Friday, December 31, 2010
Meant to write more here the past few weeks but the role of Nurse Mommy to La Princesa has been all-consuming until the last few days. She's doing well and needing less attention. So with the cold weather (-4C) in Victoria this week, I find the time and the motivation to get back to the sultry heat of the Yucatan, in my mind at least.
What I remember from my first experience in Merida was a feeling like being inside a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. The tropical feeling, the sense of time slowing to a standstill in the heat. The horse-drawn calesas certainly added to the atmosphere. That timeless sense is harder to find now, almost 30 years since my first visit, in the city's centro, now full of persistent hawkers of tourist wares. But I found it in abundance when I stepped into the public library.
The library wasn't exactly easy to find. The signage isn't very prominent, and after it was first pointed out to me on a previous trip I couldn't seem to find it again.
To enter this library was like stepping back in time - most modern libraries don't have card catalogues anymore. The "silence" sign is a throwback to an outdated concept of libraries as well. Contrary to the stereotype, librarians don't go around shushing the patrons anymore. It was certainly quiet in the library on this evening, with a handful of students bent over their laptops at the tables.
In a small room at the back of the library I found something you probably won't find in any other library in the world. The "Seccion Yucateca" is dedicated solely to Yucatan authors and topics. Librarian Ana Cana works in the Yucatecan section and graciously allowed me to take her photo.
The section includes clipping books compiled by librarians on key Yucatan issues and events. Hurricanes, artists, any kind of local issue. These pre-internet clipping books are a labour of love. They take a lot of time to compile but for anyone researching one of these topics they replace impossibly long hours paging through fragile old newspapers or deteriorating microfilm reels. (Do they even have those? How do they hold up in the heat and humidity, I wonder?)
I am looking forward to spending hours in this place in the near future, improving my Spanish reading skills and learning more about local history and culture.
As I'm tinkering with this post for the 14th time (or so) before publishing it, I see that "el Gabo" himself, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is coming to Merida for a couple of days, starting January 10th. I wonder whether the place also reminds him of his own novels?
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Coming from a temperate rainforest climate, I'm a little iffy about punching holes in the roof for wiring, but I'm assured this will not leak, once patched, and the conduit for the wiring will withstand the furnace outside.
The hot water tank has a leak and needs to be replaced. So we're going to take the opportunity to switch to a solar hot water system. Now trying to assess the options and requirements (do we need a hydropneumatic pump to increase water pressure? What kind of anti-scale system will treat the hard water so sarro doesn't build up in the heater and elsewhere?) Water softening technologies seem to be a matter of great debate online - I wonder what others have found to be effective?
|The wiring conduit will run along the roof - hope this works!|
|The walls are for tall closets in the bedroom|
|The bathroom was so hideous, this seems like an improvement|
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Modern highway buses in Mexico, at least the first-class ones, are clean and comfortable as any north of the border bus. The ride from Cancun has movies and they give you a (nonalcoholic) drink when you board. But the city buses in Merida are a different thing. They appear to be operated by numerous private companies, each with different colours and models of vehicle. Many of them seem to have broken axles or other worn-out parts that grind or clank horribly at sharp turns. Despite this, they roar down the roads at frightening speeds if they get a clear stretch, and sometimes seem to be gunning for the parked car up ahead, but then they swerve just in time. The printed bus schedule is indecipherable to me, so I just try to slowly figure out by trial and error which bus takes me where, and how it returns. They are cheap though - 6 pesos or about 50 cents - and plentiful and it seems they will stop almost anywhere if you flag them down. Usually.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
|bedroom + entry hall - wall = new sala|
|the other side of the new sala|
|tiles from former bedroom will be relaid|
|this room didn't get any natural light before|
|pointless extra door from garage is removed|
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
|New stationary gas tank and cracked roof.|
|Doug checks the "tinaco", the essential rooftop water tank|
|Maggie is elegant in any setting.|
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
We dropped by to say hello to and were greeted by this friendly couple from New York. They have transformed their compact house on a narrow lot into a jewel with polished black concrete surfaces, high ceilings and abundant light. Familiar Yucatan and Mexican elements are used in surprising and delightful ways. They call it their Merida brownstone, because it has a lot in common with their brownstone in Brooklyn.
Our visit was cut a bit short because half a dozen tradespeople were due to show up at our house to give estimates. But it was wonderful to connect with our gracious neighbors and it made me feel a little less like a stranger in town. Brother Doug really enjoyed the visit too. He is able to recognize the potential in a building that would appear to most as a run-down old rock pile - his house in Manitoba used to be one - but seeing what Bob and Diane have achieved, he says he now really understands what we're trying to do.
