Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Arrival in Mérida....Now What?

We drove straight from Palenque to Progreso on a Saturday. We wanted to take the dogs to a beach for some much needed exercise and for all of us to breathe some salty air after such a long journey on what seemed like endless pavement. Besides, there were guests in our Mérida home for the last night of their vacation and we couldn't exactly crash there. In the three years of being home owners in the Yucatán, we had never ventured to the Gulf shores, spending all of our precious few days in the Centro exploring our soon-to-be forever home. As we neared the shore, we veered to the East and headed toward San Benito and San Crisanto where we had browsed a few lovely beach homes on various real estate sites. There is a natural pull to the ocean or gulf waters for both of us. I grew up an easy hour's drive to the beautiful Gulf of Mexico beaches of the Florida Panhandle, and Alan a stone's throw from Long Island Sound. We lived a block from the beach in Florida for six years and then for 25 years in Virginia, a 20 minute drive to the Atlantic Ocean. We enjoy the vibrancy of urban living, but it is comforting at times to be near an ocean. I could never live in the heartland of the United States, where water is something you drink or bathe in and where you can drive all day to find a lake or stream.

The beaches were all but deserted as we headed down the narrow paved beach road. The little sandy lanes that lead to the water's edge seemed too narrow for our monstrous van. I was afraid of getting buried to the axle in beach sand so we kept driving. Approaching the small gulf village of Telchac Puerto, we followed the signs that took us into the heart of this quaint little town. After receiving a few stares at this oddity of a vehicle, we parked on a sandy lane right on the beach in front of vacant beach houses waiting for the onslaught of next summer's inhabitants. This seemed like a quiet place, sufficiently out of the way of people who might be annoyed by the sound of a running generator. The dogs were ecstatic over an open beach on which to run and explore the smells that were somehow different from those of the Chesapeake Bay.

We walked on the beach, enjoyed the sunset and spent the night right where we parked. The next morning we explored a bit more, found a couple of the homes we had seen for sale, then headed to the Centro where Remixto had our home clean and stocked with fresh flowers, fruit, Charritos (our favorite), and sparkling water. It was so very nice to finally be home.

This blog has been all about getting here -to all the colores de Mérida and the mysterious draw of this sometimes puzzling yet comfortable city in the Yucatán, whose intractable heat either wins you over or defeats you. Maybe I'll write about our daily struggles and triumphs, or perhaps the blog will become another photographic endeavor (if I can overcome my frustration with not being able to capture the perfect image). And then, it could be time to put this away and just live...

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Sweltering Day in Palenque

Beginning the steep climb

As we drove out of Orizaba, we again were amazed at the beauty of this part of Mexico. The plan was to head for Villahermosa, the last stop before a planned side trip to Palenque, Chiapas and the final leg of the trip to Mérida. We would drive until dusk, stop for the night, and drive down to Palenque. There is a camp site for motor homes near the ruins and we decided that we could stay overnight  if there was a vacant spot. We were getting tired from the long driving days and sensed that the dogs were about as ready as we were end the nomadic journey and settle in to a real house.  We had no clear destination for a stopping point near Villahermosa and chose to find a hotel if possible. Our stopping point ended up being a Pemex station on the outskirts of a small town whose name I cannot remember. Say what you will about sleeping in a motor home in a gas station parking lot, but I can say that it is actually very quiet and safe. Several large trucks are usually parked for part or all of the night in order for the tired drivers to take a break from the road. We asked for permission to stay and the attendant nodded his approval. It was indeed a quiet night, especially with the generator running, and sleeping in the air conditioned camper was restful. Early the next morning, after walking the dogs in a convenient grass spot next to the parking area, we began the less than two hour drive to Palenque. After driving through the small town and as we approached the national park there was an entrance road where we paid a small fee for who knows what. There were no signs, just an attendant collecting the money. We drove a bit further and found what looked like a visitor's information building. There were a number of people, mostly American or European tourists sitting at tables smoking and drinking soft drinks. There were, once again, no signs with information as to what to do or where to go to see the ruins. We spotted a palapa structure down the road and headed in that direction. There we were told that we must go back to the museum to purchase tickets. After walking back for the tickets and to the palapa hut again, we presented our tickets and were motioned to enter the trail leading to who knows where. There were a few signs along the trail explaining the various parts of the Mayan community -communal areas, living areas, etc. We took the first route which climbed to one area, then climbed to another, and on and on. It was hot and 100% humidity -not a good combination for two out of shape gringos.

Steps that lead to what might have been a communal plaza

We really did not know where these trails ended, only that we were getting higher and higher with no end in sight. We had hoped that at some point we would emerge to see the grand pyramids of Palenque. When we thought we could not go another level higher, we saw a couple of park employees and asked where we could see the pyramids. One of the men motioned in a direction as in "over there." We headed back down and concluded that the other trail was the one we wanted. By now we were both out of breath, soaking wet, and tired.


We continued on, however, stopping to rest with the hope that neither of us would pass out. It was so steamy my glasses were fogged over, so I removed them and carefully placed them on a nearby boulder while I attempted to take a photo. By this time we were both utterly exhausted, disappointed that we had not seen the pyramids, and though neither of us verbalized it, were ready to leave. We got almost all the way back down to the entrance and suddenly I realized that I had left my glasses on the boulder back up the mountain. Horrified, I had no choice but to turn around and will myself to make the climb once again. To make a long story short, I retrieved my glasses, made it back down, joined Alan and headed to the van. We literally peeled off our clothes and collapsed as the dogs, in air conditioned comfort, ecstatically wagged their tales at our return.

