Why not be an expat?

As I pass the first anniversary of life as an expat, I am tempted to review the good and bad aspects of it. If you read my blog, you already know I find the balance tilted to the positive side. However, I have noted several times that expat life is not for everyone. So what are the reasons that would make expat life–especially expat life in Mexico–disagreeable for the average American?

The top reason on my list would be healthcare. It is at the top not because one cannot find quality doctors and hospitals: in Mexico, you can. Rather, it tops the list because healthcare is so critically important to one’s physical and financial well-being that if you have any doubt about your situation in either case (financial- or health-wise), you must question whether you’re expat material. If you don’t have portable health insurance, won’t qualify for another nation’s healthcare, don’t have money to buy insurance locally or in reserve to cover health emergencies, expat life may not be for you.

Likewise, if you have serious health problems, you want to think twice about expat life. Medical culture, like all culture, varies in every country. Figuring out what your doctor really means, regardless of whatever he or she says (and in what language), is difficult enough when you are familiar with the culture. Levels of care vary, not because one system is more or less caring, but because different systems have different views on what is appropriate. Any friction in healthcare is major friction, because it is literally a matter of life or death. Failing health (coupled with an inability to cover escalating costs) is the leading reason expats return home.

Second on the list is family matters. How close and frequent are your relationships with your immediate or extended family? If you live in the same town as your extended family, and you get together several times a week and are always available to one another, you may find expat life to be too disconnecting. One must be very honest about this issue. If I was still working (which would have been necessary were I not an expat), I would be limited in the time I could spend with my grandchildren. Expat life freed up my time, which enables more and better time with them. However, my family has always been all over the map (literally), and even my closest grandchild was a solid hour away from my last home near DC. Here in Mexico, I am a four hour plane ride away from them, but my calendar is clear, so I can drop by pretty easily (like we did over the MLK holiday this year). In the meantime, we skype on a regular basis. I am blessed that my immediate family has few (almost none, really) health or personal issues. If you need that close daily family interaction, or have family members who need your personal attention, expat life may be a bridge too far.

Next would be your flexibility. There are a few hardy souls who thrive in the absence of any routine; you usually see them on adventure TV shows. Most of us need some level of routine, or certainty, to be comfortable.  As an expat, you are inherently out of your comfort zone. Can you adapt to it? It comes in all shapes and sizes: when I go the local Walmart (familiar), they may be no potato chip brands or flavors I recognize.  A left turn signal can mean almost anything. Russet potatoes are difficult to find. You should say “buenos dias” to people you pass on the street, and that changes to “buenos tardes” at noon and “buenas noches” after dark. Shrimp cocktail is a form of cold, spicy soup. Asking for directions is asking for trouble. Butter contains no salt, and there is no caramel. Mañana means sometime.

None of these points is important, but collectively they represent a lot of turbulence. As an expat, there are times when you start to think you are building a routine, and then you’re hit with several changes all at once.  If you aren’t flexible enough to change with such challenges, you may find expat life unsettling.

Someone’s villa grande is just around the bend

How do you feel when you are confronted with abject poverty? Poverty exists side-by-side with wealth in Mexico. Begging is not considered a sign of poor character: some people are just worse off, and they beg to make ends meet. If you go out where there are groups of people (like the market, a shopping center, a soccer match) you will run into people begging, children selling fruit or junk or trinkets, or perhaps a handicapped person offering to wash your car. If you say no, they leave you alone. No one gets angry about their entreaties. If you give them some money, they will be very grateful; around the corner will be more of the same. You have to pick and choose where you drop your coins, and saying no is never fun. If this scene pulls too hard on your heartstrings, maybe you’re not an expat.

Closely related to the poverty issue is, surprisingly, pets (especially in Mexico). I have heard more than one expat lament the way dogs are treated here: some folks become so upset they return home.  Dogs are just a useful appliance here; they are not pets in the North American concept (I rarely even see cats here). One sees roof-dogs which live out in the hot tropical sun with the sole purpose of alerting owners if anyone approaches the property. Street dogs are common, lazing alongside the roads, many limping from a close encounter of the vehicular kind.  Seeing a dog’s body in the road is not at all unusual. As long as a dog performs a useful task, they are given some minimal shelter and food; if they dont, they are set loose. Local governments wait until they get complaints about dog packs, then they set out poison to eliminate the problem. As a lifelong dog owner, it is heartbreaking, but I also realize many Mexicans do not have the resources to spend on pets as luxury items. If sad dog stories are too much for you, you’ll need to toughen up to be an expat.

