Why I stayed in Baja and launched my own business

In Part One, we saw I came to Baja and connected with Dominique, who is a farming aikido teacher. She welcomed me into her home and taught me everything she knows. We worked on the farm, practiced aikido, and made a ruckus in our off-time…

how i moved to baja mexico and launched a brand new business

There are two reasons why I stayed in Todos Santos, Baja Mexico instead of continuing my farming tour of Latin America: Business & Love.

The expat Community in Todos Santos

Todos Santos has a really special expat community. I imagine most expat communities are a little bit special because they are made up of seekers trying to find their little piece of utopia.  Since everyone who arrives is looking for something special, they put their best foot forward.  They imbue the place with the qualities they are looking for.  Here, Todos Santos is known for artists, surfers, musicians, and yogis.  There’s no expat church, but there is a thriving Buddhist meditation service every Sunday.

A huge percentage of the expat community is retired or semi-retired, which means they don’t feel the pressures of making a living. They have time to dream, scheme, and volunteer to make the world a better place.  Oh, and as much as they love soaking in a new culture, home-sickness does set in, and there’s a desire to recreate the best of what they left.

Finally, since it’s difficult to get a working visa to work locally (and wages are extremely low), most expats who do want to work are entrepreneurs.  Actually, that’s not limited to expats. The entire town is made up of small shops and independent sole proprietors and contractors. Living among entrepreneurs really changes the vibe of a place: they are passionate about what they do and don’t get paid to just show up.

Meeting Carlos

Carlos had been a member of Dominque’s aikido class for some time. That’s where I met him for the first time.  He also lived really close to her garden and would come and chat with me if he happened to be walking by while I was working.

After aikido class, the students would often go out for hates (hot dogs! It’s pronounced Ha-Tays*). Carlos would give rides home to another student and I. Slowly, we became friends.

Then one night I was walking to the beach and up rides Carlos on a horse. He had another horse with him, already saddled up. He asked if I wanted to ride.  Um, YES!

So there we were, having a conversation, by ourselves, on horseback on the beach, on a moonlit night. It sounds perfectly calculated to seduce me, but he swears it was totally accidental. If you’re wondering why he had another horse saddled up without intending to pick up girls on the beach, it’s because that’s how he trains a green horse to get used to the saddle.

I think this is the night I fell for Carlos. It didn’t happen for Carlos until much later. You’ll have to ask him about that.

Looking at Carlos with New Eyes

I set out on a fact-finding mission: would he be interested in joining me on my path?  I’d ask him vague questions, like if someday he would like to live on a ranch. I mentally took note of all the skills he had that would aid me in my dream of becoming a farmer:

  • really good with rope? Check (You know you’re from the suburbs if you’re easily impressed by all the ways to use a rope)
  • able to milk cows? Check
  • able to milk and herd goats? Yes
  • knows how to care for chickens? Check
  • able to catch stray animals? Check
  • able to slaughter any kind of animal and prepare it? Check
  • able to construct corrals out of whatever’s lying around? Yes
  • knows how to farm vegetables? Absolutely

Carlos had a wealth of practical knowledge that was so foreign to my upbringing. I had a vague idea that if I set my mind to it, I could produce all my own food, but watching Carlos at work made me realize how little I knew.

Starting my business in Mexico

After working with Dominique for several months, I was offered a house-sitting job. I decided to move out of the trailer parked at her house into a real house, for free! Since I wasn’t living with her anymore, she started paying me. So later that year, when the slow season started (it’s mostly too hot to grow in the summer here,) she had to let me go.

Now I had to decide if I was going to stay in Todos Santos or move on. I already had a free house. Around that time I was offered a place to grow as well. Remember the excellent expat community I mentioned above? I was actually offered several places to grow, one after another, just as I needed them. And then there was Carlos. I decided to stay and try to make a living on my own in the fall.

Making a Living in baja

I concentrated my selling efforts in the nearby city of La Paz, so I wouldn’t have to compete directly with Dominique.  I bought a dirty old blue pickup truck, a ’79. Somehow it made the hour trip to La Paz and back almost every single week. The one week it was in the shop, I took the bus with my bags of salad in a rolling suitcase and managed to make my deliveries.

blue beater toyota pickup

At one point, I had more orders than I had lettuce, and Carlos had been growing a bunch of lettuce with no one to sell it to.  So we combined our efforts and went into business together.  After that, I let my loaned plots go and went to work on Carlos’s plot of land.

I have some pictures of the early days. My family came to visit and we put them to work.

My Grandma kept asking during this time if I was coming back to the US and if I was happy. I didn’t really know if I would stay or go. But once our business started growing and our relationship deepened, I had to give it a chance.

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Thanks!

I put off writing this post for a long time. It was about falling in love, which is such a profound thing, and I didn’t think I’d be able to do it justice. But many of you wrote to let me know you couldn’t wait for part two, so I obliged.  Thanks for the motivation.  I’d love to know what else you want me to write about, or what you thought about this post.  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Notes:

*There’s a hot dog place called Hates El Guero.  Guero is a fair-skinned person.  It’s not referring to gringos, it’s referring to fair Mexicans, which there are a lot of, especially in Baja. Anyway, when I first saw the sign “Hates El Guero”, I thought it read “hates the white guy”, and I was like, “what?! Why would you name your business that?!”

2 thoughts on “Why I stayed in Baja and launched my own business

  1. Laurie Frey-Baquedano says:

    I have to say that you have an interesting story here! I’m intrigued, especially because we have things in common! I’m on the other side of Mexico, in the Yucatan, married to a Yucatecan. In addition to that, your mom and I were good friends in high school! In fact, I remember seeing you when you were about 3 years old! What a small world!

    • Caroline Benzel says:

      Hi Laurie,

      My mom talked about you a lot. I have a theory that she wanted me to move to Mexico someday and that she was planting the seed. Perhaps someday we’ll make it to your end! Thanks for reading!

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