When You Don't Want To Go Back To Where You Came From

Me, on my ever-continuing quest to look Toronto-cool
For the first year or two of living in Mexico City, all I wanted to do was go back to Canada. I struggled with making friends, with adapting to the culture and learning to speak the language.

I liked Mexico. I liked the food and my new boyfriend Miguel and the freedom of being able to pursue my writing in a much more affordable city where a few ESL classes could free me from financial worries. 

I appreciated the fact that I'd been able to pick up and move to a totally different place, to experience living in a different country, just like I'd always wanted to do. I'd achieved something big, something good.

But that didn't stop me from longing for my built-in community in Toronto. I mean, I was a transplant there too from Nova Scotia, an eastern province in Canada. I'd already fought like the dickens to make friends, build a professional community, feel at home in the city. It seemed more than crazy to give that all up.
I miss the random stuff I used to get up as part of my job at Penguin Canada. This was a book launch for a teen novel.
Flash-forward to almost four years later after moving to Mexico City. My husband and I are now planning on moving back to Canada. I want to begin the process of getting him permanent residency so we'll have no problem getting him into Canada in the future.

My husband also has dreams of opening a Mexican restaurant, or being otherwise involved in the burgeoning Mexican food scene in Toronto. As a charismatic guy with a real talent for making connections and impeccable knowledge of the cuisine, I think he could make a real go of it.

But what about my reasons for going back? I feel like I should and yet inexplicably, suddenly, I feel immense resistance to returning to my proverbial home.

First, I really feel like I should have health care. I'm thirty-two and so far have lived in Mexico without health insurance. I'm blessed with physical health and any mental health problems have been tackled with a combo of cheap talk therapy, expensive (and rare) visits to a psychiatrist, and an ongoing diet of Prozac.

But, part of me wonders if I shouldn't have more access to preventative health care. That I should have a family doctor who's responsible for monitoring my ongoing health and who knows my history.

Second, I feel like I should be a fucking adult already. Okay, let me explain. Being in Mexico as an expat, at least for me, is kind of like thinking of adulthood as a big fluffy bed that you just jump up and down on while cackling with glee.

Your rent is cheap. You don't need to get an office job. You can hire a cleaning lady. There are a million places to stuff yourself with the best food you've ever had and more alcohol than you ever need. Your schedule is flexible and inevitably you make friends with other expats with limited responsibilities and lots of time.
Adulting as hard as we can. With my husband Miguel.
Not to say that I've pissed away the last four years drinking beer and napping the day away. I built first a freelance writing business and then my very own fiction writing business, where I self-publish books under three names in three genres for profit on Amazon.

I'd have never had the opportunity to do this in expensive Toronto, where the pressure to take a day job to pay the bills is much stronger.

Is it that? That I'm afraid that the independence I've cultivated in DF will be robbed from me in Toronto? That I'll be constantly worried about money again, forced to take part-time office work, left with less time and energy to build my writing business?

Am I afraid to going back, as if this represents a return to normalcy (Which is exactly why I left in the first place ... I don't want to live a normal life)? That I'll fall back into the same routines, the same life? And with travel restrictions on visa applicants, we'd have to stay in Canada for a while. No vagabonding.

I want to see Miguel experience life in Canada. That'll be gratifying all in itself. And I know he'll force me to see more of the country and do new things.  But me? Eh, been there done that.
Miguel in Toronto enjoying one the few snowfalls he's experienced in his life. It's November, so don't ask me why he's shirtless and wearing flip flops.
There are options. We could move to another city. I'm studying French right now (it's a life-long goal of mine to become fluent). I'd love to live in Montreal, where incidentally life is cheaper, to work on my French. But I'd miss out on the writing community in Toronto that might be able to help with my career.

Or we could just go back for a month or two and then fuck off somewhere else. I'd love to do a long trip again, though money is a consideration. My savings aren't huge and Miguel still hasn't found a way to support himself through remote work (though we're building an erotica business that we hope will help with that).

Who knows which way the wind will blow us. All I know, is that when I moved to Mexico City I made a commitment to live a more creative life: in how I make my money, in my relationships, and in where I choose to live and what types of possessions I decide to burden myself with.

So even if we do go to Canada, and stay for a while, I doubt anything about the arrangement will be conventional.