Back down off the mountain, we saw a small sign that we had not noticed before. It indicated that the pyramids were a mile or so down the road. At this point, I could not have cared less. We rested a bit, cranked the van and headed for Mérida.

Palenque...we'll see you another time.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Pleasant Night in Orizaba, Veracruz...

We were unable to capture images while in Orizaba, but this photo is borrowed from Wikipedia, and attributed to David Tuggy.

We decided that driving past Puebla and into Veracruz would save us time and put us even closer to Palenque, which we planned to visit before the final leg of our journey to Mérida. The autopista past Puebla stretched on and on, but the mountain views in the distance were incredible. As we got closer to Veracruz, suddenly we were in the mountains and quite impressive ones at that. We had decided on one of two cities to spend the night - Orizaba or Cordoba. If the first did not appear suitable, we would head for the next. It was the middle of the afternoon when we began getting closer to Orizaba and the mountains were simply spectacular. We climbed and climbed as large 18-wheel trucks zoomed past us, oblivious to the steep inclines and even more fearless on the declines. There were emergency lanes to enter in the event of failing brakes! All of a sudden we appeared to be in light fog. As we looked out at the openings between the mountains, we realized that we were not in fog but driving through clouds. We soon saw a large sign over the highway announcing that we were in the "Zona Nebula" (cloud zone). It is safe to say that this was the most harrowing drive of my life. I've driven in dense fog before, and there is usually a place to pull off the road to steel the nerves. On these mountain passages there is absolutely nowhere to stop and the large trucks that frequent this route have no issue with impatiently passing more cautious drivers. I got behind one of the trucks and vowed to stay behind it no matter what. The cloud mist was so thick that I could barely see his tail lights. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally descended enough to emerge from the cloud. As we entered the exit road to take us into Orizaba, the view took our breath away. We were in a lush valley surrounded by green mountains. Entering the town (city) we were not overly impressed, but it was late afternoon and traveling after dark on these roads was out of the question. We kept driving deeper into the city and were pleasantly surprised to see a lovely historical center. We spied yet another brand new Holiday Inn Express (seems as though they are popping up all over Mexico) and pulled into the small and narrow parking area. The young desk clerk, Enrique, was friendly and helpful and he spoke perfect English. It appears that this hotel chain is making sure that at least one employee speaks English, which is most helpful for those of us still learning Spanish.

After helping us park the monstrosity of a van, Enrique recommended the hotel dining room for dinner. The meal was mediocre but the room was nice, with modern decor and wood floors. I awoke before daylight and went out to the van to walk the dogs. When I brought them back to the van I heard a cat meowing. It came from outside the van and I knew that Mr. Jules had escaped once again. The parking attendant also heard him and was trying to coax him out from under a truck. I sat on the curb and waited, and after half an hour he cautiously walked over to me and I grabbed the little devil. His nine lives are still intact. My one - a little shaky...

Orizaba, Veracruz is a place to visit a second time.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Our drive through Puebla provided another beautiful mountain vista. The gray was finally giving in to clear skies and fluffy clouds. Puebla is located in the central highlands of Mexico, between the Sierra Nevada and Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. The views are absolutely gorgeous, unlike any mountain ranges I've seen in the United States. Granted I have never seen the magnificent Rockies, but surely these must compare. We were ahead of schedule and, once again, decided to keep driving. It is simply too difficult to drive into the cities, find a place to park, and worry about what to do with the dogs. The generator must be running at all times when parked for longer than a gas stop in order to run the air conditioner to keep the animals cool. It can be rather noisy, so unless we are in an appropriate place, we just keep moving. Puebla and Querétaro are two places we would someday want to visit to really experience the sights and culture.

We continued driving on the very nice Puebla cuota (toll road) and enjoyed the scenery. We passed a Pemex gas station on the other side of the highway and there was not a nearby retorno (turn around). We had a bit more than a quarter of a tank of gas and were sure there would be another soon. We kept driving and driving on what seemed like a never ending highway and around every bend we kept looking for a gas station. Nothing. Beginning to get a bit worried ( we had not once seen one of the 'Green Angel' trucks that are supposed to be everywhere to assist stranded motorists), I watched the gauge move downward to a little less than a quarter tank. Now I was really concerned. We had already turned off the A/C to conserve gas, but the gas-guzzling Ford E-350 van didn't seem to notice. Every few miles there were pull-overs for agua (water for overheated engines I suppose), but no gas. Just as the gauge showed about 1/8 of a tank, dangerously close to empty, in the distance Alan spotted one of the ubiquitous Pemex signs.

Relieved, we stopped, walked the dogs, and vowed to never let the tank go below half.

Monday, November 4, 2013

San Luis Potosí...

