Tom & Glynda Ballinger moved down full time to Bucerias and became Amigos members in 2013. This couple are shining examples of starting a new life in Mexico, becoming valuable volunteers, and integrating into the local society. Amigos de Bucerias are very grateful to have their support and friendship.
Where did you used to live and what work did you do?
We lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was a maintenance technician for a property management company, and Glynda was a property manager.
How did you first meet?
There was a motorcycle bar in Minneapolis, I had a motorcycle there – and I saw him there – and we started dancing – and we still are!
Did you visit anywhere else in Mexico before coming to Banderas Bay?
We owned a travel agency for 7 years and we specialized in Mexico. We travelled with the Mexican Government sponsored tourism board all over Mexico to their “tianguis”
This is the same word we use, tianguis, meaning markets?
Yes – in this case it is a market selling the different areas of Mexico specifically to the travel agents – and we took advantage of it. When we took the Copper Canyon train we were with other agents and we had a carriage to ourselves. We have been to 20 of the Mexican states and were treated very well. At the tianguis in Acapulco particularly that was a week long and all the tour guides showed up to sell their products.
Did you come here with the travel agents too?
No, we came here on a cruise ship on our own from Los Angeles to Cabo and Mazatlan to PV and back. We had wonderful weather – it was in February, so it was not really hot. And to us this is the gem. You cannot get better than this: the beach and the mountains: it is beautiful! We are protected. It is a small town-ish thing, it is just the Bay. We felt this was the best. The middle class is growing here faster than anywhere else and you can feel that growth. Now we’ve been down here for 3 years I don’t like the feel of that big growth anymore!
We had my work truck from my maintenance job. We sold just about everything we owned, sold the house and moved into an apartment for four months. The truck was in secure underground parking so we could putz around and figure out what we could or could not take. We filled the truck and said: Ok we have all this left, and it can’t all go, so we would take it out again!
What did your family think – did you just one day say: we’re moving to Mexico?
No, we didn’t do that – we warned them! – We warned them two years before, we put up big placards in my office that said “this goes to Mexico” or “this stays here”, “this is the date we go” “this is the place we’re moving to”… we tried to make them really involved and they seemed to be fine. They were so involved, our grandkids would come over on Saturday nights to stay with us and THEY would write things on the boards – like “Tanner’s box!” They were more comfortable than our kids were. When it came time for us to leave, so many people were mad at us!
I don’t know – because we left them behind! But because we used to organise everything, the Christmas, sleigh rides, Thanksgiving, BBQs – and we took the party away! We tried to pass it off to our niece but she has her hands full with three kids under six… And then to visit us – well the flights are really expensive.
You have a son Kristofer, and daughter Molly, married to Jason with two boys, Tucker, 17 and Tanner, 14. Have the family visited you here?
Molly has been down several times, and both the boys, more than their parents. We go up and get them – we stay for a couple of weeks and then fly back with them – Tucker says no way is he going to fly down with Tanner “I’m not taking that kid anywhere!” Kristofer has not been down, but he’s coming in January – he is very nervous of flying, but his girlfriend is a surgical nurse so she is going to sedate him and look after him, both ways.
You did your homework before finally moving down and buying this lovely condo in the Flamingos development, Bucerias. How did you find it?
We did a lot of property searching on line, and we came down a couple of times on visits. We first looked at the other condo block here, but the three bedroom apartments had a weird floor plan. Then we came down again and looked – we knew which area – as we bicycle, we wanted it to be flat. We knew we didn’t want PV – too many hills and too crowded. So we knew we wanted Nuevo to Bucerias. Then when we moved down we took a 6 months lease on a place in Nuevo so we could really look around. We’d seen this place online and when we were here the agent brought us to various properties including this one – which we sort of knew about already from looking online.
We lived in our home in Minneapolis for 35 years and the road next to us got busier and busier – 15,000 thousands cars went by! Because of this we surrounded ourselves with hedges and fences, so our view literally was our backyard. We said when we retire there’s only two things to worry about for a place to live: quiet, it can’t have that traffic – and it has to have a view. And so we bought that view! And we can watch that sports club’s activities for ever, and as you can see, at night it is just beautiful with all the twinkling lights all around the Bay!
