Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Doctor with the Magic Touch

There's this American guy who claims to be a doctor, and walks around Mega, our local grocery store, handing out business cards. I will call him Doctor Ricardo. It makes me wonder what type of American physician needs to drum up business in the pharmacy department of a grocery store. On his business cards he only lists his first name and cell phone - no address or last name. He does not even have an office. If you ask me it sounds rather suspicious.

What would make him that desperate? I would think a good US doctor would have no problems finding clients in Mexico. Although there are good doctors in Playa, I'm sure the whole expatriate community would swarm to a good US doctor, someone they feel they could trust, who speaks their language and charges Mexican prices.

As luck would have it a couple of friends did try out Doctor Ricardo. They called him for a simple house call, as they were feeling ill. Doctor Ricardo took their blood pressure and prescribed some medication. They said he was fine, but that they were surprised that he charged them $200 USD, $150 USD more than what is customary in Playa.

Come to find out friends of friends of mine were also suspicious of the doctor with no last name, so they did a little digging and found out who he really was. Doctor Ricardo was a gynecologist in California who was convicted of sexually molesting his patients and was consequently stripped of his medial license. Doctor Ricardo then proceeded to publicly denounce his accusers, listing them by name, another major no no in the medical community. Apart from losing his medical license he was also made to pay for court costs and damages.

Apart from his questionable past, Doctor Ricardo is not even allowed to legally practice medicine in Mexico. He would need Mexican licensing and certification. If something goes wrong there is no real way to hold him accountable. Even though I can't name specific occurrences in the past I have heard this is not the first time a foreign doctor has been illegally practicing medicine in Playa.

Doctor Ricardo has been added to my long list of people in Playa del Carmen with no integrity. He's a predator with no character who preys on innocent victims, only thinking of himself. If he can't make money as a doctor in the US, why not move to Mexico and expose a whole new group of people to his magic hands that wander all over and then rob you blind.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Doggie Christmas Photos

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Matt (the president), Allan (the gopher), Rickey (the geriatric), Mitzi (the boss) and Demi (the brat).

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saldo Vencido - Dealing with a Cell Phone in Mexico

Don't you love hearing messages on your cell phone that say you've either exceeded your credit limit or have a past due balance, and consequently your service has been shut off? What - you've never had that happen to you before? Neither did I until I moved to Mexico.

Apparently my weekend trip to Merida with my parents racked up extra roaming charges on my Mexican cell phone plan which apparently exceeded the limit Telcel thought was reasonable for a given month, so they cut off my service. Many people in Playa have a pay as you go plan, one where you just buy cards to recharge your balance, rather than having a fixed plan. That worked for me for a while, until I felt separation anxiety every time I left the office because I could not check my email. Once I finally received my FM3 (official working papers), I applied for an email, interent and phone plan for around $1,000 pesos/month ($77 USD). Unfortunately Telcel will not allow foreigners to obtain plans without an FM3 or FM2 (resident status).

Since almost no one has credit in Playa del Carmen, Telcel just shuts off your phone service essentially when they feel there is risk you are not going to pay your bill. I guess they feel this is the only control they have over you. What is ironic is that Connie, our office assistant, went to pay my bill on the 18th, but apparently the invoice did not get issued till the 23rd so they would not allow her to pay. Once the 23rd came and my bill exceeded my allowed credit limit, which I am guessing is $1,500 pesos ($115 USD) my phone service was immediately cut off for outgoing calls - no grace period, no warning, nothing - just a lovely message saying either I had a saldo vencido (past due balance) or I exceeded my credit limit.

Off Connie went to Telcel to pay my bill first thing this morning, and once it was paid I was back making calls. It's interesting how it can take months for furniture to be delivered or days for your maintenance man to show up despite promises that tomorrow he'll appear, but when it comes to making sure someone gets paid they are on top of you to the point where they are in your face. It would have been nice that they at least waited 10 days or so after my bill was issued to cut off my service - not the same day - it's not even past due - heck, it's almost not even due - it's the same day!

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Craigslist Scam

Over the past 16 months we have met two separate victims who have been scammed by the same Craigslist predator who goes by the name of Chrissie. The victim replies to Chrissie's ad on Craigslist for inexpensive rental properties in Playa. Chrissie claims to be the owner or manager and then tries to get unsuspecting vacationers to wire her rent money. Luckily in both cases involving us, no money has been exchanged, thanks in part to our intervention. However it does leave us wondering what kind of twisted sociopath would do this to other human beings?

In the first episode, a few months back we received a call from "Janet", seeking our advice about a rental unit in our condo complex. She had read our blog and knew we lived in the Quadra Alea Condominiums. Janet had replied to an ad on Craigslist posted by Chrissie for a furnished two bedroom in Quadra Alea for only $700/month including all expenses. Chrissie asked Janet to wire her the $700, and refused to accept any other form of payment. Granted Janet was a bit skeptical and hence contacted us.

Janet forwarded us her email correspondence, which included photos of the unit. We were immediately skeptical since a furnished two bedroom where we live goes for $1,700 USD, not including expenses. Electricity alone could possibly be $100 or more a month. Going through our list of owners in Quadra Alea, we could not find a Chrissie. Although we did not recognize the unit by the photos, we advised Janet that most likely it was a scam and to not send any money.