Are you struggling with the idea of returning home from expat life? Did you already do it and what happened? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz. I'm reading this right now and I'm really mulling over the idea of "big" and "small" thinking.
  • Moon Mexico City. The guidebook I know and trust, for those of you thinking of moving here.
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Just read it and currently fueling my wanderlust. The author goes trekking into the far reaches of the Himalayas. Just as much a spiritual as a physical journey.

How Do I Renew My Mexico Tourist Visa?

Belize's Caye Caulker. A wonderful place to renew your visa.
Believe me, this is a question that has kept me up at night over the past three and a half years that I've lived in Mexico City.

Despite the fact that I've been here that long and even married a Mexican citizen, I still have a tourist visa! Why? Well, I don't want to pay for a proper visa or do the paperwork. Plus, I love the chance to travel every six months (the Mexican tourist visa is for 180 days or approximately six months).

I've had absolutely no problem getting my visa renewed by leaving the country. Foreigners can essentially live in Mexico without hassle, the rules are that lax. If you want to legitimately work in the country, though, you're going to have to get a work visa.

Another thing: is is a myth that you can get your tourist visa renewed within Mexico. You have to leave Mexico to get a new tourist visa. You can't get a new visa or even get it extended within Mexico.

Another hot tip: you can overstay your visa and pay a $35 USD fine upon exit. I haven't personally tried this, an American friend told me she did it without problem. I'm trying this option right now, so I'll report back how it went. Leaving the country, even with cheap flights, can be expensive.

Now that's out of the way, where can you go to renew your visa?

1. Belize

God, I love Belize. You can get a cheap flight to Cancun and then take a six hour bus ride to the border. This is not a cheap or easy option, because you still need to take a bus to the border. And once you're there, you should stay 7-10 days to really experience this country. Go to Caye Caulker, Orange Walk, and San Ignacio. I've also heard that people have gone to the border and tried to return to Mexico immediately, but were denied a visa upon re-entry unless they stayed in Belize for at least 48 hours.
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is one of my favorite places in the whole world.
2. Guatemala

Also a great option if you want to get some traveling in. Get a cheap flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, then overnight in San Cristobal de las Casas an hour away. Then take a bus to the border (about three hours) and go onwards to Huehuetenango, Xela, and Lake Atitlan/Antigua if you want to. The land border at Ciudad Cuahtemoc/La Mesilla is super relaxed--though you're not going to want to spend any time in La Mesilla (on the Guatemala side). I'm not sure how long you have to stay, since I've always traveled in Guatemala for at least a week.

You could also fly into Guatemala City, though it's hard to find a good deal. I did this once and this was the only time I was questioned upon re-entry--the Mexican official asked me if I was living in the country. Generally, I think land borders are more relaxed than customs at airports, especially the Belize and Guatemala borders (I can't account for the US).

My husband Miguel and I love Guatemala.
3. United States

I've never done this because, as a Canadian, I'd rather go to Central America than the U.S. Also, I always find it a hassle to deal with U.S. Customs whenever I have stopovers in Texas or Florida. I'd rather not tangle with American officers. Also, an American friend of mine told me she was frequently questioned, even when going home on holiday, because they thought her living in Mexico was sketchy, for whatever reason. 

This is why I've never done a U.S. border run. Technically, you could get a cheap flight to Monterrey and then take a three hour bus ride to Nuevo Laredo (Laredo, Texas is on the other side). Even better would be to fly to Tijuana, because you can just walk over to San Diego. Or find a cheap flight to Miami.

How long do you have to stay? Some reports online say you can just cross over for a couple hours and come back. Personally, I wouldn't chance it. Go to Tijuana and enjoy a weekend in San Diego.

4. Go Home

 Potentially very expensive but after six months, why not? A very legitimate way to renew your visa.

5. Other Places

Browse Kayak Explore for cheap flights to other destinations. Personally, I've always wanted to go to Colombia. Cuba is another possibility or Costa Rica. Take this opportunity to see a new country!

**Need a place to stay while you're traveling? Click this link to go to AirBnB 
and get $25 USD in travel credit on me!**

What are your experiences getting a new Mexican tourist visa? Comment below!