How is everything living in and with a condo association?
It’s ok – now! We had a few teething problems, and so did the building. The administrator was really good in getting us through it – there were air conditioning problems on the first three floors and we got bids, but our developer actually got a way better deal, using the same company – 3,000 pesos less than our bids. So it’s a happy ending, everything’s wonderful now.
There’s always the decision to be made – whether to buy your own house and be responsible for all the costs, or whether to be in a condo, sharing the costs –
And living communally! That was a little bit of an adjustment but not so bad because we chose upper floor and over in the corner, so literally nobody comes down here – unless they’re coming to see us.
And the other thing that was really enticing was that for 2,000 pesos a month we have a pool, gardener, it pays our gas bill, and our water bill, it’s all included and some of the prices we heard around the Bay, closer to the beach – well they just skyrocket.
So having bought, you drove down – like the Beverly Hillbillies – did you have any problems at the border?
Tom: No. Glynda: Yes! OK – We had a manifest declaring everything in the vehicle – in Spanish and in English, and numbered – and according to everything we had read we should not have been charged for anything – anything. We really looked into this, you’re allowed to bring in your belongings once. So 2,000 pesos later…! The female official looks at the manifest and she says Ok Box 56, and this was the one that said “Homemade, No Value” so that and the ten year old TV and she charged us 2,000 pesos!
Otherwise, we had no problem driving down, anything that happened to us was just a minor inconvenience. But: We bought our visas in the Mexican Consulate in Minneapolis and we were told we would not have to pay to start our residency, to keep the receipt and do not pay it again – but Immigration here would not accept the receipt, so we had to pay it again.
What do you do about medical insurance?
We have Mexican health care – the IMSS social insurance, we have it for emergencies, it supplements our American healthcare. We pay a dollar a day each, so that is US $730 a year total, and that includes dental. We went through the basic medical and she told us to go and get our teeth checked. The medical was blood pressure and questions and then she gave us each a toothbrush and – 2 condoms. She laughed so much! We gave them to Dr Mauro – somebody might need them!
How good is your Spanish?
Mi espanol es mas mejor que ayer!
You’ve made a deliberate effort to learn Spanish. You teach yourself and you have a teacher. How important is it to be able to speak Spanish?
It’s an absolute must. It’s a must – you live in someone else’s country, it’s a respect level, speak their language.
You are involved with a couple of local families, which must help with your Spanish
When we came down here looking for property, we were down on the malecon and a guy in a shop there was very helpful and said we could ask him for help…well we became friends and now we go on camping trips with him and his family, we get invited to weddings, baby showers – he has a huge family! You can’t remember the names right, so we take notes – and in the back of my book here are all the names of our extended family. Some of them speak pretty good English. We are going to this brother’s place on Sunday. Every time we meet another member we have to write it in our book and before we go to a big reunion we have to check our book and remind ourselves of all the names. We were at a baby shower on Saturday night and I estimate there were about 70 people – and kids everywhere! The decorations were excellent, they have the best ideas!
What did you provide for the baby shower?
A diaper cake! It’s 72 diapers, rolled, and that makes the three tiers, on bases and then receiving blankets one for each level fixed with paper clips so they can take it all apart, and then you fill the layers with all the little things they need – rattles, baby sunscreen, Tylenol… This is an American idea, but a young gal came with a smaller version, one level of diapers and with a baby bottle at the top, so they do know about it here.
You’ve also been invited to a communion?
Oh yes, and a wedding, and many, mucho birthday parties!
Tell us about the communion
In the United States after World War Two when all the vets came home we had a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) in every little town or neighbourhood and all of our weddings, any gatherings of family were held in these halls. It’s very basic, with a bar. So when we got married we had a VFW wedding and the ladies serve the food and so on, and a local band…and when we went to this communion – that was what it was. It was just incredible! Tables and tables of candy all wrapped in silver and platinum.
It was very hot that day and they had a little cooler on wheels – oh it was so cute – and they just kept rolling it round handing popsicles out – and then they came a second time and handed fans out, and then they came a third time and handed out a cross with the Lord’s Prayer carved in it, that was to all the mums. And then they came another time – we were just getting ready to leave – and Livie said: “ Wait I have something for you! “ And I thought: What else could they be giving us? So they gave us this beautifully decorated box with a little female doll on the top.