Ironically a week later we were contacted by owners of a rental unit in Quadra Alea about us taking over management of their unit. They forwarded us photos, and lo and behold it was the same unit. Needless to say they did not know Chrissie and were very taken back that their condo was being used as part of a scam.

I'm not sure if Janet or the owners reported anything to Craigslist (we did not). That was the last we heard of Chrissie for a while... that is until our phone rang the other morning. Two ladies, "Mary and Martha", were at the security gate of my complex looking for Chrissie. I was thinking Chrissie was a former renter of the condo, back when it was managed by another company. It was not until I went out to meet them that I realized Chrissie was the same Craigslist predator.

Apparently Mary and Martha had arranged to meet Chrissie at the condo to exchange keys and rent, a mere $600 for two weeks over Christmas ($3,400 USD less than it was really renting for). They also refused to wire Chrissie money, but did agree to give it to her in person in Playa. I related the somber news that they had been scammed: Chrissie would not be coming, and that they had traveled all the way from New Hampshire to Playa during the busiest time of year, and essentially they would have a very difficult time finding a unit for only $42/night.

Of course I could not leave them on the street, so I invited them back to my office, offered them a drink, and then began looking for a rental for them. Allan and I decided to let them stay one night in the unit for only $50, in hopes they could find somewhere else to stay the next day. Luckily they did find another unit, and they were very thankful that we didn't just leave them stranded.

Allan and I were left pondering: what kind of twisted person sends two innocent victims to another country when there is clearly no benefit for either party? It seems like a cruel game, orchestrated by a very lonely, unhappy person. Once it was clear Mary and Martha weren't wiring Chrissie money, why would Chrissie then arrange a meeting in Playa with them to receive the money? One would think Chrissie would just stop communication after hearing "I'm not wiring you the money." Perhaps Chrissie's got a good laugh out of sending these ladies to a foreign country, envisioning them standing there at the complex, dumbfounded that they had arrived on vacation with no place to stay. It's almost like flying cross country to attend the Super Bowl, and the person who has the tickets never shows up at the stadium, so you are left outside wondering - what now?

Ironically I use Craigslist often to market our rental properties. We even posted a help wanted ad for website work, and met a wonderful technician in India, who did a great job and did not run off with our upfront deposit. We will continue to use Craigslist as it is a very valuable resource. Even as keen as we think we are into reading people and sensing who is good and who is out to do us harm, there are always going to be people who travel under our radar. There is always going to be someone who fools us, and tries to take advantage. Luckily for the one or two selfish, uncaring people out there, we have met leagues of wonderful souls, who make the journey worthwhile. Hopefully when Allan and I fall victim, there will be someone to help us out and to pick us up and say, stay at my place, we'll help you out.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eight Page Resume

Our wonderful administrative employee, Samantha, (aka "The God Send") left us at the beginning of August after eight months of employment. She headed back to the university after a 2 year hiatus. Luckily she referred a friend to us (Connie) for the open position who has great English skills and wonderful experience.

In the process of reading Connie's 8 page resume I became a bit puzzled at the abundance of random information provided. She listed her educational experience starting from preschool all the way through college. Her place of birth is listed, along with marital status, date of birth, social security number, quality of health as well as the names and occupations of her parents. I asked Samantha if this is normal, and she confirmed that yes, in fact, this practice is standard.

This may be normal practice in Mexico, but it is certainly not normal in the US, and certainly would be a major deterrent. I wouldn't hire someone who sent such a resume in the US. Granted we are not in the US, and need to play by a different set of rules. Regardless, it does make me ponder and question - why on earth...?

I contemplated why all this personal information is not only provided but expected by potential employers. Why should I care that her dad is named Armando and that he's a security agent? Does this have any relevance as to how she will perform as an employee? Why should I care where she went to elementary school? As long as she lists where she went to college, doesn't that automatically mean she went to elementary school and to middle and high school?

I notice in Playa the proliferation of background checks performed for what may be considered basic transactions in the US. When I applied for a cell phone contract with Telcel in Playa I had to list 3 references and their home phone numbers (not cell phones). Telcel then proceeded to call every one of them. When my employee applied for a Telcel contract and 2 of her references did not answer the phone Telcel denied her contract and she had to reapply.

Many Mexicans don't even have credit cards and hence no credit history. It would be difficult for me to run a background or credit check for a potential employee. Perhaps this odd practice of listing a whole slew of irrelevant personal information is just a way of filling in the gaps for a great lack of traceable personal information. I don't know about you, but I am certainly not going to list my social security information on my resume. Perhaps people here are not scared about identity theft because they have no credit to steal, but I certainly am weary because I do have credit, and no, you can't borrow it!

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

I Don't Know

Allan: Matt, what does "no se" mean?
Matt: (intentionally evasive) I don't know
Allan: No, really. I hear you say it all the time. What does "no se" mean?
Matt: (intentionally vague) I don't know.
Allan: (annoyed) Matt, I know you know what it means. What does "no se" mean?
Matt: (to our employee, Connie) Connie, what does "no se" mean?
Connie: I don't know.
Allan: (really annoyed) I know you both know the meaning.
Matt: (to Allan) Who's on first? (to Connie) Connie, what does "no se" mean?
Connie: (to Allan) Allan, it means that you just don't know.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cooking with Spice

Spicy food in Mexico is a way of life. Like peanut butter and jelly are staples of the good 'ol diet of American children, habenero peppers are fed to Mexican children like candy. If you think jalepeno pepper are hot, you should try habeneros; jalepenos are considered mild/medium in comparison. I have heard they are making a new Mayan chile which may be even hotter.

