Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012


It was just about this time last year that I published this post about aguinaldos for mail carriers and employees, be they part or full-time.  I believe it is worth publishing again as a reminder to all of us living in Mexico.  So, here it is again:

Yes, it is definitely that time of year. It all starts with the mail carriers who have their special day on November 12, Dia del Cartero. In your mail box, they will leave a card with a return envelope, preprinted with their name on it. (Convenient, huh?)

You simply insert your “gift” as a token of appreciation for their service for the past year. I think they must like me because I actually participate in giving, partially because I have always given to my mailman when in the States in appreciation for the services they provide, and partially out of fear that if I don’t give, I may never receive another piece of mail as long as I live in Mexico!  

On the other hand, I readily give generously to my housekeeper who works for me fulltime, year round. She is an integral part of my adopted family that I have been fortunate enough to have for 23+ years now. She is a single mother and has two children and a small house that she supports on the salary I pay her. In addition, any special needs that arise, I take care of plus I help whenever I can throughout the year. Her Christmas bonus is above and beyond the norm, and includes several gifts for both her and the children. I do believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive and this is one way I can give back to the community that I have chosen to live in. Something I think we all should do.

If you live in Mexico and you have an employee such as a housekeeper, gardener, cook, driver, or just someone who stops by to help you with chores every now and then, you should consider paying an Aguinaldo. It is customary to do so here in the Yucatan and throughout Mexico as well. There are even formulas on the internet to ascertain the amount you should pay!

Basically, from what I have seen from others living here, the Aguinaldo is considered the “Thirteenth Pay”. That is, one months’ salary for either full or part time help. In addition, to the monetary part of the Aguinaldo, a gift, or gifts, are often given as a token of appreciation for loyal service and/or longevity of service, or both.

Aguinaldo’s are usually paid in Mid-November up to the first part of December and often represents the total “Christmas” the family will have, including food, drink, and gifts. Often, the children in the family will receive some new clothing as their gift and are absolutely delighted to do so! (Unlike some children “north of the border”.) Let’s face it, the people that work for us are generally poor and do the best they can with what they have. It doesn’t hurt to help. It feels GREAT!

You don’t have to give until it hurts, just give until it helps.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I have recently been thinking of all the wonderful things there are to be thankful for while living here in Merida.  Mind you, it is not “cheap” to live here, but you do get a bigger bang for your buck on many items.

I live on a budget but do take the opportunity to splurge on myself whenever I can.  For example, I have a massage therapist come to my home twice a week and I receive physical therapy and massage therapy.  He is a licensed professional (four year college graduate) and does a great job.  His charge is 150 pesos for one hour.  150 pesos is the approximate equivalent of $11.50 US.

The other day, I went for a haircut, shave, and manicure.  Each service cost 90 pesos, or the approximate equivalent of $7.00 US.  There are many places that charge less, but you get what you pay for.  I normally only get a shave and a haircut, but there was a new girl in the shop just starting out so I thought I’d help her out a bit and give her some business by having a manicure.  I rarely get a manicure, but I actually enjoyed the pampering.  While getting my manicure, Evelyn was cutting my hair.  Afterwards, I received a facial cleansing and light facial massage with a skin treatment prior to my shave.  After the shave, more facial cleansing, a bit of gel for my hair, and I was on my way, feeling like a million dollars.  All of this cost only $21.00, plus tips of course.  How can you afford not to pamper yourself every now and then?  I cannot imagine what such services would cost in the US or Canada, but I’m sure it would definitely be more than $21.00 US.

Having had an on-again, off-again, stomach flu bug for the past two weeks, I decided to go to the doctor.  Most local pharmacies, have a doctor on staff.  They are usually young and just starting out, but nonetheless, they are medical school graduates.  I knew I needed an antibiotic to get rid of this bug I had and explained my symptoms to the young doctor.  He diagnosed me with an intestinal inflammation and gave me a script for an antibiotic, cipro.  His charge:  zero/nothing/nada!  His services are a courtesey of the pharmacy.  I went to the pharmacy to fill my script and the medication cost only a few dollars.  Total charge for doctor’s visit and medications was approximately $11.00. 

So yes, there are some tremendous advantages of living here in Merida.  But realize that, comparatively speaking, not everything is so inexpensive.  There are lots of items that cost more here than in the States.  Food prices keep going up and up, as does gasoline.  Electricity is another big ticket item, too, as are most electronics.  But, after all is said and done, you can live comfortably here, even on a fixed income.

