Do You Ever Think About Going Back?

I dreamed last night that I was in Lima, showing a group of tourists around. It was cold and overcast, the kind of day that inspired Herman Mehlville to describe Lima in Moby Dick as “the saddest city you can’t see.” It was more foggy than cloudy. Discernable clouds were visible within 100 feet of the ground, and above that a sheet of cold gray. I remarked to the tourists that I love this weather. It’s ideal for fair skin. Especially glabrous gingers like me. 

The group changed as we ducked into a restaurant. The tourists disappeared, and were replaced by the expat gang. The restaurant was Peruvian, of course. We took our seats and the server came for our drink order. I ordered a brandy. Not a pisco, but a brandy, which is curious given pisco is to brandy as bourbon is to whiskey. I often tell Americans pisco is just Peruvian brandy.

Pisco is transparent because it’s aged in earthen barrels, as opposed to wooden. We were in Peru but I didn’t order “pisco,” which I would commonly order. I ordered “brandy,” which nobody would say in Peru.

When the server left, I posed the question to the table, “Do you ever think about going back?”

This is the expat gang, so it’s implied that I’m asking if they ever think about returning to their homeland. In what may be a common self-indulgence among expats, everybody instinctively says no, they don’t. Indeed, one or two of the lads is inspired to a diatribe against the nuisances of life back home, which are unique for everybody at the table, and interesting to everybody else.

But it’s the same answer all around: negative. Maybe in a one-on-one situation, somebody might own up to thinking about home. But never at a wet lunch. Everybody is happy in Latin America. If they weren’t, they’d be gone already.

That was the climax of the dream.

When I woke up, I thought about that question. I never thought about moving my family to the States, even after I started making plans to. I wasn’t eager for the American lifestyle. It was a business and financial necessity. I have too much work on the ground to hire out, and I can’t pay for private school tuition times three plus a four-bedroom house in Lima. The numbers aren’t there. 

But in the final weeks in Peru, I was ready to leave. I was getting sick of Peruvians. Nay, I wasn’t sick of Peruvians, but Peruvians were sick of me. I sensed Peruvians contempt for not me personally, but all of the expat community. Something had changed. The red-carpet treatment was gone.  

An old friend who landed in China in the 1990s saw Chinese attitudes change. He said foreigners were once fawned over, but attitudes change quickly with abundance.

Maybe it isn’t quickly, but it does happen. And once it happens, it feels like it happened quickly. Everyday Peruvians didn’t seem just uninterested in foreigners, but annoyed or even superior. There were a flurry of petty abuses and disagreements with strangers in the streets and in commerce in those final days. I wanted out.

I thought back to Colombia. I think Colombians were abusing the tourists for at least as far back as I arrived in 2009. Granted that was Bogota, but they seemed to always have contempt for foreigners. 

I went back to the question from my dream and turned it around. Living in the United States, do I ever think of going back to Peru? The answer is no. I’m rooted to my business here. I may want to spend a summer or academic year for the children’s language instruction and cultural edification. But I haven’t yearned for permanent residence in Lima or anywhere else in Latin America.

I sometimes wonder if my decade in South America was just an adventure I needed to get out of my system, a curiosity I needed to satisfy. Would I ever go back for more than a vacation?  

Now that I’ve had the dream, and thought these thoughts, has my answer changed (do I ever think about going back)? It’s pretty clear that dream was about going back, and since then I have been thinking about what life in Lima would look like.

Maybe that’s how it starts. 

No promises, no predictions. Just reporting what transpired in my subconscious mind. 


  1. Would I go back? I’ve been asking myself that question for the last year. I’ve been to Colombia over 10 times in the last 25 years and I’m 12 years into my marriage to my Colombian wife from Cali. I lived there for 6 months in 2009-2010 and another 6 months in Pereira during 2019-2020. I got out just before the pandemic hit. I would have been miserable then with gyms closed and lockdowns, etc.

    I think Colombia requires visitors to be vaccinated and I don’t want to do that at this point. In a year or two they will probably drop that rule and I might go back. I retired at 62 and I wanted to try the 6 months living around Pereira. It was better weather than Cali, but it was not so great that I didn’t come back. With Colombia’s tax bite on retired foreigners I probably wouldn’t live there year round. I’ll be getting about $40,000 a year from Social Security and I think they would want to take about $8,000 of that. That’s too much.

