Mexico - Lessons In Relaxation
FM3. That's the name of the Mexican visa needed by foreigners spending more than three months in the country. If you haven't heard of it, chances are you will. Mexico has seen the highest number of immigrants from the United States - more than 1 million in the past decade. And the numbers aren't slowing.
The steadiest stream comes from the retirement sector. But there's also a southern migration from younger upstarts enticed by the spicy Mexican culture, the bang-for-buck value and the relaxed (and sometimes maddening) mañana vibe that favors the pursuit of pleasure over work.
And of course, there's diving. Count hundreds of miles of coastline, the world's second-largest reef snaking along the Yucatán Peninsula and nearly endless possibilities for enterprising expats who want to get wet.
That's the mindset of Marco Martin, a quasi-expat (currently living one week each month in Mexico) from the States who owns and operates his Dreamtime Dive Resort in Mahahual. The once-sleepy fishing village four hours south of Cancún is now the focus of the Mexican government's most recent major master-planned development along the Caribbean Coast (aka: Costa Maya). With a serious spanking by last year's Hurricane Dean, there's as much rebuilding as new building these days, and yes, Dreamtime also took a hit. But Martin is in for the long haul.
"I visited the brand-new Mahahual port in 2004, and was blown away by the unspoiled, undiscovered tour and diving destinations. It was clear to me areas like this are hard to find. And, I was ready for a career change," he recalls. Job one: Bail on his corporate career in the United States and funnel money into the area's sole dive-shop outpost. Some heavy lifting was already in place; Martin bought an existing dive center, spruced it up, purchased boats, hired a new staff of 40 and set out to provide a dive center focused on marine ecology (his shop uses wind and solar power). From the outset, the corporate-savvy Martin found it wasn't business as usual.
"I'm a businessman, but I did earn a second degree in what I'll call 'Mexican Business,'" he half-jokingly recounts. "The challenges here are significant, not as structured. My biggest difficulty was setting up the legalities of a Mexican operation."
Since turning on his compressors in 2005, Martin says his business has grown 800 percent - basically from zero to a consistent stream of divers who bring in enough cash for Martin to make payroll and continue to grow the business.
It's been nearly a year since the hurricane setback, and Martin says Dreamtime and the town of Mahahual should be 100 percent by July 2008.
"We're excited about the upcoming season, about taking divers to virgin sites with huge bucket coral (barrel sponges), swim-throughs, pelagics - and where you're the only one in the water for 150 miles. It's raw and authentic, and that's what adventure diving is all about."
On the Yucatán's Costa Maya, dreamtime dive resort (dreamtimediving.com) in Mahahual offers Caribbean diving at nearby reefs and the remote Chinchorro Banks aboard custom 26-foot Tahoma boats that carry up to 12 divers. yucatek divers (yucatek-divers.com) in Playa del Carmen offers ocean dives to Caribbean wrecks and reef wall sites, along with excursions to inland freshwater cenotes where dive routes are bathed in sunlight. On the Sea of Cortez, dolphin diver center (dolphindivebaja.com) uses 25-foot panga-style boats to ferry divers to 15 sites off Coronado Island, and solmar v, a 112-foot luxury live-aboard, offers excursions out of Cabo San Lucas accommodating up to 22 divers (solmarv.com). Find travel and cultural information at visitmexico.com, the country's official tourism site. mexperience.com spells out living and working in the country. transitionsabroad.com has an excellent Mexico expat forum.