Househunting Officially Commences!

Tomorrow, I have my first appointment to view a house! I really doubt this is going to be The One because of it’s location, but I still think it’s worth viewing since it has a pretty typical layout.

The owner said he had another house for me to view and as soon as I mentioned the neighbourhood, I knew I wasn’t interested. It’s one of the new US/Canadian-style car-centred subdivisions with houses that have no character. I clarified that I want a vibrant walkable neighbourhood and an older house with traditional features. Once I haltingly got that out, the owner said that it was clear that I understand what I’m going to get with the house I asked about and he’d be happy to show it to me. We are meeting at eleven and he WhatsApped me the address.

I was then able to Google StreetView the house to get a sense of the neighbourhood. It looks quietly residential (and not dissimilar to my neighbourhood in Almería), in close proximity to a small shop and a Six (beer!) store, but and I’m pretty sure it’s too far west from most of what I want.

I’m going to share a few pictures from the listing, but first, here’s a little disclaimer. I learned from helping friends house hunt in Mazatlán that Mexican real estate listings can be amusing in that very few are “staged” like you see NOB (north of the border). So it can be hard to get a sense of what a space is really like since the photos can show the home full of possessions or with construction materials or even dirty. They also sometimes recycle photos so that when you go see the space, it’s been repainted or redecorated and actually looks better. So it’s really important to go see the homes in person, even if they don’t look great in photos.

From all the research I’ve done, this seems to be a very average house in Mérida in terms of its style and how it’s aging. You can get much prettier looking houses, but the older ones are better constructed for this climate. I’ve spoken to a few construction-industry expats here that I trust and respect and they say that my open-mindedness about appearance is really wise. I’m better off with an older house that needs a good scrubbing and paint job, but which has thick walls, cross-ventilation, and high ceilings than a house with granite countertops, a fancy bathroom, low ceilings, and thin walls. However, both are equally likely to have a terrible electrical system and I was given pointers on red flags to look for in that regard.

So with that said, here’s the kitchen of the house I’m going to see. I really like the collection of liquor bottles! 😀

This is actually a really great kitchen by Mexican standards in that it has lots of countertop space and a few cupboards!

The house appears to have those brick floors throughout the ground floor and I really like them. I also like the arches. I’d ask to repaint the red walls in a more pleasing colour, though.

This is one of the bathrooms and is a very typical older style. I could live with this after a really thorough scrubbing. It has two things in its favour: the grout isn’t disgusting (very common here since it’s rarely sealed) and the toilet has a seat!

Here is another very common element, the staircase that made my best friend go NOPE.


There is a dearth of staircase banisters in Mexico. But get this… I saw the same thing in Spain. My house in Almería had a staircase not unlike this one. Tip: hug the wall. 🙂 One thing that is not clear from the photos is whether this house has one bathroom with a full bath on the ground floor and then two bedrooms upstairs. I absolutely want the guest quarters to be on the ground floor to separate the public and private spaces of the house and also so that older guests don’t have to tackle a scary Mexican staircase.

I’m quite excited about the house itself because it has such character, but, again, the neighbourhood is giving me pause. I’ll report back tomorrow!

In Which I Get a Saturday Off

I worked an extra long today yesterday to complete the work I had scheduled today so I could have a full day off, something I haven’t had in a long time. I would have loved to spend the day at home cooking and hanging out with the dog, but living out where I do and with the schedule I have, I always have errands to do.

Things open late here, so I had a lie-in and a slow morning and then headed to town around 10:30. I stopped first at the Scotiabank at the Galerías and then went into Liverpool to price an immersion/stick blender.

This is something I’ve wanted for ages, mostly to purée frozen fruit, but have done without. My food processor serves the purpose, but it is so much work to clean that I often don’t bother. After The Soup Incident the other day and The Spaghetti Sauce Shambles a couple of weeks ago, I knew it was time to gain the ability to blend soups and sauces directly in the cooking pot.

Liverpool had a few stick blenders, but they were super pricy, just south of $2,000. I know that that’s what a good one is worth, but I don’t want to pay that much without knowing if this is a tool I’ll actually use. So I decided to wait.

I didn’t have anything else to do at Galerías, but I did a quick scan of what other stores there are and I stopped at a fancy (and very expensive — almost Western European-priced!!!) gelato place. There, I tried their amaretto and it was so good I got a scoop of it. I stopped counting the whole almonds in it at 14, which rather explains the $54 price tag for a cone!

