Monthly Archives: April 2009

The First Rain of the Season

Last night, I woke up to the sound of something I haven’t heard in months, it seems! Rain!

The arrival of a ‘cold’ front to the Yucatan peninsula has brought some respite from the ungodly temperatures and the rain is a blessing to the parched landscape, wracked by drought, brush fires and the hand of the government and private construction companies intent on removing everything green and native and replacing it with more gray concrete and imported palms, water-intensive lawns and parking lots.

In a day or two, the dry sticks that currently comprise the native Yucatecan vegetation will probably show a sprout or three, turning the brittle underbrush into a bright green.

Things I love about here – Mangos

My therapist thinks that my neurotic posts are working, but is suggesting that I also accentuate the positive, as I see it.

There’s nothing better than coming home from work on a scorching 40 degree day, with a throat parched from the 40 plus degree Yucatan heat and finding a stash of cold, ripe bright orange with a hint of green mangos in the fridge! I like to eat 5 or 6 at a time, leaning over the kitchen sink with sticky mango juice running down my chin and forearms, taking in that sweet pungent nectar and savouring rapturously their soft exotic flesh…

And no amount of flossing seems to want to remove those tiny little fibers from between my front teeth!

Another CFE Note

Whenever there is a problem between you and the CFE (you say you consume a certain amount, they allege differently) they will offer to ‘check out’ your home or business to determine what your consumption ‘should’ be. They call this a ‘censo de los aparatos‘ where they will go from room to room counting lightbulbs, television sets, fans, air conditioning units; anything and everything electric. They will then determine, based on average usage tables that they have made up, what your consumption really should be. They will then propose that as what you should be paying.

The word they is bold for a reason. They decide how you are using your aparatos electricos. If you tell them ‘but I only use my blender once a month for the MEL margarita nite’ they will just nod and smile; ‘Sure you do.’ There is not much of a recourse for you once you have gone that route. It will be up to you to somehow prove that you are really not using that air conditioning unit: it’s your word against theirs and they are holding all the cards. If you lodge a complaint with the CFE you lodge it with them. What possible motivation could they have to fix your problem? There is of course, the PROFECO, but be warned that a fight with the CFE will be costly, time consuming and they will probably cut off your service for the duration.

As a foreigner, it’s easy to be taken in by the politeness of the fellow asking you for permission to come into your home. My advice, from the cynical Mexican Yucatecan POV, and from years of experience living here and talking to other Mexican Yucatecans is to politely but firmly deny them this access. Once you do, it’s like the Miranda statement thing police in the U.S. tell their arrest victims “anything you say or do can be held against you…” And it will be.

CFE Woes

At the Blogger Summit alluded to in an earlier post today, it was suggested to me by my good friend Ellen that I should/could write more from the unique vantage point that being married to a Yucatecan has given me.

OK.

Turns out that our good friends at the CFE (Comision Federal de Electricidad for those new to the initials) have been billing yours truly incorrectly. Yes, the bills have been rather low, almost to the point of being ridiculously low, but I attributed it mostly to the fact that both teenagers are out of the house and the adults are working all day and rarely use air conditioning, thanks to high ceilings and plenty of fans.

In any case, the Mexican in me found it rather stupid to actually go to the CFE and say “Hey, I’m paying too little, can you check this for me”. The Mexican thinks “Do I look like a p****o?”

The Canadian in me of course, was thinking it the whole time.

Finally, the CFE, perhaps with the stimulus of the economic downturn or for whatever reason (if reasons are to be found at the CFE in their decision making processes) decided to check the entire neighborhood. This entails going from house to house, leaving notices that will freeze your blood – they are notorious for imposing enormous sanctions on businesses or private residences that have problems with their electrical usage – advising you, Mr. or Mrs. Homeowner that the CFE wants to check your medidor and is making an appointment with you via the notification.

I don’t know how to translate this, so briefly: the medidor is that glass encased mechanism at the front of your property that has the spinning thingie inside and tells the CFE how much wattage you are consuming. Oh look, there’s a photo right there.

While you wait for the appointed moment, you sweat, you bite your nails, you stare at the ceiling unable to sleep, you call a lawyer who specializes in CFE abuse cases; all the symptoms usually associated with something more violent, like a kidnapping .

Finally the day arrives, and the abnormally polite CFE technician and you, the nervous customer meet at your medidor where another CFE guy removes the medidor, attaches another, different aparatus. Your old medidor is attached on top of that.

