Uneventful Trip to Mazatlán From Mérida

My flight was scheduled for 8:25 this morning, so I wanted to be at the airport by 6:15. I woke up without an alarm at just past 5:00 and it took me about 20 minutes to finalise my packing (almost had to sit on my suitcase for it to close, even though I didn’t have anything extra!). I didn’t bother with coffee since I could surely get some at the airport. Once packed, I made certain I got everything and that the apartment was tidy. There is a cleaning fee included in Airbnb bookings, so I don’t go overboard, but I make sure the trash is out, dishes are done, the bathroom counter is wiped off, the floor is swept, etc.

When I booked the apartment, I was disappointed that my Mérida home base was going to be such a bland space, based on the pictures. Funny how the walled courtyard, spiral staircase, and balcony made it into a very special home, and one I will miss! I intend to rent there for a full month when I return to Mérida for good to give me ample time to house hunt.

It was a quick and easy walk to Paseo de Montejo, even with my luggage. I really need a better second bag for flying than my tote so that I can hang it from my wheeled suitcase because the tote is very heavy to hang from the shoulder. Well, I do have such a bag, but a laptop doesn’t fit in it. My luggage suited the purpose for which it was bought originally, but now needs to be reconsidered. But I digress.

There was a taxi waiting at the Conquistador Hotel, just as my host had told me there would be. $180 to the airport, versus the $270 to get from there! This was expected, actually. There is a special contract to go from the airport, but not to. A tip is to actually walk out of the airport to a city street and grab a cab from there. I will do that if I land in daylight next time. I was at the airport in record time, just past 6:00 a.m., and no one was working the InterJet desk… I ended up waiting until almost 6:30 to check in. Well, better early than late!

I suspected, correctly might I add, that I would not be able to get a decent coffee after security, so I did that first. A decent coffee was a reasonable airport price of $40. But I was so shocked by the price of $55 for some coffee cake that I didn’t have the wherewithal to tell them to forget it! I thought Canadian airport prices were insane!

Security was a joke, I’m sorry to say. I didn’t speak to anyone other than to be told to go back through the metal detector after I made it beep the first time. No one even checked my paperwork.

The only thing open on the other side was a kiosk that tried to sell me 200mL of water for $38. I declined. Sometime later, another kiosk opened and I got 1L for $35. Still highway robbery, but I had water for the day (in fact, I just finished it). I think TelCel has upped their prices because I have been burning through pesos this week and I ran out of money on my account again while waiting for my flight. I didn’t trust the kiosk to not have a markup on adding TelCel time, so I didn’t buy any (I’ve only so far encountered one place with a commission, in Mérida, and it was $1, which wasn’t worth complaining about).

My wait in Mérida went by quickly and we boarded on time. The flight to Mexico City was uneventful and I think we even landed early. Beverage service was a cereal bar (yuck) and an apple juice (very yum — I haven’t had it in ages and forgot how much I love it!). Deplaning took forever, though. I had a window seat in the very last row with two people between me and the aisle, so I knew I wasn’t getting off that plane anytime soon even when the line got moving. I finally had to give in to my bladder and ask the other two ladies to move so I could use the on board washroom. They were very put upon and I heard someone across the aisle whisper to them to be kinder as I must have been desperate to put on such a show. Indeed! It’s amazing how much more easily one can deal with being stuck on the tarmac for an extra 10 minutes with an empty bladder. 😀

We finally deplaned and I headed straight for the food court area to get a coffee, pausing only at a TelCel kiosk to add $100 to my account. It was too early to get my gate info for the next leg of my trip anyway since I had a nearly 3.5-hour layover. Starbucks was the coffee place with the shortest lineup and a short was a reasonable (by airport standards) $29. I even interrupted the barista to ask for milk since there was none at the condiment bar and specified skim. I’m getting more comfortable with some uncomfortable aspects of Mexican culture, like elbowing your way to what you want!