As part of our Mexican experience, I decided to incorporate some spice into our diet. The first day I made stuffed poblano chiles, which came out fantastic. Poblanos are mild by Mexican standards but would beat Taco Bell's super hot sauce by miles.

My second day of cooking burned me, pun intended. I decided to use jalepenos incorporated into a shrimp dish. No one told me I should have used gloves. I deseeded the peppers by hand and then chopped them up nice and thin. Apparently the juice from the peppers remains on the hands and can be transmitted to other parts of the body. Luckily I only touched my eye once, and was mildly blinded for a few minutes until I flushed it out with water.

However the residue on my fingers lingered for days, causing a mild burning sensation under my finger nails. Even after the 2nd day I could put my finger in my mouth and taste the burn. Thankfully I did not spread it to my privates, which I hear are extremely sensitive to the effects of peppers and burn like anything.

Overall I have found my taste buds are becoming acclimated to more spicy foods. I recall the first time I had spicy food - it was an Indian restaurant in Marbella, Spain and it was not a pleasant experience. How can one enjoy food when one's mouth is burning so much? Over time, and through all the spicy concoctions I eat south of the border, I am starting to like spicy more and more. However, I don't think I will ever become like my employees who use habenero sauce on everything - like we would add salt and pepper. The experience of their tounge burning is apparently a pleasant experince, at least according to their accounts. To support this claim just visit the local grocery store and witness the entire vegetable section practically dedicated to peppers. Like baseball teams are part of the US vocabulary, types of peppers roll of Mexican's tounges quicker than you can say Boston Red Sox.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Bonuses

Today we are paying our employees holiday bonuses. Unlike in the US, the bonus or "aguinaldo" in Spanish, is mandatory by law. If an employee has worked for a company for 1 year then 1 quincena (2 week's salary) is due, and must be paid by December 20th. For more than one year of service, the bonus is still the same; for less it is prorated based on the time employed.

As an American I was a little taken back at the requirement of having to pay a certain amount at a given time for a bonus, what is considered to be a gift for exemplary service. That being said, Allan and I are both generous and are inclined to pay our employees more than what is required.

I think part of the reason bonuses are required is that employers probably would not pay anything to their employees during Christmas. I am only guessing based on what my employees have told me - that no one really gives raises. Once you are at a given salary it is almost impossible to receive more despite assurances by the employer to the contrary. Perhaps that is why so many employees here change jobs so often. It seems rare than someone works at a given establishment for more than a year or two. Change your job to receive higher pay. It seems the logic is reversed in the states; employers tend to pay more to keep good employees. However, from my experiences in the US hiring people, many change jobs every 3 years or less, so it is not a hard and fast rule.

One of the benefits in Mexico of leaving a job is that the employer has to pay a stipend to the employee upon their departure, so it can really be an entrepreneurial enterprise for employees to start and then leave jobs, making money upon the departure.

Unlike most Mexican companies, we do pay raises and give bonuses based on performance. The mandatory minimum bonus is the minimum we pay - more is given for exemplary performance. We have heard many gringos complain about the poor performance of Mexican workers. Allan and I have to disagree. We have very loyal and hard working employees who voluntarily stay late without complaint and even work every Saturday 1/2 day. It seems many Mexican workers also are not given a lot of flexibility. Talk to the worker who is chipping paint off the side walk to paint, and he'll tell you his sole role is just to chip paint. Perhaps this has something to do with the rather uneducated work force in Playa who are not trusted enough to perform tasks outside of their very limited set of responsibilities.

Regardless of standard practices in Mexico, Allan and I will always follow the law, doing what is required, but will also value our employees and reward them for good service, hopefully encouraging them to stay longer. The Mexican work force earns significantly less than their US counterparts and lives (at least in Playa) in much poorer conditions. As an employer and human being we feel it is our responsibility to give back as much as we can. Paying raises and giving higher bonuses is one way of doing this.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Making Connections and Answering Questions

I was at Office Depot today buying toner for my printer when the sales girl at the register looked at me and smiled and said "there are no returns on toner." Glancing up I realized it was the same one who sold me the wireless keyboards which I subsequently had Allan return. Apparently she knew I was the one who bought the items which were later returned. Soon I will have to find someone else to return my purchases at Office Depot!

Today I also was at Telcel helping my maid obtain a cell phone contract. I was tired of her claiming she could not call me because she did not have enough cell phone credit to place the call. She is poor, although we do pay her good wages as a maid, and does not have enough money to keep buying cell phone cards. Since she is a key asset to my business, buying the contract for her was the least I could do.

As we're at the counter in Telcel the sales lady was telling me how it costs money to check your messages. I was shocked. The call does not use your monthly allotted cell phone minutes, but rather is charged separately. Now I know why no one here uses a personal greeting on their cell phone - because they don't want people to leave messages as it will cost money to check them. Considering people here don't make enough as it is, spending that extra few dollars each month is not worth while to listen to a voice mail, when all they really have to do is just go through the list of missed calls. Just hang up - don't leave a message. I'll know you called by checking my missed calls. Now it all makes sense!

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Allan loves these flowers.

Lunch cooked by my maids - Adobo chicken and rice and beans.

