Imagine running away to the Mexican Caribbean and never coming back. That dream became a reality for author Jeanine Kitchel and her husband who traveled to the Yucatan in 1985, and a decade later, left their jobs in Silicon Valley to pursue a relaxed lifestyle in Puerto Morelos, a small fishing village on the Quintana Roo Coast south of Cancun. Chance links them with a contractor who offers to build them a beachfront house, and this is where the true story begins. After side-stepping disaster on several fronts, they build their home, settle into Mexico, and then travel deep into the heart of Yucatan to explore the Mayan ruins. Share their dreams, their heartaches, but most of all, see how they cope with buying land, building a house, and retiring in a foreign country. This evocative adventure is a cockeyed love letter to Mexico, their adopted homeland.
Author Jeanine Kitchel and her husband Paul Zappella began traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula in the early 1980s. What started as get away vacations became serious land hunting a few years later, and by 1990 they'd bought land in Puerto Morelos south of Cancun where they broke ground on their house, Casa Maya. In 1997 they left their Bay Area jobs and drove with their cat and belongings three thousand miles across Mexico to a small beach town in Quintana Roo. Shortly after settling in, they opened a bookstore, one of seven in the state. Kitchel's love of the Maya led them to pyramid sites throughout southern Mexico: Palenque, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Labna, Kabah, Ek Balam, Coba, Tulum, Dzibilchaltun, Calakmul, Kohunlich, Xpuhil, Becan, Chicanna. Each site offered unique stories of the Maya culture and always an adventure or two. In the early 1980s, many sites were barely on the map. In 1985 at Tulum they shared the site with one set of tourists. They were the lone tourists at Kohunlich in the Rio Bec area west of Chetumal, and when they stopped at the security gate at Calakmul in 1994, the guard greeted them as if he'd never seen a human before. By 1997 when they severed ties to California and moved lock, stock and barrel to Mexico, Kitchel had become a serious Mayaphile, totally hooked on Maya culture and the pyramids. Through the bookstore she stayed current on the latest Maya books and she entertained a steady stream of customers--travelers, explorers and locals-- who had fresh views on the subject. She was living in the heart of Maya land. Breaking the Maya code became big news in the late 1990s though the unravelling had begun at Palenque's Mesa Redonda in 1973. Kitchel was fascinated with this change in the ability to now understand who the Maya were. Explorers and tour guides passed through her store and she learned first hand from those involved in deciphering the writings of the oldest civilization in the New World. Kitchel, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in journalism, has written for The Miami Herald/Cancun edition, El Universal/Mexico City, The Herald/Mexico City, The News/Mexico City, The Mexico Files, Sac-Be, The Baja Times and Fodors Travel Guide/Cancun-Riviera Maya edition. She's contributed to Mexico websites planeta.com, mexicopremiere.com, escapeartist.com, sacbe.com, belize.com, and mexconnect.com.