“The beauty of life is things always fall into place, even when we think they don’t”
I was first introduced to Mexico when my parents took us to visit a family friend there over the Christmas holidays one year. Although he’d travelled the world, this man adored Mexican culture so much that he purchased an oceanfront condo in Mazatlan. At the time, I did not realize he’d play a part in my story of living and working in Mexico.
Looking back now, I am reminded that everything happens for a reason; even those times we consider those things as “less than great”. My first impression of Mexico wasn’t positive; I thought it was poor, dusty, and found the food strange. During that first visit, I’d never have dreamed this country would become such a soul-satisfying part of my life, but it did.
As our family continued to visit Mazatlan, my affection for the country slowly changed. I noticed that Mexico has many layers to it; and with each visit, I appreciated more and more what an incredibly diverse place it is.
After finishing high school, I’d studied hospitality at SAIT–The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and when presented with practicum options I got it in my head to move to Mazatlan. I was confident that with the help our family friend, I could work in a hotel and learn Spanish. So I inquired.
To meet the practicum guidelines the job had to be a paid position. Unfortunately the hotel in Mazatlan wasn’t able to do this, thereby closing this door for me. Still, I was determined to find a way to somehow, somewhere, experience more of this amazing culture. I knew there was still some Mexico in my soul that I needed to explore.
“We are the authors of our own stories”
A few years later, my friend and I were looking to organize a trip to Napa, when our travel agent suggested we visit Puerto Vallarta instead. We thought this was a great idea, and took her advice. Little did I realize at the time that this single decision would forever change my life.
With its distinct cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture, I instantly fell in love with the quaint city of Puerto Vallarta. It spoke to me in a way that made me instinctively know that I had to follow my heart and find a way to live there. I was confident that Vallarta held many opportunities for me, so I began focusing on ways to make the move happen.
I began by visiting hotels and speaking to HR departments about potential jobs; I checked the local community paper and researched rental price points, and befriended as many locals as possible, asking their advice. Every day I stepped out of my comfort zone many times, and to make this dream move a reality.
Of course, there were naysayers- the people who didn’t believe that I could do this on my own. Although their resistance slowed my process, I refused to let anyone else’s opinion make this decision for me. I’ve since learned that people who tell others they can’t do things are usually the ones who wish they could do these things themselves. (Years later I was happy to host some of them in my beautiful Mexican villa!) So I pressed on.
“When something lives in your mind and heart, you owe it to yourself to pursue it”
After a few years of working in corporate hotels in Calgary, I officially moved to Puerto Vallarta in 2003. I remember feeling a mix of terror and hope and excitement as the plane’s landing gear touched down on the runway, reminding myself I was arriving in Mexico as a resident, not a tourist.
From day one, I approached Vallarta with a sense of adventure and humor and quickly found success in many areas. My first job was as a salesperson at a shoe store over the busy Christmas season. After getting to know some local business people, I was offered (and took) a hostess job at a popular Italian restaurant on the main boardwalk.
Wanting to ensure I was building strong relationships, I always worked hard, stayed extra hours when asked, and when invited, attended events – even if they started at midnight, which was not uncommon.
Using the local friendships/connections I was making, I found a family to stay with who quickly embraced me as one of their own. I will never forget my new “Spanish Mama”, who taught me things like how to buy groceries, prepare authentic Mexican food, and how to wash my clothes by hand!
I will never forget the kindness showed to me by mama, and the whole family. Their love and acceptance added even more fuel to my fire, and gave me the confidence to persevere when times were tough, or as I figured out life in Mexico.
Each day also brought its own unique challenges; one time I bought Cinnamon at the grocery store using only hand gestures; another time, while trying out my Spanish, I accidentally told the produce lady I was looking for “bitches”, when in reality I just wanted some pears!
I see change as something that is very much a regular part of life, and at the time found comfort in the thought of “if it doesn’t work out, I can go to the airport and go home”. But I never did. Instead, I kept trying new things and learning as I went along.
These experiences taught me a valuable life lesson: Despite the many reasons we have for not doing something in life, the thought of the adventure and learning “that thing” can bring for us usually far outweighs the fears.
We owe it to ourselves to see what’s on the other side of those fears. This is how I feel about my life in Mexico. Looking back now, I’m so happy that I chose adventure and learning back then, and still do today.
We have a set period to do things in life that interest us. By doing these things, we always change ourselves for the better
Moving to a foreign country has taught me more about myself than I ever would have if I’d stayed in Calgary. And I did it all on my own, something which I am really proud of.
Mexico has given me so much to be grateful for. Oh sure, there’ve been difficult times; times when I wondered why I was there. But after a while, things always worked out and confirmed what I already knew: That I made the right decision to make Mexico my home for part of each year.
Not that I could leave that easily; despite living splitting my time between Canada and Mexico for the past eighteen years, I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the culture, geography and an immense culinary scene. There’s still a lot of Mexico to explore and experience, and I plan to resume it very soon.
I can’t wait.*
*At the time of publishing Erin is once again enjoying the beaches of Vallarta by day, and spending time with old friends at night
Author Bio: Erin Lee
For the past 18 years Erin has divided her time between Canada and Mexico, living in Puerto Vallarta. Erin loves to share her knowledge and experiences with others through her personal concierge service, “Follow Me PV”, where she showcases the real Mexico, and ensures people have authentic experiences.
When not residing in Puerto Vallarta, Erin lives in Calgary, Alberta, where she spends time with family and friends, and planning her next visit to Mexico.