On the drive to San Luis Potosí
The drive from Saltillo to San Luis Potosí had us arriving early in the afternoon. What we saw of the city was mostly traffic. Traveling with animals makes it very difficult to sight-see and after all this time on the road, even with the various stops along the way, we were ready to keep going. While it would have been nice to see the Centro Historico of SLP, getting closer to Mérida proved to be more appealing. We made the decision to drive as far as we could before sunset and as close to Puebla as possible. San Luis lies on the Mexican Plateau and the view while driving consists mostly of wooded hills of the Sierra Madre in the distance which seemed to be encased in a blue mist.
 The dogs were napping between us and Mr. Jules was burrowed under a quilt in the back, his favorite spot for the bouncy ride. I have not mentioned that when we were traveling through Alabama we had stopped for gas and to let the dogs out and when we got back in the van to leave, Alan took a head count and the cat was missing. He looked throughout the van and Jules was not to be found. We searched the entire area around the gas station for over 30 minutes, calling for him to come to us. We even got the dogs out and asked them to find Mr. Jules. The look on their faces was one of complete puzzlement. Cats are known to disappear and reappear days later but we did not have days to wait. Alan decided to take one last look in the tightly packed back compartment between the bed and the back doors of the van. Stuffed between two sleeping bags and other gear he saw a tiny pink nose. Jules stayed there, tucked away safe and secure, for the next several hours before climbing out and resuming his place in the rear of the van.

We got turned around a bit on the outskirts of San Luis, but our trusty GPS soon had us on the way to Puebla, bypassing Mexico City. We've heard horror stories about driving through D.F., so that particular spot will be seen when we can fly in for a few days.

A nice view, somewhere in México 😊...

Friday, November 1, 2013


Unknown location, somewhere in México, taken with iPhone from car window

Most of the major roads in México are under construction or being expanded or repaired much like those in the United States. One major difference is that in México there is little warning that road crews are ahead. There is usually a sign that is no more than 100 meters from the actual work. There might be a man waving a red flag in the distance. Another difference is that in México, outside of the metropolitan areas, exit signs are not clearly marked or are completely nonexistent. Shortly after leaving Laredo the traffic was light and I was driving along at a nice clip when the road veered to the right. I thought that this was a continuation of the main road with another road that looked more like an exit veering to the left. Very quickly I realized what I had one and that this road was under construction and ended at a deep drop off into a muddy bog. Fortunately, I was able to stop a few meters before the van would have been axle deep in the mud. I backed up to get on the correct road and was thankful we avoided what would have been an embarrassing and time consuming event. This is why it is not recommended that one drive through México at night. The highway out of Laredo toward Monterrey was mostly very good, with an occasional pothole not unlike the roads we are accustomed to in Virginia, where the transportation department is poorly funded. Aware that this is one of the areas we are warned to avoid due to cartel activity, we wanted to get as far into central México as possible that first day. Another successful navigator of this route and fellow Mérida blogger had recommended our planned stops along the way. Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila was to be the first stop. Although many people choose to travel all the way to San Luis Potosi the first day, we were planning on shorter driving days mainly for the animals.

On the outskirts of the city we spotted a brand new Holiday Inn Express and decided to spend the night there. This hotel did not allow dogs, but we were able to have a hot shower and relax from a day on the road. The dogs seemed to be comfortable in their tiny, secure space and we were parked far enough in the back to be able to run the generator and air conditioner all night. It's amazing that the van guzzles gas but the generator can run all night and the gauge barely moves.

We had another forgettable meal at a nearby restaurant and after a good night's sleep we were on the road headed for San Luis Potosi. Once again, we saw no one that looked like a gangster and for the most part we travelled unnoticed except for an occasional glance at the motor home. So far we have encountered only courteous and friendly people who try their best to understand and translate our limited Spanish.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


We did not know what to expect - traffic, long lines, agents rummaging through all the cabinets and drawers in our stuffed-to-over-capacity van, or worse, being told that we did not have all the necessary documents or that we couldn't cross with two dogs and a cat. I had learned through a popular RV forum that the Columbia Bridge crossing (the third of three bridges at Laredo) was best for motor homes. Some on the forum agreed and others said they did not like that particular crossing. We decided that we would go with Columbia, and after a forgettable night in Laredo, approached the border at 8:30 AM on a gray Monday. Surprisingly, there was only one other vehicle headed our way and a young lady waved us to the stopping point. Alan leashed the dogs and took them outside while she entered the van for a brief look, not bothering to check for any suspicious items we might be trying to sneak in. She then asked for the papers from the veterinarian certifying that all were properly vaccinated, gave them a cursory glance and then motioned that we could proceed. I got back in the van, looked at Alan as if to say "is that it?"and then realized that we still needed the temporary import sticker for the van.

Inside the building were windows for Migración, Aduana and Banjercito. There were no instructions for where to begin, and after glancing around as if lost, someone pointed to the Migración entrance. The agent asked for my passport and handed me two forms to complete. I completed the forms, which were suspiciously like the tourist forms you fill out when flying, and handed them to him. He studied them for a minute, then said we must return in 180 days. Oh, no, no. I took my passport and opened it to the 30-day Residente Temporal Visa, showed it to him, and then had to fill out another form. I swear it was the same form I had just given him. Now he tells me I have 30 days in which to get to Migración for the permanent visa card. Relieved, I motioned for Alan to come to the counter to complete his forms.

We then headed to Banjercito to  obtain the 10- year Temporary Vehicle Permit, which is a special permit for motor homes. It allows unlimited crossings for 10 years. After four years, however, we must obtain the Residente Permanente cards and will no longer be able to have a foreign vehicle in Mexico.
We will cross that bridge when we get there.

Immensely relieved, we climbed in the van and headed south toward Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo, that city famous for shootouts and other ghastly cartel shenanigans.