Life is good here in Merida and I am grateful for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I received an e-mail from a good friend and want to share it with you and I hope you, in turn, will want to share it with your family and friends.  This little known fact about the board game Monopoly has recently come to light after being de-classified by the British Government in 2007.  I checked both the internet and SNOPES, and it is a true story.  Here is the e-mail I received from my friend, JS:

Starting in 1940, an increasing number of British Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape.

Now obviously, one of the most helpful   aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of 'safe houses' where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks -- they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. Someone in MI-5 got the idea of printing escape maps on silk because it's durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, 'games and pastimes' was a category of item qualified for insertion into 'CARE packages', dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were located . When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's also managed to add:

1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass;

2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together;

3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a 'rigged' Monopoly set -- by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets.. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn't declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington's, as well as the firm itself, were finally honoured in a public ceremony.

Realize most of you are (probably) too young to have any personal connection to WWII (Sep. '39 to Aug. '45), but this is still interesting. 

In my last post, it was hats off to the artisans of Becal, Campeche.  I now take my hat off to those ingenious Brits, and especially to those loyalists working at Waddington’s Ltd, Great Britain.  Thank you just doesn’t seem sufficient for their efforts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


The tiny pueblo of Becal lies 80 kilometers southeast of Merida, Yucatan, just over the border in the state of Campeche.  Becal’s population of approximately 6,500 is a friendly and hospitable group whose smiles could easily challenge those of a Cheshire cat!  A happy group of industrious folks, still steeped in Mayan traditions, will welcome you with open arms.

Other than smiling faces, Becal has only one industry and that is weaving.  Hats, purses, jewelry, baskets, and other trinkets are all hand woven by individual families, not factories.  And they are the best of the best when it comes to hand weaving, the art of which has been passed down from generation to generation.

The trip there began without fanfare and a map.  Unfortunately, unlike a  “Trip-Tik” map from Triple A Motor Club of America, our map didn’t show any of the road construction and we were forced to navigate numerous detours to the point that we actually missed our turn off.  I must add that it wasn’t our fault as there were no signs! 

As soon as we entered by the main square in Becal, we somehow picked up an escort on a bicycle.  His name was Paco, about 15 or 16 years old, and he obviously knew all the hot spots of Becal.  He offered to take us to some homes that were open and offering their goods for sale and he also offered to show us the best place to eat in town.  I’m 100% sure he was either related to these folks, or at the very least, knew them well. 

We followed him to an unassuming little house where the senora welcomed us with a broad smile.  We entered a small, very clean home and were encouraged to go to the backyard area where the gruta  (cave) was and enjoy its coolness.  It’s been said that most homes in Becal sport a small gruta in their backyard.  I recall that when I had visited there some 20+ years ago, I remembered seeing many such caves in the backyards of the local towns people.

You might ask, “why a small cave in the backyard”?  It all has to do with the processing of the jibi (palm frond leaves) that are required for the construction of the hats and such.  The whole process starts with the selection of the palm frond, and this determines the quality of the hat.  The palms are dried on clothes lines and then stripped into long sections, ready for weaving.  The finer the palm frond, the better quality the hat is.

The hats are hand woven and then placed inside the grutas to cure.  The grutas are  cool and very humid and the dried palm fronds absorb the humidity and add permanent shaping to the hats as they cure.  When the process is complete, the better hats can be folded or rolled and will bounce back to shape in an instant. 

 Hats range in price from 4,000 pesos (approximately $308.00 US) to 200 pesos ($15.50 US).  The old cliché, “you get what you pay for” definitely holds true here.  The hats sold by the vendors on the streets of Merida are usually the lesser quality hats, and the vendors try and get as much as possible for one, usually averaging around 250+ pesos per hat. 

I opted not to buy a hat as I have several at home, but some friends along on the trip each purchased a very nice hat.  I purchased a hand woven skeleton and a colorful rosary, as shown in the photo below.  The senora holding the rosary is the one who wove them.   Having enjoyed our day, our guide, Paco, received a substantial tip, and we headed back to Merida for a late lunch.

Historically, the “Panama Hat” was an integral part of the typical dress of the locals, and remains so today.  Although named Panama hat, the original Panama hats came to us from Ecuador, not Panama!  (Whoda thunk it!”)

To the smiling faces of the locals and artisans of Becal, I say “HATS OFF”!

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Luckily, this new law will not affect those of us that were born abroad and living in Mexico.  The law does affect those that were born in Mexico, are living abroad, have become naturalized citizens of the country where they are living, and are traveling back to Mexico for a visit.

 A friend who became a US Citizen and is living in Los Angeles for the past 45+ years or so, arrived here in Merida for a visit with family and friends.  A trip she has made approximately every other year.  Normally, she presents her US passport and enters Mexico with no questions or problems.  Not so this visit.  In Houston, she was told she had to have a Mexican passport to re-enter the US.  At the airport here in Merida, she was told the same.  Because she had made this trip numerous times before, she paid little attention to the Immigration officials, but asked her nephew to check on this for her.