I didn't take pictures of the interior of Bob and Diane's house because we were too busy enjoying their company to get around to asking how they would feel about that. But it was a highlight of the trip to meet them.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Somehow (embarrassing admission) I have never had my own cellphone before, though I borrow other family members' phones as needed. I figured this made me less tethered, freer, and there was one less bill to pay. My new Merida cell phone will be for local calls and texts. I plan to leave it at the house, so it can also be used by anyone else who is staying there. It seems to be something people do here, where a land line can take a long long time to get. The phone was only about $30, and while calls are fairly expensive for the first year, the rate drops significantly after that.
It took a long time to get the new phone to work. I am trying to become more of a technical person but remain clueless about some of the most basic things. I had to take it back to the young people behind the counter at the Coppel department store where we bought it. There, much discussion, fiddling, and conversation with someone on the other line ensued. Finally it was working. But it only spoke Spanish. Not the people on the line, but the prompts and instructions. Tuesday I received a prompt; I thought it was about turning up the volume of the ringer, but when I pressed "si" it started a game of Spaceball, whatever that is.
After a couple of days I've managed to change the phone to English and now am constantly checking for messages, adding new contacts, texting like a teenager (only much slower). It already seems to be becoming a comforting extension of of my very being.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
11/13/2010 Tom suggested staying in a hotel instead of the house, which does make an awful lot of sense. Chairs and internet are objects of great longing these days. There seemed to be a point to be made about occupying the place. I think the point has been made, but I still stay after brother Doug has gone, not sure whether it is inertia or sheer cussedness. There's not much to see in the house these days - two hammocks, and a lot of tiny biting ants that swarm any food item that is left out for more than a few minutes. But there are these cool shadows on the kitchen wall in the morning.
Monday, November 15, 2010
I thought it must be an exaggeration (or my own mistranslation) when I read in the local paper that there are thousands of abandoned dogs on the streets of Merida. But in the past few days I've been seeing them in my neighborhood. A brindle-coated one. A border-collie type, very dirty, that followed me most of my last block home last night.
Tonight this little one approached along the sidewalk on the busy side of Parque Mejorada ("mi oficina"). A tattered piece of what might once have been a leash dangled from his collar. Dirty, hungry, skittish. I feared he would run into traffic so I called him and he approached. He reminded me of our Mickey. I couldn't help it: I scratched his poor ears and he promptly curled up at my feet. (I couldn't get him to look up for a picture; he startled at the camera flash.)
Then a religious procession started near the end of the block across from the cathedral. When he heard fireworks he panicked and took off across the park.
Not long after that I noticed my hands, arms and elbows were getting very itchy. When I realized the dog probably had something to do with it I quickly packed up the netbook and headed for the nearest pharmacy to buy a bath-sized bottle of that sterlizing hand stuff. Doused my hands, arms, neck (which I had scratched), then went into a restaurant bathroom and furtively soaped my hands and arms up to the shoulders. Feeling better now, but pretty stupid. What did I expect from petting a street dog?
Quite a few of the Americans and Canadians living here have taken up the cause of rescuing and seeking adoptive homes for these poor creatures. My friend Debbie works with one such group, YAPA . I have figured that as a non-resident (for the foreseeable) I didn't have to think much about the plight of Merida's abandoned or mistreated animals but at the very least I need to find out what useful thing I can do when I come across them, beyond sharing their mites, or whatever it was.
No se tocarlo means "don't touch them," I think. In Spanish today I was learning about direct and indirect pronouns. It's kind of difficult to get my head around the rules so it might not be right, but I'm supposed to practice.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
|View from mi oficina, Parque Mejorada|
So this blogger has been mostly unplugged this week. But I think I'm getting it figured out.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
|Brother Doug - our first guest!|
Here we are again. Came in on the flight from Houston this time. I've been trying out all the travel options for getting here and back. A plane full of young teenaged girls apparently returning from a Justin Bieber concert, clutching stuffed toys and copies of the 16-year-old Canadian's insipid new biography.
Brother Doug arrived a couple of days earlier, catching the bus from Cancun. First time in Merida, first time in Mexico. My first guest. He spent a couple of nights getting eaten by mosquitoes in a nice hotel before I arrived. Sunday night was the first night staying over in the house for both of us.
Last trip I rented a room elsewhere because I didn't know if the electricity and plumbing worked, and a proper lock was needed on the front entrance gate. I wasn't sure if the house was habitable, but by the time I left it definitely seemed to be so. But Sunday night we both had doubts about whether it was fit for even the most rudimentary kind of habitation.