Next...Saltillo, Coahuila

Monday, October 28, 2013

No Goodbyes, Only Hasta Luegos...

Kenya, John, BeeJay, Alan, David, Dolly
The mountains of Georgia, the wire grass of Alabama, the bayous of Louisiana, and the Lone Star State of Texas were all stops along the way as we spent time with family and friends before entering Mexico for the trip to our home. Saying goodbyes to family is always an emotional moment and especially when, at our age, or any age for that matter, we never know how many farewells we have remaining. We insisted that all should make plans to visit us soon (we'll see) and promised to travel safely and to report our experiences each day. The weather was beautiful in Georgia. We enjoyed our visit with my sister and brother-in-law, and with my niece and her family. Then we headed down to Alabama for a couple of days to spend time with my brother and sister-in-law. It was good spending some quality time with my little brother (he's actually a head taller than me). He assured me that we could expect a visit soon.

From Alabama we drove through the northern tip of Florida, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and into New Orleans for a brief visit with our friends Robert and Muriel Sullivan. Robert is a French and Latin teacher who we met when he had a teaching position in Norfolk. His wife was in New Orleans when Katrina devastated the Crescent City. She came to Norfolk and spent 10 days in our home while we were traveling. We get a thank you card every year at Christmas, thanking us for our hospitality. Their home was spared and they are still in NOLA, praying that it never happens again.

From New Orleans, we traveled to Houston for a few days with Alan's brother and sister-in-law. We had planned to visit the Mexican Consulate there to obtain our Temporary Vehicle Import sticker for the van, but after 2 days of trying to reach someone we were told that it could only be granted at the border.

By now the animals were beginning to accept this puzzling nomad life. They travelled extremely well and were happy to sleep in such close quarters. Maneuvering through the 20 foot van required a certain degree of organization and cooperation. The organization part was fairly easy - the teamwork part occasionally broke down with the accompanying bitchiness.  Tempers can flare in such close quarters and we were no exception, but knowing each other so well after 34 years, the flares died quickly and it was back to driver and navigator mode.

Next...crossing the border at Laredo, Texas.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Journey Begins...

Plugged-in at brother-in-law's home in
After a rather lengthy blogging sabbatical, I figured the least I could do would be to write about our adventures along the way as we make our way from Norfolk, Virginia to Mérida. The last few months have been busy with deciding what we would take with us and what to leave behind, with packing and multiple trips to Goodwill. There were also countless large black garbage bags lining the street in front of our house, filled with things that would likely fail the "one man's junk, another man's treasure" cliché. Because this is a new beginning, we chose to leave most of our accumulated belongings for others to enjoy. Other than a few cherished paintings, our favorite cookware, some kitchen gadgets, and clothes, we are coming to Mexico with our two dogs and cat in a 20 foot motor home.

We began our trip on Wednesday, October 9, in a heavy rain. It seemed that we would never get the last item loaded. We had planned on leaving around 9:00 AM. We drove away at noon. There was a tremendous feeling of relief, that even though our home is still unsold, no longer will we have to rush to clean the house and make it presentable for a showing. It was difficult and tiring to keep the house clean with two large, active dogs around. Our realtor is baffled as to why our home has not sold, and he recently had an open house for 30 area Realtors. The feedback was all positive, including affirmation that the price is where it should be. We have a great home in a desirable neighborhood, so it will sell eventually.

Our two dogs have never been on a car trip lasting more than half an hour. We had no idea what difficulties traveling together for such an extended time would bring. To our amazement, the dogs settled in between our seats, competing for the fully reclined position or the cramped one, and slept quietly for the entire day. Occasionally, a rough road or series of bumps would bring them to their feet, but then they settled down once again. We stopped frequently that first day, for water and bathroom .

Mr. Jules, our little orange Manx, cried for the first few miles, but he then also settled in, burrowing under a quilt on the bed or sitting on a hammock of sorts we fashioned from the collapsible nylon and mesh crate suspended between the two twin beds in back. He could see out the side and back windows and seemed content seeing more of the world in one day than in his entire 6 years.

We spent that first night parked in a huge parking lot in a beautiful North Carolina rest area, illegally, but no one ran us off. There were a few other cars parked nearby and the parking area was well lit.
A great night's sleep, with cool breezes which turned a bit chilly toward morning, rested all of us for the drive to Atlanta.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Moving to Mexico is an Adventure....Right?

Moving from one location to another is always work, but divesting of almost everything from a current life, except for a few clothes and fewer household goods, is both exhilarating and daunting. If the move is to Mexico, it must be approached with a sense of adventure. Otherwise, a multitude of somewhat confusing bureaucratic obstacles could be overwhelming.

The above statement was my Facebook post a few days ago. Let me attempt to explain what I meant. When we made the decision about a year ago to finally make the permanent move to Mérida this September, we thought the plan was fairly simple and straightforward. We would put our house on the market, have an estate sale to empty our home of over thirty years of accumulated furniture and household goods that we had no intention of taking with us, load our motor home with a few clothes and our animals and drive away. The gently used 2004 motor home we purchased last summer is our solution for driving across the country and through Mexico to our home in Mérida. We had planned to import the vehicle in order to obtain Mexican plates in the hope that we would not stand out so much. Never mind that we have never seen a single 20 foot motor home during any of our visits. I recently contacted a customs broker in Laredo to get a quote for the importation. Needless to say, we will not be importing this vehicle at an estimated cost of a bit over $11,000.00 US. For that amount of money we can purchase a small car once we are settled in Mérida. On the other hand, that sum would likely purchase a lifetime of bus tickets and cab fares. It would be nice, however, to have a car for those times when we ...well, need a car. 