    Going back for another 6 months is expensive, too, because I would have to buy new furniture again. Colombia is only cheap it you are going to stay for at least several years. And now I have Medicare in the USA which is almost free to me. I’m trying to explore Texas and find a good cheap place to live. But if the marriage ended there’s a good chance I might go back just for the female factor and for better weather and cheaper living. But it would probably be a “dual expat” situation. I would probably live 6 months in Colombia and 6 months in Ecuador, Peru, Panama, or some other Latin American country to avoid being a “tax resident”.

    So, for me it’s a definite maybe.


    1. You and I definitely dodged the bullet with the pandemic. As much as I’d like to live in a big city, I’m glad we weathered COVID lockdowns in a red state where vast swathes didn’t change their lives at all. That allowed us to be careful while still enjoying reasonable leisure as a family … specifically CAMPING.

      I find it hard to believe you would have to declare everything. Can you declare part and bring in a part incognito? I know an expat in Argentina carries $10,000 in cash on his person from the States a couple times a year.

      Better weather and cheaper living are great, but I’d add LatAm is a lot more fun. That’s the real draw.


      1. It is still masks here and no entry to “enclosed spaces” if your shots are not up to date, a paralegal invention of our (now ex-) minister of health cevallos. There is evidence of anti-mask muttering from some health authorities based on regional percentage jabbed. I’d wait some months. Oh, and any “food riots” reported in the world press are rentamob from the dictatorship nostalgists.

        10,000 USD is the usual max you can take in cash between countries, I believe it must be declared but have a look yourself. You have a bank in Perú so it’s easier to send it electronically, unless commission rates annoy you.


  2. “But in the final weeks in Peru, I was ready to leave. I was getting sick of Peruvians. Nay, I wasn’t sick of Peruvians, but Peruvians were sick of me. I sensed Peruvians contempt for not me personally, but all of the expat community. Something had changed. The red-carpet treatment was gone.”

    Here in Mexico, we have seen much of the same over the last two years since Covid started. Mexico City was one of the top choices for foreigners looking to escape Covid restrictions back home and/or for those who just love to travel but found themselves restricted from entering most countries on the planet due to restrictions they had early on.

    Since then, we’ve become even less of a novelty than before (we already had plenty of expats before Covid to be fair). Also, with more of us flooding in, you obviously will be triggering the xenophobia of certain locals who think that way. Add in those who get pissed about the many they see not wearing a mask (they still do even if said expat is vaxxed and boosted). Don’t forget the few gringo expats who get mad at more gringos moving into “their corner” of Latin America making it feel “less authentic” or whatever else. And, above all, you got rising rental prices in very select few neighborhoods, forcing out a handful of upper middle class Mexicans who were never the wealthiest in the area and so now have to settle for a more normal neighborhood that isn’t dangerous but not one to tell others about for fewer status points.

    Having said all that, I still think there are numerous areas in Latin America where the more negative attitudes of some of the above are not as common. Of course, they usually (but maybe not always) involve going to areas few (sometimes none) gringos would ever travel to for understandable reasons (much poorer, more dangerous, less tourism infrastructure, less English speaking locals, more boring, etc).

    In Mexico City, the vast majority of gringos move to a very select few areas and so it’s not overly difficult to move to a normal (not always dangerous but those can be fun to live in also in my opinion) area where “the haters” of the above are less of a common sight (almost non-existent) and where you have more local curiosity and friendliness than what you’d have in the areas where the vast majority of gringos go. I should know, I’ve spent maybe half or more than half of my time in Mexico in both normal areas and a few dangerous ones.

    Even outside of Mexico City, you can choose to pick a more normal city that few gringos ever go to also that would bring the same effect. A place like Pachuca de Soto might work.

    Doing either of the above would likely have the same effect in other countries also, I imagine.For Peru, I’m not sure what those areas are called so I’ll leave it at that.

    And, as we know, we got entire countries that few want to move to: Paraguay, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, etc.

    But, over the years, even some of those countries have seen “gringo waves” so to speak. From what I’ve heard, Paraguay has gotten a lot of foreigners looking to escape covid and get a second easy residency. In Paraguay, you even had an entire German community be formed in some random part of the country that Germans have fled to in decent numbers. El Salvador has more of the “bitcoin bros” due to the policies and statements of their President.

