Monday Lull

I had quite a bit of transcription to do this morning and so I was at up and at ’em rather early to get it all done by about 11AM. This would give me time to go run a few errands before a 3PM Skype call with a client for training on my new position.

I was chained to my desk all weekend, so I was desperate for a leg stretch. I decided that I would go to HSBC to make a withdrawal as I literally had only 50 centavos (3 cents CAD) on me and while there, I would pay my internet bill. I would then walk to a Pollo Feliz (Happy Chicken!) restaurant since I’ve been very curious about them since I first came to Mexico and yet never made it to one. I’m not thrilled with the couple of chicken stands near my house since I find they’re not very good value so I thought I’d see how a chain restaurant compares.

Here’s my route. Yes, I use the beer store around the corner as a landmark. What can I say, it’s convenient. 🙂

HSBC’s ATM was feeling generous today and gave me almost only 50s, saving me the step of having to convert bills. I then went to a teller to pay my bill for Izzi (internet). I knew I would have a fee doing it that way versus going to their store, but this was way more convenient.

First thing that happened is that the teller rifled through a bunch of notes and then scribbled things on the piece of paper I gave him with my “reference” (not account) number for Izzi. He would later hand it back to me to see that he’d added a transit code and other information to make it easier for the next teller to take my payment.

He then asked me if I’m a client of HSBC. I said yes and passed over my card. He swiped it, tapped some keys, and then asked for how much I wanted to pay. I told him $600 and passed the bills over. He processed that and then told me there was a cost for the deposit. I can’t remember if it was $10.70 or $17.10, but whatever it was was less expensive than the time and gas to go to Gran Plaza.

That was it! Izzi’s “how to pay” web page says that a payment at a bank should reflect on my account within 24 hours. So I made a note to double check my web app. When I paid at the Izzi store last month, my web app immediately updated with the new payment.

I headed north up the Prolongación Paseo de Montejo and eventually turned west to go back to Calle 60. Along the way, I was puzzled when I passed a random carambola lying in the middle of the sidewalk.

I looked up and was awed.

I had no idea that carambolas grow in Mexico! I always thought they were a Southeast Asian fruit!

I got to Pollo Feliz and was surprised to see that it is both a proper sit down restaurant and a takeaway stand — it’s the Mexican Nando’s! I chose to eat in since I was famished. A half chicken was about $75. The server said it didn’t come with anything, but there were already totopos, salsa, two kinds of onions, and tortillas on the table so I declined a side. He rather pushed and I decided to try “cebollitas,” which, based on the grocery store, I expected to be be green onions.

Well, the onions were small regular onions grilled just the way I like them. OMG. 🙂 Now that was quite a find! The chicken was absolutely wonderful. Between paying $75 for a scrawny chicken with sides I’m not fond of and getting this meaty bird, there’s no contest. And, yes, they deliver. 🙂

Needless to say, I took home leftovers. The purple veggie is pickled onions Yucatecans eat the way that Sinaloans enjoy chiles curtidos, but they’re not spicy. Between those, regular raw onion, and grilled onions, I was in heaven! I had two very reasonably priced lime agua frescas ($20 each) with this as well. With a tip, I came out at $160. Very reasonable, especially for the quality of the food. I was most impressed. I also have to remember their desserts as someone came by with a tray with slices of four different cheesecakes that looked wonderful. I could see myself walking all the way up there one evening for such a treat. 🙂

Heading south on Calle 60, I passed this wonderful place selling Christmas trees and poinsettias — so pretty and it smelled like Canada. 🙂

One thing I love about walking around a city is how you find things that you miss when driving. I took so many notes on my walk of places offering things I need. I was delighted when I passed on store that had something on my “YOU REALLY NEED THIS ASAP!!!” list. I call it a vadrouille:

In European French, that’s a mop, but in québécois, it’s a a big shaggy broom for collecting dust. I have something like 2,700 square feet of floor to upkeep (yes, yes, that’s ridiculous, my house is huge, I know, I know!) and a broom isn’t cutting it. A vadrouille would let me quickly dust all the floors every day or two to cut down on how often I need to wash them.

The vadrouille was only $95. The man asked me if I speak good Spanish. After I said yes, he explained that I have to treat the mop with this product (spraying it on) and then let it dry for four to five hours before using the vadrouille or it would not work. I figured it had to be some sort of oil to attract the dust. The product was $50. So $145 all-in, which sounded like a good price and I liked that I was buying from a little shop in my neighbourhood instead of a chain store.