These are the top five facets of expat life which make it something not everyone can embrace (in my opinion). As an expat, I can attest to the fact that many confront these situations and negotiate them successfully to become expats. Some expats choose to be snowbirds, spending colder months down here and warmer months back home.  This helps address the expat challenges I mentioned, but also adds the cost of maintaining two residences.

As I said at the beginning, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. With more and more baby boomers retiring every day, we are seeing a significant increase in new arrivals lakeside. I hope they are considering the challenges I have discussed above; if not they face more than a little disappointment.

Getting Registered

Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to complete some of those little administrative tasks with which we are all familiar, and which are just as important for an expat.

First, I had to renew my car’s registration. This proved fairly easy and cost only $500 MXP ($ 25 USD) since I got a 10% discount for paying right away. Such discounts are common in Mexico, including on things like speeding tickets and property taxes. One small complication with the process was that the Mexican government now demands you provide an RFC # when registering/renewing your car. RFC stands for Registro Federal de Contribuyentes.  It is a way for the government to better track people for tax purposes; you need an RFC for most major transactions (buying/selling cars, houses, etc.).  This is especially important in Mexico, where so much business is done “off the books” to avoid taxes. You can get an RFC number online through a fairly easy process; once you have it, it stays with you as long as you are a resident. I have one last administrative requirement for my automobile: sometime before April, I’ll need to take the car in for an emissions inspection.

Finally, I completed the transition from Residente Temporal to Residente Permanente.  I paid a fee and filled out the documents attesting to my resident address and my retirement income. The last step was to get fingerprinted (again), and now I too (along with my dear wife) have an official green card issued by the Mexican government.  What does it mean? I  never have to update or renew my status–hence the term permanente.  I use the “Mexicanos” lines when entering or leaving the country instead of using the “foreigners” lines. What else? I must pay taxes if I make any income in Mexico (which was always the case, but I won’t be making any income, so whatever). I am eligible for Mexican health care (Seguro Popular or IMSS), and I can apply for a Mexican capital gains tax exemption if I ever sell my casa. I can’t vote here, and I can no longer own a foreign-plated vehicle in Mexico. That’s the deal.

The biggest advantage with Resident Permanente is not having to renew your status or pay anything ever again.  While the Mexican federal government sometimes changes the rules and charges for tourists and temporary residents, it leaves permanentes alone.  Some expats go all the way to getting Mexican citizenship, but as far as I can see that only lets you vote. I’m sick enough of politics in my home country to not want to engage in it here!

A Camino Day (Proposed)

Some of you may be wondering what that 800 kilometer hike across northern Spain will look like. From a geographic perspective, it starts in the Pyrenees mountains, crosses the Basque country and heads into the meseta or Spanish plains, and ends in Galicia. Much of it crosses fertile cropland, including vineyards, with about three mountain ranges. Along the way we’ll pass through numerous small villages along with the cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León, and Santiago de Compostela. Some of the way is roadside, some farm trails, some traditional hiking routes. But what does an average day look like? Based on the preparatory research I have done, here is what pilgrims tell me.

The pilgrim’s day starts early, perhaps 6 am, especially if you stay at an albergue or hostel.  Most albergues insist everyone leaves by 8 am so they can clean for the next night’s pilgrims; yes, you can only stay one night in each albergue. Breakfast may be available at or near the albergue, or at least some coffee. Most pilgrims want to get on the road before the heat of the day, and many albergues are first-come, first-served, so there can be a little bit of an Oklahoma landrush in the morning to get an early start. One of the banes of pilgrims in the the albergues is the rustling sound of other pilgrims, which may start as early as 4 am, as they try to get packed and depart.

