Finding My True Purpose in Life in Colima, Mexico

 Hello, I’m Melanie Anderson. Have you ever heard change is healthy? Have you ever heard of the concept ‘Living with Purpose’? Have you ever heard of a Canadian couple in their late 50’s deciding to shift from a very comfortable retired/semi-retired life to take on the challenge of building a condo development in Mexico…….with no previous developer experience? Here’s our story about how it all started.


My life has seen a lot of changes, both great and not-so-good. I am the eternal optimist so more often than not, when I do encounter a negative change it becomes a positive opportunity.  One such negative change was leaving a 15 year executive director position I loved  when burn-out became a serious issue and was affecting my health. A month or so after I left the position and was ready to find my new purpose in life, I was asked to represent an organization on the Local Council of Women. After my first meeting of the Local Council I became the new President of the Calgary Local Council of Women (May 2004).  

In June 2005, as part of a National organization, our Local Council of Women hosted a travelling art show with the purpose to support the national organization. Looking for more balance in my life, I now held a part-time paid position with another non-profit that allowed me to work from home and provided the flexibility of my time to volunteer at the art show for the next month. During one of those volunteer stints, one of our Council members brought two women from Mexico to meet with me. Leonor was the Executive Director and Rebeca was her assistant with an organization called Junta de Asistencia Privada from the State of Colima, Mexico. Their organization was similar to our United Way except they were an arms length state government organization. They were touring around Canada for fundraising ideas. A few months later Leonor and Rebeca contacted us again to ask if we would be interested in sponsoring an art show in Calgary of original Mexican art. The proceeds from the art show were to be split 40% for the Local Council of Women and 60% to support women’s and children’s programs in Colima, Mexico. We said yes.


The Calgary Local Council of Women volunteers were amazing. We met with the Mexican Consulate and through their connections we booked a space in Bankers Hall for the art show over a period of 5 days in April 2006. Initially Leonor and Rebeca told us to expect 25 art pieces but instead we received 100 art pieces. To the consternation of the Mexican Consulate all of the pieces were delivered to their office and basically took over their entire office space. The Magic of Colima Art Show was ready to launch.

A contingent of 8 representatives from Colima arrived the day before the start of the show and  included Anna Cecilia, Secretary of Culture, her partner and son, Leonor and Rebeca and three business women. Our Council volunteers set up and staffed the art sale for 5 days and by the end of the week we had sold almost $10,000 of art.

On the last day of the art show we organized a fiesta to celebrate our partnership and successful fundraising endeavor. We invited the Mexican Consulate office staff and a number of local and provincial elected government officials as well as our Mexican friends throughout the city. We had music with a variety of Mariachi bands and Mexican dancing troupes and we served local wines, beer and buffalo – it was loud, fun and filled with energy. This was the first time I experienced the Mexican love to have fun and party.


Over the next several months the Local Council of Women volunteers continued to sell the artwork at various venues and forward the money to Junta de Asistencia Privada. Leonor and Rebeca kept encouraging me to travel to Colima to look at investment opportunities. OK, I’m in my late 50’s and Brian and I have only travelled to Mexico twice; once to an all-inclusive resort on the east coast with his Mom and a second time to Puerto Vallarta with my family to another all-inclusive resort in early 2006.  And I worked for a non-profit so what did I know about entrepreneurship. Going to Colima to look at investment opportunities was kind of outside my reality. Change, however, was just around the corner.

Meanwhile, Brian and I were also on the Board of the United Nations, Calgary Branch. One of the women on the Board invited me to partner with her to start a non-profit organization to import product from India. I suggested we also bring in the woman who had initially brought Leonor and Rebeca to meet me at the first art show and who had recently immigrated from Mexico with her family. After some discussion we decided we would form a for-profit corporation and extend an invitation to our partners to form a six-way partnership. During our first partners meeting, we decided that the three women partners would travel to Colima to check out any possible business ventures.


So off to Colima for the first time in February 2007 and for me, an adventure of a lifetime. Since there were no direct flights from Calgary to Manzanillo at that time we flew into Puerto Vallarta, rented a car and drove the scenic route through a rain forest and small Mexican villages to arrive at our destination.

Along the way, during a particularly windy part of the road, we were following a very old and a very slow moving Toyota truck with no back window. Upon pulling up alongside it we discovered it was also missing the driver’s door, BUT, there was a rope across the door opening and a cab full of laughing people waving at us as we passed them. A little further along we came to a small village and across the road children had pulled a rope to bar our passage. On the other side of the road was an army truck also stopped because of this toll rope. At the side of the road on a stool sat an old grandma who was supervising the children and their toll rope and collecting the pesos for toll passage. We paid our few pesos and we were quickly allowed passage. The army truck also paid their toll and were off down the road. These memories of my first experience in the real authentic Mexico still bring a smile to my face because it was so real, so honest and it was why I fell in love with Mexico, authentic Mexico.  