I came in and treated the vadrouille. The product was foul. I still can’t place the smell although I know I know it. It’s almost like an oily turpentine and it took a lot of work to get the smell out of my hands! Needless to say, I treated the vadrouille outside, where it is now drying. I just did a search and “tratamop” is a an actual generic product here so I should be able to find more easily if that shop were to close down.

It was then time to head home and get back to work!

I’m taking it easy with transcription this week since I’m training and I also hope to be able t0 go buy a new fridge and, once it arrives and has had time to settle before being plugged in, go get some much needed groceries. I was shocked and rather disappointed that a transfer came into my HSBC account in just two business days when it’s normally at least four and that I’m still waiting on a transfer to my Scotiabank account because it would only be two and it’s now been four…  But of course! Anyway, maybe I’ll get to go fridge shopping in the morning and if I’m really lucky, they’ll be able to deliver in the afternoon so I can get groceries on Wednesday…

Well, back to work I go. I thought I’d be done by now (5PM), but I decided to get this post out instead. 🙂

First Month in the House

I can’t believe I’ve been living here a full month now! With my lease having started in October, that means only 22 months to go!

My first month here has been wonderful. 🙂 I know, I know, I’m in the honeymoon period and the glow is going to wear off, yaddi yadda, but, really, it’s been great.

The house is very comfortable, even with it not being fully set up yet, and it doesn’t seem immense at all. It really doesn’t feel like I’m rattling about in a half-empty mansion, although some spaces are echoey. I am pleased that I am making use of most spaces and enjoying all the perks the house has to offer. I was a bit afraid that having lived in small spaces or a few rooms for so long that I would end up spending all my time here in one room (namely my office), but nope!

My landlord is stopping by on Saturday to give me a primer on the water system that I should have asked for before moving in. I’m pretty sure I figured it out on my own after running out the other day, but it will be good to get confirmation that I know everything. I love having potable water in that I can rinse my veggies and my toothbrush in it. I still prefer to use the water from the jugs for actual cooking and drinking, but I’ve gone so far as to rinse my rice with the tap water and not had any issues.

I am disappointed with the hot water system in that there is no hot water to the kitchen and it takes ages and ages to get hot water to my shower. It might make more sense to pay to have a “regadera electrica” (hot water on the demand thingy) installed in my bathroom, but I’m waiting to see my next water bill before I make any decisions. My host in Chelem suspects that the water here is not metered and if that’s the case, then running the shower to get hot water won’t be as much of an issue. Yes, I need hot water at this time of year! It’s really brr in the shower in the evenings. 🙂

The electrical system has been working fine and my surge and brownout protector appears to be doing its thing. I’m expecting my first real power bill any day now and that should be revelatory.

As for the internet, oh my goodness. 🙂 I had one outage, early on a Sunday morning, and Izzi dealt with it in minutes! I’m getting the promised speeds and I have good coverage on the ground floor. Needless to say, I’m super happy. I will be getting a WiFi extender so I can get service upstairs as it is non-existent to poor (not a surprise). I thought I’d be able to live without WiFi upstairs, but I’m setting up my hobby and craft area in the landing and I like to be able to check my emails first thing to see if I need to rush or can take it easy.

I also really appreciate my landline and being able to call Canada and the US as well. The landline is so much more comfortable than talking on my iPhone, plus I don’t have to worry about signal strength.

As expected, air flow in the house is fantastic and between the doors, windows, and ceiling fans, the ambient temperature has been very comfortable and not super humid. It will be interesting to see the difference next summer since we’re definitely going into winter, with the nights sometimes actually being cold!

Now that the rooster situation has been dealt with, I’m finally sleeping well. I’m still using the little twin bed and it is very comfy and definitely easing the pressure of getting a new mattress.

I’m learning my neighbours’ routines and adapting my own to theirs. For example, the mechanic next door tends to work late and can be very noisy between about f0ur to as late as ten, depending on the day. My street, being a rare two-way thoroughfare, gets a surprising amount of traffic. Deliveries tend to start around ten and are quiet through the Mexican lunch hour. So I do my work that needs the most quiet first thing in the morning and in the middle of the afternoon.

The location is just as good as I expected. I have nearly all the convenience of being in centro and none of the headaches, like infrastructure problems, parking, noise, and being surrounded by expats. Just about everywhere in Mérida is near to me and I’m slowly expanding my use of buses.

