Mark Callum

Mark Callum

16 August 2015 Interviews 10

YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?

Mark: I first visited Mérida on holiday in 2004, for just 4 days. I managed to escape from the rat race and get early severance from the BBC in London in 2010. I was finally able to edit out those grey and chilly British winters and live here, and I have been here pretty much permanently ever since.

YL: Why did you move?

Mark:

  • The weather – I love the heat.
  • The Culture – Classical concerts at the Symphony, Ballet Folklorico, Art openings, Marimba bands and so much more.
  • The History - the Haciendas from the Henequen boom, the stunning French inspired architecture and Maya history.
  • The beaches and wildlife – cenotes, flamingos and 100s of species of birds.
  • The cost of living - a beer in London is 4 times more expensive, that’s reason enough by itself!
  • The wonderful colonial houses just waiting to be done up, for the same price as a 1 bed apartment in London.
  • The relaxed pace of life and the wonderful friendly people of the Yucatán.

YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?

Mark: I had always thought that living abroad would be very difficult to arrange, and tedious, but in just 4 days my eyes were opened to the possibilities of a marvellous way of life. In Mérida, in particular, I saw a truly unique city that fulfilled many of my requirements as I neared retirement. London is a wonderful city, but I have found my Nirvana here. Este es mi hogar.

YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?

Mark: Within a year of my first visit, I bought a nice colonial property in Santiago that needed a lot of work. Although I have now moved to a bigger property in Garcia Gineres, I still love the Santiago house and I decided to keep it and I am now managing it as a Vacation Rental (see below).

I feel I made the right decision for me, but I did NOT get the right builder. I rushed into that and regretfully, I lost a lot of money. It was a truly horrible moment when I thought my dream was literally in ruins, but I managed to save my house by borrowing from the bank in the UK. I will be paying that off for the next 20 years. That cowboy builder walked away with the money and I am sure it is long gone. I was not his only victim, either. So, I advise you to do your homework before hiring a contractor! I want to stress that this is not unique to Mexico, it happens all the time in the UK as well. I was just naïve.

YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?

Mark: I planned to spend my time relaxing by the pool with a margarita... but even Paradise gets boring, right?! So, when I was asked to help out at a local non-profit, I jumped right in!

I find my time working for Fundación BAI – Brazos Abiertos Yucatán – very rewarding. In fact, it has become like a full time job! Working to help prevent teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases and making a difference to people’s lives really fills me with joy.

I recently saw the Peer to Peer Education program in action, and it was very moving to see the students passing on what they had learnt to their fellow pupils on the last day. The fundraising events are rather fabulous as well, in particular the 7th Mérida Showcase of Homes (see link below), coming up on November 8th. We are looking for super houses to feature, so do get in touch now if you would like to show off, and help us at the same time!

YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?

Mark: My social life is wonderful. I have made some marvellous friendships and, thanks to the charity, I am always meeting a wide range of new and interesting people. From the medical students and other Mexican volunteers who help us with the free HIV testing events and education programs, to the expat volunteers who go the extra mile to make things happen, and of course our wonderful sponsors – the business owners here are so generous. Thank You!

YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?

Mark: Waking up and not being surprised that the sun is shining!

YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?

Mark:

  • Pubs
  • Pimms
  • Cream Teas
  • PG Tips teabags (but I smuggle those in in my suitcase!)

YL: What don’t you miss from your "former life"?

Mark: The traffic, commuting, the weather, the stress.

YL: What is your favorite local food?

Mark: Tacos de Pastor (Shredded pork in achiote sauce)

YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?

Mark: The winter months from November to March are divine, with 12 hours of light and sunshine and 27C… why would you want to be anywhere else in the World?!

YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?

Mark: The Hacienda that is “frozen in aspic” ,Yaxcopoil. It has not been restored, just maintained, and it’s as if the family just walked out yesterday, so I always start with that.

YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?

Mark: I went to Luca Cuturi’s brand new Italian style café on Paseo Montejo, because it not only has a perfect location opposite the twin houses, but also great tapas, fresh pasta and Italian desserts to die for, at amazing prices! Bollicine Aperitivo.

YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?

Mark: Well I was not put off by the smoky busses and the heat! I saw past that, and of course, the secret of the city is behind the facades! I do of course get treated like a tourist at times, but I just explain that I live here and I get a very different response. Speaking the lingo helps a lot.

YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?

Mark: It’s a 50/50 mix. I enjoy both and I like to mix them all up at a dinner party and see what happens!

YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?

Mark: I guess that Vacation Rental is pretty much the same anywhere in the World. I think as long as you are clear about what is expected, and treat people how you would like to be treated, you should be able to have fun with it and make enough money to pay the bills at the same time.

I have a great accountant here who is very reasonable and honest and I have made sure that everything is set up correctly from the start. I think some people arrive with the attitude that things are different here. I personally think that is a mistake and that the chickens will come home to roost if you are not careful!

YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?

