Tag Archives: Retiring in Mexico

It’s beautiful and relaxed, but . . .

holaLiving in another country is full of challenges and this is certainly true of Mexico.  Below are the four biggest challenges that I found in my two years on the Yucatan Peninsula.

1.  Language.  Let’s start with the biggest cultural wall you will run into – language. Most of us from north of the border, come here with little to no Spanish language skills. And, let’s face it – this is their country. It would behoove us to learn to speak Spanish, even rudimentary Spanish, if we want to live here. But, for some reason (arrogance, indifference, laziness?), we believe that everyone should/will speak English, and we settle right in without even an “hola” to our name.

This one thing alone will make your life five times more difficult in Mexico. Yes, there are many Mexicans who speak English, or a bit of it, but there are many who do not. And, there are some people who may speak it, but don’t like all these gringos in their country, so they won’t use it, particularly if it helps you in any way. (On the other hand, there are many Mexicans who will go out of their way to help you, even if they don’t speak English.)

Best advice: Start learning Spanish before you arrive, but at the very least, make an effort to learn the language of the country.

2.  Time.  The second thing that was not a comfortable fit for me is the difference in the concept of time.  Be prepared. Unless your patience makes Job’s look puny, you may become disenchanted with charm of living on “Mexican time.”  Don’t get me wrong, much of the problem was mine – I am not, in any manner, a patient person.  And whatever patience I was endowed with by nature, or learned at my mother’s knee, was used up long ago by my four children.  I am, however, a fairly practical, and practically fair, person, so when a “repairman” doesn’t show at the appointed hour of 9:00 am, I am not crushed, do not panic and murderous rage does not set in.  I actually got to the point where if the job was done by the end of the appointed day, I was willing to call it “good.”

But, when days and even weeks would go by, without even a phone call, my last nerve stretched to the breaking point.  To me, a gringa of “Type A” persuasion, this behavior seemed dismissive and arrogant, as if they could only be bothered with me when it was convenient for them.  As if, all I had to do with my life was to wait around until they showed up.

However, to a Mexican, my reaction is inexplicable.  They have a totally relaxed attitude about time, schedules, appointments and that over-riding “north of the border” concern, efficiency!  To a Mexican, it will happen – in the meantime, just relax and enjoy life.  Since I’m retired, and time for me is a copious commodity, it’s particularly good advice.  But, alas, my Type A personality nurtured by a culture in which efficacy is revered cannot deal with it.

Best Advice:  If you’re not long (very long) on patience, then try before you buy in Mexico.  Rent for at least two years.

3.  Third big issue – Trash!!  Here is another area where the Mexican attitude and mine are polar opposites.  My European roots dictate that I make every effort to keep my “home area” clean (how far your area of responsibility actually extends is a personal matter, but most likely includes the street in front of your home).

A Mexican’s home area stops literally at the walls of the casa.  This becomes clear when, as part of a morning’s rituals, all the dirt and debris from inside the house and yard is sweep out into the street.  I used to marvel at my neighbors in Progreso as they fastidiously swept everything from their property into the street every morning where, of course, it was tracked, or blown back in as the day went on.Trashy Beach

A walk along the Progreso malecon (“boardwalk” to gringos) was a bi-polar experience.  There were palm trees, white sand beaches, the ocean, and trash everywhere.  Worse yet, the number of stray dogs that used the malecon as a public bathroom was unconscionable.  And, bear in mind that there was a mighty effort made by the city to keep the malecon clean because it pulled in the tourists.  Go four streets back from the beach, and all efforts at gringo-style cleanliness stopped.

I found the same thing in Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.  Obviously, Mexicans are aware of the cultural conflict because they keep the tourist areas clean, but back home in the poblano (“hood”), the street’s a dumpster.

Best Advice:  Get used to it, or live in “gringo” or tourist areas which are more expensive because they pay for things like picking up the trash and cleaning the sidewalks.