A church (I think) in Bacalar, Mexico.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No Cell Phone Greetings

I am trying to uncover the reason why many Mexicans residing in Playa del Carmen don't have personal greetings on their cell phones. When I call and reach voice mail, more often than not I am greeted by the sound of talking in the background, or shouting children or nothing at all, rather than hearing (in Spanish, of course) "thank you for calling, I'm unavailable, please leave a message".

It's quite frustrating. I think - should I even leave a message? If they haven't put the thought into creating a greeting will they put the thought into checking their messages?

I've asked a few people why, but I haven't come up with a solid response. It's more, well, my brother has a personal greeting and so does my friend, but I don't - but then they never say why.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals





Sunday, August 16, 2009

Banned from Office Depot

I've been officially banned from returning electronic goods to Office Depot in Playa del Carmen. It's quite a funny story and is humorous to tell with tongue in cheek like it is some sort of scandalous tale. That being said it does make shopping difficult in a city with limited retail outlets.

It all started last December when my old HP all-in-one was having trouble receiving faxes. I really didn't want to spend money on a new one, but could not run a business without dual fax capabilities, both spending and receiving. Eventually I paid cash at the Office Depot in Playa for a new Lexmark all-in-one. When I returned home and plugged it in, I noticed that the fax component worked, but it jammed every time I tried to print. After 2 hours of troubleshooting with Lexmark I decided to return the machine.

The first return was complicated. Office Depot has a 7 day return guaranty as long as all the manuals and goods are still in the box, and since I was in the 7 day window I was good to go - or at least I thought. I brought the printer to the counter, said it didn't print correctly and that I'd like to return it. The sales associate called over a tech who took everything out of the box, plugged the printer into a computer and began installing the software. When I questioned what was happening I was surprised to hear that they were testing the printer; I said it did not print, so they were going to see if it printed well. If so, that was essentially their proof it worked and that I could take it back home with me.

I ardently argued that I spent 2 hours on the phone with a tech trying to get the printer to work with my system, and that perhaps the printer would work in a different environment, but since it did not work well with mine I wanted to return it. After a manager was called over, it was finally agreed that I could have my money back.

I took the cash, returned home and unsuccessfully tried to reconfigure my old fax machine so it could receive faxes. When that failed it was time for another trip back to Office Depot to purchase a difference model machine. This time I settled on an HP all-in-one and used my debit card. Once I returned home, installed the printer and tested the fax component I quickly realized it was experiencing the same faxing issue: it could send faxes but not receive.

I wondered whether it was an inherent problem with my system and not the actual HP device itself. Regardless I was not going to spend $200 on a machine with fax issues; I already had one of those at home.

This time when I tried to return it within 7 days of my purchase they refused to accept it since I had "used it". I explained that it could not receive faxes. As expected they pointed the finger at my system. When I mentioned their 7 day return policy they said I could exchange the item or take a store credit. Considering their policy states I can get all my money refunded back, I began to argue, that I was abiding by their return policy and wanted a full refund. Furthermore, Office Depot even goes through the trouble of placing a large green sticker on all electronic purchases saying they can be returned within 7 days for a full refund.

The manager finally relented, but insisted that I was now banned from returning electronic goods at their store. I would only be allowed store credits or exchanges. Also, since I paid with a debit card I would have to receive cash back and not a credit to my card. Since there was not enough money in the teller at this time I would have to wait until someone made a big purchase, like a computer in order to provide enough cash for my return. Wait? Not enough money in the cash register? You've got to be kidding me?! No, he was not.

I knew the manager was just playing with me. He could have given me the money if he really wanted to. But since I treated him disrespectfully by arguing with him, that was my punishment. I spent about 1/2 hour aimlessly wandering the store and then returned to the register only to find out there was still not enough cash. I went home and came back a few hours later. Still not enough cash. They had just emptied the register. Is this a joke, I wondered.

For the next hour I browsed the aisles and checked out the office chairs and tried to find which one was the most comfortable. Finally I approached another manager and pleaded my case. Luckily he was a bit more understanding, went out back to the safe, got me the cash and sent me on my way.

I still shop at Office Depot, but now if I have to return anything I go to the store in Cancun, 1 hour north. We just purchased 2 Microsoft wireless keyboard sets only to realize they are all in Spanish (duh!?!), and all the keys are in different places. This time I sent Allan to the Playa store to place the return. He played the dumb American who doesn't speak Spanish. The sales clerks gave him a hard time and a lot of dirty looks but eventually gave him a full refund. So much for their no hassle return policy.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What does iHola mean?

As Allan and I were driving back from Cancun he noticed a sign that read " ¡Hola Riviera Maya!" Allan inquired what "ihola" meant. I explained that in Spanish when writing sentences ending with question marks or exclamation points one also needs to begin the sentences with the same mark but in an upside down form. In other works when writing "fire!" in Spanish one would write " ¡fuego!"

Allan wondered why? I pondered his innocent question and then reversed the logic back on him. "Why do we as Americans say soccer when the rest of the world says futbol? Why do Americans use Fahrenheit and miles when everyone else uses Centigrade and kilometers?"

I was trying to get at the point that just because we are accustomed to something different does not make someone else's customs wrong or abnormal - just different. I know Allan was not criticizing Mexican culture or customs. As mentioned it was just an innocent question. However, we've found living in Mexico that many foreigners easily judge and complain about how things are done south of the border. Rather than trying to assimilate and understand a different way of life many choose to stay in the comforts of what they consider normal and safe and shy away from anything foreign.

