Book vs. Real World Spanish

I spent a good part of the day chatting via Whatapp with the real estate agent for the house I’m thinking of renting. Negotiations have started and I’m meeting her and the owners for a second walk-through on Monday.

The texting experience is interesting. I experienced similar issues in Spain where there were times that the texts came in a wholly different language, the Spanish/Mexican version of text speak. She also uses a bunch of idiomatic phrases. I don’t know how long it took me yesterday to realise that “Don’t be evil/mean,” probably actually meant, “Don’t be mad,” since it was followed by a text requested some personal information, rather than my having put my foot in my mouth!

The texts were flying today and sometimes I wasn’t responding fast enough so I’d reply to her to give me a second, I was trying to figure out what the hell she said because a literal translation made no sense. At one point, she wrote, “Are you here?” and I thought she meant was I in Mérida, possibly to have a last minute appointment. I took that literally and said, “No, I’m in work hell in Chelem.” That earned me a “ja ja ja” and the laughing-crying emoticon and a note that if I Mexican asks me that again, it just means do I have time to chat!

I know that I have very little boots on the ground street speak experience and that I’m not going to break that barrier without being willing to make a fool of myself. So if something doesn’t make sense, I admit it and ask for a rephrasing. I can only think of one person who has ever rolled their eyes for me at that, and it was in Barcelona. Mexicans are just so considerate of non-native speakers, especially when they are making a valiant effort to communicate in Spanish even if things often get garbled in translation.

I really can’t wait to share more details of the house. I have a firm grasp now of exactly where it is in relation to everything else I’m interested in in Mérida and just how much of the city will be walkable. The location is beyond perfect. I’m going to have that village within a village feel that I wanted, being minutes (a few blocks) from the neighbourhood’s central square and market.

Price negotiations have begun. I know that the house is well within my comfort zone, but I do want to know roughly how much I might expect to pay for utilities to get a better idea of what I’m getting into. I never once used AC in Maz and my power was about $550 for two months ($275 a month) running fans 24/7, so I imagine that unless power in Yucatán is much more than that, my bills should be only a tad higher, accounting for more ceiling fans going and my planning to run a huge fridge. I’m sure guests will use AC and drive up the power bill, but that’s only fair considering how often I plugged in at other people’s homes when I was RVing! Internet (fibre optic, woot, woot) shouldn’t be more than $500 a month. I have no idea about water or if the house has gas, little details to iron out on Monday.

Once I get to the lease stage, I’ll talk a bit about the legalities and the process here in Yucatán. I’m glad I’d done a ton of homework ahead of time and read through a bunch of legalese because renting long-term with a contract is nothing like renting month-to-month. The couple of expats I asked about something called an aval de propriedad had no clue. It is a very important thing here in Mérida and I’m so glad that when the agents bring it up, I know what they mean and how to answer the question.

These are very exciting and educational times for me. I can’t believe that I went from feeling like I was blathering in Spanish just two and a half years ago to having done the majority of my immigration stuff in Spanish and now I’m negotiating a real rent contract, not just a verbal agreement. I have to say that there are a lot more rental options in Mérida if you don’t need an English speaking agent and/or landlord and I look forward to discovering and sharing with you an area that I’ve yet to see discussed on expat forums and blogs.

The Goldilocks Zone

What a long day! I really need to either get the AC fixed in the truck or buy something with air. It would make days where I have a lot of running around to do much more pleasant. One of the real estate agents today said she’ll get me the number of someone she knows whom she’s certain could do the job for only about $1,200 (100CAD)! If that’s the case, I’ll get it done!

There was a lot of running around back and forth in roughly the same quadrant of Mérida. I planned quite a bit of time between appointments so that I’d have time for contingencies and to make it to air conditioning to wait. I also decided this would be a food treat day and I was going to let myself buy all little manner of NOB luxuries I usually scoff at down here. 🙂

Here’s a map that will give you an idea of where I was running around and where things are in relation to each other (click to embiggen):

Here’s a link to yesterday’s post with pictures of the houses.

My first appointment was at 9:30 in Montecarlo. That meant leaving at 8:30, a time that I’m normally getting up these days (!). But I had slept so poorly Tuesday night that I managed to pass out early last night and woke up exactly one minute before my alarm!

The Montecarlo house had several strikes against it — it’s far and not easy access to centro, it’s in one of those cookie subdivisions I swore I would not live in, and it doesn’t have covered parking. But it also had some pluses, being super close (walking distance!) to two shopping plazas and everything else I want.

I did not expect it to wow me and it did. It was by far the cleanest house I’ve been to and has the best maintained bathrooms. And, get this, it has a guest house!!! The kitchen was as great as the pictures made it out to be. It needed colour (don’t tell all seem to?), but the layout was very pleasing and the price was very right.