I did a bit of work while enjoying my coffee, but it was awkward without a mouse, so I gave up and went off to hunt for some lunch. Food prices were outrageous, of course, so I decided against a sit down meal and instead had a slice of pizza. Still pricy, but the slices were large. It and a tiny bag of Frito-type things with the plane beverage service got me through the next eight hours, so it was actually pretty good value. I declined the ketchup I was offered to go with it, but accepted the Valentina “hot” sauce to dip my crusts into!

Lunch done, I plonked myself down and watch an episode of Defiance on my iPad (how did I ever travel pre-iPad — so much entertainment in the profile and weight of a thick magazine or slim paperback!). By the time that was done, it was past 1:00 and we were supposed to board around 1:30, so I went off in search of gate info. My flight was marked as on time, but with no gate number, same as my delayed flight to Mérida had been, so I had a bad feeling. I went to the info kiosk to ask and was told gate two and that the flight was on time. Yay!

The flight was almost empty, so it boarded and took off very quickly. I’m not a nervous flier, but the airplane shook and rattled so much as we took off that it actually made me nervous. The flight was a bit bumpy and the landing rather rattly. Some folks actually clapped when we came to a stop in Maz! Too funny since I have been on rougher flights than this one. It was nice to have the aisle to myself. I can’t believe it costs me twice as much to fly across Canada in a sardine can as it costs to fly across Mexico with elbow and knee room!

It’s quite a distance from the terminal to the exit at the Maz airport, so I got a workout, avoiding everyone offering me hotel transport. I went to the taxi desk (similar setup to Mérida where you pay a set price) and forked over $550 to get home straight to Isla. The alternative was $380 to go to the embarcadero, $8 to get on the lancha, and $30 for a taxi on this side. When you consider that it’s about $400 to go to Centro from the airport, $550 to Isla really isn’t that terrible considering the odds of getting a passenger back is unlikely. This is a new service now that the road is mostly paved and what isn’t is well graded. I much preferred to spend that money and get home in 20 minutes or so than to save a few bucks and take over an hour to get home.

The driver asked me what hotel I’m at on the beach. I said that I’m not at a hotel, but my house is near the beach. His eyes went round and he gasped out, “I hope you know where you’re going because I won’t be able to find it!” I laughed and reassured him that I was going “home” and knew where we were headed!

Ah, loco Mazatlán drivers… We almost hit I don’t know how many obstacles between the airport and home, including what I think was a very sickly dog, a guy on a bicycle, a few topes, two coconuts, a bus, and a couple on a motorcycle. But soon, I could see Icebox Hill. Home, home at last!

I have directions pretty well down pat, left here, right there, a bit further, etc. so we made the few turns to my house without any issues. My driver was surprised by how big and nice my house is. I made sure he knew how to get back to the main road (it’s easier to go around a different way than get the car turned around and go back the way he came) and then headed in.

Phew, the house smelled musty! I immediately threw open the windows and turned the fans on high, then Febreezed the hell out of all the fabric! I then impressed myself by unpacking everything, but didn’t put on laundry since it wouldn’t have time to dry. I went out some time later to watch the sunset on the beach (which I missed more than I thought I would!) and was struck again by how noisy Isla is. I don’t know how many people have told me that “Mexico is noisy.” Horse hockey. Some parts of it are noisy, yes, but I’ve been to two cities now that aren’t and one that is so it seems that that generalisation is false.

My cupboards were barer than Mother Hubbard’s, so I went to Miguel’s for dinner. I’m pretty much “meated out” after all the rich greasy Yucatán food, so shrimp burritos were very appealing and hit the spot. I don’t see myself having any pork or beef for quite a bit! Miguel overheard me saying how light Yucatán cuisine is on produce and gave me extra salad and roasted onions, bless him. Angela was interested in how much shopping I did. Luis (their school-age server) was mostly interested in the contrasts been Maz and Mérida and why I’d rather be there than here on a more permanent basis.

