Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dónde ir a desayunar el Domingo?

Ruta bicicleta
I woke up this morning in need of eggs, bacon, and either pancakes or waffle or french toast. Every day, so far, had been granola, milk and coffee. Sundays, at home in Virginia,  usually includes something that can be saturated with maple syrup plus bacon and maybe an egg (and an extra couple of slices of bacon for the pups).  I had been browsing the gift shop of Hotel Casa San Ángel yesterday and the owner mentioned that the restaurant had a very good breakfast. This is a family-owned boutique hotel with restaurant and beautiful store featuring crafts from all 31 Mexican states. The owner and her daughter travel and hand-pick each piece. I had planned on getting up around 8:00 AM and heading over to the Remate. I managed to sleep until 10:00 but headed out in the heat nonetheless. Strolling down Calle 47, I crossed Calle 60 which is closed on Sundays for the 'ruta bicicleta' (bicycle route). Evidently, most people felt as I did. Too hot to ride a bicycle in this heat.

Seated in the cool, tastefully decorated restaurant, I ordered this:

French toast, eggs sunny side up, delicious bacon, fresh
squeezed orange & carrot juice, superb café
after breakfast I couldn't resist this
small tin and Talavera tile mirror 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oops- a man-made problem

A portion of the larger pipe at least 30 ft. long
Jesus, the plumber/irrigation expert, found the problem with the leak quickly.  It turns out that the repair will not be that simple or quick. The leak was coming from the PVC pipe connected to the bomba (pump) that was inside another larger PVC pipe many meters in length ( or I should say depth ). It took three men about 2 hours and 45 minutes to pull it out of the ground to retrieve the pump attached at the bottom. Once totally out the length stretched from one corner of the back wall, up over the opposite wall, with about 12 feet dangling over the neighbor's back garden.

After sawing the pipes into sections and getting to the pump, this
piece was sawed away from the pump. Pressure caused the bulge  in the pipe, which finally gave,  and the black spot you see
is a hole. Water was passing through the filter and pipes, but it was also escaping through the hole, filling the outer pipe and overflowing at ground level.

Jesus explained what caused this pressure, and it seems that the "key" (a shut-off valve) was being placed in the incorrect position. The well supplies water for the pool and the irrigation system. The filtration system cannot be run at the same time as the irrigation system. So, who knows if this occurred one time or several times. We will need to post signs so no one will repeat this mistake. He mentioned that he will use copper for the inner pipe. A better choice, though more expensive, and I hear that copper is popular with thieves. First, it will be under ground and second, it would take three men approximately 3 hours and they would need to get it over a twenty foot wall.

The joys of home ownership

We were warned that maintaining one of these old colonials would be an ongoing process of simply keeping up with the problems that result from damage caused by the unrelenting climate.  Other problems unrelated to the elements occur as well. We discovered on our last trip that there was a leak in the irrigation system that, with every timed watering, resulted in a huge puddle of water between the pool and the back wall. The water runs out into the area in back of the studio and sits there for an hour or so waiting for the slow drain. The plumber/irrigation system/electrician stopped by at 8:00 AM on the dot (as he had promised) and assessed the situation. There is a receptacle beside the pump room/fountain where all the PVC pipes converge. It was about 2 feet deep and full of water. He will return late this afternoon when the water has drained and he can get to the pipes. We also noticed a small amount of water in front of the bodega that houses cistern, reverse osmosis filtration system and hot water tank. He will also check out all of those systems. He will also clean and adjust all the sprinkler heads that are clogged with mineral deposits and blocked by plant stalks.  This is all nothing really serious and should be easy to repair. When we are here full time, it will be easy to keep the sprinkler heads clean and aimed in the proper direction.

