Road Trip To Valladolid, Mexico

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico | 10 Comments

It was a hot day in late August of 2012, the warmth of summer still sticking around. I had been working hard all year and decided it was time to take a mini vacation, so I rented a car for the week and headed out to visit some of the local sights in and around Cancun. During my excursion I hit up Valladolid, Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Coba, Akumal, Puerto Morelos and the Ruta de Cenotes just south of Morelos. Read More

Immigration Line

Local Fixers and You – Tips for Full-Time Travel

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 2 Comments

While those of us who are traveling for a living often speak the language of the countries we are visiting, it’s not always a guarantee that where you end up will be somewhere where you can actually communicate fluently. And although you might only be on the ground a week or two, or maybe even as long as a few months on a passport stay, once you start to get into long-term immersion travel there are a variety of bureaucratic processes that can bog you down if you don’t speak the local lingo. Or, even in the case of those of us who speak the language, sometimes you just don’t want to be bothered with the hassle of doing paperwork when you can find someone else to do it for you.

Things like getting your residency paperwork filed with the local immigration office. Or getting papers notarized and translated. Or dealing with lawyers for a property purchase/sale. Every country does things differently, and as most of us have found out over the years, sometimes the only downside to living in a developing country is the bureaucracy.

Such as looking at the immigration website for your country and downloading the required papers, filling them out and then going to the local immigration office and talking to the individual at the information desk only to find out that the papers on the website aren’t up to date and you need to fill out these papers instead and supply copies of these two pages of your passport along with a translated copy of this document and copies of these bank statements.

So you take the next day to follow the instructions, come back to the office only to find another employee working…who tells you that you didn’t actually need that copy there but actually this copy here and you need two more copies of that document and this one has to be notarized but only after it has been translated and you have to be back between the hours of two and four in the afternoon only there’s a line halfway around the block to try and get it when you return so you say screw it and come back the next day and submit all your paperwork, finally, and they tell you to check the website in two weeks for an update but when you do nothing updates and you wait and you wait and five weeks later you finally decide to go to the office to find out what’s up only to find out that your paperwork has been there the entire time but no one ever entered it into the website to let you know to come pick it up, but before you can pick it up they have changed the laws and now you need these other documents filled out and notarized and…

Having done my own visa paperwork in three countries now (Bulgaria, Colombia and Mexico), I can tell you from first-hand experience that the hassle — even if it’s only once a year — can be enough to drive a person mad. In Bulgaria, for example, I went through the residency visa process three times, and every year it was completely different…and I had to spend three to five days jumping through hoops that would change on a daily basis depending on who was working. It’s literally the only thing I dislike about living in developing countries: the lack of a streamlined filing system.

Which is where local fixers come into play.

Taking One For The Team

Think of a local fixer as a temporary personal assistant. They are going to do all the little things that you don’t want to be hassled with. Like running around to the notary and the translator and the lawyer and the copy shop and the immigration office for files and copies and forms. They speak the local language and can thus communicate on a far greater level than yourself (even if you do happen to speak fluently; they are native speakers after all), but there’s something else that a local fixer has which is greater than their communication skills: Local know-how.

They know the way things work. They know who to talk to, how to grease the wheels, how to talk to the right people to get the desired result. They have built up connections with lawyers, immigration officials, bankers, notaries and beyond, which gives them a streamlined way of doing things that just isn’t available to you, even if you (like myself) happen to live in a city and speak the language reasonably well. They are often friends with the people working behind the counter at the offices and have built up a rapport with them over the years, which means your paperwork gets pushed to the front of the line rather than lingering away, lost in some bin.

But most importantly, you don’t have to waste your time doing the little things. Instead, you simply show up a couple of times, put your signature on some paperwork, pay the fixer his fee and go on about your business. Time = money, after all, and by using your time to be more productive and work on your income, you can pay a local fixer their minimal fee and let them handle the paperwork for you.

Above and Beyond

Local fixers are also often the difference between living as an expat in a specific city and being denied the right to live there and forced to leave if you have overstayed your passport stay or your visa. For the most part they are people working on the right side of the law helping to “fix” bureaucratic issues for non-native speakers of the host country language. They either work on commission, tips or referral fees (such as in the case of fixers for local immigration lawyers who get a kickback from the lawyer after they bring in a new client, who is you, the digital nomad and/or expat who needs help).

Contrary to what some people might think, fixers are not working illegally…for the most part. They do exist on both sides of the fence. However, if you do things by the book you will be working with the legal ones, the ones who are simply helping you navigate the minefield that is dealing with your visa in Japanese when you only speak English, for example.