Our plan for visas has changed as well. With the new immigration law, we were thinking that we would apply for the Residente Permanente, a one time deal with no annoying yearly renewals. If we were to import the vehicle, the permanent visa would not be an issue. However, since we will now be driving a foreign-plated van, we can only cross the border with the Residente Temporal and after four years, when we will be required to obtain the permanent visa, we will have to take the van back NOB. The ironic thing about this rule is that motor homes are assigned a 10-year temporary import permit (TIP) and the Residente Temporal is only good for 4 years. 

Another thing that we are discovering (thanks to Mexico Amigos) is that if you plan to ship household goods to your new home in Mérida, be prepared to pay storage fees until you have your actual visa card in hand. The paperwork from Immigration will not get your goods released. People have reported waits of 4 to 6 weeks while their furniture sits crated on the pier (in the hot sun?). Another option would be to store the goods NOB and ship once the visa card is in hand. As I've said before, we only plan to ship a few paintings and a few small household goods, but I don't like the idea of oil paintings sitting on a pallet at the pier in Progreso. We now have to explore our other options.

It seems that everyone reporting their experiences with Immigration or Aduana has a slightly different take on the process. Purchasing a home in Mérida is the easy part. Getting there is not so easy, but all an adventure, no?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Step aside Starbucks...

There is an up and coming purveyor of fine coffee in Mexico - Cielito Querido, a Mexico City upstart with a vision for future expansion to other cities in Mexico and the United States. As if to say to Starbucks, don't think you can best our heritage of world class coffee, they print a bold snub on their to-go cups that says "Aquí, le decimos chico, no alto." Here, we say small, not tall." (Thanks for the translation correction, Theresa.)  Their motto is "not on every corner, but in every neighborhood." Mérida is not mentioned in their list of expansion sites, although Cancun and Puebla are slated. Cancun... that resort city where droves swoop in to get sloshed on Margaritas and fry their bodies in the Caribbean sun.With prices running higher than Starbucks for a standard cup of coffee, I suppose they see Cancun as a safer bet. I'm not sure why I'm disappointed that our fair city is not on the list. There are plenty of places for a great expresso. The wonderful Cafe La bohème is an easy walk from our house and Ki' Xocolatl is just  a short stroll to the central plaza area. Any number of restaurants serve a decent cup of post dinner coffee or expresso. Or an invite to dine at home with these guys, who have a monster expresso machine in their kitchen! And, in a pinch, well... there's always Starbucks.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

*Top Ten Reasons to Move to Mérida...

10.  US Politics

 9.   US Politics

 8.   US Politics

 7.   US Politics

 6.   US Politics

 5.   US Politics

 4.   US Politics

 3.   US Politics

 2.   US Politics    and (drum roll)...

 1.   Mérida,Yucatán is Awesome!

*I would like to say that this will be my last political rant but, sadly, I'm not making any promises.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Nobody Wants to Talk About This... part II

Searching the internet for international health insurance is a bit like surfing for hotel accommodations. The options are numerous, depending on what you want -budget, moderate, better or deluxe- though it's far more complex and confusing than simply choosing between a room with a basic mattress and low thread count sheets and a luxurious room with pillow-top mattress and 600-count Egyptian cotton linens.

A few of the insurance company names we recognize from the USA, such as Cigna and MetLife, offer policies for expatriates in foreign countries. There are options to include or exclude coverage in the United States, with rates considerably lower if choosing the latter. This makes sense as we have the highest health care costs in the world. There are companies based in Europe and Asia that offer various plans and rates, from basic emergency coverage at reasonable rates to executive plans with full coverage, low deductibles and high premiums.

One of the more popular companies, recommended by Yucatan Living, is International Medical Group (IMG).  They also have a link to a specific agent, with whom they are 'loosely affiliated' and disclose that they receive a commission when purchasing through this link. I received an online quote from this agent that cost almost as much as private health insurance in the United States.  Going directly to the IMG website, I received a quote that was considerably less. Deductibles range from $250.00 to $10,000.00 and the premiums decrease substantially at the higher deductibles. IMG appears to have a solid reputation in the expat travel and medical insurance field.

Another source is Healthcare International, located in the United Kingdom, which has plans ranging from 'Healthcare Emergency Plus' with a maximum annual treatment benefit of $500,000 USD, to the 'Healthcare Executive' plan with an annual maximum of $2,000,000 USD. I requested an online quote for the least expensive plan with a $2000 USD deductible. I was quite surprised to receive a quote of $1,174.18 USD annual premium. This is the least expensive rate, by far, of all the other sources and is about what I would pay per month for a private insurance in the US. This is a basic plan that covers pretty much everything, while in the hospital, at 100% of the cost (up to $500,000 USD, which would be a whole bunch of Mexican pesos). It does not cover annual health checks, vaccinations, or outpatient diagnostics or prescriptions. For women of child-bearing age, it does not cover normal pregnancy and childbirth or complications of pregnancy and childbirth. It does cover 100% of the costs of emergency medical evacuation and medical repatriation, and up to $3000.00 for repatriation of mortal remains. This policy is worldwide, excluding USA.