Business in Mexico4.  The last BIG issue was the business culture.  And, I’m not talking about the problem of showing up late for appointments.  The overriding aspect of Mexican business culture is best described as a “predatory” attitude toward customers.  They go through the motions of “customer service,” but they are fundamentally “motions” without substance.  And, make no mistake, they will not pass up a chance to “gig” you financially.

First and foremost, you’re a gringo, therefore you are rich and need to be fleeced for the good of the Mexican economy.  But, truly the attitude is universally applied, and a Mexican is just as much a target as someone from outside of the country.  However, Mexicans, having been schooled their entire lives in these practices, have developed sharp “consumer defenses (aka dickering).”  The irony is that a price that has an enormous profit margin to a Mexican entrepreneur is often a bargain to a gringo.

Best Advice:  Go in with “low expectations” about getting real satisfaction.  Good deals are plentiful, but good customer service is rare.  Accept that you have no leverage if they have your money.  And, learn to dicker no matter how good the deal appears to be.

As with any transaction, living in Mexico has benefits and drawbacks.  After two years of life in “Paradise,” I found I was not happy enough with living on white sand beaches, crystal clear ocean waters and beautiful geography to keep trying to deal with the frustrations of life in Mexico.  Seems petty, doesn’t it?  But, for me the “snow bird” life is the way to go – in the future, I will visit in the winter months only.  This eliminates many of the frustrations of dealing with business and government, relegates the “trashiness” to a part-time annoyance, while still allowing me to enjoy the gorgeous scenery, a beach life and warm winters.

Xel-Ha – The Magical Lagoon!

So, the hillbilly and I spent two days in the past two weeks doing the “parque” thing. My youngest son, Kenny, and his girlfriend, Julie, were here for 18 days through Christmas, New Year’s and beyond. It just seemed appropriate that we do something fun and touristy.

Kenny &  Julie in their snorkeling get-up at Xel-ha.

Kenny & Julie in their snorkeling get-up at Xel-ha.

First up was Xel-ha. Its activities center on a lagoon fed by an underground river that eventually opens out into the Caribbean. It is, of course, a beautiful setting, and the lagoon has a couple of small lava rock islands which lend themselves beautifully to great snorkeling. There are platforms all around the lagoon that provide easy entre to the water. Each platform has racks of life jackets and plenty of room to don your snorkel equipment (which is provided as part of the fee). Then, you simply go down the steps and splash into the realm of los pescados.

Having two young people with us meant that the day was an adventure. The kids and I jumped Leap of Courage Xel-ha IIoff the “The Stone of Courage” into the lagoon.  It’s purported to be five meters high (about 16 feet), but on the way down, I know I counted a good 20 feet. My son remarked to me, “Good jump, Mom. I don’t know any other 67 year old women who would do it.” My first thought was, “It never occurred to me not to do it,” followed immediately by, “OMG, I’m suffering from serious age denial!!”

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Xplor the Underworld!

When I ordered the tickets for our day trip to Xel-ha, I ordered a package deal for the hillbilly and me that included a day at Xplor. You have to use the second ticket within six days, so the week after seeing Kenny and Julie off at Cancun, we headed for the challenges of Xplor on our own!

When you check-in, you are issued a locker key and a helmet that you must wear the whole time you’re in the park. I’m surprised, shocked really, that this ensemble-topper hasn’t caught on in the larger human community – it is incredibly flattering (see picture below), and adds a touch of haute couture to the most mundane outfit. The helmet also has a number on it that will be used to pull up your pictures when you’re done.

WXplor - The Beginning 5e did the zip lines last. There should be another name for the zip lines at Xplor because the zip line at Xel-ha was a ride on a line, in a sling, into the lagoon. At Xplor, you climb up, up, up, up and up, and eventually get to a platform from which you “zip” over the jungle.  No problem, I told myself, I can go with gravity and a seat under my butt forever.

Yeah, right! I found that the sling was now a thing of the past. It’s all well and good to put someone into a sling if they’re zipping over water, looking at a soft landing in a lagoon, as you are at Xel-ha. But, when sending them over the jungle, those people are strapped into a contraption that basically acts as a tourniquet at the top of both legs and the waist. If you lose your hold while zipping, no problem –you’re in a death grip that restricts all circulation below the waist. However, if your rescue isn’t timely, you may have to have both legs amputated.

