I’m an immigrant to Mexico, working illegally as a gardener. The irony isn’t lost on me.

It’s hot, sweaty work; mostly I’m just cleaning up fallen palm fronds and coconuts while watering a jungle of vegetation in blistering heat. Of course, there are a few interesting jobs that I’ll discuss in a moment. I don’t get paid exactly, but it’s free accommodation, beer and dinner- a good deal for a few hours work each day.

It’s never easy to leave home, but it’s always best to make the most of any situation. Culture shock actually helps, forcing you to think laterally and to reexamine what is actually important in life; I have a warm bed, some loving dogs, and I always go to sleep with a full stomach. With the warmth from mezcal and beer and a full belly, you realize that life is good.

There are no big problems when you have the basics, and it lets your mind flow to solve real issues or to drift creatively as you desire.

The accommodation isn’t the best, and that’s putting it nicely. The mattress looks older than me, and has a large hole. There may be bloodstains, but it’s probably nothing to worry about. The owner sprayed the fleas before I moved in, but two of the dogs seem to think I’m their best friend, so the little biters regularly return.

One of the dogs, let’s call her “Valei” (because that’s her name) is in love with my bed. Two or three times a day, I have to forcibly remove her from my bed. Valei thinks this is great fun, and makes her body go limp while I struggle to disentangle her limbs from my sheets. After I get her free, she jumps around and barks as I shake the dirt off the bed sheets. There’s another thing I should mention about Valei- amongst the usual running around and howling at the moon like all the dogs, her main passion is jumping into the fish pond.

The pond has a crack I’m planning to repair, because right now it’s less than two feet deep. She’ll emerge dripping with black and stinking mud like the birth of the Urak-hai in Lord of the rings, then run around til’ she’s nearly dry, then go hide on my bed, again. I’m not very angry though, because, usually, I smell almost as bad as her. 24 hours of sweating, insect repellent, dust and damp clothes does that to a person. It’s okay though, almost everyone in this small town is the same

The garden is large and quite wild. I only recognize half the species, so I’m going to have to ask a lot of questions and consult with Google- free WiFi is a godsend! My favorite job so far, as tough as it might sound, is the two days I spent climbing up and down ladders wielding my new machete. Some strange kind of vicious palm was my target; it was an overgrown tree of bushy hanging fronds, lined with razor sharp needles. There was blood. There was sweat. But I was the happiest I’d been in a long time. It’s frustrating not being able to express that happiness in the local language, but that confusing joy of being an expat.

Hopefully I can get edible plants growing in the blank spots while I clean up the current landscaping. It’s a challenge, but I like a challenge.

My back aches already, but it’s exercise and I might even get a tan! It seems like every insect here bites, even through my second skin of dirt, sunblock and DEET. At least during the first week I’ve made a noticeable impact on the mosquitoes. There were a bunch of buckets, gutters and empty flower pots that were full of stagnant water. Gone are those breeding grounds! Adios mosquitoes!

It is surprisingly easy to get work illegally in Meso-America, albeit in a ‘voluntary’ framework. There are thousands of expatriates working in hostels, restaurants and other tourist related businesses for little more than a bed and breakfast. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough for the benefits I’m receiving, but it’s Mexico, and the cost of living is cheap. The boss should stay happy. Two nights accommodation costs less than I spend on one night drinking, so my plan is to stop. It’s been too long since I felt healthy and at peace, so despite Central America’s reputation, I feel this is a great place to stop. As an expat, you can reinvent myself and try out new versions of my personality at little cost. Isn’t personal growth what travelling is all about?