How To Stay Safe Teaching English in Mexico City and Abroad

You're going to go teach WHERE?
In my opinion, not enough attention is paid to staying safe when you’re a female ESL teacher in a foreign country. My experience has specifically been in Mexico City, but you could probably apply the basic rules almost anywhere.

I want to note that many ESL directors/business owners are men. And these men usually don’t understand why you’re being so cautious. They don’t fear rape and harassment like women do. That is not their lived experience. So they will be skeptical about why you, for example, don’t want to meet at their house.

Fuck those guys.

It is so much more important to stay safe than to put some clueless man at ease. Sure it may be awkward when you insist on meeting at Starbucks. He may be ticked off, thinking you’re assuming he’s a rapist.

But you know what? Any man who doesn’t understand your point of view, is not going to be a good boss. He’s not going to look out for your welfare and he’s not going to be considerate. Move on.

1. Don’t Go To Someone’s House for a Job Interview

When I first arrived to Mexico City, the owner of a small ESL business asked me to meet him at a certain address for an interview. So imagine my surprise when that address ended up being an apartment building in a semi-sketchy neighborhood. I rang the bell anyway. He came down. I asked him if this was an office building. He said it was his house. So, I just backed away, muttering excuses.

He looked pissed that I just took off but you know what? Him being pissed was way better than the remote chance that something bad would happen in that apartment.

Because it could. Once his door closes on you—anything could happen.

2. Don’t Go To Someone’s House for an ESL Lesson

Entitled business dudes will just assume that you’d be happy to skip over to their house to give a lesson. This is a world of no. Even if a reputable school has set up the appointment, chances are they don’t know this guy at all. They may have had a 15 minute interview with him but what does that really tell you about a person?

There are so many other safe third spaces to have class. Starbucks is ubiquitous and popular in Mexico City. Or you could visit their office. Or they could come to your apartment (if you have roommates, though this could be a risky move. I mean, now they know where you live).
Places like Cielito (the Mexican Starbucks) are a perfectly good option for classes.
Some students will give you flack that they don’t have time to travel and it would be so much easier if you’d stop being a pussy and just come to their house. Well, you don’t have time to be shut up in a room with a random stranger. Nobody got time for that.

The only instance when I will break this rule is if the guy is recommended to me by someone I know and trust. Even then, I’m picky about this. If the guy is just an acquaintance or work colleague, I still insist on meeting someone else. 

Your friend might insist that he’s “a good guy” and even get offended that you doubt them, but let’s get real—how well do they know this person? Probably not very well. Intuition that “he’s okay” is not hard fact.

I don’t fuck with my safety, people.

3. Nobody Gets To Drive You Home

Chivalrous students may offer to drive you home, especially if they’re leaving the office. Believe me, this is super tempting because the idea of facing the DF transit system after a long class might seem worse than hell on ice skates. You might even have a good rapport with the guy and welcome the chance to chat.

Here’s me being a killjoy again: don’t get in that car.

I speak from experience. I got in a car with a guy I’d just met in DF and even though nothing happened, he behaved in such a creepy way that I never made that mistake again.

Probably everything is going to be fine. But what if he doesn’t drive you home? He essentially has you captive in that car. Don’t take the risk. Make a polite excuse, put in your earphones, and brave that subway.
Yeah I wouldn't want to get on that crammed subway car. But better the devil you know...

4. Know Where You’re Going

I’ve turned down a bunch of classes because the location wasn’t safe. Unfortunately, an ESL boss might try to send you to a bad neighborhood at a bad time of night because they just want to make a buck off you.

So get a second opinion. Ask a local about the neighborhood or Google it in a pinch. Make sure the transit to get there is safe. The subway/buses/Metrobus are fine in DF but some buses in Mexico State can be dicey. Make sure if it’s at night there is a safe way to walk to the location from transport.

And make sure that it’s safe to walk from transport to your house at night (I learned this the hard way when I lived in El Centro in DF. I was coming back from class late and a homeless guy tried to attack me because my apartment building was on a dark, deserted side street. Man I had bad luck when I first moved here).

5. Boundaries

If you’re teaching in Mexico, some guys are going to treat private English lessons as a dating game. It’s an easy way to get access to foreigners and many of the teachers are young women. If a student is interested in you, of course he’s going to invite you for dinner after or to go out dancing on the weekend. Accept this invitation and he’s going to assume you’re interested in him. Trust me on this.