I am getting a true immersion experience since there are so few expats in this neighbourhood and the few that are here are like me, here to actually live in Mexico and are therefore proving to be a good resource. One gave me a bunch of links to community Facebook pages so I can know what is going on and learn about various nearby services. I’m slow to get on the Facebook pages bandwagon, but starting to realise that many, many businesses use those in lieu of a website and it’s worth looking for a business page if only to get their hours of operation.

I haven’t done nearly as much exploratory walking as I expected to have done, but I do go out for short strolls at different times of day right in my immediate neighbourhood to see what is open when and to slowly figure out a logic to everyone’s schedules and to find out what food is available at what time of day. Tonight’s walk took me a few blocks south of home where I found a torta/hamburger/hot dog place that I’d like to try and, improbably, an authorised Apple repair store! I just checked out their website and it’s not clear if they do work on the actual computers or just software stuff, so I’ll give them a ring to ask if they do simple things like repair keyboards. It sure would be more convenient to walk a few blocks than to go to Gran Plaza or Altabrisa!

I appreciate living somewhere that I can get things easily delivered. I could have set a clock by the water delivery guy today — he told me last week that he’d be by at the same time today and he was! I’m enjoying getting food delivered some nights, especially from places that are open when I want to eat and that locals aren’t eating since service is super fast and the food arrives hotter and fresher. I ordered a pizza the other day and it was out their door in under five minutes and to me in under twenty! I have no idea how they pulled that off, but, yes, it was absolutely fresh and piping hot. I am going to want to try other places just to get a comparison, but with their current deal of a huge one with three toppings for just $100 (plus a $10 tip) and their really good crust, I’m in no rush. 🙂 I also like getting tacos delivered as I get enough for two full meals and a snack for $70 + $10. I haven’t ordered sushi yet for delivery since I’m two blocks outside of their delivery zone and I have to order $125 worth of food. Their prices are low enough that that would mean leftovers and I don’t have a fridge I’d trust with sushi. So I’ve walked over there for a few lunches. 🙂

My goal for the end of December is to have my fridge and a pantry built up. That will leave a stove and island for me to call the kitchen done. The stove I want is on mega sale all month at Home Depot so if I have any surprise influx of cash, I may figure out a way to get it, but I’m not holding my breath since the holiday season could be very slow. Frankly, I’m more eager to get my washing machine! The expat lady who sent me the Facebook links gave me some really good fridge buying advice and I’ve decided where I’m going to go look next week once my PayPal payments for this week land in my bank accounts. One thing that I figured out on my own is to not get a fridge with the built-in water dispenser. As it turns out, the pump to make it work with the 5-gallon jugs costs over $3,000! I can get a separate cold water dispenser for less than $1,000!

Once the big stuff is sorted, I’ll be able to start getting the little bits that turn a house into a home, like wall art, rugs, and plants. It will be lovely to be able to go stroll through a market and to buy something that catches my eye rather than saving that money to put towards a more expensive purchase. Speaking of markets — the city of Mérida got good news recently. The market in centro is getting cleaned up! Hopefully, it will become a place that I enjoy shopping as it would be a great place to look for cool things for my house.

I’m still a little breathless at being here a full year earlier than planned, but I’m glad that I didn’t have that year in limbo after all as I have one happy month down and many more to go. I cannot wait to see what other secrets my colonia gives up and to start taking advantage of all that Mérida has to offer.

Two Months with a Mexican Bank Account

I was able to get a Mexican bank account with HSBC on September 27th. Frankly, I thought it was going to be a headache managing three bank accounts (two in Canada, one here), plus two PayPal accounts. So far, there’s been nothing but positives even if there is a lot of account juggling involved.

First of all, fees. HSBC only charges me about $40 ($35 + tax) per month for the account. The only other fee I’ve had so far was to do an initial cash deposit. So having the account is not a huge additional monthly expense.

Furthermore, I fund the account through transfers from PayPal. I have several semi-regular clients who pay me smallish amounts that I use for my Mexican budget. They pay directly into my PayPal account tied to my HSBC account. This way, I save one currency fee. Instead of having to go from USD to CAD to MXN, I go straight from USD to MXN. PayPal is less than transparent about currency fees so I have to do some digging to see how much I’m actually saving, but whatever it is, the amount will add up.

The hiccup is that I don’t yet trust that PayPal account. I’ve been getting some concerning messages about my transactions getting extra attention, probably because I have two PayPal accounts. This is because PayPal has to follow various banking laws around the world and can’t adequately serve a clientele that lives in different countries. They’re the ones who advised me to open the second account and are now being cagey about what’s up with those messages. It’s a shame — I’ve been using PayPal for a very long time and had nothing but praise for it, but it’s turning into one of those big corporations now where you can’t easily reach a real person.