Fixers can also take care of some shadier types of activities (disclaimer: I do not personally recommend these methods, merely mention them for your reading), such as working with a legitimate fixer to help you grease the local wheels with bribes and tips. This involves things such as paying off local officials so you don’t have to leave a country while your visa is processing or your status is changing (such as in Bulgaria). Or it could involve overstaying your visa while in a country like Russia and then having a local fixer bribe the local officials and help you navigate the loopholes to get your visa renewed and take care of your accidental hiccup.

There’s a lot of different ways fixers can help you above and beyond just visa issues. They are also extremely common in the journalism industry, as well as the travel documentary industry, helping people nail down their film and gear permits as well as access to press passes and the like. You can read more about them  and how to utilize them in your travels within The Expat Guidebook itself, but in the meantime you can watch our YouTube video on the subject as well.

This is an expanded version of a post originally written for The Expat Guidebook blog.

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Cascadas Reformas

Zona Arqueológica de Reforma y las Cascadas

Posted by | Hiking, Mexico | 3 Comments

While I happen to be based out of the Riviera Maya, and there’s certainly no end to the touristy sights and activities here that the government promotes to bring in the English-speaking crowd, if you want to explore the real Mexico you have to go a little deeper inland. In the case of the past weekend, about 12 hours by bus to the towns of Chable, Emiliano Zapata, and the Zona Arqueológica de Reforma y las Cascadas of Tabasco. Chable is a little pueblo straddling the banks of the mighty River Usumacinta, which forms in the highlands of the Sierra de Chama Department of El Quiché , in Guatemala, and eventually works its way north before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s where Cris was born and where the majority of her family live, and we headed out for a quick getaway last weekend to say hi and just get out of the house for a couple of days. Read More

Destination Freedom by Marginal Boundaries

A Day Out – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 4 Comments

If you’ve ever spent any length of time in Cancun, Mexico, you’ve probably heard of “la isla”, as the locals call it. What they are referring to is the island known as Isla Mujeres, or the Island of Women. It’s a small enough little place, with only around 15,000 inhabitants and clocking in at a mere 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long and 650 metres (2,130 ft) wide. It’s the perfect day trip given the beauty of the beaches and the relative smallness of the island, which makes it a popular destination with both locals and tourists looking to escape the cluster-fudge that are The Hotel Zone beaches.

Over the years, it’s become one of our favorite hangouts, and Cris and I usually spend at least one weekend per month out on the island. While it can be a bit crowded in the downtown area and Playa Norte (north beach) during the high season due to the amount of tourists, they usually head back to the mainland and Hotel Zone around 5 p.m. in the afternoon, which means if you want to have a quiet island dinner you just wait for the tourists to leave and then hang out with the locals and catch a later ferry back.

Speaking of which, can only get there via ferry, which takes 20 minutes or so from the mainland at Puerto Juarez (or Punta Sam if you are commercial transport or a local with a car), or from the ferry in the Hotel Zone. Only locals are allowed to drive vehicles on the island, which means the ferries are only bringing people over, although the Punta Sam car ferry will transport commercial vehicles with supplies for the island. As of 2013 prices are are 140 pesos round-trip (70 pesos there, and 70 back, or 10-12 dollars depending on the exchange rate), although if you are a resident (of the island) you can get a discount on those prices.

Destination Freedom, Isla Mujeres Ferry

On April 7th, we decided to take our Destination Freedom group out to the island for a day of relaxation and fun away from the headquarters to enjoy the beauty of The Riviera Maya. They’ve been here hard at work since the start of March, and we try and get them out of the house a few times per month to enjoy the area. It’s not all hard work! There’s plenty of fun and games as well, although we do run them pretty ragged in terms of 7-8 hours a day of classes and training to get their Spanish and social media skills going and their brands built up, so these little outings are a well-deserved reward.

After an early breakfast, we hit the ferry where we met up with my buddy Hans from the Pro Web Group and his girlfriend, who is a Russian expat here working for a travel agency alongside other Russians. He runs PSD2HTMLPros, among other sites, and specializes in website development. He’s helped with a few classes during our program and covers some of the basics of development for WordPress sites to help our members tweak their websites on their own for the little things that go into the day-to-day basics of running a WordPress blog.

