A Day in the Life – Installing a Boiler

The young man behind the long counter at the periferico Boxito megastore smiled knowingly in what could be described as an almost-smirk, as he heard me out patiently on my third visit to this famous Yucatan plumbing supply institution.

“So why did they sell you that?” he asked with a friendly yet slightly chiding laugh. It was a general question, not one that required an answer because the only answer was to say I was stupid, that I believed the ‘expert’, or that the guy who sold me ‘that’ was an idiot.

For those who don’t know me, there is a reason I don’t attempt to fix things around the house myself; it’s because I am a complete idiot with a wrench or any hand tool for that matter. Anything I try to fix becomes more broken, anything I try to replace I ruin with my clumsy attempts at being a handyman. Plumbing, electrical, anything mechanical, it matters not.

Our hot water heater, thanks to our hard Yucatan water and its age; two years of life which seems to be the lifespan of electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures, died. It sprung a leak from somewhere in its bowels and there was no replacing the water tank and so, it was time to find its replacement. And what with our chilling Yucatan winter, the hot water was a must, even if it was just for the washing machine or the kitchen sink. There is something about washing dishes with hot water…

Changing a boiler – how hard can this be? Disconnect input and output water hoses, disconnect gas. Remove boiler from where it is and put a new one in its place. Re-attach water and gas lines. Simple, straightforward.

Maybe for a normal person, but not for me.

The disconnecting process went smoothly. A couple of turns of my one all-purpose wrench and all the hoses were disconnected and the boiler was on the ground on its side, purging itself of its 40 liters of accumulated warm water.

I then went to Boxito (boh-SHEE-toh) a very well-known plumbing supply company in Merida, to buy a new boiler. Nothing fancy, as a previous experience with a snazzy Bosch water heater at 10,000 plus pesos had taught me that the more expensive brands are too delicate and no match for the rougher elements of the Yucatan. I found something cheap, under 2,000 pesos and brought it home. I figured that at that price the boiler was almost disposable, should I screw up the installation in a major way.

Turns out that the hoses feature 3/4 inch connectors on the old boiler and on this newer, smaller version, they are 1/2 inch. I will need a reductor to make this connection. I also wonder where the spark comes from to light the gas and heat the water

Back I go, on my second visit. I mention to the Boxito man that I need the little piece that will convert my 3/4 inch to a 1/2 inch whatever and we had the longest possible conversation on this admittedly trivial subject.

The salesperson I was talking with accompanied me to the counter where the ‘experts’ and their computer screens are, explained the situation and the conversation took many exciting twists and turns. The most interesting aspect of the dialogue is that it was all between the salesperson and the expert. The expert would ask questions about what I, the client, wanted or needed. I reminded him that I was actually standing in front of him and he could simply direct his gaze and questions at me, which resulted in a rather sullen attempt at customer service, completely at odds with the optimistic motivational posters behind him describing the importance of customer service and how important us customers were to Boxito.

We then went into a lengthy discussion on whether or not the boiler needed batteries. I explained to him that the flames will ignite only with the help of a spark which must be created by either an electrical connection, a battery or a little miniature caveman with flint fire creation tools inside the boiler. The expert was adamant that it did not need batteries and so naturally my response was to go to the showroom floor and take the demo and place it in front of him, opening the battery compartment for him to admire. At this point he admitted that yes, that model needed batteries.

Finally, with the connectors (and two D cell batteries) in my hand (after paying at what appeared to be a bank teller window where a humorless and disinterested woman took my money with a minimum of amiability) I headed back home to complete my installation.

Of course, these connectors did not work, as they were missing the female or male  (can’t remember which) threaded part where you actually screw the hose onto the thing. Not being a plumber, I stupidly did not become aware of this fact until I was actually trying to put all the pieces together. The batteries remained in their blister pack for the moment.

A third and thankfully final visit to Boxito was the charm. Another expert, this time one who actually knew what he was talking about, quickly and after the chiding (above) was over and done with, furnished me with the appropriate part. The third visit was worth the 19 pesos it cost me for the connectors.