Next stop was the Chedraui supermarket quite nearby. Expats here love it and I expected another Mega-type store with tons of imported products and inflated prices on most other foodstuffs. *rereads that* Wow. That could interpreted negatively, but that wasn’t a judgment! I’ve been itching to go to Chedraui, but just haven’t made it there for some reason. Now that I live here permanently, I’m buying a lot more imported products than I did in Mazatlán and whenever someone on the Food Hunt Facebook page asks where to find something, the first answer is usually Chedraui. It sounded like Alibaba’s cave!

To my surprise Chedraui appeared to be the best of all worlds — reasonable prices on Mexican goods and an incredible assortment of imported products. I think I just may have found a rare gem of a store where I could do 90% of my shopping! I could certainly understand why expats are so crazy about it.

One of the first things I did was check out the small appliances section and I was pleased to find a selection of super cheap and mid-range hand blenders all on sale for 25% off. My first choice, Hamilton Beach, was of course sold out. After much pondering, I decided to take a chance on an Oster (which is the same as Sunbeam, really not great quality) kit that had a bunch of different attachments. At $500 (sale price) and okay reviews, I knew that it would be a good experimental model for me.

I then began to make an inventory of what was in the store. It had one of the better frozen food sections that I’ve seen so I put two medium-sized styrofoam coolers (only about $35 each) into my cart and added bags of frozen veggies and… sweet potato fries! Sweet potatoes (camote) are harder to find here than they were in Maz so these will be a nice treat. BTW, full-size coolers are super pricy and I’m still kicking myself for not using the one back in Miranda as a packing box. 🙁

There’s a yoghurt-based curry marinade for chicken that I’ve been wanting to try, but I haven’t had much luck finding a really tasty non-fat no sugar Greek yoghurt here, other than buying massive amounts at Costco. I thought I could find some at Chedraui, but it was proving elusive. I moved to the non-food items on my list, added a very inexpensive and lovely cushion for my computer chair to my cart, and then went to find someone to ask about the location of popsicle moulds when… a lady at a demonstration booth asked me if I wanted to try some non-fat no sugar Greek yoghurt! It was really nice, the kind of plain yoghurt I could eat as-is, so I asked her for a tub of it. She then asked me if I wanted the free popsicle moulds that come with it. I guess some things are meant to be! I had quite a laugh about that.

Unfortunately, I then had a bit of an accident. I’m not sure how I did this, but the little toe on my right foot hit the back of the cart. It really hurt, but I tried to shake it off… until a helpful store employee informed me that I was leaving a trail of blood behind me and that I’d left my toe nail back near the mayonnaise. OMG. The guy was super sweet, telling me not to worry about the mess and handing me wet paper towels and a bandaid, but I was of course mortified. My mind was obviously not on shopping after this and I headed to the checkout.

There, I was able to sign up for the frequent shoppers’ club. I’ll have to see what that entails. There are so many such clubs for major stores and services in Mexico. I need to get one for the cinema next time I go.

A cart guy helped me bring my shopping to my truck, unwrapped my coolers, and began to pack them with things that had to stay cold. With the back of the truck being an oven, I wasn’t sure the coolers would be enough, but there wasn’t much monetary value in them to make me nervous about the experiment.

Off I went to Costco, where I started with a lunch of pizza. I actually didn’t buy much today (although you’d never guess it by the size of the bill!), but I did pick up a box of acrylic tumblers I’ve been looking at since the first time I went and which finally dropped in price. Glassware just doesn’t make sense in Mexican kitchens (too much tile) and I haven’t been happy with the cheap glasses I’ve picked up. The owners of the house have similar tumblers in different shapes that I really like so I know my 16 tumblers in two sizes and eight colours will serve me well.

The only folly I made was picking up a very small brick of Tilamook extra old cheddar for something like $270. The Kirkland brand cheddar I picked up last time was rather disappointing and so I’ve had good cheddar on the brain. I won’t get in the habit of doing this because I wouldn’t pay that much for Tilamook in Canada! But, of course, with Mexican cheese being so inexpensive, even today’s folly still makes the average price of cheese down here affordable.

Like at Chedraui, the cart guy helped me pack my cold things into the coolers. I had just barely enough room and so I was glad I had two. But his help was most appreciated in loading up the heavy pallets of water and almond milk. I haven’t had any luck with any of the providers of 5 gallon jugs of water in Chelem (in the sense that my digestion has been suffering when I drink it, although it’s fine for cooking with and making coffee)) so I’ve been buying the 1.5L bottles of it at Costco. That’s going to stop when I move into the city, but right now, it’s the best option.

