Tag Archives: elmaloso

Merida Malls – A Primer

For those of you into malls, you will happy to know that there is a glut (too many, pues) of shopping malls in the formerly-white city of Merida. Wherever you turn, there is another mall! This is in addition to the already gazillion little placitas that people keep building on any available corner that feature independent and sometimes chain business that quite often are doomed to fail as a result of over-supply. This is the mall panorama at the time of this writing:

  • Plaza Dorada – The ‘family’ mall as they like to advertise themselves. This mall was one of the first malls on this side of the city and is an early architectural design by the now famous Augusto Quijano. It looks severely dated now, however, and is comprised of a series of independently owned shops for the most part along with one or two chains including a supermarket. The feel is cheap, and their market could be described as lower middle class. Not a place you would want to spend any more time than necessary in. The arrangement in the mall is that all commercial space is privately owned, so any renovations or improvements have to be agreed upon my all the owners, which, in Merida, is a challenging prospect to be sure.

    In addition, Plaza Dorada was eclipsed by the construction of the Las Americas mall right next door, which put the nail in the Dorada coffin – a nail that had been placed there by the burning (some say intentional) of the Dorada cinemas, run by Ramirez who were opening a mini-plex at the new Las Americas across the street.

    Plaza Dorada is not a happy place.

  • Plaza Fiesta – Once Meridas premiere mall, before the opening of La Gran Plaza, Plaza Fiesta manages to hang in there after years and years of operation and several ambitious renovations. Built in the square, boxy style common at the time, Plaza Fiestas latest reno made the interior more curvy and a little more modern. Hard economic times have hit Plaza Fiesta where it counts and many many commercial spaces are vacant making the ambiance more depressing than it was. Sin embargo, locals from the area still go there to do there shopping at the supermarket and there are several bank outlets as well, making it a functional plaza but not a destination for people who like to stroll the malls
  • Plaza Oriente – As its name implies, Plaza Oriente is in that part of town known as the Oriente, which is not an oriental reference in the sense of anything Chinese, but rather that it lies in the eastern part of town. Not exactly an upscale neighborhood, the area around Plaza Oriente is middle to low income families and the minimal offerings at this shopping center reflect the low level of discretionary income available to be spent within its severely aesthetically challenged interiors. A few shops, a bank or two and that’s about it. One of Meridas first malls, this is one place you would never feel compelled to visit for any reason.
  • La Gran Plaza – the construction of this new, modern mall was announced with much fanfare in 1994 and its moniker is ‘the fashion mall’. Just like that; in English. And when it was finished, in its initial phase, it was indeed the place to go and Merida was excited to have a mall just like the ones in the US and Canada, all fancy and upscale. Shops were charged an arm and two legs to get in and the rents were the highest ever charged for commercial space in an enclosed shopping environment. The Gran Plaza became THE destination mall to stroll around in and the businesses that catered to this strolling market made a killing.
Now when I say ‘destination’ mall I mean that it took the place of the traditional zocalo or main square that is a central fixture in every Mexican town and small city; where the populace comes to see and be seen, where young folks of opposite sexes glanced at each other furtively under the watchful eyes of aunts or mothers or perhaps a chaperon in the form of a little brother or sister; where old men came to gossip and leer somewhat discreetly at the young females in their best and flirtiest outfits; where entire families strolled, ice cream cones in hand and greeted one another warmly. This social environment has not been eradicated in spite of the best efforts of Televisa, Dish Network and DirecTV. It has simply moved indoors, where a climate controlled environment makes for a much more pleasant outing. Mothers and fathers routinely leave their barely pre-teen children in the mall, to hang out with their friends, perhaps go to a movie and just chill, thinking that the mall security will keep an eye on them. Those of us who have children who grew up during that time can remember vividly the masses of people congregating at Wendy’s (now Starbucks) directly across from the Gran Plaza and where parents would pick up their offspring after the mall closed.
  • Plaza Las Americas – As I alluded to earlier, Plaza Las Americas was built directly across the street from Plaza Dorada under the auspices of the owners of Chedraui, who own similar projects throughout Mexico, always with one of their supermarkets as an anchor. Plaza Las Americas was a ‘big deal’ at the time since it actually looked pleasant and had some interesting stores, a cinema (the Ramirez company who used the insurance money from the fire at their Plaza Dorada location to finance the new theaters) and a food court with real gringo franchises like KFC, McDonalds and Burger King. It is however, a small mall and not much fun to stroll around in since the distance to be covered from one end to the other is too short and the layout is a Y which makes it difficult to go in circles.
After a few years of stability in the mall market, someone heard something and a spate of construction began that created the current mall glut in Merida.
  • MacroPlaza –  built in that area behind Los Pinos, near the monument to the Xtabay, this tiny strip mall is another shopping only kind of mall with not much to offer beyond a supermarket, some stores, a nearby WalMart and a cinema. There is a tiny food court but nothing exciting that would lure you to come and have a look.
Major malls soon followed.
  • Altabrisa – a joint venture by the group that built the Gran Plaza, along with Carlos Slims company (one of them, anyway) and two other investors, this mall is probably Meridas most ambitious mall to date, easily out doing the Gran Plaza in terms of fashion-ability and status symbol stores. Everything from Haagen Dazs to Zara to Starbucks to Nine West to Benetton can be found within the walls iof this huge, high ceilinged collosus that is run like a mall would be run in the US or Canada. That is to say: all the stores, or at least 80%, are occupied, the air conditioning works, there is music from the moment you step out of your car and in general it’s just a pleasant place to be on a hot Merida day. All the upper middle class to upper class folks from Merida, young and old, come to this mall to do their walking around and the cinemas are probably Meridas best. Unlike movie theaters in the US or Canada, these cinemas are packed when a blockbuster movie comes out or on a Saturday night.

