This is the story of my experiences living as an ex-pat in Mexico since 2003. It's to culminate in a published book. With your help, I'll be editing, selecting a title, and cover art: a participatory project. Your comments encouraged!
November 28, 2020
Off-Grid Living in Mexico
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Frenando's home: school bus with tarp extensions. Photo by author
During the pandemic, many people are reflecting on their lifestyle and contemplating positive changes. Have you ever thought of simplifying your life? Living off-grid and in closer harmony with nature?
Because of the favorable climate, lower costs, and lax building codes and other regulations, Mexico is an ideal country in which to follow such a dream. In this article I’ll look at how Fernando, a man originally from Spain, has done it.
During this pandemic, most people have more time to contemplate what their lives are about. Every crisis has its opportunities. One I notice is the cleaner skies. What does this say about global warming? I feel it is up to each of us to take climate change seriously and do whatever we can to mitigate it. We need to live more as a part of nature, to connect with it more, and benefit from this.
For the sake of saving life on the planet, and for our own sanity, it makes sense to live our lives differently. Living off-grid is one lifestyle that fulfills these requirements.
Why Mexico? For those of us from the States, it is close by for visiting relatives and friends. I was attracted by the culture--the emphasis on family, community, and fiestas-- over work and money. This has been a more soulful existence for me.
In my experience, the cost of living in Mexico is half that of the US. One can do even better by living a different lifestyle, such as living off-grid, and on the land. When you live in an RV, an old school bus, or something similar, you can save money on rent. Home heating isn't needed. During a couple of the winter months wearing a sweater at night and using extra blankets may be necessary.
Mexico doesn’t have as many building codes as does the US. This lack of restrictions is in your favor if you live off-grid and on the land.
One of Fernando’s current projects is developing a hydrogen gas generator based on electrolysis of water that produces and separates oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen is fuel for cooking and even for transport, given the proper conversion.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Left: solar hot water heater on bus roof feeds shower, right. Photos by author
This article looks at just one example of living off-grid on the land in Mexico. I’ll post an interview with Fernando after this section where you will learn from him how he does it, and how he can help you do the same.
Fernando bought an old school bus and parked it in an empty field where he pays a very low rent, month to month, without a lease. He has a pipe attached to the neighbor’s water supply. This provides water for drinking and cleaning. A solar heater on the roof of the bus delivers hot water to a shower head.
Grey water is delivered into the ground by a long pipe . A dry toilet provides fertilizer from five gallon plastic pails that sit for a couple of months before addition to the compost.
Vegetables grow in the container gardens. There’s a problem with grubs eating all plant roots growing in the earth. This needs to be worked out.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Left: dry toilet. Right: compost. Photos by author
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Top left: cilantro and parsley. Top right: Tomatoes. Bottom: Kale. Photos by author
There is a box for drying fruit and vegetables, and he does canning. A refrigerator, running off of the solar electric panels on the bus’ roof, is helpful. A tent extending out from the bus, more than doubles available space. With the warm climate, it’s an ideal place for relaxing or dining.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Tent extending from the bus gives more living space in this warm climate. Photo by author
Many would find this an ideal way to live. Others might consider it very uncomfortable. Let’s see what Fernando has to say.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Hydrogen generator. The heart of this device is the central jar with a yellow cap containing metal plates. The jar is filled with water having a little salt. The water is split into oxygen and hydrogen gases which are filtered through the other jars. Photo by author
Here's a video slideshow I made for you to see the elegant work Fernando accomplished refurbishing the school bus interior to make it into a comfortable living space.
Fernando was an advertising executive from Spain. He took to the high seas with his girlfriend where they sailed seven years, spending only a few months total in port. This is how he got off-grid living skills.
He now lives off-grid, but he depends on water from his neighbor, uses a mobile phone with WiFi, and rides a motorcycle with gasoline fuel.
I interviewed him in Spanish, and with help, translated it to English.
Why did you come to Mexico? To Tepoztlán?
Literally, because life itself led me here and because Mexico is a very easy country to live in. Life flows permanently but the Western model of life that focuses on the material keeps us from flowing "with life" and makes us cling to principles that at the same time generate enormous frustration and impotence and therefore a constant inner malaise.
When and how did you get interested in living off-grid and in sustainability?