The house was damp and sour-smelling. This was in part because the plumbing for the kitchen sink was leaking. We had water all over the floor (again). I'll be glad when that plumbing's replaced. The dampness was probably also due to the heavy rains seeping through the roof that needs repair. It hasn't had the chance to dry out with the house all closed up. Cracks showed where I hadn't noticed them before. All the rooms seemed smaller.
Tired, jangled, having pissed off the airport taxi driver by asking him to drive an extra 10 blocks, everything seemed wrong. I couldn't sleep. Every sound was frightening. What were the neighbors' dogs barking at all night? It was one of those occasional what-the-hell-have-I done kind of moments.
One good thing: there were no mosquitos in our house the first night we were here. I guess they figured out there hadn't been a meal in the place for going on two years. It didn't take them long to notice fresh prey. In the morning we opened the windows and back door to air and dry out the house. Immediately they followed our carbon-dioxide vapour trails inside. Later, whenever we disturbed any of our papers or clothes, they rose in little clouds from their hiding spots.
Monday morning started better, with the shower water in the hideous bathroom nicely heated by the new stationary gas tank, and tasty, cheap panuchos and fresh juice at the market stands down the street. Some challenges regarding internet and bank machines commanded much of the day's attention. But when we got home the house felt different, dry and fresher.
Tonight (after an inaugural trip to the new, nearby mall for some basics like towels and anti-mosquito artillery) we just sat around on the bare floor, talking reading, eating cheese and crackers and learning how to do things on computers when you don't have internet. And everything seemed just fine with this place.
Monday, November 1, 2010
by Deborah Wilson
The city of Merida was well off the beaten track when I first saw it in the early 1980s. A sense of torpor and graceful decay pervaded all. Horse-drawn calesas clip-clopped along empty streets. An old man slowly mopped tiles under the grand arches of our ancient hotel.
A quarter-century later, returning for a family vacation, Merida had changed. Public squares thrummed at night with live music and dance. Colonnaded buildings and private homes had been restored to their original grandeur.
Odd details stick in your mind: The grace of an elderly couple dancing to music in the square; a particular shade of blue on the walls; the riotous noise of birds in the trees at dusk. Back home, you search the online real estate listings and lurk on forums where expatriates share tips about scorpions and septic systems. You realize you can buy a house in a nice neighborhood for as little as the price of a kitchen renovation here at home.
That's how I ended up earlier this year holding the keys to our own, slightly dilapidated, century-old casa mexicana. Along the way I learned that a lot of Canadians and Americans are doing the same thing. Some are also from Victoria.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
I'm very grateful to the people who shared their stories with me while I was researching the story, including Juanita Stein, the editor of Yucatan Today in Merida, as well as Michael Cullin and Evelyn Butler.
Like all stories, a lot of great material gets left on the cutting-room floor, but their stories and observations have really stuck with me and I hope to write more about them soon.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
In past renovations of other houses I've done at least a bit of the grunt work, sometimes a lot: demolition, drywall, plastering, painting, landscaping. Mostly stuff that doesn't involve complex math or precision cuts.
This time I don't expect I'll be much use on the jobsite. I figure I've got time to take some Spanish lessons, so I will perhaps be able to comprehend at least a bit more of the neighbors' conversation.
Monday, October 25, 2010
I find myself hoping it brings lots more people here, and also hoping it doesn't.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I've never even met any of them. So I'm looking forward to attending the Latin American Bloggers' Conference in Merida Nov. 12-14. At first I wasn't sure if I qualified as a Latin American blogger. After all we're not living there yet, and won't be more than vacation-time residents for quite some time, from the looks of things. But they're a welcoming bunch so I'm very pleased to get to go. If you have a chance to read these bloggers (linked from the conference website or just over there on the right on this blog) be forewarned. You might catch the sickness that makes semi-sensible people go off in search of real estate in charming, out-of-the-way, at-times hellishly hot places.
A couple of recent blog discoveries (one's a rediscovery) have been delightful: I recommend the recent posts about heat in An Alaskan in Yucatan and Yucatan Yenta (see Yenta's hilarious entry under "Merida, the schvitzing capitol of the world").
Soon I will be schvitzing along with them.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Not much progress on the renovation front, at least not that I can see. I received an estimate for roof repair and waterproofing that is about a quarter of my entire renovation budget for this year, and several times the price paid by other people I heard from. Who knows, maybe it's the world's best waterproofing job, or the world's worst roof. I haven't had time yet to explore these questions, and hurricane season is over in a couple of weeks, so there might be time to get the answers before plunging into that job.