    A quibble I have with this mall is its awful food court, which resembles an unfinished airport hangar with food stalls on either side of it. The space in the middle is gigantic, full of metal and plastic chairs and tables and completely devoid of any charm. Eating there is an exercise in self control, as you want to run from the place, it is so uncomfortable.

    Points go this mall for its mall-ness, its location; ideal for buying a gift or waiting for someone to get better (or die) at the Star Medica hospital next door, the fact that it has a Chili’s and those deliciously decadent top shelf margaritas, a great cinema experience, Starbucks coffee and almost every upscale store you could want.

At the same time that Altabrisa was being built, a group from Mexico City announced the construction of yet another mall, because Merida – hooray – really needed another mall.
  • Galerias – owned by the folks who run Liverpool the department store, this is another high end mall, complete with a central ice skating rink, a Ghandi bookstore (big deal if you are from Mexico City, although it has absolutely nothing on a Borders or Chapters) and even a Hugo Boss boutique. I don’t know of anyone who would buy anything at retail in a Hugo Boss store here, but then that’s just me. This mall, as a shopping experience, is probably a failure judging from the business closing there in the last year or two. The big draw is the air conditioning, the casino and the skating rink. Oh and the fabulous margaritas and consistently mediocre service that characterize the American chain restaurant, Chili’s. The food court at Galerias is off in one corner on the second floor, almost as if it were an afterthought and is as unattractive as the one in Altabrisa, but with even less options.
Another group of businessmen, from somewhere up north, smelled opportunity (how or what, quien sabe) were building, at the same time:
  • Plaza Senderos – another giant project that would serve that part of the city previously attended to by the tiny and outdated Plaza Oriente. Unfortunately this mall never really took off and is struggling at the moment.
  • City Center – If the above were not enough, the Hines Group out of Texas (Gallerias in Houston is one of theirs) and their Mexican affiliates had the brilliant idea to also build a shopping mall, but with a different concept in mind. Theirs would be half outdoors and strollers would be able to shop and dine al fresco since to get from one shop to another you needed to stroll around outside. With retail giant WalMart as their anchor, they ambitiously launched their advertising campaign. Fridays came on board (under a different franchise owner than the Fridays on Montejo, btw) as did Los Trompos who opened their most ambitious taqueria yet, complete with a giant revolving sign. Unfortunately here too, the demand for this mall did not meet expectations and the shopping center is mostly empty. The food court, for example, has not a single occupant.
I think I have hit most of the major shopping malls in Merida with this little write-up; hopefully, as a newcomer to Merida, you will find it useful when deciding where to go to escape the heat, which is what a great majority of Meridanos use their mall time for.

Allianz Medical Insurance – My Experience

Here is a post that I started writing about two years ago and never got around to finishing. Apparently at the time I was venting on subjects more political than Merida.

I think it still pertinent and also somewhat interesting for those of us who pay private medical insurance in Mexico in the hopes that if something goes wrong one won’t have to stand in line dripping blood at the nearest IMSS clinic along with a hundred other unfortunate beneficiarios of their magnificent service.

