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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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