Although interviewed at their home, and not at their Elements Realty Group office on Ave Mexico, there were still lots of business phone calls!
John: Where did you live before Bucerias?
I lived in Edmonton which is where I met Christie. Our 4 kids were born there and grew up there. Our last 5 years in Canada we lived in Sylvan Lake Alberta.
Christie: I lived in Edmonton also, which is where I met John!
How did you meet?
John: It was Hallowe’en. Christie was a manager at Chuckie Cheese and I had applied for a job there. (She is 2 years older than me). She wasn’t interviewing me – but the moment I saw her I said: “That is the girl I am going to marry.” I told my friend and he said: No! I am going to marry her! We had an argument about that. I also told my mom that I met the girl I was going to marry. She thought that was crazy talk.
Christie: Actually I shouldn’t even have been there that day, I was super sick, but they called me in because they had to have members of staff who were over 18 for the alcohol law requirements.
John: After that it was a bit like a scene from Grease – I was sitting on a desk top, talking on and on about Christie at school and her girlfriend was at the back of my class…I didn’t know they were friends – and told her. Every time I went up to Christie she said: “Will you get lost! You are such a pest!”
Christie: Actually I’ve never really stopped saying that!
John: We dated for two years and then one day we were at the West Edmonton Mall dolphin tank and I said: “Well I suppose we should get married” and Christie said: “Yeah.” Nothing romantic or exciting, – (Christie: He is not romantic). It was just that from the both of us. We wanted to get married on Hallowe’en to mark the anniversary of our first meeting, but Christie’s Mom was really upset about that … so we got married on 3 December, 1988. Actually her Mom was not excited about us marrying at all, she said we were too young – I was 18 by then – everybody thought they knew better than us. We learnt our lesson though: never fight against the person your kids are dating or they WILL end up marrying them! The wedding was at her Aunt’s house and it was so very cold! We were married by a Justice of the Peace. It was a very small wedding.
Christie: No actually there were about 40 – 60 people attending. I wore a white wedding dress – I had actually bought it for John’s graduation, I was his prom date. It had a lace overlay and was lovely. We went to our hotel room, there were people in the courtyard below who looked up to see me closing the curtains and they all hollered… but our night wasn’t romantic! John’s brother had sent a basket which had a bottle of champagne in it, and John had an allergic reaction and had to take medication! Our honeymoon was just that one night, and then it was back to work the next day.
What did you do for work?
Christie: John was a waiter and I was a nanny – to a wealthy family who took us under their wing – they were both stockbrokers and encouraged John to become one too. We were pretty broke and they would give us thousands of dollars to spend on whatever we needed on their children and to keep the rest – and I was getting paid on top of that! And driving their expensive cars.
John: Then I discovered the woman was trading illegally using Christie’s name and was reported. I was blacklisted by the association with her, but after approximately 2 years was finally offered jobs as my integrity had been proven. The woman was fined heavily but she carried on regardless using other names, and making a lot of money. Subsequently she became a realtor and got up to her old tricks and was kicked out of that.
Christie: While I was still her nanny I had Zac in February 1991 – and the very next day she wanted to bring the kids over so that I could nanny them.
Your next job?
John: That was with Costco and that was my best job ever! I started in the stocking department but I ended up doing everything by the time I was done! I ended my time there in their marketing department. I was at Costco for 9 years.
Christie: In November 1992 I had “Kenzie” (Mackenzie ) and after her we gave away all the baby stuff. Then in November 1994 I had Shay… and in August 1996: Spencer. I had 4 children in five and a half years!
John: Christie figured out what was was causing this so she decided I’d go for a vasectomy. I went to the doctor but just looking at the explanatory pamphlets inside made me want to pass out! On the day of the procedure, I said I’d only be 15 minutes and Christie was to wait outside for me –
Christie: – In the car with 4 young children…in the middle of winter! He was gone for over two hours!
Moving on swiftly John – what next?
We hated living in the big city: our kids played behind 6 ft fences and with padlocks on the gates, it was scary out there. We wanted to move to a small town and I was offered a job I just couldn’t refuse in Sylvan Lake. We met the most incredible people and made incredible friends, it was a magic time in our life. I think this laid the foundations for Mexico. I worked for a motivation company, a merchandising venture, like a mini Costco. I had to do everything – source the venue, do the catalogue, oversee the photo shoots, create software, set up the warehouse. It was a tremendous task – and I had a great sense of achievement when I had done it. Then September 11 happened. I lost my job – our company was so vested in travel and overnight people quit travelling. Then they said they could keep me on if I took a 20% pay cut, which I did, but by December they still had to let me go and I was out of work at the end of 2001. My boss said this would be the best thing for me, that I was not meant to be working for somebody else. Although we needed money I had no prospects – January is a very quiet time. So I did something I’d wanted to and never done – I went ice fishing.
