Author Archives: Melissa

SMA, week 2, recap

We went to a birthday party! A local friend invited us to his daughter’s birthday party. She turned two, and is crazy about Minnie Mouse.

It was so much fun. Most of the attendees were family — lots of siblings on both sides — but there was another ex-pat couple there that helped take some of the language pressure off. There was another couple and their son who spoke some English, as well, and they sat and chatted with us.

We had so much wonderful food! A woman prepared gorditas, and then we had homemade ice cream and, of course, cake. The hit of the party, though, was the piñata, which apparently was as much fun to fill as to hit.

The children were so polite (all day). When it came time to hit the piñata, they started with the youngest — the birthday girl — and then went upwards in age. Stefoni, the little birthday girl, just tapped it very lightly with the bat.

The next girl, who was just a year or two older, whacked the heck out of it!

I loved the house and the neighborhood. (If we’re ever invited back, I would love to walk up and photograph the church.) I’m very much afraid, though, that the area is becoming popular with ex-pats. You could clearly see big, expensive houses and upscale hotels and restaurants being built. This will force the locals out. I say this with guilt, because my kind — ex-pats — are the cause of this problem.

 

So what else did we accomplish this week?

  • 90% of the boxes are unpacked, and the stuff is put away. This happened because our maid came on Thursday. Good motivation!
  • Jay had his first routine doctor appointment. It was a house call, and she was here about two hours, I think, to do his complete intake. It cost $1000MX… about $55US.
  • Jay, I, and the dogs ventured out one evening. We drove south because we hadn’t been that way, then went back toward town, and drove to the mall and back. I was reminded of how I felt as a teen when I learned to drive. Baby steps, each new thing feeling big and scary.
  • Both Jay and I have run errands in the car individually. Neither of us has gone far, but we’ve each explored a bit.
  • I got my “real” camera out this week!

I haven’t ventured out and taken lots of cool pictures, because I was mostly focused on getting a picture of this bee. I mostly failed. I don’t have a macro lens, nor much of a zoom.

Even if I had those things, I don’t think I could have really captured the SIZE of this bee, which was what impressed me. It’s at LEAST 2.5 inches long. A regular honeybee is about the size of one of those little white petals.

This photo doesn’t really capture the vibrance of its colors either. Its orange and black are just stunning.

Oh well. I started (restarted, actually) a free online photo class, so that’s a win for the week. Now I just have to get out and take some photos of this gorgeous neighborhood.

The Good

We’re settling in a bit. We’re learning our way around the supermarket, and we’re comfortable buying food and cooking it. LOL — well, sort of. We have a gas stove, which made Jay so happy, but we’re not experienced cooking on it. Pair the unfamiliar stove with unfamiliar cuts of meat, and some of our meals are… experimental.

We’ve noticed something interesting here. When we buy meat, we need to use it that day or maybe the next day. It just doesn’t keep, even though it’s wrapped in plastic. I wonder what they do to meat in the US to make it last so long?

The doctor recommended that we shop at the organic market. Jay taxi’d up there today and looked around. He didn’t find any veggies he wanted, but he did talk to a guy who procures local meat.

Other good:

  • We went out to eat twice. The first place is essentially a McDonalds. The second place was a Thai restaurant! The food was yummy, and we were both thrilled to find it.
  • In addition to pulling out my camera, I also pulled out my novel. Oh, I don’t think I’ll make much progress, but it’s nice to do something creative.
  • I started working on my Spanish in Rosetta Stone again. There are some free resources that I use that are wonderful too. I’m starting to remember some of what I had learned (and then lost do to non-use and competing priorities).
  • We’re loving the weather here. It’s mostly sunny and moderately warm during the day, and then there are thunderstorms at night. Of course, this is the rainy season, so those storms won’t happen much longer. But they’re super fun while they last.

The Bad

There’s not too much bad, thank goodness. The worst, though: the Internet.

As I’ve mentioned before, the residential internet doesn’t have a fast enough upload speed to work for work. So we had Live! Telecom install their fiber optic + microwave internet. We purchased a business plan, so we would get the biggest upload pipe.

And it’s great… when it works. So far it has been down three days this week. They have gotten it back up within a few hours, but when they do, it takes HOURS to get back up to speed. Right after it comes back, the speeds are as slow as dial up! Unusable.