    Truth be told, I’ve even had somewhat of a strong desire lately to move to Venezuela. Would love to check out some of its natural scenery. Looked into it out of curiosity and seemingly there are expats who live there and are part of “Expat Facebook groups.” Having asked around, supposedly Venezuela is “moving up” from the bottom it was at. Crime is supposedly not as bad or it feels safer than before walking the streets. For them, I can only guess as to how much of a “red-carpet treatment” exists (mixed in with some of the obvious negatives like high crime and such).

    Still, there are obvious reasons why all of the above tend to not get many visitors. Any aspiring expat would have to overcome the challenges with them but, for a very, very small minority, I think there are rewards for someone who is young, likes adventure and perhaps will only stay for a few years (well, they could try relocating to Venezuela permanently I suppose but someone who is 50 someday might tolerate it less than if they moved when 25).

    At any rate, when it comes to the main question of the article, I’ll be honest in saying that I could see myself going back to the US someday. It’s been 2.5 years since I’ve seen my family and I’d like to take a short visit soon. But go back long term? Leave Latin America forever?

    Personally, the only way I could see myself doing that is if I had a family and it made more sense to do it that way. Similarly, I had an aunt and uncle also who lived abroad for 2 decades in various countries and ultimately moved back when they got very old in their early 80s and wanted to be near family again in their last days. In that scenario, maybe I could see myself going back also if my sister was still alive by then but that’s speaking about a day 50 years into the future. Would hopefully have a Chilean or Mexican wife to keep me company.

    Outside of either scenario, I don’t see myself going back anytime soon. I think also that, the more you spend time down here, the less you want to go back and the more you become accustomed to life down here. Of course, I am from the US and so it’s obviously not an alien country to me. I could get accustomed to living up there again but I left at quite a young age, have spent 7 years here now and don’t feel like adding any major changes to my life that would come with moving back. Not just the culture and how things are done down here but even when it comes to work. I can more easily be “self-employed” and not have to work for someone down here due to lower cost of living. Among other changes not mentioned, I imagine it would also feel weird going back to a certain degree but I have no idea how it would feel.

    Though, if I ever do in say a decade or two, I see that as being perfectly fine also. I think some some gringo expats have this “never go back” mentality perhaps due to ego, not wanting to go back with their tail between their legs or whatever else. Who knows. Something along those lines where they feel that their experience was a failure for not “sticking it through” or something like that. Truthfully, I think that’s a dumb attitude. Enjoy the moment for what you have now down here. If someone needs to turn the page onto the next chapter of their life and that doesn’t involve Latin America, fair enough. That person still had a great experience.

    So, like I said, I’m not opposed to going back. Can see how certain things might bring me back like if I had a family or wanted to retire up north for some reason (though an Iowan winter doesn’t sound very pleasant to retire in versus a Mexican beach). Though, as the moment, I can’t see myself going back as I’m comfortable and accustomed to life here (and as now most of my friends I have in life are down here also by this point). Regardless, life will play its course however it goes.


    1. Mexico is a unique animal in being both large and a neighbor. There are handful of capitals with expat scenes almost as old as Monroe Doctrine, and Mexico City is probably at the top of the list. BA, Rio and San Juan are worthy of mention, and Havana would be if not for the revolution. I hadn’t thought of how COVID affected that, hard to believe!

      You think it’d feel weird until you get back home. It’s amazing how seamlessly you blend back in. You are a native. But as Dazza alludes in a comment below, you’re also different now. Still, it’s not hard to get back into the swing of things. You may not be happy, but it won’t be hard. Here I am, three years later, just now taking stock.

      I had the “never go back” mentality, fear of going back with my tail between my legs, and I held on to it for dear life, much more stubborn than pragmatic.


    2. Venezuela, I guess the crime rate dropped after our (then-)President PPK invited all Maduro’s disaffecteds to come live here in Perú, “some” of these were found to have decent criminal records once they’d arrived and started “working”, attracted the attention of neighbours and authorities… cue call to Maduro for some ID. Oh Look A Squirrel!

      There are still a number woodworming away in the lesser neighbourhoods. Sadly for them, tall, skinny, and different skin tone makes a Chamo easy to spot.

      They are being repatriated drop by drop. Our locals do not accept the competition.


  3. You seem resentful..Are US residents overwhelmingly welcoming to expats from.other ?
    Maybe from.white,European countries?