At the end of each “zip” segment, there is another climb, sometimes up stairs and, occasionally, up a (very steep, in retrospect) ramp to the next zip segment.

There is a seldom discussed benefit from having a spouse who has smoked since he was 15 years old – Marv fell farther and farther behind me in the climb to each new zip tower, which meant I had to wait for him for longer and longer periods. By the time we got to the 10th leg, I was easily getting a six-seven minute breather each time.

Xplor Marv's Happy FaceBefore the zip line runs, we swam the underground river.  Have you ever noticed that if the water is just a few degrees cooler than the ambient air temperature how some people just go to pieces.

Once we got past all the squealing and shrieking that accompanied the initial plunge into the river, I noticed that most of the folks, in front of and behind us, were not “swimming” but standing up and walking, which I kind of thought was cheating. But, Marv is 6’3”, and the aforementioned smoking does not allow for a lot of powerful swimming strokes, so he walked, too. What the hell? I grabbed the back of his life jacket and let him float me along behind. After all, it was a good, non-strenuous way to see the cave and get pictures.

After our “swim,” we paddled a raft in yet another part of the underground river system, using these little paddles (about 12″ x 9″) that strapped to your hands.  Me in front, the hillbilly in the rear.  It took me a few minutes to catch on to the fact that I was, not only doing all the steering, but all the paddling, too. However, it took less than 10 seconds to correct that little oversight.Xplor UW Raft

At one point during our raft ride, the cord that kept my camera attached to my wrist gave up the ghost and my camera went into the drink. The couple immediately behind us very kindly stopped to help us look. The nearest “monitor” paddled over to see what the problem was (and I noted somewhat bitterly, did so with a real paddle, not one of the hand-thingees). Miracle of miracles, the lovely man found my camera, just as I was mentally writing it off. For the record: I firmly believe that if you really want to find something, give up on it and it will show up.

During your excursions through the Xplor cave systems, there are cameras set up throughout that are set off by motion detectors. As soon as they “detect” you, the cameras snap your picture. This process creates a series of pictures during your escapade in the caves that you can buy at the end for $75 USD a package. I really don’t like looking at myself anymore, and I definitely don’t want to pay $75 to do it, so I told the park rep to enjoy them.  Though the thought of being on camera in my helmet did give me a moment’s pause before I issued the denial.

Xplor Amphib Veh 2Xplor has multiple zip lines systems, river swims, amphibian treks and river raft trips, so if you want to do your “activity” again, you are not locked into seeing the same stalactites, nooks, crannies or jungle. They also have several trails for the amphibious vehicles. And, as with Xel-ha, the entrance fee also includes lunch (all you can eat) and drinks (non-alcoholic only).

But by this time, even the thought of just sitting in a car while trundling through the caves and jungle did not stir the hillbilly’s adrenaline. So, we trudged back up the long ascent back to the entrance, turned in our helmets and locker key, staggered into the parking lot and, more or less, fell into the car.

It was another wonderful day.  Xplor is great fun and offers a variety of fun “adventures,” both above and below the jungle canopy.  Plan on a whole day there, unless you’re like the hillbilly and I – then plan on fewer hours, depending on how much steam your factory still manufactures.  We lasted about 6 hours.

My Mexican Bone Density Test!

Beach houses in Mexico are constructed of concrete and tile.  Even, the ceilings are concrete.  This means they are very sturdy and very, very hard.  If you want to test how resilient something is, you can throw it against any part of a beach house and have your answer immediately.

The other night, I took my two glass snack bowls downstairs to the kitchen, but did not turn on the stairwell light because I have been up and down these stairs so many times, I could do it in my sleep. My bowls and I made it to the bottom and ended up in a decidedly abnormal configuration on the floor (me), and scattered from the front door to the terrazzo doors (the bowls). This impromptu action generated a very loud noise (from the bowls hitting the floor – from me, there was more of the pathetic, guttural sound of someone trying to breathe again).

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