“What’s that for?”

“It’s for measuring the actual current coming through the line directly. It will tell us how much current is going through to the medidor.”

Several tests are made, they are offered a glass of pineapple agua with ice which they gratefully accept and then the diagnosis is complete. The medidor is not working properly. There is something inside that has been damaged or burned out and so they have found what they are looking for, validating their inspection. This is not something caused by us, the homeowners, it’s a mechanical failure of some sort.

“What now?” we ask nervously.

“Well, we are going to install a new medidor” we are told matter of factly. “There was a problem with this one and it evidently resulted in you being billed less than your real consumption”

“And then?”

“After a period of about 15 days, we will take a reading and determine what you should have paid, compare that with what you actually paid and present you with the difference, which will have to be paid.”

Gulp.

We have heard horror stories about these visits from the CFE. However, a lot of these horror stories are the fault of the homeowner, who has opted to hire an electrician or corrupt CFE employee, to alter the medidor so that it spins more slowly thereby causing a reduction in the bill, or worse, having an installation that BYPASSES the medidor altogether. This latter option is called a ‘diablito‘ and if you are caught with one, you WILL pay BIG time. In fact it is a crime known as Robo a la Nación or Stealing from the Nation. You have to live here to appreciate how insanely attached Mexicans are to their simbolos patrios and the CFE is practically up there with the flag. To steal from the CFE is like betraying the country. Almost firing squad material.

This was not our case. It was a simple case of a mechanical failure.

Yesterday, we got the bill. It comes to $19,000 pesos. The difference between what we paid and what we should have paid, for the last 24 months.

And this is where Ellen’s comment comes in:

The Canadian in me is saying “Why the hell am I responsible for the CFE’s equipment!! This is outrageous! If I buy Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at Walmart can they come back 24 months later and say, ‘you know what, that price was wrong, you’re going to have to pay the difference’. What the hell! I’m ready to go to the PROFECO!”

The Yucatecan Mexican in me however, is saying, “Well, $19,000 pesos is not so bad. Let’s just pay it and get it over with. After all, our friend Fulana got hit with a $50,000 bill so this is much better. Hell the CFE even gives me the option of paying in monthly installments. Just pay and shut up about it.”

So there you have it.

Kind of a long story but what Ellen said struck a chord. I had both reactions at the same time. One Mexican, one Canadian. Which one will prevail? Probably the Mexican. My fellow homeowner and much better half is Mexican as well. Simple majority.

Speaking of Botana…

While the Critic is on the subject of botana, it might be interesting to readers to know that this tradition extends to the farther reaches of Yucatan’s beaches. Just this afternoon the Critic had to pick up his mini-Critic aka daughter in the semi-charming hamlet of Chuburná, located 2 kilometers beyond Chelem. This name might be familiar to some as it is the home of expat internet guru and empresario Robert Harker, of YMB Realty, that wild-eyed, Rod Stewart look-a-like. But the Critic digresses.

While waiting for the teenage offspring to get ready, the Critic popped into one of those beach fish restaurants comprised of plastic tables and chairs provided by the beer company (it’s either Corona or Superior, never both) and several youths probably related to the owner of the converted house who play the part of waiters. The ambience is true Yucatecan beach, which means its minimal and economic ie cheap and haphazardly thrown together to take advantage of the hordes visiting from Merida to escape the heat.

A beer was ordered, Modelo Especial, and it was so frosty that chunks of slushy ice were floating in the bottle. It went down very easily on another 42 degree day! While the Critic contemplated ordering some food, one of the aforementioned youths stopped by the table with a large tray full of little plates of food! Botana! There were two kinds of excellent fish ceviche, some dippy concoction with a fishy flavor, chivitas (a kind of weird little shellfish that is chewy) in the same lime, onion, tomato and cilantro dressing as the ceviche, warm (!) and crispy tostadas and the ubiquitous refried beans. As the Critic finished the last ceviche, another plate made its way to the table with 3 mini-kibis, topped with chopped cabbage. These were piping hot, crispy and tasty. All the food groups were represented in one fell swoop! So, no menu food was necessary at all and the bill came to a ridiculous 26 pesos for one beer with all the trimmings.

The Critic thought it was a great deal and left a $50 and the waiter/relative was a happy guy.

The name of the restaurant is probably irrelevant; all the places in Chelem and Chuburná serve botana, especially during weekends and holidays, so head out as soon as you can!