I thought I was done, but then I remembered that the cleaner had asked me to pick up a few things things for him that I would have picked up at Chedraui had I had them on my list. So since I had to sort of go in that direction anyway before I could turn around to go north, I headed to Mega, but I didn’t dawdle there at all. I had way too much food in the truck and I was completed tuckered out. It’s a given that it’s hot here and I try to ignore it, but the truck not having AC really does me in.

It was coming around four when I got in. Puppy was on his best behaviour to let me back the truck into the yard and then unload. My frozen stuff was still frozen!

Puppy and I played a bit, I jumped in the pool (not refreshing in the least!), and then I chilled with a beer.

So it was not a particularly relaxing day off, but it was good to get some groceries in. The cleaner is coming on Tuesday and I’ll have a package to pick up at Walmart by then so I’m going to try to get that day off too! I’ll have to see what’s playing at the cinema…

First Dibs

Another large contract has ended, so I’m going to have a lot less to juggle in the next few weeks. The clients I have right now appear capable of filling any gaps in my schedule, so I’m happy to slack off a bit as I enter into August (August already!) and not look for anything else.

But yesterday was a pretty full day and I was looking at working late into the early evening when I got a message from a lady on the local garage sale group I belong to. She is an ex-ex-ex-expat in that she’s a Mexican who moved to Canada then back to Mexico and is finally returning to Canada for good. She’s doing some major downsizing ahead of return north and is pricing things to sell quickly.

Some weeks ago, she was selling a bunch of Pyrex dishes for very little and I unfortunately was too far down the line to score any of it, which was on my wanted list for ages. My kitchen has been very well equipped in Miranda, but one can never have enough mixing bowls that can go in the oven and the microwave and Pyrex is the best. It’s also super expensive and savvy thrift shops price it accordingly.  She was practically giving it away, but was vetting her buyers to make sure she got some that would appreciate and use the Pyrex rather than turn around and resell it for a profit.

Yesterday’s message to me was that she had three more pieces that she’d decided to part with since they don’t fit in her luggage and I could have first dibs on them! I couldn’t believe it because they were three of the exact pieces I wanted — a large bowl with handles and two medium-sized bowls! The colours, blue and orange, were a bonus!

Even though I really didn’t have time to go out yesterday, she was in Progreso and I needed some groceries. So it made sense to take an hour and a half or so to go pick up the loot. Well, not only did I drive into a major storm, but there was a huge accident right around Bodega Aurrerá, so traffic was veeeeeeeery slow and there were no detour signs, resulting in a lot of confused people. I finally made it through the mess and across town to the seller’s home, which I found with no trouble using a combination of Google Maps and my GPS.

When I showed up, she asked if I’d be interested in a fourth bowl for a token sum, and it was another piece on my wish list, a small bowl I could use to heat up a bowl of soup or serve salsa in, and in a cute yellow! Yes, of course! Here’s my haul (which nests perfectly), for just $320 (about 24CAD or 18USD):

I only have one more type of Pyrex dish on my wish list now. I’m inordinately pleased with my treasures. 🙂

I then made my way to Bodega as best I could considering the one way roads and closures. I really needed to get home, so I got through my shopping list quickly. Just as I was heading for the till, I remembered that they sell roasted chickens, which would make a super quick dinner when I got home. I went to the chicken counter and there was just one left, but there was a time stamp on it that showed that it hadn’t been sitting long (only about 20 minutes) so I was pleased. However, there was also a man waiting for service… An attendant finally came out to serve us and started with me so I said that the man was ahead of me. He said, “Oh, I just want that chicken, but you can serve this lady first.”

Eep.

I said that I wanted the chicken, but, obviously, the man had first dibs on it. The attendant said she’d have more in about 15 minutes. I thanked her but said I couldn’t wait so I’d pass. The man told me not worry, his wife always takes forever to do her shopping and he could wait for a fresh one so, please, really, have the chicken that’s there.

I could have kissed him. 😀

Then came a very long wait at the till to pay. Bodega is affiliated with Walmart and has the same problem of not enough cashiers for the volume so I’m used waiting. It’s a good time to read trashy magazines. 🙂

To get home, I had to detour literally halfway to Mérida, so I didn’t get in till well past seven. I bolted down some dinner, gave Puppy some love and attention, and went back to work. The job wound up being shockingly difficult and I didn’t finish till 11:30 (I thought I’d be done by 10:00!). I really hope that’s my last time having a job that finishes that late; it just messes up my sleep schedule too much!

The Game Is On!