Tortilla de papas, almost always available
The humble but delicious bocadillo

Whenever the time comes, breakfast is probably continental, such as a pastry with coffee. Lunch is often a sandwich called a bocadillo, which is some form of ham on french bread. Some push lunch back until 1-3 pm, perhaps coinciding with arriving at the next stop’s albergue, but others keep a lunch break around noon. Most pilgrims hope to get in to their next albergue or inn sometime in the afternoon.  After check-in, you find your bed/room, unload, shower and switch into your casual dinner outfit, and wash your hiking gear from that day. Next comes some quiet time to siesta (my favorite), read, catch up on social media, buy some trail food for the next day, or fix any physical issues (blisters?).

Some towns have a pilgrim’s mass at night, and many restaurants will serve a pilgrims menu of three courses (soup/pasta, meat, dessert) and vino de casa for a nominal fee (E10). After socializing with fellow pilgrims, most retire early for the evening. This might mean sleep, but it might not, as the cacophony of snoring, people rustling in their backpacks, and the usual comings-and-goings can make sleep a challenge. Some pilgrims only stay in albergues; others only use hotels and private rooms.

Wake up and do it all over again. For 30-45 days.

Now of course there are the many hours of time spent walking, which can also be an opportunity for prayer, sight-seeing, introspection, or meeting one’s fellow pilgrims. That gets to the “why” of the Camino, and I will return in a future post to answer it.

Camino Gear

As promised, here is my follow up post on the gear we plan to take when we walk the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied-de-Port (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in May.

First, here’s the photo layout:

Now here is what you see. Starting in the upper left corner (and moving clockwise) is my pack, an Osprey Kestrel 48. This is an overly-large pack for the Camino, but it fits me well, and if we need extra room I have it. On top of it is a Venture ID bag for our passports and camino credencial, the document which identifies us as pilgrims and gets us into albergues. Next is a Melt travel roller, a lightweight device for stretching; on top is my Diamond red light headlight, and below it is a pair of Keen travel slippers.

Moving due right is a soap/wash solution and the Brierley guidebook, and slightly right and up from that is a large travel towel (folded) with a pair of walkie-talkies. Above that is my emergency caffeine kit (24 packets of starbucks instant coffee), which is all that is standing between me and disaster if Judy needs a coffee fix some morning!

In the upper right corner is an Osprey 2 liter water bladder which fits into my pack with a drinking tube right to my face. Below left is a lightweight set of stuff sacks, a cocoon brand mummy liner (sleeping bag liner, no bag), a set of lower leg protectors (keeps rain/pebbles out of our boots) and an electric travel adapter. In the lower right corner are my Cascade adjustable hiking poles and gloves.

To the left is my lightweight, collared travel shirt and a long-sleeve Under Armour shirt, with my toiletries bag on top of them. Next left is a pair of running shorts which double as swim trunks, then my other detachable hiking pants and short-sleeve shirt. Curling back in to the center are two more pairs of quick-drying travel underwear and two sets of travel socks and silk liners. Above that is an over-the-pack rain poncho, and to the right is a Cool-rag brand towel, a travel utensil kit, and a blacklight flashlight.

And that’s it.

Not pictured are a small Android tablet and phone, and one set of gear I will be wearing (t-shirt, Keen hiking shoes, merino wool socks with silk liners, detachable hiking shorts/pants, quick-dry travel underwear).

Most of the gear is self-explanatory. We bought lightweight, quick-drying  equipment because (1) we’re carrying everything, and (2) you wear one pair, wash those when you are done for the day, then wear the other pair. We tried to get gear which is multi-purpose, like the detachable shorts or the running shorts/swim trunks.

Some things are unique. The Cool Rag is a towel which stays cool and moist in its container: on hot days you pull it out to cool off. The black light is great for identifying bed bugs, a nemesis when staying in dormitories. We found Melt rollers a necessity to recover from hard workouts. The headlamp is great for early morning (dark) starts, and can be used inside an albergue in the red light mode (without disturbing other sleepers).

We probably don’t need the 2 liter water bladder, and on some legs I won’t fill it, but it is a nice emergency item for us (or other pilgrims).

In yet another follow-on post, I’ll cover what I anticipate a camino day to be like.

Camino veterans, or those who are just meticulous planners, if you see something missing, please ask about it in the comments section!

Training down the homestretch

We’re now under 90 days out for our departure for the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela, so it is time to get serious about training. We have done once- or twice-a-week walks thus far, getting up early or walking under the hot tropical sun to experience different conditions.  We have gone as far as 24 kilometers carrying our loaded packs and wearing our gear.

