How this Unconventional family ended up in Mexico
I always love to hearing the stories behind how people end up in different places. I especially love weird, crazy stories worthy of a Netflix documentary.
Velya is unconventional and colorful. She describes herself as “Offbeat” and “kooky”. She and her family are also incredibly creative, courageous and resourceful as you’ll see below.
In this interview, Valya tells me the incredible story behind how they’ve all ended up in Mérida on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
Name: Velya Jancz-Urban
Country of Origin: Connecticut, USA
Number of years in Mexico: 1
Hi Velya! I don’t know where to start with you – you and your family have led incredibly interesting and unconventional lives. Can you please tell us more?
We’re offbeat New Englanders who, for 26 years, lived in tiny white-bread Bridgewater, Connecticut. Very early on, we wanted our kids to know there was so much more to life and started traveling all over the world on school vacations. All four of us dreamed of living in a foreign country, but visa-wise, that’s not easy to do.
There’s a long story about how we ended up in Mexico…but it would have never happened without our “Brazil story”.
Jim (my husband) was a contractor in Connecticut and befriended a dirt-poor Brazilian guy named Jose who was barely making minimum wage. Jim took Jose under his wing and taught him the ropes of construction and they worked together every day for 11 years. Eventually, Jim helped Jose open his own construction company.
With time, Jose and his family were able to buy a 375-acre fazenda in Ponte Nova, Brazil. They moved back there. Six months later, Jose called Jim and invited us to Brazil. We immediately fell in love with the country and decided to move to Brazil and open a dairy farm and English school.
We traveled to Brazil many times and it took four years to amass our herd of 200 dairy cows who lived on Jose’s ranch. In the meantime, we took Portuguese lessons, made arrangements with the consulate to bring our pets with us, sold our house, packed our 52’ cargo container, and eventually moved to Brazil.
Within eight weeks of being in Brazil, we discovered that our dear friend Jose had swindled and betrayed us. We hired a lawyer. But it was of no use.
We had no choice but to return to Connecticut, where we had no hopes, or dreams, or goals, or money. Betrayal really does a number on you and resulted in our first book, How to Survive a Brazilian Betrayal: a mother/daughter memoir.
We lived for 10 years in a 1770 Connecticut farmhouse (a haunted farmhouse), licking our wounds and rebuilding our lives, and then came out with a 2nd book: Dare to be a Green Witch: The Grounded Goodwife’s Guide to Wellness and Holistic Healing).
The books and public speaking put us back on the right track and in August of 2021 we packed up everything and moved to the Yucatán, Mexico.
Our aim has always been to look for detours, take the forks in the road, and have lots of balls in the air at one time!
What led you to wanting to live in Mexico?
Being totally truthful, medical freedom is my “hill to die on” issue. We were/are very concerned with the way things are heading in the U.S. Mandatory testing/masking, possible “jab” mandates, the social credit system, smart cities, iris scanning, GMOs, no philosophical or religious vaccine exemptions in Connecticut schools (public or private) are all things we want no part of. While we don’t vaccinate, we are not anti vaxxers, and believe in choice. We chose not to live somewhere where 69 vaccines (and 200 in the pipeline) are required by age 18 in order to attend school in CT.
We had been to Mexico before and appreciate that choice is available here. Also, it’s relatively easy to get a Mexican visa.
Contrary to what we’re all told in the U.S: if you’re creative, ambitious and hard working, there are way more opportunities here than in the U.S. The U.S. is so regulation-oriented and litigious that it’s very difficult to be an entrepreneur. Also, compared to Connecticut, the cost of living in the Yucatan is much, much lower. And btw, we’re also led to believe that ALL Mexicans are just dying to get into the U.S. – that is absolutely not true.
And finally, life’s too short to live in fear. That pull you feel, nagging at you every day, is real. Despite our setbacks, we still wanted to experience living in a foreign country. We firmly believe that there is no growth without change, and that picking up the pieces of a shattered dream is better than having no pieces to pick up at all.
Why Mérida? Why did you decide this would be your base in Mexico?
Although our plan was always to live on the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida wasn’t necessarily “the” place – although its distinction as “the second safest city in North America” held some appeal. The plan was to buy a Yucatecan ranch with lots of land and eventual horses and be as self-sufficient as possible. But the ranches and farms were all extremely remote. At one ranch, just the driveway required a 40 minute drive before you even got to the house! Then we thought about Tulum, but heard too many negative things about it from people we’ve grown to trust.
You’re not the typical expats who decided to rent an apartment or a house. You arrived in Mérida and bought a huge colonial villa. Please tell us the story, I’m dying to know.
Lol, it doesn’t seem mind-blowing to us at all. Jim was a contractor for 14 years and we’ve flipped many houses. We once flipped a house that even Habit for Humanity didn’t want to touch! We like houses with charm and character and enjoy restoring them to their original glory. Actually, we saw our casona (our present house) online before we even left Connecticut. It was advertised as a boutique hotel and despite the garish, poorly-done sponge paint, we knew the house could be amazing. Once we finally saw it in real life, we knew it was the one!