And it is interesting to think that if the medical insurance companies in the united states are unregulated, imagine what they are like here. In any case here is what I wrote, again, two years ago:

It’s about time I got back to writing something – anything – about life in Merida from a neurotic foreigners POV before this turns into another political blog, of which there are so many. It’s just that sometimes I can’t help myself; my neuroses are not limited to local events or situations and must be expressed, divulged and otherwise expelled from my neurotic mind, according to my therapist. You, my dear readers, suffer the consequences of my therapy.

It turns out that Yours Truly, under a lot of stress during the holidays, had a Medical Situation happen that involved a restaurant, a loss of consciousness, an ambulance, paramedics and a short stay at the Star Medica hospital here in sunny Merida.

Without going into too much detail, once I was declared alive and well, the $18,000 peso bill was paid by credit card on the 24th of December and this neurotic foreigner was let loose and went home with the understanding that the medical insurance he had been paying for the last 7 years would reimburse the costs (or a portion thereof) forthwith.

It turns out that Allianz, through it’s representative who is also my soon-to-be former insurance agent, informed me that no, they can’t pay for any of the hospital bills until further tests are done. Apparently the doctor on duty referred my case to a specialist who wrote epilepsy on the preliminary diagnosis and so, Allianz needs more tests including MRI’s and what not to determine if that is the case, in which case, they will (perhaps?) pay.

It also turns out that Allianz will pay for an emergency stay in a hospital if you are in there for 24 hours, a fact which my excellent and informed insurance representative and former friend neglected to mention to my Better Half, even though he was actually at the hospital talking to the doctors about the case. I was released from the hospital about 18 hours after arriving, and had we known, I am sure my Better Half would have knocked me on the head to keep me there for a few hours longer.

A visit to Allianz’s offices later resulted in a receptionist giving me some forms to fill out, which were exact copies of the ones I already had where the doctor had filled in his preliminary diagnosis. No help there.

Moral of the story? Nothing major happened to me in this case, nor did this incident bankrupt me. But one should be aware that the health insurance horror stories you hear about from the United States are not limited to the HMO’s in the United States; they are part of the system here too, where supposedly we have an excellent public health system which, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired and requires a backup plan.

Caveat Emptor.

Wayan’e Itzimna

Today, as Mr Lawsons Twitter followers may have read, the Casual Restaurant Critic had his first-ever experience with the world-famous Wayan’e Tortas & Tacos in Meridas Itzimná neighborhood. The sandwich was good, the chaya and pineapple drink refreshing – but the best part was the cheery, witty man behind the counter! The owner, perhaps?

Que va a llevar, chel!?!” he literally shouts, all smiles.

The Critic asks this very friendly man what to order since it is the Critics first time ever. Immediately he issues a command to the cook who starts preparing the sandwich/torta; something meaty with melted cheese.

“What will you have to drink” he asks (in Spanish of course)

“What do you have?”

“Something local?”

“How local?”

Chaya con Piña?”

Viene!

The Critic and the owner chit-chat for a moment longer, waiting for the torta to be heated on the plancha until it is crispy and the cheese melts out the sides. There is another lady waiting for something, who is commenting on the fact that her centro neighborhood is overrun with ‘gringos’ – norteamericanos y canadienses – she points out, looking furtively at the Critic. She expresses amazement at one norteamericano in particular in her neighborhood who is wheelchair-bound and races around in sentido contrario on the streets in his motorized wheelchair ‘like a little truck’ she says shaking her head and smiling. The owner asks if the Critic is a norteamericano.

Canadiense. Por favor

Everyone laughs.

A nudge at the Critics elbow. The Critic pretends to jump, as if scared at this sudden intrusion into the conversation by a tall-glass-with-chaya-piña-water-in-it wielding lady. The owner, obviously a master of wit, immediately remarks “and that is why we don’t open at night!”

Hilarious.

A return visit is imminent…

Remixto Sunday Brunch

The Casual Restaurant Critic had the luck to be advised of this once a month brunch event to be held at Casa Mexilio, in downtown Merida put on by remixto.com and hosted by the intrepid MexiChica and her hubbie.

Let it be said that to start a Sunday morning in a jungle patio with an exquisite Bloody Mary or a Guayaba mimosa is a hell of a great way to wake up in Merida, even with the 40-plus degree heat that is currently plaguing the formerly white city.

