Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Como se llama tu casa?

Many things are different here in Mexico.  Well, most things. Well….. Everything! One of the different things I love about Mexico is the houses are often affectionately given names by their owners. How this all began I am not certain, but maybe the practice harkens back to colonial times. The grand old haciendas had names, used primarily to distinguish them from one another, similar to the large ranches of Texas which of course have names.  Communities sprung up near the haciendas where the workers and their families lived, the haciendas may have fallen into ruin but many of the small communities around the crumbling haciendas that dot the Yucatan peninsula today still carry the name of the original hacienda. Naming your home is a very charming thing to do and most expats take great care in doing so. There are many names I absolutely love: such as Casa Suenos, Casablanca, Casa Azul, Casa Las Sirenas, Casa de dos Tortugas, Casa Buena Vista.

 Expats often select a name describing a feature of the home, themselves or what they hope their home will be, using Casa Rima our friends from Texas carried over the name of their sailboat. From observation, we have concluded most Yucatecans do not name their homes. As you walk the neighborhoods, you see plaques attached to homes such as La Familia Gomez. Choosing a charming name for a home seems to be a Gringo thing!  After the purchase of our Merida home, we began to muse over what name to choose, we had some good laughs with names such as Casa Cerveza, Casa Iguana and Casa Adie. It brought back memories of naming our children and pets. We pondered and we pondered but nothing was sounding right.

Of course living here in an old colonial home was our dream, of course, our home offers the hope of a simple and secure future. We considered Casa Amarillo, but I did not want to be tied down with a certain color for the facade, what if someday I painted the façade, pink, lime green or turquoise we could find ourselves in a constant state of renaming our house! One day as most things go with us as a joke we decided House in the South, we are south of centro historico, we are from a southern state in the US; we thought it all made perfect sense. The Spanish translation is simple and strong. A beautiful stone plaque engraved “CASA SUR” will soon hang near the front door.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Key

I rub the long silver key between my fingers feeling the gently worn notches.  The nights Ty and I sat on the patio in Midland, dreaming of a life south of the border. Hours of research, planning, saying goodbye to a life we had worked so hard to build, saying goodbye to family and friends. All of our past and our entire future all represented here in my hand in that long silver key. With a deep breath, I insert the key and turn the lock, tears well in my green eyes as I push open the hundred-year-old door. Stepping onto the tile floor dull with wear, I say, “Adie we are home” she wiggles out of my arms, with her nose to the floor she inspects her new surroundings. I feel small as I scan the thick walls and seventeen-foot ceilings crisscrossed with Belgium iron beams. Yesterday I sat in the air conditioned office of our attorney, Enna and listened intently as she translated the official closing documents on our Mexican house. Now, with bittersweet emotion I prepare to spend the first night in our new casa, Ty working two thousand miles away. 
Our new home. And yes, that's Adie in her stroller

Our new home built sometime around 1886 was once a humble colonial dwelling beside a dirt road on the edge of Merida. The land surrounding the casa was a small cattle operation called a quinta. Originally, one large room spanning the entire front, a bedroom and a large terraza, a small outdoor kitchen would have been unattached at the rear of the house. The hundred and twenty six-year history of the house has brought many changes, the street was paved and smaller homes sprung up around it. At some time, a new wall was erected dividing the long front room into a bedroom and sala, and the terrazza was enclosed, the outline of the original arches still visible. Sometime in the thirties a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen added much needed room. More changes came eight years ago when the previous owners updated plumbing and electrical along with adding a bathroom and storage. In the large yard, among all the tropical plants, we have mango, papaya, mandarin, and lime trees and no Yucatecan house would be complete without a sour orange tree.
Shaped by the climate, Yucatan houses built in the colonial era have features found nowhere else in Mexico. The export of henequin to Europe influenced the architecture. Ships returning from faraway ports loaded with ballast, dumped their load at the pier and originally offered these items free to anyone willing to haul it away. Belgium iron beams, French pasta floor tiles and clay roof tiles.  Influenced by Spanish, French and Portuguese architecture these one-story dwellings were designed with flat roofs, soaring ceilings, and large double doorways and windows for greater airflow. The conquered Mayan workers fashioned thick mamposteria (stacked stone) walls then covered them with stucco, using techniques inherited from their pyramid-building ancestors.
  As Adie and I snuggle in for the night, on the bed the previous owners graciously left for us I fall asleep to the sounds of our new neighborhood, in the distance I hear the faint melody of a traditional Mexican bolero. In the wee hours of morning, we are startled awake to the loud bang of fireworks. Ahh! Such is the contrast of a Mexican neighborhood.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

SE VENDE (For Sale)

What do two Americans do when they want to buy a house in Mexico? RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. When we decided to move to Mexico, we talked of toes in the sand days leisurely sucking down cerveza as palms rustled overhead and  turquoise waves licked the shore, however we were jolted from that daydream by the reality of needing infrastructure!
After we discovered the colonial cities of Yucatan we knew exactly what we wanted. We desired authenticity in the house and the neighborhood. We Googled constantly, searching every available website. We scanned real estate listings.  We read forums and blogs gleaning information from every available source.
You never know what's behind those doors!
I made a research trip to Merida and we included the colonial city of Campeche as well. We even considered a couple of charming properties outside of Merida.
I met with two different realtors and looked at a dozen or so homes. I walked the neighborhoods of the houses we liked at different times of the day. I spoke with an architect about renovations. We have remodeled our last four homes in the states, so I guess we like being under construction. Truth is we like our home to reflect us.
''Original'' house w/ big yard
Upon arriving in Yucatan we took a breather at the beach, and from available real estate websites we began our house hunting. By this time there were only a couple of properties we were interested in, if they did not fit the bill, we would just keep renting.
Really neat Mérida house

On a Sunday morning, we walked the floors of the home we would buy. Some “experts” suggest when you relocate to a foreign country; you should try it on, see how it fits, and rent for a year, which truly is sound advice even though we did not do that. When we left Midland, we both knew we were one hundred percent committed; it truly was Mexico or Bust.  We were standing in the back yard of the house and we decided it just felt like home. We made an offer, the owners accepted and we were on our way to having a home in Mexico.
Tall ceilings
House in Campeche w/ promise

Monday, August 8, 2011

Little Seaside Pueblo

The road to Sisal weaves its way through the jungle, past henequen fields, crumbling haciendas, quaint pueblos, and century old churches spilling us onto the sugary beach and the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Just a short drive from the bustling city of Mérida we find the small peaceful village, the decaying colonial buildings stand in testament to what was once ‘The Port” for henequen exportation. The building of the Progreso pier sealed the fate of Sisal and the once bustling shipping town took its lumps with grace. When the henequen arrived at ports on distant shores the bales were stamped SISAL, so the name of this tiny town is known around the world as the unofficial name for henequen.

The salty gulf air makes us hungry for fresh seafood so we seek out a beachfront palapa covered restaurant and feast on shrimp dinners washed down with cold cerveza and coca light. With our toes in the sand we know it is days just like this one that we dreamed about for so long.