Tag Archives: US Expats in Mexico

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.


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.


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.


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.


Today’s Spanish Lesson ¿Dónde está el baño?

18 May

When out and about in the US, one rarely thinks twice about bathrooms, unless you’re at an outdoor venue and forced to use a port-o-potty.

In Japan I once stumbled into a unisex bathroom which was a surprise to say the least.

Japanese Unisex bathrooms contain stalls and urinals.

Japanese Unisex bathrooms contain stalls and urinals.

In the airport bathroom in Istabul there was a sign asking people to please not wash their feet in the sink. International bathrooms are full of cultural experiences.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

You can’t miss this sign at a roadside Mexican restaurant.

Outside a roadside restaurant.

Pull over I gotta go.

Living in Mexico in the 70’s gives me a point of reference for baños. It was so much worse then. Public restrooms were hard to come by and toilet paper, as we know it, was not common (newspaper, comic books). A lesson my grandmother taught me, and every woman in Mexico knows, never leave the house without tissues.

In Bacalar.

In Bacalar.

Today, there are clean functional toilets (most of the time) in Pemex stations where you stop for gas. The trouble is, they charge $3-5 pesos, $.25-.40 per use. It is a clear discrimination against women, since men have no trouble peeing on their tires. I’m not sure what’s up with the whole peeing on the tires thing, but you see it everywhere, pull over and pee on your tires!

Then one day I came across this –

They can't refuse you service.

They can’t refuse you service.

Handing a few coins to the bathroom attendant in the bus station, restaurant, government building, grocery store or hotel is the norm. I figure that I can afford it and it’s a way to circulate money to people who’s income it is. It’s the same for the people that pump your gas, sack your groceries or help you park your car (whether you need it or not).

So when looking for the baño in México, remember to bring your tissue and always have a pocket of change, or you too could find yourself peeing on your tires.


A Favorite Laguna Bacalar Picture

A Favorite Laguna Bacalar Picture

L’chaim To Life – To A Dear Friend Adiós

11 May

While laid up this week mending a broken leg, I have little of our usually active life in Bacalar to share. No photos, but lots of sadness. Life can be very, very unpredictable and I’m not talking about a broken leg.

Last December I posted Familia Nueva About two good old gals from Texas that Lisa and I met here in Bacalar. They were retired and living in San Miguel de Allende taking a six-week Yucatan holiday.

Who would have imagined that we would meet another couple with the same age spread (12 years) and history (20 years) together AND a blast to be with. Not only did we hang out and visit the sights and sounds of Bacalar, on our return trip from Texas in January, we visited them in San Miguel and got the royal treatment. We stayed in their newly remodeled home, saw the sights of SMA and made plans, over morning coffee, for future joint travels and visits to each other’s homes. Lisa and I returned to southern Yucatan looking forward to seeing them again.

Last Saturday, we received something we never ever expected, Judy’s Facebook obituary. She had died in her sleep Thursday night of a brain aneurism, as near as anyone can tell. She was 51 years old.

One thing we enjoyed while visiting SMA was Nancy and Judy’s wedding video. They had traveled to California last September to make their relationship legal. Lisa and I will be following their footsteps in July.

Life is precious and we only have today. Nancy and Judy lived life to the fullest. Nancy has wonderful memories to sustain her and good family and friends to remind her she is loved. All that other stuff of life suddenly seems not so important – Love each other and God bless.

By the lake in Bacalar.

By the lake in Bacalar.

Judy's beloved rooftop view.

Judy’s beloved rooftop view.

You will be so missed.

You will be so missed.

Roaming, Rambling, Rumbling

27 Apr

We made a quick trip to Austin this past week. Lisa had a command performance with the Veteran’s Administration and we got to visit kids and grandkids.

A Visit With the Sons

A Visit With the Sons


The culture shock I felt upon re-entry was challenging. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced the disorienting sensation of not belonging when returning “home”. In the 70’s when I returned from living nine months in Mexico, I didn’t have words to describe it. I was 22 and trying to figure out life. In the 80’s, I again returned to the US after two years of living in Japan. The depression I felt confused me. I WANTED to return, had chosen and looked forward to it, so why was I so sad?

Sophia Aria Fisher and Daddy

Sophia Aria Fisher and Daddy

Easter With Hunter

Easter With Hunter

I think this time, I was overwhelmed by the wealth we have in the US. Our grocery shelves are stocked with so much variety. Ten different kinds of soy milk! I spent so much time in traffic, bumper to bumper. We pay a high price for consumerism. I don’t know where I’m going with all this. Maybe it’s an excuse to share pictures of my grandchildren.

Aren't they Cute?

Aren’t they Cute?

One thing is evident to me, we’re all connected. The choices we make in the US have an impact on the rest of the world. Our appetite for cheap goods creates garbage that piles up in poor countries ill equipped to deal with it.

I don’t have any answers. It feels like a runaway train. We need elected officials who get it. Meanwhile, live your life, be happy, Happy Earth Day everyday.


Ah Retired

10 Nov

Two and a half months and we’re beginning to feel the edges of what it’s like to be retired. After a lifetime of “chop wood, carry water, repeat” days begin without an alarm clock or schedule. This week we returned to Chetumal, as my persistent rash is defying usual treatment and we are on to Plan B. We live in such a sanitized world in the US and acclimating to a new environment is a rite of passage for expats here. For some reason the skin really takes a hit. I will never need lip balm again, nor lotion for dry skin, and I will adapt.

Chetumal is the capital city (pop 140,000) of the state of Quitana Roo. It is the source of all things city for those of us living in quiet Bacalar (Walmart, Sam’s, movie theaters, medical, immigration, and live music). It’s a thirty minute drive and Lisa and I are learning our way around as streets are rarely identified and the city layout defies logic.

After a quick visit with Dr. Quintanilla, we headed downtown to El Centro.

Museum of Mayan Culture

Museum of Mayan Culture 

The museum houses both a permanent display of the great Mayan cities and visiting free exhibits. I really enjoyed the Day of the Dead exhibit by artista Carmen Vazquez. Visit our Facebook page to see pictures of her amazing art.

Replica Mayan Village

Replica of a Mayan village


Model of Tikal, Guatemala

Model of Tikal, Guatemala

Mayan Columns

Mayan queen

After our museum visit we discovered a great little Turkish restaurant across the street and treated ourselves to coffee.

Turkish coffee is beautiful little china cups.

Turkish coffee beautifully served in tiny cups.

And now for the best part…we went to our first movie in Mexico…Gravity in 3D (tres day) with Spanish subtitles. With my old person card, we paid about $10US for us both. There were seven other people in the theater. Free museum entry, discounted movies…not bad, and we even enjoyed the movie!

Last night we also stopped to enjoy live music at a restaurant where we are making friends with the staff. Do you believe it, two dates in one week? Ah, we are learning to enjoy the retired life.

Que padre!

Date night with Lisa.

Date night with Lisa at El Pargo

A chance to practice Spanish.

A chance to practice Spanish.

When the mind is like water, calm and peaceful, it reflects the beauty in the world. When it is agitated, you can have paradise in front of you and not see it.


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