Among my reasons, I gave language immersion and he said that my Spanish is “sufficient.” I argued that sufficient isn’t enough for me, I want fluency, and for that, I need to get away from ex-pats and really immerse myself. I think the only day last week where I actually spoke any amount of English was Tuesday on my ruins tour, as well as speaking French that evening. Like Durango, it was a very intensive immersion experience and I know I came out of it with more vocabulary and capacity for understanding oral Spanish.

I can get by on sufficient in Maz, but I’m not sure it will be enough for living in Mérida unless I stick to the expat zone, which goes against the point of why I want to live in Mexico in the first place. I am not delusional enough to think that my language skills are enough to actually thrive in a Spanish-speaking community yet. I haven’t had to deal with a real emergency, like a car or medical accident, nor have I had to negotiate and sign a legally-binding rental agreement, figure out vehicle licensing requirements, make an insurance claim, open utility accounts and dispute charges, etc. I still can’t enjoy a Spanish movie or TV show without Spanish subtitles and the radio is still pretty much bla bla bla. I’m lazy and I won’t make the effort to get past sufficient if my very survival doesn’t depend on it. Maz just isn’t big enough for me to get away from English.

So after talking about my scouting trip to Mérida for some time, it has come to an end. Now, the grunt work begins. And this is where I announce that I am more likely than not postponing my move to Mérida to next spring, maybe even the summer. I intend to go to Eastern Europe for the summer and what’s expensive is getting there, not being there. It makes no sense to pay all that money to go for just three months. I’m thinking of doing my allowed three months in Bulgaria, then perhaps three months in Greece (which I’m told is cheap…) after a few weeks in Turkey, and then flying back to North America from North Africa…

Moreover, my passport expires in March of 2017 and most places require your passport to be valid at least six months beyond the end of your trip. This means that I would have to be back to Canada by the middle of September. So it makes sense to get home and deal with my passport renewal before I do anything else. Then, I can take time to really think through what I need to do to get myself set for Mérida (like consult that tax accountant I still haven’t found), including whether or not I should be selling Haven, before jetting off to Europe.

Coming back to Canada next spring would mean I’d be packing up and closing Haven in warmer weather, even if it means landing in Mérida at the peak of the hot season. I just don’t see myself packing up Haven in November or even as late as December, as I had planned to do. Haven just isn’t set up for winter living, and I don’t think I want it to be!

The move to Mérida is a huge deal and not something I’m willing to do on a whim. I want to do this right and will take the time it takes. Knowing where I’m going and that I have a good home base waiting for me when I’m ready for it takes off a lot of pressure. Mérida is concrete to me now and therefore one less thing I need to think about. Onward!

Landed in Mérida!

Oy, it’s been a very long day, but I’m here!

maz to mer

I made the mistake of going to bed at my usual time yesterday and so I was up at 6AM, not good when you know bedtime won’t be till 11PM your time/midnight local time.

I had 5.5 hours to kill till departure for the airport so I had a lie in, then made breakfast and finished packing and cleaning the house (I always give the floors a final pass at the last minute). My ride showed up 10 minutes early, but I was very nearly ready. Better early than late when you’re on your way to the airport!

The road out is just about all paved!!! It’s unbelievable. I heard that there is talk of paving more of the main street on Isla, too. The times, they are a changing! Needless to say, we were at the airport in record time.

Since I wasn’t sure that my luggage was under the weight limit for carry on, I elected to check in at a desk, something I haven’t done in a long time. To give me less to handle, I only had my small suitcase and my tote bag, which was full to bursting with my electronics, documents, liquids, and more. It was heavy, but I made the right call. Check-in, done in Spanish, went smoothly and I was given tags for my bags confirming they had been weighed and were to good to go. I was warned that there would be a 10-minute delay for my flight, but assured that I had plenty of time to make my connection…

I’ve spent a lot of time on the main level of the Mazatlán airport, but had never been upstairs. All there was up there was a couple of restaurants and shops, plus a Carl Jr’s hamburger stand. I was pretty sure there was nothing beyond security for food and, being a full three hours early for my flight, I’d decided to have lunch at the airport. The two restaurants were ridiculously expensive, even for an airport, and not appealing, so I caved and got a fast food cheeseburger. Should have brought my own lunch!

