Greetings loyal reader. As noted in the last post, Bruce and Mary have now lived in MÃ©rida for two and half years and through trial and lots of errors they have figured out some handy things that for a couple of gringos make life in MÃ©xico pretty seamless. Letâ€™s start with lodging. For those of you who would like to read this post from Bruce’s original blog-site, click here.
We have been lucky in that we have been house-sitting for most of our time down here but in the beginning we did rent and what was, initially, out of my comfort range was the fact that we never signed a thing for the two places we did rent. The first was the condo just outside Chicxulub (I literally got my BP down to 106/60 there, what a great way to start our escape to Mx, with a month long vacation on the beach). I found the condo on the internet and I was so impressed by rep Jaromey
over the phone and by email (now she is one of our best friends) that I was happy to prepay the cost. It worked out perfectly, without any paperwork at all. Then with the vacation over it was time to move to where the action was, MÃ©rida. We were introduced to Fernando, an abogado, attorney, and landlord and we subsequently rented a lovely flat right on Calle 59, an artery of downtown MÃ©rida. When we made the deal I gave him a 3000P deposit to hold it for us and I quite naturally wanted a receipt. Well, Mary and he were communicating rather well, in Spanish, but then suddenly we all were not communicating at all. Finally a very exasperated Mary, in hushed tones out of the side of her mouth said to me, â€œFor Crissakes Bruce, he’s a lawyer!â€ At that point I figured a handshake would be just fine. And that relationship worked fabulously for us. In fact Fernando even held the place and stored our gear for half a month while we were in MN, rent free! So I guess the moral of this story is, when it comes to renting a place, by referral find a trustworthy person, and expect no paperwork. In fact it has been our experience in all areas that the higher the integrity of the man the more he is insulted by any demands for paperwork.
We are about the only people in our circle down here who do not own a car. And we have no plans on ever getting one (a motorcycle would be fun, but Mary won’t let me). MÃ©rida has an excellent and super cheap public transportation system. We’ve ridden the city buses literally hundreds of times and the fare is only 6P and they will take you anywhere in the city and also to a number of nearby Pueblos such as Dzitya (famous for stone and tile artisans) and Xcanatun, home to the fabulous Hacienda Xcanatun, the world class boutique hotel and 4 star restaurant. Figuring bus routes can be a little tricky but we finally scored the mapa de rutas de autobus, bus route map, which is very detailed and helpful. Taxis are unbelievably cheap. You can travel from one side of Centro to the other for no more than 30P, if you take the taximetros, the metered cabs. If you end up with a non-metered (there are more of those) be sure to ask for a quote first, otherwise you will probably be subjected to a gringo price at ride’s end. To give an idea of how cheap these guys are, the most expensive taxi ride we have ever taken, for a visit to StarMedica in the Northeastern suburb of Altabrisa, was 60P, about $4.80US and no tip is expected. Enough said, I think.
Groceries were a bit of a mystery at first but we have figured out that the big grocery stores have the most consistent pricing and are often cheaper than the markets. But the markets’ produce is usually fresher. However when fruits come into season the markets are usually cheaper during that time than the big stores. Plus it is more fun to deal with vendors we know by name and get peppers and such thrown in for free. But out of convenience and because we can use credit cards (more on that later) we do find ourselves shopping a lot at Walmart. We don’t cook much with meat but when we do we find the prices to be about the same at the big stores as at the carnecerias, butcher shops. A note to you cooks out there, the cuts here are much leaner. Mary really has to watch out when she does her signature Porketa dish so that it doesn’t dry out.
Water problems are much ado about nothing. Purified water is everywhere and don’t worry about the ice cubes in restaurants, they’re purified as well. Everyone (including locals) we know buys bottled water and nobody seems to know how many people drink the agua potable, potable water supplied by JAPAY, the city water utility. We have seen workers and kids drink water right out of the hose to no ill effect. I maintain that the water is probably OK but it is the tinaca system that is to blame for a lot of the bad rep city water has. Because MÃ©rida and most Mx cities don’t use water towers to develop head, the tinaca system is in place. In every casa the low pressure city water is pumped to a rooftop tinaca, a concrete reservoir that is open to the sky. I’ve looked in them and the combination of bird crap, dead bugs, and algae is not a very appetizing picture. I submit that with the newer enclosed plastic tinacas the water just might be okay. I guess I just don’t think they call it agua potable for nothing. But to be truthful, with our filtration system in our casa and the fact that all our friends use bottled water, I’ll probably never know for sure.
