Four years ago, she and her husband Scott sold their home in Salida, Colorado. They gathered up their children, four-year-old India and two-year-old Finley, and headed for the Yucatán state of Mexico.
Telchac Pueblo is a lot like the other Yucatan pueblos in that it’s a pleasant little town. It’s clean and friendly and the locals have a lot of pride in the village. The location could not be better. It’s a 15-minute drive to the Telchac Puerto beaches on the Gulf Coast and a 45-minute drive to the vibrant colonial city of Mérida.
Since they’d agreed to move abroad, the Damman’s decided to do something really different. They both liked to renovate properties, so why not just go for it in all possible ways?
They soon purchased a run-down hacienda that Angela felt a connection to. Hacienda San Juan was built in the 1880’s by a Spanish family from the Basque region. It was a working hacienda, processing henequén for decades. The original owners vacated the property and gave it to the village. The hacienda was later purchased from the village in the 1980’s. It was in ruins and the new private owner began major restorations, which the Damman’s have taken over.
“It was like camping out,” said Angela. “We didn’t have a working toilet, the plumbing wasn’t working, and everything was overgrown. It was like living in the jungle of Mexico!”
The Dammans are transforming the hacienda. It has gone from ruins to a stunning example of colonial architecture. It provides the allure of history but with modern conveniences.
In the small village of Telchac Pueblo, the Dammans are the only expats except for one neighbor next door. They love their ongoing project. It’s not just as a home and investment but an opportunity to become educated about the history of haciendas.
And that’s where the inspiration came from for Angela’s business. She’s making a connection between the past and what she’s doing now. She collaborates with Katrin Schikora and George Samuelson of Takto Design, making products from the henequén and the natural fibers from the area. The process completes the circle with the old hacienda’s finished product.
Shortly after moving to Telchac Pueblo, Angela attended an annual art fair in Mérida which helps promote local artisans. She met a woman from Holland who started a business using henequén to make high-end handbags and lampshades.
“I thought it was interesting,” said Angela. “I could see myself doing something like that.” When the woman’s husband got transferred to Peru, Angela saw an opportunity. She hired the woman as a consultant for two months to learn everything she could about the henequén business.
“It was a bit overwhelming at times,” said Angela. “I didn’t know the language. Talking to local artisans and trying to find where to get materials for zippers, buttons and dyes was a challenge. You have to go through that whole process of learning how to do something, but you have to do it in a foreign language with different methods. You also have to learn their ways to build new relationships.”
Angela grows henequén and lengua de vaca (aka mother-in-law’s tongue) right on her hacienda. She hires local people who have the skills and know the techniques for working with the plants. The end products are beautiful which in turn inspires the workers.
Angela loves contributing to the local economy by hiring and sometimes training workers in the area. She gives them an opportunity to earn money by working from their homes and using skills that they learned long ago. She pays them higher than average wages to motivate them to do a good job and make them feel that they are part of the team. The finished products are classic and elegant and not what you would see in the common marketplace. The possibilities for henequén are endless, just like they were back in the day, when there were no synthetics available.
The Damman’s lifestyle is busier than they expected, but it’s all by choice. Since they’re not retired, they have chosen this lifestyle to fund their life in Mexico and to be part of growing their community. Scott, originally from Minnesota, is a realtor in rural Mexico. “It was a transition,” said Scott, “but I love being outside, raising animals and plants as a hobby. My life has expanded in a way that is better.”
“It’s a different way of thinking here,” says Angela. “People own everything they have and the pace is slower. It makes you appreciate things in different ways.”
The Damman children are living a different kind of life and thriving. India loves living in nature and wants to be an entomologist.
“One of the biggest rewards is to have our children bilingual,” said Angela. “Scott and I are not bilingual, though we aspire to be. We want to have true conversations, develop deep friendships, and assimilate into the culture.”
The affordability in Telchac Pueblo is a major factor for the Damman’s. A nice meal for a family of four in nearby Motul costs the equivalent of about $15.00 USD; more casual street food like panuchos costs the equivalent of around $7.50 USD.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and inexpensive. Avocados, for example, are a less than the equivalent of $1.00 USD for 2 lbs. Tomatoes are the equivalent of $0.75 cents USD for a little over 2 lbs.
Angela’s business is booming but they still make time to relax at home, explore their land or visit friends – locals and expats. In Mérida there are always a lot of activities, museums and movies. And the beach and amusements in Progreso are an ever-present lure.
By Patti Morrow
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