Campeche, Mexico -- From foods to sunsets to parades, Ann Woodward approaches travel, and life, in a way that is wildly refreshing and honest. Each day she makes conscious decisions to stay in moments and experience them all the way through. She takes and keeps mental images for herself. And when she decides to pull out her camera for pictures, she admits, these moments aren't terribly art-directed because usually, like when she is hungry, the food is prepared and ready to be eaten. Gasps!
Ann is not trying to make anything about her life super Instagram-worthy.
But everything about Ann's life is incredibly Instagram-worthy. She experiences new and exciting moments, little and big, one after another. After another. After another.
Two years ago, we interviewed Ann as one story in our five story series on Women & Travel. And a year ago, pre-pandemic, we reached out to catch up. We talked about the growing economic and environmental issues surrounding global travel and tourism. A month later, everything in the world had changed. We never published our story as scheduled because, well, the world shut-down and it didn't feel right to write about travel.
A year later, we are in the middle of a global pandemic, so writing about travel still feels weird but in the new normal kind of way. We are embracing the new by rethinking the stories we choose to tell. We are reaching out to customers and friends. And this year, we are looking forward to sharing many, many new stories with you.
It is in our core beliefs that:
1. We believe humans are hard-wired for narrative.
2. We believe that every person should travel as far as they can as often as they can.
3. We believe that travel is important because it opens minds and hearts.
We caught up with our friend Ann this month to update you on her travelling adventures as she has spent the last year living in Mexico. Read on to learn more about Ann's experiences and journey through Mexico in 2020.
Ann Woodward a.k.a. the East Village Nomad is our friend from Georgia. She grew up near Savannah, GA and graduated from the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication. After working in New York City advertising agencies for 17 years, she began travelling full-time in October 2011 with a desire to understand cultures that are different from her own. Over nine years later, Ann is still on the road. She has visited 78 countries and is currently based in Mexico.
Follow her journey at:
Q&A: On A Year Living in Mexico
C: Where have you been since we last spoke in Spring 2018?
A: My most recent travels can be grouped into a few categories:
- Former Soviet Union - Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and the ‘Stans/Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan)
- Balkans - Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo and Romania
- Turkey, for about five months
- Mexico. I’ve been in Mexico since January 2020, and I received permanent residency last year!
C: How did you wind up in Mexico?
A: I arrived in Mexico last January as a tourist/nomad with a list of places to visit but no set plans. When the world started shutting down in March due to coronavirus, I chose to stay put. I haven’t lived in US since 2011, so returning felt like an odd choice for me.
Mexico was somewhat of a known entity. I did a six-week backpacking trip through the interior of the country in 2014 and rented an apartment in Mexico City for a couple of months in 2018.
I’m highly functional in Spanish and I had/have travel insurance that covers covid, so I wasn’t overly concerned about seeking medical attention in Mexico if needed.
C: How has it been living in Mexico over the past year?
A: Honestly it’s been a lot of quedate en casa (stay at home) like the rest of the world. Fortunately I’ve felt safe and been healthy the entire time. Comfortable apartments, beautiful surroundings and overall pleasant weather have been bonuses. I’m grateful for these circumstances!
I haven’t remained in the same location for the whole year, but my time in each place has been measured in months, as opposed to days or weeks. I’ve mainly been in cities/places that are new to me, so it has still felt like travelling.
Isolation has been something to contend with since I’m in Mexico solo and my usual ways of meeting people on the road disappeared with the pandemic. However, I’ve managed to make some new connections.
All public celebrations and festivals have been cancelled, which is disappointing, but the situation also presents new opportunities. For example, I learned about Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead traditions and then created an ofrenda/altar in my apartment to honor my deceased relatives. That was a meaningful experience I wouldn't have had if I’d been out visiting cemeteries and attending parades during the holiday as a typical tourist.
C: Where are some of the places you’ve stayed in Mexico?
A: I was in Xalapa, Veracruz for four months, then Mazatlan, Sinaloa for three months after that. I’ve been in the less touristic parts of the Yucatan Peninsula since late November.
C: How did residency come about?
A: I actually arrived in Mexico with the questions of ‘Do I want to live here? Should I apply for residency?’ in the back of my mind. What better way to figure that out than during a global pandemic?!
When my 180-day tourist visa expired in July 2020, Mexican immigration granted me another 180-day stay. But by that point it was clear covid wouldn’t be disappearing, so I began to search for a longer-term solution to remain in Mexico legally.
