Tag Archives: US Expats in Mexico

In Search Of Poo

16 Apr

Before moving to Mexico from Austin, Texas in 2013, I had tried my hand at gardening for years with minimal success. Raised, postage stamp, and self watering beds were always fed from the compost in the corner of our yard and the rainwater collected off the roof. We even built a PVC Quonset hut, covered with shade cloth in the summer and plastic in the winter and hung with lightbulbs to survive the occasional freezes of Austin’s unpredictable weather.

One year I had a surprising success with a small bed of strawberries. Our grandson, Hunter would walk in the front door and out the back in search of all the tiny, sweet, red morsels his pudgy little fingers could find. Another year I had a bumper crop of cucumbers and then could never grow them again. Mostly I was feeding the insects. Gardening is both an art and a science, and while I’ve learned a lot, my green thumb seems to be intermittent at best and completely nonexistent the rest of the time.

Hunter and Lisa

I had big plans for coming to the Costa Maya. Surely the tropics would support my lifelong dream of a smaller footprint if not outright sustainability. We would grow our own veggies! We hauled gardening tools and various sundries in our six foot trailer, none of which contributed to our food-growing success.

We do have a lime tree which I planted before the house was built and is producing enough fruit for our use. I have a very sad, sickly avocado and a mango tree that may be large enough to produce fruit before I die.

One sad avocado.

We’ve built a row of beds, hauled in organic soil and again with the shade cloth. Every beginner gardener’s veg, the lowly radish was a dismal failure. Tomatoes, squash, lettuce, and cilantro all withered. This week, with dogged determination, I set off to find manure aka estiércol aka poop (cow, chicken, or goat).

Rancho Bacalar

There are many ranchos out in the less populated areas surrounding Bacalar, how hard could it be to find manure?Our search took us to a corral and house set back off the road looking like something right out of a Texas playbook complete with cowboys, horses and of course, cattle.

Bramin cattle. So beautiful and curious.
The foreman, welcoming and helpful.
Her foal was tearing around not liking that mama is a working girl.

We were directed toward a pile of seasoned dung, filled three trash cans and were off. The foreman told us to come back anytime and blow the horn and someone would open the gate. Mission accomplished. I still won’t hold my breath on the avocado.

DOS TORTAS

MAYBE

Quarantine Penpals

7 Mar
Sunday Sunrise

I had a pen pal in fifth grade. I wish I could say that we still write to each other. I would have a story worthy of the evening news. Truth be told, I don’t remember much of our penship, not even where she lived or how long we corresponded.

Letter to my father.

When attending college in Mexico in the seventies, I wrote a letter to my father. I found it among his things when he died. A keepsake for sure. He had written a letter to me that I responded to. I wish I still had it.

Do we even know how to write?

For awhile I lived in Okinawa, Japan. It was the eighties, before smart phones, computers and instant communication. I hand wrote letters on blue, tri-fold airmail paper. They took awhile to arrive stateside but the fifteen hour time difference made phone calls challenging.

In the time of Covid I have nurtured a few pen pal relationships. One is with a guy I met on our cruise to the Panama Canal a year ago. He and his wife hung out with us on board and we knew they would be good travel companions. Dan likes to write. He sends missives that are entertaining and detailed. He is a good storyteller and together we exchange our lives in lockdown.

Panama City

Someday they will come to Mexico. Perhaps when we are all vaccinated, when Covid cases are manageable and when we can hug each other and go out. Won’t that be grand?

DOS TORTAS

Go Directly To Jail – Do Not Pass Go – Do Not Collect $200

27 Nov

This week The Tortas traveled from Mexico to Florida to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with  family. Passing through US customs should be a snap right? It can be, unless you forget to eat the apple.

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“Where’s the woman with the apple?”

The sign at the Miami airport said to be sure to declare any food in our bags. They made it sound so friendly that we told the agent, rather than act surprised if our wayward apple got discovered during inspection. We were surprised alright, just not in the way we expected.

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Stock photo but it looks just like this.

What followed taught us a huge lesson. NEVER leave food in your bag while crossing into the US from anywhere. Stay calm, do not get angry or indignant. Insert “yes sir or yes ma’m” into the conversation at every opportunity. Oh, and stay calm.