Oh, and the namesake of our casa, Las Lechuzas (the owls) are still here. They were out hunting last night and screeching up a storm. When they fly from their home on top of the tower, in the moonlight, they appear totally white. They allow only a brief glimpse and then they are gone.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tropical Storm Don

This looks a lot worse than it really is here.
Sun's out and only a slight breeze.
Image courtesy NOAA
A blogger friend e-mailed me about a tropical storm that formed in the Gulf off the Yucatán peninsula while I was internet-less. It appears that we will only get some wind (that would be nice) and rain later tonight as it heads toward Texas. All sorts of warnings are out for the Port of Progresso but that appears to be only for boaters. Nothing serious enough for evacuations. Hopefully, this will be nothing like the fierce storm that passed through Mérida last Saturday. My fear has been getting water from the street flooding into the house, but I'm relieved that so far this has not happened. That storm was a good test. Surprisingly, we did get a small amount through one of the studio doors off the pool area and I'm thinking that the pool overflowed and with the heavy downpour the drain could simply not handle that much water. Nothing damaged, thankfully. From now on, during the rainy season, we can keep the water level a little lower than we like, just enough to allow the filter door to function.

Now, I'm out the door for a swim and then off to lunch. Not sure where, but I'll think about it while in the cool, cool, water.

I'm dancing right now

No, I'm not in one of the parques dancing to a salsa beat. After two days with no internet and no clue as to why I could not get access, I stumbled out of bed, made coffee and sat with my laptop thinking that just maybe I could find something to do that did not require the internets. Wait, I just heard a sound from my computer that had otherwise been soundless since arriving. I'm guessing that the call Ruben made to Telmex did the trick. Or maybe the umpteenth power off, unplug, and reset finally worked. Who knows, but it's back up. Alan texted that he was 'worried LOL' that I couldn't use my laptop. I'll tell you this. Since starting this blog and following several other Mérida sites, being online does occupy a good portion of my time. Good clean, healthy, productive time. Right? No Facebook, Twitter or MySpace. Enough world news to keep me reasonably informed. US politics? Forget it! Could it be that blogging and following blogs is a different form of social networking, one in which we get to know people on a level much deeper than a Facebook page with dozens of followers allows? I'm becoming friends with a few Mérida bloggers and I've met only one of those face to face. They are a diverse group of people and it is really a pleasure getting to know them.

So, what to say about this visit? How about HUMID. The air is so laden with moisture that walking a couple of blocks can be tiring. Last night I walked down to Gran plaza for my favorite piña sorbete (pineapple sorbet). There was a concert going on and there were throngs of people, all completely dry while I stood in line, shirt soaking wet, sweat pouring down my face, wondering if I would live long enough to acclimate to this degree of humidity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A close call

I was all packed last night  and ready for my 9:52 AM flight to Mérida via Newark to Houston. I was getting ready for bed about 10:30 and decided to charge my cell phone overnight. I glanced at my e-mails and the first to pop up was a message from Continental informing me that the flight to Newark had been cancelled. What...? This is not a good sign, I thought. I immediately called Continental and after a 25 minute wait connected with a customer service representative. She checked and said that all the flights to Houston were booked. However, while I was waiting, I was on the Continental web site and found a United flight leaving Norfolk at 10:25 AM, connecting in Washington (Dulles), that showed 3 seats remaining. I mentioned this to the rep and she took a look.  Sure enough, there were seats available. She booked the flight, I printed my boarding pass, and at midnight crawled into bed- a relieved gringo.

P.S. I've never connected flights at Dulles without some hitch. Flight cancelled, missed connection due to delays with plane, cancelled flights due to inauguration of POTUS (GWB), missed connection due to long lines in customs.

Tuesday: When I walk through the gate to board Flight 3011 to Houston I will really be a relieved gringo.
If all goes as planned we will touch down at MID a little after 9 tonight.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's up with the ferry?

A few months ago there was word that ferry service from Tampa to the port of Progresso was in the works to possibly start up again. This was great news for those of us planning a move to Mérida or other parts of the Yucatán peninsula. The initial word was that the service could start as early as this fall. Every few weeks I google to see if there is any new information, but the answer is always "it is a good probability, but no definite word yet." There is continuing communication on the Yolisto site, but no real news there either.