    1. I am welcoming to not only temporary visitors, but migrant peasant laborers. But certainly not all Americans are! (as is evident in our political discourse)


  4. I’m not surprised that local.people might get tired of arrogant, entitled ex -pats who think they Are “better” because they’re white and from a rich country. I would, too.
    No not all ex pats are like that, but a high percentage are..And US people have an irritating tendency to spout about how the US is better in everything. Some.Europeans,too.


  5. Going back is always part of the conversation because you changed when you were out in there in Peru (and Colombia…) the ‘repat’ must face that dilemma of things working out better in some ways but in other ways there will be the things you miss. The experience, especially long-termers ruin us for good but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


    1. Great point. I spent about half of my adult life there, and the formative years of my career. That’s inside, can’t get it out. I’d add that I’m not all the way out, given the Peruvian wife and in-laws, and strong business ties.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As someone said once (about something else but of course, it applies to this moreso) the growing you did and the experiences you had when living in Latin America would be like ‘taking eggs out of a cake’ it will always be part of you. Frustrating parts are people talking about the region and making uninformed/bigoted comments will always make you a stranger in your homeland. Once you experienced what you did you can never go back to how you was?

        I don’t know if you have ever noticed when you go back and you’re talking to old friends and you are talking about life in Peru and their eyes just glaze over and they’re nodding away and then they change the subject to their pet rotweiller having an operation for piles or how Dave from High School shit his pants and went on a gun rampage or whatever – part of the alienation is on returning, most people can’t emphasise with your experiences which makes you think more about the good times you had. Like when people come back from war, they join the various organisations that cater to veterans so they can talk about those shared experiences that no-one else can relate to.


    2. It’s a kind of “two spirit” thing. Me, I’m a committed stayer so I see things both ways. Talk to family in UK on the phone and nothing gets through. Leaving Britain marks one as a sort of traitor LOL.


  6. I happened to experience the overcast skies of Lima in Sept 2021. I liked Lima so much that I returned in December 2021 for a month. The weather was much better. Lima is special. However, I don’t know what makes it special. Nevertheless, if I had a job that doesn’t tie me to a cubicle, I would would have returned again.

    I am not a fan of cool weather. I hear the northern parts (Chiclayo and Trujillo) are warmer during the winter months.


    1. Trujillo, inland away from the coast is warm all year. In “winter” (I am of british origin) it’s overcast on the coast. Around 3pm daily the cold breezes sweep in and can cause illness, has to be said, but 10 mls/km up the road and sun sun sun. We are nearer the equator!


      1. Which are the nicer parts of Trujillo to live in and would you recommend it? I have never been but I will rectify this on my next trip. I have heard about the crime but have also heard this has greatly improved.


  7. An old friend who landed in China in the 1990s saw Chinese attitudes change. He said foreigners were once fawned over, but attitudes change quickly with abundance.

    Looks like the novelty effect wore off.

    By the way, it’s good to see a blog post from you. It’s been a while.


  8. Just a side note: I follow Peruvian media (America Noticias, 24 Noticias, Domingo del Dia, etc). And I’ll tell you, I’m intrigued by the news clips from crime, politics, and corruption.

    The black widow (La viuda negra) was running wild in Lima drugging unsuspecting men and robbing them. I wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with the pretty little creature.


    1. I get a daily (weekday) dose of ATV’s ‘Edicion Matinal’ for three hours online – a gruesome diet of muggings, beatings, revenge attacks and acts of vigilantism. The presenters seem to get more animated if the offending party is a Venezuelan. I am pretty sure they would be pulled off air and ATV would have their license revoked if they broadcasted anywhere near the developed world.

      I much prefer TVPeru and the reruns of Marco Aurelio Denegri and his show ‘La Funcion de…’ and Raul Tola and his programme ‘Casa Tomada’.


      1. The presenters seem to get more animated if the offending party is a Venezuelan.

        I have noticed that as well. I don’t understand most of the words spoken. But I definitely notice the change in inflection when the reporter says, “VENEZOLANO,” which is a shame, because I have met some very decent Venezuelans.

        As with most groups that are smeared, it’s the tiny criminal element that makes the larger group of law-abiding citizens look bad.

        The Brooking Institute did a study a few years ago showing that Venezuelans commit far less crime per capita, in Peru, than Peruvians.


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