The other house this agent has for rent rented just as I arrived and I didn’t like another one she’d told me about because it’s in Francisco de Montejo. So that was it for her today.

I had an hour and a half to kill till my next visit. I went straight to Plaza Altabrisas (where the Apple repair shop is located) because it was super nearby and I knew I could get a coffee and a bathroom there. For coffee, I went to Starbucks. Holy moly, a tall regular black drip coffee in Mexico is more expensive than in England — I could actually get a macchiato in England for the same price! But a nicely portioned “mini” chocolate croissant was only $17 (super cheap by Starbucks standards) and when I reminded the cute barista/cashier that almondmilk (one word in the Starbucks world) is a $9 surcharge that he forgot to add to my order, he winked and told me not to worry about it. Awww. 🙂

Next, I headed to a real estate agency just north of Colonia México. I was early, so I decided to go out to Campestre to scope out the location of my 2:00 appointment so that I could have lunch without worrying about finding my destination after. I went back to the real estate office and the agent took me in her car to Churburna de Hidalgo, which is 5KM straight north of centro. The consensus is that there isn’t much south of centro in Mérida — the neighbourhoods are rougher and there’s the airport. So for the northern part of the city, Chuburna de Hidalgo is almost exactly right smack in the middle.

The neighbourhood for this one frankly wasn’t much to look at, but the location was probably the best I could encounter, right on the main north-south road so you only have to walk a block to grab a bus to go to the beaches in Progreso or south to grab a bus to centro, and just about all the services I desire except possibly the cinema are in a 2KM radius walking distance (sometimes more by car — dang one-ways!), including the Lebanese bakery.

This house was fully walled and accessible through automatic garage doors. Yes, plural. As in three. Inside the walls was an inviting front entrance.

They layout of this house was okay. Not wow, that’s exactly what I’m looking for, but close enough. The office would have to be on the ground floor. I liked the bright kitchen that I could fully close up and hide and the size seemed right for one person. I was surprised that it had a lot of really good quality furnishings, including brand new twin mattresses in the guest room and two sofas in the living room. Since I have my office furniture and a hot plate, I’d really only need a fridge to move in. The price was a bit high, though, and I was glad that I was going to see another one today at the same price to get a point of comparison.

I then went back to the rental office to get my truck and went back to Plaza Altabrisas because there is a Chili’s restaurant there and if there was day to be silly and eat at an American restaurant chain, this was it 🙂 I was going to go with my standby, their margarita chicken, but they had another take on that dish where its ingredients, and more, are made up into a “fresh bowl,” kind of like a salad. There’s seasoned rice, romaine, pinto beans, pico de gallo, avocado, and more. The $120 price was very right for that type of restaurant and the meal was quite light and very yummy. No regrets. 🙂

It was then time to head back to Campestre to check out a tiny house with a surprisingly high price tag that was justified by the location, just a little northeast of Chuburna de Hidalgo.

I was not impressed that there are at least two expats on that street, right by the house, and expat-oriented services nearby. The house was probably super cute in its prime, but it needs a lot of work… that is being done. Every issue that I noticed and didn’t comment on was brought up, like the mould is from a roof leak that’s been fix and they will disinfect and paint with the antifungal paint. The kitchen, though, was glorious, with a long stretch of countertop and a huge deep sink that was perfectly maintained. The house had a lot of light and air. The master bedroom, bathroom, and the room I’d use as an office were very nice. The guest room and bath needed me to use my imagination based on what the agent said they were going to do (the thought of a refurb was a plus). I loved the backyard, half sunny, half shady, and that there was a bodega (storage room) and maid’s quarters in the back that with a bit of scrubbing could actually be decent guest quarters.

My next appointment was at four, so I headed to Gran Plaza. There, I got myself another rolled ice cream. They had maraschino cherries this time, which I knew was what that ice cream needed (I love almond flavouring!), and combined them with mango and pineapple. Perfect! The toppings weren’t as good this time, though, and I just went with raisins, chocolate sprinkles, and coconut.

While I was at Gran Plaza, I remembered that I needed dog treats, so I went to Comercial Mexicano. I came in through the mall door. To get to the pet section, I had to cross the book section. There, I found they were having a “buy one, get one of equal or lesser value free” sale on a bunch of books. I selected two very nice cookbooks. I like getting recipes from Mexico because they have the correct names for the more special ingredients. Sometimes things get lost in translation. There was a lovely book about sushi in this collection, but I don’t want to make sushi at home. 🙂 One book is more Italian-cuisine theme and the other more Tex-Mex themed (!). I think I will get a lot out of them.

