Sunday, November 30, 2008

Merida for the Weekend

Our friends, Jim and Janet, invited Allan, me and another friend James to go with them to Merida, the Yucatan capital for the weekend to see a craft show and just enjoy the city.We gladly accepted and agreed to meet them there; they would take the bus with James on Tuesday and we would drive down Friday morning, spend Saturday and Sunday in the house they rented and then we would all drive back on Monday. Today is Saturday, our second day into the trip, and I must say the trip so far has been quite enjoyable, certainly with memorable stories and experiences.

On the 4 hour drive from Playa del Carmen to Merida we passed through 3 armed road blocks all without incident. What is most notable is that at every one my stomach drops, heart begins to beat faster – there haven’t been many experiences in my life more intimidating than armed police dressed in military fatigues brandishing loaded automatic machine guns who stop my vehicle and begin to ask questions of me. Without fail they ask the origin and destination of our trip, always let us pass and never fail to show us a genuine smile. I have heard horror stories from other travelers, and I’m sure many are true, but luckily I haven’t experienced one so far.

Unfortunately Allan was pulled over once for speeding. I conceded to the cop that I did speak some Spanish, and luckily the officer wasn’t interested in getting us in trouble – he much preferred to resolve the matter on the spot. To my disappointment as the officer was attending to us a black Hummer passed by traveling much faster than us, but instead of stopping as the officer waved him over, he kept going and was never pulled over as far as I know. It’s been recommended to us to do the same thing (i.e. not stop), but I’m not sure we’re bold or foolish enough.

Once we arrived in Merida, got settled and began exploring what has been most remarkable for me has been that Merida in many ways it reminds me of what I love about New York City: the unique artisan craft and clothing stores. I’ve spend hours just wandering around all the different shops searching for one of a kind treasures. Merida is also filled with a sophistication and culture that is lacking in Playa, perhaps only because Merida is a metropolitan city. What I don’t like about Merida (and what I don’t miss about Boston) is the exhaust fumes and traffic congestion.

We did attend the craft show today, which was quite enjoyable – it can be hard to find such a diverse array of hand crafted treasures in Playa. Allan managed by purchased a Mayan statue while I settled on a piece of ornamentally sewn fabric while I’ll use to drape over a night stand. Tomorrow we’re going to a gigantic fair, which also should be a ball, especially considering Allan loves fairs, and since moving to Mexico has missed all the good ones in New England.

There is supposed to be another craft fair in 6 months, and I’m already looking forward to returning to Merida to see what other treasures I’ll discover.

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I pose in the back patio of our rental in Merida with small pool in the background
A local artisan weaves colorful Yucatan blankets.

Janet and Jim on our open roof bus tour through Merida.

Boston? Who would have known we would find a restaurant in Merida bearing the name of our home town.

Me on the open roof bus tour of Merida.

James, Jim, Janet and Allan in front of one of Merida's colorful buildings.

I relax on a hammock in our rental.

Jim, Janet, James and Allan pose in front of our rental in Merida

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You Get Aroused When You Talk to Me

There must be some truth to the rumor that married men are often attracted to their hired help because I keep (accidentally) hitting on my housekeeper due to my rusty Spanish skills. This evening my housekeeper, Zoila, and her cousin, as well and Allan and I were dining on Chinese food at a local restaurant when Zoila began explaining that although we often understand each other there are instances when we just don't comprehend. She speaks only Spanish, and although I've taken 10 years of Spanish and even studied in Spain for 6 months my Spanish is very rusty after not having practiced for 10 years.

The rest of the conversation (in Spanish) goes something like this:

Me: I don't understand you (Zoila) when you start to get aroused because you speak very quickly.
Zoila: I don't think you mean aroused. I think you mean excited.
Me: What did I say?
Zoila: You said when I'm horny I talk to you very quickly and you don't understand what I'm trying to say.

