cuernavaca think we live out of town, but of course, distance is relative. We can drive to the center of town in about 10 minutes.”
Their flat has a large outside terrace with plenty of plants and a balcony off the back with a view that reaches to the mountains where she used to live. The couple pays less than US$400 a month for their flat, which includes television, Internet and all utilities.
Like most expats in Cuernavaca, she and her husband are well integrated into the local community.
“Cuernavaca used to be an international language center,” she said, “until about 10 years ago. As a result, we have a fairly large international community, not just Americans and Canadians. A large proportion of local residents commute to Mexico City, which is about an hour away via a beautiful highway that runs through the mountains and forests.”
Paxson told us that Cuernavaca’s popularity among residents of Mexico City dates back to Aztec royalty who loved the city’s year-round weather. Today, many Mexico City residents have second homes and spend weekends and holidays in Cuernavaca dining out and enjoying lazy afternoons by their pools.
“We have lots of good restaurants,” she said, “but my personal favorite is not a fancy restaurant, it’s a fonda, a small, unpretentious restaurant that serves good food. We would eat there three times a day if we could.”
They usually pay about 90 pesos, or US$5 per person, for salad, soup, a main course, a pitcher of fruit-infused water and dessert.
Paxson said she speaks Spanish in her day-to-day transactions and activities, but is a slow learner. Although she studies Spanish every day, she speaks primarily English with her husband, which is his choice. He is 42, has a master’s degree and is also fluent in French and English.
“Like me, Luis is an author of several books and many articles,” she said. “He also teaches both English and French to adult private students, including those who work for major international corporations.”
To earn income in Mexico, Paxson used her years of writing and graphics experience to start a U.S.-based publishing company. She published her first book, “The English Speaker’s Guide to Medical Care in Mexico,” in 2014.
“When I joined an expat club in Cuernavaca, I noticed that people had lots of questions about medical care, so I saw this as an opportunity to create something useful for expats and medical tourists,” she said. “My husband and I started writing the book when we worked for a marketing company that promoted medical tourism in Mexico and Costa Rica.”
Her book has been a major success and is updated every few years.
“We wanted to answer the questions expats were asking,” she said, “so the book deals with everything from birth to death. It deals with how to make good decisions on where to live based on health issues, how to find medicines you need in Mexico, what insurance and hospital care options exist and many other health-related issues and questions expats have.”
When Paxson was a small child in Kansas, she lived on a street named Paseo, which was at the very end of the Santa Fe Trail. She loved the many fiestas the local Mexican community held each year and fell in love with the culture, a culture she now embraces lovingly in Cuernavaca.