There are many other choices for expatriate medical insurance that one can check out by simply  Googling 'international medical insurance'. Word of warning: If you provide an email address, which some companies require to receive an online quote, you will receive a phone call or email follow up which you can ignore if not interested. These people are like carnival hawkers for insurance companies.

Another option, and perhaps the best, is to find a local insurance agent in Mérida and purchase locally.
I have no idea what rates are like, but I've heard that they are reasonable. The Healthcare International policy might be a good choice for a year, to have coverage while en route through Mexico and until there is time to research, in person, what is available in Mérida. That would at least grant some peace of mind to the not necessarily paranoid but cautious expat like me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nobody Wants to Talk About This... part I

I do. Health care and medical insurance in Mexico.  There are numerous sites and blogs where everyone speaks glowingly of the excellent and inexpensive care they have received from physicians and hospitals throughout Mexico. And we know that there is a burgeoning medical tourism industry for those wanting decent treatment at a fraction of the cost they would pay in the United States. Think dental care and plastic surgery. I've heard reports of an entire mouth full of crowns for about the cost of a root canal and crown that one would pay NOB. I've heard of people ending up in the Emergency Room with a broken arm or leg, and marveling at the kind treatment received and how they simply paid the reasonable cost in cash or credit card at the time of discharge. What I haven't heard is the story of an expat who has had the misfortune of a catastrophic illness while living in Mexico with, or without, major medical health insurance. I suspect that those younger expats, in their twenties, thirties or early forties, don't worry terribly about such things. Those of us closer to full retirement age just might be a bit more concerned about the what-ifs. Having spent a lifetime in the health care industry and seeing first hand the horrors that can occur in the blink of an eye - a car crash that requires multiple surgeries and days in an intensive care unit, or a stroke that will require weeks or months of rehabilitation - I think about these things.

In the United States, those with good insurance are lucky and those with no insurance cannot be denied treatment. Hospitals routinely write off millions of dollars in unpaid medical bills by those who simply do not have the means to pay tens of thousands, much less a hundred thousand dollars for the first rate yet costly care they received. I read somewhere that in Mexico an expat must pay the entire cost of treatment before they are allowed to leave the hospital. Paying for the cost of a broken limb, or a bout of colitis and dehydration, or an emergency appendectomy would not be so bad. Perhaps a few thousand dollars or less? A 2005 study from Ohio State University Hospital cited the cost of the first day in ICU with mechanical ventilation to be $10,794.00. Without mechanical ventilation the cost was around $7000.00. That's just the first day and ICU stays can last from a few days to weeks. The study is also 8 years old and you all know the cost of health care goes up, not down, each year.  I'm not sure about the cost of an intensive care stay in a Mexican hospital, but I found one international major medical insurance policy that paid up to $1500.00 per day. This means that it will likely cost more than that as most insurance does not cover the entire cost of a hospital stay. There is usually a co-insurance charge of up to 20%. Throw in a surgery, x-rays, CAT scan or MRI and the cost goes up from there.

I think the question for many expats is whether to risk paying for medical treatment up front and hope that the out of pocket costs don't wipe out our savings or to enroll in a decent international major medical plan that will cost several hundred dollars a year, depending on your age,  or a few thousand a year if you are approaching retirement age.

The other option is to enroll in IMSS, Mexico's free (socialized?) health care. Actually, it's not free, but the annual cost for coverage is around $300.00. I'm amazed that Mexico even allows foreigners to participate at such a low cost, especially when most expats are paying very low taxes or none at all to the federal government.

More on our options in part II...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Speaking of Changes...

Word has it that the Paseo de Montejo is scheduled for a facelift. The Champs- Élysées of the Yucatán is soon to see a few miles of newly paved streets and other enhancements. This information comes from two reliable sources, a successful business owner a few doors down from the Remate and our über knowledgeable, reliable and Spanish teaching taxi driver, Juan Ortiz. We also noticed a building we had not seen before - a tall, sleek black stone and glass office-like structure that is a drastic departure from the typical architecture seen on the Paseo. I regret not snapping a photo, but to be honest, neither of us took our cameras out of the bag the entire time we were in Mérida. I think it is perfectly fine to incorporate a bit of modernity into an otherwise architecturally significant historical district. For example, in Norfolk, Virginia there is an attempt to make every new building look as if it has been here for 150 years -red brick, fluted columns, fake pediments. It ends up looking drab and boring and rather than complimenting the historical structures, dilutes the entire block into an uninspired landscape. The problem here, I think, is a long standing and rather staid architectural review board. Mérida must surely have a similar process to review architectural designs, particularly in the historical districts. Let's hope they exercise a restrained, yet creative vision for this lovely boulevard.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Garage Sale in Mérida ...

We've been gradually eliminating some of the furniture we inherited (purchased) with Casa de las Lechuzas and replacing with pieces more in line with our tastes.  At times we have thought that we wanted to move to a more contemporary look after over 30 years of living in a house full of antiques and traditional furniture, but we always end up being drawn to the traditional.The previous owners of our home did an admirable job of decorating, using modern pieces and interspersing with a couple of antique painted and decorated Chinese cabinets. Their art works, which were mostly abstract or modern, did not remain with the house. About the only personal belongings we will bring to Mérida are some of our paintings. For that reason we have purchased very little art for the house. Other than a wonderful oil on canvas by a Cuban artist purchased at SoHo Galleries, there are a few inexpensive prints currently adorning our walls.