The first thing I have to point out is that living 100% outside the system (if you use a car or a chainsaw) is very difficult unless you know how to produce fuel. We always need others. So do I, but the biggest advantage of living like this is that you decide when to connect to the system yourself.
To answer your question, my choice as to how to live was the consequence of a long process of observation, both internally and of my surroundings.
I worked for many years as a journalist and later in advertising. That gave me the opportunity to learn about the working mechanisms of our society. Once I realized how the economic, social and political system worked, I was aware that such a life did not work for me. So I asked myself: what is the way out, where is the solution?
Henry Ford declared: "If people understood the banking (and financial) system they would make a revolution tomorrow.¨ Well, of course I would like to change the world, but it was only in my hands to change my life which is the equivalent of making a revolution in myself and in my own life.
Normally we all know what we do NOT want, but have we ever wondered what we really want?
Well, I asked myself and I listened to myself. The answer did not come immediately, it took some internal work and to face my own fears.
I finally made a decision that to many will seem crazy: to live on the sea. So I decided to get rid of everything, sell everything I had, and I bought a 12 meter sailboat to travel around the world. I sailed for seven years, usually off the beaten track, and visited innumerable islands where it was only possible to arrive by sailing ship.
So I didn't know what "off the grid" was, I was simply leading the life I wanted to with all its consequences. And that allowed me in difficult moments to think "you are here because you have really decided this yourself."
Now 64 years old, I still think that changing the life I led was one of the best decisions I made without a doubt.
After selling the boat, I tried a more or less conventional life and when I arrived in Mexico. I rented a house and looked for work to pay the rent and my expenses. I remained in that situation for a month, I could not bear the slavery to which I had to submit to lead a conventional life.
It was then that I decided to buy a school bus, transform it into a bus-home with all the comforts and travel around Mexico. And so 30 years of my life have passed, feeling a full happiness. It is not a vacation, it is freedom and personal sovereignty.
What are the benefits of living this way? The problems? Isn’t off-grid living uncomfortable?
When you are yourself, I repeat "yourself" who has decided to make life in a certain way, whether it is living off-grid or not, problems are felt or experienced with a different nuance. Problems simply become things that have to be solved fundamentally at the logistical level to live with a certain comfort and nothing else. For me there are no problems that derive from my choice of how to live, there are logistical situations (electricity, water, bathroom, etc.) that must be resolved. And there is always an accessible solution.
The great advantage of living like this is living a life in freedom, in harmony with your surroundings, and with nature and independence at all levels.
As for discomfort, it seems to me that the really uncomfortable thing is having to face the expenses that arise from living in a more conventional way. That forces you to live in a way that everything revolves around money and things. Discomfort comes from properly maintaining your life support system. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that you have to be aware that everything works correctly and repair things yourself. For me it is the least expensive way of life both economically and personally.
What are you doing now with respect to living off-grid?
I feel very satisfied with the life that I lead and I would not change it for anything. Perhaps one of the priorities is paying attention to the issue of money/work, but in general this way of life allows me to do only the jobs that I want to do. Then work becomes a pleasure. This is possible because my expenses are reduced to a minimum and therefore the income that I must earn to maintain this lifestyle as well.
I do not understand how human beings can complicate life so much. In the past I had a more intellectual bent; now I live a life more focused on the practical. So I decided to focus my new job on providing advice and help to those who want to experience off-grid trends. Through the Mexperience page I provide a personal advice and monitoring service offering practical solutions for living in Mexico in a very, very cheap way.
What are your goals with living off-grid? IE, future plans?
Simply living a high quality life at all levels. As for future plans, I have already learned that one makes plans and God plays dice, that is, I simply have no plans and I let life flow.
Thanks to Fernando for sharing a piece of his life!
If you want to learn more or consult with him how you could make this change, please go to this site. Scroll down for the consulting interview application.
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Fernando. Photo by author
Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Felix taking a snooze in the bus. Photo by author
From the Author
I consider this to be my most important blog yet in its three year history for its impact on readers and on our earth. Please share the link with friends and relatives.
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By February, I'll have drafts of my memoir, "Better Living in Mexico," and ebook complication of these blogs, "Letters From Mexico." If interested, I am looking for test readers to make helpful comments, especially those who are published authors. Please contact me.