Our friends Ted and Kathryn joked about us buying "a house made out of computer drawings" and I admit I spend more time mooning over the mock-ups of the rooms than the "before" pictures. So it's going to be a bit of a rude shock for me when I get back to Merida and the very primitive accomodations awaiting me: missing light fixtures, peeled paint, no furniture (I'm bringing a hammock), no kitchen appliances. Oh yeah, worst of all, no wifi. Urban camping, I guess you could call it. Or squatting in our own house.
I had hoped by now the electrical work, at least, would be done, but it will happen when it happens.
It shouldn't be such a terrible hardship (except for the wifi). The market and food kiosks are a block away, and a block away there's also a pretty restaurant where I had great shrimp cocktail one afternoon, and they urged me to try their breakfasts next time. There's also a highly recommended comida economica right around the corner. At least I hope it's still there. It will be my vacation from cooking. And there are lots of places to use the internet.
So for Kathryn and Ted, and a reality check for myself, here are some more "before" and computer-simulated "after" pix:
|This is now the living room|
|It will become the dining room|
|main bedroom looking towards study|
|main bedroom- after|
|who is the dude in our new shower?|
Sunday, October 10, 2010
My blog-improvement project, like the Thanksgiving housecleaning, does have a reason. I'm anticipating I might have some new visitors in the next few weeks, as I am about to come out as a member of the hordes who are buying into the Mexican Dream. Victoria's Boulevard magazine is publishing in their November/December issue my story about local people (ourselves included) buying, building and renovating homes down Mexico way. Among the current and former Victorians featured in the story, I was pleased to "meet" (via skype) Yucatan Today editor Juanita Stein and her husband Jan Zak, who cashed in their chips in Victoria and moved to Merida about five years ago.
There's never enough space in print to share all the great details and anecdotes, so I hope to say more in future blog posts about what I learned from Juanita and the others who I met in the course of writing this article. One thing really sticks in my mind, though, and eases my mind when I wake up some nights thinking I've taken a foolish risk with this Merida thing: they are all so happy they did this.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Jo-Ann wanted to know which house we actually bought, out of the many I viewed and posted about here last year.
|Here's what the back of the house looks like now|
|Here's the post-reno concept, courtesy estilo arquitectura|
Friday, October 8, 2010
It's exciting and anxious-making. I should have a list of things to do and things to bring. When I try to write one my mind goes blank. It's probably because I'm not sure what state the house will be in by the time I get there Nov. 7th.
Lots has happened in recent weeks, but the house is still unsullied by renovation rubble. Some recent progress, on paper:
- We have a fideicomiso - the documents confirming our ownership through a bank trust. It is now in the hands of the architect's office.
- The architect is apparently preparing to apply for renovation permits, now that they have show proof of our ownership of the place.
- Plans for the reno are nearly complete, I think. One of the most thrilling parts is a plan for perfect little casita, a tiny building with its own bathroom and interior garden, in the narrow extra dogleg of the property that had looked like a useless strip of land.
- I'm waiting for estimates of costs for the first phase of the reno, which will be a basic upgrade to the original part of the house, and, if it's within the budget, a redo of the existing bathroom. The pool, the guest bedroom and second bathroom, the casita, the big kitchen renovation, will all have to wait. That's okay with me, though Tom is of the view that we should do everything in the reno plans all at once.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I had just begun work that week for the English-language Mexico City News.
In memory of that day and the thousands of lives lost in the earthquake, here is my account published a few days after the quake, in the daily Vancouver Sun.
|A collapsed school|
Special to the Sun
Mexico City -- When the pitching finally stopped in the fourth floor apartment, when the building stopped cracking and shaking, the sounds of screams and breaking glass subsided.
We stumbled to a window to look outside, just in time to see a nearby apartment building slowly tilt and then topple from the skyline.
Across the street the facade had fallen from another building, exposing the rooms inside like a doll-house.
On the radio, the announcer instructed: “Maintain absolute calm. The worst is over. Don’t got to work, don’t go to school.”
But in the battered streets, calm was an impossibility.
In the ruins, volunteers began scrambling through the rubble minutes after the last shudders of the quake had faded, as clouds of dust still hung in the air.
When the quake first hit last Thursday, I half-woke in confusion and thought my bed had broken. Then there was another violent shake and suddenly I was awake.
The earthquake lasted seven minutes. Dishes fell from shelves, walls cracked noisily, and the building lurched far enough over that it seemed certain to crash down. Then it righted itself as the earth buckled again.
There was the sound of crashing and screams. And then it was deathly quiet.
The three of us in the apartment — Warren O’Briain of Victoria, Ellen Saenger of Abbotsford and myself, all journalists with the Mexico City News — were safe and unharmed.
Heading out into the neighborhood, we found buildings collapsed or damaged on every block.
