Sunday, September 25, 2011

It’s What’s For Dinner

Ya’ll know we are from Texas. My Dad was an avid hunter and fisherman. I grew up eating venison, dove, quail, squirrel, with an occasional domestic rabbit thrown in for good measure. Ty comes from a West Texas ranching heritage so cabrito (kid goat) prepared from roasted to barbequed was often served on his Grandmother’s table. Ty’s job has taken him to the far corners of the earth so he has consumed local food from New Guinea, Africa, Burma, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru. We love good food!
When we moved into our new Mérida home, we became accustomed to the family of iguanas who lounged in the sun, ate the leaves off our plants and scurried to their home in the rock wall whenever Gringa Dog made an appearance.

As the construction debris began to take over their space we saw less and less of our family of iguanas. As I have mentioned before most everything seems unfamiliar here, but this is just my impression, for thousands of people here it IS familiar, it IS normal, it IS life as usual.
One afternoon, when I knew the guys were finishing up their work for the day, I went outside to say “Hasta Manana”, they were all gathered together with hushed voices and all eyes glued to me as if anticipating something. As I stepped off the back step my eyes fell upon what they were anticipating a reaction to….

There neatly bound with twine was the largest of our iguanas (at least I think it was our iguana, as it is hard to tell them apart). Instantly I told myself to mask my shock and proceed as normal. Somehow, in my not very good understanding of Spanish I managed to comprehend, some albaniles and their family would be feasting on Iguana. In fact, it probably made its way back to our house for lunch the next day disguised in some wonderful spicy mole. I hope my reaction was one of honest curiosity, as I would not have wanted to offend these men. Ty has worked in countries where iguana was standard fare. Iguana to these guys was just dinner.
As the days went by the mounds of sand and gravel slowly began to disappear, mixed with cement then hand carried by the bucketful, and skillfully poured and smoothed into place.
PVC pipes were set in the mamposteria walls for the pool drain and filter. The plumbing for the pool jets were installed in the walls of the pool.
Our beautiful patio and pool area
The concrete columns were placed over the rebar towers and filled with cement, sand, and gravel; soon they would begin the arches.

 It appeared we all had fine-tuned our routines; we began to eat when the guys ate and take our siestas while they took theirs. Every day we anticipated what would take place on the construction site that day!
We began to joke, “Living in Mexico IS an adventure and we don’t even have to leave the house”.   

Friday, September 23, 2011

“My Merida Life”

I have been thinking about our blog. Thinking about the name we chose. Thinking of us, Our life, past, present and future. I am not sure if it has occurred to you, our readers, however one day it hit me. “My Merida Life”, a blog about one couples odyssey in a foreign land sounds singular to me! When Ty first presented the name, I jumped on it, I thought it was perfect, not realizing maybe it should be “Our” instead of “My”. We delegated the various jobs of writing, posting, etcetera according to our personality. Guess who does most of the writing and who does the detail work?
We met in July of 1974, married in July of 1976; our entire adult history has been a shared experience. We have had our difficulties, had our share of triumph and tragedy. We raised two sons and a daughter, lived in seventeen different houses and we are Grandparents to eight Grandchildren.

With most of our family in Playa del Carmen
In my mind’s eye when I think of Ty, I see the young handsome man I married. I see the proud Dad around our dinner table. I hear his dry sense of humor in observing everyday occurrences. I see my “Hunk a burnin’ love” with gray in his hair and life’s expression around his eyes.
That's right, eight grandkids.....OK, it's an older picture

This leads me to the conclusion “My Merida Life” is the perfect name for “Our” blog. If you knew us, you would totally understand. We are the epitome of opposites attract. Ty is more reserved, quiet, thoughtful, dry witted, introverted and solid. I am a never met a stranger, free spirited, impulsive, permanently distracted good-hearted women. I have always said, “Together we make one really nice whole person”.
I am not meaning to sound all sappy or paint a picture of a perfect relationship, we have our issues. It just took seeing it in print to really analyze what I always knew to be true. We are “My” not “Our”.
If “our” blog ever seems a little schizophrenic you now know why!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Back To Reality

In the movie Doctor Zhivago, Yuri and Lara visit a house in the frozen tundra of Russia, white with ice, it is an ethereal moment in the movie, and the house is a ghostly white winter wonderland. I can relate to that scene except the temperature was 100 degrees and it was not ice, it was dust. While Ty, Adie and I frolicked in the aqua waves of the Caribbean, our house was being picked apart with a hammer and chisel leaving behind a fine white powder that crept its way into every tiny crack and crevice and coated every surface inside and out.

The overhang attached to the house, where the new porch will be had to be removed leaving a jagged scar on the walls, exposing the mamposteria (stacked stone). After four hours of mopping, wiping, mopping a second time and washing every dish, our dust covered abode was again inhabitable. We fall into our chairs, exhausted, open a cold one, and have a good laugh.
Debris from “The Dig” is carefully screened for valuable dirt, the remaining rock shoveled into buckets and dumped on the ever-increasing mounds in the back of the yard.