The store didn’t have much for dog treats, but I found a big bag of biscuits in a brand I know he likes that would be perfect for continued training. Spoiler: he worked really hard at fetch tonight to get his biscuits. 🙂

It was then time to head to Los Pinos to see the house that charmed the pants off me in photos. It was located right near a shopping plaza and walking distance to everything I want, set in a quiet cul-de-sac. It also had an automatic gate, but was not walled, and had a very nice front porch. The house was many things I thought it might be. I loved the ground floor office with so much light and cross-ventilation. The kitchen had beautiful old Mexican tiles and an amazing pantry, all of its shelves tiled. In the yard was another building that housed the maid’s quarters, but they were surprisingly rough and not immediately a place I could see myself bringing guests. Up the stairs in the main house were three large and airy bedrooms and two bathrooms. So like the house in Chuburna Hidalgo, not an ideal layout, but close and this house was the first one I’ve visited that I could deem to be truly gorgeous. At the same price point as the Chuburna de Hidalgo house, it offered a heck of a lot more house for my money, but felt enormous.

It was getting late by this point, I was cooked and exhausted, and Puppy’s dinnertime was coming up fast. I was eager to get back to my little piece of paradise, ie. the pool. 😀

Which reminds me, a couple of agents have helpfully pointed out that water here is cheap and you can get inflatable pools at Costco… 🙂

It was a great day of house hunting and I’m 99% sure that I’m renting one of the four houses I visited today. Care to guess which one?

Here’s a possible hint to narrow the list: one of the houses did not have fibre optic internet in the neighbourhood, making it a definite no.

Now would be a good time to address some comments Colm made in reply to yesterday’s post because they bring up a few interesting points about house hunting here.

He mentioned that some houses are very nice, but the neighbourhood isn’t. I’m seeing both here and in Maz that there are cookie-cutter type neighbours like we see in suburbia in Canada and the US, slum-type areas like you see on many Native reserves, and then you get the mixed neighbourhoods that can have a few really nice houses mixed in with rougher ones or vice-versa. These are the neighbourhoods I find most interesting because they tend to be well established and have all the services like a tortillería and taquerías and the street parties and communal living that I love about Mexico. The more homogeneously wealthy neighbourhoods tend to be more insular. The poorer neighbourhoods also tend to be communal, but do not have residences I’d be happy in. Of course, I’m generalising, but those have been my impressions. So I’ve learned to not discount a neighbourhood that might look a bit “rough.”

He also talked about bars on the windows which I’ve known as rejas in Sinaloa and Spain, but are called protectores here. They come down from Middle Eastern and North African custom brought to Spain and then to the new world, where people in that climate didn’t need windows, but did need to keep kids in and livestock and the odd bad person out. In Mexico, like in Spain, protectores on windows do not usually mean that the house is in a bad neighbourhood. They are a part of the architectural style. Of course, they do serve as protection and their presence apparently lowers home insurance rates. In houses that don’t have AC, I find them a luxury because you can leave your windows open when you go out.

Finally, he asked about flooding. Mérida has had two bad manmade floods this year (one today!!!) from mains broken during construction and from downpours. These events happen in centro and in the older neighbourhoods around it. When I started reading about such things, I made a mental note that maybe I really would be farther out from centro and today’s break confirmed it. So far, I have only visited one house (the very first one I saw, in Pensiones) that has been in an affected area.

I’m sure there’s more I need to say, but this post has been super long, it’s past midnight, I’m exhausted, and I have a huge work day tomorrow. Please excuse any typos I missed and I look forward to sharing which house I’m going with. 🙂

Eternity in an Hour

I cannot believe how much has happened over the last couple of days. It feels like I’ve lived a week since Monday night.

The big news this week was Tropical Storm Franklin, which has just gotten upgraded to the first hurricane of the 2017 season and is battering gulf coastal Mexico from Campeche to Veracruz. Mérida and Progreso were on the outskirts of the path, so we really weren’t expecting much to happen. I still made sure Monday night to shut down with all my appliances fully charged so that if I woke up to no power and internet, as Franklin was supposed to roll in over night, I’d be set. I also arranged for a light work day.

Well, Franklin wound up being a dud here. I’m really glad I did not stress out about it!

But… 3:30 yesterday afternoon, I lost power.

It wasn’t until almost 8:00 that I realised that I was the only one on the block without power, clueing in when I saw the streetlights and my neighbours’ lights on. I called the solar guy and he said that all I could do was call CFE (the power company) and he gave me the emergency number and walked me through the steps.

The number has been down for a solid 24 hours. I never managed to reach CFE by phone. I tried the Progreso office this morning and the two times someone picked up, they let me say about three words before saying, “No hablo ingles,” and hanging up quite rudely. Wow.

