After nearly three decades working for Hollywood film and television production companies, Terry Gusto found the perfect spot for retirement in sun-drenched Puerto Escondido, Mexico’s surf city.
Gusto, who recently turned 69, traded the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for one of the 10 best surfing spots on the planet, Puerto Escondido, a small city of over 50,000 people in the state of Oaxaca on southwest Mexico’s Pacific shore.
The city’s Zicatela Beach is widely known as one of the world’s best surfing spots and attracts top international surfers each year for its Quiksilver Pro Puerto Escondido competition.
“When I was in high school I broke my back at Malibu Beach,” Gusto said, “and that was the end of my surfing career. I’ve always had it in my blood and I never lost the need for the ocean and to watch crazy people on their boards.”
Gusto was born and raised in North Hollywood, California and developed a love for the nearby beaches at an early age. After high school, he attended a junior college for one year and then transferred to San Jose State University in the Bay Area. He graduated in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations with a minor in radio and television.
His first few years out of college were spent primarily in the travel industry and working for EST. In the 1970s Werner Erhard’s two-week transformational seminars focused on the ideas of transformation, personal responsibility, accountability and possibility. Many EST followers worked in the film and television business.
“I came in contact with an incredible number of Hollywood people,” he said, “who worked at every level of film and television. I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse to come to work for a TV production company, so I got into that business in the summer of 1976.”
Gusto began a nearly three-decade career as a locations manager, which he said is far more complicated than most people realize.
“I was responsible for parking, permits, police, fire, catering, space, crew, trucks and a thousand other requirements to successfully support shooting television programs or feature films,” he said. “Once you hit the streets, you have to get it done within a specific period of time, and it’s not cheap.”
In the early 2000s, Gusto and his old college roommate determined their retirement dollars were not going to get them the kind of retirement they wanted if they remained in the U.S. They began visiting warm, sunny locales where the cost of living was low but the quality of life high. Looking for a place they could easily travel to and have friends visit, they first touched down in Costa Rica, the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and then Belize.
“We ended up in Puerto Escondido in 2006,” he said, “because a surfing buddy of mine told me about it. My friend David came down first and then called me to say, ‘Hey, this could be it.’ I finished the show I was working on and came down. We saw, we stayed, we bought and we built.”
Lots of things about surf city attracted Gusto, including the property they found, which overlooked the ocean and the beach.
“We also lucked out by meeting a really solid group of expats that pulled no punches and showed us around and explained the ins and outs of living here,” he said.
He was also attracted by Zicatela Beach, one of the top 10 best surfing beaches in the world. It attracts an international flow of people of all ages to Puerto Escondido year-round, although the summer months are much quieter. Another thing Gusto loves is the fresh seafood that is caught daily by a fleet of about 60 fishing boats. And, of course, the weather is a big factor in his coastal contentment. The mean temperature year-round is about 85 F and the water averages a warm 80 F.
“I have never worn a pair of jean down here,” Gusto said. “My wardrobe is bathing suits, shorts and a t-shirts.”
Puerto Escondido is a very laid-back small city with 12 stoplights and an economy based on fishing, agriculture, tourism and small industry. Gusto compares it with Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta four or five decades ago because it takes him just 15 minutes to go anywhere in town.
One of his favorite things to do is shop at the city’s Mercado Benito Juárez. “The Mercado is in the center of town and is huge,” Gusto told us. “I get all of my fruits and veggies there for less than US$25 a week. You can also buy a wide variety of other things, also.”
Overall, the cost of living in Puerto Escondido is low, considering the city’s coastal location. Gusto said his monthly water bill is just over US$2 a month, electricity is about US$22 a month and gas runs about US$1.40 per liter. He pays his housekeeper about US$11 per visit and his gardener, who comes five times a week, receives US$98 per week.
“Food is very inexpensive but good here,” he said. “For example, breakfast usually costs under US$5, dinners between US$5 and US$8 and dinner between US$10 and US$20 per person. If you really want to splurge, a high-end dinner runs about US$20.”
When Gusto and his college roommate, Dave, first moved to Puerto Escondido in 2006 they decided to buy property with an ocean view and build a home, rather than renting or buying an existing property.
“We built it from scratch,” he said. “We found a great builder who had been building homes in the area for a while and real estate people who had come down to surf but never left. They helped us do everything right from the beginning, including getting a good price. I own a two-story home on one acre of land that is about 1,300 square feet with two-bedrooms and a bath-and-a-half. It also has a large front porch and a pool. All this and an ocean view for under US$200,000.”
Gusto’s friend Dave passed away a few years ago but he now rents the second story of his home to a friend from the film industry. He also owns a half-acre lot next to his current home and is putting the finishing touches on a construction and financing package for potential investors.
“I’ll build a new house for me and a few rental units on the property,” he said, “and I will be set for the rest of my life. If I find the right investors, they will do well and I will do well.”
Gusto retired in 2013 and moved fulltime to his place in the sun. He is active in the growing expat community, which he said numbers about 3,000 full-time and as many as 5,000 during the winter months. Canadians are the most numerous, followed by Americans and a contingent from Italy. There are also a number of Australians, New Zealanders and others from South America and Europe. Although not fluent in Spanish, Gusto’s language skills are gradually improving, which helps him connect with many local Mexican friends.
The population of slow-paced Puerto Escondido is on the brink of swelling substantially in the future with the arrival of a new four-lane highway from Oaxaca that should be completed soon.
“Right now, by road, it’s about a six to eight hour drive through the mountains to Oaxaca,” Gusto said. “It’s a dangerous, winding two-lane mountain road. That will change when the new four-lane highway opens, which will cut the time to Oaxaca to about two hours.”
If you are traveling by air within Mexico or internationally, Puerto Escondido’s airport can connect you through Mexico City or direct to other Mexican cities.
Although happy with the transportation improvements, Gusto worries about what will happen when easier access to his adopted city becomes available.
“People are building rental properties and several large hotels are going up on the beach, both nine-stories tall,” he said, “but I don’t think I will see a Hilton or a Marriott in my lifetime.”