I had one creep-tastic student who would follow me after class to Subway where I’d grab a bite to eat. Uninvited. He invited me to his birthday and I stupidly went. I did invite the guy I was dating however. And you should’ve seen the student’s face when I showed up with another guy. This was not a friendly invitation.

You think you're just grabbing pozole together. He thinks he's on a date
Even if the guy is cute and you have a good rapport, if he’s significantly older he may just be interested in you as a plaything. A lot of guys with big corporate jobs may see you as a fun dalliance that can easily be ended—something they’re entitled to with all their money and big fancy job. I mean, it’s your life, but go into it with open eyes.

I knew one girl who taught a guy at his house. He had an important position in an American multinational. Things got romantic and because she was really young, she fell for him hard. And because he was older and not looking for anything serious, he treated her like garbage. A world of pain ensued.

A final note…

Listen, I don’t mean to scare the living crap out of you. Much of teaching English is fun and safe and fine. You teach at an office or a school or Starbucks and you may get some creepy vibes, but mostly it’s all cash money and grammar.

That said, you’re in a foreign country where you may not know many people, you don’t know who to call, and you don’t know the language/rules. And believe me, dealing with the police in a place like Mexico is an exercise in disaster, especially if your Spanish is bad. They may not believe you or not care. Really.

So stay on the safe side. Carry a cell phone. Let someone know where you’re going and when you should be back. Ask them to call you at a certain time to check in. Don’t let your desire to please people or make money trump your safety. There is plenty of work in Mexico City, so don’t take shitty stuff that makes you feel unsafe.

What’d you think of this post? Have any tips of your own? Comment below!

Dating In Mexico City: Everything You Need To Know

My husband, Miguel, and I on a date in Mercado del Carmen in San Angel, Mexico City.
I recently received a reader letter about dating in Mexico City and realized I really hadn't touched on the topic. Here's a snippet of the letter:

"...I feel like I’m a little out of touch with all the details of expat life...One of my big preoccupations now is finding a social circle, including a 45+ dating circle!  I know you are quite a bit younger, and married, but having lived in and written about Mexico for awhile, I thought I’d inquire about any insights/suggestions you may have."

Yes, it has been a while since old B dated her way through Mexico City. However, since I did manage to meet and marry a Mexican man while here, I guess you could say I'm a success story? Maybe?

Anyway, let get to it! Let's date some people!


Just like at home, work or school is a great place to meet people. If you're coming to DF for a job, chances are even if there's no one datable at your job, your new coworkers will know good people. If you're working at a language school, chances are there will be plenty of other single foreigners. Same deal if you're taking Spanish classes.

Classes or Groups

If you're freelancing and not taking classes, look for organizations in your industry (such as a group for software programmers) or language exchange groups on sites like Meetup.com. Or sign up for Spanish classes at UNAM or International House. Or take other language classes. Alianza Francesa has a wide network of French language schools in the city.

Alternatively, take a dance class! You'll also find that if you go salsa dancing at places like Mama Rumba you'll find plenty of willing partners.

Teaching English

Slightly gross but possible. I know another teacher who dated her student and I've got "I would date you" vibes from countless male students, both cute and old/disgusting/married. I can totally see this working if you guys are the same age. After all, people only tend to take classes for a limited period of time and a lot of corporate places offer classes as a perk to younger employees (if you're looking for someone younger). 

Probably not a great idea if the age gap is wide--and there's a lot of 20-something teachers and 40-something students. You're probably going to be seen less as a serious dating prospect and more as a fun play toy to be picked up and then tossed aside. So even if you have daddy (or mommy) issues, please just don't go there.

Miguel and I prepare to go out dancing with friends in Mexico City.
Expat Organizations/Groups

For younger folk, Couchsurfing is a great option. When I first got to DF, I met tons of guys through Couchsurfing who had drinks with me and showed me the city. None of them were specifically dates, which was nice because I got to know them as friends first. And there was only one creepy guy out of the bunch!

Word to the wise, never ever get in anyone's car you just met (or have met only a couple of times). I did that once and while nothing bad happened, I got a seriously off vibe from this dude once I was shut up in his car. NEVER DO THIS.