I did, however, make contact with them via Twitter, of all things. Last contact was at 8:45 when they asked me for my service number.

I had a fitful night because the power would come on for about 30 seconds every few hours and it kept waking me up even though I had turned off most of the breakers. I didn’t want to shut them all in case the power did come back so that the fridge would turn on.

When I finally got up at 7:45, I saw a message from CFE at 7:00 saying that they had dispatched crews to my area.

I was sure I knew what the problem was. The house has new “smart” meters that have very low tolerance to low voltage situations, even if they’re not at brownout levels. Over a series of exchanges on Twitter, I learned that this was what was happening and that others with smart meters in my area were also affected. So I knew not to expect a work crew at the house.

Somehow, I got through a ridiculous amount of work today. I kept the phone and computer charged through the truck battery. Get this — TelCel had gifted me a whole GB of data, so I didn’t have to pay anything for the bandwidth that got me through last night and most of today! I’m pretty sure TelCel has my business for life at this point.

It was about 5:20 when the power started to come on for 30 seconds and then shut right off. This went on until about 5:45, literally as I submitted my final job for the day, and then the power finally seemed ready to stay on. I let it go for a bit, then turned on the AC in my suite. All seemed good. My UPS (uninterrupted power supply) for the computer is advises me of power issues and said that all was good so I eventually turned on the other units.

What was frustrating during this outage is that the property has a grid tied solar system that was useless to me. My friend Shane wrote a very informative bit about grid tied solar and why it is incompatible with batteries. I’ll post it in the comments for those who are interested. Thanks, Shane!

Needless to say, I needed a cold beer after this and was very grateful to have La Barca within walking distance. I had a really surprisingly good burger with XX Ambar that helped restore my mood immensely.

Now, while all of this has been going on over the last 48 hours, I’ve also been organising a marathon house viewing schedule tomorrow! I’m seeing three houses for sure, five very likely, and possibly six!

First up is a house in Montecarlo (seriously, I really am moving up in the world, LOL). The exterior made me realise that I need to add covered parking to my List and the location is probably too far northeast, but at $7,000 a month, it will be worth a look. It has one of the better kitchens I’ve seen, with tons of counter space, a double sink (!), and no grimy cabinets. It unfortunately has those floors and that wall colour throughout, which is doing nothing for it.

The agent for this one has two nicer houses to show me, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to fit them in before my next appointment. They are $10,000 a month each, so it would be interesting to see what the extra money will get me.

The next house is also up there price-wise at $9,000, but by far the best location so far, right by the main north-south street (Calle 60) and the northernmost edge of the neighbourhood is only 5KM from the heart of Centro. This is the first house that I’m going to see that I think could be my first hard consideration. It also suffers from unfortunate blandness, but has some nice built-ins.

I’m curious about the third house as there are no inside photos. The agent says that it has the layout I want, but is “small.” That might actually be a good thing. Many of the houses I’m looking at are way more house than I need! This one is in Campestre, which many Mexicans have told me should be where I would be happiest. I dismissed the neighbourhood last year as being too far north, but now it’s in the running. The outside looks cute and it’s only $6,500.

Finally, there is a house that I may not be able to see until the weekend, but they’ll try to fit me in late tomorrow afternoon. So far in my house search, I’ve gotten butterflies in my belly twice, and this house is one of them. The first house that caused those butterflies is not available. This one is. I had a very definite idea in my head of what I wanted my first real Mexican home to look like and this house is the first I’ve seen that matches that vision, as evidenced by this room:

Look at those windows and doors! This is a house built for this climate.

It is way more house than I need (three bedrooms and two baths upstairs, maid’s room with bath and a study on the ground floor!) and $9,000 a month, but it speaks to me and I will not ignore it.

These houses all represent such a variety of prices, styles, and locations that I should feel ready after to make an educated decision and to start asking about things like internet service in the neighbourhood. Tomorrow is going to be a huge day, but I’m glad I’m going to fit in so many viewings!

RIP Brutus

I got some very sad news from Haven yesterday, that Charles and Caroline’s beloved dog Brutus had, after a period of decline, finally crossed Rainbow Bridge.

Brutus is the dog who really converted me to dogs and made me think that one day, in the right place and at the right time, I would want such a personable and loyal companion. He was such a sweet soul and a grumpy old boy. I knew that when I cuddled him for the last time before leaving in April that it would be the last time. I’m glad that we got that final week together. It was so very special to get up in the morning and sit by the fire with him and Charles and have my coffee.

Here is Brutus in August 2014, when he was still in his prime.

Brutus, you were well loved and will be sorely missed. Thank you for making our lives a little brighter.

Charles and Caroline, I’m sending hugs across the vast distance that separates us. Far in body, close in spirit. Love you both.