Molly McHugh’s recently published Viva La Baja! Relocation and Real Estate Guide to the Baja California Peninsula provides concise, easy to use information for anyone interested in north or south Baja. It is obvious that McHugh’s objective is to provide an excellent product that will be useful for people of all ages and from all walks of life.
McHugh’s writing style is unpolished but her dedication to thorough coverage of her topics and balanced information for the entire peninsula hold the book together. She “stays out of the way,” providing information rather than opinions. She covers topics by describing them — highlighting and expanding where Canadians and people from the U.S. would be unfamiliar — presenting the major options among which people can choose, then listing references for further information. McHugh has selected and highlighted topics that are either different from what people north of the border might expect or are critical to relocation in Mexico. By reading her descriptions of the options for each topic, such as renting, buying, or leasing, prospective expatriates can make decisions they might not otherwise have explored or understood the importance of.
When asked to review this book for MexConnect, I was honored. I have lived in Mexico for seven years, and though I haven’t lived in Baja, I’ve been to Baja Sur and got a feel for how special and different Baja is from mainland Mexico. Baja is booming and drawing Mexicans from all over Mexico as well as people from the U.S. and Canada who all hope to fulfill their dreams there. McHugh’s book presents the different locations throughout Baja so that readers can consider which locations might work for their needs. McHugh has obviously experienced Baja at the ground level and as a fellow expatriate living in Mexico I could see evidence of this experience in many ways, for example, her observation that “Rules and regulations are not uniform from one bank branch to another, as we are used to North of the border.”
I was impressed that McHugh provides information on the ecology of Baja as well as some of the current threats to its diversity. I hope that her readers will make decisions that will support the sustainable development of Baja thanks to being better informed. McHugh’s specific information on how to travel with a pet in Baja is grounded in real experience, helpful, and unique among Mexico guide books. She also has little “Hot Tip” and “Fun Fact” sections at the end of many of her chapters that add to the reader’s understanding of the topic without adding bulk to the text. Her thorough treatment of rentals and real estate covers many important, Mexico-specific details such as describing notary publics, warning about potential problems with ejido land, and explaining the fideicomiso.
I wanted more from McHugh on a few topics. Sometimes in Mexico, the devil’s in the details of how to do something. For example, she doesn’t talk about furnishing your home or paying your electric bill. A couple of her chapters left me with unanswered questions, especially in the chapter “Kids and Education.” Still, these chapters are useful to the reader. This same chapter, “Kids and Education,” is full of wonderful ideas for easing children’s transition to Mexico and even though all of my questions weren’t answered by it, it still provides the reader a net gain of information. If anything, the questions raised by the chapters will open the readers’ eyes to areas for personal investigation.
McHugh avoids tackling cultural differences, a topic that I consider very important, though this may have been a deliberate decision on her part since people’s responses to a new culture are so varied and personal. Finally, the Spanish phrases she uses in the text are often incorrect. Hopefully, in upcoming versions of her book she will have a Spanish speaker correct those for her. McHugh’s book won’t help you meld into Mexican society, but it will help you plan a smooth, comfortable transition to Baja soil, covering topics such as health care, banking, passports, getting there, housing, and more.
McHugh’s book works like a checklist and is very user friendly if printed out so that notes can be made in the margins. If the reader were to work through each chapter one at a time, consider the options and choices McHugh lays out, do some follow up research starting with the useful links she provides, and then make the decision that is right for them, they’d be surprised at how close they are to being ready to move – or how much more comfortable they are if already in Baja.