At home, the connectors worked, the batteries were inserted and voila – nothing happened. At the end of all this, I had to call in my plumber to finish the installation; he did the wrapping of the connections with Teflon tape and stopped the leaks from my rather poor installation and switched the position of the batteries (I swear I did this and nada) and lo and behold: hot water in the kitchen sink.

How nice it would have been to have those folks at Boxito actually know what they are doing and take preemptive action to ensure the customer’s happiness that seems so important to them, at least on the posters. Not everyone knows what they are doing but this was a pretty cut and dry case and I could have left feeling like they actually were interested. All the radio advertising in the world with offers of free tacos (they do this often) are wasted if this is the customer experience, in my somewhat opinionated opinion.

For now, I will continue to rely on my plumber and my electrician and my mechanic for all my home (and car) repair needs.

April 10, 2020. Random Thoughts on Life at the Moment

Random ideas, this is the idea of going out for some Frijol con Puerco.

I thought I would jot down some random ideas and thoughts on staying at home for a prolonged period of time with this social distancing thing during the coronavirus pandemic in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

Sugar and Carbs. I seem to have a craving for sugar and carbohydrates – is that a thing when you are stuck at home or in a crisis situation? Did the kids trapped in that flooded cave yearn for cookies? Did the people held hostage on that airliner back in the day in Entebbe, besides wanting to get the hell off the plane, also want cake? I don’t know. It seems I can’t get enough sweets. Even my once-beloved Doritos don’t do the trick. I baked Ghirardelli instant brownies the other day (no THC, thank you) and practically finished them myself. I ate all the cookies from Maru’s baking cookies video, myself. Which could mean that maybe it’s not a thing if no one else around the house has this craving? Although that package of Mars chocolates (Milky Way, Snickers, M&M’s) is becoming very depleted and it’s not me…

There are the mood swings. One day or even one minute I am feeling like yeah, we will get through this and there is hope, and the next I am in a depressive funk that can only be described as worrisome. Snapping at loved ones is also not good – a sign of cabin fever, which is a real thing, as all Canadians who have been in a winter cabin know and as even New York state governor Mario Cuomo has pointed out repeatedly in his popular press conferences.

The news also ranges from hopeful (a new drug, a vaccine coming soon, the curve is flattening in Spain) to deadly depressing (the economy will restart soon – back to normal!, record deaths in NYC, anything AMLO, Trump or Bolsonaro related). I am trying to limit my intake of news to a brief morning check at CNN, AlJazeers, CBC and BBC followed again by an evening look to see if anything has changed.

And there is walking for exercise that I never did before and which has become a daily habit, in part because if I don’t, I will lose my mind and also to work off some of the calories I am consuming (see sugar and carbs, above). I am blessed in that I don’t live in a condo or apartment and have some green around me where I can walk, alone or accompanied, and get out from between the four or more walls of my place of refuge. I now pay special attention to cyclists and runners since a recent study shows that they leave behind a trail of whatever bacteria and virii they are carrying and they can contaminate others who follow too closely. Their social distancing needs to be a lot farther than the regular brand.

Speaking of walking, the number and variety of birds that are out in the mornings and in general is truly amazing. We have, in our area, pigeons and doves of course, as well as the ubiquitous and human-friendly black grackle, our version of the crow. Then there are the red-headed woodpeckers, the scandalous gangs of green parakeets who inhabit the tops of trees between burst of flight, the large brown chachalacas and their turkey-like gobbling/screaming and a few more whose names I do not know.

Finally, there is David Geffen

What was he thinking? Is he that isolated in his bubble that he didn’t think this was going to create just a tad of media backlash? There are nurses in garbage bags trying to help sick patients in hospitals in his country and this clown posts this on his Instagram account? Unbelievable.

 

 

April 9, 2020. Sanitary Mall Entrances and Police Checkpoints

Armed with my non-N95 mask, hand sanitizer and a half tank of gas, I ventured out of the house this morning to pay my TelCel bill (cell phone for those who don’t live in sunny Mexico) to face the empty streets, police checkpoints and 40-plus degree heat.