They give that to everyone?
No, only to the immediate family.
What do you have to take to the communion?
We took a card with money in it – the same as we would in the U.S. Our Mexican friends said we are always under dressed when we go out to these things, they dress impeccably, they have actually told us what to wear sometimes! At this event we dressed up and they all went – oh! Bonito – finally !
Tell us about the wedding you attended
It was on the beach at the Marival – we stayed overnight. It was incredible, Jerome, a young man who lives in Canada. His father was upset that it was not going to be a traditional venue and wedding, so they did a little of each. He looks like the singer Pitbull, so he walked down the aisle singing one of Pitbull’s songs, complete with entourage – his brothers had pieces in their ear acting like his security, they had people set up walking around asking for his autograph! They had a big dance floor and did line dancing to Michael Jackson, they did the Thriller sequence – it was all so much fun! The men were all in white and the women in coral – they had 9 attendants.
They’d been together a long time and we relate to that – we dated for 10 years, lived together for 2 and then got married. So you are so comfortable – this is not as serious a thing, it’s more a party for the bride and groom and all their friends to enjoy. When it got to the part of “do you?” she was so cute she went “ hmm, all right” and they all laughed! It was very casual and so much fun. They did do some traditional Mexican stuff and that included the gifts on the table for the guests – but it wasn’t candy, these were Mexican games.
A lot of people going to a wedding will wonder what they should take – what was your gift to them?
It was a card with money in it, again, and also a ceramic tile, the wedding Katrinas with “love forever” on it . Money is acceptable, yes. But when you get invited to birthday parties they don’t do that really, they were surprised we had done that. But when it’s a children’s party, yes, take a gift.
These families live in San Jose – how often do you visit them?
A minimum of twice a month sometimes more depending on what’s happening – parties, local fiestas….
I went fishing out on the Bay with some friends who came down from the States and it was $180 for 4 hours fishing. But when I go out with our friend Cesar for 4 hours it just costs me a 6 pack !
It doesn’t matter too much how bad your Spanish is, when you meet up with Mexican people they invite you along to everything – they are most gracious, it is their way. The first time we went fishing with them, Tom told me he thought we were going to a restaurant for lobster! But what happened was at the end of the fishing we went to a beach where they dive down and pick up the rocks and look for those little lobsters! That first time I didn’t catch anything, so Cesar’s wife let me know I wasn’t going to get a lot of dinner that night! Next time we went fishing I caught four and redeemed myself !
You get dressed up and do Day of the Dead with them, and you’ve been camping?
Yes we went to the “Huiche” River, it’s just past Valle, it’s a pretty good sized river. We’ve been there with about 70 people in a 5 block area, with BBQs. They build their campsites and then they go in the water and drag the rocks around into circles making seating pools. It’s fresh water, clear and cool, ideal for the hot weather! And everyone eats all day!
You two really immerse yourselves in the local life here! What fun you are having!
Yes! You are missing so much if you don’t suck in the Mexican life! We’re not all tourists here! We’ve learnt so much from them. And we’ve helped them move – they’ve built their house since we’ve been here! If I called them they’d be here as soon as they could to help us.
You are staunch members of Amigos de Bucerias. You do the monthly beach clean up; the recycling on Mondays with Dick all summer long! You’ve helped get the Bucerias map correct and put up street signs.
When we first went out recycling there was transito next to us at the lights, waving at us and we thought – uh-oh and tried to ignore them. Then we realized they were waving at us to encourage us, to thank us ! We have been really pleased to be part of recycling, friends and neighbours when they return all say how much cleaner the town is looking, and we never get hassled by beach vendors – they come along and say oh we know you guys and move on – if we wanted to buy something we’d have to yell at them!
You attend just about every event where you do whatever is necessary to help – you sell raffle tickets, drinks tickets, run the bar, just everything… and still time for some dancing!
We enjoy it – it’s how you get to meet people. We have more friends here than we had in the States ! Actually the majority of our friends are Mexican. We were all so busy working, now we have the time and we have tons of fun !