We wandered through the streets, and tried to call home on payphones that didn’t function.
The devastation around us was beyond comprehension.
We watched rescue workers search through the jumble of concrete and steel that had once been a building, calling for silence when one thought he heard a survivor’s voice.
The quake cut a swath through the heart of the city. Hospital buildings collapsed; downtown hotels, government buildings, press offices, banks and schools were destroyed. The stock exchange was badly damaged. All around were the sights and sounds and smells of disaster: crowds running in fear at the discovery of leaking gas lines at the huge Multifamiliar Juarez housing complex. The smell of gas in the streets. Women sobbing on strangers’ shoulders. Medical attendants on the street dressing wounds. A teenaged girl standing at a street corner across from her collapsed home, pleading for help from passers-by. Hospital staff dressed in their scrubs, atop a pancaked hospital, pulling at broken concrete with bare hands.
At the central medical complex, nurses and interns joined rescue workers searching for survivors in the devastated nurses’ residence at Juarez hospital. The maternity wing had also collapsed, killing as yet uncounted mothers and babies.
Workers formed bucket brigades to douse fires that have flared periodically since the Thursday morning quake.
“There are still many people alive in there,” said Dr. Juan Aguilar Rodriguez, the hospital director.
“There are groups of 10, 15, 20 people who were in different parts of the tower and they are asking for help.”
He said it was possible that among those trapped were about 30 medical students who were attending a class.
Aguilar Rodriguez estimated there were 800 to 900 people in the hospital when the earthquake struck at 7:20 a.m. Thursday.
“It was a time in which there were many people because there was a shift change, some people were coming in and others hadn’t left yet,” he said, and 350 of the hospital’s 680 beds were occupied.
Others in the building included doctors, nurses, social workers and maintenance and cleaning crews, he said.
By Saturday morning, 32 bodies and 140 injured had been removed from the wreckage, but it was not known how many others might have been able to escape before the building collapsed.
Aguilar Rodriguez said the known dead included the chiefs of surgery, intensive care, equipment and maternity services.
“They all died at their posts,” he said. “We have lost very valuable, capable people.”
Hundreds of people crowded outside the structure, seeking news of relatives who had been in the building.
Rescuers around the city were still combing the wreckage for survivors as the second quake struck Friday.
Weakened buildings fell into the street near the downtown newspaper offices where we work. And for the second time, hundreds were trapped in the subway.
After the second quake, throngs of people fled from buildings in the centre of the city to pitch tents in central parks. They huddled with sheets wrapped around their shoulders, a few salvaged possessions piled beside them. When the parks filled, they huddled on street corners and later, on traffic medians.
To navigate the streets at night, vehicles zig-zag between burning pots of pitch that mark the narrow passage through roads clogged with rubble.
The streets today are still jammed with trucks and buses and mini-vans converted to emergency vehicles.
On some streets, amid the rubble, hang gay decorations — reminders of the 175th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence Day, the Sunday before the quake. The vast square in front of the National Palace that was packed with people for independence celebrations is now filled with army trucks.
In the collapsed seven-story apartment near the building where I was staying, we were told only the ground floor residents escaped. During the weekend, rescuers continued to comb the rubble, finding the dead and hoping still for the living.
Monday, September 6, 2010
A priority was to schedule this trip around the 3rd annual Latin American Bloggers Conference. When I first heard about this conference last year it was a revelation that bloggers could actually meet in meatspace. How quaint! I didn't know if I was eligible to join the confab. Could I be considered a Latin American blogger while still living full-time "NOB"? Lucky for me, the answer is yes.
I'm looking forward to meeting many of the bloggers from Merida and elsewhere who have guided and inspired (incited?) me in our own adventure in Mexican real estate. Also some tips on how to do this blog thing. At least I'm no longer posting pictures facing sideways. Who knows what else I can learn?
Of course the conference is just over the weekend of Nov. 12-14 and so there will be time to get house-related things done. I am fervently hoping we'll have plans and permits and people actually working on the renovation by then, but we'll see.
Meanwhile there is also much to explore in and around Merida, just for fun and fascination. The XXXVI Feria Yucatan Xmatkuil, for instance. There are many smaller fairs in the towns and villages where locals display the distinctive arts and products of their area, such as stone carving or leatherwork or hammocks. But what Canadian wouldn't make the time to visit a big state fair where the highlight last year was the "Snow Zone" where people can slide and make snowmen with real snow?
Thursday, September 2, 2010
- The lawyer says he now has the documents we need so the architect can apply for permits.
- The latest money transfer arrived safely in the new Monex account (after the last one vanished between my bank and HSBC in Merida.)
