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Retire To Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Retire To The Most Beautiful Lake On Earth

“The caldera created by the massive volcanic explosion, one of the strongest explosions in earth’s history, formed the basin for the evolution of what is arguably the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Atitlán in Guatemala,” writes Guatemala Correspondent and expat Mike Anderson in the July issue of the Overseas Retirement Letter, in production now.

“Beautiful by day and stunning at sunrise and sunset, with a near-perfect climate, easy access to North America, a moderate cost of living, and reasonable access to health care, for the adventurous eco- and nature-lover, this could be the ideal new home.

“Indeed, Lake Atitlán has just become my second home, cleverly disguised as a 45-foot motor launch. After all, if you’re going to live on a scenic lake surrounded by 12 distinct indigenous villages, why not live on all of it?

“In fact, for me, this is a return to Guatemala. I lived here for 5 years 35 years ago and am married still to my Guatemalteca. After enjoying three months visiting indigenous villages, swimming, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, and making new Guatemalan and expat friends, I realized that Guatemala was calling me back, and I jumped at the chance to purchase an old cargo boat for conversion into a live-aboard.

“If the natural attractions of the lake weren’t enough to remind me daily that I’ve made the best possible decision returning to Guatemala, I’ve met the most interesting people since I’ve been here, both expats and locals.

“At the San Pedro La Laguna market one day, for example, I observed an old American bargaining in rustic Spanish with small indigenous children selling oddities and antiques. The children were easily besting the old man (‘Kini,’ the children called him), leading him in circles due to his poor Spanish.

“I ran into Kini days later as he walked up the hillside to his cabin, and he invited me along. He rents a small furnished bungalow, with thrice-weekly housekeeper service. We rested there in wood-slat arm chairs. Tall glasses of fresh fruit juice appeared magically beside us, and Kini began puffing on a previously smoked cigar, telling stories.

“He told me he has lived here for three years supported by a modest pension and a few thousand in savings. He was forced into retirement in 2008. His pension was not enough to live on in the States, not even in Indiana. He is a widower; his children are scattered across the great North American landscape, and they have never found the courage to come down to visit. His children think he is crazy for choosing to live in a Third World country and constantly beg him to go back to the United States.

“As he told his story, his Tz’utujil housekeeper swept by and plucked the cigar right from his hand, delivering a barrage of reproaches, half in mangled Spanish and half in Tz’utujil, as she disappeared. Disregarding her naggings, Kini retrieved and lit another half-smoked cigar. He was totally at ease, without care or worry, far from the screeching news of national debt, unemployment, and presidential campaigns. He has let go of keeping-up-with-the-Jones pretensions and is both completely unencumbered by possessions and wanting for nothing,

“We sat quiet for a while and watched the lake. The sun’s reflections off the waves flitted across the walls of the bungalow in mesmerizing fractal patterns in rainbow colors, hypnotically, dreamily. Kini fell asleep, dropping his cigar on the floor. I let myself out, as the housekeeper swooped by again to scoop up the smoldering cigar, fixing me with a fiercely protective look as I closed the door.

“Walking back down the hillside to my boat, I reflected on my life and Kini’s. We have found a place far from politicians conspiring against our pensions, insulated from economic and currency crises, removed from everything that we both once believed to be so important. Somehow, here in what many would dismiss as a most unlikely spot, we have managed to arrive at that most elusive of all destinations: home.”

Kathleen Peddicord

Editor’s Note: The July issue of the Overseas Retirement Letter is a special bumper edition featuring a complete guide to retirement on and around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. Correspondent Mike Anderson interviews fellow resident expats, provides detailed monthly budgets (retirees here agree that their cost of living is 30% to 50% lower than in the United States), gives an overview of the rental market (you can go local and rustic for less than US$100 per month or choose something more comfortable for as little as US$400 or US$500 per month), and paints a complete and completely infatuating picture of retired and expat life in this peaceful, beautiful spot.

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