We’re always interested in the active lifestyles of baby boomers who have moved abroad. So it is with writer Mark Saunders, author of Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, who has found his nirvana.
Whenever we return from our home in Mexico to visit friends and relatives in the United States, we are always asked two questions: is Mexico safe, and what do you do for medical care? I finally figured out an easy way to answer both questions with the same reply. I tell them we’ll probably be kidnapped or killed before the year is out, so medical care isn’t an issue.
People who know me will roll their eyes or purse their lips, some might chuckle and shake their heads. On the other hand, the mouths of people who don’t know me will usually drop wide open or they’ll flash me that “I knew it” smile. Then I’ll tell them, quickly, I was only joking.
In San Miguel de Allende, we are ten hours by car from most of the violence in Mexico and we feel safe. In fact, we made the six-day drive in our cramped car from Portland, Oregon, to San Miguel, arriving tired and dirty and smelly but relatively unscathed. In violation of mainstream media expectations, we didn’t get car-jacked, kidnapped, or mistakenly shot at.
Let’s face it. We’re all in the line of fire, no matter where we live. Last October someone walked into a hair salon in Seal Beach, California, and killed eight people. More recently, a guy went berserk in Seattle at a coffee shop and killed five others before taking his own life. According to FBI crime statistics, Mexico is twice as safe for Texans than Texas (and three times safer than Houston).
As one Mexican government official pointed out, “There are more than 2,500 municipalities in Mexico, and the majority of violence is in twelve of them.” Or as journalist Linda Ellerbee said in an essay on the topic, “Talking about drug violence in Mexico without naming a state or city where this is taking place is rather like looking at the horror of Katrina and saying, ‘Damn. Did you know the U.S. is under water?’”
Medical care is another matter. First, some background. I’m in the Veterans Administration system, which, I might add, is wonderful and I think everyone should be so lucky. If I need any major medical care, I’ll return to the United States and get it.
However, for my day-to-day care south of the border, I have a regular physician here in town. The cost of a visit is about 300 pesos, más o menos, which at the current exchange rate is about $21 dollars— so it’s less than my old co-pay under a company-provided medical plan. My doctor is a conventional physician, fully trained, tri-lingual, and not an obvious advocate of, say,alternative medicine. (There’s nothing wrong with the alternative path and plenty of people here are happy to follow it; I mention this to remove any potential images of a shaman waving incense in my face). I don’t have to wait long to see my doctor and he spends as much time as he thinks he needs. In short, it’s not conveyor belt treatment with the doctor playing Beat the Clock.
Additionally, most medications are cheaper here than in the United States and it seems as if there’s either a regular pharmacy or a generic-brands pharmacy on every street corner. For example, I have asthma. One time upon returning to the States, I checked on renewing my inhaler. Because I didn’t have a medical plan that included drug coverage, it was going to cost me $200 for the refill. I can get the same inhaler in Mexico for the equivalent of between $30 and $40— and that’s without any kind of medical plan!
I believe San Miguel has two hospitals, one private and the other public. However, we’re just 45 minutes by car from a major U.S.-style hospital that’s as modern as they come. To recap, most of our medical needs can be met here and if they can’t, we’ll return north as needed.
Anyway, we tend to live a healthier life in this mountain town, six thousand feet and change above sea level. We’re outside a lot. We walk just about everywhere we go (we might put ten dollars worth of gas in our car every six weeks). All our produce is local and organic and, incidentally, delicious. Plus, we’re more relaxed. We’re no longer commuting and stuck in traffic, stewing in our juices and watching both thecar’s thermostat and our own blood pressures rise.
Oh, I almost forgot. The doctors here make house calls and the pharmacies make home deliveries. Sweet.