- I'm booked to return to Merida in November (escaping the darkest, dreariest month in Victoria).
- Our architect sent new plans for a perfect little casita at the end of the useless, overgrown dogleg of land at the back of our property.
- Our property manager said the heavy rains had not flooded the house in our absence.
Some not-good things are also happening:
- I had a worry about the roof in all this rain and asked Maggie if we could check it to see how the waterproofing was holding up. Bad news. Lots of cracks and even a spot where water is pooling. Also signs of excess humidity and water permeating inside.
- An ominous crack in a newer interior wall.
The house (in the pictures Maggie sent) is definitely looking worse than it did in the spring, and the severely pruned ficus has grown back a new crop of leaves but is definitely muy feo. After months of looking at the dreamy architects' images of perfect rooms filled with perfect fake people, it is quite a reality check.
The pictures of the casita make me feel much happier than the pictures of the cracks and the water on the roof. Unfortunately the casita is one of those nice-to-have things that is destined to remain a fantasy for a long time to come. The reality is roof and masonry repairs that I wasn't planning for. I'm hoping they can wait until the rain stops and the renovations are finally underway.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
We've exchanged emails and photos since then but it was great to get together and compare notes and experiences, hear tips and suggestions. I learned what to do when a huge scorpion shows up in the bedroom (drench it with a spray can of "Home Defense"). Her house is beautiful and simple, with original and salvaged character details and simple features like crushed white gravel in the courtyard instead of high-maintenance grass. It's an inspiration for the way I'd love our house to look and feel.
Afterwards my bus was delayed by zombies. I didn't realize there was a zombie walk underway on Robson Street . They smeared fake blood all over the bus windows. So funny and charming. Sometimes I miss living in this city.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
By contrast I'm finding that transferring money to Mexico is old-fashioned, fairly expensive and a bit unpredictable.
I thought I had it figured out. After a bit of back and forth to sort out the accounts and clave numbers and swift numbers and such, payments were successfully sent to the people who are holding the fort for us in Merida. Then one payment seemed to get lost between the Canadian credit union and the Mexican bank branch. We're trying to trace what happened to that transfer (cost of trace: $35CDN). Fortunately the lost transfer wasn't for a lot of money, so it feels a bit like an experiment. Meanwhile I'm trying to set up a new payment to a different account through a different bank, and once again the information I have doesn't seem to match what the bank needs. An account number has 17 digits and it should have 18. It isn't clear if the address field is supposed to contain the address of the Mexican bank or the person who is the final recipient. So I must track down the info, and trek back to the bank if I can find a time when it's open and I'm not at work, and spend another half hour or so standing there, trying to sort it all out with a bank teller. I hope this gets easier because it takes a lot of time.
The bank transfers cost $15 to $30 (dollars, not pesos) depending on the bank and the amount of the transfer, which seems like a lot to send a fairly modest sum. On the other hand, the bank's labour costs for processing each of these transfers would also be pretty steep.
I wonder if anyone else has found a better way to do this? I'd be interested in hearing about it.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Meanwhile, progress towards actual physical work on the Merida house is affected by a familiar delay: paperwork. Our lawyer has not yet received the fideicomiso and catastral documents which are needed by the architect, presumably to prove ownership and apply for building permits. It has been more than four months since the purchase of the house was completed. I was surprised when the lawyer told me this was a normal period of time. In total I've spent eight months waiting for paperwork and bureaucratic processes, since it also took about four months to get a new survey and other documents needed to complete the purchase back in March.
If this was happening in Victoria I'd be pretty frantic by now. That's because if we'd bought a "cheap" fixer-upper in Victoria it would have cost about 10x as much, and the interest costs on a mortgage would be killing us while it sat empty. For a little while I was prodding the lawyer for updates on progress every week like clockwork, but I was clearly not actually helping anything from here, 3,000 miles away, and really just being a pest to the three people actually doing the work of obtaining the papers. So now, I just wait.
I believe the heat and the slower pace of Merida life is teaching me to relax and slow down, and I'm actually enjoying letting go of my compulsive busy-ness. Our friend Morley once suggested my tombstone might read "She got a lot done." Maybe we'll get to rewrite that, in time.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Meanwhile other messages from Merida contain tantalizing references to it being "time for the beach." I read somewhere that things slow down in the next month and many offices close down. I was obviously, typically, over-optimistic in my earlier anticipation that actual renovations would be well underway before the end of the summer, but it doesn't really seem to matter at all. I'm usually rush-rush, but maybe I'm experiencing mananafication, without even being anywhere near the Yucatan. I think that's part of the reason for this whole project, so it seems to be working.