Speaking of restaurants, we dine out a lot. I make the joke that
Mary doesn’t cook anymore which isn’t quite true but I don’t hear her complaining. There are hundreds of restaurants in MÃ©rida and every cuisine is represented well, except for French fare, my foodie friends tell me. We take many of our meals in the form of botanas at our neighborhood bars and also at the ubiquitous Cocinas Economicas. These are tiny food stops that are quite often simply extensions of a familyâ€™s kitchen out to the sidewalk. Our favorite, at this time, is Lulu’s, just south of the corner of Calles 62 and 37 in Centro. We always order Â½ portions and usually bring a bag home. The cost is 50P, about $4US and the food is great. We have eaten at probably about 20 different Cocinas Economicas and although we have gotten some less than desirable meals we have never gotten sick. Cocinas Economicas are close to the top of the list of what we love about MÃ©rida.
Beer. As I have mentioned before, there is, in my mind, a beer dilemma down here. Beer is not as cheap as it should be. Now if I were Canadian and paying $38/case for Labatts I probably wouldn’t feel this way. The best beer prices in town are at the Issteyâ€™s gov’t subsidized grocery store on Calle 60, which is also a good place for sundries. But do avoid it on gov’t payday, the first and the 15th of the month as lines can be an hour long. At Issteyâ€™s we can buy 8 packs of Superior, which is pretty darn good beer, for 57.5P, so a case can be had for about $13.80US, which ain’t bad, but not as cheap as my house beer in MN. Now there is one cheaper beer, Gallo, the Guatemalan import, which Walmart is constantly trying to clear with specials of 2 six packs for 60P but I am sorry to say that that beer is below my standards and that is from a guy whose house beer was Hamm’s (â€œHamms the beer refreshing, Hammmmsâ€ – Oldtimers, remember that jingle?). Liquor-wise, all the name brands are the same price or slightly higher here but there are some Mx distilleries that do a decent job. My vodka is Oso Negro (110P/1.75L bottle, about $8.80US) and it is good enough, barely, for my martini nightcaps, although I do worry about myself a little because when we’re in MN and I have my martinis concocted with my MN house vodka Smirnoff, it now tastes like Grey Goose. Hmm…. Well anyhow, for our wine needs and I am a box wine kind of guy, the wine costs about the same as back in MN.
Our communication needs are well met with our $10US Motorola cells and the Telcel prepaid cell plan. We usually buy our minutes for a 100P at a crack and get about 2 months of use for the purchase. The minutes (and phones) can be bought at any of the hundreds of Oxxo C-stores and most of them have gone electronic in the loading of the minutes. The clerk keys in the purchase and your cell number and you have the minutes, ahorita, right now. For broadband internet we have Telmex by virtue of the fact that the owners of this casa we are house-sitting opted for that. It has been relatively trouble-free, in fact I can say it has been less glitchy than Charter our old ISP back in MN. But for the couple problems we have had, I must say that Telmex has lived up to their reputation of providing crappy service. For our TV and movies we rely upon downloads and streaming Video. We can’t wait until Hulu is available in Mx as that is how Helen gets all the TV she wants. Sky is the only licensed satellite TV provider in Mexico and their English offerings are somewhat limited. Many of our friends participate in gray market satellite TV by establishing Sky Canada accounts and installing the hardware down here. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I’ve watched it and they pretty much have everything.
To keep ourselves fit there are many, many choices for gyms.
