Do you love Canada's winter a little less than the other three seasons? Always dreamed of heading south during those winter months? If so, you're in good company with a reported half million plus Canadians who become "snowbirds" and regularly spend time in warm weather spots over the winter.
Popular snowbird destinations are Florida, California, Arizona, Texas and, increasingly, Mexico and Central America. While for some folks figuring out which destination they want to spend time in may be a tough decision, this was not so for David and Faith Cullen from Slocan Park, a tiny community located close to the city of Nelson and smack dab in the snow belt of the Kootenays.
According to Faith, "We discovered Yuma, Arizona almost 40 years ago and fell in love with the Sonora Desert and strong Spanish influences. All these years it was in the back of our minds to some day visit and stay for a longer period of time.”
The Cullens, now in their mid-60s, have managed to make that dream a reality. In 2005, after David retired from being a teacher, he and Faith made an exploratory visit to Yuma. Faith was still working as an employment counsellor, but because she worked contracts, she had the flexibility to take time off. Their first visit was for six weeks; gradually, they have extended their stay from December to late March each year.
When you learn a bit about Yuma, it’s easy to understand why the Cullens are attracted to it. One of the top snowbird destinations in the US, its estimated population of close to 200,000 swells to double that in the peak winter months. Yuma holds a Guinness World Record for being the sunniest city on earth – and the driest. The temperate winter climate averages temperatures hovering in the 20s (what's not to love about that?) As David confirms, "Winters are nice, December through until mid-March, when the temperature starts climbing, and then we're ready to return home to spring conditions."
Many seniors experience health benefits from these warm, dry winters, like Faith who says, "We felt the time in the sun, away from the cold and snow, would be advantageous to our health and wellbeing. And the hot, dry climate has mitigated and relieved my arthritic condition, which was aggravated by the cold, wet winters in the Kootenays."
Located in the southwestern corner of Arizona, Yuma is in the desert, near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers — on the California border and close to the border of Mexico. A popular day trip is to Los Algodones, about 20 minutes away, a Mexican border town catering to tourists, where Canadians like the Cullens flock to get a dose of cultural diversity, as well as to take advantage of low-cost medical and dental services. There are numerous street vendors offering tourists merchandise at negotiable prices, where Faith says, “I love the shopping, bartering and getting a good deal!”
An added bonus is that the cost of living is less in Yuma than here in Canada. Faith states emphatically, "the cost of living is LESS, less, less, given the status of the Canadian dollar. Parity was great. Items like food, gas and alcohol are considerably less."
In case you think snowbirding is for sitting by the pool all day long, and that you may be bored, David and Faith are evidence this is not the case. David, an avid skier, was happy to give it up for hiking, sun and golf. Faith stays active with walking, hiking and pool activities. The trailer park community where they live offers numerous scheduled activities such as aquatic exercises, golf dates and beading classes. “These are what we call ‘serious commitments,’” Faith jokes, “otherwise, we may go for a date shake, go out for lunch with friends, visit the library or historic downtown Yuma, go target shooting, see a movie or attend one of the many markets or swap meets.”
“We have chosen not to hook up cable TV while we’re in Yuma,” Faith continues, saying they would prefer to stay up-to-date with world events via the computer. “We make other choices rather than sitting in front of a TV screen. We are veracious readers. Yuma has many second-hand book stores and a great library, which we frequent often. I begin to collect names of authors and books I want to read months before we leave for Yuma and indulge myself over the winter months with a reading marathon.”
The City of Yuma also caters to the winter visitors, offering various events and activities such as antique shows, art and craft bazaars, seminars, health fairs, concerts and dances. There are numerous parks, recreation centres and pools, tennis complexes and golf courses (some with fees as low as $20 a round, including a cart, according to David).
When it comes to getting to Yuma from Canada, despite the distance (it's approximately 2,660km from the Cullen's home), to date, the Cullens have driven. However, they leave in December and because of some "close calls with icy roads and whiteout conditions,” they are thinking about flying down from now on. “We would purchase a car in the US and leave it down there,” says Faith. However, a trade-off would be the ease with which they are able to transport their belongings back and forth with a vehicle.
Another consideration is choosing accommodation. Some of the options available include long-term rates at some hotels, renting a condo, or like David and Faith, buying a fifth-wheel that they keep year-round in a small trailer park (of which there are many, specifically for snowbirds).
"Our trailer park has all the amenities for a leisurely vacation,” says Faith. “This park is for people 55 and older. We have met lots of great people. We look forward to re-connecting with them each year. The majority of the people in our park are from Canada. The adage that ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere’ resonates with folks as we get together in the late afternoon to socialize, share stories, and have a few laughs.”
Although the Cullens have no intention of permanently moving south, they do plan on continuing their yearly migration to avoid the Canadian winters. As David quips, “You can’t shovel sunshine!”
DECEMBER 2014 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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