Highlights, after the Bloody Mary, were the Eggs Benedict, cooked to perfection and prepared not with ham but with a sabroso hunk of roast pork aka lechon, accompanied by a grilled tomato and some greenery. The french toast, made with rompope and served with a caramelized bacon and soft, mushy-sweet cooked bananas was delicious. So good were these two dishes that the Critic actually ordered both (and ate both, thank you very much). Federico Navarro’s coffee was strong, hot and fresh, silverware was sparkling new and the whole affair was like having brunch at someone’s home; someone who transforms fresh, local ingredients into marvelous mouthfuls in their kitchen and invites you over to sample them.

The World Warms Up to Global Climate Change. Meanwhile, in Campeche…

While the world – and even some enlightened parts of the united states of America – gets it’s collective head around the idea that the climate seems to be affected by human activity – duh – things in Campeche are moving in another direction.

The Diario de Yucatan reports that students are upset about the recent ‘trimming’ of the trees at the Universidad Autonoma de Campeche.

No kidding! Look at the photos in the Diario article online, one of which is used in this post. In the far away, dreamy land of Campeche, climate change is not on the agenda, it would seem, and of course it is so cool there that no shade is required. And those nasty x’kaues that poop all over the place; well, the hell with them and their noisy racket!

These are not Halliburton employees on a mission to drill oil; these are supposedly well-read university people. Unbelievable.

And dare I ask what the students or teachers were doing while the cutting was going on? Could no one lift a finger or did they magically do all this ‘trimming’ in one night and no one heard a thing?

Felicidades Campeche! Every once in a while someone in Campeche insists on doing or saying something that is so… well, Campechano.

More on the Cell Phone Debacle

Many Mexicans were surprised that there was no ‘prorroga‘ (extension) on the deadline for registering your cell phone; in fact, anyone who has lived in this country for any length of time knows that any new law requiring anything to be done on the part of the populace, ends up getting postponed and those who rushed to comply on time feel foolish, cheated and are laughed at by the more seasoned pros who knew that the deadline was not really that firm.

You might remember when former president Fox announced his ‘borron y cuenta nueva‘ tax program, essentially forgiving fines and back taxes on those who had not paid their federal taxes. Those of us who did pay their taxes felt like a bunch of idiots as the tax cheats laughed their way to the bank.

Water bills? Same thing. The JAPAY regularly forgave debt in order to invite customers to get back on track. While some of these folks might have had real economic troubles, a great number of them did not and simply abused – and continue to abuse – the system.

Well, everyone expected the deadline for the cell phones to be extended and were indeed surprised when it was not. Lineups at TelCel offices were long and the whole RENAUT system collapsed under the pressure of so many people doing last minute registering via text message.

Meanwhile, the question of whether this idea was really that great in the first place has come up. Turns out that a good number of people registered their cell phones in the name of Felipe Calderon (president) and many more registered them in the name of someone else (read more on this here). You perhaps? You’ll never know, unless a crime is committed somewhere with that phone and you get the knock on the door – if they are polite; if not, they will kick it in, to use a phrase by our illustrious governor.

And now, the major player in the cell phone market in Mexico, TelCel, has announced that it has in place an ‘amparo‘ which is essentially a legalistic delay tactic that permits them to NOT cancel any unregistered cell phone accounts, as the law dictates it should. Telefónica, another cell phone provider here is in the process of doing the same. It is difficult to imagine the “powers” that be telling Carlos Slim what he can or cannot do, so it will be interesting to see how the government handles this.

Aren’t you glad you took the time and trouble to register your phone? I know I feel good about it.

A Box on a Tree

This is a photo of a box on a tree. Completely random and the uses for such an artifact unknown: is it a garbage box to keep the garbage away from street dogs while it awaits pickup by the garbageman? Is it a very large and insecure mail box awaiting a package from FedEx? And the carefully lettered sign is true and classic Mexican typography. Note the word ‘caja‘ didn’t quite fit so it was made a little smaller at the end, but perfectly lettered in its own way.

The text says:

“Don’t do unto others what you would not have them do to you. Don’t take this box”

Because you know you want to take that box, don’t you?

More on One of My Pet Peeves: El Tope

So (I have been listening to interviews on NPR and am surprised by the number of times people answering Terry Gross’ questions start with the word ‘so’) I live in this neighborhood – let’s call it La Ceiba, just for fun – that one could consider ‘upscale’  for Mérida; it’s on a golf course, the lots are large and there are a fair number of BMW’s and Audis driving around which seems to indicate a certain level of socioeconomic prosperity. What I am doing there sometimes baffles me, but we got in at a good time and I anxiously look forward to the day when golf will become appealing to me.