They gave way!

After a few weeks off for Christmas and a trip to the States, we started back in yesterday with a 8 mile mid-morning hike. No sooner had we left our development then we found ourselves heading against the herd, literally.

It was difficult getting back into the swing of hiking: neither Judy nor I felt very motivated this hike. We ran into our friend Lisa who stopped to talk, and even she noticed we didn’t look very motivated (good assessment). By the time we took a lunch break, we began feeling better, and the last few miles felt like old times. We are very tired for such a short walk, but I think we will recover our form rapidly as we increase the frequency and duration of our training hikes.

These two demanded I take a photo

Part of my problem was probably overpacking. I have been gradually increasing the weight in my pack, well beyond what I will actually carry, so that the hike seems easy in comparison to our training walks. However, I did not keep track of how much I was adding: I would just see something fairly heavy but still compact, and I would think “that would make great pack filler!” so I would throw it in the pack. After yesterday’s hike, I went back and unloaded and weighed everything, and I was up to 25 lbs. Seasoned Camino pilgrims suggest never carrying more than 10% of your body weight, which would give me an 18 lb target.  Seven pounds may not sound like much, “but ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain” is the mantra.

Keeping your pack weight to a bare minimum is critical for an 800 kilometer hike.  I will detail what we’re bringing, and why, in a follow-on post.

Back-n-Forth

We’re currently in the States on a quick visit to see our kids and grandkids.  Unlike our last marathon car trip NOB, we are flying this time. Going back to visit family or friends is a perennial aspect of expat life, and the ready availability of air routes via Guadalajara’s Miguel Hidalgo International airport (GDL) provides many opportunities to do so. Landing rights and routes between the US and Mexico were strictly controlled for a long time, and only recently began to loosen up, so new options are constantly evolving.

The main routes from GDL to the States are United Airlines via Houston, American Airlines via Dallas-Fort Worth, and Delta via Atlanta. Many airlines fly directly to Los Angeles and Mexico City, which provide other alternatives. New direct routes to New York are popping up, and the advent of low cost carriers is making a real difference.

One thing I have learned is the need to consider all the alternatives, including unusual routes and special sales, when planning a trip. My favorite travel planning site is Rome2Rio.com, which provides a comprehensive set of options for any trip. It shows options for driving, bus, rail, or air, and has flight data even on carriers like Ryanair and SouthWest, which often don’t show up on air search sites. The site only gives you an estimate on the costs, but you can immediately check those estimates with links to the actual carriers.

For example, during this trip we’re using old accumulated frequent flyer miles to get from GDL to Cincinnati, then Southwest (via their most recent fare sale) to Baltimore, Southwest again from there to Cancun before returning to Guadalajara on AeroMexico. The savings from the Southwest tickets (versus a normal fare via the routes I mentioned earlier) is large enough to let us stay a few days at a resort in Playa del Carmen! I also noticed very cheap direct fares to/from Europe via Cancun, due to the tourist demand. And we’re doing this with very normal flight times, not using the other advantage of retiree travel, the long or multi-leg travel itinerary.

In the interest of sharing info, please add in the comments if you have a good travel planning or search website/service to recommend.

Surprise!

Anybody who has known me for even a short time knows I don’t like surprises. In fact, I really don’t like surprises. There is a reason I have never had a surprise party, and why I spent so much of my career doing strategic planning or scenarios exercises, all to eliminate or mitigate the effects of surprise.

Our LR mini-split sits serenely

So the past few weeks have been a lesson in patience as I deal with some surprises. The first came when we contracted to have two mini-split style air conditioning units installed in our casa: one in the living room, one in the bedroom. As I previously posted, the a/c is only necessary  for a few weeks in May and June, but we figured why endure even that if it’s not necessary? The vendor came from Guadalajara; he told us it would take a little more than a day to complete. Today we are on day three, stretching over the weekend, because they ran out of cable on Friday, but that is no longer surprising after a year in Mexico. What was a surprise was late on day one, when I heard the vendor yelling “Señor, señor! El Agua!” I ran outside, where they were installing the condenser unit on top of my bodega. There was the youngest member of the team, valiantly sitting on top of the ledge and pushing with all his strength on a power drill, while water gushed straight up at him from the water pipe he had just drilled through.