Port of Tampa web site
Ferry service would be a boon for those of us from the US and Canada. Being able to transport a car and animals without the hassle of driving the three day and three night trip from the Texas border would definitely reduce the stress of such an endeavor. Despite the fact that hundreds of people make this trek every day without incident, there would still be a nagging uneasiness about driving through the drug cartel routes. We will still make the drive if we have to, but I'm sure that until we are 250 miles into the country, we will be hyper vigilant.  I can picture myself driving, teeth clenched, hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, leaning slightly forward in the driver's seat, hopelessly believing that this will somehow move us forward faster.

It seems that a combination cruise ship/cargo vessel would work well. That could at least keep the ship at capacity, with the convenience of taking your own car for a road trip through Yucatán.  Am I dreaming or could this be a reality?

Yes...., ferry service would be nice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

La tlapaleria - Los Dos Camellos

Much has been said within the expat community about shopping in the local markets and stores as a way not only to support these neighborhood merchants, but often as a way to obtain items at a lower cost.  I've always been attracted to the idea of living in a city where one can walk to the local grocery store, butcher or baker on a daily basis for needed food items. Unfortunately, few cities in the US offer this type of living, so unless you happen to live in NYC, Chicago or San Francisco,  a car, bus, or taxi is needed to get to your destination. If you are looking for a hardware store, you are probably looking at a distance of at least a few miles to find a strip mall or big box store. Not so in Mérida. On an early visit to our house, we needed a step ladder, well....because every home must have one and because a light bulb needed changing. I stepped out the front door, turned to my left and walked to the end of the block, made another left and there was our very own neighborhood tlapaleria (in Mexican Spanish ironmonger's shop or hardware store), Los 2 Camellos (2 camels). There were about 4 or 5 to choose from, so I chose the 5-step escalera at a cost of 725 pesos (about $62.00 US). I'm not sure that I really saved much money, if any, but the convenience and the fact that I'm helping a small business owner as opposed to Walmart, Costco or Home Depot, makes all the difference. The time from leaving the house to return with ladder in hand was approximately 10 minutes. An added bonus was meeting the owner, Don Juan del Socorro Palma.

On another trip we discovered that we had yet to purchase other common household tools. So off to Los 2 Camellos for a martillo (hammer), a couple of desarmadors (screw driver), a pinza de presión (plumbing wrench), pliers, and a couple of light bulbs. Total cost: 193.80 pesos (about $16.00 US).  We had a little difficulty asking for cement nails. Doña was working in the store this day and I kept asking for 'clavo cemento' and as she began to scoop cement into a plastic bag I stopped her and simulated hammering a nail.  I pointed to a box of nails and Don Juan finally understood. We wanted clavos para concreto.  Before we left he asked me to write the name 'Phillips screwdriver' on a piece of paper. I wondered if other gringos had walked in asking for such a tool.

                                                                  Images from internet and Hassle-free ClipArt

Monday, July 11, 2011

La Tratto

"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." -- Sophia Loren

On our last trip to Mérida, we invited our property manager, Ruben, to join us for dinner. We asked for him to choose the restaurant, a place where he enjoys eating. We were pleasantly surprised when he suggested La Tratto, an Italian eatery located right on Prolong. Paseo de Montejo (479-C entre 17 y 19, Buenavista). We rarely go out for Italian food at home, primarily because the best restaurants are a 25-30 minute drive to the beach and Alan can whip up a tasty pasta dish fairly quickly with leftovers for the next day's lunch. La Tratto is a stylish open air restaurant on a very busy street, but we were a few tables in and didn't seem to even notice the noise. The restaurant was fairly busy for 9:00 PM (the rush is more like from 10:00 PM) and even with all the table chatter we were able to have a nice conversation. Ruben and Alan ordered pasta dishes and I opted for one of their neapolitan-style pizzas with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, and goat cheese. The pizza was perfect - crust just like I wanted, not anything like those gooey, greasy, cheese-laden Godfather-like pies. Alan and Ruben enjoyed their pasta dishes as well.  This restaurant is not on the tourist circuit and you will see mostly locals.

