Sunday, October 31, 2010

Article: At home in Mexico

I am excited that my article is out this morning in the latest issue of Victoria's Boulevard magazine. If you're interested you can read it online . The website navigation's a bit cumbersome but you can find "At home in Mexico" on page 34. I'll also post the whole story shortly, either here or on my website.
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

Almost there!

It's exactly one year  since I put in an offer on the green house hidden behind a huge tree. In a week I'll be back and I think we're just about ready to get those renovations underway. Lots has happened since my previous rather glum observations on progress (or lack of it).  Plans are done. We have some bids for different parts of the work and expect a couple more in the next few days. Permits are in the works and our architect estimated they'd be done within days. It sounds like at least some of the work can start right away once we make our decisions on who's doing what. So far it looks like the first stage of renovations might just be do-able within my very modest budget. I hope to have the original part of the house rewired, replumbed, with repaired walls as needed (and one wall removed), painted, polished, and fitted with new fans and lighting. Also, renovation of the single existing bathroom...will the money stretch far enough to cover the walls in limestone? 
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

Terrific story about moving to Merida

If you're wondering why people keep coming to this too-hot, partly crumbling, hard-to-get-to place in a country with a highly publicized drug war (in other parts), Beryl Gorbman captures it well in this Wall Street Journal story.
I find myself hoping it brings lots more people here, and also hoping it doesn't.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Going to the bloggers' conference

For the past couple of years the voices of bloggers have provided information, entertainment, encouragement and sometimes words of caution in our, well mostly my, pursuit of the Merida dream. They share household budgets, renovation stories, experiences with festivals and food, heat and occasional cold, bugs, floods, crime (and its relative infrequency). They talk about fabulous cultural events and occasional culture clashes, learning the language and becoming part of the community. To me they made everything seem possible and somewhat familiar.
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.

In The Yucatan: Neighborhoods: La Ermita de Santa Isabel

Here's a video about the charming Ermita de Santa Isabel neighborhood where I stayed last year. When I rented a little house near the square over the internets, I had very little information about the neighborhood. I was a little bit anxious about staying in an unfamiliar area outside the tourist zone, but I loved it. Isn't it pretty?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

First frost

First frost on the roofs in Victoria this morning. In three weeks I'll be on a plane to the tropics. I'll escape two weeks of my least-favourite month in Victoria. November is usually so dark and rainy; it seems like all the light has gone out of the world.
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

ugly bathroom
who is the dude in our new shower?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Freshening up

Should be cleaning the house in preparation for (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, but instead I've been fixing up the blog. It started because I wanted to use an image of the pasta tiles from the front room of our house as a background picture for the page. The old blog template didn't seem to want to accommodate that sort of customization, so I ended up finding a new one. Then I figured the picture of the mystery building in my neighborhood, which I'm using under the blog title, deserved a bit of photoshop lipstick. The fiddling around just continued from there.
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

Readers have questions...

Some friends checked out this blog recently and had a few questions that made me realize I should fill in some of the details about our wild Yucatan house-buying adventure. Such as: where is it, and what's with the computer people in the images?
Jo-Ann wanted to know which house we actually bought, out of the many I viewed and posted about here last year.
Here it is, the morning after we massacred the overgrown ficus tree in front, in March. The leaves have grown back since then but it needs another pruning to give it a decent shape and keep the branches out of the overhead wires.
Our casa is about a dozen blocks east of the Plaza Grande where everyone goes for concerts and dancing and big events. It's in a residential neighborhood called Chem Bech, which is the name of the market about a block away whose vendors sell everything from fresh fish and fruit to toilet paper. I can't find too much information about Chem Bech online but, judging from the mural on the front wall of the building, it appears that it might have been the historic site of a Mayan market of some sort. I'll research this and get back to you on it.
Here's what the back of the house looks like now
Here's the post-reno concept, courtesy estilo arquitectura

Friday, October 8, 2010

Counting the days

Suddenly I'm just a few weeks away from returning to Merida.
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.