From there, it was a quick and uneventful ride out to the island where we disembarked and made our way to a local restaurant for the second breakfast, to satisfy the hobbit in all of us. Cris and I shared some French toast and coffee, while Dave and Sophie just had some fruit and tea, and Hans + his girlfriend Anna enjoyed their first breakfast of the day. After that, it was time to get started on finding a golf cart rental agency.

Normally, when it’s high season, you can negotiate a better rate on rentals (as low as 400 pesos for the day down from 500 for the day, which is the normal price), but they were being sticklers on the rates because we are in the middle of low season. Prior to breakfast Anna was able to get them down to 480 per cart, but after breakfast she was able to get them down to 475 for two. Not a huge savings; basically we got $20 USD off for the rental of two golf carts for the day. Note: you have to speak Spanish to get a discount, and it does depend on the time of the year + other factors. I tried negotiating with the first two rental agencies we came across and they wouldn’t budge. Anna has connections in the hotel industry since she’s a travel agent, and she did some well-timed name-dropping to get them to drop the rates a little. 

Destination Freedom, Isla Mujeres

The day started off a bit funky with partly cloudy skies and some spitting rain/drizzle, but there was only a 10% chance of rain overall for the day, so Cris and I weren’t worried about it. Sophie, on the other hand, doesn’t like to get wet, and we got a kick out of her cruising along in the passenger seat of the golf cart Hans was driving while holding her umbrella up over her face so she didn’t get any drizzle splatter. Go ahead…feel free and giggle. I know we did!

Destination Freedom, Isla Mujeres

However, by the time we did some cruising around and checked out some of the island property tucked away in the back ends of the south-western section of the island, the clouds had broken and the sun was shining through. When we arrived at the turtle rescue farm it was a bright, sunny day.

Funniest thing? Check out the little guy who is hanging out towards the middle of the shot, soaking up the sun with his back feet splayed out and up in the air. Cris and I couldn’t figure out if he was planking, doing Pilates, or enjoying some morning Yoga. Regardless, he was enjoying himself completely!

Turtle Farm, Isla Mujeres

After we finished up at the turtle farm, it was time to cruise around to the south side of the island. While the beaches on the north side are great for soaking in the sun, the island’s best snorkeling, as well as the best views, can only be found on the south end. This is also where the vast majority of the locals live, considering the northern section is the “touristy” part of town where you can find Centro, Playa Norte and all the restaurants + hotels + rental agencies. Granted, there’s a lot of rental properties to find along the outskirts of the island, but the more private the retreat, the more you can expect to pay.

As a general rule, if you want to live on Isla Mujeres and you are looking for a middle-class lifestyle, you can expect to pay roughly what you would in Centro of Cancun. Between $200 to $400 a month for a single individual if you live under the radar, and $600 to $800 if you need extras like constant air conditioning (not really needed with the ocean breeze on a daily basis) and you drink a lot of beer/wine/alcohol.

Once you get around to the south side of the island you get into those turquoise blue waters that Cancun is so famous for. There’s a park here called Parque Garrafon, which is a national park set up by the government. You can buy a day pass which gives you access to the snorkeling and kayaking areas, plus the beach and all the lounge chairs, the restaurant, locker rooms, zipline and more. While it’s easy to spend an entire day just at the park enjoying all the amenities, we were here to explore the entire island with our group, so we only stopped by for some photos.

Cristina, Marginal Boundaries

After that, we jetted down to Punta Sur, or the South Point, which is where the lone Maya ruin is located, as well as the lighthouse and the sprawling vista out over the Mexican Caribbean. There’s a restaurant, some tourist shops, a walking trail you can explore, as well as plenty of coastline to enjoy and take photos from. Including a ledge I almost stepped off when they were taking the below shot. Not a long drop, but it would have hurt a little bit =P

Tim and Cristina

After that, we cruised back to Playa Norte and hit up one of the bars on the beach for a late lunch, beers and some kick-back-and-relax time before we had to take the golf carts back to the rental agency at 4:30. Decent food, cold beers, bit touristy in their prices but that’s what you get when you want to kick it beach-side  They had people’s forgotten swimwear and undies up on the ceiling, throwbacks to drunken days and nights out on the beach. Thankfully we didn’t see any skid-marks. And yes, that’s the WiFi code for the restaurant.

Bra Bar, Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

We were pretty wiped out after that point, having been on the island from 10 a.m., so after we turned in our golf carts we headed back to the ferry for the 6 p.m. departure and made our way back to the headquarters for a good night’s sleep before returning to classes the next Monday morning.

