Where did you live before Bucerias?
What did you do there?
I have worked with sheet metal all my life, from aircraft mechanic to HVAC fabrication.
Did you think about other areas of Mexico before choosing Bucerias?
My wife Valiene and I had looked extensively in Puerto Vallarta, but we felt it was growing too fast and too hectic, so we abandoned that and went back to Colorado. There Valiene got on line and started looking at the North Bay. We came back, rented in PV, but started coming here daily. We were in touch with an agent who took us around and we bought one month later. That was in 2000. We owned the property for 9 months before Valiene decided to retire – she was a self-employed accountant and had had enough. So we came down to be full time, arriving outside our new home on 5 May 2001. Valiene and I are now divorced and she lives back in the U.S.
How did you come here?
We drove down with a Toyota van which was full and towing an equally full trailer. We had applied for the one time duty exemption importing of personal household items 6 months beforehand. We rented a UHaul trailer to El Paso, then a broker moved our stuff to the exact same size UHaul this side of the border because you can’t bring a rental across the border. We had 2 dogs, a cat and 4 birds with us – and because we didn’t think we’d be able to check into any hotel with our menagerie, we’d bought a tent so that we could camp on the way down.
Did you have any problems with your journey down?
Oh yes! We had a terrible time at Juarez – our fault, we’d made many mistakes. We did not have correct paperwork for the birds and in fact for an hour or so they were impounded! It took Valiene a lot of tears – but no bribes. We ended up dealing with the equivalent of a Wildlife Organisation branch of the Mexican Government – we had to convince them that these were our pets and not for sale. The birds were a green wing macaw, a sulfur cockatoo, a parakeet and a cockatiel – he was a noisy little thing which eventually escaped.
He drew up a special letter which we had to carry at all times, along with his card for verification. By this time it was dark and of course we didn’t know how to get out of town – he was very good and he led us all the way out of Juarez. That first night all we wanted to do was rest, so we parked in a Mexican truck stop, in between 2 large trucks which we thought would offer us some protection, and slept in the van. When we woke up in the morning we were in that car park all on our own!
So that letter helped make your journey smooth and all was well?
Well… That letter was the most important piece of paper – they never opened up anything but they all wanted to see it, including the military. Nobody checked inside at all – we could have brought down a nuclear device.
No our problem was – we had crossed the border and had the birds impounded and dealt with all of that, and then we had driven across the top of Mexico before heading down and were on our way to a checkpoint when we suddenly realized – we didn’t have the sticker for the van! And then the Federal Police pulled us over! We explained the situation and he escorted us to a town where we spent several hours straightening out the mess. He subsequently returned to check our sticker and FM3 were all in order. But after that, yes the trip was uneventful and we stayed in campgrounds and all was fine – it took us three and a half days.
Were your family supportive or opposed to your relocation?
My sisters and friends were ok, but my father had doubts – concern for how I’d be able to manage financially, what I could do for work. One of the reasons I came down was because I had developed a very severe tremor in my right hand. I spent two years trying to get contemporary jewelry going but that didn’t take off too well. I picked up the guitar, but with only moderate success. Also I was somewhat naïve that under the heading of “artist” I could be under the radar, but that’s not true at all. I had various ideas of what I wanted to do, but the shipping and importing costs were too prohibitive. It was very frustrating.
Have any of your family visited you here?
My father and step-mum came down in a pop up camper for 2 weeks. They loved it here. We did all the tourist things, went down town, and caught some fish – it was great fun. And I have been back and visited them a couple of times. My father has now died. My sisters have not been here.
How good is your Spanish?
I’d call it intermediate. Having a couple of Mexican girlfriends helped a lot! If they get going too fast then I get lost. But I am comfortable with it, it is not a nervous experience if I have to go somewhere or locate something or have something done. I stress to everyone – a little Spanish goes a long way. It can make your life down here so different – so much better. Valiene had high school and college Spanish and took private lessons here.
Looking back, anything you wished you had known about or anything you would have changed?
If I was doing this again, I’d take some formal training – it’s worth the money, and then add to that by going out and speaking to people. The corrections are because they’re trying to be helpful, they intend only the best.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
For all its frustrations, it has certainly been an adventure. I feel any foreigner in any country will experience frustrations, it is not just here. But Mexico is not for everyone and I have known a number of people who have left. If you take it too seriously you will be miserable. I do wish the streets were cleaner.
We are all sorry that you are suffering from lung cancer. How are you coping?
It’s all been very abstract – until I coughed up a lot of blood and am now in a lot of pain, and now it all becomes very real. There are no State medical centers closer than Guadalajara and Mexico City, but there was no point in undergoing painful treatment which was not going to provide a cure.
I am deeply grateful to Karen and Jerry Knapp for taking me in, there was no way I wanted to end up in a hospital. My family in the USA wanted me to go back but I just couldn’t do the traveling, I am very weak, and the elevation is over a mile high there. I was sorry to disappoint them. Besides, this is my home and I have very good friends here.
I have had the chance to put all my affairs in order, dispose of my possessions, deal with my Mexican paperwork, including arranging and paying for my cremation.
Many people like to have their ashes scattered on the ocean, but I know you’re not thinking of that. And with a wry grin Don replied:
No – I think I’ll just have them scattered on the street – you can use a coca cola bottle as my marker!
Thank you Don Thompson, we will keep you in our thoughts.
UPDATE: As of end May 2013 Don was living in an excellent hospice in PV. Despite his personal suffering he cared enough about our community and our Amigos efforts and very generously paid for the first run of 150 Amigos recycle basket signs. Thank you Don
Don Thompson passed away peacefully during the night of Monday 10 June 2013.