After several phone calls to Mexican immigration officials and much wasted time on the telephone, a specific answer to the question could not be ascertained.  One young lady said yes, she would need a Mexican passport to leave the country.  When asked if this was something new, she said it was not and that it had been in effect for ages.  Absolutely not true.

 I called the US Consulate here in Merida, explained the situation, and was advised that yes, my friend would have to have a Mexican passport to leave the country.  This was the result of a new law that was passed approximately one year ago. 

 While I do not begin to know the requirements to get a Mexican passport, I do know it requires lots of paperwork.  The gist of this post is to advise any friends or relatives you may have or know of that were born in Mexico, and became citizens of another country, of this new law and how it affects them. The price of the passport is approximately 2,100 pesos, and there is a myriad of paperwork requirements, including birth certificates, passport photos, you name it.  While it only takes 2 or 3 hours to get your passport, getting to the point of receiving it will be much more intense.

 Pass this on to anyone you know who may fit the category.  You will have saved them lots of heartache.

 Ahhhhhhhh, Immigration – wonder what they have in store for us next time we go to renew our paperwork so we can stay here and spend lots of money.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



Lately, I haven’t blogged as much as I would have like to for a number of reasons. Primarily, I continue to experience difficulties with the Blogger Program with issues of spacing and multiple problems posting pictures. In addition, my Adobe Photoshop hasn’t been very cooperative, and I continue to have computer problems. I’ve had two different technicians out to check out some of the problems I’ve been having and both have assured me that I’m crazy. So be it. I have had fellow blogger’s tell me that they, too, experience problems with the blogger program and for no apparent reasons. Well, I can only assume that they are crazy too. We should start a club!

Although the first day of summer isn’t until June 20th, I’m already experiencing the summertime blues. I can only describe the heat as “hell-hot”, a phrase I coined many years ago and now have several people using. I plan all my activities for early mornings because after 11 or 12 o’clock, it is just too damn hot for me to be out running around. I’m actually getting pretty good at planning. The other day, I hit the bank, paid the electric, paid the water, got the car gassed up, and went to the grocery store! I was home before the high noon heat wave! It also seems like the humidity is much higher this year than in past summers. I hate it when you just get out of the shower and get soaked with perspiration while getting dressed. What a horrible feeling. Thank God I have air conditioning in all four bedrooms, the dining room and the living room. Anyone wanting to contribute to the fund for my electricity bill, please let me know and I’ll give you an account number for your deposit. In addition to all of the above, I haven’t been up to par of late. I’m getting physical/massage therapy twice a week and that is helping, but not curing. I take all my meds like a good little boy. (This getting old crap is for the birds – the vultures!)

Today, my primary whine is the traffic in Merida. OMG! To me, and others I have mentioned this to, it seems like traffic has at least doubled in the past year or so. The downtown streets are being torn up and replaced with cobble stone-like slabs of concrete. Electric and telephone wires are being re-routed to underground tunnel areas, and the police directing traffic are clueless. Traffic lights are not synchronized and someone needs to check this out to help the flow of traffic. I got caught in downtown traffic the other week for 45 minutes. I actually timed it. Supposedly, all that muss and fuss is over with, but I avoid the downtown area like the plague. But, it doesn’t matter where you drive anymore. There is bumper-to-bumper traffic in all directions. It isn’t unusual to wait for two light changes before you can get through some intersections. Street parking has been severely restricted, and traffic jams reign supreme. This old colonial city we love so dearly, is becoming a driving nightmare. At any given stop sign or traffic light, you will see license plates from other Mexican states, especially Mexico, District Federal, Tabasco, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Campeche, and more. Because we have a reputation for being a safe city and not affected by the drug wars, thousands of Mexicans are migrating to Merida to avoid the drug wars in their own states. And they don’t drive any better than the locals! I could go on and on, but let it suffice to say, driving in Merida is becoming more and more difficult with every passing day.

I will try and do better about posting on my blog and will grin and bear it with the program and Adobe Photoshop, or I may take to drinking. If I post a blog and it’s not spaced properly, know that I tried or that I imbibed. I’ll continue to do my best to stay cool and “keep my cool”, too (a real challenge). I’d really love to get out of Merida for the two hottest months of summer, but I have to feel better first. And I will work on that, too.  I will also strive to be a courteous and safe driver and not bitch too much about the %&#?=#%traffic or lean on my horn, or use various hand and finger signs to communicate with other drivers.

Wish me luck!