I then went through security and, wow, that went very quickly! I didn’t get a pat down (it helped that I remembered not to wear a bra with underwire!) and I didn’t have to take my shoes off. My liquids were packed correctly (which the lady at check-in had confirmed anyway) and I didn’t have to turn on my electronic devices. My suitcase did raise a flag and they asked for permission to open it. What was I going to say, no?! As I expected, they were curious about my stainless steel French press, but accepted my explanation without even touching it. I did get a laugh for having marked my bag of white powder as “leche con polvo” (powdered milk)!

There was just about nothing on the other side, just a jewelry stand and a small bar/cafe where I could have gotten an even more expensive lunch than on the other side. I did spend a whopping $15 on a bottle of water and also $40 for a coffee. My first thought was that was a crazy price, but it was an Americano, so espresso from fresh ground beans with hot water. It was so smooth I was able to enjoy it black. Totally worth the money!

It was a long wait. I really could have left home later, but I’d rather the wait than to be rushed. I watched an ep of the show I’m currently enjoying (Defiance) on my iPad and that helped 45 minutes go by quickly! I also finished a funny book about the career of a customs inspector in the UK, rather à propos reading for my location.

We finally boarded, 10 minutes late, but we were off very quickly. I’ve only ever before flown Air Canada, West Jet and one of the U.S. airlines. InterJet had something none of those airlines have: leg and elbow room.

It was interesting to see Maz and Isla from the air as we took off. The airport is so close that I could spot my house as we were taking off. I am not joking/exaggerating! It was a case that I had to know exactly where to look as we made our ascent, and I did!

We only had about a 1.5 hour flight, but still had a snack and beverage service. I accepted a small bag of rather yummy Frito/Dorito-style chip things with a bit of kick, but was at a loss as to what to ask for a beverage other than water. When flying in Canada, I always get ginger ale and it’s a huge treat, but I knew they wouldn’t have that in Mexico. I asked if they had a soda with lime hoping to get something like a 7-Up or Sprite. The flight attendant pondered my question for a couple of seconds and said, “7-Up?” Yup, that worked. 🙂 I only have soda on airplanes because the carbonation helps me clear my ears.

I read through my flight and we were in Mexico City in no time! It’s huge! I thought Chicagoland (where I’ve landed several times) was big, but this was civilisation as far as the eye could see! Traffic was bad! As we landed, I could see many roads were backed up.

By the time I’d deplaned, I only had about an hour until my next flight was supposed to board, so my first priority was to find my new gate. It wasn’t on the boards, so I asked at an Interjet information kiosk and was told to come back at 7:00, about 45 minutes later. So I went off in search of food and found a rather uninspiring food court with Subways, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wings, and a few other stands. I picked Sbarro’s, which I think is a U.S. pizza chain (I only know the name from the movie The Terminal), just because pizza sounded good and their pizza looked decent enough, even if a slice with toppings was $72! I went with just plain cheese for $51 and had to grudgingly admit that it was pretty good, especially for airport pizza. 🙂 I then popped into a 7-Eleven to buy a litre bottle of water so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding some when I got to Mérida. That would give me enough to get me through the morning, including making coffee. $11. Even Mexico airports gouge you on everything!

It was 7:00 by that point, so I went back to the information kiosk, where I was told to come back at 7:30. What? That’s when we were supposed to leave! They said a word I did not recognise. I know “delayed” as “con retrazo” (very close to the French “en retard). They used a word that started with d and it took me a second to process that this is what they were saying. Delayed?! OMG. I asked how long and they said about 30 minutes.