For example, yes I have waited in line at the bank and ATM in Mexico for over a half an hour. Yes, I can very impatient and it was a very trying experience. However, I should realize that most Mexicans get paid every 2 weeks and do not have direct deposit. Therefore if I choose to use the bank on the 15th or 30th or any given month there is surely going to be a line. Furthermore all companies operating in Mexico have to perform all sorts of accounting tasks at the close of each month which requires bank visits, thus compounding the bank's foot traffic. So, yes, I may not have to wait so long to use an ATM in the US, and yes waiting for one in Mexico is a hassle, but if I stop and look at perhaps why there is a line I might actually learn something and perhaps learn to be more patient.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Floppy Disks

I am ever amazed at the backward business procedures in Playa. I visited my accountant today to find out how to pay my employee's social security taxes every month. He hands me a floppy disk and tell me to go to the bank, hand the teller the disk and then give the teller the total due in cash. I am still getting over the shock. My computer does not even take a floppy disk. Didn't those get phased out years ago?

Of course I can counter my criticism by the fact that one of the accountants had a new born sitting snugly in a crib on her desk. What a forward thinking establishment to allow a new mother to bring her baby into work.

So I guess I am saying Playa (or Mexico) is years behind the US in ways but light years ahead in others. Yesterday I visited my housekeeper and there were loads of happy children running around and jumping rope in the street. It literally made me want to move from my swanky condo to a shack with no air conditioning and no beds - only hammocks. Yes, Mexico may be behind the US in terms of technology and procedure but they also bring us back to a place we long to be - where family values matter, where kids can run around the streets carefree without worry of predators and where mom's can bring babies into work. I'm not saying that all of Mexico is like this or that all of the US is cold and careless, I'm just making a general observation.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gambling our Blues Away

Allan and I made it safely back to Playa today from Belize after a long drive. Surprisingly I had enough energy and where with all to drive the whole way considering I got only 4 hours sleep the night before. It was quite an interesting weekend to say the least.

The border zone between Belize and Mexico called the Corozal Free Zone is a rundown, typical looking and acting border town. Walking around I don't feel completely comfortable with my personal safety. Stores - or should I say dilapidated retail outlets, sell cheaply made junk like knock-off suit cases, sandals, t-shits, baby carriages and illegally copied CDs. The merchandise reminds me of that typically pedaled at a typical Mexican fair. To say the least the zone was very disappointing. Interestingly enough there was about 1 Chinese food restaurant for every block, which I guess does not say very good things about Chinese food considering the location.

On a positive note the casinos were wonderful - there were three, and everyone had Blackjack - our game of choice. After a few or more hours on the tables, we gambled our bad feelings away and came away with enough winnings to pay for the weekend trip and a little more.

We chose to stay at the Princess Hotel, not for any particular reason considering we came to Belize blindly having done no research, other than the fact it was the first hotel over the border and it was a casino. We were placed in the closest room to the casino floor, and I must say it was the most noisy and uncomfortable hotel experience ever. The mattress had no support and I practically rolled off the bed every time I moved. Furthermore there was live singing right below us, people slamming doors at all hours of the night, and an a/c unit which made a lot of noise but cooled the room little. I wound up returning back to the casino floor in the middle of the night because I could not sleep, had a few vodka tonics, won some more money, and then returned to the room around 2am and finally fell asleep.

At 8am I woke to confront the car importation issue. When one brings a car into Mexico they give you a 6 month permit and a sticker to place on your windshield. Our permit had expired back in February, but since we have an FM3 work visa technically we're allowed to drive in Mexico on an expired permit. However, crossing the border from Mexico to Belize we were instructed to rip off the sticker essentially invalidating our importation permit. I guess in order to get a new permit and sticker one has to return the old ones. And since it was expired, we conspired to get a new one.

Anyway, the permit office was closed when we arrived yesterday so I wanted to be the first one in line when it opened today. Our hotel was only a short 2 minute walk over the bridge spanning the Rio Hondo river and uniting the two countries. Luckily I ran into my hustler friend from yesterday, who was able to guide me to a supermarket to make copies of all my necessary paper work (FM3, passport, car registration and license). Arriving at the super I realized I did not have my registration, so it was back to the hotel to go searching for it. Well I didn't quite make it to the hotel, since I found it sitting in the hotel parking lot (flash back to 1/2 hour ago when I thought I saw something small and white fly out of my hands). I fear I would not have been able to bring my car back into Mexico without the registration.

So it was back to the super to make copies, and then over to the temporary car importation window. However, one more thing was missing - my car. The lady at the importation window wanted to physically see it. So it was back to the hotel, get in the car and drive it back to the booth. Now she wanted a copy of my driver's license which I forgot to make earlier, so it was back to the super to make the copy and then return to the booth and hope everything was in order.

I should preface all of this by saying since we arrived yesterday I had been thinking the worst about the car - that it would be stuck indefinitely in the border zone. I don't know why - I normally try to think optimistically, but in situations like this I keep thinking "what if?" What if they find out my Mass car registration is not in perfect condition? What if they realize my name is not on the title since I have a car loan? What if, what if, what if??? Needless to say it was a very stressful issue and perhaps a contributing factor to my late night insomnia.

