On being a gringo in Mexico: From Colonel to Cuernavaca

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Mark Wise

Mark and Tina Wise
Mark and Tina Wise

OK, so it’s really from Lieutenant Colonel to Tehuixtla, Morelos… you’ve heard of poetic license and alliteration?

We’re Mark and Tina Wise (and Alexa, our sweet golden retriever). We live in our country home (mi casa es su casa) in Tehuixtla, Morelos, 85 miles SW of Mexico City, 30 miles SW of Cuernavaca and 150 miles NW of Acapulco.

We’re members of MexConnect, and we thought that our story might be interesting, especially for Americans, Canadians, and other ex pats living in Mexico or considering the same.

Ok, well, I’m 54 years old from Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo, California and retired Army (22 years). I’m also a photographer, runner, Iraq war vet, Scuba diver, notorious punster and gardener. Tina is…. well, she’s younger than me and a dual US/Mexican citizen who grew up in Mexico City. She’s an accomplished oil painter and salsa dancer.

We also run “Mex-cursions” in which we host the international traveler in our Bed and Breakfast country home and take them to more than 20 sites in Central Mexico and other parts of Mexico.

Tina and I first met in 1976 when I graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara and spent a year in Mexico City, during which time I traveled throughout Mexico. We took separate paths and, in 2001, found each other again. We married in 2002, the second marriage for each of us.


As if we had planned it, we both have daughters, age 28 and sons, ages 22/23. Tina’s daughter, Michelle, lives with her husband, Pablo in Boston and her son, Rodrigo, is a businessman in Mexico City. My daughter Alyssa works for Maybelline in Manhattan and my son Timothy is a Civil Engineer in Wayne, NJ with HNTB. We consider ourselves one family and refer to all 4 children as “our” sons/daughters (much like the Brady Bunch!). All four children get along great and there are few language barriers.

I retired in May of 2004 and we came to the sleepy town of Tehuixtla, Morelos (pop 7,000 give-or-take a few burros), to build our country home and live a quiet, relaxed life. When I first came to Texhuixtla, I thought the name meant “small town without a traffic light,” but then I was told it means “where the huisache tree abounds.”

Being a GEM (Gringo en Mexico)

First, the acronym, GEM, is from the Travel and Living Channel’s popular show of the same name.

Where do I start? First, I’ll say that I love living in Mexico with its relatively more relaxed pace and its friendly people, rich language, food, music and traditions. Is it easy for a GEM? I guess that depends on the GEM! I’m quite comfortable in Mexico and most Mexicans like me.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish, so this helps. It also helps to be married to Tina, a dual citizen with a great personality, who constantly explains to me various aspects andnuances of life in Mexico, reminding me to not compare Mexico with the USA.

Tina and I get involved in various community activities, like distributing clothes to the needy donated by my family and friends in California, Tina’s salsa dance classes and helping a friend to get elected as the Municipal (County) President of a nearby community in November.


Tehuixtla has basically adopted me, as I can always be seen jogging or shopping in the mercado. Those who know me know I’m joking when I always say “Merry Christmas” to them instead of “Goodby.” (During the Christmas season, I say “Happy Easter.”) If it’s morning, I say “Good Evening,” and if it’s evening, I say “Good Morning.”

Our friends seem to enjoy it when I “misspeak” words or sayings, especially the “racy” ones! For example (not a racy one!), with a straight face, I often twist a saying around like “I went there to kill two stones with one bird.” Tina, the “straight man,” always corrects me in front of the others, and I always respond that I’ll never learn Spanish correctly.

Tina reminds me that anywhere in the world we can experience the occasional rude driver, the “invisible” pothole or speed bump, trash in the countryside/streets, and the lack of clean bathrooms after paying expensive and all too frequent highway tolls (always carry toilet paper and hand disinfectant!). She even tries to explain the unexplainable Mexican politics.

Tina is good at letting me see the big picture and the overwhelmingly positive aspects of Mexico: its friendly and generous people, its incredibly rich history, great food, music, and climates, the generally relaxed and flexible approach to most things and its great and varied destinations, to mention just a few.

My Legal Status

I’m in my fifth (and last) year with my FM3 work visa. At the 10th month point, I have the option of applying for the FM2 visa or my Mexican citizenship, the main difference being my ability to vote in Mexico if I become a dual US/Mexican citizen.

Anyone interested in more information about living legally in Mexico can ask questions via the various Mexico Connect forums, where you can also contact a good lawyer (make sure he or she is versed in immigration matters…. really!). I’ll also be happy to refer you to our immigration lawyer in Mexico City.

Our excursion business is in Tina’s name, so, in that respect, I legally “don’t exist.” If you’re interested in working in Mexico (by yourself or for someone else), do your homework through MexConnect and, again, get a good lawyer!

I could ramble on forever. If you have comments or questions, please contact us.

You are always welcome at our/your country home.

Published or Updated on: April 13, 2008 by Mark Wise © 2009
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