With anticipation, we stand gazing into the hole and watch as Jose places the first stone to create the mamposteria wall of the swimming pool. Julio and Jose work hard, taking great care in selecting and placing each stone.
The columns arrive and are neatly stacked in the corner awaiting their installation. Four-foot holes are dug near the foundation of the house to check the stability of the walls then once it is determined the foundation is sound they are filled in and yet more deep holes are dug for the footings of the columns.

Handmade rebar towers are placed into the deep holes and filled with rock and cement.
                              Before long, we have the footprint of our swimming pool.

                                     By the way, today is Adies birthday. She's four.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Our Get Away

The Cuota road cuts a straight path through the jungle of The Yucatan Peninsula from Merida to Cancun. The divided highway with steep tolls is a quick if not a little boring route, missing all the charm of the pueblos and activity you would find on the Libre road, however it offers a quick and easy path to the enchanting Mayan Riviera! We took this route cutting off at the Cancun Airport exit over to Highway 307, which traverses the Caribbean coast from Cancun to Chetumal. Our destination for the night is charming Hacienda Paradise, a pet friendly hotel near Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue. We have always enjoyed Playa and have fond memories of walking the pedestrian only tourist area and the sugary sand beaches to the west in Playacar. Playa is seductive, luring you with clean white powder beaches, crystal turquoise water and a bohemian international appeal. Across the channel, you can watch ships seeking port at Isla Cozumel. After you have had enough sand and sea, you can find a sidewalk café for a good meal and people watching. Hurricane Wilma furiously changed the once rustic “Playa” to an upscale and fun place to vacation. Strolling the newly cobblestoned Fifth Avenue makes for easy window-shopping, the stores wares spilling out onto the sidewalk enticing you to spend your American dollars and Euros on their many upscale items. You will most likely see more Europeans than Americans. We settle into our room and Gringa Dog inspects the “Doggie Welcome Basket” filled with treats and toys, the hotel has provided a doggie bed plus water and food bowls. After a leisurely walk on Playa’s north beach we have a scrumptious meal at the famous “Blue Lobster”, while the splurge was pricey the meal was delicious.

Note to self: Insert neat pictures of Playa del Carmen here the next time you go and remember to take pictures.

Early the next morning Ty steered the car onto “307” with Tulum just an hour away we figured why not! It really is not an attractive stretch of road, passing scrub jungle, construction sights and elaborate walled all-inclusive resort entrances, as dull as it is you know just a few meters away are what must be the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Traveling down the road, you pass the exits for Xcaret, which would be the Yucatan’s version of Disneyland, signs for various cenotes, Xelha and countless other tourist sights. Even though Gringa Dog was in tow we decided to check out the visitor center at Tulum ruins, arriving well before the tour buses we found we almost had the place to ourselves, for a while anyway. The vendors petted Adie, ask her name and she was welcome everywhere but The Ruins. Did you know there are three Tulum’s; Tulum Pueblo, Tulum Ruins and the hotel zone, you really need a car to get around here, as it is some distance between the three areas. Turning left onto the Boca Paila road, which winds its way through the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, ending in Punta Allen, we drive the narrow road past one EcoChic Hotel after another and believe me an EcoChic room with no A/C and a mosquito net does not come cheap in Tulum, but the view is mesmerizing.

 We are limited to the only Gringa Dog friendly hotel around, just steps from the water’s edge we will be spending the night in a simple beachfront cabana at “Zamas”.

Adie loves the beach

We nestle our butts in hammocks under the palapa-covered porch, drinking cold beer from our styro chest watching Adie play in the sand. In the evening, we sat on the porch and enjoyed the sounds of the waves as a local band cranked out tunes from the stage of “Que Fresco”, Zama’s beachfront restaurant.

The sunrise over the ocean lures me from under the mosquito net and reality sets in, we must head back to Merida, Casa Sur and that blasted JACKHAMMER. This short Caribbean getaway was a much needed shot in the arm to get us through the remaining months of construction.
Yes, that is a ''ceiling fan'' under the mosquito net. Pretty neat
While Playa del Carmen and Tulum are great places to visit, they are of course, very ''Touristy''. There are just as nice beaches, cheaper hotels, and great restaurants in the area if you are willing to go just a little more ''local''.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Beautiful Merida is one “Hot Mama” in the months of April and May. With the temperature climbing to a sweltering 100F several times, readings of 95F seemed like a cold spell. Dust particles (polvo) from the ongoing “Dig” floated through the air and coated every horizontal surface (We have no glass in any of the windows of our home to allow better air circulation, only metal protectors and screens called mosquiteras). I was also, in what seemed like a continuous state of pedicure, brushing and pumicing to keep my feet clean! Our routine was set, the Albinales arriving six days a week at 8:30 and quietly having their breakfast before starting work. The rhythmic sounds of the digging bar, the scrape of the shovel, the dumping of the debris-filled buckets onto the increasing mountain of rock and dirt.
The work only ceased at 2pm for lunch and a short siesta, then back to the task, the hot Yucatecan sun giving no reprieve. I had heard several expats refer to the locals as a gentle people, and watching the workers, I began to understand this is a very true statement. Looking back, I am still amazed with how quiet the guys were, speaking softly to one another, even reserved in their laughter.
The workers arrived one morning with the JACKHAMMER, shattering the quiet digging with the high-pitched pings of “Jack” crunching through solid limestone.
For three days the hammer intermittently chipped at the rock along with periods of quiet digging, I was thinking this is not so bad, I can deal with this, Alberto assured me, “We will only need the jackhammer for a few days”.