Thirty minutes was fine. I’d told my host I would be there between 10:00 and 11:00 and a half-hour delay put me at the apartment around 10:15, 10:30. Absolutely no reason to panic. I still had no idea where my gate was going to be and found a seat within sight of the information desk. Minutes after I sat down, a man in a bright orange security vest came up to me and said “You’re going to Mérida?” I replied in the affirmative and he told me to go to gate three and that we’d be boarding around 7:45. Talk about service!

This was my first time traveling through a country where I can barely understand the language when spoken and I’m glad I made it through as well as I did. There were some English announcements, but the accent was so strong it wasn’t really not much clearer than the Spanish.

Our plane finally arrived and the passengers on it deplaned in record time. I was one of the last ones to be allowed to board. Air Canada will board rows such and such, then such and such and Interjet has a similar zone system. I understood this on my first leg of the trip, but couldn’t find my zone on my ticket. This time around, I had plenty of time to locate it way at the bottom. Zone one, since I was in row six. Great, I’d be one of the first to deplane!

We boarded with great efficiency and were taking off in no time at all. I was very impressed! It was another very short journey, just enough time for a snack and a few chapters of a book before Mérida was sprawled below me.

I’d texted my “greeter” in MC and hadn’t received a reply, so I decided to call him before getting in a taxi. Always risky. I don’t do well on the phone at all. I thought we agreed that he would be waiting for me when I arrived, but had a feeling I’d be left waiting on a curb…

Like Maz’s airport, Mérida’s airport has official taxis with set rates. I’d been told it would be $200 to go to my apartment, but they insisted on $270. Fiiiine.

I knew I wasn’t in the proverbial Kansas anymore when my taxi driver actually buckled up… and didn’t drive like a maniac… and obeyed all red lights and stop signs. What I could see of Mérida was very clean and tidy, with clear road signs. All a sharp contrast to Mazatlán. I told the driver this and we started chatting. He says that April and May are the worst months here weather-wise.

He found the apartment without any trouble and I knew I was at the right place because a) the street had a sign that matched the street name I’d been given; b) the building had a number that matched the address I’d been given; and c) the building looked like the picture from the Airbnb site. 🙂

So there I was on the curb. The door into the apartment complex was locked. I was a bit earlier than I thought I’d be, the journey from the airport having been super quick, so I figured the guy was going to be along shortly. But after a good 20 minutes, I was beyond ready to be settled for the night (and grateful to be in a neighbourhood that felt safe!) and used the last 4% of my battery on the phone to try my “greeter” again. Augh, he’d been inside one of the apartments the whole time waiting for me to call!

He rushed out to show me to my place, in the back of the complex and up… a spiral staircase. Be still my beating heart! The only way I would be more excited about my apartment was if it also had a turret. I’ve always dreamed of living somewhere with a spiral staircase!

The apartment is large and seems clean. I got a whirlwind tour and discovered that I have a balcony! What a bonus! I am a tad disappointed by the kitchen, though. I don’t even have a decent pot in which to boil water tomorrow. So I have some shopping to do. I’m going to be here for eight days and it’ll totally be worth it to get some cheap things to be comfortable. Just from tonight, I know I need:

– a pot and a frying pan;
– a new sponge for the kitchen;
– wash cloths for the bathroom (I knew I should have packed some — even my hotel in Durango didn’t have any);
– trash bags (although shopping should will take care of that);
– toilet paper

No big deal at all. It’ll give me a chance to figure out where I’ll be buying home goods when I move to this neighbourhood! 🙂

I had a shower and then crashed in bed with my computer, where I am writing this post. I am very grateful that the bed is super comfortable, a huge improvement over my bed on Isla, even with a topper!

I think I will be happy here for the next eight days. Let’s see what the morning brings.

I apologise for any typos in this post. I’m starting to see double. 🙂