Staying Put: the Location, both in Mérida and in Mexico

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A recent comment that I received is the perfect opener to this post:

It takes a lot of courage to embark on a new life in a foreign country

This is where I have to reiterate something I have said many, many, many times. Mexico was the least brave choice I could have made. I moved to a developed, modern country that I can drive to from my home country and in which I speak the language. A brave choice would have been something like moving to Cambodia. Mexico was a comfortable choice.

I get asked how I picked Mérida and, really, was there any other option at this time in Mexico’s history? Yucatán is by far the most secure and prosperous state in the country, as evidenced by the mass exodus of Mexicans to Mérida and the environs. Mérida is also safe from earthquakes and direct impact of hurricanes.

Mérida’s only real negative aspect is the heat, which even the locals complain about and which is laughably news here, but is something a healthy person can adjust to. Accepting the heat (and the humidity) by giving in to a local schedule of staying out of the sun for the bulk of daytime hours, sleeping in a hammock, supplementing natural ventilation and shade with fans, wearing breathable clothing to prevent chaffing and absorb sweat (rather than making the mistake of wearing as little as possible) all build resiliency to the climate. I used to have to do 12-hour shifts and sleep out in minus 40 weather. The skills to survive that transfer to this climate as well — if you can’t beat it, you might as well embrace it.

Mérida is well connected to the rest of Mexico and the world by an international airport and the Yucatán has great roads (outside of Progreso) to explore a state filled with cultural and historic riches beyond all imagining. And it is quite a modern city that offers all of the services that someone who has spent most of her life living on the edge of modern civilisation might crave. I’ve spoken with Mexicans from other regions about wanting to move to another city in a few years, just to see what else is out there, and I keep being told the same thing over and over again — I’m already where I would have ended up. Well, that won’t stop me from going exploring, but it’s certainly something to consider.

So often when I talk about my pleasure at having access to services like fast, reliable, and affordable internet or Uber or an international chain restaurant, I get a reaction of derision and a haughty, “I came here for the simple life,” as though that makes their life here more noble. You know what? You don’t have to come to Mexico for the “simple life.” You can have the simple life in the Gatineau Hills or southern Saskatchewan or the Yukon or even a Texan beach. I have done my bit of living with no services, having to haul water and chop wood and make everything from scratch. The “simple life” is an enormous amount of work and the ease of urban life was for the first time appealing. But after a decade on the road, I simply cannot afford to return to an urban life in a Canadian city that can offer even a fraction of what Mérida offers while having such a high standard of living. And that has nothing to do with my having taken my decade off — if I had remained in my government position, I would still be making almost exactly what I was making 10 years ago, but, according to a recent rental ad, my rent would have doubled! I would not have been able to continue living in such a centrally located urban neighbourhood if I wanted to keep up a similar standard of living.

Looking at friends of comparable age, it seems that we have generally done best when we have given up on the life we were raised for because we accepted that that world we were prepared for no longer exists. Those of us who have outrun the steadying decline into — and normalising of — genteel poverty are those who have managed to continue earning a Canadian-level wage while moving to places with much lower costs of living. But ultimately, for all our adventuring, we still crave the comforts of modernity, like nights cuddled on the couch with the dog in a beautiful home while watching Netflix and waiting for your UberEats driver to come with a sushi meal. It’s sadly funny that the people who defined having arrived in life by having access to such comforts tell us that we can only have those things if we follow a very specific path — any other and you do not deserve comfort. Ha!

So, really, in terms of choosing Mexico, Mérida makes the most sense for me at this time in my life with my need for a bit of stability to focus on growing my business. The location of my home within Mérida is also excellent as Mérida isn’t a huge city, but she’s not easy to get around in.