The ping reverberated off the walls inside our stone and concrete house so by the end of the fourth day, Adie with cotton stuffed in her ears and a towel wrapped around her head looked at me with troubled eyes, which seemed to say, “Can we just get the hell out of here?” I was sitting lifeless, my ears ringing, only able to form single syllable words, tears streaking my dusty cheeks.
I awoke hot and sweaty on the morning of day five, punched the phone number for Javier (more about him another time).I heard his sleepy voice say “Good morning, Sara”, through tear filled words I explained, “Adie and I have to go somewhere, I need to find a hotel that will accept dogs”. In a calm reassuring voice, he said, “I will be at your house in thirty minutes”. I threw a few clothes in a bag, gathered Adie’s things and left with Javier.
We sought refuge in Casa Esperanza, a beautiful bed and breakfast near Parque de Santa Lucia, Sergio and his three labs greeted us and made sure we were comfortable. Falling on to the comfortable bed, I was lulled to sleep by the hum of the air conditioner. Adie and I enjoyed swimming in the hot afternoons and she made three new friends. The wonderfully restored mansion with its inviting verandas was the perfect retreat and Sergio the perfect host. The in house tienda “Alma Mexicana” offers unique items from central Mexico and a large selection of Dia de Muertos, Katrinas.
The courtyard at Casa Esperanza

What started out as a three night stay ended up being a week, when Ty arrived from the states we took a little two night Caribbean getaway to Playa del Carmen and Tulum. We spent the next three weeks dropping Adie off at Dr. Tony’s (for daycare) while we roamed the streets of Merida until late in the day when we hoped it would be safe to go home.

Ok, so Alberto was off by about four weeks, cheers erupted from me and I am sure the neighbors when “Jack” was loaded up and carted away.

If you are looking for a great bed and breakfast in Mérida, Casa Esperanza would be a really good choice:

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Dig

The afternoon tropical rain has just passed, leaving the city clean and fresh. I walk down the steps into the pool saying “Adie come to Mama”; she answers with a splash, swimming to me, and then back to the steps, running around to her favorite jumping off place to start the cycle again. After our swim, Gringa Dog nestles in my lap; we sit awhile enjoying the soft sound of the fountain in the coolness of the evening. My mind wonders from this peaceful retreat, to the flurry of activity that has been our life for over four months. First, let me say, we bought a great house; the previous owners had taken great care and made it their home for eight years. We did not buy a ruin, we bought a home, and then we started making it ours. We wanted the addition of a porch, built to enhance the charm of our old colonial, a retreat to sit and watch the rain, to dine alfresco, to entertain, and a pool to enjoy all year round. Did I mention Gringa Dog loves to swim?

The back of our home when we bought it

I sat for hours drawing and redrawing the plans, settling on our favorite design, we began searching for a contractor. We utilized several resources and after a couple of interviews hired a local man to manage the job. He brought in his architect and engineer and we looked forward to seeing our dream go from paper to reality.
Buen Provecho
Albinales is the name for concrete construction workers in Mexico, who arrive in the back of a pick up every morning after making the forty-minute drive from Motul. First on their agenda is breakfast, sitting communally on buckets or cement blocks around a piece of plywood, they consume homemade dishes of eggs, tomato and chilies, carnitas, the always present black beans, a half kilo of tortillas, and a bag of habanero peppers, all washed down with a three liter Coke.
The start
Using a pick, shovel, and a digging bar Carlos, Juan and Antonio begin digging the soft shallow layer of dirt. Carefully removing the grass and transplanting it to a new location. Alberto watches and gives direction with the excitement of starting a new job. Since we are living in our house, we are totally immersed in local culture; it arrives every morning in the back of a pick up!
At the end of the first day
The Yucatan Peninsula is solid limestone shattered eons ago by a meteor, some places in Yucatan have less than a quarter inch of soil. Dynamite has been outlawed to build swimming pools (although used in the past), and since everything comes in through the front door, heavy machinery is really out of the equation. Our swimming pool will be dug by hand along with the strong arms and backs of men descended from the Mayan pyramid builders.
You can see the layer of topsoil, then a layer of cement, more dirt, and another layer of cement.
Below the second layer of cement was some dirt, a lot of old tiles stacked up, and solid limestone
The digging is easy as we soon discover there are several layers in the first few feet. Evidently, over the hundred and thirty year history of the house, porches or driveways for carriages had been constructed, now long covered with additional layers of tile, concrete and dirt. The workers find old bottles, coins, pieces of tile stamped with French writing, a horse shoe, fossil rocks too numerous to count, and a broken Metate y Mano (stone corn grinder).
Some of our finds. Still looking for the Spanish gold.
We soon become accustomed to the repetitious tap of the digging bar and the scrap of a shovel, for now at least it is music to our ears.