The last two and a half months of ludicrous work hours have paid off. By the time all the July and straggler June receivables come in in the next week or so, I’ll be in a position to start house hunting!

I found what I thought could be The House on a real estate website and contacted them some weeks ago. They happened to get back to me tonight. Funny timing!

They actually caught me while I was out for dinner. Monday has normally been curry night, but the curry place is taking a break. 🙁 (They did make that a bit easier on me by sharing their recipe for The Best Peas I Have Ever Had.) I decided to take a chance on La Barca de Chelem, the hotel/bar/restaurant a couple of blocks away that I’ve been purposely avoiding all this time (they are way too convenient). But I was in a celebratory mood and had already budgeted the money to eat out.

I showed up just past five, too late for lunch, way too early for dinner, but they said their restaurant is open all day. The menu had a pretty good variety of things with prices being so-so (Yucatán has generally been slightly more expensive than Sinaloa). I was a little annoyed at myself for settling on a burger, but there were onion rings on the menu and the pairing would be nice and I also wanted to know if there’s been a decent burger within walking distance all the time that I’ve been here…

With my order, I requested a beer. Their selection was dismal, so I settled on a Tecate and then went out to the pool area to wait for my food.

My onion rings came out first. I was surprised/pleased that the server made sure I knew this was ranch dressing rather than mayonnaise since I’d declined the latter on my burger. I found the rings a bit doughier than I’d like (I like my onion rings really crispy), but the veggie within was perfectly cooked. This could have been dinner on its own and totally worth the $40.

The phone rang just as I finished up with them and I caught just enough to understand it was a guy from the property management company. I replied, “I understand, but, please, my Spanish is so-so. I’ll need you to speak slowly.” He agreed and then informed me that the house I was interested in isn’t available. However, his tone about that changed when I told him I’m looking for October and would be open to a two-year lease…

But he pushed on and asked me what parts of the city I’m interested in, how many bedrooms I want, what amenities I’m looking for, do I want furnished or not (fridge and stove would be nice), and my budget. This last one was where I knew the guy wasn’t leading me on and would be willing to work with me. This is because I had no idea what the hell a presupuesto is and he took a second to figure out how best to reformulate that with “What price per month do you want to pay?”

We chatted for close to 10 minutes and then he said he’d have a look and send me info on what what he found that could be suitable for me. Sweet! Now, you might be surprised that I’m willing to go with an agent, but I think I prefer going this route. Yes, I will likely pay a bit more than if I was renting directly from an owner, but things will be done by the book. Plus, an agent can do all the leg work for and I can just show up and see what he’s found. There is so much available on the market right now that it’s a bit overwhelming. Once an agent has a clear idea of what I want, the selection pool will get much smaller and I’ll save a lot of time. I thought I’d be able to take public transportation into Mérida ($), but the buses are always full so I have to drive ($$$).

My burger came out just as the conversation ended. The server had brought me my mustard in little packets that he had actually cut open for me. I was very dismayed that the burger was amazing — great bun, real beef with spices (and so juicy!), and real cheese that was brown and crispy on the edges, plus lettuce, tomato, and onion. The fries that came with it weren’t worth touching, though, and I was glad I’d had the onion rings. Thankfully, this burger was $80 so while it would be cheaper than curry ($150), it’s still too expensive to be a regular lunch the way Patti’s incredible $40 burger and fries were on Isla!

Happy and sated, I headed home to do some chores, play with my dog, and begin to dream of the Home that I have finally begun searching for. It’ll be hard to be renter again after so many years of being a homeowner, but it’ll be way better than being a house sitter. Living in other people’s spaces is fun for a while and a great way to travel on the cheap, but you’re never really home and it gets wearing after a time. At least here, I have some of my own furniture and, of course, most of my own personal belongings (including kitchen equipment), so that makes things much easier (there are no words for how much I love my desk!).

I can’t believe we’re a week to August and I only have two full months left here!!! Of course, I’ll be here most of October, but I should have keys by then and soon as internet is set up, I’ll likely work there a few days a week so I can start receiving furniture deliveries and do other tasks to make sure the house is all ready for me by the end of the month.

July was a bit of a rough month and I know I need to get out and start living a bit beyond the walls of this compound. August should be an interesting. The way things are going, I will have to make a real effort to slack a bit because nearly all my clients wish they could keep me busy full-time! It’s really great to be in that sort of position and to be choosing how much money I make in a month (to a point) rather than sitting around waiting and hoping for work to come in. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point and I’m incredible proud of myself.

Well, it’s time to jump in the pool. How spoiled am I? 🙂