We both laughed about it after wards, no offense taken. The reason for my faux pax was that I was using the word "exitada" (aroused) when I should have used "emotionada" (emotional) or "nerviosa" (nervous). That's the problem when I try to use direct translation of the English word excited and expect I can just remove the ending, add an "a" and have it mean the same. Regardless Zoila and I now feel closer... in more ways than one!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Day of the Dead

Every year on November 1st (All Saints Day) and 2nd (All Souls Day), Mexican's celebrate the life of loved ones who have now since passed. While it may be strange for many to understand the connection between the dead and living, for Mexicans the two are intertwined. After celebrating my first "Day of the Dead" I was more able to understand this connection.

My American friend, Janet, who has lived in Mexico for the past 2 years recently lost her father. Janet decided to take up the Mexican tradition of constructing a small alter in her home in his memory. In remembrance she placed photos of him on the alter, his favorite food, tools he used, a hat he wore, and in the end the physical and mental act of commemorating his life and death helped Janet come to terms with the loss of her father. Many people loose loved ones and never overcome the tragedy because many fail to confront the fact that this person is gone - they refuse to completely grieve the loss and to mentally and physically get over the death.

Although Janet has since removed the alter, leaving it standing for only a few days during the Day of the Dead, its impact was significant on me - people both living and dead can have substantial impacts on our lives. To write them off and to not remember and commemorate their lives is a tragedy. Too many loved ones now gone sit dead beneath grave stones in graveyards, rarely receiving a visit. I think next year Allan and I will construct our own alters in memory of our deceased loved ones.

Janet has written more about the Day of the Dead, the alter to her father, and living in Mexico (she's from Philadelphia) in her blog here:

The following photos were taken at the XCaret theme/aquatic/cultural park during Day of the Dead celebrations.

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I pose with a girl dressed as La Katrina (or "Lady Death", Mexican's most popular phrase for death).

Janet, ever the wonder artist, paints her partner, Jim's face.

I guess Janet and I are just a little hungry... or crazy?

Allan, Janet and Jim, showing off Janet's face painting skills

Mexican women dressed in traditional skirts pose as the living dead behind skeleton masks.

Dead but still married, this skeleton couple proves that love endures forever.

I guess there are cowboys in heaven! Thank God!

Even children die, as we are reminded by this little Mexican girl posing as a skeleton

Why can't death be fun? Let's ride unicyles!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Drinking Too Much

Yesterday was the first day I didn't drink a beer or mixed drink in I don't know how long. You would think I was an alcoholic by the amount of adult beverages I consume in Mexico. Friday I had 6 throughout the day: 2 beers, 2 pina coladas and 2 mojitos. Most days I have at least 1 or 2 whereas back in Boston I might consume 1 a month. There's just something about living a relaxed lifestyle that induces a minor drinking habit: going to the beach and sipping pina coladas on lounge chairs basking underneath the sun or meeting friends to listen to live music at a beach side bar. It's not that I need a drink to get me through the day or to face myself or the outside world - it's more that it's fun and relaxing and a great social habit.

Now I am consciously trying to do without - and it's not that easy living in Mexico. We met friends at a beach side bar last night for some good 'ol camaraderie, live music and dancing and everyone was drinking - except me. I didn't feel left out or out of place or uncomfortable. However, it did make me realize that my lifestyle could perhaps be conducive to a drinking habit if I was so inclined. Luckily drinking is something I can easily control and feel no strong desire to get a buzz or become plastered. I don't know how long I will endure this self-imposed abstinence from alcohol. Perhaps instead I will just consciously remain aware of my daily and weekly consumption and try to reduce the limit, mostly to preserve my liver in old age and my waistline, which is remaining constantly too big given my 3 days a week of running.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Leave Chocolate on the Balls

The following is an actual transcript of a conversation I had with my housekeeper, Zoila, regarding some chocolates I left in the guest bedroom for my 2 friends who were visiting this week. The conversation happened in Spanish, and although my foreign language skills are improving, there's much which can be misinterpreted. I was trying to explain that when she cleans the guest room to leave the chocolates on the pillows. However, I confused the words "cojines" (cushions) and "cojones" (balls).