Sorry to say I did not take any photos, so you will have to take my word that everything looked and tasted quite good. I would say that prices are in the $$ range on a scale of $-$$$. It is worth noting that they have 2 for 1 pasta specials on Wednesdays, and 2 for 1 pizzas on Sundays (I believe). That would make dinner for two a good deal. I did not realize until I googled La Tratto that it is one of four restaurants owned by the Trotter family - the others being Pancho's, Bryan's, and Trotters.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things to do on a hot & humid day when you're not in Mexico

One of my favorite spots in Norfolk is a couple of blocks from our house, just on the edge of downtown.
It's a small body of water called The Hague (a small finger of the Elizabeth River), as is our neighborhood which consists of over a hundred 19th and early 20th century homes. This afternoon I grabbed my camera and walked down to take a few shots. It was in the mid-90's, very humid and overcast, but my little friend seemed to be enjoying the water and venturing close  enough for me to get a few good pics. Click on the Picasa link below and select slide show and you can see her for yourself. She turned and posed every time I spoke to her. She was the only duck I saw among a flock of geese.

Foot bridge over The Hague to downtown (a popular spot for watching
4th of July fireworks

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guayaberas and jipi hats

On our very first trip to Mérida we couldn't help but notice the many guayabera shops dotting the streets of the Centro. For those not familiar with the name, the guayabera  is a shirt with either two or four patch pockets and two vertical rows of fine pleats (alforzas) running along the front and back and is made of linen or cotton or a combination of either of those fibers blended with polyester. When we travel we prefer to blend in with the locals (our first trip to Europe many years ago we wore black: black shoes, black jeans, black overcoats, black luggage, black wallets). We usually purchase one piece of clothing to take back home as a reminder of the trip. When we set out to find our guayaberas, we avoided the tourist shops and instead found a small shop either near or on Paseo de Montejo. The shop owner was a tall, pleasant gentleman who spoke very good English and who was quite amused, I'm sure, as these two norteamericanos looked and tried on several shirts before making a decision. I chose an off-white linen/cotton that fit really well. Alan picked out a sky blue cotton guayabera with a simpler design that he wore out and about the following day. We passed and greeted an older lady who started speaking too fast for us to understand a word she said. After a few moments she realized we were gringos and laughed as she placed her hand on Alan's shoulder. I think she thought he was Yucatecan.  A few nights later, I slipped my shirt on and waited for our realtor to stop by. He walked in, took one look and said "new shirt? you look like a pharmacist!" I wore polos the remainder of the trip.

The history of the guayabera is murky. Some Latin Americans believe the shirt originated in the Yucatán Peninsula or was inspired by the design of similar shirts sold in Cuba. Spaniards took the design to the Philippines. The origin of the name is said to be either Mexican or Cuban. Guayabera may come from a Cuban legend that tells of a poor countryside seamstress sewing large pockets into her husband's shirts for carrying guava (guayabas) from the field, or it may have originated from the word yayabero ( the word for a person who lived near the Yayaba River in Cuba).

In Yucatán, it is known as camisa de Yucatán. Many North Americans refer to the shirt as a "Mexican Wedding Shirt. It can be quite elegant when worn to formal occasions such as weddings, or to the symphony.

Becal, Campeche in the Yucatán is home to that other fashion accessory, the Jipijappa hat, or simply 'jipi hat'. The street hawkers will call out 'Panama hats!' because that is what the tourists call them, but they are jipi's. The fiber is from the Guatemalan palm, introduced to the Mayan people of Becal by a Catholic priest in 1859. Because it is so hot and dry in Becal, the hats are woven in natural and man-made underground caves in the backyards of houses. The cool and humid caves allow the straw fibers to be malleable enough to create a tight weave and a panama hat (jipi) appreciated by hat connoisseurs from all over the world. The jipijapa can be bent, folded, twisted and crushed and will always return immediately to its original form.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

New bloggers 2

Just after my previous post I received a comment from Darren and Wade and a link to their blog  Mérida - Are We There Yet? It is great to have so many people chronicling their experience and impressions of a new life in Mérida. They are there now for the entire month of July so I look forward to posts and pics ( and an update on progress with their Spanish lessons). Welcome to the neighborhood guys.

Image from Hasslefree ClipArt for Darren (from Down Under)