You sit inside like a wooden shack on the ice, you cut a hole in the ice, and you sit there and fish. It wasn’t for money; I just did it because I had meant to but was so busy working, I never got around to doing it. It’s dark and quiet in there and you can see the fish swimming under that hole. It was so cold – and I hate the cold – but I enjoyed the solitude! One day, Christie came along with my lunch, she was all dressed up as she was going somewhere. There was a knock on the door and so I passed her the rod so I could answer it. It was the Fish and Wildlife Department. They asked to see Christie’s permit! She was in a dress, makeup, and answered back,”You’ve got to be kidding me, I don’t fish.” The way she said it settled it for them no problem.
Christie: I had been doing nails, I rented a place in a salon, and I bought some home made jewellery from girls at a trade show to sell to them. John was upset, he said it would take two years to sell this with the amount of my clientele, that it was more of a hobby than anything. It was suggested that we sell it at the local farmers market. Just when we decided to sell it at the Sylvan Lake farmers’ market it closed down – so we started our own farmers’ market, just to get rid of the jewellery! At this time we had to take a paper route to pay for the household heating gas.
John: I had had a couple of months work at a hotel and met a man there who owned a jewellery store. He said for me to take any of his inventory and sell it and come back when I needed more supplies – and we would split the money 50 – 50. Being a marketing kind of guy I automated everything, I ran it like Costco! Day One we sold over $75 of our stuff. I thought: I have merchandised millions of dollars previously and here I am such a loser – but next week we made $225. Well we saw a couple of “Ozzies” who were selling body air brush tattoos and I went: “Wow! I am finding out about this!” It was called Temptu – as used by Hollywood in all the movies – and it cost me $5,000 – that was paid for in three days – it was equivalent to $400 – $500 an hour! We did 7 markets a week – not on Sunday but 2 on Saturday, and Christie still did nails.
Christie: I had to stop doing the nails eventually, I had become allergic to the chemicals in the acrylics – my ladies were sad when I had to leave. Our children were involved in the markets, they were an integral part of our business, they helped set up and were great sales people! One week, John and the older kids were at one market and I was at another with Spence, aged 5 and I had to go to the bathroom. I asked the vendors next to us to please keep an eye on him, I said he could count and sell etc. When I came back he had sold $45 worth of stuff ! People bought from him because he was so young and so appealing!
John: My Father died in January 2002. It was a real eye opener. He died without achieving his dreams. He had always talked about driving a boat and taking the family on board … At least not being in a real job gave me the opportunity to be with the family for a couple of weeks. One day I heard somebody say “Mexico” and I went home and said we are going to Mexico and Christie said: “you are insane”.
John: And then there was another guy who talked about Puerto Vallarta, not just Mexico, and I knew we had to move there. Christie said NO for two years, but I knew, I knew. During that time I became a realtor so I was qualified when we got here.
When did you get here?
John: September 2003. Three months before we really didn’t know where PV was on a map – Three weeks before our journey we didn’t even know there were any mountains here. We only knew about it because my folks had vacationed here previously. A while after I told Christie we were moving here, my folks decided to move here. They don’t live here fulltime anymore but they still have a home here.
Bucerias was a word we kept hearing about! I even went to the AMA for car insurance and a random girl there told us: “You and your family need to live in Bucerias” ! We had this happen so many times.
One time, at one of our markets, Christie was saying she couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a kid to grow up in Mexico. There was a 15 year old that was listening to our conversation who said: “I’m from Mexico – from PV! It’s a great place to grow up!” Christie said: “Get lost kid!” (Not really!!) But I never questioned that we should be here, there was never doubt or fear. It was like the day I met Christie… I just knew.
People say to me: “But isn’t it dangerous?” Where Kenzie and Shay, and now Spencer, share an apartment in Edmonton, within their first 24 hours of being there a man was shot three times in the chest just across the road from them! They have been scared often up there – but never here.
You drove down?
Yes. We sold everything. I had accepted an offer with the Mayan Palace (which turned out to be timeshare), and they were insistent that I had to be here by a certain date. We were going to drive down together. But due to a mortgage fraud the sale fell through at the last minute, the day before we were due to move. I bought a plane ticket to get here – and Christie was going to have to drive down here on her own with 4 kids once the house had finally sold! There was a goodbye party for us and our friends came and said they would do everything for us so that we could just carry on and drive down here together. Initially we stayed with my parents in their house in Conchas Chinas but as we were a whole family living in one bedroom we knew we had to leave there as soon as possible!
We first rented here on Francisco Madero – Christie worked at the Mayan Palace also – and the Mexican woman owner kept on saying: “Oh I made too much food today”, and kept feeding us. She taught Kenzie the cooking basics. Got her involved – Kenzie is now a fully qualified chef. I was a cultural bull in a china shop. I was adamantly told to respect my parents. I also had to learn to not be in such a hurry to do the business, but to do the pleasantries first. I had to appreciate other people’s cultural clocks… it took me a year to “de-Canadianize”!