And now please tell us the story of the day you went parachute jumping!
An Australian guy at work convinced me to go tandem jumping, so we went to a little airfield in Wisconsin, but Tom said he wasn’t going to do it, he didn’t want to. But he can never miss a party, I mean – he worries about what is he missing out on at Tupperware parties – cos he’s sure we must be having fun or we wouldn’t keep going back to this thing! So by the time we got there he said: All right, I’m going to jump, so we sat and listened to everything and then we went up, and Tom got to jump first. So I got to watch him – he didn’t get to see me and my scared face!
There were about 14 of us, they take you up to 15,000 feet. The plane was going at such a steep angle we were all told to turn our backs to the front of the plane and lean backwards. They levelled off at about 5,000 feet and a couple of guys jumped out.
They are sitting in the open door with their legs hanging out of the plane while it is taking off ! They jump out at this point because then they get to have two jumps for the price of one, they don’t get charged so much for jumping at a lower altitude. The jump out, wait and do another jump the same day.
So anyway Tom’s got to go and I look at him and here’s this petrified look on his face and he’s like “what the ** am I doing here? The guy tells him do NOT hold on to the side of the plane, keep your arms to your sides, stick your toes over out the door, and do NOT look down. So of course Tom grabbed the side of the plane and – – – He RIPPED my arms off and out the plane we went!
You’re in front of him?
Yes. It feels like you’ve just been tossed out of the plane. And the noise is so loud! It hurts your ears! And it’s so cold ! And then he pulls the chute and – pfff – it’s silence. I think you drop about 15 seconds and it takes probably about less than 10 seconds to reach maximum speed which is about 125 miles an hour. So you’re moving!
Were you worried that your chute wouldn’t open?
No it’s your chute and you help pack it because your life depends on it. You’re trained how to of course. Regular jumpers buy their own chutes, they cost about $5,000 and after that initial cost then you are just paying for the plane ride. For our one off jump the cost was $125.
You have to hire them to do the pictures of you jumping and I knew I was never doing this again so I want the picture, I want the proof and Tom goes I don’t! The guy said you have to look at the camera and Tom said no, I can’t look at the camera, I got stuff to do up here.
I was as scared as Tom at leaving the plane but then there’s a bit where the guy drops you – he releases a couple of straps that hold you very tight to him so you have more room between you, so he can use his arms. It is SO scary – you think that something broke! Something broke and I’m going to keep going! To me that was the scariest part.
Didn’t they warn you about this?
No! I think it was part of the intrigue or something but I tell you I would have turned around and grabbed him… But it was fun, great fun.
And would you do it again?
Tom: Yes. Glynda: No ! You would?! Yes – how much closer to God can you get?! OK I guess I would once we got there.
What else do you get up to?
Tom is a great water skier. We like to do stuff when we travel – our kids give us heck for it. When we were in Jamaica we rented a scooter and took off with a guy who took us to a blue hole, we spent the night there and biked back the next day. By the time we were done we’d biked almost half the island and our kids went crazy because you could only get faxes then, there was no email, we’d said we were going into the jungle for a couple of days and they were like: “Hello? Where are you?!” This guy was great he took us to his home, fed us dinner, showed us stuff we otherwise would not have seen.
The Blue Hole Garden is a phosphorous water hole, you can feel the water bubbling up. There’s a small bar and just a little cabin with a mattress on a wooden deck, the river runs under it. In the morning I heard singing and there were all these guys washing themselves in the river, all naked! They saw me, turned their backs to me and continued!
What do you think about the increase in tourism and construction here – especially the future Cirque du Soleil?
It’s a double edged sword – more people, more jobs of course, and we will see our property value increase a lot. But the infrastructure is going to be hurting unless they do something – and especially the traffic.
What advice do you have for people coming to live here?
First: plan it out. Be flexible as to what you can bring. Learn Spanish. Integrate better.
Any other thoughts to share?
The bottom line is: we could never afford to live this lifestyle in the United States. And it’s about the weather! And the beach… Also: we are very grateful to Amigos as a group and especially for the invaluable information on the website which has helped us get our local driving licences, plates, residency cards and so on.
We have all learnt a lot from your experiences! Thank you Tom & Glynda