Luckily everything was in order, and we were able to re-import the car. I gave my hustler friend a $200 peso ($20 tip) as a thank you. On the way back to Playa we were thinking we'd like to return to the border zone to play Blackjack but not to stay there overnight. On the way home, about 1/2 hour into Mexico we stopped in Bacalar, Mexico, a small village which sits on an inlet filled with the most gorgeous turquoise and blue water, and lined with wooden docks garnished with beautiful thatched roofs one might see on the cover of a travel magazine. We ate lunch in a seaside restaurant and thought - when we come back, this is where we are staying overnight!

Allan and I would also like to explore more of Belize. The border is not representative of the beautiful country just like the US border is not representative of the US. However, we'll be leaving our car in Mexico since to drive deep into Belize with a US car I've heard is a big issue (complicated to actually import it into Belize). We'll just drive to the border and rent a car in Belize since we prefer the comfort and freedom of our own ride rather than being less independent on a bus.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Belize/Mexico Border for the Weekend

Now that business is slowing down a bit as fall approaches and our condos are not packed full with renters, Allan and I decided to go south to the Mexico/Belize Border for the weekend. The border area is called the "Corozal Free Zone" and it's filled with shopping and our main attraction - casinos. So we hopped in the SUV and drove 3 1/2 hour south for a bit of adventure and relaxation.

The drive down was quite interesting. Once your are south of Tulum, which is 45 minutes south of Playa, the landscape turns into thick jungle, a reminder of what the Riveria Maya was once like some 40 years ago or less. Thatched roofs supported by sticks peered out of the thicket. We looked for signs of monkeys or cougars but did not see any. We also heard horror stories about the road conditions - it being a one lane highway with no dividers, and one is essentially taking one's life in one's hands upon deciding to venture down it. Now they are repaving the highway and widening it so most of the trip was quite pleasant. Even the short parts which were down to one lane, and crazy drivers who were passing at every opportunity without regarding to life or courtesy, Allan and I both felt it was old hat. Driving down from the border to Playa we experienced many such scary stretches, some of which were along roads hugging mountains where one had to dodge 18 wheelers coming in almost every direction.

Arriving at the free zone was quite a surprise. We did not expect to see a customs booth. We were told we didn't need our passports and that we could bring our car in no problem. Perhaps that is true but we were scared nonetheless and we decided to pull over. A Belizen gentlemen (noticeable by his very dark skin and Jamaican sounding voice) approached the car. He addressed himself as a "hustler working for tips" who was going to help us. We explained that the permit allowing us to import our car into Mexico had long since expired, but since we were on Mexican work visas called "FM3s" we didn't need to renew. Additionally since we had a car loan, our name wasn't on the title, a requirement for importation, less one has a notarized letter from the bank allowing importation. That letter is sitting on the desk of my condo in Playa.

The "helper" explained "no problem", just rip off the sticker, attach it to your vehicle import lettter (which was sitting in my glove compartment) and follow me to the customs booth to cancel this permit and get a new one. After humming and hawing for a few minutes, trying to decide if he was going to rob me in a dark alley, I gave in to faith and followed him. And by chance the import office had closed. The helper instructed me to return the next morning at 7:30 Belize time (8:30 Mexico time) when the office opens. Apparently it is a short walk from the hotel we are staying at so it is no problem. So we drove through customs without issue (they don't stop you going into the free zone - only out), turned left into the Princess Hotel and Casino parking lot, walked into the casino, over to the lobby, reserved a room and then proceeded up to my room slightly nervous for tomorrow, hoping I can easily get a car renewal permit and not have to leave it in the free zone for God knows how long!

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

One Year to the Day

It's been one year to the day today that we packed our lives into an SUV and drove 4,500 miles over 3 1/2 weeks from Boston to Playa del Carmen. I can remember the day we left (or should I say the night since it was almost midnight before we left - only about 12 hours behind schedule). Standing in my vacant condo I looked back at the past 9 years we spent there. All the furniture had been sold or given away. The night before we slept on an air mattress loaned to us from a friend. I was so excited to leave Boston on this jubilant journey not sure when I would return. Driving away as the Boston city line gradually passed from view I felt like shouting "so long Boston, Mexico here we come!"

I look back on that trip longingly. I miss the sense of adventure and excitement - seeing new towns and cities, having no commitments - no where to be and no one expecting me. We were jobless and homeless. Although the 8 hours of driving a day was a bit of a pain, there was such excitement and anticipation to explore the US and Mexico. However once we finally arrived in Playa we were both fed up with driving and weren't ready to repeat the adventure anytime soon. However, I feel ready again. I'm sure Allan is not.

Now I just don't have the time. The property management and rental business has grown to the size where I can't be away for more than 2 days without an inordinate amount of work piling up on us, which would take a couple of weeks to sort through.

I did have the chance to return home to Boston a couple of months ago and it was a very interesting experience. The first few days were weird due to culture shock - it was like I didn't belong. After that I really settled into seeing all my friends and enjoying the 2 weeks I had to spend with family. Duxbury, the town where I grew up and the surrounding area in the spring and summer is just absolutely stunning - lush green lawns, huge well-kept houses and just a beautiful green landscape.

My trip home really helped me to appreciate the US - the fact that one can go into a store and just buy whatever one wants. That's not possible in Playa. In the US not only can one buy something like a pot for cooking, one has the selection of a hundred different colors. I am lucky if I can find one here. And the time I spent with family and friends was irreplaceable.