The residency process is initiated outside of Mexico, so I emailed a few Mexican consulates in US, asking if I qualified for permanent residency. One replied yes and offered me an appointment in two weeks’ time. I flew to US for about 48 hours for that interview and to present evidence of financial solvency, and then I returned to Mexico to complete the immigration paperwork. The whole process from my initial inquiry to receiving my residency card took one month.
C: What are some of your favorite Mexican dishes and why?
A: I’m a big fan of chilaquiles, a breakfast dish of fried tortillas covered in red or green sauce and topped with eggs or shredded chicken. In Mexico, breakfast usually runs til noon, so I eat this as a ‘second breakfast’/brunch after 11am.
Although I don’t consume much meat these days, I do have a weakness for cochinita pibil, a traditional slow-roasted pork dish found in the Yucatan. Kinda reminds me of the BBQ I grew up eating.
C: How do you dress and how has your style adapted (if at all)?
A: I’ve started wearing masks with embroidered Mexican designs ;)
Mexicans dress in a more formal manner than US. Even casual attire is not careless. Shorts are generally only worn for exercise or at the beach. Therefore, I wear pants or a dress when running errands. Otherwise, I’ve been managing with the clothes I brought in 2020 and supplementing with basic wardrobe items I can purchase easily.
C: What activities are you taking up? How do you typically start your day and finish your day?
A: Like many people, I cooked more in 2020 than in my entire life! More fun than I expected.
I used the forced stillness of 2020 to focus on inner work, and that is ongoing. I usually meditate first thing in the morning, to set the tone for the day before diving into emails, news and social media. I like to end the day with a gratitude practice, optimally outdoors enjoying the sunset.
C: What’s been one of your favorite days and why?
A: Oaxaca state is one of my favorite areas of Mexico, and Oaxaca city is a place that always inspires creativity. During my most recent stay, I hiked one morning with a small, masked group in the hills outside Oaxaca city. It was nice to be out in nature, and I also appreciated conversations with other human beings! Afterwards, we enjoyed an incredible lunch that started with a tlayuda topped with mole negro and chapulines (grasshoppers).
C: What’s the "pace of life" like generally in Mexico (cities vs small towns)? I’ve read it is slower than the "pace of life" here in the US. In my experience, America itself feels fast after leaving it to live briefly elsewhere and then returning.
A: I lived in NYC for 17 years; everywhere is slower when that is your benchmark! Mexico City functions at a faster speed than a small village, but that is to be expected. Although there are plenty of things I think could be done more efficiently all around the world, I don’t really have an issue with pace of life in Mexico. During my first year of travelling, I began to realize how impatient Americans are, and that behavior generally doesn’t serve you well on the road.
C: How do you approach and then begin to experience new cultures — what are some things that you habitually find yourself doing when traveling and moving to new places?
A: Food is always a fun entry point! I enjoy tasting dishes and drinks that are typical to a region. I visit municipal markets as soon as possible after arriving in a new location; I never fail to discover something I’ve never seen before.
I also seek out street art/murals. Not only are murals visually interesting, but they’re usually an expression of an area’s politics, mythology and culture.
C: What is it like entering your 10th year as a nomad?
A: I’m certainly aware of the privilege I hold to be able to live this way. I continue to be curious about the world and its people, though right now I welcome the chance to know more about Mexico! It’s a massive country with so much to explore beyond its beaches.
For a variety of reasons, I feel the need to move and travel more slowly than I have in the past. Navigating a pandemic has been conducive to slowing down.
C: What have you discovered about yourself and what you consider home? What about being an American living in Mexico?
A: I’m realizing ‘home’ is an inside job. You need to be at home within yourself vs. expecting a place or a person to generate a sense of home for you.
I personally feel a much greater acceptance as a foreigner/someone from US here in Mexico than I’ve felt in other Latin countries. Mexico is where you can find the most Americans living outside of US (over 1 million Americans live in Mexico), so Mexicans are accustomed to Americans vacationing or living in Mexico. However, I think the Mexicans I encounter recognize and appreciate that I speak Spanish and am making an effort to integrate by learning more about Mexican history, culture and customs. In any case, I feel thankful the energy is welcoming overall. The US media often portrays Mexico in a negative light, but my experiences in the country have always been positive.
C: What is next for you?
A: For the future, I am very interested in social entrepreneurship, i.e. doing business for a cause. Food insecurity is one issue that motivates me.