A Memoir by Sheila Madsen
Time to Escape:Winter or Toronto?
It all began innocently enough over a bottle of red wine. One chilly April evening I suddenly blurted out to my husband, Soren, “I hate Toronto I hate the climate.” Even for me that was a little odd, having lived there for 61 years. And so began the search of where to spend the winter, with an eye out for a possible future move. Retired at 60 from advertising, we were fully expecting to enjoy our relaxed life in Toronto. All the ingredients were there: we belonged to a golf club and we were members of a tennis club. The club joining was a carefully planned and financed path — golf courses, tennis courts, gyms and yoga mats were waiting for us during the day. What a concept. Except the retirement recipe wasn’t working for us, and it was more like a sunken soufflé. Midway through year two of retirement, we both decided we were bored out of our minds but fortunately, not with each other. We were just so bone- tired of Toronto’s icy cold climate. The daily question became, “Is Toronto where we want to spend our last 25 years?”
That’s an easy question for us to ask, as we have no children, no parents, no pets. Nothing was keeping us in Toronto, and we were absolutely free to explore everywhere and everything. As the research progressed, I realized how desperate I was for a complete change. We sealed the deal with a kiss, agreeing to a five-month test, obviously avoiding another Ontario winter. We both loathe: camping, road trips, packing/unpacking, hunting, hiking, river rafting or anything resembling extreme sports or adventure. We both have traveled extensively in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and Mexico. We batted countries around like tennis balls but most didn’t make it over the net because of climate, culture and budget. We both wanted an urban environment, so the criteria became that it must: be on the ocean, have a decent population with a working infrastructure, have a manufacturing backbone and not just tourism, have a superb climate, hot but not temperate, and have long- term affordability. Being Canadians we are, of course, obsessed with health care. Every time Mexico came up, it was a giant red, green and white flag, but we kept saying, “It’s only for five months… how bad can it be?”
Over the years I had visited these cities in Mexico: Cabo San Lucas (too cold, too touristy); Puerto Vallarta (ideal climate, way too touristy); Manzanillo (good climate, too small); Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (too cool, too touristy); Cancun (never an option); and San Miguel de Allende (inland, too cold). Mazatlan rose to the top of the list. We enlisted our superintendent’s help, along with our good friend Warren, and put our St. Clair Ave. apartment on a five -month snooze. Pipes would be checked, mail collected and if important, Warren would PDF any crucial matters. Our friends twirled the word Mexico around in their mouths like a sour lemon drop. They just kept emphasizing the five-month part. Soren and I always had a sneaking suspicion we would adore it; we also promised each other to remain open to other options if Mazatlan did not live up to its research and reputation.
It did seem like a truly unusual choice for two people who don’t speak a word of Spanish and who are whiter than a full moon. I was about to experience my complete change wish in our fully furnished apartment at Villa Serena, Centro Historico, Mazatlan.