Retiring in Mexico: Larry Prater Talks about his New Life in Tepoztlan
Mexico is a country that has long fascinated me, particularly its colonial heartland. I have travelled there several times and am taken in every time by its natural beauty, amazing architecture, fascinating history and the warmth of its people. Through Facebook I recently connected with an American who has made Mexico his permanent home: Larry Prater is a retired psychiatrist from Oklahoma and has been travelling to Mexico for more than 40 years now. A few years ago he retired and moved to Mexico, more precisely to the enchanted village of Tepoztlan, about an hour from Mexico City, a place I had visited myself in 2006. Today, he is running a men’s spa and has created his own personal paradise in the country that he loves. Here is his personal story which will also provide you with some practical information about living in Mexico:
1. Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from, what is your professional background?
I was born in 1944 in Stonewall, Oklahoma, at home. Stonewall had about 600 people. When I was ten, we moved to Weleetka, Oklahoma, a town of about 1200 people. I took Spanish in High School.
When I was 17, I moved to Norman, Oklahoma, and attended the University of Oklahoma for four years, majoring in Spanish and minoring in Physics and Chemistry. One year my dormitory had more people than my home town.
I graduated in 1966 and started medical school at the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. One of my classmates, who was also my roommate for two years, suggested we drive to Mexico and we did so, perhaps 20 times during the 4 years of medical school. We would drive to Mexico City and frequently on to Acapulco, and this was before there were any toll roads. We had what we called our desert route, though Saltillo and Matehuala and San Luis Potosi, and also what we called our mountain route, through Tamanzunchale. We much preferred the mountain route, through the “jungle”, but this took a day longer and we did not always have the time for this.
I loved our drives and all of our trips to Mexico. We always got lost driving through the large cities, and that was part of the adventure.
I graduated from medical school in 1970 and did a three year residency in psychiatry. I was in the private practice of psychiatry until I retired and moved to Mexico.
2. Since the 1960s you have been traveling to Mexico. What type of trips did you go on and what is your special connection with Mexico?
In addition to driving many times to Mexico, both during medical school and later, I also flew many times. I preferred driving, as I liked to see the sights along the way, and also I could buy and take back more stuff, from Mexico to Oklahoma.
I later met Alberto, from Zacatecas, he was working in Oklahoma. We became close friends and lived together until moving here together. In 1995, on one of our trips to Mexico with another friend, Mark, Alberto bought a seven week old “chihuahua” from a little lady in Monterrey. Alberto named him Goliat. Goliat grew a little large for a chihuahua, and is more like a Jack Russell Terrier. He is now almost 17. He spent most of his life, like me, in Oklahoma, but is now very happy to be back in his home country of Mexico.
Partly through Alberto, I met many Mexicans in Oklahoma. When my mother became unable to take care of herself, a Mexican family moved in with her and helped me take care of her until her death. When I moved here almost six years ago, this couple drove one of my vehicles from Oklahoma City to Mexico City for me.
On our way here from Oklahoma, we stopped by a small town in Durango and picked up Alberto’s youngest brother, and he lives with us also.
We three now have 11 dogs and four cats. About half the dogs are from Oklahoma and half from here.
3. Some time ago you fell in love with the town of Tepoztlan. Please give us a bit of background about this picturesque town.
In the 60’s, we drove frequently through Cuernavaca, on the way to Acapulco. I loved Cuernavaca, with its ideal weather and beautiful flowers. When I decided I could actually leave Oklahoma and move to Mexico, I started looking for land around Cuernavaca. I was shocked that land here was more expensive than in Oklahoma, in fact, quite a bit more. I looked for two years, on various trips, and on the internet, until finding the land that I bought about nine years ago.
I had never heard of Tepoztlan, I was looking mainly north and south of Cuernavaca, and some to the west. Alberto has an uncle who lives in Cuernavaca, and on one of our trips he brought us to Tepoztlan and the three of us climbed to the pyramid. I thought I might die on that climb, while workers carrying cases of soft drinks ran past us on the trail. With frequent rests, we all did make it to the top. I have only climbed up there a couple more times in the years since.
Tepoztlan is a fantastic little town. During the week it is rather quiet, except for fireworks. I love it during the week. It is so different from other small towns, both here and in the US, in that because of the large influx of tourists on the weekends, it has many shops, many nice restaurants, and numerous places to spend the night. For instance, Alberto’s home town in Zacatecas is larger, but has only one hotel and this hotel only has one or two rooms. There really are not any restaurants in that town, only taco stands. Tepoztlan, on the other hand, has many restaurants, with Indian, Asian, Mexican, and International foods. Many foreigners live here year round, and many more visit on weekends, especially during Holy Week, during the summer, and for the Days of the Dead, which is now my favorite holiday.
4. About 8 years ago you decided to buy property in Mexico. How did that go and what were your plans?
I wanted to open a gay bathhouse in Oklahoma City, and even though I had the building and a great location, I realized that was never going to be allowed in the heart of the bible belt. (Although there was a gay bathhouse in Oklahoma City for a while, I spent by 40th birthday there). So, I decided I would open a gay bathhouse in Mexico instead.
While looking for property in this area, we found beautiful locations to the north of Cuernavaca, with huge pine trees. However, we decided this was too cool for a swimming pool. After learning of Tepoztlan, I looked around here and was lucky to find about six acres that I could afford. I bought it about nine years ago.
I was very happy each year to go into town and pay the property taxes, as that meant to me that my property was actually recorded in Tepoztlan (and in Cuernavaca) and that Alberto and I actually owned it. I still pay the yearly taxes, of course, but it is no longer such a thrill.