We see renting as just throwing money out the window. We’re always careful to buy a house or property that we know we can sell – if necessary. But, we definitely did not plan to sell Casona Limon!
So what happened? You told me that, in the end, city life hasn’t agreed with you. You’re selling the house and moving to a ranch on the outskirts of Mérida. Not crazy about Mérida? Decided you wanted something different? Please tell us.
As people who have always lived in the country, we just can’t adjust to city life. Part of it is that everything is walled and gated. Part of it is that Merida is slated to become a smart city. Part of it is the heat. Of course, Mexico is hot – but Merida is all concrete and cement. Just as in NYC, the buildings and sidewalks hold the heat. Although we have a garage and plenty of parking, that’s not the case with most places you have to go in Merida. But mostly, we miss nature, stars, views, greenery.
We decided to go back to our original plan of owning a ranch. Sounds easy, right? Here’s the problem: if you find a place with a lot of land, there isn’t a house. It will probably have a “cowboy house” for a ranch hand. If you find a cool house on a quinta (small farm), it’s probably in the 2-acre range – not enough land for us. So, after visiting many, many, many ranches (enough to grow our YouTube channel!) we realized that we would have to buy property and build a house – something I never, ever wanted to do!
Our offer was accepted on a ranch (we’ll be closing in November) and we were all set to start building a house. Jim came up with lots of gorgeous possibilities. Then, I really started thinking about it, and realized I would go bonkers if I had to live on this remote ranch and possibly not see a human being for weeks at a time!
So, besides the ranch in the country, our plan now is to also buy a house on the Gulf of Mexico that’s within 15 minutes of the ranch. Jim can go to work at the ranch, and Ehris (our daughter) and I will operate our businesses out of the beach house.
What is Mérida like? I know it’s a place that attracts a lot of foreigners. What are the attractions of Mérida as a place to live and/or retire?
I’m not best person to answer this question because none of the reasons are very important to me. But, from what I hear, safety is a primary reason for many people. Also, the cost of living compared to most places in the U.S. and Canada: you don’t have to own a car, there are hospitals and doctors, tons of restaurants, a Costco, Walmart, laid-back lifestyle, cultural events, and it’s relatively close to the beaches. What IS important to me is that the people here are extraordinarily friendly and helpful (but that’s been the case with everywhere we’ve been in the Yucatan)!
So you’ll be moving to a ranch in the country where you’re also starting a new business. I know the business is directly related to some of your life-long passions. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, we’ve actually launched 3 new businesses! See what I mean about opportunities here?
Grounded Goodlife Homemade: desserts and main dishes with medical herbal additions
Grounded Goodlife Remedies: herbal tinctures, salves, infusion, and oils made with medicinal Mexican herbs
Grounded Goodlife Tours: traveling to “hidden gems” unexplored by mass tourism – places that aren’t hotspots reviewed on Yelp or Tripadvisor
You can see all our products and tours on our Goodlife Website.
You’ve been in Mexico for just over a year. How do you like it overall? Do you like the people, the culture? Do you see Mexico as a place where you and your family could spend the rest of your lives?
I will never, ever adjust to the heat! Winter is my favorite season, and I desperately miss seasons. I miss rivers (there are none), woods, and mountains (it’s totally flat).
I think in order to “make it” here – and probably in any foreign country – you need three things:
- You need a Mexican to kind of take you under their wing and guide you. We’ve been lucky enough to have several of these people in our lives, and they’ve gone on to become our good, good friends.
- You have to forget about how you used to do things wherever you came from. None of it is the same here – from buying a car, buying a house, the way car insurance works, paying your electric bill, getting propane delivered, opening a bank account, even grocery shopping.
- You have to be able to say – in a non-critical way – “it’s Mexico,” when things don’t go as quickly or smoothly as you’re used to – because things here do not go quickly.
I’m looking forward to us getting settled at our ranch and wherever our beach house is going to be so we can start seeing more of Mexico. We’ve done LOTS of exploring in Yucatan, but there are so many places we want to see (and some even have cold weather)!
Will we spend the rest of our lives here? Honestly, staying anywhere for the rest of my life sounds depressing. My motto, there is no growth without change.
I always ask about safety and security because it seems to be the first thing people think about when thinking of moving to Mexico. What is your personal experiences with safety/security in Mexico? Have there been any other negative aspects that people should be forewarned about?
Safety is a non-issue for us. We feel absolutely safe! As a matter of fact, our daughter has joined several rollerblading/rollerskating groups. She could barely stand up on skates when we arrived in Mexico. Now, she goes on 25km routes with these “clubs” all over the streets of Merida and they’re skating well after midnight. She’s made wonderful friends (all Mexican) and we never worry about her being out late at night. Yes, she always wears a helmet, light-up wheels, and a full set of pads, lol! We had a HUGE Mexican Independence Day party at our house in September, and 90% of the guests were skaters.
Thank you for doing this interview Velya!
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