This trip we wanted to get some comfortable furniture for the studio/media room, but before having it delivered we needed to eliminate two rather large ultra-suede corner chaise lounges. Enter Yucatán Online Garage Sale, a Facebook site originated by TheYucatán Times. I took some quick photos, logged in to the site and easily posted the items for sale. Within less than an hour I was messaged by a potential buyer, who dropped by to see the furniture, paid cash on the spot and returned the next morning to pick up. I have, at various times, seen individual items and what appears to be the entire contents of a house for sale. It's quick and easy to find something you might like or to sell an item you no longer need.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Busy Week

This trip to Casa de La Lechuzas has been interesting and busy. A lot has been done, but new ideas about future possibilities with the house have us dreaming again. It hasn't been all work, however. We've managed to eat dinner at two new restaurants and have enjoyed Rescoldo's twice. I repeat myself when I say that I could live off their Greek salads and thick, warm, open oven-baked pita. Add a side of tzatziki and roasted red pepper hummus and I'm in heaven. The cooling effect of cucumbers, strained yogurt, mint, dill and Greek olives makes Mediterranean food perfect for this hot climate.  The ever changing gelato flavors are not to be missed -Toasted Coconut, Cranberry Almond, Dulce de Leche, or Honey Lavender. Lavender flavored gelato, you say? Delicious. Now, if we can just find a great Thai and Indian restaurant, we will be happy.

On the work side, we have accomplished a few tasks with many more remaining after we are gone and just before we arrive in September. Painting will be completed, pasta tiles polished to a spit shine and electrical issues will, hopefully, be resolved. The electrician wants to investigate further and probably redo some of the lines. It is nothing major, but annoying things like dimmers not working. The configuration of outlets is confusing and we still have to press one toggle switch after another to turn on the lights that we want. We would like to simplify the operation. It's tough getting older.

Did I mention that it has been a bit warm in Mérida this week? We have enjoyed the pool this trip much more than other times. For once, it is being maintained properly and the heat has made the water temperature comfortable. The pool is fairly large and warms up slowly but seems to cool down quickly after the sun goes down. A swim just before midnight last night was relaxing and refreshing.

We managed to meet a few new friends and neighbors as well as seeing an old friend. Our stay finally coincided with that of these two guys, both extremely nice and comfortable to be around. One is a deep Southerner like me, the other with an unmistakable accent from a land far down under and away. Then, there was a neighbor from around the corner ( a reader of this blog) who stopped by for a nice chat and with whom we hope to have many more conversations. Finally, we met a new Facebook friend with an opinion (his words).

More to come...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blog Issues..

courtesy Hassle-Free ClipArt

For some reason, my previous blog format suddenly went haywire and I was unable to restore it to the original layout. This happened just after I added two new blog sites to my favorites. WTHeck? All of the links on the right side of the blog shifted to the bottom and the blog title simply disappeared. Not wanting to completely re-design the former template, I settled on this dynamic Blogger template for the time being.

You can still access the favorite links by hovering over the black bar to the right of the blog post.
I would like to transfer my blog from Blogger to Wordpress, but will wait until we are in Mexico and have more time and hopefully feel less frustrated with my lack of computer geekness.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Update on 'So much to do'- Mexican Embassy

After an e-mail to the Mexican Consulate requesting information on the documentation we need for our  visa applications, and two missed phone calls, I spoke with the agent in charge. Her first question was to find out if we planned to work in Mérida. Upon informing her that my partner and I would be retiring, she asked if we were married. If not, then we would be required to apply for separate visas.

Here is the list of documents needed for the application, which I believe is for the Visa Permanente, not the Visa Temporal.

  • Fill out the visa application form.
  • Apply at the Consular Section in person, Monday-Friday, except holidays.
  • Original passport and one copy of the pages containing personal information, photograph of bearer, expiration date and extensions.
  • One front view color passport size photo, without eyeglasses and with white background.
  • Original and copy of the document that proves that the applicant is a legal resident in the USA if he/she is a foreigner.
  • Payment of the consular fee: $36.00 (Exact change, Visa or Mastercard).
  • Proof of economic solvency:  Original and copy of documents showing that the applicant has a bank account or investments with a balance of at least $119,865.00 US dollars after taxes during the previous 12 months,  OR,  Original and copy of documents showing that the applicant has had a pension or monthly income of $2,500.00 US dollars after taxes during the previous 6 months.

This sounds reasonable as opposed to some reports of having to provide odd-size passport photos and letters from the state police verifying no criminal record, etc, etc. There was no mention of property
ownership in Mexico, so we will be sure to bring copies of our fideicomiso and utility statements.

The only problematic issue with the new immigration laws seems to be the prohibition of foreign plated vehicles. This seems to have quite a few expats scrambling to drive their vehicles out of the country or going through the expensive process of importing their cars using a customs broker and paying the duty tax. 
This is likely what we will have to do because driving down is necessary and it would be ridiculous to enter on a tourist visa just to have a car and then have to exit the country every 6 months. The importation fee is a huge chunk of change, but I'm choosing to look at it this way. It will cost us about the same amount we pay in Virginia property taxes each year. The import tax is a one time deal.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

So much to do...

With our home in Virginia now actively on the market, we must turn our eyes toward the necessary steps to get us ready to actually pack the van with a few tropical weight clothes, our two dogs and cat, and head out for Mérida. The immigration laws have changed since we began this journey and although we can't foresee any problems, we must make a few decisions about how we will proceed.