Except...the architect now needs paperwork to move to the next stage. Presumably for construction approvals. I know, I should know the details. They need the fideicomiso (for the uninitiated, this is the document for the bank trust which holds title to the property). They also need a "cedula catastral "and "croquis catastral". These are words I never encountered in my previous Spanish classes and I keep going back to Google Translate to try to figure out exactly what a cadastre or catastre is, in this context. Some kind of ownership/land description certificate?
Whatever the translation, I clearly don't have them. I know the fideicomiso wasn't ready yet, last time I was in Merida to pick up the keys to the house and start getting it into shape, pre-renovation. I didn't really mind. I wasn't sure what to do with it. The one my realtor showed me was a huge binder full of pages. Am I supposed to keep it with me in Canada, or should our property manager keep it? It doesn't seem like the kind of thing to leave in an empty house. It seemed safer with the lawyer or the realtor until I figured this out. Still, I had some of those anxious feelings, kind of like the dreams you have about forgetting your baby in the mall.
Anyway, I check on the location of the fideicomiso and other mystery documents, and it seems the lawyer hasn't received them yet. It's nearly 4 months after the sale closed, and he says it normally takes 3-4 months for the fideicomiso to arrive. I guess we'll see if it shows up soon, or perhaps we'll have some delays while the city shuts down for beach time.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Anyway now I will return emails (If you've sent one recently, sorry, I haven't been ignoring you), pull weeds in the garden, shave the dog, fix the car, catch up on other people's blog posts I've missed, and eat something that isn't from a take-out place or from the frozen foods aisle. What have I missed?
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Even though I haven't posted much lately I've been busy with Merida-related stuff. Writing a magazine article about people from our city (Victoria) buying, building and renovating homes in Mexico. Working on a website to advertise the house for rentals. And every week or so dreamy pictures show up in my inbox from Victor Cruz at Estilo Yucatan. It is way too much fun to moon over the plans and visualizations of our eventual renovation. I am oddly amused by the way our proposed sala is populated with attractive young people. We must get some of those too. By total coincidence, a couple of them even look like our real kids (though not the ones in this image). This front room is created by taking down the doorless wall that separates the entrance hall from the dark and dingy front bedroom. That bedroom was only accessible from the middle bedroom, and it was obviously created in an earlier renovation that chopped up a big front room. I'm more of a rustic than a modern type, but it's neat to see this treatment, and I like the floor lighting, even though I was thinking of unobtrusive sconces. What do you think?
Friday, May 28, 2010
Meanwhile, a persistent worry about the house has been largely relieved with the onset of the rains, because the house didn't flood. I am a bit of a worrier, and I kept thinking that the back patio, which is two steps up from the main house and covered in concrete, could be a problem. But the roof drainage seems to be working fine.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
I guess I should take it as a compliment. Interestingly the article, in part, seems to sum up our general plan: "Their focus now is on smaller residential properties with long-term value in places that have a sense of community and an active social life...They want lower-cost properties in desirable locations that they can use now for vacation homes and rental income. They want them to be good quality and low maintenance, preferably with on-site rental management. And they want to be able to retire comfortably in these properties when the time comes..."
...April 11 On further thought, there are a number of things in the article that don't actually reflect our checklist, such as on-site rental management...and the article refers to calculations of "'QTR'… Quality Time Remaining", which sounds awfully cold and actuarial, especially in reference to people who are a long way from conventional retirement age...
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Back in Victoria with a notebook full of experiences from my first few days getting down to work on the long to-do list for our new Merida house. Although I must credit others for doing most of the work. A lot got done!
On Sunday I picked up the house keys and met property manager Maggie Cardena. She is effiicient! On Monday the huge tree that hid the house was hacked back to a manageable (though temporarily leafless) size. A shiny new deadbolt lock on the gate replaced the puny padlock and chain, we'd met the neighbors and the tax/water and electrical accounts were getting sorted out. All thanks to Maggie.El Arbol, before and after: I knew there was a house under there somewhere!
Did I mention we have electricity? I had assumed the account was shut down, but on Maggie's suggestion I tried the main breaker (duh!), and instantly we had lights and fans. Funny how a bit of electricity can be all it takes to make a house seem quite liveable.
I was surprised and impressed by how efficiently things got done. Julio and his assistant worked strenuously all day at the big fig tree with just a machete and an axe. No power tools. I guess gas is more expensive than labour. Before the cutting began, we had to find someone to move two pickup trucks that were parked under the shade of the tree. So Maggie and Julio marched down to the market a block away (I tagged along, feeling like a bit of a goof) and they asked around to find the owner. They found him - and he wasn't too happy about losing his shady spot, but probably better than having his camionetas dented by large falling branches.