Folks over thirty or forty might prefer InterNations since it seems to attract an older crowd, both expat and Mexican. Their big parties can be a bit overwhelming so I recommend finding smaller activities, like sightseeing tours or book clubs or language exchanges to start out--this advice works well for both friends/dating.  

Meetup.com also has plenty of different groups in Mexico City. Some of the expat groups seem to cater to a younger crowd that likes to drink but more specialized interest groups, specifically ones for locals (if your Spanish is good enough), might cater better to your dating needs. 

Friends of Friends

I think that the best dating pool comes from friends of friends. So if you make an effort to make friends through Meetup, Internations, Couchsurfing, work or whatever, these friends will inevitably introduce you to their friends and a more savoury dating pool.

Because honestly, a lot of Mexican guys on expat sites are just looking to hookup with foreigners. Can be a little gross. Guys, there are occasionally some Mexican ladies looking for the same thing. 

Dating Websites

I know that friends of mine have used the Plenty of Fish website and Tinder app to find dates here, with varying results. I have no personal experience with this but it can be a fast and easy way to start dating if you're new in the city.

Random People on the Street

Actually an option. The first guy I dated in Mexico City I met at a taco stand. He was not totally my type but he did take me to a couple of great parties, and for tacos, and to a recording session of his friend's band, which were fun experiences. Also, he was totally not creepy! Yay! If you're a foreigner, people will talk to you. Enjoy it.

**Do you have a hot tip for dating in Mexico City? Success story? 
Share in the comments below!**

The Best Bookstores in Mexico City

I'm a writer and a huge bookworm so you can BET I know the best bookstores (and English bookstores) in Mexico City. Well, my choices are heavily skewed towards the Coyoacán area but look at this way--I'm giving you permission to take a trip to the south!

Please note, new books are expensive in Mexico! If you're used to grabbing deals from Amazon or Barnes & Noble you will be in for sticker shock here.
The stunning Libreria Octavio Paz in Coyoacan.
English Books

Essential for those of us who can't read in Spanish yet or are just plain lazy. I keep meaning to read more in Spanish but I get frustrated because I hate reading like a fourth grader.

Anyway, the mecca for English books in Mexico City is Under the Volcano Books in Condesa. This little used bookstore tucked inside the second floor of the American Legion features mostly literary fiction and classics, though they have a decent selection of commercial paperbacks, biographies, and children's lit too. You can pick up used paperbacks for between 40 to 100 pesos ($2.50-$6 USD)!! Cash only.

If you want recently published English books, head over to El Pendulo but be forewarned: new English books here are crazy, ridiculously expensive. I saw the new Harper Lee book there for something like 500 pesos ($30 USD). Only if you're feeling spendy or desperate.

Condesa's gorgeous El Pendulo bookstore. Check out that staircase!
Gandhi, one of Mexico's most popular bookstore chains, has a decent number of English books--though some locations are better than others. They tend to have semi-recent commercial fiction releases, classics, and popular non-fiction titles only. I don't find their selection that inspiring.

The stores by Miguel Angel Quevado subway station and Bellas Artes station both have a decent selection of books in English.

Destination Bookstores

The aforementioned El Pendulo has huge locations in Roma and Condesa with patio/terrace cafes. Browse and then sip one of their excellent lattes.

The Centro Cultural Bella Época is in Condesa too. This massive store is an architectural marvel--you'll feel like you're in a giant spaceship. Comfy chairs for chilling and lots of Mexican classic and contemporary fiction (plus small sections for foreign languages like English and French). I've never bought anything but if you're looking for classic poetry or the latest local fiction, you can find it here.

The Octavio Paz bookstore is close to Miguel Angel Quevado subway station and WOW. Just WOW. It's a giant, multi-level glass box stuffed with classic Spanish-language literature. Tends to be pricey but fun for browsing. Plus there's a Starbucks, El Jarocho coffee shop, and TWO Ghandi bookstores smashed right against it so it makes for a nice outing.

The kids lit section at Educal in Coyoacan. Book lights!!
Educal's location in Coyoacán (Centro Cultural Elena Garro) is INSANE. This multi-level modern glass structure is perfect for browsing. There's a cafe with terrace too. The prices are definitely not budget-level but they have all sorts of artsy Mexican-made books plus a kids' section that's simply unreal.