I know people are already thinking “can’t he pay this online?” “Why doesn’t he pay this online?” Look I needed to get out of the house and I am not going to be around people at all OK? Jeez. Plus online payments don’t work for me. I am challenged or cursed that way.

Into Las Americas, the fraccionamiento  I go, looking for Banco Azteca/Elektra a hybrid bank/department store where I have been informed that they can exchange a few USD that I have sitting around the house. The regular exchange places are closed, at least the ones that are in my neck of the woods. On the road into the 5,000 home neighborhood, built by a local housing construction company, there are police checkpoints, but on the lanes that lead out of the fraccionamiento, not going in. I assume they are checking for cars with more than one occupant in them so as to ask them what the hell they are doing out and about. I will find out later perhaps, on the way back out.

I find the bank, slip on my facemask/mouth covering thing – which is bright red and doesn’t match my pistachio colored Columbia shirt –  and say hello to the two cleaning women who are working on the windows of said bank/department store, neither of whom is wearing a mask.

The bank is on the second floor of the department store which is empty; all that merchandise from yellow commercial tricycles (a popular form of transportation here in the pueblos) to furniture to appliances and cell phones and no one buying anything. Salespeople are few and far between and are wearing masks. The other two clients in the store, are not.

I won’t mention that I felt a little out of breath at the top of the stairs? Is that a coronavirus-related symptom? I will say that I took a deep breath upon reaching the second floor and told myself to calm the hell down. 

One of the cashiers – behind glass, no masks on them – informs me that the exchange rate is now 21 something per dollar, up from 18 just two months ago, and I say fine and give her my bills. I notice that I am smiling politely but then also realize that much of our social interactions are centered around the eyes and the mouth and so the smile is unnoticed by the person behind the glass.

After what seemed like a lengthy process I get a sales slip to sign and take the pen warily that she hands me and sign. She gives me some pesos which I gingerly place in one special pocket of my shirt, the pocket where anything touched by other people goes.

It wasn’t really a lengthy process; I was the only person in the bank and had a chance to chat with the manager, one Arturo who is married to … not important, don’t bother, not interesting. He’s not wearing a mask either. 

Soon I’m back in the car and slathering hand sanitizer on myself before touching anything – my car is germ-free – and off I go to TelCel at the Gran Plaza mall. At the checkpoint out of Las Americas, I am waved through by a mask-wearing state policeman. As I approach Merida, another set of traffic cones turn 4 lanes into 1 and again, I am waved through. This confirms my theory about the ‘too many people in the car’ alert.

At the mall, there is only one entrance open to the public, same as the last time I went. Only this time there are no other people around, so I can go in, hooray.

But wait – not so fast.

First, I am asked where I am going. “A donde se dirige?” This means “where are you directing yourself?” and is ‘official speak’, the language of policemen and security guards of the mall and airport variety.

The options are HSBC, TelCel and CFE. CFE, you will recall from my previous story, is closed. Until April 30, I find out today. I tell the guard – masked, gloved – I am going to pay my phone bill and he tells me to proceed to the giant tubs of water and soap dispensers. I am issued a little water, a squirt of anti-bacterial soap and told to wash. I sing ‘En un dia feliz‘ two times and then rinse. I am given a paper towel. I almost feel I should leave a tip. Maybe if the guard hadn’t placed a gun against my head I just might have. A temperature gun thing.

The part about leaving a tip? Just made that up. And the singing? That was to myself, in my head, obviously. I am not going to break into song at the entrance to the mall.

Once inside, the payment took me 5 minutes if that and out I went. Someone was scrubbing the rubber mat that you walk across to get into and out of the mall – like a sanitary measure you would see at the entrance to a chicken processing plant or something.

A quick visit to the supermarket Soriana (formerly La Comercial Mexicana, now defunct) next door where I was again issued gel for my hands and another pistol pointed at my head to measure once again my body temperature. “You’re good!” he says.

“I’m good?” I ask.