For my part I managed to get the floors more or less washed, though I don't know if I will ever get the hang of the Mexican squeegee method.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Anyway, things improved after that. Neighbors introduced themselves on their way past. Maggie came by with information on getting the big tree cut back and new locks, and helped sort through the mysteries of the status of the electrical and water accounts, and the property taxes, and how much cleaning and maintenance is needed on a house that's soon to be covered in construction dust. It's good to know there are straightforward answers to these types of challenges.
After that, several hours of reading and lazing around, avoiding the afternoon heat (I think I'm finally getting the hang of this) and an evening stroll to take in the scene in the Plaza Grande: great live music, the street full of people dancing in the languid tropical way, old men elegant in crisp white guayabera shirts and dress pants, lots of kids, everyone appearing to be enjoying themselves and each other's company, and the obligatory cheese-filled Marquesita, my new favourite street snack.
Not a bad way to live, I think.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
In Centro tonight the streets are busy with people walking around and looking relaxed. There's subdued jazz and pleasant chatter drifting over from a restaurant behind the Hotel del Peregrino where I'm staying. A nice vibe to come back to.
Monday, March 22, 2010
What we've got is a cool, though slightly dilapidated, colonial house in a fascinating city in the tropics, for the price of a proper kitchen renovation here in Victoria (which we still need, unfortunately). I know there are a lot of expenses yet to come, but so far the arrangement agrees with my bargain-hunting, thrift-store-shopping, curb-scavenging soul.
Here at home it's the time of pink snow. The peach and plum tree blossoms are falling and drifting at the curb and along the sidewalks. I wonder what the season will be like in the Yucatan - according to the dialogue on Yolisto it sounds like the weather has been fairly unpredictable and weird. It's been so busy here, there hasn't been much time for arranging useful things to do while I'm in Merida next week, but at least I'll have a set of keys and the ability to come and go. Maybe I'll buy a bottle of vinegar and spend a whole day cleaning the mineral deposits off the kitchen taps, or hack back the 10-foot tall weeds in the back. Or just hang a hammock and read.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
It all seems surreal, and there's little time to plan because it's a hectic time here at home with work and classes and kids' trips and complications from dental surgery (our daughter's, not mine).
Here in Victoria it's suddenly cold, after weeks of balmy weather that seemed to coax everything into brilliant bloom. On Sunday it rained, making the chartreuse new growth and billows of pink plum blossoms and heather look especially luminous against the watery grey background. It's not the time of year when you think I've got to get out of here. But I'm still looking forward to getting back to Merida for a few days at least.
It is 25 years since we first set out to make a home in Mexico. It was a plan that didn't hold together long. The 1985 earthquake in Mexico City was more than a jolt of harsh reality. Everything after it was, for me, overlaid with a sense of threat. Even without the complications of a natural disaster, we had moved with no real sense of what it would be like to live in Mexico, or any foreign country. There was a young person's lack of realism about the challenges. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent in Latin America like The Globe and Mail's Oakland Ross. Not quite the same thing as writing about the peso exchange rates for a 22,000-circulation ex-pat rag in Mexico City, for the equivalent of $7USD a day. We were snowbacks, working on a tourist visa.
It's different this time.We're better informed and more realistic, thanks to bloggers and friends and fabulous online resources. Others have blazed the path and shared their learning. I think we're ready?
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Sunday, February 7, 2010
It is hard to believe it's real. For four months since I was last in Merida and made an offer on this house, we've waited for a technical issue with the deed to be sorted out. We were advised not to sign a contract of purchase before the issue was settled. So the house could have been purchased by someone else in the meantime if they put forward a better offer (though they would have had the same problem.)
In the meantime, other cute houses were listed and sold, the Canadian dollar rose and fell against the USD (the preferred currency of foreign real estate purchase in Mexico), and I tried not to think too far ahead.
Now the list-making begins: How do we hook up utilities (or do we even want to do that before the renovations are underway)? How do we arrange for work to be done on the house while we are here in Canada? I know many people hire an architect (something that is not common for lower-end renos in Canada) but is an architect necessary for a basic upgrade that doesn't move walls or add to a building? Is it advisable to arrange for a property manager before the house is ready to be lived in?
Can I get there in a month or so to arrange to get work underway, or should I wait? Do tradespeople continue working through the scorchingest months or is there a break in the action during the late spring/summer?
I think the first thing I'd like to do is some extreme pruning on the giant ficus tree in front of the house. It is getting into the overhead wires. Does anyone have recommendations for a careful tree-pruner? Do I need any kind of permit or approval from the power company to get this done?
This is a whole new chapter and I've got a lot to learn.