To follow along with our adventures with the Destination Freedom Spring of 2013 event, don’t forget to check out the photo galleries at our Google+ and Facebook pages, plus you can check the videos of our recent adventure trip with Snail Adventures over at our YouTube channel. Plus, don’t forget that registration is open for the Summer retreat (July, August and September of 2013) where we’ll be doing the whole thing all over again with a new round of globally-conscious and unplugged adventurers who are ready to take their lives to the next level.  

Don’t forget to sign up for our free newsletter for several-times-a-week, your-eyes-only travel and entrepreneur tips, plus receive a complimentary copy of our 85-page starter book on location independence and living abroad, 30 Ways in 30 Days.

With over 1,500 copies sold, our flagship 568-page eBook is what started it all. Learn how to travel the world like I do: without a budget, with no plans, funded completely by your website and online ventures.

The Expat GuidebookGet Your Copy Today!

Unplug from The System, cure yourself of The Greedy Bastard Syndrome, tap into your universal potential and create your own reality. Build a brand, travel the world and realize your cosmic consciousness.

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Living off the grid in Cancun, Mexico

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 8 Comments

One of my favorite aspects of living in Cancun, Mexico is when I have the opportunity to dispel some of the myths around the city. The first of which is that people assume all of Cancun is The Hotel Zone, the all-inclusive strip of beach-front property separated from the mainland by a lagoon and only accessible by two bridges. It’s a haven of resorts, dance clubs, bars and restaurants, all of which are over-priced and full of obese, drunk, consumption-addicted tourists from all around the world. What many people don’t realize is that there is an entire city on the mainland that is completely separate from the HZ, and it marches to the beat of a very different drum.

Cancun proper is a thriving, bustling, very Mexican hub of activity, where a smattering of the locals speak English but the vast majority are simply living life as all Mexicans live: in Spanish, simply and without the bustle and hum of the tourist section that the governments of the U.S. and Mexico both promote.

One of the primary reasons I came here was the simple fact that Cancun is smack-dab in the heart of the Riviera Maya, while at the same time boasting an international airport and a global hub of expats. The combination of easy in-and-out transportation, along with the fact this is the hub for one of the region’s busiest ADO bus terminals for routes in and around the rest of Mexico, make this the perfect hub for travelers who are here to spend time immersing themselves in the Mexican culture.

On top of that…Cancun is cheap. Or at least it’s cheap if you want to live like a local, speak Spanish and get off the beaten path. If you want to live the typical tourist lifestyle here, it’s very easy to spend 2-3k per month in living expenses, but if you are looking for middle of the road accommodations, comfortable living, cheap healthcare, high speed Internet and a modern infrastructure, you can have everything you need as a working professional for around $600 a month (individual; couples are around $800 a month; families dependent on how many).

We have two rooms available for rent in Cancun for those of you in the market for something quick and easy.

  1. View Room One Here

  2. View Room Two Here

Mirador, Cancun

I’ve covered the costs and etc. in other posts, such as Cancun – Beyond the Hotel Zone, as well as in our immersion travel guide for the city, but there’s more to it than just the cost of living. I’m a resident, here on a visa, which means I get the same bonuses as Mexicans. I have access to the universal healthcare system (costs me about $300 per year, and that gets me unlimited, free prescription medication along with free healthcare, although there are some limitations, such as no orthopedic surgeries for 2 years to make sure I’m not just going to buy in and abuse the system), and I can get into the national parks and museums for free on Sundays alongside the nationals…which means I can visit places like Chichen Itza just like the locals do.

But what if you aren’t here as a resident, but just as a temporary visitor? Even then, the costs are cheap. Especially as it relates to medical tourism. The perfect example is Dave from Nomadic Retiree. He was one of our retreat members down here for the Spring 2013 Destination Freedom brand boot camp for March, April and May. He’s getting a lot of dental work done currently. Root canal, some crowns, cavity work and beyond. We were tallying up the costs the other day and he took his quote from the United States (between $14,000 and $15,000 depending on which dentists he talked to) and compared it what he’s spending here in Mexico…basically he’s saving around $12,000 USD by the time everything is said and done…and the work he’s getting done is more professional than anything he’s ever received in the United States.

He’s going to be writing a blog series on it, so you can follow along at his website for the nitty gritty details, but the bottom line is that even if you aren’t here as a resident, things are cheap. If he was on the universal healthcare system it would be even cheaper, as some of the procedures would be covered by the healthcare, but he’s only down here as a visitor, not a resident, and you only have access to the system once you have an official visa and go pay your healthcare taxes/fees.