As an incentive from the Colima government we received a one week free stay at the beautiful Dolphin Cove Inn, still one of my favourites. It is built on the hillside overlooking Manzanillo Bay right beside the world famous Las Hadas, the venue for the filming of that old move “10”. (We’ll talk more about Las Hadas in another blog.) Like Las Hadas, the buildings are white washed and colourful bougainvillea are everywhere. It might not be modern, it might not have all of the amenities, but it has that Mexican charm that I love and friendly, helpful staff that I appreciate and it overlooks the Bay – incredibly beautiful. The only downside (so to speak), is that it is built on a hillside so there are lots of steps. If you aren’t in good shape before you go you will be in good shape when you leave.     


Our purpose was to identify investment opportunities so we hit the ground running. Our first day in Colima we met with an Assistant to the Secretary of Economic Development  and he introduced us to a couple of realtors. They took us on a tour of a number of properties further inland near Colima City and Comala. They really thought we would want to be in the cooler climate near the volcano but we kept assuring them that we were really looking for oceanfront property. Then they showed us some properties in and around Manzanillo but not on the ocean.

Finally they took us to meet with a little farmer who owned a piece of oceanfront property beside a little fishing village called El Paraiso. We met Moises at the gate to his property and we all piled into the back of his very beat-up little truck to inspect his property. I fell in love with Moises the first time I saw him because, for some reason, he reminded me of my father. He stood there in his blue jeans, bowed legs, sombrero and a big smile on his face.

The property was long and narrow – 13 hectares with 2 kilometers of beach. The ocean to the west and a lagoon to the east and a wildlife sanctuary on the other side of the lagoon. Moises’ property was just what we were looking for.

Later I found out there were alligators in the lagoon. Alligators are protected in Mexico but they tend to cause the chicken farmers along the lagoon a lot of trouble because they come up onto the land to grab their dinner and often their dinner is chicken. But that’s another story.

The rest of the week we were busy from early morning to late at night.  We had meetings with Leonor and Rebeca;  with Anna Cecilia (now Director of Women’s Issues) and with representatives from the Ministry of Tourism. We flew to Mexico City to meet with the Mexican head office of HSBC. We met with Mario de la Madrid Sr. from Notaria Publica No. 9, De La Madrid Y Asociados. The next trip to Colima we would meet Mario Jr. who would become our Notary and our friend. Mario became the Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Colima and he was very recently appointed Judge. We later found out that Mario de la Madrid Sr. was the brother of the former President of Mexico from 1982 to 1988, Miguel de la Madrid.


Our last night in Colima we were invited to the Annual General Meeting of Junta de Asistencia Privada. The AGM was to take place in the auditorium of the State Government complex. After our crazy hectic week we were all tired and I don’t think any of us anticipated the importance of this meeting. As we stood outside the State building enjoying a cocktail and waiting for the doors to open, we soon attracted a crowd of men who were curious about who we were and why we were there.

This proved to be more prestigious than any AGM I ever attended in Canada. We learned that we were waiting for the doors to open because we were all waiting for the Governor of the State of Colima to arrive with his entourage of the members of his Executive. In our little circle of interested men, we discovered the man who seemed most interested in our search for property for a condo development turned out to be the Secretary of Finance. Also in our circle was the Mayor of Comala and beside him was a member of the Brun family, reportedly one of the richest families in Colima. Holy moly!!

Finally the Governor arrived with his entourage, the doors opened and everyone filed in after the Governor. Typical with every AGM, there are speeches and Leonor started and during her speech she thanked me and the Calgary Local Council of Women for our fundraising efforts to support women’s and children’s programs. Then the Governor gave a speech and again we were thanked for supporting the programs offered by Junta de Asistencia Privada. After the speeches and as the Governor was leaving, Leonor introduced us to the Governor.

Everyone again gathered outside for another cocktail, and again the Minister of Finance approached us to ask more about our plans. He gave each of us his card and asked us to contact him prior to our next visit to Colima because he would like to take us on a tour of Colima next time.

After this trip Brian and I were about to make a very big change in our lives. And I found my “Purpose in Life’. I realized that in Alberta we are very small pebbles in a very large pond, in Colima we could be very large pebbles in a small pond. We could make a difference. Look what a $10,000 fundraising event did!

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