The roads within this fraccionamiento were all repaved with actual asphalt a few years back and the smooth surface seems to be irresistible to the frustrated Fitipaldis and Schumachers that inhabit the luxurious homes, and so, topes were introduced. First at occasionally conflicting intersections, then curves, then any straight stretch lasting for more than 500 meters.

Originally, yellow ‘boyas‘ also known as turtles in some quarters were used. These required a full stop and then gentle acceleration as you eased your vehicle over the obstacle; not doing so would result in severe damage to your cars’ suspension system. Interestingly, I observed that the drivers who would come to full stop were mostly men, while the women and offspring thumped over them with little concern. I attribute this to the fact that the men are paying the costs of their vehicle repairs, while the other drivers are oblivious to the damage they were causing.

After the stop and accelerate process became unbearable – do this eleven times on your way to and eleven times on your way from your home and you will slowly go insane – these nasty bumps were replaced by large concrete ramps that had an incline, a top and a decline, if that is the right word. Imagine a kind of wedge. These new topes are much easier to roll over; a high speed traverse will throw the whole car into an Evel Knievel fit, so they were also more effective at slowing down all drivers.

The tope project however, has meant an ongoing maintenance program in which thousands and thousands of pesos are spent sanding, smoothing and then painting these obstacles a bright yellow. I cannot think that there must be a more effective use of time and money than to spend it on these aberrations!

And yet, we can’t live without them, it seems. It’s a sad reflection of reality: Mexicans want the smooth streets they see on TV or have experienced on trips abroad, and yet, they can’t be bothered to drive responsibly on those same smooth roads, thereby requiring the almost medieval solution of physically placing barriers on those smooth roads to make them horribly bumpy again, thereby defeating the purpose of having a paved road in the first place. Because the undisciplined lot that we are cannot be trusted to obey a speed limit, even with the threat of injuring or killing a neighbors’ pet or child.

A Worthwhile Cause – Emergency Medical Spanish

If you are reading this you have likely read it on another post as well. But for that small portion of readers who don’t read all the other blogs out there, here’s an interesting item that I read on my friend Debi’s blog regarding an Emergency Spanish dictionary where you can apparently find the words to express how you feel. This may sound romantic, but believe me, when you are doubled over in pain in a hospital with a 360 degree circle of Mexican nurses and doctors people asking you things the term ‘expressing how you feel’ takes on an entirely new meaning.

The book is here.

Debi’s post on the subject is on her blog.

Have a terrific Friday, everyone and enjoy the hot weather. Find a cenote, or a beach with few people. Actually, at this time of the year, stay home. It will be more peaceful.

No More Tenencia?

For those of you who do not have the privilege of owning a vehicle in Mexico, this will be of little interest.

For those that do, you probably know it already: in Mexico we have to pay a tenencia, or tax just to own a car. This on top of all the other taxes that one must pay in Mexico, this great land where those that pay taxes (30% of the population) pay for the other 70% who either evade taxes completely – those at the top end of the economic spectrum with good fiscal lawyers – and those who are ‘too poor’  at the bottom, because ‘ay poooobres‘ the government and politicians feel sorry for them.  They don’t want to help them, educate, raise the minimum wage, whatever; but they do feel sorry for them. And so they don’t pay taxes either.

Once again I digress. I was talking about the tenencia.
In a nutshell, it is a tax that is based on the value of the car and decreases as the car ages. Implemented in the late 1960’s to pay for the Mexico City Olympics, it turned into such a cash cow that it never went away.

There has been talk about the tax being unconstitutional and the voices, during the 20 years I have lived here, have become louder and more strident; this tax is obsolete ie. the Olympics have been paid for many times over , it is unconstitutional and should be abolished for once and for all.

In the last presidential election campaign, Felipe Calderón promised to eliminate this tax. Today I received an email that explains that he has eliminated the tax at the federal level and has left it up to each state to decide whether or not they want to continue charging this tax. This is why, in a bold and rare move, the state government of Queretaro has eliminated the tenencia tax altogether. Finally, some good news!

So if you are here in the Yucatan and wondering why we pay this onerous tax, know that it is now in the hands of our governor, not Felipe Calderón.