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The issue was resolved thanks to the “Washington” agricultural sticker on the apple and a bit of groveling on Lisa’s part. There were many people who weren’t so lucky.

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The TORTAS hanging out with our son.

The rest of our vacation has gone without incident. Key Largo looks a lot like Bacalar. The weather was perfect. It’s always a joy to visit with family. We’ll be home tomorrow. Gratitude, blessings and happy holidays to all.

DOS TORTAS 

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Sacred Icon- The Virgin of Guadalupe

25 Sep

The Virgin of Guadalupe (Mary, Mother of Jesus) is the most revered and familiar image in Mexico. She may be single-handedly responsible for the conversion of Mexico to Catholicism. Devotion to Guadalupe is widespread and overshadows all other saints and even Jesus. So how did she come to grace the walls of our home? (House Full Of Goddesses)

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Brought with us from Texas, this statue replaced a gift from my mother that was stolen out of our yard on Mother’s Day, no lie. The grotto is at the head of the stairs to our front entrance.

As my interest in the sacred feminine unfolded in the nineties, it was not a stretch to see Mary as the modern-day Goddess. My Catholic roots played a significant influence and somehow (to my mother’s delight) this wayward church going girl began acquiring images of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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My sister-in-law, hearing of the theft of our statue, sent this Guadalupe. She has her own niche in our living room. Hindu goddess touch mine.

Things snowballed from there and Guadalupe moved in.

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I found this print at a thrift store in Texas. She graces our bedroom.

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Painted by my friend Cat Thompson and badly needing a frame.

There are numerous smaller images throughout the house, each with its own story. The most spectacular is the carved, wooden relief that we found in a bazaar in Villadolid during our travels prior to the completion of the house. (Show And Tell Art Purchases)

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All the seller could tell us was that the piece had hung in his home many years and was carved by a man from northern Yucatan.

She was purchased without thought as to where she would hang or if the colors would match, etc. It was purely a gut, “gotta have it” response. The carving was wrapped in newspaper and cardboard and stored until the house was complete.

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She clearly needed a place of prominence.

When we brought the relief out of storage and placed her on the wall, it was an emotional moment. It appeared as if the room were designed for her by her. I believe Spirit moves in many ways. Our home is holy ground on the shore of a sacred lake. We are so blessed. DOS TORTAS

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Preparing For Our First Hurricane

7 Aug

As The Tortas approach three years of retirement on Laguna Bacalar in Southern Mexico, our first hurricane was predicted to arrive Wednesday evening with up to 75 mph winds and twelve inches of rain. We live about thirty miles as the crow flies from the Caribbean, separated by water and mangroves and not much else. As with all hurricanes, much depends on their direction and intensity. We watched the sky and prepared for the worst.

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A Beautiful Day For A Hurricane

We hired workers to help us prepare. They cut dead branches, put away outdoor plants and furniture, tied up the kayaks and set sand bags in place. Our concern was for water barreling down the hill toward the house, if we got the foot of rain that was predicted.

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Machetes Were Flying Trimming Trees

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Plants Off The Roof and Kayaks Secure

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Reinforcing the Dock

As predicted the rain started late Wednesday afternoon. And then it stopped. We waited. Everything we could do was done, so it was time for the TORTAS first ever hurricane party!

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Dinner, Dominos and Drinks with Neighbors

During the night Earl turned south and took the brunt of its damage to Belize. Lisa slept through the wind which was hardly more than any tropical storm that blows through Bacalar. We had several heavy showers over the next few days, and that was all. Almost disappointing.

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The Islands Of Belize Were Not So Lucky

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Thursday morning with intense skies and waves.

While we are grateful for the lack of damage we received, we are much more aware of the amount of work it takes to be prepared. In the future, a generator, hurricane shutters and improved drainage could cut the time in half. Lesson learned.

DOS TORTAS

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The Gods Were With Us

26 Jun

Watching a wall of rain barrel across Laguna Bacalar is a breathtaking experience. There’s barely time to batten down the hatches before the tormenta strikes. During the rainy season we close up the house before any outing, no matter how clear the sky or the weather predictions. You just never know.

