Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How things change

Here's a great way to start a new year: dropping in to Mérida  for a week. This is how I imagined it would be someday; making more-or-less impromptu plans, and slipping back into our casa like a pair of comfortable shoes. There will be a few minor errands to accomplish, a chance to shake off the chill of a West Coast winter for a few days, and time, I hope, to see a few friends and neighbors.

Meanwhile I'm trying to comprehend the many different traditions and celebrations in Mérida at this time of year: Ramas and posadas and Guadalupe day and the Three Kings. The calendars for Mexico and the Yucatan are packed with celebrations and holidays, and it seems that we land on different ones every time we arrive.  I wonder about practical things, like, will the buses run on their usual schedules? What offices and businesses will be open or closed between New Year's Day and January 6?

Here in Victoria, old traditions and rituals shift. This Christmas was different, and perhaps a glimpse of what's ahead. For the first time in 22 years, our son was not home with us, but instead, at the other end of a Skype connection in Tokyo, where it was already Boxing Day.

We're fascinated by his  descriptions of  the cultural differences there, too. Who knew the traditional Japanese Christmas dinner is KFC, and 7-Eleven is a four-story retail mecca that sells everything including furniture? La Princesa wants him to bring her back a robot.

We begin to see how our own routines and obligations will change, in the future that's not quite so distant anymore. Already it's more than two years since we put in a house offer and began our Mérida "initiative". Since then I've met, online and otherwise, so many people also tilting southwards, preparing and making the move to Mérida and other locations in Latin America. I identify with  Lee and Barb, writing about paring down possessions. Others like Sara and Ty uprooting their lives and plunging in to become full-time Mérida residents. Our Victoria friends Paul and Jody packing up their lives in Canada to go live and work in Honduras for CUSO.

Everything changes, and faster than we think.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Green"-ery on the ceiling: Our new LED lights

Photo by Victor Cruz/Estilo Arquitectura
It's very exciting, for me, anyway, to see pictures of the new ceiling lights in our sala. I know, I am a nerd. They look like plain little fixtures that you'd see anywhere. Nothing as impressive as a dramatic arch or beautiful tiles.

But they are LED, which means they will use hardly any electricity, which in Mérida, and all over México, is quite expensive and produced by highly polluting methods.

The new LED lights go along with our solar hot water heater. It is a wonderful feeling to stand in a hot shower and know there's no gas-fired tank at the other end of the pipe. I often hear people say these things are not economical; that is, they don't pay for themselves, or at least not in a decent period of time. Neither do cars or many other nice things, but that's another discussion.

 The economic argument for solar water heating is actually pretty strong in México, anyway. Here in Canada a solar water system can cost $7,500 or more (US or CDN, your pick) and because the light is weaker here, it doesn't provide sufficient hot water for a household. With Mérida's broiling sun, you need no backup (though you might need a second one for a large household), and it costs $1,500 U.S. or less, installed, including an electrostatic water softener.

 I'm not sure why they cost so much more in Canada. But the cost made it a no-brainer here. Sure, it's a lot more than a new gas-fired water tank that will rust out in a couple of years, but for me part of the attraction of living in Mexico is the idea of living more lightly and reducing our resource footprint.

 If I had a ton of money, I'd get a photo-voltaic solar system to replace at least part of the household electricity. Mexico has a net-metering program so the electical utility company will give you credit for feeding excess power from a PV system back into the state power grid. Haven't yet met anyone who has done this, but it's a long-term dream.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Internet service: Telcel Banda Ancha review

Back in March I found one kind of solution to my unhappy state of internet-less-ness.

I had been wandering from park to café, wearing out the laptop battery, getting a sore butt from sitting on wooden benches for hours.

With some helpful advice from a couple of local store employees, I got a broadband internet USB stick, called Banda Ancha, and bingo! I had working internet access for the first time at our almost-empty house. It does make a place feel cozy.

At that time I posted that I would give a more fulsome review after using it for awhile. I was reminded of that when someone on the Yolisto forum asked this week about broadband USB "dongles". During my last stay in Mérida the little device got a good workout and I now can say a few things about it:

Ease of use: It's pretty easy to install, once you figure out where you need to enter different bits of information (such as the CURP, which you will have if you have a Mexican cellphone. I'm not sure how else you get one). When I returned after several months, of course I forgot everything I had learned but it wasn't hard to plug it in and get it running again, once I had figured out how to top up the account.

Price: It's advertised as 199 pesos for 2 weeks, but that appears to be based on light usage. I went through more than twice that amount in a week. So it would start getting expensive, compared to a cable or telephone company internet service, if you were going to use it on an ongoing basis.

Performance: It was pretty good. It does time out sometimes, but you just have to reconnect, hear the little jingle, and you're back in business. There were a couple of evenings though, where it would not connect at all. It might have been what technical people call a PEBKAC error (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair). Or not.

Speed: Not fast enough for Skype. It would crash, even without video. I missed my little chats with the family and the dog.

Recharging the account: Your Banda Ancha stick essentially has its own phone number, so you can go to any shop that will recharge your Telcel account, give them the number and the amount you want to add to the account, and hope for the best. This worked for me the first time, when I did it at the Soriana supermarket checkout. The second time, at a small independent shop, it didn't work. Perhaps the account wasn't entered correctly.

My conclusion: I was glad to have it, and still think it's a good solution for occasional use, if you don't need enough bandwidth for video or skype. But I'm getting Cablemas internet service installed this month.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter blahs

Feeling sluggish, slowing down. It's hard to do get motivated to do much after work these days - so tired. Can't seem to execute plans to get out and get some exercise. A man on the radio is saying this is a normal response when the days get shorter and colder and greyer here. He's suggesting one of those lights that trick your body into thinking the days are longer.

I wonder if this wintertime energy deficit is less of a problem for people living closer to the equator? These days I'm trying to work out a date for getting back to Mérida in the next couple of months. Despite my own laziness, work is underway there, as well as here in Victoria, and I can't wait to see the results of both.

In Mérida, we await the installation of cable and internet service - the comments I read about long waits and no-shows by installer gives me a bit of concern, especially with holidays approaching. The other work that's about to be done includes replacing one hideous door and one that doesn't open properly with two new ones. They will be custom made to match the sole remaining original door in the house. We'll get new iron protectadores for the back door. As well, a couple of damaged sections of stone wall at the back of the house will be repaired, raised and I think some lighting will be added. This abandoned space will become an extension of the garden until some far-off day, when we see the need to build the casita in our architect's plans for a little extra guest or studio space.

In Victoria, the long-delayed plan to transform Fallingdowne, our rambling 1911 eyesore, is currently in the hands of a local designer, Will Peereboom. Since it has nothing to do with Mérida, that project has got its own blog space here.

...will be replaced with ones similar to this.
These worn-out doors (pre-reno)...