I’m almost exactly in the middle of “north” Mérida. Many residents of the north do not venture south of the Cathedral unless they are going to the airport as there are not many services down there. I go periodically and it is not an easy part of the city to get to, but homes are much less expensive. I have friends who are rare expats making their home in the “south” and their proximity to the periferico (the ring road) gives them the best of both worlds in terms of car access to the north and low cost of homes. But as someone who likes to be able to walk and bus as much as possible, I don’t think I’d be happy there.

The next post will talk more in depth about my neighbourhood, but I will say generally that I am very well situated right near a major north-south road. Mérida is a city with a strong car culture, which is the most negative thing I have to say about living here. Public transportation is inadequate and the road infrastructure can’t keep up with the population growth. Going just a few kilometres in Mérida is an ordeal, especially in a vehicle without air conditioning that doesn’t fit in underground parking structures. Being so centrally located, I spend less time getting places and taking Ubers makes financial sense. It also means that outside of the dead heat of the day, I can walk almost anywhere I want to. I’m not doing as many 6-10KM roundtrip walks as I’d expected, but within a radius of 4KM roundtrip, I have 99% of what I need and I take advantage of that. It’s funny how getting on a bus or in an Uber or driving to go somewhere feels like work most days, but being able to walk 2KM there doesn’t.

So the longer I live here, the more activities I add to my schedule, the more friends I make, and the more businesses I start to frequent regularly, the happier I am living where I do in Mérida. Next up, I’ll explain why my neighbourhood is such a good fit for me.

Staying Put: Bonita and the House

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Staying put for financial reasons is all well and good, but it’s not the only reason. Like, if I wasn’t happy in my house and the house was causing me stress in ways other than financial, moving would probably be a good idea. But that’s not the case. I adore my house.

Before I get more into details about why the house is working for me, I want to address why staying here for Bonita was something that had to take precedence over my own needs. Remember that I adopted Bonita at age 11 or 12 after she had spent 10 years living in a smallish outdoor enclosure. Bringing her here was a huge trauma that took months to get over. Now, she is queen of her little domain. The yard is large enough for her to get some proper exercise, there are a variety of spaces to explore, there is shelter, and there is easy access in and out of the house. I would have had to work really hard to find another house that had the right yard for her. She also knows the people who come in and out with any sort of regularity and is happy to see them. Moreover, she knows what is normal noise on the street and what I need to be alerted to — yes, I have a guard dog!

B has two modes: hyperactive puppy or sedate geriatric.

Now that Bonita is settled here, she doesn’t like to go out. I thought that she might appreciate a trip to the beach or to a park, but that just stresses her out. She’s always happy to go out initially, but it only takes a few minutes for her to have enough and express a desire to go back home. I always have to remember that she is an old girl and that she does not have the needs of young pup. So with that in mind, I think that moving right when she has finally truly settled in would have irreparably traumatised her.

It took more than a year, but B actually will cuddle with me now, especially when I’m working. She likes to press against one of my feet.

So the house. Sure, I dreamt (and dream) of a house with more character but you know what? I’ve looked at a lot of houses here and unless I want to live in a damp, dark, and poorly ventilated colonial in centro or spend really big bucks for a mansion, I’m living in a very average middle class home in Mérida and I’m not likely to find one with character. They’re really conservative here and things are just as uniform and monochrome as middle class Canada and the U.S. have become, so it’s up to me to add colour and character within my budget and limitations as a renter. I’m about to embark on a project that would solve my biggest issue with the aesthetic aspects of the house, but I don’t want to talk about that until I have something to show for it. I’m super excited about getting going on it, but, as always, finances dictate how fast projects move forward. 🙂

The house is really comfortable as it’s built for the climate — I remain convinced that a smaller home with poorer ventilation would have ultimately cost me more because I would have had to rely a lot more on AC. The house very bright and airy (and private!), has the right number of rooms for me in the right proportions, and it is well maintained. The design of the house is such that it is almost entirely shaded from direct sunlight. So that combined with the privacy wall around the property means that I can leave most blinds open and let sunshine pour in. I never realised how important natural light is in a home and now that I have it, I’ll never want to do without. And to further show how well the house was designed, when it rains really hard, there are still doors and windows that are well protected enough that they can be left open, so I can still enjoy a breeze rather than let the cloying humidity build up.