Me: I've left some chocolate on the balls for my guests. Please leave them there.
Zoila: Excuse me?
Me: Please leave the chocolate on the balls in the guest bedroom.
Zoila: Balls?
Me: How do you say pillow?
Zoila: Almojada
Me: What did I say?
Zoila: You told me to put chocolate on your balls
Me: (In jest) Do you want to?

We'll see if she comes back to work next week... Perhaps she'll bring her friends!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Why We Chose Playa del Carmen

As mentioned in a previous post my business partner, Allan, and I run a property management and rental business in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. There was a point in time back when we were living in the States that we hadn't even heard of Playa del Carmen. I mean, 20 years ago this place was a quiet fishing village, and the only way to reach it was via dirt roads or the ferry from Cozumel. Now Playa del Carmen is one of the top global vacation destinations. Guiness Book of World Records rated it the fastest growing area in the world. However, it wasn't until friends in the States starting mentioning Playa that I learned about it. Within a short amount of time it seemed like 1/2 of our friends and acquaintances had already been there - and many of them dreamed of moving to Playa.

Upon advice from friends Allan and I decided to visit. We were enamored with Playa right away: 300 days a year of sunny, cloudless skies; 82 degree ocean water; fantastic cuisine; gorgeous turquoise waters; top rated snorkeling and scuba diving; a relaxed lifestyle; no snow; and friendly people. Rather quickly into our trip we considered moving. I think it was a conversation with a realtor that really convinced us to move. The realtor knew we had significant property management experience State side and felt that if we moved to Mexico we could easily become successful if we kept the same quality and standards we maintained in the US. He emphasized there are many property managers in Playa - some good but most are either inexperienced or frankly take forever to get things done. Allan and I considered our options and decided after much thought that we both wanted a change. We both dreamed of living abroad and this seemed like the perfect opportunity - so we decided to grab it!

So far, things are going great. We are quickly picking up new clients and making tons of new friends. We try to network at every opportunity, whether it be at a party or event and feel it's not only good for business but also fantastic for our social life. I would highly recommend living in Playa. Come to visit and at least check it out. Stay in one of our gorgeous vacation rental properties at We've got some great vacation rentals in condos or villas in Playa del Carmen and Puerto Aventuras.

Our billboard as seen around town - one at Mamitas Beack, one of 5th Avenue and one due shortly outside Playacar Phase 1.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Photos Nov, 16, 2008

Our housekeeper's adorable daughter, Carla. She keeps asking when she can come to our home and visit the dogs.

My mom, me, Rickey and Mitzi at Punta Roca, Puerto Adventuras. On the right is a pool filled with ocean water that has a water feed and drain to keep fresh water moving. There are even lounge chairs made from rock that sit just below the water so you can relax and stay cool.

Allan and his new mate, an iguana he met in Cozumel.

Native pottery on the way to Coba.

A butterfly at the butterfly sanctuary in XCaret.

Mitzi, our beloved companion. She was rescued from a shelter and has just simply been a blessing and a joy!

Janet Lowe and me at XCaret, an aquatic and cultural theme park. We're here for Day of the Dead Celebrations. Janet and her husband, Jim, are from Philadelphia and have been living in Playa for almost 2 years

Allan poses in front of some parrots at the bird sanctuary in Playacar.

Me at Cenote Azul. Cenotes are natural springs - many are below ground - and in some you can reach by climbing 50 foot ladders down to swim in illuminated pools connected via underground rivers. This centote is above ground though it does have an access underwater to reach the underground river network. Sport some scuba gear and a flashlight to check out the hidden wonders. As in most Cenotes, this one is filled with colorful fish. Swim at your heart's content and escape the heat and crowds of Playa.

