Book Review: Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path

John Scherber has lived in San Miguel de Allende since 2007. He has written 17 fiction books, and this is his third non-fiction. This book is a series of interviews of extranjeros who have settled permanently in Mexico. Scherber asked a lot of good questions, and got a lot of good answers.

At first glance, the “off the beaten path” in the title might seem misleading, unless your idea of “off the beaten path” is “outside of Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, and Cabo San Lucas”. Two of Scherber's destinations, Mineral de Pozos and San Luis de la Paz, are only a few kilometers away from San Miguel de Allende, a major Gringo colony. Morelia, Puebla, and Oaxaca are big cities that attract a lot of tourists, and Pátzcuaro is also a major tourist destination. Zacatecas is off the beaten path, however, and also included in this book are Erongarícuaro (usually shortened to Eronga) near Pátzcuaro, and Tlacolula de Matamoros in the State of Oaxaca. I thought that these three places were the most interesting parts of the book.

 Scherber has several common topics, such as, “how often do you get visits from family members?” and “why did you choose this town?” The cost of living comes up in some interviews, and not in others. Health care, an important topic for retirees, didn't come up very often. The interviewees come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but there are several common threads in their testimonies. One is that they don't want to alter the culture of the place that they have moved into. (I feel the same way.) When Scherber asks, “do you feel safe here?” the response was always “yes”, except for one incident where an interviewee was chased out of San Pedro Chenalho in Chiapas by a group of people with two-by-fours. Well, after all, there was a civil war going on in Chiapas at the time. Another common thread is, the interviewees hang out mostly with Mexicans, instead of other expatriates, and this is the case even in Oaxaca, which has an English-language library that serves as a gathering place.

In the conclusion, Scherber refers to something called a “flicker of recognition”. I've experienced this myself, and saw it in another book about expatriates in Mexico, Live Better South of the Border in Mexico, by Mike Nelson. The way this works is, somebody does some traveling in Mexico, and comes to the realization one day that “this is the place.”

Books like this are important. The baby boomer generation has reached retirement age, and a lot of them are looking to relocate to affordable places with good weather. To make a move like this, they need reliable information from people who have done it. I think that this book needs a couple of sequels, and I have some suggestions for them. Although Scherber is very good at describing the places he visits, some pictures would be good. And a map. He should go a bit further off the beaten path, and here are some suggestions: Durango, Mulegé (Baja California Sur), Jalpan de Serra (Querétaro), Lagos de Moreno (Jalisco), Teotitlán del Valle (Oaxaca), and Tonalá/Puerto Arista (Chiapas). If a lot of people buy this book and read it, Scherber will be encouraged to write these sequels.

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