A bright morning on the patio after a storm. I will have tomatoes in a few weeks!

Privacy is a big thing. I love that I can get fresh air and sit outside without necessarily having people see what I’m up to. I also like that if a stranger rings the bell, I’m only letting them see into my front yard, not my whole house. I don’t really feel that disconnected to my street, though, because I frequently step out to go for a walk. I know my landlady would just drive out of the parking bays and not talk to anyone. So I’m well connected to the routine of the neighbourhood and I know what noises I need to go investigate and which are just life going on as normal.

I also have privacy in the sense of having my own space when guests come, be they there for just a few hours or for a few weeks. I don’t have to share my bathroom and if I want alone time, I can retreat to my spacious master suite and let guests watch TV in the living room. I can also shut the door to my office and let guests live their life without bothering me. I still haven’t given up on the idea of doing Airbnb here and I’ve gotten a good sense of how that would work with my routine and my need to feel like I have my own space (doable with the right guests!).

I use all the spaces of my home, and most daily. It’s wonderful to have the upstairs landing as a creative place where I can leave unfinished projects without them being in the way. The maid’s suite is my “catch-all” room and a great place to do furniture painting projects as it has a door to outside. The guest suite is there when someone needs it and is very comfortable now that it has blackout curtains and a double bed. The kitchen is fully furnished now and I enjoy my meals at my dining room table, the breakfast bar, or the rear patio. I have to say the side terrace is the only space I haven’t used as much as expected, but it has a power outlet nearby and I have on occasion sat out there with the laptop.

The upstairs landing has amazing light during the day. I need to find some nighttime lighting so I can use this space when I get off work!

My office is still nowhere near the office of my dreams and is poorly situated in the house, but I know the rhythm of my neighbourhood now and when noise will ebb and flow, so my productivity isn’t affected. I do love how I get a breeze through the room and how it is flooded with natural light for most of the day without there being direct sun. And, of course, Bonita has an exit to outside from it, so she’ll frequently go out to run around or dig in the dirt or chase bugs while still being able to occasionally pop in and make sure I’m okay.

Mid-morning in my office. Finally have the desk arranged optimally. I like being able to look towards the carport, the yard, and at my flamingo. 🙂

The master bedroom caused me grief for a long time. It was just too loud and bright — I didn’t have the protection of the walls around it to tune out noise and one of my neighbours keeps replacing his rooster. I really didn’t want to move down to the maid’s room or even the guest room — I love having my private upstairs retreat. I investigated all manners of noise and light-proofing. As it turns out, a hammock, a good quality sleep mask, and the cheapest small box fan from Walmart run at top speed ended up solving my sleep issues!

So all told, I’d rate the house a solid 9 out of 10, losing points for bathrooms and a kitchen that need updating and its blandness. There’s no way I’m going to get a 10 at my price point, especially as a tenant. I knew this house was special when I first visited it and it still feels like that now. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude at this house being my home. I remember doing some unpacking 18 months ago and thinking, “I’m going to be really happy here.” And I was right. I really think I would have more to lose than to gain by moving in terms of the quality of life I have in this home.

A future post is going to discuss some of the promises I made to myself regarding upkeep of the home and how I manage all the chores that come with living in such a large space. But I will add here that having a landlady who is on top of the maintenance really makes a difference. I have to pay for little bits of maintenance myself (like a plumbing leak), but she’s on top of the big things, like having major electric work done to resolve my issue of wild voltage fluctuations and changing the float in the roof tinaco so I stop running out of water when it gets stuck.

Of course, a house doesn’t exist in a bubble, so the next couple of posts are going to talk about where the house is located within Mérida and even all of Mexico. Then, I’ll delve deeper into details about my neighbourhood and how I’ve fallen back in love with it after having a bit of a tiff.