We were just over three weeks into our Mexican roadtrip when our lives changed course.
The day before we had driven down the pacific coast from Aticama to San Pancho. Our friend Pedro had recommended we visit San Pancho because it was smaller and more chilled than Sayulita.
We couldn’t find San Pancho on the map, which was confusing because our map was very detailed and had even very small villages listed. We used google maps to find the San Pancho Hostel. It wasn’t until the next day that we worked out that “San Pancho” is what the locals call the town. The official name (the one on the map) is “San Francisco”.
It makes me smile imagining the confusion we would cause telling people we have bought 3.5 hectares of jungle in San Francisco.
It was while wandering down the main road in San Pancho that we passed a blue and white real estate office. We could tell already that San Pancho catered more to tourists than the area around San Blas that we had just been in, this was certain to lead to higher prices. In Todo Santos, a tourist friendly town on Baja, we had popped in to a Real Estate office and been shocked by million dollar price tags.
Curiosity about property values and the luxury of spending a few minutes in air conditioning lured us inside. We were greeted by a friendly lady called Mariel, who gave us a binder full of the properties they had listed.
We were about to find our new home, we just didn’t know it yet. We still thought we were just doing research for a future trip when we would come back to Mexico to find a property “for real”.
Here are the 10 ways we realised we’d found our perfect property:
1. It was the only property in the book under $200,000 USD
We flipped through the pages of the binder, and while they weren’t as high as Baja prices, the first few properties were listed for between $250k – $1 million – in US dollars, not pesos! But we kept flipping and suddenly a picture of some trees rather than a building caught my attention. Then the price… Significantly less than all the other properties…
2. The property was bigger than an acre
After the price, the next thing we looked at was the size. Most properties listed were 1000m2, some up to 3000m2.
We really wanted enough land to be able to build treehouses, grow a food forest, keep chickens – we need space! When originally dreaming about potential land, we said we wanted at least a hectare (10,000m2) but the past couple weeks of viewing land in Mexico had readjusted our expectations.
We were now aware that we may only be able to afford an acre (4046m2) or so if we wanted land that met our other goals too.
This property was over 35,000m2. Our eyes met with raised eyebrows and hopeful smiles. We kept reading…
3. The land is covered in trees. Lots and lots of trees.
We love trees. Our vision for treehouses, hammocks, a food forest, shade, and privacy all work best with established trees. There are plenty of things that you can buy or make happen quickly with hard work.
Old, big, established trees have to be there already or take decades to grow.
The first piece of land we looked at in Mexico looked like this, so to find a property with 1000+ big trees was a major plus.
4. Location is only a few minutes drive from the surf
I have always wanted to live by the ocean. I grew up near the Rocky Mountains and loved it, but have never lived close to the waves. Beave loves surfing, and doesn’t get much opportunity in the North of England. Being able to wake up and be in the water in 10 minutes will be a dream come true.
For example, this was our favourite campsite of the whole road trip, on the Baja coast just down from Mulege.
5. Living close to a village where we can be part of the community
Down the coast from Mazatlan we viewed some remote beachfront properties. They were beautiful, some had some trees that had been planted years earlier, they were bigger than a hectare, and they were almost affordable. Seeing these properties, and not feeling like they were quite right, we realised how important having a community nearby was to us. We want to be an active part of a strong community, not squirrel ourselves away somewhere where we have to drive for ages to find a shop, a restaurant or a town.
6. The Real Estate agent lit up when we said we wanted to practice permaculture
We soon realised that in a binder full of expensive houses on small pieces of land, we had found one property which, on paper at least, met all of our criteria. We asked the lovely Mariel for more details and she disappeared and returned with Shannon, a laid-back American expat who has been living in Mexico for years.
Shannon introduced himself and brought us into his office (with even better air conditioning) to tell us more about the property. The second we mentioned that we wanted a property where we could practice permaculture, his face lit up and he said:
“In that case this property may just be perfect for you. Let me tell you the whole story.”
7. The previous owner ran it as an eco-community
Shannon explained that the property is very unique, and has a very interesting history. The previous owner was a carpenter, who bought the property with the intention of creating an eco-community. He succeeded in leasing plots to at least four other people, and for a time there was a vibrant community. They would meet in the mornings to work in their communal garden, they ran on solar power and had a functioning well for water, and each resident was building their own homes in various ways. The owner wanted his wife to love it there too, and so he did things especially for her, the most notable being that he built a pool for her.
While we have no aspirations of building an eco-community, our plans for a natural space, with permaculture and art at it’s heart, are in keeping with what has been there before.
8. The property has challenges we’re willing to face.
Why was a property of this size, in this location, affordable? We knew there had to be big challenges. It had been on the market for over a year and no one had bought it yet – we needed to know why.
Despite the property being just over a kilometre off the highway, it is not an easy road to travel. In the dry season it is uneven and covered in big rocks. Almost (but not quite) impassable for a standard car. (We later tested this in a VW Jetta, but that’s another story…)
In the wet season, the road traverses four arroyos (rivers/streams) of varying sizes. The last and biggest one involves driving into the arroyo, driving upstream for about 10 meters and then driving out.
We’re told that there is only running water in the arroyos for about 10 hours after it rains, so most of the time it’s dry. But a few times a year, for a few hours at a time, there is so much water that it will come up to the windows of a small car.
The second reason it hadn’t sold yet is the property is mostly protected forest. We can’t subdivide, we can’t build big houses or hotels, and we can’t chop down all the trees. Luckily we don’t want to do any of those things, and it means that the property isn’t attractive to developers.
Another possible reason people were reluctant to purchase the property is that there is a highway being built about 250 metres to one side of the land. We feel it’s far enough away, with enough trees between us and the road that it shouldn’t cause too much noise, and it might eventually provide us a route to town that doesn’t involve fording through a river. It’s all about turning “problems” into solutions (a core principle of permaculture).
9. There is tons of potential and a lot of work
We are becoming protectors of the jungle. Our role will be to manage the forest while also creating a place where it can be enjoyed without harming the flora or fauna.
The jungle has had four years to take over since the previous owner lived there. It will be a lot of work to restore, rebuild and improve what is already there. We’re excited to have a new challenge, and such a important responsibility.
10. When we woke up we both felt at home.
The moment when Beave and I knew for sure that we were going to buy this property was a couple of days after we first saw the listing. Shannon had taken us to see the property and had given us permission to sleep in our van there overnight.
I woke early to the sounds of the jungle, and climbed out of the mosquito net we had hung in the van overnight. I sat in the shell of the stone cottage and felt completely at one with my surroundings. Beave emerged and saw me there. He looked around and said with absolute certainty:
“We’re buying this land aren’t we?”
I could only nod yes with a tear in my eye because I was so overcome with joy.
There in the middle of a Mexican jungle, in an old van and a half built cottage, we had woken up at home.