“Yep.” And shows me my score: 36.8. “Todo bien, adelante

If I mention that the gel was the cheap kind that leaves your hands all sticky that might be considered complaining, so I will just keep that thought to myself.

Got my butter, some M&M’s (with peanuts) and for nostalgic and price reasons, and in honor of my heritage, a bottle of Canadian Club.

We all have NEEDS so don’t start with the criticism of my shopping list. Also, someone actually stole my shopping cart which I had parked by the egg display while I was checking out the canned tomato aisle so I had to go back and get those three things AGAIN.

It was a good day out and now I am back at home, under a creaking fan that is blowing excruciatingly dry and hot air at the top of my head as I write this.

April 8, 2020. Yucatan’s Unemployment Insurance Program vs The Whiners

While countries around the world are scrambling to dispense funds to ensure the economy doesn’t collapse and the pitchforks remain in people’s barns, the Mexican federal government is not doing anything. The Yucatan state government, however, announced several programs to support both businesses and individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of these programs involved a $2500 (pesos) per household monthly payment. Not much you say, but it’s something and will keep people from having to go out to find work. $2500 pesos can buy you a lot of basic foodstuffs. You won’t be going to Costco for Tillamook cheese, but beans? You can buy a lot of beans, as well as rice, sugar, and other staples.

The applications, to be made online, were to be filled in on a website set up for the purpose. It was activated on the morning of April 6th and immediately became saturated to the point of crashing.

After 24 hours, the government announced that the registration period was over and that 57,000 applications had been received and were to be evaluated to see that they were eligible and legitimate.

I don’t want to comment on the efficiency of the program, the stability of the website or the expectations of what kind of response this program would generate. I think the governor is showing that he is trying to do something to alleviate people’s fear and the sense of impending doom that seems to be spreading as quickly as any virus.

What I do find remarkable (maybe not so much, knowing how people are) is the tone of the comments on the Facebook announcement that the application process was stopped. Never would you have guessed that there were so many conspiracy theorists, unhealthy skeptics and self-centered individuals out there. My favorite quotes?  One where the person complained that “surely the governor was simply filling his pockets” through this program. There are so many more devious ways that a politician can line his pockets with money that the idea of his using emergency funds is just ludicrous. And many of those same people complaining that they didn’t get their money, are probably the same ones who were bitterly protesting this very same governors announcement just a few months ago that license plates and vehicle registration fees were going up.

Take away? 1) Damned if you do, damned if you don’t and 2) some people are so whiny and pathetic

April 7, 2020. On Social Unrest and Class Distinctions

“This crisis is a godsend”

This is what the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) proclaimed on April 2 at a ‘press conference’ a regular media event these days that is quickly becoming as criticized and mocked (and irrelevant) as those of his counterpart to the north. At least he has finally come around to the idea of social distancing as something people should be doing to avoid spreading the virus as the medical system is already straining under the weight of impending disaster.

When he said this the Spanish equivalent  “nos vino como anillo al dedo” he said it in the context of his much-touted 4T or fourth transformation. It will make it easier to create his new, corruption-free society, a happy, shiny new Mexico free of violence and crime. A utopic vision his fanatical supporters fervently share. Nevermind that many will die as a result of the virus, the important thing is that his vision is realized.

For those of you not familiar with what AMLO means by the 4T there is a brief explanation at the bottom of this article.

In any case, his unfortunate choice of words was the subject of much commentary from the press and those people who are truly concerned about the direction this country is going in. And it demonstrates the absolute sense of self-delusion this president is under that he feels he will be protected from a virus because he will not be corrupt, like past administrations.

One member of his party, the current governor of Puebla, stated categorically that the virus will affect only the well off. “The poor are immune,” he said. If this doesn’t smack of populism and appealing to the downtrodden masses, I don’t know what is.

At this moment there is not a single federal program (like in Canada, Germany and even El Salvador) to shore up businesses alongside individuals. His message to the business community has been ‘you rich capitalists: pay your workers but send them home to keep them safe’ Meetings between the president and leaders of the business community have not yielded anything. No tax relief, no help to meet payroll, no help of any kind.

According to an interview with hotel impresario Jose Chapur this week, Mexico is the only country in the world that is not supporting its business community at the federal level.

Here in the state of Yucatan, we have a much more proactive governor who thankfully has not followed the lead of our illustrious leader. Tax relief, benefits for small businesses, benefits for individuals.

This situation can only lead to one thing: more job losses resulting in more people without an income (there is no guaranteed income for Mexico’s 130 million people, the great majority of whom are wage earners or entrepreneurs.

All those people with nothing to do, no money and plenty of anger and fear, will, with the tacit consent and quiet encouragement of the national leadership, lead to social unrest. Remember the scene from Beauty and the Beast and the villagers heading to the castle with their pitchforks, screaming angrily? Something like that. All those poor exploited workers against those greedy capitalist impresarios.

In the past, we might have been comforted by the thought of our neighbor to the north – uncomfortable as it is – to exercise some pressure to stop Mexico from becoming another Venezuela as they surely wouldn’t want that in their “backyard” but that country is so confused, disorganized and ravaged by the virus that it is not able to exercise much influence on the global stage any longer.

What the country needs now is a serious set of solutions (look around señor presidente, there are plenty of examples around the world) to what may potentially be a huge problem. It can be avoided, but we need action and a clear plan now.

EXPLANATION OF THE 4T

López Obrador refers to his election as the Fourth Transformation of Mexico, preceded by the War for Independence from Spain (1810-1821), the Reform Period led by President Benito Juárez (1857-72, interrupted by two civil wars) and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). Mexicans, with their infallible capacity for reducing names to acronyms and deflating the grandiose, are referring to it as “the 4T”.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2020. On Chimeneas and Backyard Firepits

Not every day can be an update on the coronavirus, since we are stuck at home and the only thing that is updated is on CNN, BBC, CBC, and AlJazeera.

Should I mention Al Jazeera? Red flag for US immigration? Hola señor ICE. Stuck at home sounds negative. So much self-doubt. Oh, stop already.

Back in the carefree days before I became such a curmudgeon, I was in a high school production of My Fair Lady. One of my castmates who, for the purpose of this article I shall call “Susan”, and who brilliantly played Eliza to my Schwarzenegger-esque Dr. Dolittle back in the day, has asked why I light a fire in the mornings – what’s that all about since it is certainly not for keeping warm? A valid question and one I will try to explain.

Once upon a time some years ago, I was at a vivero, which is a nursery where plants are sold. The kind of place you go to when you want something to stick in the ground around your house, like arecas or flowers that will eventually dry up and die but what the hell they look nice for a while so you buy them.

Too pessimistic, the dead flowers?

Among the all the pretty plants arranged in orderly rows which always appeals to my Teutonic instincts, they had on display some clay pots and in tucked in amongst those, was a chimenea. A chimenea (chimney,  for the monolingual among us) is a clay pot with a hole in the front, and a chimney spout on the top. The idea is that you toss in wood or burnable things in the front, enjoy the fire, and the smoke comes out of the top. It’s for the outdoors, so mostly aesthetic but it can serve as a warming element in colder climates, I would imagine. Anyway, the thought of having one of these intrigued me so I bought it and took it home, which was fun as it took up the entire back seat of my car and sloshed back and forth at each traffic stop.

Jeez I hate it when I am uploading a photo of a chimenea and WordPress comes back with http error. I do not have the energy or desire to investigate further so I guess people will have to do a Google image search themselves. Or click here. It’s the one that is described as chimenea rustica.

Once set up, and some branches for firewood procured, I began to enjoy the ritual of preparing a fire in the mornings – when it is relatively cool here – and this was especially handy in 2002, when a hurricane – Wilma I believe – hit the Yucatan and there was a lot of material (fallen trees, branches, piles of dead bougainvillea) to be burned in that chimenea. So much in fact, that all the heat generated ended up cracking the clay and eventually, the pot succumbed under its own weight.

I missed my morning fire. Drinking my coffee on the back terrace watching the woodpeckers, the parakeets and the grackles was just not the same without those flames and the smell of wood smoke. A look around our yard yielded an unoccupied shallow clay pot (a base really, for a larger one) and I set it up on some stones in the place where the chimenea had once stood. This lasted for a while and then disintegrated as well. A conscientious search through several Merida viveros resulted in zero hits for a new chimenea. It was time to go to Ticul.

I guess now I am going to have to explain Ticul here, people are not going to understand the significance. This is going off on a tangent.

Ticul, a small town about 90 minutes from Merida, is famous for its shoes and its pottery. It is also the original home of Los Almendros, once Yucatan’s premiere Yucatecan food restaurant. There is good clay in the region and a dozen or more crafty-minded people make clay planting pots both large and small. They also make garden ornaments like clay pink flamingos and clay fluorescent green frogs (dubious tastes abound) which are sold in small locales along the street. The shoes, incidentally, are locally made and while they are not Jimmy Choo, they are cheap. And that is a good a reason as any to buy them, apparently. As for Los Almendros? They sat on their restaurant laurels for way too long and were overtaken by other, far better Yucatecan food options like Kinich, Teya, La Tradicion and even Chaya Maya and MUGY.

Why am I writing about restaurants? This is not the Casual Restaurant Critics column; he is always butting in and trying to get attention. 

Along with the manufacture en masse of planting pots and colorful kitschy clay creatures, there are a few high-minded individuals who dedicate their time and energy to the fabrication of Mayan archeological replicas, ranging from small pots and whistles to enormous Chaac (Mayan rain god aka Tlaloc in central Mexico) faces and detailed calendars. These are sold to hotels, boutiques, and serious collectors.

I am really rambling here, have to rein it in. Rain it in. Reign it in. No, rein is right. Right as rein. The mind wanders.

I ended up ordering a chimenea from one of the former (manufacturers of clay pots) paid my deposit and left. Some time later, more than a few months since I had forgotten about it, I went back and although I was sure they would have long ago sold my piece and kept the deposit, there it was. The owner remembered me, remembered the chimenea, even had a copy of the deposit receipt.  Again, a gigantic sculpted pot rolled back and forth on the back seat of my car, on the drive back to Merida.

Es cierto! Este viaje lo hice con Mus. Que mala memoria tengo. It was the day we went to Uxmal and ended up on a hilltop in Ticul, having some great Yucatecan food and enjoying an amazing view. 

Being of a rather delicate clay, this pot lasted less than a year before cracks appeared and it also fell upon itself one morning when I was stuffing in a particularly stubborn piece of firewood.

Getting to the end now, I can almost feel it.

Finally, I broke down and had some albañiles (bricklayers, construction workers) come and build me an actual fire pit with blocks and cement which I now enjoy on a daily basis. This is what you can see sometimes in photos posted on social media.

Lighting and enjoying the fire has become an inescapable pleasure of my morning, a moment to sit with my Better Half, enjoy our fresh coffee and watch the birds in the backyard.

 

 

April 3, 2020 – Yucatan, Mexico

While not the end-all-be-all of on-the-ground reporting from Merida, the capital city of Yucatan, it’s my experience and I plan to maintain some sanity by writing about it.

I feel presumptuous. I also wonder how many other paragraphs I can include with so many hyphenated phrases? Do all my thoughts start with I ?

April 3 seemed like a good a day as any to pay my electricity bill. In case you don’t know, electricity in all parts of this country is provided by the monopolous (invented term) Comisión Federal de Electricidad, an almost state-run enterprise much like Pemex. The CFE – as it affectionately referred to – is it’s own universe and it could care less about your financial situation or something as trivial as a virus. So, no concessions – so far – from this giant company in terms of postponing, reducing or condoning any payments. The payment is not due for another week or so, but given the increasing emphasis on staying the hell home, I thought I would get it out of the way, as I cannot imagine being stuck at home with no electricity which would also cut the modem, water and so on.

I sound socialist. Do I sound socialist? Elitist for wanting wifi and water?

I stopped at the sad Gran Plaza mall – sad with so few cars in the parking lot and only the Soriana grocery store open for business. The official decree issued by our governor (of Yucatan) and mayor (of Merida) is that non-essential businesses remain closed and that includes malls. Inside the malls, however, are often banks and other services and those are allowed to open and access to them is permitted.

Getting into the mall is through one entrance only. This entrance is guarded by security personnel in masks and gloves, who are separating people into the various lineups according to what they plan to do. Electricity, cellular, banks. Each service has its own lineup and you are allowed access as people leave so as not to accumulate crowds.

Mantenga su distancia, por favor!” It’s early, so he still says por favor; I suspect that nicety will be dropped as the 40-degree day progresses.

I learn from the questioning man in front of me, that the CFE in all its wisdom has closed its payment machine-only locale and one must therefore either pay it at a bank or some other location. I don’t have the printed version with me, so the bank is out. Confirming that the CFE is indeed closed “sí está cerrado Papi”  I head back to the car.

I later – and thanks to the astuteness of my Better Half – find that I can pay the bill at an OXXO convenience store, as they are able to scan the bar code directly from the image of the bill on my cell phone. Who knew? Probably everyone in the universe except me. In the very busy OXXO store, an employee was in charge of reminding people to stay apart, at least one meter apart and look for the markers taped on the floor. Some people were wearing masks, most were not.

Writing this reminds me of the press conference yesterday or whenever where Trump says the CDC recommends wearing masks but that he is not going to but that that is what the CDC recommends. Tremendous success with the masks. 

The other items on the Things to Do Once You Are Out and About list were bread and gasoline.

So, the next stop: Pan y Kof.fee. Before leaving the house I had placed an order on Facebook and lo and behold it was ready to go when I showed up. In case you don’t know, this place has the most amazing bread; the baguettes are truly a beautiful thing to behold (and eat warm with butter) and so now our freezer is full of them, cut into thirds and wrapped tightly to keep them as fresh as the pandemic will allow.

As the credit card machine did its thing, I chatted with the young lady who was handing me the bread through the wrought iron protectores.

Está terrible” she said “lo que está pasando en Ecuador

I nodded and concurred that it was a terrible thing. I had just heard about their body disposal problem and the intensity of the virus there, especially in Guayaquil, from my friend Mus with whom I had chatted that morning via WhatsApp.

I hope Mus doesn’t mind that I mention him here.

Finally, gasoline at the Pemex station on the Merida-Progreso highway. As is the case all over the world, gasoline prices have dropped significantly. Good news for the tourism industry!! The bad news? No tourists.

Our messianic señor Presidente in his continued delusional state insists that the lower gasoline prices are thanks to him; he apparently believes that no one has access to news other than his and won’t notice that the world’s oil prices have dropped dramatically.


There was a lineup of cars. This particular gas station, part of the El Roble franchises (Abimerhi and La Gas are two other large and omnipresent gasolinera chains in the Yucatan)  have the best prices by at least a peso and sometimes as much as two pesos, which means folks are lining up to get their cars filled at these stations. Currently, the price is at 12.99 a liter, way down from almost twenty pesos back in January.

As a side note, it is worth noting that gasoline stations in Mexico are notorious for magically delivering less than the amount shown on the pump. It is amazing how much ingenuity is harnessed in this country for the purpose of beating the system, at any and all levels. More on the gasoline situation- en español of course – on the Por Esto website here.

Some readers might not understand how much that is, so I should probably explain to them. With the exchange rates, in January gasoline cost about four dollars a gallon. Now, again adjusting for the exchange rates it’s at about $2.50 a gallon

I waited for my turn and asked the female gas pump attendant (the concept of self-service goes against our I-pay-you-so-serve-me Latin American culture) how her day was going. She said she was hot, and the scorching wind blowing leaves and dust through the gas station made it feel like when you open a convection oven and get a blast of hot air. I can just imagine how she feels being out there all day moving between two lines of cars, pumping gas non-stop with the added risk of contagion from a potentially sick or infected client.

She also mentioned Ecuador. “Será que vamos a quedar como ellos?” she half-asked, half-wondered almost to herself.

I told her that probably not, we had things way more under control and would she like some hand sanitizer?

Tengo, gracias” she replied. I paid and tipped and headed back to the safe refuge of my home to cut and wrap and freeze my supply of baguettes, ciabattas and a couple of loaves of something hopefully delicious.

Should I have mentioned the ciabattas? 

 

 

Merida, Yucatan, April 2020 and the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is the era of the coronavirus and we have survived March and arrived at April 2020 – finally – but the end is nowhere in sight. It’s my personal feeling that we here in Mexico are just getting started.

While the USA struggles to keep up with the ever-increasing number of people infected with the virus, and Italy and Spain still lead in number of deaths, Mexico is – thankfully – way down the list today of affected countries. This is temporary I suspect, and we will see an uptick shortly as the cases reported grow exponentially.

The reaction here has been mostly denial, at least at the federal level, for most of March. It seems that finally the message is sinking in, however, and the social distancing and washing your hands campaign is starting to take hold. At the state level, governor Mauricio Vila has earned praise for his pro-active reactions and actions, and all the bitching and moaning about the license plate renewal fee (another subject, for another day and now on hold) has quieted down. The state of Yucatan is way ahead of the federal government (think AMLO and his magical amulets) in accepting this new reality.

Traffic in the city of Merida and on the highways is light, very light and it would be a pleasure to drive anywhere if it wasn’t because of a world-wide pandemic. And if you had somewhere to go. Most stores are officially closed as of yesterday April 1st, with the exception of anything medical, food and fuel related. Restaurants are to-go only and Uber, Rappi and others are making money delivering food to shut-ins. Pedestrians too, are fewer than ever and the city’s various neighborhoods present quite an eerie sight.

There have been concerns on television and other media that the companies are not providing adequate protection (PPE) to their drivers and it does seem a bit risky to be in such close and constant contact with all kinds of people all over the city of Merida. On Mexican TV, you hear of nurses, doctors and support staff already worried about shortages of personal protection equipment in the public hospitals and we are just getting started. Not a promising start.

I am crossing my fingers (what else can I do) that our stomachs and immune systems here are less sensitive than those of our neighbors to the north, and that the stifling heat of April and May will make that virus think twice about setting up shop here.

Stay tuned. And stay home. Stay healthy.

The Casual Restaurant Critic at Carnes Concepción – Temozón

“In the town of Temozón
you will find Carnes Concepción…”

This was going to be a rhyme as those two words seemed to make sense in that context, but the Critic will continue as normal since poetic inspiration is at a virus-infused low point at the moment.

A search on this blog revealed that the Critic has never written about Carnes Concepción, one of several smoked meat options on the highway to Ek Balam or Rio Lagartos when coming from Valladolid.

A must-stop for lunch, the smoked meat (pretty well all pork) and longaniza is justifiably famous and mouth-wateringly delicious. If only the Critic wasn’t socially distancing himself at the moment he might take advantage of this lull in his regular activities to drive over and eat something.

Why Carnes Concepción in particular? On one occasion the Critic forgot his phone there and did not realize it until he was in Valladolid. When he raced back to the restaurant, the kind ladies had found and kept the phone for him. This has earned them the Critic’s undying loyalty and anytime he is in the area with guests, a stop at Carnes Concepcion for lunch is a must.

On the occasion that these photos were taken – a Monday – there was frijol con puerco (pork and beans) to be savored. When you go, order the mixed platter which has everything on it and take whatever you can’t eat home. Smoked pork or longaniza is great chopped into your scrambled breakfast huevos the next day!

Some serious smoking going on back here

Smoked pork close-up

The garnishes/complements for the Frijol con Puerco

That’s smoked pork in there.

Longaniza – the smoked sausage Temozon is famous for

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What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

What’s your favorite ice cream place in Merida?

Arte Helado! Lemon Pie ice cream. Yum.

Here’s the Casual Restaurant Critic’s – their Pay de Limon is most amazing!

Arte Helado Campestre