Me at the top of the pyramid of the Maya ruins of Coba, about 2 hours from Playa. I climbed the precipitous stairs to reach this sumit and barely made it to the top.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Work, Work, Work

Yes I took a nap at 11 am for an hour and watched part of Armageddon, and yes I walked down the beach with Allan to meet friends for lunch under palm trees only 10 feet away from 82 degree turquoise Caribbean waters (some of the warmest in the world), with unobstructed views of Cozumel, and yes I stopped by trendy Mamitas Beach club to jump in the ocean and listen to cool instrumental club beats originating from large speakers at the beach club as topless Europeans sip pina coladas, but it's currently 11:15pm and I'm still working. Yes, I have a perpetual tan and no, it's almost never cloudy or rainy or below 85 during the day. But I do work 6 or even 7 days a week and I'm loving every minute of it.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yes, I'm You're Friend, so I'm Only Going to Stab You in the Back a Little

I'm starting to believe the rumors and the reasons why people say Mexicans don't trust each other. From good friends in Playa to Mexicans themselves, they all seem to reiterate this so called cultural fact. Although such generalizations may help to give a cursory understanding of the culture here, I try to stay away from such broad classifications. I'm sure the same could be said about many Americans.

Generally speaking Mexicans only invite family into their home. Friends, business associates and others are met in cafes, bars, etc... and are generally never brought into the inner circle. I'm not sure if this is because people are ashamed of their homes, don't trust their friends and associates or if it's just the culture. I'm thinking it's a combination of all 3.

At the gas station the other day the attendant saw my Massachusetts license plate and began telling me that his brother is living and working near Boston. The attendant then began to relate how he himself was working in Michigan and his Mexican boss in Michigan stole all his money and that of all his fellow workers, so the attendant had to flee back to Mexico.

Another Mexican, a lovely girl in her 20s who works at the XCaret theme park, was telling us she traveled from Mexico City to Playa to visit her Aunt. However, when she arrived her Aunt stole all her money including her bus money and now she's stuck here.

It was my birthday the other day. As a surprise Allan arranged to have a party at a local bar for me and about 25 friends. This is an establishment that we visit almost daily for lunch, and have become friends with the manager and all the staff. I even translated their menu into English for free and have paid to have our business logo placed on their menus. Apparently when Allan was negotiating the price of the party the manager, someone we considered to be a friend, wanted an exhortation amount of money for the party - more than we would pay in the States. Allan almost walked out he was so mad. In the end Allan was able to negotiate the price of the party to a small fraction of what it was originally. (Think $700 USD down to $150 USD.) He apparently thinks were rich and dumb - or perhaps that's just how business is done here.

The party was a blast, but I can't stop thinking how this friend tried to screw us. I've been told that this is just how things operate here - you have to negotiate. Start high and then go down. However, I would never think for a moment of trying to rip off a friend - or even a client or someone I did not know for that matter. It's just not in my blood to take advantage of people. Granted the same situation could happen in the States. However, I've been told by many friends, Americans and Mexicans alike, that it's just how things are done down here and "that's why Mexicans don't trust each other."

I guess the jury is still out on this subject. I'm not entirely ready to give into the fact that most Mexicans are not to be completely trusted. Sure, I'm careful when having contractors come into my home. If I make Mexican friends I'm not going to assume they're going to rip me off at the first moment. I just don't want to generalize or not give someone the benefit of the doubt. Granted, my radar is always on and if I'm suspicious of someone I'll act accordingly. I'm trustful but not entirely naive or out of it. I'm fairly astute when it comes to reading people. However, there's always someone out there who flies under the radar who is looking to screw someone. Does this self-centered person live in the hearts of all Mexicans or just some of them? Is this person in us? Should I automatically be distrustful of all Mexicans or give them the benefit of the doubt (while keeping an eye on them) if they make it past my radar?

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