Making a Home in Mexico (Part I)

Since November, the hubs and I have been obsessing with a remodeling project… in Mexico… while planning our wedding… and even entertaining over the holidays. On top of all that, we actually stayed sane! I had mentioned a few weeks ago that we were reviving a bungalow in Baja. We managed to acquire a parcel…

Linda Ly

Since November, the hubs and I have been obsessing with a remodeling project… in Mexico… while planning our wedding… and even entertaining over the holidays. On top of all that, we actually stayed sane!

I had mentioned a few weeks ago that we were reviving a bungalow in Baja. We managed to acquire a parcel with nothing more than a surf shack, an outdoor kitchen, and a fire pit on it, and had spent most of December fixing up our flat. It’s still very much a work in progress, especially since we’re aiming to reuse and repurpose as much as possible, but I thought it would be fun to bring you along on our off-grid journey as we begin to make a home in Mexico.

Last March, we started driving down to a little surf spot about four hours south of the California border. Within a couple hours of the border are tourist towns like Rosarito and Ensenada with highrise hotels and gated gringo communities, but drive another couple hours south and suddenly you’re in The Real Mexico. A place where English is scarce, where pesos are more common than dollars, and where most Americans are afraid to travel through.

But in this same place is a paradise that’s easily attainable within a day’s drive, but still remote enough to feel like you’re in a different world. This place is the Boat Ranch, and the moment we first fell into the pace of life here, we fell in love with all the things that scared away most other people.

Down at the Ranch, there’s no Internet. No television. No phone service. Not even a source of power (until we eventually rig up a solar panel, anyway). It’s basically just glorified camping, but when we’re at the Ranch, we feel at home. It doesn’t matter that our home is miles from a major road, or that the town on that major road is only a mile wide.

There’s a peacefulness to that rustic retreat that we now call ours, and perhaps we’ll modernize it down the line (especially if we want to spend more time there and still be able to work remotely)… but for now, it’s perfect.

On our property sits a palapa of sorts, built with pontoons and an upturned rowboat. Doesn’t this look like the most serene spot to string up a couple of hammocks?

Pontoon palapa

Our humble abode is a two-cabin boat with a French door and a skylight. It’s just enough space to sleep and relax, and that’s all we need — because at the Ranch, it’s all about outdoor living.

An old cabin cruiser turned surf shack

I call her the “Dream Boat.”

Close-up of cabin cruiser

And here, the heart of our home — the kitchen. Or at least, the start of a kitchen. We have a sink with running water, but we’ll be putting in our own propane stove and a couple of Weber grills to outfit the space.

Outdoor kitchen

In front of our bungalow is a palapa for alfresco dining…

Patio area with palapa

… Which looks out over the fire pit and the beach.

Patio looking out over fire pit

By our judgment, no one had occupied this bungalow for a couple of years. This front cabin will become our sitting area and also a guest room for friends.

Befoe shot of interior of sitting room

Whoever lived here last seemed to have just picked up and left, leaving behind relics of booze and bits and bobs.

Before shot of interior of sitting room

In the forepeak of the old boat was a berth, wrapped in plastic and reeking of mildew like it had been stranded at sea for some time.

Before shot of interior of bedroom

We could not wait to clean house and throw everything out…

Cleaning house

… Including what looked to be a decades-old foam mattress, where we found a tiny mouse skeleton nestled in one of the “egg” nooks.

Decades-old mattress

Despite donning gloves and masks to eradicate the science experiments that had accumulated inside the boat, it was such a breath of fresh air to throw open the French door and see that unobstructed ocean view from our pad.

French door opening up to view

And surprisingly, the front cabin cleaned up well.

After shot of interior of sitting room

There were definitely trouble spots after years of neglect, especially rotting wood that needed to be worked over.

Rotting wood

The entry way was also on the verge of collapse, so one of our first projects was reinforcing it with planks of wood. (I could only imagine getting up in the middle of the night and falling through the floor!)

Reinforcing the entry way

After ripping off the bamboo reeds that had covered the wall, we found that part of it was nearly worn through from years of water and termite damage. And who knows how many leaks we’ll discover with the next few rainstorms…

Rotting side wall

As I plugged away in the sitting room, there was Will plugging away in the bedroom. What was he doing back there?

Cleaning the bedroom

Vacuuming under all the old boards

After disassembling the boards below the berth, vacuuming out the nooks and crannies, and building a sturdier platform for our bed, the bedroom looked to be in decent shape.

After shot of interior of bedroom

Of course, there were still areas in need of improvement, but those are the projects that we’ll tackle with each trip down. Once we emptied the boat, it looked a hundred times better and we felt much more confident about the renovation. We ended up hiring a local contractor (actually an American who has lived in Baja for over 30 years) and he’ll handle the rest of the dirty work while we’re gone — power washing, sanding, painting and sealing the whole shebang from top to bottom.

Still lots of work to do

You may wonder why we’re crazy enough to take on this kind of fixer-upper for what’s supposed to be a seaside getaway, and one that’s in another country no less.

And to that, we’ll answer with this…

The reason we're making our home in Mexico

… And this.

Pink sunset colors

We’re living la buena vida.


  1. Hi Garden Betty – I was in Baja the region you speak of..beyond where most people venture. I had no internet or t.v. I would write or read and listen to music. I’m going back early spring. I miss it.

      1. Hi i am Kent Layton and designed the Boat Ranch if interested call yourself Baja Pia and i will text with your questions 619 922 3817

        1. If anyone is interested in making a Boat Ranch II Well then i challenge you to buy a trailer big enough for a 40 foot boat, A large enough truck to pull the boats a $ to buy the land in a bank trust so you can own it a ( i cant spell in spanish “comafadisa” is how i have heard it s spelled and the persistence to not be a wimp or kiss ,,, Buy the land i know at the ranch with a great view, be ready to rent a tractor to scrape the land, and call me Kent layton 619 922 3817

  2. Nice project. I am tackling a similar project in Maine. I found a 22′ O Day sailboat that needs the cabin redone. All the sails, mast, cushions & covers are intact. I have to wait for the snow to come & go before doing too much, other than plan & dream. Love the pics of your boat. I had a 25′ cabin cruiser a few yrs ago. Great fun in the warmer temps.

  3. Ohhhh I love this project thank you for sharing it!! Are there neighbors that rent out there spaces etc.. Or would like more info on prices for land etc..We are always in need a surf spot!!

    1. No one rents out their space and unfortunately, the Ranch is only open to friends of people already living there. Driving along the coast though, I’ve seen plenty of homes for rent or sale near the prime surf spots! (You just have to drive a little deeper for the empty waves.)

  4. I love renovating – but even I would have thought twice about that boat! What a huge project! Although, that position and view…

  5. Thank you for sharing! I took a dream trip with some friends in grad school down the entire Baja peninsula –  I’m trying to get back there as soon as possible 🙂   I’m very excited about your new home – I know you’ll make it look lovely !

    1. I’m hoping to take that dream drive down the whole peninsula at some point… I’ve only explored Northern Baja so far and there are many, many more places to tick off my map!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.