Mark: The maintenance is high on old buildings, so Vacation Rental will never make you a fortune, but it should at least cover the maintenance. In London rents are now quite extraordinary as demand outstrips supply. Here there is more to choose from, so you have to market accordingly. This is my first season managing it myself, so I will let you know how it goes!

YL: Are your work habits different here?

Mark: Well I am my own boss here. I was an employee of “Auntie Beeb” (the BBC) for many years, so that is a big difference. Benevolent Auntie changed over time and she sold me off to some Australian bankers for the last 5 years of my career, exposing me to the harsh realities of the commercial world! That probably did me some good, but it’s sad nonetheless that the family silver is being sold off. I saw the halcyon days of Radio and TV broadcasting and really enjoyed making on the spot sound effects with actors in Radio Drama!

YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?

Mark: Yes, luckily I studied Spanish at Tonbridge School in Kent when I was 16. Although it was Castellano, so the accent was different : “Una THerveTHa por favor," instead of cerveza – is quite difficult to say when you’ve had a couple! I prefer the accent here and I am pretty fluent now. The only time I have problems is when Yucatecans are at a social event and start to speak really fast!

YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?

Mark: All the interesting words I have learnt are far too rude to publish here!

YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?

Mark: No and I have no plans to at the moment. I am happy being a Residente Permanente.

YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favorite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?

Mark: I have been to Mexico City and seen the marvellous pyramids to the north. I have seen Tabasco and the Olmec heads in Villahermosa are well worth seeing. I went to Chiapas and marveled at Palenque and Tonina. San Cristobal is also beautiful but far to cold and wet for me. I need to visit the rest of Mexico and Latin America now.

YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?

Mark: I find the Mexicans are very polite and respectful on the whole and I really like their curiosity about life and the fact that they are always smiling – could it be something to do with the sunshine? I seem to smile a lot more here, and my body does not seem to ache so much! I feel really welcome.

YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?

Mark: I think that Mexico has amazing potential. I have high hopes for the future.

YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?

Mark: I know of no other city that pays to repair and paint ALL the facades of the buildings in not just one, but numerous streets in its centre. Or that encourages its citizens to participate in cultural events by offering free tickets to concerts. Yes, we are waiting for some new buses, and more recycling would be nice. The public hospitals need more money to better serve their patients. But really, this city is clearly being led by people who are constantly looking to improve things. There is an energy and a drive here that is palpable.

YL: What are your plans for the future here?

Mark: To keep calm and not panic.

YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?

Mark: Do your homework, do not rush in and make sure you find a builder who follows best practices and issues proper contracts. Don’t just go on recommendations, check them out with the authorities (Proseco). Bad contractors are on a blacklist that you can access.

YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?

Mark: You are amazing – thank you for making me feel at home!

YL: If there is anything else you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan, former Yucatecans, people planning to visit for an extended tour…), please add them here:

Here's what I want to add:

Teenage pregnancy is a major problem here. It is not uncommon for 13 year old girls to leave school forever to become mothers. Fundación BAI empowers young people to live a healthy life. We rely 100% on public donations and receive no government funding. If you would like to donate you can do so using Paypal via our website (linked below) and we welcome new volunteers, thank you.

Website: www.fundacionbai.com

FaceBook: FundacionBAI

Twitter: @Fundacion_BAI

Email: info@fundacionbai.mx

Office: 999 923 4689

You can rent Mark's house “Casa de Pedro May”, also linked below. (Mark says: It’s my first season managing it myself so the prices are very low! See the September Special! All my guests have given me 5 stars so far!)

Helpful Links & Resources

Comments

  • Marcel en Annet 8 months ago

    Many happy returns of this day.

  • Julieta Morales 1 year ago

    I truly enjoyed reading this interview. It makes me so happy to hear how people from beautiful countries such as England, can prefer to live in my country, I am very proud of being born here and love to live here too. This is the kind of expats that are more than welcome to come and live in our country.

    • Mark Callum 1 year ago

      Thank you Julieta. You have every right to be proud and I love to make a contribution and help make a difference!

  • Jenny Stanley 2 years ago

    Wonderfully done interview! Interesting and informative. Tome and I are rethinking our winter retirement plans!

  • Peter 2 years ago

    Nearing retirement I can only hope that Jill and I can find our like piece of heaven, as Mark has. I'm very happy for you Cuz.

    • Mark Callum 1 year ago

      Well thank you Coz Peter! I hope to welcome you here soon! :-)

  • Eduardo 2 years ago

    Mark: Gracias. I will definitely save this for the future. Eduardo

  • Eduardo 2 years ago

    Great interview. You can feel his passion for Merida and enjoyment of Mexico in general. Tough lesson to be learned about the disreputable builder. I'll be sure to do my homework when it is time for me to find a builder!

    • Mark Callum 2 years ago

      Hola Eduardo, I am getting enquiries about how to check out if your builder or architect has any complaints lodged against them. Simply go to the profeco site. I believe you can visit their office and check their list. There are many fine Mexican builders and Architects here doing wonderful work. The best of luck with your project. Mark :-)

      • Mark Callum 2 years ago

        There is a direct link here. http://www.profeco.gob.mx

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