First, we will need to visit the nearest Mexican consulate and apply for the Temporary Resident Visa. Once in Mexico, we then will have 30 days in which to go to Immigration to get the 'permanent' Temporary Visa. If I read the new regulations correctly, it is possible to apply for the Permanent Resident Visa immediately if retired and possessing sufficient income. Under the old regulations you had to have the FM3 for 5 years before getting the FM2. I think the key here is retirement and home ownership in Mexico.

All of the new rules relating to pension income, investment income, and property ownership are still a bit murky at this point. Our property in Mérida is owned jointly and the fideicomiso reflects this.  The question is: How do we sort this all out, divvy it up, and leave the US with both of us carrying the appropriate visa?  Can we call the Mexican Consulate and get an answer or do we have to have it all sorted out before we visit them? And exactly what papers and how many copies do we need to bring with us? I've sent an e-mail (in Spanish) to the Mexican Consulate in Washington, D.C. We'll see what they have to say. I've heard that different consulates require different documentation, one even requiring a letter from the state police certifying that there is no prior arrest record. Neither of us should have any worry there. I also hear that current expats are experiencing long waits and multiple visits to renew their visas. It would be really nice if we could get everything done with just one visit to Washington. It's a 3.5 hour drive or 4 hour train ride from our home. I'm trying to approach this process with patience. The same patience we will certainly need once in Mexico and that we need now for the selling of our home

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dreaming of Warm Tropical Breezes

Palm, Yucatán
(photo Courtesy Google Images)
While the entire Eastern Seaboard of the US is huddled, trying to stay warm in extreme cold, I can find some relief by simply viewing images of beautiful, tropical Mérida and the turquoise and azure hues of the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, outside our home in Virginia, the temperature is 30℉ (-1℃). That doesn't sound so bad, but the wind is blowing and the chill factor is likely 10-15 degrees lower. When I returned from walking the dogs this morning, my hands felt like they were on fire! I'm sure our friends (who are in Mérida as I write) have checked the weather for the NYC area. It is currently 14℉ (-10℃).
Enjoy the remaining days of your trip to the tropics, guys!

Did I mention that our home is now officially on the market? We have had one showing and the couple wants to come back for a second look. We have always had very good luck selling our homes, but of course the market is the worst in the history of our experience. Nonetheless, we have high hopes for a reasonably fast sell. Mérida is calling us for an August move. We might possibly take a few detours on our way down, ending up at Casa de Las Lechuzas in September. Warm, tropical breezes...

Beachfront, Sisal, Yucatán
(photo Courtesy Google Images)

Home, Sweet Home

Friday, January 11, 2013

Los perros en Mérida

I recently received  a comment on an older post related to the proposed Tampa to Yucatan ferry. I wrote about our desire for the ferry to become a reality because it would be the least traumatic way to transport our two dogs and cat to Mérida when we move there this summer.  The commenter stated that many people bring dogs into the country only to abandon them later and suggested that we leave our dogs behind and adopt unwanted dogs in Mérida, thereby "helping the problem, rather than adding to it." I was offended, at first, that this anonymous person could think that I would consider bringing our dogs to Mérida and then abandon them after realizing that they were getting in the way of our lives or becoming a nuisance or too expensive to keep. It was obvious that this person did not know us or the value that we place on these amazing animals. My response was that "suggesting we leave our dogs behind would be like asking someone to leave their child behind." (Here is where some will roll their eyes at such a comparison, but our animals are a part of our family).
And yes, they can be demanding and difficult at times.  I feel certain that our two would flunk out of Dog Whisperer school. The trauma they both experienced in the first few months of their lives, before we rescued them from certain euthanasia, helps us tolerate minor neuroses that others might not. I bonded with my first companion at the age of three -an American Staffordshire Terrier named Penny, who snarled when anyone that she did not know approached me. These animals are in our lives such a brief time, yet their impact is profound.

Having thought about the comment for a while, I have come to realize that the writer had only the best interests of the dogs in mind. It is tragic that so many companion animals are neglected and banished to the streets or to a shelter, where far too many must be euthanized because no one wants them. That is a heart breaking reality. There are many angels (and I know a few of them) who are working in Mérida and elsewhere to help end this tragedy.

Campaigns should be waged that discourage parents from giving in to their children who want a pet without understanding that it will be the parents' responsibility to care for the animal. And it is a HUGE responsibility with considerable expense. People should stop purchasing animals from retail pet shops. The "cute and irresistibly adorable" factor is responsible for many impulse purchases that begin with good intentions and end disastrously. Dogs, especially, can be trained to a degree but they have their own personalities and boundless energy. Watch out when they don't have an outlet, like DAILY walks, to expend some of that energy. They adapt amazingly well to your environment, and when they are not out sniffing the grass or pavement, or sleeping, they simply want to be with you. Always. Some chew furniture or shoes for a while but usually stop with a bit of gentle, but firm admonishment. They leave hair and muddy paw prints wherever they go. They want to sleep in YOUR bed, quietly at the foot or snuggled up against you. They wait patiently when you leave for work or go out to dinner and are ecstatic when you return. Every time. They depend on you for their every need and in return they give absolutely unconditional love.

As I've said before, not being able to bring our animals with us to Mérida would be a deal breaker.