And although I was sad to leave the US once my 2 week trip was over, I was equally happy to return to my new home. Playa is beautiful too, it its own way. It's a tropical paradise with some of the best beaches in the world. Allan and I have made so many good friends and have had some many wonderful experiences.

Allan also returned home for 2 weeks. Due to business constraints Allan and I had to travel separately - one had to stay behind and run the business. During Allan's first week he visited family in Maine: attended his grandson's high school graduation and his mother's memorial service. (She passed away in February.) His second week he visited Massachusetts, but came down with a kidney infection half way through and spent the rest of his time in a hotel room in bed. There were a fews days when we weren't sure when/if he would return to Mexico. Luckily he recovered in time to return home as scheduled.

I think over the past year I have learned to appreciate that I have 2 wonderful homes - my home in Playa and that back in Massachusetts. Hopefully over the next year as our business expands Allan and I will have more time to travel and visit friends and family state side.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Friday, July 31, 2009

Police Presense

Since news of the Swine Flu hit the global press and the number of tourists dropped to almost nothing, it seems the police have less people to stop so now they are actively stopping the locals, both Mexican and non alike. It is said that quite often when one is pulled over for a traffic infraction one can simply "pay the ticket on the spot to the officer" for a mere $200 pesos (around $20 USD) rather than actually receiving a ticket. Some might call this a bribe.

Typically when one is stopped, the officer will take one's license, issue a ticket and then one needs to drive to the police precinct, pay the fine and only then will the license be returned. It's often easier to pay the fine on the spot; however it is does not help the growing corruption problem.

Corruption exists globally - even in the US - it's just that the results are more predictable in Mexico. Pay an officer $20 and get out of a ticket. In the US one might be arrested for such an act. If one were to tell me that there are no corrupt politicians or police officials in the US than I might call that person crazy.

Since Allan and I have been in Mexico we have been pulled over many times for traffic violations and only once was it not our fault. We have paid a significant amount of money for these infractions.

What some people do is to make various colored copies of one's license, have them laminated and then hand the copies to the officer. The officer then takes the license, issues the ticket and then one leaves. The license copy remains at the police barracks and there is no need to pay to receive the copy back, so one essentially avoids paying the bribe and avoids paying the actual ticket. I'm not saying this trickery is right, but it does turn the tables on police corruption. If they can play games why can't "offenders".

In places like Mexico City where police corruption was once rampant I've heard there has been a large crackdown. Anyone offering a bribe will be arrested - any officer asking for one will be fired. Since the swine flu there was been a lot of complaints from motorists in Playa about police corruption. Even the Mexican consulate has become involved. Various gringos have voiced their detailed complaints to the consulate, the consulate has met with the head of police and one officer has been fired and various others reprimanded.

Allan and I refuse to pay into Playa's police corruption problem. We are going to drive safely according to posted traffic rules, and if we are pulled over injustly will address the situation without paying any bribes. It always helps to play stupid like Allan does, pretending one speaks no spanish, and often one is let go without a ticket or bribe being paid.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Bit of Culture

Every Thursday night there is an art festival on 5th Avenue, the pedestrian shopping and dining boulevard 1.5 blocks from our home. Local painters display their art for sale and various musical and dance groups perform small acts. Occasionally cleverly dressed clowns parade around on stilts. Allan and I often enjoy a nice humid walk, taking in the sights, just happy to be out of the office.

We appreciate having a bit of culture in Playa. Granted Playa isn't really known for being a culturally rich spot. 20 years ago it was a quaint fishing village. Today it's a vacationer's paradise with pristine white sand beaches that stay cool to the touch, breathtaking turquoise waters that stay a refreshing 85 degrees or so year round and sunny summer like days 300+ days annually. Travelers come to relax, scuba dive, drink and explore the Mayan culture to name a few - not to attend the ballet or visit the local museum, if there even is such a thing in Playa.

For Allan and I, both from Boston , a city filled with diversity of people, food and culture, it's hard not to notice the differences. Sure the Boston is better in many ways - better shopping, it's easier to make a buck and it's generally more organized and run more thoroughly. However, Playa has many pluses as well - it's more laid back and the weather is better to name a few. Quite frankly Playa has no culture at all. However, we have never been big on culture anyway. Granted I have traveled all over Europe and have seen some of the the biggest and best museums and churches globally- but I've never really had a love of art or dance or museums.

Watching the dancers and musicians on 5th Avenue tonight I could not help but notice the drastic difference in training between Boston and Playa. Boston has much better artistic training compared with Playa. However as mentioned I don't really care. It's just interesting to note the difference and just appreciate it.

Relocating from the first world to essentially a third world country, many "gringos" or what one may term foreign white folk living south of the border, there are big differences. And many people tend to complain about them. That's not what I'm about. Sure things frustrate me, but I'm a guest here and I've chosen to call his my home. Love it or hate it, just get used to it and try to appreciate it.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Saturday, July 25, 2009

One Year... Well, Almost

I'm in the process of drafting a lease renewal for the condo we still own in Boston. Luckily our tenant wants to stay for another year, which saves us the time and hassle from having to find someone else. I noticed the lease date on the original lease - July 24, 2008 - just over 1 year ago.