We prefer California gym 7 blocks away and when we go to Progreso we drop in at Shapes which is just a couple blocks from the beach. Both gyms are well equipped and the drop in fees are 50P and 30P respectively. MÃ©rida is a strange town when it comes to gyms. When we lived on Calle 59 our gym was Boscos and the drop in was 20P. Now this is an old fashioned gym, as is California gym, with tons of free weights and in the case of California quite a number of fairly modern resistance machines but not anything in the way of modern cardio machines, although Shapes has brand new ellipticals and treadmills. Now there are a number of modern huge gyms with Olympic pools, saunas, etc. in MÃ©rida that rival any Goldâ€™s in the States, in fact a brand new Gold’s opened here in MÃ©rida in this last year. But the fees are all out of whack. Back in MN Mary and I got deals at our respective Goldâ€™s gyms in St. Cloud and Shakopee (Msp suburb where I worked) for $25 and $40 per month. These types of places here will run $100 and up. The new Taj Mahal of gyms out at the super ritzy Altabrisa shopping center is rumored to charge $150US per month! I inquired when we were at the mall but they wouldn’t quote w/o the tour. No thanks. But the real dichotomy is that Personal Trainers (I did that here for a while) can only get away with charging about 100P/hr. Criminy, I charged $75/hr when I trained in St. Cloud! I can’t explain this, it is just the way it is.
The way we handle money down here has evolved dramatically and so as not to bore you with the stupid ways we used to do things I’ll just stick with what we do now. We do not have a Mexican bank account Â and will never have one. The only reason, in my mind for an account at a local bank is if you want to start a business or if you are wealthy (VIP accounts at Mexican banks are quite attractive). With the way we do things now we will never walk into a bank again and we won’t miss that. Mexican banks operate like US banks did in the 50s and 60s. They treat their non VIP customers like you should be happy to stand in line for an hour to make your deposit. Honestly, I have seen lines out the door with only two cajas, windows, of the five or six available manned. There is no competition among the banks â€“ they are still a long ways away from free toasters to open an account. Here’s what we do: We have our paychecks deposited into our General Mills Federal Credit Union account (thank you Joey â€“ by virtue of Joey’s employment at General Mills, we qualify) because they only charge Â½ a percent for international transactions. Our old bank, TCF, charged a whopping 3%. I have heard that some credit unions charge 0%, but we are quite happy where we are. So now, for our cash needs we use any of the ubiquitous ATMs and our rate of exchange, even after factoring GMFCU’s Â½ % and the local banks 7P transaction charge, will beat the banks’ exchange rate by about .3 – .5P/USD every time. For our purchases we use our Capital One credit card which I believe is the only one that does not charge that same 3% international transaction charge and the rate of exchange, again, is far more favorable than the banks. Incidentally the banks are usually better than the casas de cambio, exchange houses, but now most of the banks are requiring accounts to do this huge favor for you, making money on your exchange. We use our Capital One card for virtually everything except the small vendors and cocinas economicas. It took us a while to figure this way of handling our meager resources but now we feel we are getting the best bang for our buck/peso down here and it is so easy!
I’ve blogged about medical care down here a number of times. Suffice it to say things here are much cheaper than in the states and I have a new example. Our good friend Connie fell and suffered a complex fracture of the wrist which required surgery. The total cost? 14000P, about $1120US. Most meds including BP and high cholesterol drugs are very inexpensive and sold over the counter and you can get any sort of blood work-up without a Doc’s orders and get same day results. Ever heard of Medical Tourism? It is alive and very well in MÃ©rida, Mx. For fun, here is a link to a John Stewart parody, filmed here in MÃ©rida (and featuring several of our friends) on Mexican Medical Tourism: http://eztvlinks.com/the-daily-show-november-30-2009-maziar-bahari/
We are still struggling with the language down here and is is true that you do pick up some by osmosis but it will take about 20 yrs at this rate for me to become conversational. Mary does well and is still batting 1000 when in comes to communicating
every single time we have had to, but she bemoans her language skills as well. Our excuse right now is that, doggone it we’re working stiffs again, although it is only 30 hrs a week and from poolside. So we still talk about taking classes, or socializing with our local friends more, or going to the language club every Monday at the English library, or getting tapes. Well, you get the drift. One of these days, though, we really will get after it. Really.
Thanks for visiting gentle reader. Bruce hopes that for those friends new to MÃ©rida this little treatise has made life a little easier and for those of you who aspire to making the move, maybe these words will help you avoid the many mistakes, and lessons that Bruce and Mary experienced in their ongoing escape to Mexico. And Bruce certainly welcomes any tips on MÃ©rida living from any readers out there.Â Hasta pronto, mis amigos.