Spanish-Language Bookstores Where You'd Actually Buy Something

My go-to bookstore for Spanish books is always El Sótano. The prices are decent and there's a good selection of all kinds of stuff from classic fiction, to contemporary fiction, to coloring books, to language books, to cookbooks to whatever. I frequent the store in downtown Coyoacán, mostly because it's close to me and has a good layout for browsing.

Ghandi is good too, but I find the prices better at Sotano.

Screw This, I Want To Just Sit in My PJs and Buy Something on Amazon

I hear you, friend! I too worship at the feet of the god that is Amazon, with its free shipping and vast selection.

First off, don't even bother ordering from the US Amazon store while in Mexico. The cost of shipping combined with customs fees are insane. I ordered once from there using a gift certificate, only to find a huge portion of my allowance gobbled up by the aforementioned fees. Cue crying.

The Mexican Amazon store is new and growing. Still, books on there tend to be expensive and the free shipping minimum is 599 pesos ($36 USD). Until they reduce the shipping minimum, increase their selection, and lower costs I wouldn't consider this an option. Sorry. Take off those PJs and get thee to an actual bookstore.
The Bella Epoca bookstore in Condesa feels like a giant spaceship.
What's your favorite bookstore in Mexico City? Have any hot tips for the bookworms on here?

Books That Will Help You Find Said Bookstores:

What To Do In Taxco, Mexico

Hi guys! So I went to Taxco, Mexico recently and wanted to share a couple of photos and tips.

Taxco is about two and a half hours outside of Mexico City (in Guerrero state). It's a smallish city and is known for its bargain silver jewelry and pretty mountainside setting.

This is the amazing cathedral in Taxco. Sorry, my camera was being dumb.

Where To Stay

I booked through AirB&B but somehow the place ended up being a hotel? Called the Casa Grande. Central enough but the shared bathrooms were gross. I definitely would stay somewhere else.

Click this link to go to AirBnB and get $25 USD in travel credit. Then use it to go to Taxco!

The view from Bar El Adobe. Close to the Casa Grande hotel.

Where To Eat

Oh maaannn. We went to Pozoleria Tia Calla twice it was so good! Definitely order the pozole. It comes with avocado and chicharron (friend pork skin) and is bargain-basement cheap. The enchiladas suizas also looked amazing.

Pozole from Tia Calla.

The Punto del Cielo cafe on the main square is a nice place to grab a cup of coffee. It has wi-fi and a little balcony that overlooks the square.

Pizza Pazza is a nice rooftop bar/restaurant that also overlooks the square. The pizza is soooo tasty. We had one with bacon and rajas (chili peppers) that was divine.

Hosteria Bar El Adobe has awful food (ugh) but it has the sweetest little balcony with a private table that overlooks a smaller square. Go for drinks.

Where To Go

Not having any budget for jewellery, I didn't go into any of the (many) silver shops and markets. I really enjoyed just sitting in the main square with an ice cream from Tepozneives or strolling around the pretty, windy cobblestone streets. On weekends, there's salsa/cumbia dancing in the square (we joined in on Sunday night!).

Also, don't miss the Parque Nacional Grutas de Cachuamilpa. It has a mind-boggling cave that's 2 kilometers long. Just ask at the terminal on Avenida de los Plateras for the right bus. It's about a half hour trip. You'll have an option to jump in a taxi when you get off but the park is SO close and the road is downhill, I really didn't think it was worth it.

I would really try to visit the cave during the week. We went on a Tuesday and our tour group was huge enough. I can't imagine going on a Saturday! There are tours every hour. The tour itself is kind of dumb but you get to walk back by yourself and enjoy the cave solo-ish. Be sure to order one of the epic micheladas (beer with salsa) when you're done. You can then take a bus back to Taxco or go onwards to Cuernavaca/Mexico City. The bus stop is by a torta stand/the coco loco stands.

That's it! Do you want to go to Taxco or have you been already? What did you think?


A Video of Rural Mexico (Puebla State). What It's Really Like!

I visited Coatzingo in May 2015 for the annual saint's fair. It's a hot place with desert-type terrain and a very traditional, old-Mexico feel. I'm sitting in the back of my in-laws' pick-up truck with my husband and one of my in-laws' employees (who somehow get coerced into coming with us).



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