It's sort of hard to believe that a year ago I was still managing a law firm in Boston, Allan was an executive sedan driver and jointly we were managing our condo in Boston. We were so excited to be leaving Boston's cold winter and to be moving to a year round warm, tropical climate. I had always wanted to drive cross country, and our 3,500 mile, 3 week expedition from Boston to Mexico last August certainly would qualify as fulfilling that dream.

I look at what we've accomplished in the past year and am sort of amazed at our progress. Admittedly I was sure we were going to succeed - but does one really know? We've managed to rank on the first page on Google under "playa del carmen property management", which has helped up acquire many clients in prime beach front properties like Casa del Mar. Through rental clients and good customer service we picked up properties to rent in The Elements. And through our networking in Playa we acquired clients in Natz Ti Ha. Our goal one year ago was to have 30 properties to manage, and I would say we've met that goal.

Considering the whole swine flu scare, which literally turned our rental business traffic to 0, the drug cartel propaganda which cut down rental inquiries and the failing global economy, for us to still be in business and to be thriving I would say is nothing less than amazing. We decided to open a business in Playa del Carmen during probably the worst time ever, and we succeeded. I can confidently say I am never fully satisfied - I always want to do better, acheive more. But when I look back and think and wonder, I do feel content and proud that we moved to Mexico, opened business, assimilated and are doing well.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Up the Creek Without a Paddle

Some lessons are learned the easy way and some the hard way. It seems our experience in Mexico so far has been mostly learning from the latter rather than the former.

Due to my procrastination and fact that I didn't really want to pay for something that was of no use to me in Mexico, I let my US insurance lapse to the point where they canceled the policy and consequently the Massachusetts registry of motor vehicles revoked my registration. I have Mexican car insurance which covers me south of the border, but my US policy covers nada. However, US coverage is a requirement to keep my US plates, registration and car loan.

Now I'm in a pickle. Since my insurance is now canceled and over 30 days revoked, to get a new insurance plan my insurer is requiring that I bring the vehicle to a US certified mechanic to have 3 pictures taken to ensure that the vehicle is in good physical condition. Considering it would take me at least 5 days of solid driving to return to the US to get those pictures taken and then another 5 days to drive back, that option is out. I thought about paying to fly a mechanic here to have the pictures taken, but reconsidered.

I cannot return my US plates because what would I put on my car? Mexico does not allow foreign cars newer than 1998 to be registered south of the border, so I can't get Mexican plates. Plus I would have to pay off my car loan, which is also not an option, because the lien holder would not allow me to register my car in Mexico.

Given my good upbringing and desire to always want to stay on the right side of the law, ignoring the DMV's demands to cease driving my vehicle and to immediately return the plates was not an option. I did move to Mexico, but that does not make me an outlaw unlike a good percentage of expats living south of the border.

Luckily I found a solution thanks to some good friends: State Farm Insurance. I was able to call State Farm and obtain an insurance policy without having any photos taken of the vehicle. Furthermore, there is a company called American Home Base (AHB) out of Florida which allows one to obtain an official US address in Florida with a mailbox, and AHB will send your mail anywhere in the county for a minimal monthly fee plus the cost of postage. On top of that Florida has no income tax, and Escambia County, where AHB is located, has no required vehicle inspections or smog inspections. Once I obtain my registration for the first time, there is no need to reregister. I can even obtain a Florida driver's license and then renew through the internet. What I am getting at is if I obtain a mailbox with AHB I can register and insure my car in Florida, get a Florida's driver's license and never have to pay states income taxes again. And there is no need for me to return to Florida because everything else I would need to do I could do online.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No Power

I think I'm starting to get used to the fact that electricity goes out here fairly frequently in the summer. We woke up this morning to the sound of quiet: the ceiling fans weren't moving, the lights on the satellite box were all off. When there are no lights there is no water. Unfortunately I decided to go to bed without showering despite the fact I felt dirty and sweaty. Thus a quick dip in the refreshing pool this morning was my bath - luckily it's right out my back door. And when there is no power I cannot use my computer or the hard wired telephones to work. Exiting my front door with laptop in hand in search of a place with power and a wireless connection I was greeted by the sight of electrical workers stringing large power cables on poles down my street. Quite often when there is no power it's isolated to my condo complex - they are either doing construction work or fixing the electrical meters. In this case the power outage turns out to be a general one meaning a good part of Playa is without power.

A $20 peso ($1.50 US) cab ride later I found myself working in Delicia's Bakery Cafe on the corner of 10th Avenue and the entrance to Playacar. Although my Mexican cell phone has service, my US business line is out of commission, as it is through Vonage which operates through the internet and my Mexican business line is out, too. So I am connected to email, the internet and my cell phone, but the other parts of my business are down for the moment. Luckily life in Playa del Carmen, Mexico is laid back and care free, so I can get away with working at 1/2 capacity for a day or so.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm now from Argentina

Well after having waited over 8 months for the arrival of our Mexican work visas, they were finally ready to be picked up today. Just so you know, 8 months is an unordinarily and unacceptable amount to time to have to wait for one's working papers even in Mexico. Whenever I tell people living in Playa that I've waited that long they just shake their heads and give me a look that says "I know".

Anyway we stopped by our attorney's office to pick them up and immigration had typed that I'm Argentinian on the Visa. I'm AMERICAN!! 8 months and they can't get it straight. I am now waiting for my attorney to go back to immigration to pick up the corrected one, as I leave for the US on Saturday and need my FM3 (work visa).

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals