Tag Archives: Merida

On the Road, Again

UPDATE: Please also read the tragic update, below, written just one day after publishing this.

We are all getting back into the swing of things with a sigh of relief at being “let out” and also a bit of apprehension as this virus is nowhere near controlled just yet. (at the time of this writing Mexico has not reached anything resembling a plateau or flattening of the curve) But, we can now order alcohol again (home delivery only) and move about more freely. More stores are open, not just grocery and OXXO either. Roadblocks are fewer and far between and so, traffic is on the upswing as well.

In much of the peninsula outside the main urban areas, there has been little to no traffic with access to many a small town restricted. Now, with these impediments removed, vehicles are once again returning to the highways of the Yucatan. This will lead to the inevitable death of many birds and other creatures who have quickly become accustomed to the lack of human activity and have ventured out from their forest homes to inspect the open and asphalted areas that are perfect for picking off insects and other small natural food items.

All manner of animals have been spotted around the peninsula, from crocodiles and deer to even a jaguar at an empty Bahia Principe hotel, near Akumal. And maybe it’s just me, but there seem to be so many more birds around than before.

Just this week, on a drive back from the village of Telchaquillo, I came across a flash of bright orange on the highway and pulled over to have a look. It was a yuya, which is a kind of local oriole, very beautiful with the typical orange, yellow and black plumage that was lying, motionless, next to another bird that had obviously been hammered by a vehicle at high speed and then run over by another.

At that moment a truck whizzed by and the unflattened bird blew from one lane to the other like an empty bag of Doritos. And its legs moved!

At this point, this little bird was still blinking

I got out of my car and picked it up. It didn’t appear to have anything broken but was obviously in distress and just blinked in confusion. Probably it had also been hit by a car and had injuries that were not readily visible. As I looked at it and took a photo, it stretched weirdly from head to toe – like a cat does – and then remained motionless. The bird had just died in my hand.

I set it down in the underbrush on the side of the road and got back in my car.

If you are reading this and are driving, please be extra careful out there on the highways to as not to accidentally hit anything. Maybe even slow down a bit! It’ll be better for you, better for your gasoline bill and better for the environment.

UPDATE:

It’s strange – almost eerie – that just a day after publishing the above, I encounter this on the entrance road to the La Ceiba golf course. This beautiful animal was killed by someone in a too much of a hurry driving far too fast. Can we please be aware and SLOW DOWN? This is tragic.

The sign says “Exceso de Velocidad”

Primera Piedra

Note: this article was started in 2010! I found it lurking behind the mayonnaise in the back of the fridge and after a quick re-read, thought it worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

I witnessed today what was probably an historical event. It was what those of us who speak English would call a ‘groundbreaking’ ceremony, where officials and businessmen have a little event aka a photo op where someone with completely un-calloused hands grasps a shovel for probably the first time in their life and pretends to actually dig something while mugging for the cameras of the eager press. In the Yucatan, where digging is a physical impossibility in most cases due to the half an inch of topsoil covering a solid limestone rock layer that extends from the hills of Muna to the coast, the groundbreaking become the ‘primera piedra‘ ceremony.

In this particular case, we were witnessing the unveiling and blessing of the ‘cornerstone’ of yet another Centro Comercial (mall) this one to be built by a conglomeration of business interests, most of which are foreign to the foreigners who read this so I will stick to generalities. The fine folks who gave us the Gran Plaza mall have gotten together with the modest Carso group (owners of such fine commercial ventures as Sanborns, Sears, Dorians, Mixup and more (including TelCel and TelMex), the Ramirez clan who own the Cinepolis chain of cinemas, and Yucatan’s largest franchise owner/operator who owns/operates most of the franchises you see in southwestern Mexico such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (known locally as simply Ken-Toh-Key), Pizza Hut (not to be confused with the local Pizza Hot), Burger King (yes, there is a Burger Queen in Merida) and the Bisquets Bisquets de Obregon franchise from Mexico.

The new mall, to be built on the new avenue that takes you to Cholul, will be spectacular, according to all those present. But this article is not about the new mall; rather, it is about the groundbreaking ceremony itself.

Once your car was parked by the obligatory valet parking, you found yourself on a corner of the property designated to soon become treeless and filled with more concrete, the scene was set with billowing white tents, hundreds of exotic candles providing subdued lighting and lounge-style background music. ‘Lounge’ is the latest style to hit Merida and everyone wants to incorporate it into their festivities to make them so much more hip. Plants were everywhere, all rushed in at the last minute and to be removed soon after the last guests had left. All kinds of fine upstanding folks were there, from the proud and fan-waving (it was a hot night) parents of some of the investors, potential contractors (lighting, construction and other) engineers doing their best to schmooze with the investors and line up some work, slim tall edecanes (female models) holding ends of ribbons and standing behind the men at the presidium table like so many exotic flowers, along with local politicians and church officials.

It is important to break here and mention that when you are starting a business in Merida, or perhaps anywhere in Mexico, it is vital that you have a ceremony where a symbolic ribbon is cut by someone important and that someone from the Catholic hierarchy drops by to say a little spiel and splash some holy water around to´’bless’ the new business venture. You can be the biggest crook in town, but if you have enough cash, all this can be arranged without any difficulty whatsoever. Now the more important you perceive your new undertaking to be, the more exclusive the list of invites. In the case of this new mall, it was a Very Big Deal indeed, because the mayor did not send a representative as he usually might do; he came himself. The governor also showed up, in person. This speaks well for the investors of the mall; that these important people, who must have very busy schedules, would take the time to come to a private function such as this and utter a few mumbled words of encouragement and take advantage of the situation to remind those present that all this development was the result of excellent government at both the municipal and state level. Of course.

But your event is complete if you can persuade some higher-up from the Catholic church to perform the Water Ceremony; and who better than the arch-bishop of Yucatan himself? Well lo and behold, he showed up in his newly acquired wheelchair with plenty of help to push him around and a vial of the necessary holy water. The size of this particular project and the actual stone itself compared to the amount of ‘holy’ water in his little vial, reminded him of a case where he had gone to a car dealership to perform this ceremony and the owner had asked him, as he splashed his water around, if that was ALL the water he had brought. He had replied “Do you want me to bless your dealership or wash the cars?” A stand-up comedian! In a wheelchair. The irony.

I don’t know where this was to end when I wrote it in 2010, but it was a work in progress that I found while cleaning up bits and pieces, odds and ends, of my writings and thought it was worth sharing. 

May 18, 2020. On Hunkering… Down

Some new words and phrases have entered out lexicon, hand in hand with COVID19: social distancing, N95 facemasks, PPE, shelter-in-place and more. One term I have seen used all over the place – and used myself – is the phrase hunkering down. Everyone is hunkering down these days.

Hunkering sounds to me like something out of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, something a sailor might be doing, crouched on an island in a shelter made out of palm fronds along with bits and pieces rescued from a broken sailing vessel. Or a man stranded alone in the mountains, protected from the elements by pine and fir branches, perhaps staring out at a small fire sputtering in the drizzle directly outside.

It is rare if not impossible to find hunkering all by itself. You can’t just hunker. “I’ll be hunkering over here for a while” just doesn’t work. You have to hunker … down.

Dictionary.com has five definitions but it is the third one on the list that definitely applies at this moment:

“to settle into the safety of one’s home or other designated shelter for a potentially long time, as would be necessitated by a natural disaster or an outbreak of a contagious disease”

It’s first recorded usage dates back to the early 1700’s and is possibly derived from the Old Norse hüka which means ‘to crouch’ This in turn is similar to the old Dutch huiken or modern German hocken, both of which mean ‘to squat or crouch’ so that theory seems to make perfect sense.

To my untrained ear it sounds very old-British and some have even traced its use back to Scotland. I fact, the Oxford English Dictionary describes how to hunker: “squat, with the haunches, knees and ankles acutely bent, so as to bring the hams near the heels (hams? really?) and throw the whole weight upon the fore part of the feet”.

An interesting and digressive factoid: the term was popularized in south-western United States dialect form by U.S. President Johnson in the 1960’s.

No matter its origins; while the hunkering down we are doing is less about crouching on haunches in the wild, it is about staying in one place, safe from the outside world and its inherent and contagious dangers, and staring – like the shipwreck victim or the mountain man – balefully out at the bleak world just beyond our shelter.

April 20, 2020. Sweeping as Therapy

Who knew?

My morning routine, such as it is here in the COVID19 era, involves taking a broom and sweeping the driveway. 

In case you don’t live in Yucatan and don’t know, we are at the height of our dry season and many trees are popping seed pods off by the thousands in preparation for the rains that will soon come. Nature is smart that way. 

Each morning finds our treed driveway littered with hundreds of cracked open seed pods, their contents strewn randomly and wastefully all over the concrete. These pods are dry and have the consistency of hard plastic. Stepping on them results in a satisfying crunch that will make you jump in anticpation to the next step, just to crunch every pod you can, like a six year old stomping in a puddle. The satisfaction is similar to that achieved when you take that piece of bubble wrap and pop all those delicious bubbles. Step on these hard shells with bare feet however, and you will be reminded of that time you stepped on your kids/cousins/brothers/sisters lego in the middle of the night. Ouch.

But, once again I digress.

The morning sweep with the headphones on comes after the morning walk and the morning coffee enjoyed by the morning fire. There is a certain satisfaction moving that broom back and forth, hypnotically watching the seeds, leaves and dirt accumulate, while listening to Bill Maher trying to be funny from his backyard and without an audience, or the New York Times Michael Barbaro emphatically interjecting yet another “HMM” during an interview with an enthusiasm usually reserved for Mayan mestizas during a particularly juicy piece of gossip.

Once the sweeping is finished, it’s back to the morning coffee and attending to pressing decisions about what to cook for the day’s lunch, whether or not it’s garbage day, washing whites or colors, or any number of mundane tasks that could be undertaken to take my mind off the fact that this situation is dragging on and on (and on) and I have no legit means of income and what will happen when my meager savings are used up and my credit cards limits have been saturated…

Where’s that broom? 

 

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 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 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? 

 

 

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