The Blogger Summit

I had the opportunity to meet some fine folks who write blogs about their lives in Mexico at a recent get-together that saw bloggers attend from here in Merida and also Cancun, Playa and Isla Mujeres. It’s actually still going on as I type this. The common thread is that we were all foreigners writing, in one form or another, about life here in Mexico!

There was a half-day of presentations which I found interesting, especially the parts about making money with your blog (forget about it) and finding inspiration. My inspiration has always been kick started by something that really gets under my skin ie pisses me off, but this made me think about other, less energetically angry motivations to write.

After the presentations there was a cantina lunch at La Ruina, which the Casual Restaurant Critic comments on himself so there’s not much point in going on about it here. If you’ve ever been to a cantina, you know that you can do much of your entertainment shopping (CDs, DVDs) there as well as having your shoes polished or perhaps buy smokes or candy from outside salespeople off the street. What really stuck out was the enthusiasm shown by many at the table for the pirate DVDs offered at the cantina. I’m not saying it’s only Mexicans that buy pirata, just that it came as a surprise to see that level of interest.

Thanks to Theresa for setting all this up – I think I am going to invite Jorgito next time there is one of these blogger meet-ups!! I’m sure he would have a blast.

La Ruina – Downtown South

Merida has many bars that are legend for their botanas, which are small servings of prepared nibbles to accompany your beer, much like the concept of tapas in Spain, where lids were placed on wine glasses to keep out the dust and then someone said “let’s put something tasty on those lids” and a culinary tradition was born. Maybe they didn’t say that – it was probably in Castilian Spanish for one thing.

The most famous in Merida of these bars or cantinas was for the longest time, La Prosperidad, which the Critic visited almost 20 years ago. Never been back. Now, the most well-known is probably Eladio’s, who have branches all over the city and in Progreso too.

Yesterday, as part of the Blogger Summit held in Merida, a numerous contingent of palefaces descended on another Merida classic cantina, La Ruina. There was some initial confusion regarding the placement and joining together of several tables; it seems that the proposed arrangement by the Critic – under the fans – would have implied taking tables from TWO waiters areas and this was very confusing until it was suggested that perhaps two waiters could look after the table, since there were going to be 12 or more people. Once this critical detail was sorted out, the lunch began.

Beers were ordered and the botanas started arriving. Plate after plate after plate. There were cooked but now cold organ meat (love that term) dishes, fresh guacamole, zesty sikil-pak dip, pickled beets, coditos (macaroni with traces of tomato sauce), pickled carrots, chicharrones (pork rinds), ceviche, dzic de venado made with beef and a few others that currently escape the Critic’s memory. Honestly, there was nothing particularly OMFG excellent in the selection of the botanas, but the beer was frosty.

Food is also available from a menu handwritten on a piece of paper that the waiter leaves with you. There are about 6 dishes to choose from, all extremely local and things you will not find on the menu at Taco Bell any time soon.

The bar was empty when the PaleFaces arrived, but full to the point of bursting an hour later. This is a very popular spot!

The beer is cold, the botana is abundant and the service is fine. You should probably visit one of these places at some point in your Merida visit to get a real sense of where the locals hang out when the sun bakes the city to a crisp.

HSBC

As I continue to reluctantly deal with my branch of the infamous HSBC bank (is any Mexican bank really better) I never tire of looking at the their misleading and blatantly stupid advertising.

For example, in their severely service-challenged Gran Plaza branch they announced just recently “New operating hours – more ventanillas open – to serve you better!!!” A ventanilla is a window. In this branch there are 3. Well, they did modify their operating hours; they reduced them, eliminating Sunday opening and shortening Saturday service. As for the ventanillas, the same number is open as before. 2 or 3. Absolute crap.

Signing in to their online banking site, I was greeted by this message, trying to sell me on the idea of using this pathetic bank for my family’s insurance needs:

  • EN HSBC SABEMOS QUE TU SEGURIDAD Y LA DE TU FAMILIA ES LO MAS IMPORTANTE, ES POR ESO QUE PONEMOS A TU DISPOCION EL SEGURO DE APOYO POR HOSTITALIZACION QUE TE OFRECE APOYO ECONOMICO EN CASO DE QUE SEAS HOSPITALIZADO POR ALGUNA ENFERMEDAD O ACCIDENTE.

If you read any Spanish you will notice the spelling errors, which, IMHO do not inspire any more confidence in this mediocre-at-best banking institution.