So that’s why I only transfer in small amounts (less than 2,000 pesos). For anything really significant, I still send the money to my Scotiabank account to withdraw cash there. If a worst case scenario were to happen and I suddenly am no longer able to fund my HSBC account through PayPal, I’d go back to my old method of withdrawing cash at Scotiabank and then depositing it at HSBC for a reason that is explained below.

So what advantages do I get having a a Mexican bank account? I’ve identified a few so far and I’m sure more will come up.

The big one is I now have a debit card. Most stores here accept debit and that has been my preferred method of payment for decades because it makes it so much easier to keep track of my budget (no need to hang on to receipts — just check my statement at the end of the month).

I also don’t have to worry about carrying large amounts of cash, with both the fear of getting robbed or losing it and also of simply not having sufficient cash on hand when I need it. It happened once in Chelem that I was heading to Mérida when I realised that a) the fuel gauge was much lower than I remembered and b) I only had $200 on me. Instead of putting that $200 in the gas tank and then having to stop at a bank to get more cash and then go to another gas station, I was able to use my debit card to fill up.

The debit card also allows me to make online purchases. I have trouble with some sites (like TelCel) not consistently taking a foreign credit card, so that solves that issue.

(But TelCel has a new app now that lets you top up in a few much easier steps — if you have a PayPal account tied to a Mexican bank account!)

Another perk of having a debit card is that I can ask for a cash withdrawal at some store checkouts, saving me from having to find an ATM.

Unlike the Canadian Interac system, the debit card here works more like a credit card as it takes days for your transactions to post rather than having the money come straight out of your account. The amounts that are due to post are tallied up and except for upcoming PayPal withdrawals, your available balance is correct. So that’s not an issue for me.

The HSBC website is a bit of a pain to get through as it has three layers of security, but it works as expected. I have not been able to get into mobile banking and need to make a phone call to sort that out. This is going to have to be done because I can’t pay some things online without a code that I can only get from a functional mobile banking app.

Another useful feature of having the card is that people can make payments against it at many locations, including Oxxo convenience stores or right at HSBC. This is nowhere near as convenient as Canada’s Interac e-transfers, but it comes close. So whenever I start a business here, clients could, for example, pay me at an Oxxo or bank near them instead of coming to my house. Or let’s say I was selling something on the garage sale site but the buyer couldn’t come straight away to me or wanted me to deliver, they could pay me a deposit in advance.

Today, I discovered another perk of having my HSBC account. I went to pay my rent at a nearby branch and there was a long lineup for folks who weren’t clients of HSBC and no lineup for folks who are clients of HSBC. Being a client, I got out of there in record time!

Having a Mexican bank account was a huge piece of the puzzle that is slowly migrating myself over to Mexico and I definitely wouldn’t be without it now.

The Magic of Beginnings

As I approach the end of the first full month of living in the house, I’m starting to understand the magnitude of what I’m getting into regarding upkeep of what is practically a mansion to someone who has lived in an RV for the better part of a decade!

But as I suspected, the more settled I get and keep on top of the daily chores, the more time appears to deal with the extra chores, like taking care of the garden. As a case in point, I found a couple of hours in the last few days to weed and also trim cacti (ouch). I love the view from one of my kitchen windows and it’s even better without tons of weeds!

The housekeeping is taking the time that it takes, but I’m on top of it. I do possibly have a house cleaner lined up to come in once a month just to do the floors and bathrooms in depth to start and am just waiting a month or so until I have the funds to pay a lawyer to draw up an employment contract before I hire her (or someone else if she’s no longer available at that time…).

I did the math and I can earn in less than two hours what it would cost me to hire someone for six hours, freeing up four hours to do something else. I doubt I’ll ever want a full service housekeeper (I’m fussy about having my things touched and not put back in the right place), but if I can work up to have six hours of help per week to do the bathrooms, floors, windows, and dusting of the public spaces, that would be fantastic.

I’ve also been doing some cooking. With the fridge not working right, I’m shopping almost daily, which is good for the budget and health since I’m having lots of fresh veggies and meat. I’ve been mostly buying my food at the Super Aki up the street because I don’t have time to shop-shop these days and they’re so convenient. I buy whatever meat and produce looks good that day.