Last weekend was the maraton or swim across as we fondly call it, across Laguna Bacalar. It’s a three quarter mile swim with hundreds of flailing bodies. I saw three boats almost run into each other trying to get to a swimmer requesting help. People were panicking in water that wasn’t even over their head.

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Over a thousand registrants.

The weather was perfect and the Laguna calm. The sun even peaked out as the race was beginning. After days of torrential downpours, the gods were with us.

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Checking out our medals.

Swimmers come from all over Mexico, Central America and the US to participate in this open water, fresh water event. There were many young people who left me far behind, some old people too. My official time was 37m 33sec. Not bad for not having trained. I was experiencing residual pain from the kayak marathon.

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Team Bacalar – Shawn, Alex, Jim, Polly and myself

I know so many people that say that they hate to exercise. I don’t go to the gym because I love going to the gym. I go because I can sleep better, walk further and lift more without hurting myself. I go because it helps me live in my body in a way that nothing else does. DO TORTAS

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Blog follower Emily came from San Miguel to swim!

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Swan Lake – Lago de Los Cisnes

19 Jun

A ballet in Chetumal? It was a student production with 40 peso tickets ($2.50). I had extremely low expectations. If you have read previous blogs, you know that even though it is the state capital, Chetumal is not exactly the cultural center of Mexico. But we take what we can get from our sister city to the south and off we went our little group of four gringos.

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The theater itself was a nondescript building. We took public transportation which was a good decision. There was only street parking available.

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Constitution Theater

As with all ballets, the audience was peppered with little girls dressed in their Sunday best.

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The doors opened and everyone filed in and got settled. Out came the cell phones. I think some people actually recorded the entire production.

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The theater attendees were not well versed in ballet etiquette, which is understandable given the dearth of opportunity in Chetumal. Our little band of gringos led the applause at every opportunity.

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Selfies with honorary Torta and neighbor Teresa.

I wish that I had read the synopsis prior to attending. The program was in Spanish of course. With the low lighting and these old eyes, there was no figuring it out. I simply enjoyed the set, costumes, recorded music and performance.

 

The surprise was that it was wonderful! I was in awe of the young dancers and the professional lead (I am making assumptions here). They got a standing ovation from our little band and none other was more deserved. We chattered all the way home in our taxi how amazing the performance was. The best $2.40 I ever spent! DOS TORTAS

 

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So When Will The House Be Done Already?

28 Jun

The Tortas are in Tulum visiting our Austin friends Karen and Skip. We are on a hunt for items for our house, tile and light fixtures mostly. Options have increased over the last few years in our outpost of Mexican living. We now have a Home Depot in Chetumal which is thirty-minutes away, woohoo. The style of our house is rustica or pueblo. There are rounded corners, thatched overhangs, concrete floors, stuccoed walls and niches. Mass-produced furniture, lighting and all things made in China are not what we’re looking for. The hope is that Tulum and Playa del Carmen will offer more options.

Ok, so there are some exceptions.

Ok, so there are some exceptions. About $135

We stopped by the property for a progress update on our way out of town. There were a dozen workers trying to beat the rain clouds hovering overhead. Progress over the last six weeks has been amazing.

Front entrance.

Front entrance.

The molds have been made and the concrete will be poured for the arches above the door and windows. Construction out of concrete is a whole new world for us.

Rounding corners with concrete blocks.

Rounding corners using concrete blocks. Amazing!

The workshop aka Lisa’s she-cave is waiting on a part to install the garage door. A carport will be added to provide an indoor/outdoor work space.
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The arches have been poured over the doors and windows in this section. To the right is the entrance to the main bedroom and bath. The interior window will allow an open view into the bedroom and close for privacy when desired.

All rooms open onto the porch with views of the Laguna.

All rooms open onto the porch with views of the Laguna.

The stairs leading down to the Laguna from the porch will also provide security allowing the house to remain open to the night breezes.
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The trip to Tulum and Playa del Carmen afforded the purchase of decorative tiles for a yet-to-be determined location. It also gave us ideas, like these clay sconces for the porch.

Which do you like best?

Which do you like best?

I liked these. They can also be painted.

I liked these. They can also be painted.

The roof will go on in the next week or so. After that begins the interior detail work of building counters, installing sinks, adding lighting and pouring floors. There will be many trips to Chetumal. And the projected completion date is…the end of August, four months as predicted. Forgive us David if we didn’t really believe you. House construction is the very definition of delays and unforeseen problems. Add Mexico to the mix and many projects languish. To say we are excited is an understatement. Lots of work left to do, but definitely light at the end of this two-year tunnel.

DOS TORTAS
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The Benefits of Struggling to Learn Spanish

10 Aug

The New York Times recently posted an op-ed called The Benefits of Failing at French. I can relate.

In 1973, with the already aging brain (linguistically speaking) of twenty-one, I began the lifelong journey of learning a second language. I came to Mexico in the fulfillment of a childhood dream to experience my junior year abroad. I lived with a Mexican family who spoke no English. I had classes four hours a day, four days a week and drank mucho cerveza to loosen the tongue. Over the long weekends and breaks, I traveled as much as possible and fell in love with a culture and people that were difficult to explain when I returned to New Jersey.

Sunset in Cozumel.

Sunset in Cozumel.

In the more than forty years that have passed, I have both clung to and completely forgotten my desire to return to Mexico. As I began entertaining thoughts of retirement, memories of living here ignited fireworks and the rest is, shall we say, her-story.

Crossing the border almost a year ago woke the Spanish synapses that were more than a bit rusty. Those old feelings of my brain aching and not being able to remember words in either language came roaring back. I am happy to report that my Spanish has greatly improved in a year. I have resisted studying and have chosen to learn by practicing. I have conversations in Spanish as often as I can and find that my brain hurts less these days. Yesterday I even had a conversation on the phone, which I usually avoid, as there is no opportunity to read lips. I must admit that when friends comment on my improvement, I want to preen my feathers and crow.

Hotel La Semilla in Playa del Carmen from our recent visit.

Hotel La Semilla in Playa del Carmen from our recent visit.

Lisa had no ability to speak Spanish, other than the curse words picked up on a job site, when we arrived last September. Her first vocabulary words were highway signs on the drive down. Her learning approach has been different from mine. She uses a popular set of educational CDs and a workbook that I bought her. She now converses with locals and orders easily in a restaurant. The reason for her skill is that she doesn’t give up and she isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Our friend’s parents call her the parrot because she uses her thirty or so words, hugs them and leaves. They see her progress and love her effort. More than one of us has something to crow about.

Sunrise this week on Laguna Bacalar.

Sunrise this week on Laguna Bacalar.

So I recommend that you read the New York Times article and don’t miss the comments. Our brains need the challenge. Our changing world needs us to understand one another. What better way than to learn another’s language. And I’ve heard that the third language even gets easier, no matter what age you are.

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Healing a Not Broken Leg – Isn’t Life Amazing?

25 May

Memorial Day weekend 2013, our daughter was getting married. Life was busy with selling our home, getting rid of most of our possessions and winding down our jobs. We went from crazy busy to retirement life in the jungle of southern Yucatan.

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Life here is not for everyone. We did not want a large English speaking community with all the amenities of the US. Our nearest city and the capital of the state of Quintana Roo (Row) is about a 40 minute drive. Chetumal (pop 260,000) sits on the boarder with Belize and the Bay of Chetumal. It is not a tourist destination in spite of efforts to make it so.

Museum of Mayan Culture

Museum of Mayan Culture

Chetumal is where we go for medical care. Friday was three weeks since my fateful bike accident and time to return to the traumatologist. Don’t let appearances fool. While the buildings look right out of the 1950’s, the care is top notch.

Clinica Independencia

Clinica Independencia

My experience thus far with medical care has been that it’s low tech but very hands on. Doctors take time. It’s not that high tech isn’t available, MRIs, etc are reserved for more serious situations. Dr Diez-Torres removed my cast, gently manipulated my knee, assessing pain and range of motion. He explained using a model what was going on. Our conversation was in both English and Spanish. We looked at the X-rays again and agreed that my leg probably wasn’t broken. He told me to return to normal activity as I was able and use light weights to do leg extensions to build muscle strength. I felt like I was talking to an equal.

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My knee continues to heal. I look forward to swimming and no pain. While life in this corner of the globe is not for everyone, the lack of stress and beauty that abounds makes it perfect for us.

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Emilie Vardaman

travel and random thoughts

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