We had enough money to last 6 months. Then the owner was selling her house so after 5 months we moved to Las Juntas where the rent was really cheap for a brand new place. I started sleeping with ear plugs because I learnt for the first time that roosters crow all night long, not just at sunrise! We longed to return to Bucerias as we had loved it so much! Our kids could go out and we were not worried about them, it was like Canada back in the 1970s. So we found a place in Los Picos where we lived for 9 years. The manager wanted $1,800 a month for a long term rental – the house was in really poor condition and we negotiated for a multiyear and maintenance which cut the rent to less than a third. We should have left before but the hassle of moving…yikes! So then that house was sold and we moved to our present place on the inland side of the highway, it’s in Colonia Buenos Aires. It is a really spacious property with amazing views – and afternoon breezes which we did not get as we had been blocked in by beach front properties. And for the first time we realized and felt that we were at last living in Mexico. Christie really wants to buy this place but it’s ejido and we need to wait until it is regularized or we become Mexican citizens.
How did the children adapt to living down here?
They loved it! We home schooled them, they just had to do three hours school work a day. Once they got into that routine then they could go off surfing or whatever – it was just like in the Archie comics. Being here they have learnt values and compassion. They know if you don’t work, you don’t eat. My Mum made sure we were never on welfare and nor will they be. Our children are in demand: they know how to work, to keep their mouths shut, and to get things done. All because of growing up in Mexico. Zac has just qualified as a pastor. Mackenzie is a certified chef in Edmonton. Shay has finished her second year in University and plans to become a vet. And Spencer is an apprentice doing plumbing, electrical and AC. He is now aged 17 and he moved into that just 6months ago – and he is making a lot of money for a 17 year old!
Their names, and the name of your company, Elements Realty – where did they all come from?
They all just popped into our heads – and they felt right.
We know you have an inquiring mind and get involved in experiments and gadgets …your backyard is starting to look like a mini farm, are you pursuing this?
I’d like to get a lot to do some farming – not for income, more to learn. I currently have 5 breeding rabbits with 20 babies. I’ve learnt Mexicans don’t have rabbits because they are too much work and money to raise! I have 7 laying chickens, more that will be laying in a few months time, and a rather large rooster. Chickens are also cheap to feed – they eat all the leftovers! And then we have 9 turtles, 3 dogs and a cat.
I guess you are getting used to the all night crowing after all! Did you get your chickens from a farm?
No! I mentioned I wanted some and I was told to go and knock on a certain door and ask! Someone peered around and I said what I wanted, they told me to follow them… one hour later I was in charge of these chickens tied up and in a burlap sack. For the rooster I was told to go and knock on another door! It was all very secretive – and they left it up to me to arm wrestle the rooster into a cage.
What are your personal interests or hobbies?
John: Primarily: experimental farming and feeding people. Everybody needs chickens and in our neighbourhood almost everybody has them. I tell people that I have lived in Mexico for over 10 years but I feel like I just started living in Mexico.
And what about all your gadgets?
Photography, computers, the videos, the drone – they are all used for our business. Face it, I’m a kid at heart and I get to use all my toys to help our clients market their homes using technology and the wow factor. I really am blessed to love what I do.
Christie: I enjoy reading and I love real estate and spending time with family and friends. We also help out in the community and our church. How good is your Spanish?
John: 3 out of 10: I understand a lot but I can only speak caveman Spanish: Fire burn. Fire bad.
Christie: 3.5 out of 10.
John: That I haven’t learnt Spanish! The children learn it so fast! But I spent 7 years in school to learn French and I still can’t do that language.
Christie: No regrets. And if John died, I would not go back to Canada. We have clients who have pictures of their properties as their screen saver and they email us and ask how is it going? We have been to many places in Mexico, but this place is still magical.
Would you do anything different:
John: No, nothing at all.
Christie: I don’t think I would do anything different, except maybe make Spanish a priority Anything else you would like to share with us?
I’m not sure about the sign that says Bucerias is a typical Mexican pueblo – 40 years ago it was dirt and mud and black sand flies! Everybody here now is from somewhere else. It’s all different – if this is going to be your home – then make it your home. Three to four years ago we thought about moving to Brazil: that seemed so magical. Then one day we went for a Sunday drive and Christie started crying: “No! I don’t want to move!” So we’re still here – even though some people make me want to pull my hair out sometimes, I still love them all.
We are all here because we are all a little crazy. The others are all in their own little world but we all decided to do something different. We need to realize all of us are pretty cool and then some – we did something different. We are all special.
Thank you John and Christie Forget!