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You can get a job as a caretaker at a place like this!  photo: www.nataras.com
Make Yourself At Home:
Get Local as a Property Caretaker

By Thea K. Dunn

Ever wish you could live somewhere else and really get to know the local culture? What if you could... for free?

One unusual lodging and travel option for adventurous souls seeking a new life outside of their home countries is property caretaking. This increasingly popular strategy provides prospective nomads with insight and experience into the culture and lifestyle of another country -- all while enjoying the benefits of living rent-free.

Caretaking opportunities can range from short-term or seasonal positions to long-term positions that last for years. In some cases, being a caretaker can mean nothing more than house-sitting, while in others, the caretaker may be required to do anything from construction or gardening work to child or animal care.

Caretaking positions are available all over the world, from villas on tropical islands to ranches in New Mexico. Some are certainly glamorous properties in exotic locations, while others are remote and rustic.

A Diverse Mix of People

And caretakers are as diverse as the properties they oversee. From recent graduates to octagenerians, singles to couples to families, all kinds of people have discovered the benefits of property caretaking.

The only general prerequisites, other than a desire to live and learn in a different place, are responsibility, and, sometimes, a few skills.

Dave and Sumana Harrison McCollam found property caretaking to be an exciting new opportunity that enabled them to travel and enjoy life in Oaxaca, Mexico. The couple explain, "We had both just about had enough of 'life in the fast lane' (and also the not-so-fast lane) when we decided to make an extended trip through Mexico." 

After purchasing a small RV and modifying it to tow a 650 KLR Duo-Sport Motorcycle (just perfect for Mexico), the couple headed south. They lingered in places like San Miguel de Allende, Lake Catemaco, Palenque and Campeche, and headed for Tulum on the Yucatan peninsula.

Dave and Sumana agreed that, with its beauty, charm, slower pace and friendliness, Mexico attracted them, and they longed for a way to remain. That’s when they came upon The Caretaker Gazette, a magazine dedicated to caretaking positions around the world. 

In their first issue, they discovered a position was available at Casa Raab in Oaxaca, as managers of a 40-acre guest property in the mountains about 20 minutes from this beautiful colonial city. The absentee owner, who lives in Washington, needed a responsible, intelligent, thoughtful, multi-talented, semi-bilingual couple to care for the villa that has been in his family for over 30 years.

Dave and Sumana applied for the position and were accepted. The perfect match.  Dave and Sumana describe the property: "We have our own separate architect-restored house, called 'Granny's.'  The architect did a terrific job of staying with the traditional style…adobe walls, tiled roof, carrizo and beamed ceiling and red tiled floors. 

There are a few Western touches, like a marble shower and kitchen counters. Oh, well. Also, the house is oriented toward magnificent views of a series of mountains over which the moon rises and, dare we say, a UFO was spotted. We watch the changing seasons, sometimes three times in one day!" 

Generally, Dave oversees construction and maintenance, and Sumana takes care of the garden and household staff. Both are available for guests, sometimes acting as drivers and tour guides, or simply sharing their knowledge of the local brew, mezcal, which is made from an agave similar to that of tequila. Projects related to upkeep are completed as needed when guests are absent, and the couple tries to hire people from the village. 

As Dave says, "It is important to maintain good relations with the locals. You are living in their country and owe them a certain respect and gratitude." Also, in times of need, it becomes a reciprocal arrangement. Not long ago, there was a fire in the hills and the village men went to fight the fire while the women prepared food in support of them. Casa Raab provided drinking water and bread for the firefighters.

Property caretaking has provided Dave and Sumana with time to enjoy the unique culture of Oaxaca. "It is hard to say what our daily activities are because each day is different. We generally go into Oaxaca city to shop and do email two or three times a week. 

This usually includes a stop in the Zocalo (main plaza) for lunch and a bit of people watching," says Sumana. The rest of the time, they enjoy the view from the ranch and the people who work there.

Certainly, Dave and Sumana must work for their bread and butter, but wouldn’t you rather do it this way than in an office cubicle somewhere? Besides, what better way is there to really get to know a place than living in it?

 

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