Picture a young man kneeling on that ledge…
The blue pipe was agua

Did I mention it was a power drill? As in an electrical device, still plugged in? Surrounded by gushing water?  Visions of lawsuits danced in my head, but then I remembered this is Mexico, and a lawyer is not the first resort in every case. We got the young man and the drill out of harm’s way, then went to turn off the water. Now I had been told that the water shutoff was built into the carport floor, clearly marked agua. But when we opened it, (surprise!) there was a customized handle which we did not have the right key to turn off the water. It seems this is a municipal shut-off, not my home water shut-off. The water kept pouring out, luckily only in my carport and down the drain. We went searching for someone who might know where the shut-off was, and finally found the community groundskeeper, who calmly walked up to my exterior wall hedge, reached in, and turned off the water. Of course!

Not this one!
This one!

 

 

 

 

 

I never would have imagined a water line in the roof of my bodega (or a shut-off valve in my hedge), but it turns out that was where the builders ran the line to get water to my rooftop mirador. When all your utility lines are built into a stucco and brick structure, you can’t just tap on the wall or use a stud finder to see what’s underneath. So the vendor just drilled and hoped for the best; it worked well on the other three holes they drilled. We had a plumber come out and cap the line (for the moment). As I was typing this, the vendor just came to tell me my fuze box is configured differently than he expected, so now we have an electrician coming to address that. I am betting on day four.

Meanwhile, we are preparing for a possible visit back to the States to see our kids and grandkids.  I say possible because while I have airline tickets, I don’t yet have authorization from the Mexican government to leave. See I was on a one year temporary visa, set to expire February 1st, but I wanted to apply for a permanent resident visa (same as my dear wife already has). I knew we were planning a January visit, so I started the paperwork early in September: thus I would have my Permanente all done well beforehand. When we hit early December with no final status, I knew I was in trouble: Mexico goes on holiday from early December through January 6th, and I was flying January 11th!

Luckily, the Mexican government faces this issue all the time, so they have a procedure set up for gringos to apply for a special exception which lets us leave the country (and return) while we are still in process for our visa. I started my paper work the second week of December, and it usually take a week to complete, but I ran into the same holiday problem: no one at work to process my exception. Now, someone in my situation can always just get up and go and ignore the paperwork; no one is keeping me here. But if I leave without a visa or an exception, my status upon returning to Mexico is Tourist and I get to start the process all over again!

Final Update: sorry to those who saw this post earlier this week, before I finished it. I thought I was previewing it for editing, and I hit the publish button instead. So, the air conditioning team did finish on day three, despite my prediction. And today I got my special exception permit, so I can legally leave and return. I said many prayers this past week for patience, trusting it would all work out, and it did.  I still have a lot of room to grow in terms of patience, but then again, can you ever have too much?

Communications

Closing out the series on utilities, let’s talk television, telephone, and internet.

First, you have to understand that every country has rules and regulations (i.e., laws) on who can broadcast what within their borders. These rules go back to the dawn of the broadcast radio era, then were broadened and reinforced when television was invented. Cable television was a challenge to these rules, but could be accomodated. Satellite and streaming blow the national rules apart. So while it may be illegal for a US firm to broadcast its signals into Mexico, it is not your fault if you receive them. And if someone else receives a signal and resells it to you, they may be liable, but you probably are not. Perfectly clear? No, of course not, but this is useful background to understand the details I will cover now.

In Mexico, you can sign up for Mexican cable and satellite services as well as receive signals over-the-air. What you will get are channels in packages designed for the Mexican mass market, with some English language channels thrown in. If that does not satisfy your needs, you can buy a satellite dish from a US or Canadian provider and install it in Mexico; there are experts here waiting to assist you. The service provider is not supposed to provide service in Mexico, but they cannot control where you pick up their signal. If you let them know you are in Mexico, they will cancel your service, but if you don’t, you just pay them as you would if your home was in Toronto or Tampa. Sometimes the geography can pose complications. I hear that Shaw (a major Canadian satellite provider) is switching to a new satellite which is difficult to target from Mexico. Likewise, some packages available in the States may not be available in Mexico (I still don’t know exactly why). You can get a basic channel package for less than $100 dollars a month, which gets you the major networks, sports, and entertainment channels.