Playa Tortugas

Speaking the language also opens a lot of doors in Cancun. First of all, the taxi drivers won’t try and give you the gringo rates if you speak the lingo. Secondly, the bus drivers won’t try and short change you. Thirdly, the respect level gets cranked up to 11 when you are meeting the Mexicans on their own turf and speaking their language as opposed to being the arrogant tourist who demands their menu in English and berates the staff in the serving industry for not speaking English. I’ve already covered some of this in The Importance of Language Immersion for Expats, but the basic rule of thumb is this: when you give respect, you get respect back. It’s the age-old rule of reaping what you sow. Act like an arrogant twit, and you’ll be treated accordingly.

Knowing Spanish also gives you access to local rates on accommodations, as well as the ability to negotiate, which is one of the major bonuses of living in a Latin country: everything is negotiable. For example, my buddy DJ Vishnu negotiated a year’s worth of “free” rent at a hotel where he was staying simply by offering to manage their social media campaign for 2 hours a day and build them a new website. Which freed him up to work solely on his meditation videos and create more awesome music for his fans rather than stress about bringing in income from another source. Had he only spoken English, that door would have been completely closed to him.

There’s also an untapped market in terms of web development, social media development and beyond here on the local level, which means there are almost literally an unlimited number of job opportunities for the entrepreneurial sort who wants to come down here and put their nose to the grindstone. It’s the reason we are teaching Spanish language in our brand boot camps, so that our graduates can go on and find work not merely in English, but also in Spanish, both internationally and locally.

Destination Freedom by Marginal Boundaries

Cancun has a fairly negative reputation due to the Hotel Zone and its endless array of all-inclusive resorts and Spring Breakers, but the reality is that the city itself is completely separate. On the mainland we have quiet suburbs filled with parks and schools, Mexican barrios with 3 and 4 bedroom townhouses, a thriving middle class, the typical street food, plenty of mom-and-pop restaurants and businesses, cheap living and a completely laid-back, Bohemian way of life.

The buses run regularly, taxis are always available, there’s grocery stores every few blocks, you can find an Oxxo or Extra on every street corner, violent crimes are almost nonexistent, and it’s nothing but middle class Mexican families raising their children and living their lives no different than any other suburbia on Planet Earth. And if you get away from the Hotel Zone into the outer barrios on the mainland you’ll never see a gringo or an overweight tourist or find a strip club or hotel or any American restaurants. In fact, you’ll probably be one of the only foreigners that the locals have seen outside of when they go to the Hotel Zone or into the heart of downtown Centro.

And contrary to popular belief they don’t want to rob you, rape you, kidnap you or cut your head off. Cancun has a 2 in 100,000 murder rate compared to Washington D.C.’s 32 in 100,000 (as of 2010), so as far as safety goes, you are safer here than you are in the capitol of the U.S. Instead, the Mexican people are warm, inviting, friendly and ready to kick back a beer or smoke a joint with just about anyone. This is called the “land of tomorrow” for a reason: if you give a Mexican a reason to take a break, relax and enjoy life, they take it. End of story. And once you get a little Spanish under your belt you’ll quickly find that everyone, everywhere, is always looking to strike up a conversation and kick back a cold one, no matter the color of your skin or what country you come from.

On top of all that, you have access to the entire Riviera Maya, from places such as Isla Mujeres to the secluded coves at Akumal, from Isla Blanca to Cenote Ik Kil, from Playa del Carmen to Tulum to Cozumel and beyond. This really is a magical place to be living, and I couldn’t wish for a better place to call home! Don’t forget to give us a shout if you are going to be in the area as we are always up for beers and fun, and if you have questions about anything related to long-term living in the city, whether it’s apartment rentals or beyond, let us know!

Tim and Cristina

If you want to rough it on your own, head on over to our Cancun travel page for boots-on-the-ground information, or pick up our best-selling Cancun travel guide (on sale since 2011!)

cancun travel guide

Don’t forget to check our Cancun page for dozens of videos from our time here, as well as other Cancun-specific posts below.
Cost of Living in Cancun, Mexico
Modern Mexico: The Real Story
Cancun, Mexico – Beyond The Hotel Zone
Living Off The Grid in Cancun, Mexico
Market 23 in Cancun
Market 28 in Cancun
Gourmet Italian in Cancun – Assaggiare
Tacos in Cancun – Tacos Rigo
Tacos in Cancun – Los Aguachiles
Beaches in Cancun – Playa Tortuga
Beaches in Cancun – Puerto Morelos