Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

So much more than beaches & beer

Canadian expat spreading the word about Mexico

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If ever beleaguered Mexico needed an enthusiastic ambassador, it is now. And it has found one in Canadian Madeline Milne.

Like many visitors, the 36-year-old Vancouverite's first trip to Mexico was a holiday to Los Cabos as a child. More trips to different destinations followed and as she saw more of the country, she couldn't get enough.

"It's the diversity. I'm blown away about how wonderful it is. The people are wonderful, the food is great," she says.

But it wasn't until she was laid off from a real estate marketing job in Vancouver in 2009 that she decided it was time to make a big change. She had a freelance client in Los Cabos, and realized she could still do the same type of real estate work, only south of the border. In August, Milne moved to Bucerias, a small city of about 10,000 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. Her son and husband have since joined her.

Meanwhile, she's been doing a lot of travelling around her adopted country, trying to educate herself on all things Mexico as fodder for the magazine she's started, called Mexi-Go. It's published four times a year and is aimed at educating Canadians who are interested in living, retiring, investing or moving to Mexico.

Milne describes her mission as the chance to share with people that "Mexico is so much more than beaches and beer."

Here's what else Milne has learned about Mexico.

How did you settle on moving to Bucerias?

Mostly just logistics. I thought I needed to be close to an international airport and be able to get back to Vancouver within four hours. I wanted something smaller and to get to know my neighbours and my local grocery store.

What helped you integrate into Mexican culture, or do you still feel like an expat?

I catch myself sometimes saying, 'I'm going home,' when I go back to Vancouver, but I'm trying to change that. I love what Mexico offers. I've made a lot of friends. I mean to make Mexico my home.

How did your 10-year-old son feel about the move?

He's making friends and he's learning how to surf. The all-Spanish school is frustrating for everyone. I'm trying not to put too much pressure on him. I have almost no Spanish. Now that I'm down here, I almost never need to speak it. People want to learn English here rather than listen to me speak Spanish.

Tell me about your magazine, Mexi-Go.

It's a lifestyle magazine about life in Mexico. It has a real estate focus and talks about great places to invest, the legalities of buying in Mexico and how you can rent your property for income.

Crime is a big issue here, so we discuss that, too. We try to inform people about all the different areas about Mexico. So when people are considering retirement in Mexico they have all the information they need. The subscriptions are growing slowly.

What are your three favourite places in Mexico for holidays?

Playa del Carmen is a really fun town, it's quite sophisticated and has a more cosmopolitan feel. Lots of Europeans and South Americans. Merida in the Yucatan. It's amazing. It's this wonderful colonial city that has the most beautiful architecture. Almost every day there is something free going on in the city. Streets are closed on Sundays in centro and around the main cathedral, shops open and family rides their bikes and walk their dogs.

One of my absolute favourite places is La Paz in the Baja on the Sea of Cortez. It's a Mexican city with a population of 100,000. It has the most amazing sea life. The water and sand is just like the Caribbean. You drive along the road and around every corner, there's another beach. There's giant squid, sea lions, tons of fish, and it's all protected. The quality of water and sea life has not been damaged, like a lot of other places. There's hundreds of little islands you can sail around.

What's the best place in Mexico for a first-timer?

It would depend on the type of person. I would fly into one of the major destinations like Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. From those three airports, you can find something for everyone.

Party in Cabo or get a quieter vibe in San Jose (del Cabo). In Puerto Vallarta, you have an older crowd, or a little north to Sayulita is a fantastic town with a great energy. I call it the Nelson (B.C.) of Mexico. It's got surfers and hippies.

For Cancun, you're an hour to Playa del Carmen or Merida. You can play at the beach or take in a sophisticated colonial city.

What are some of the best places/activities for boomer-age travellers?

I would say Puerto Vallarta. It has everything a boomer is looking for. It's got art and culture, great food, high-quality accommodations, it's got hospitals, Lake Chapala and the town of Ajijic.

It's got amazing birds and butterflies and natural flora and fauna. There's lots of hiking; it's never too hot or too cold. Facilities there are geared to boomer generation.

What places do you recommend for families?

I actually just did a tour in Playa del Carmen. That's very family-friendly. There are a bunch of wonderful places to visit. There are cenotes and pyramids and the most wonderful diving and snorkelling. It's all very traveller-friendly. Everyone speaks English.

There also Xcaret. It's like the Disneyland of Mexico. You go for a day or two and it has an aquarium and beach and cultural shows. You can snorkel with dolphins or manta rays. You can watch Mayan rituals. You can tour cenotes, and there's a zoo with animals indigenous to Mexico.

It's got everything from Mexico in one place.

What are the real estate prices like these days?

You can get something for $10,000 or for millions of dollars. In the beaches outside of Merida, you can buy oceanfront lots for less than $50,000.

You can build a $200,000 home, about 2,000 square feet with top-of-the-line finishings. In PV you can buy a one-bedroom condo with ocean views from $180,000 to $220,000.

If you sell something in Calgary for $800,000, you can buy in Mexico for $400,000.

Where is the best value in real estate?

I think the Yucatan is becoming more popular. So it's not going to last forever. There you can buy oceanfront for $50,000. It's still a buyers' market. It's just a matter of finding a place you really connect with.

What do you tell people who might be afraid to travel to Mexico these days?

They're being ridiculous. Crime against tourists in Mexico is almost non-existent. I've been travelling here for 30 years and have never had anything stolen or put in a position of danger.

The crime that we mostly hear about is taking place between gangs and the military and the police and it has nothing to do with tourism.If it does happen, it's wrong place, wrong time.

Mexico knows (its) economy relies on tourism. They go out of their way to see that you are respected and treated well.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 D3

History

Updated on Monday, May 14, 2012 at 11:25 AM CDT: Corrects link in story.

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