If you have a decent internet connection, you can watch television with devices such as Roku, Amazon Firestick, or Kodi, etc. These are vehicles to access content on the internet, which may require additional costs for the actual service provider (think Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.). In some cases you just buy these services, but in some cases those pesky national laws interfere and you need a IP masker which fools the internet into thinking you are in whatever country you choose. Some enterprising individuals will also sell unlimited pay services which they are accessing and retransmitting. These deals are usually “too good to be true” in that they are violations of the copy- and broadcast-rights of the original service provider.  Service providers and access devices makers work together to shut down such pirate resellers, resulting in spotty service. Costs for streaming are very a la carte, meaning prices are all over the map and depend on what level of quality and access you desire.

Speaking of the interwebs, rural Mexico is where the US was 10 years ago. The main provider is TelMex, the phone system, in competition with Mexican cable providers like IZZI and Telecable. Most access is shared, meaning high-usage periods result in slow service, which is generally neither particularly high-speed nor consistent. We have 10 MBs download with about .5 MB upload via TelMex, sufficient to watch TV/streaming. There is a high-speed, fiber-optic cable system considering running direct service to our area this year, which would be a significant leap forward (say 50-75 MBs in a basic package). Some satellite internet service is available, but very expensive.  Despite this, many expats who work on the internet find ways to obtain sufficient bandwidth to work from lakeside.

The phone system in Mexico was only deregulated recently, so change is underway. Previously Telmex was a subsidiary (and a near monopoly) under América Móvil, which belongs to Carlos Slim; depending on his holdings and the value of the Peso, he is either the richest or one of the richest people on the planet on any given day. A basic landline or simple cell plan is very cheap, and often includes free calls to the US. Some expats keep their US cell plans, although if you use all your data continuously outside the States, they might cancel on you. Many expats use free or low-cost VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) systems such as Vonage or MagicJack. Different from the States, many Mexicans use WhatsApp, an asynchronous messaging application which permits voice, text, photo or video sharing either over cell data or wifi.

Phew! That is a lot to digest, and more importantly, it is changing all the time, so consider this a snapshot at best. The short version is: like most things, basic communications service in Mexico is inexpensive. As an expat, you can access most anything communications-wise you want to in Mexico, but it may not be easy or cheap.

But they still don’t have “any stinkin’ badges!”

Utility is a relative concept

I previously covered the ins and outs of electric power in Mexico. What about the other utilities? I’ll leave television, the internet, and phones for another day. Here are the other mainstays.

Let’s start with the postal system, or Correos de México. Getting mail directly from NOB to your home address is entirely a crap-shoot. It may disappear or it may show up months late. Based on some magazine subscriptions I transfered down as a test, you can anticipate a 3-4 month lag. However, there is a work-around: many expats sign up for local PO boxes in Texas and mail transfer services which (in effect) hand carry your snail mail down to lakeside. So if you have to have regular mail delivery, there is a way to get it. As to local mail, all I get are electric and telephone bills which always come on time. Regular mail is delivered to our development whenever the mailman has access to his bicycle. Package delivery varies: Amazon Mexico is pretty fast and consistent; some stateside ordering (including Amazon USA) can get hung up either because they don’t use international shipping services (think DHL for Mexico) or if there are customs issues with your order.

Roof top tinaco

Water varies in quality and type of service based on where you live.  Most municipal and well water is not potable, so folks have bottled water delivered in bulk for drinking and cooking. Most Mexican homes have a aljibe or cistern which gradually fills up from a low pressure municipal feed.  A pump moves the water from the cistern to a tinaco or water tank on the roof which provides a store of water under pressure, which is also heated by the sun (but that is as hot as it gets for those houses). Some expats add pumps and heaters to address the pressure and heat limitations. If you live in a more modern development, especially one built with expats in mind, you will probably have a community water system which is filtered and pressurized. We also have an infrared water purification filter for our house so whatever comes out of the faucet is as good as anywhere NOB. We have a propane water heater which provides ample hot water. Since the local water is very hard, we must use a water softener. Water costs us about $15 USD monthly, including our fountain and landscaping needs.