Yesterday, to my delight, they not only had yellow onions, but they were on mega offer. I was sad that I couldn’t stock up (onions need to be stored in the fridge here if not eaten straight away). Mexicans tend to favour white and red onions, neither of which caramelises the way a yellow onion does (but which are nicer raw!), and I can only think of one other time that I’ve seen yellow onions since I got to the area (I don’t even remember seeing them in Maz). So I got a few of those, as it’s been cooler and less humid and I doubt they will spoil practically overnight.

At the butcher counter, I picked out the biggest boneless turkey breast they had, which cost a ridiculous $30 (2CAD) — I really need to compare the cost of turkey to chicken! 300 grams of ground pork was so inexpensive it was almost free ($17 or about 0.80CAD!). Between the two, I had at least six if not eight meals sorted!

I came in and put together a lovely stir fry with the turkey, onion, carrot, zucchini, and turkey, plus garlic I had on hand, adding commercial sweet chili sauce and soy sauce. The pork will go to making spaghetti sauce in a day or two.

Now, the fridge. It is sadly in need of repair. 🙁 I contact LG Mexico and they confirmed that what I’m seeing with the lights on the control panel is a code indicating a problem with the control panel. The guy who sold it to me said that he can try to repair it for a few pesos or pick it up and give me a partial refund, which, after three months, is incredibly fair of him.

I’ve come to the realisation that I approached the fridge purchase with the wrong attitude — sure, I don’t need a fancy new fridge, but if I lose groceries because of poor cooling and freezing, I’m out even more money. Moreover, while I have no certainty that I will be in this house more than two years, it would take some pretty extraordinary circumstances for me to commit to Mérida for less than four years. So since a fridge is going to be a long-term purchase, I’m going to be buying a brand new one rather than taking a chance on another used one or a repair of this one. The new one will probably be smaller than this one and I’m sad that I’ve missed out on all the November sales, but I’ll at least have some peace of mind that it most likely won’t go out on me as well as a proper warranty if it does.

I should be in a position to make a purchase Wednesday next week. I’m again looking for something fairly low frill and bargain brands like Mabe and Daewoo make nice units at affordable prices, less than $6,000 (about 400CAD) for a tad smaller than what I have now. Some even have a water dispenser, which I have to say would be really nice to have (there’s an attachment available to make this feature work with the 20 gallon water jugs)! I’ve only been shopping online and will be going to local stores to see if they have leftover stock or floor models from the November sales at even better prices.

I don’t know yet if I’ll accept a partial refund on the current fridge. I think I will first try to resell it for more than the offered refund, yes, with full disclosure. The freezer on it is very good and when you put the fridge on the coldest settings, it is is the same temperature as the freezer so it could actually work as an upright freezer. I’ve considered keeping it for that, but decided that I don’t need that much freezer space!

Once I’ve got a good fridge sorted, the next priority will be to do a really good pantry-building shop, then to find a washing machine. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a range by February. I’ve shopped hard for that already since I need one with cast iron grills as well as an oven with not only a broiler, but which also holds its heat. That leaves out anything by low-end brand Mabe, but the next Mexican brand up in terms of quality, Koblenz, appears to have what I want and for less than I’d pay for an international brand like Whirlpool. So that’s something to work hard towards. 🙂 The hot plate continues to serve me well enough, but it really doesn’t generate enough heat. Going to a proper stove will be such a treat!

I’m grateful to have had a really good month of work despite the US Thanksgiving. I was a bit concerned about December since it was such a slow month last year. The promise of another book editing contract eased my worries a bit until everything changed and I was reminded to trust the magic of beginnings. For what else could come with a new house in a new country but a new career?

I started with a new, non-transcription, client when I was in Europe, gradually taking on more tasks. In the spring, they asked me to take on a part-time admin assistant-type role that would have been a dream job. Unfortunately, it was an absolutely terrible time for me to consider taking the job — I had just returned to Canada, was heading back to Haven where I had no internet access and would need to focus on packing, and then I was taking about two weeks to move to Mexico! I was bummed when they said they couldn’t wait for me and had to hire someone else.

Well, that someone else, while great at the job, has even more aptitude for another part of the business and so she’s migrating there and her job is now available to me! We’ve worked out a deal on a retainer so I can feel comfortable dropping one of my transcription clients. I am super excited at the thought of spending half my time doing this sort of work and then spending the other half doing transcription jobs that I actually like and that are truly worth my time.

My big goal for 2018 was to be able to start taking weekends off and this new job will definitely contribute to that. The stars continue to align for me and and I feel so blessed!