Keith Heitke

Keith Heitke

25 March 2006 Interviews & Editorials, COMMUNITY 7

YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and where did you move from and why did you move?

KH: I moved to the Yucatan in early 2003 from Manhattan, NYC. There are a million reasons why I made the move, but the biggies were: 911 and daily "Orange Alerts" in New York City… then moving to our country house and "commuting" for the first time (and may I say last) in my life, and the attraction of having a lovely large Merida home and living among people who are kind, civilized, life-loving, and friendly, quite a change from NYC.

YL: Why did you choose the city you live in over other places in the world?

KH: Again, there are quite a few reasons. We love Spain and really considered living there. I could name 15 cities in Spain where I would be very happy living. But when we added up the costs of high priced real estate, the escalating Euro, the weather, and the food which we like much less than what is offered in Mexico, and the rather closed and aristocratic nature of the work-scene there it pushed us closer to Mexico. I honestly didn't even want to visit Yucatan. It had nothing to do with not liking Mexico, I had lived in Los Angeles and had visited the west coast of Mexico, and of course the famous beach towns on the Pacific, and the thought of a hot, steamy, mosquito ridden, flat place I had never heard of was not appealing.

We visited a long-time friend who had lived here many years, fell in love with the jungle and especially with the people, saw what we could afford to live in, and the rest is history.

I am a huge fan of Europe, but I have many friends living there who complain about the same things I did in NYC… the weather, the crowds, the high costs, the volatile political scenes, etc. This added to the desire to live somewhere that (relatively) no one knows about and in a tropical environment. Leaving the political scene in the USA was a bonus.

YL: What did you plan to do after you moved here?

KH: Well, I planned to work since I'm not a trust-fund baby (damn-it!)… but I wasn't honestly sure what I would do. However I have a number of talents and at least a few years of work left in me, so I figured I would just work it out. I have always worked in interior design, and have managed very large residential projects in NYC and LA, so I figured I would be capable of doing something related to homes here as well.

YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?

KH: Yes, and then some! I am much, much busier here than I ever was in New York. Hard to believe but it is true. I organize and lead the Merida English Library House & Garden Tour each week, design a furniture line for local clients and architects, sell real estate on my own website, Hacienda Mexico, and also with a well known local firm, do interior design and remodeling projects, co-manage our guest-house, and assist with the Los-Dos Cooking School. To my friends reading this, now you know that its not that I hate you, I just don't have a minute to get together!

YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?

KH: We bought the third house we saw. But we had a special arrangement with a local person who we trusted completely, and he actually found us the wrecked mansion we bought. We absolutely made the right decision. Some people think they can try out a place to see if they like it, and maybe that works for some. But I need to have a lovely home around me with MY things to feel at home in a place.

YL: Now that you live here, how do you like it?

KH: Overwhelmingly well. Each day I treasure the interactions with local people. I was brought up in a very polite and kind environment, and have steeled myself for the big cities of LA and NYC. I can make it there, and have done well, but being treated kindly and in a civilized manner is priceless, and I love the people here for that. Of course, the banking scene is a nightmare… like when I was a little kid. And the mañana mentality doesn't really work for me when I've got several projects going. If I was able to relax and take it easy like the locals I'm sure it wouldn't bother me, but when I have other people (gringos) counting on ME, I need to have people I can count on!

I always wanted to live the indoor/outdoor lifestyle. I sort of had it in Los Angeles, but was not wealthy enough for a house in the hills to truly experience it! New York weather is inhospitable most of the time, so that's out. I don't think I could live any other way again… the tropics is where it's at!

YL: Would you ever return to your former location?

KH: I will not live in New York City again. It was fantastic, and something I wouldn't trade for the world, but I have no desire to return. I think living 4 blocks from the World Trade Center sealed that deal for me. I do love California, but the downside is that it is in the United States!

YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living where you lived before?

KH: The most striking is the civility level. Practically everyone in New York is stressed out and mean. Practically everyone here is laid-back and friendly.

YL: What do you love about living here?

KH: Well, the people first. And I mean not only the locals, but also the majority of the people who have chosen to make this place their home. I love the architecture and the tropical indoor/outdoor lifestyle.

YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?

KH: Prada shoes. That's pretty much it. Oh, and Dean & DeLuca.

YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here?

KH: What I tell clients is that it is not so much hard work as having to re-do things all the time. As an ex-pat I've got several government papers to deal with each month, and there is no way to just set it up to take care of itself. I've got an imported car from New York, a locally plated car so that is a lot of paperwork. Our accountant comes each month wanting answers to a hundred questions. Also, I hadn't used a checkbook in many years in NYC… here I am writing checks and giving out cash all day because of the way it works here. Even the taxis in NYC started taking "plastic." On the plus side, you can have lots of opportunities to re-invent yourself here… whatever you are good at you can probably make a go if it here.

YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?

KH: Yes, as I've said I did not come here to retire. Keeping several forms of work going simultaneously is a bit stressful, but ensures a steady flow of funds from whichever is taking off at any given time.

YL: Do you work as much as you used to "back home" or are your work habits different here?

KH: Way more. There is very little "down-time." People see my garden and pool and say "you must spend wonderful hours lounging by the pool reading and relaxing." Maybe someday in the future if I'm lucky!

YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?

KH: As I say in my House & Garden Tour, this is not an immediately beautiful city, such as San Francisco or Paris. Most of the interesting stuff happens behind the walls, or in the case of cenotes, below the ground! I can easily imagine a tourist with only 2 days going away thinking there's nothing to do in this town. It's only when you scratch the surface that you see what's really going on.

YL: How is your Spanish?

KH: Esta bien. Puedo entender casi todo, pero hablo como un niño! (Editors note: For our non-Spanish-speaking friends: "It's okay. I can understand almost everything, but I speak like a child!")

YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your day to day life?

KH: It can be, but the people here are patient and kind and will cut you some slack… also a smile and a bit of deference helps a lot too!

YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone planning a move to the Yucatan?

KH: Have you been here before? I can't believe how many people write to me through the two real-estate websites saying they are going to move here, yet they have not even visited before! As a good friend of mine says "Mexico is not for everyone, and Yucatan is DEFINITELY not for everyone!" I, and my friends here love it, but you have to decide for yourself.

YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?

KH: I haven't lived here long enough. It will be an interesting decision I'll have to make. I can't say right now.

YL: If you aren't, do you think you will become one?

KH: see above

YL: Why would or wouldn't you?

KH: I have a lot of problems with the politics of the US, but it is still my home, and a place I respect. Making fun of it, and leaving forever are two really different things.

YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?

KH: Absolutely welcomed. On my second day here I was driving a tiny rental car in Chichen Itza when I stupidly drove off a little embankment in front of the Mayaland Resort. I would have sat there until AAA arrived in the 'States, but here four guys appeared out of nowhere and lifted the car back onto the road… with smiles on their faces! I'm sure they thought I was pretty silly, but what they wanted to do is help me, not make fun of me. They wouldn't even take a little tip.

YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico?

KH: "Mexico has no political enemies." We read that once and thought "hmmm, how many countries can say that?" As people become even more mobile, I think they will discover that they can live where they want to, not just where the jobs are. Mexico of course understands the world economy, and is prepared to take advantage of what they have currently, and to build a better future as well.

YL: What are your plans for the future here?

KH: I need to get through next week first!

YL: Do you see your business growing?

KH: Absolutely. It already has so much. Again, if you are good at something and you really enjoy it, people relate to that and are drawn to you.

YL: Do you see yourself staying?

KH: I have no plans to go anywhere else. I've realized how difficult it would be to leave!

YL: Any last words?

KH: I don't like the sound of that!


  • JoeInCT 9 years ago

    This would be a good one to follow up on. Would love to hear how things are going.

  • leslie bennis 15 years ago

    keith - what a world...what a world! in a matter of an hour, there was david!!!!!! i didn't even think my email to you had gone thru - figured i try some other way to reach you......but, in the wonderful way of magic, it worked. hope i will meet you and thank you personally one merida, perhaps?!!!!!!!!!!
    with gratitude, leslie

  • david ochoa 15 years ago

    thank you everyone. what timing, as only merida can arrange. bob arrives tonight for a nine day stay and just now i've been reunited with a friend from so long ago, during a very sad but loving time and I'm starting to cry again so must go. Google Alux. they seem to take care of us here. Happiness to everyone and the rest of the poor world. nothing matters anymore but to be here. XOXOXO a todos. DaVideo

  • 15 years ago

    Hi Leslie, I certainly will give it to them... not sure if they are in Merida or Manhattan right now, but will be happy to pass along your info. Cheers!

  • leslie bennis 15 years ago

    i have been lookig for my old friends david ochoa and bobby donohue from riverside, manhattan. in a google search, this is the only "sure sign" that they are still around. would you please give them my email address?

    very much enjoyed the interview and really hope you got your shoes!!! gracias!!
    leslie bennis (loren's friend)

  • Keith Heitke 17 years ago

    Thanks David and Robert.

    Nice seeing you guys at the benefit. I would never DREAM of imposing on you ( Prada 8 ).

    See you around,


  • David Ochoa 17 years ago


    Thank you for showing us "Green Tranquility" and giving us as much information as you did in a period of 30 minutes. Send shoe size. I'll pick up a pair of Prada for you. Hope to run into you in the near future, we'll sign up for a garden house tour. All the best.

    David Ochoa y Robert Donohue

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