That mention of propane in the last paragraph was not a typo: propane is the fuel of choice in Mexico. We have a sizable propane tank in a bodega in front of our house, which a gas truck comes and tops off whenever we run low. We use propane for cooking, grilling, heating water and a single fireplace. A gas refill runs about $70 USD and lasts around five to six weeks. Gas trucks cruise the neighborhoods, playing unique company jingles over loudspeakers and always ready to refill a tank.

One of the smaller trash trucks

The trash team comes by on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. They ride a huge truck with giant trash bags hanging off the sides. They leap off the truck, grab whatever they find in or near the trash can, and toss it to the top where the other team members sort/throw it into the appropriate bag, and away they go. Trash fees are built into our homeowners association, which is approximately $90 a month (covers outside maintenance, security, etc).

Sewage is also covered by the HOA fee, and just disappears down to drain (as it should be). However, our situation is unique as again we live in a development built for expats and Tapatios (the nickname for people from Guadalajara). In most of Mexico outside the big cities, tourist and expat zones, the waste system is not designed for paper products. You’ll see signs in Spanish and English reminding you to throw all toilet paper in the trash can in the bathroom. This is a hard habit for many visitors and expats to adopt; the alternative is a clogged toilet. You must determine, before you buy/rent/visit, what type of waste system is in the casa you are considering.

Sorry for all the nitty-gritty details, but that’s a part of expat life!

Whither the Weather

We had our annual poor weather one week ago, when the overnight temperatures plunged to the high 40s while the daytime highs still lingered around 70 degrees. We even had a Saturday which was overcast with some rain in the middle of the dry season! Which led me to fact-check one of the best arguments for living lakeside: the incredible weather.  Having spent almost an entire year lakeside, I feel I can now make a better analysis of the “world’s 2nd best climate.”

Let’s start with the biggest statistical category: beautiful days. About 80% of the time, I wake up and make my plans without considering the weather in any way. I take my dog out for a quick walk in the dark at 6:45 am while still in my pajamas, because, well it’s dark and the weather won’t matter (and no, there are no pictures; you can thank me later).

If we’re in the rainy season, I know the rain may be intense, but generally not last long. If we are in the dry season, it may seem chilly (50 degrees, remember, I am in my PJs!), but once the sun comes up it will warm up considerably, around 70 degrees at least. You don’t need a coat, or a sweater; you may want a hat or sunscreen, but that is about all.

What about the rest of the time? About 15% of the time it gets a little too warm and dry. This is at the end of the dry season, especially the month of May leading into the first few weeks of June, when the rains return. Temperatures can get into the 90s, with a blazing sun. Humidity remains low, so it is not too uncomfortable, but the sustained heat really warms up the brick-and-stucco casas, which will continue to bake for an hour or so after sundown. The predictable weather pattern makes this time of year a favorite for travel away from lakeside.

The final 5% is too cold, generally in short bursts in December or January. Once again, the thick house walls act to insulate, this time keeping it a little cooler than outside temperatures in the late morning. Now when I say too cold, let me admit this is VERY relative.  During any cloudy or cool day in the dry season, you can see Mexicans wearing ski vests, hoodies, or coats and gloves. Long time expats complain of “thin-blood” and similarly break out sweaters, long pants, and coats. You can easily identify the recent arrivals (like me) by our short-sleeves; new expats from the Great White North even sport year-round shorts and sandals (with white socks, natch!).

We still have no means of heating our home; we do have a nifty heated mattress pad, which means we get a toasty warm bed in winter. As I mentioned last post, we are putting in mini-split air conditioners in our living room and master bedroom, just for those few hot weeks. We have some warmer clothing which is mainly for travelling back to the States. That is all the accommodation to inclement weather we’ve made.

Whether our weather is the “second best in the world” or not, after a year I am prepared to say it is not an exaggeration to call it amazingly comfortable. What stands out is that any semblance of regular weather (say rain or wind or humidity) is so surprising as to require notice. Otherwise, it is just right.

One final note: I thought about including some photos of how folks dress around here, but then thought better of it. No one wants to be famous on the internet as an example of peculiar sartorial splendor!