We have cable internet to use as a backup, so we’re able to connect, but it doesn’t handle both of us well. Jay had to have someone else on his team be his “hands” on a system one day — and that’s absolutely not acceptable.

For the record: I do NOT recommend Live! Telecom in San Miguel de Allende.

So what’s the solution? I don’t know. Live! Telecom supposedly has a dedicated solution that can be installed. I have no idea how much it costs, nor what they have to do to the HOUSE to install it. (Remember, these are the guys who punctured the water pipe last week.)

Still, this is the only fiber optic game in town, so we might have to ask a bilingual friend to go with us to talk to them.

My Thoughts…

Jay and I need to get out more. If we want to learn Spanish, we’re going to have to leave our home. (This is tougher for a pair of introverts than it sounds.)

We chatted with the other ex-pat couple at the party, and they own a house here and have been splitting their time between the US and Mexico for about five years. They have each taken several different classes in Spanish, some quite immersive, but they’re not fluent.

Jay and I are going to have to work very hard if we want to be even reasonably conversant before we leave SMA next year. Our task is made much harder because we work — in English — all week. Immersing ourselves just isn’t easy.

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SMA, Week 1 Recap

Morning view from my office

Our first week in San Miguel de Allende has drawn to a close. I thought I would tell you what happened this week, good and bad, and share my thoughts about this week and the weeks to come.

We got an incredible amount done this week:

  • We unloaded the trailer, and got probably half of the boxes unpacked.
  • We got Mexican SIMs for our phones, so we have a local number. I’m honestly not sure we need to keep our T-Mobile plan. We’ll see.
  • We got our money figured out — how we get it, how we pay bills, where our direct deposit is going, and so forth.
  • We had fiber optic internet installed. (This has been only partially successful.)
  • We met our gardener and maids, and worked out their schedule.
  • We figured out the grocery, so we can feed ourselves and our dogs. 🙂
  • We got immigration photos taken, and took care of several steps necessary to finalize our temporary residence visa. This included a trip to Queretero for Jay.
  • Jay bought and put together new desks and office chairs for each of us, and he assembled our monitors and computers. And he got the network running smoothly.

The Good

We couldn’t have done the above — truly — without the help of Adriane (the property manager) and a local friend, Luis. (Part of the reason we chose SMA as our first stop is that we already knew some people here.)

Luis went with us on several of our errands and served as translator. For a couple of them, I honestly don’t know how I’d have managed with my currently limited Spanish. I really need to buckle down on my studies!

Luis and Adriana have been so incredibly helpful, so very responsive when we’ve had questions or needed something. They’ve made it so easy to get settled. Almost too easy, LOL, but definitely less stressful.

Other good:

  • We love the house, and equally importantly, the DOGS love the house. They’re so relaxed!
  • We met a bilingual taxi driver who gave us his card so we can call him directly. He has made it easy to run errands when we don’t want to drive.
  • We met our neighbor, Martine. He studied medicine in California, so he’s fluent in English as well. He is the one who used to have a horse across the street. He still has horses — many of them — at a ranch a few minutes away. I hope to be invited out to see the ranch sometime in the future. Very nice man.
  • The weather has been wonderful, and we’re able to keep the house comfortable. We had a couple of fun thunderstorms, and we’re supposed to have more this coming week.

The Bad

There’s not too much bad, but there were a few things.

  • The internet installers stapled into a water pipe on the roof. Rather than telling us, they just turned off the water to the house and tried to patch the hole. Didn’t work. We first had to figure out why there was no water in the house, and then figure out why water was pouring off the roof. This resulted in a plumber at the house at 8:30 at night. It cost us $500…pesos. About $28.
  • Jay had a cold when we arrived. I fought it, but eventually succumbed. I was simply exhausted. Thursday was the worst day, and by yesterday I felt human again. It made it hard to DO much though, and I definitely didn’t want to go out and explore.
  • I had to work this week. Okay, I’m not complaining about my job — I am grateful to have one, and I love my manager and coworkers — but I really needed to take this week off. Thank goodness Jay took this week off to get things done. Next week will be tougher, because we’ll both be back at work.
  • The altitude, LOL. We moved from sea level to 6200ft. Dude, the air is thin up here! We will adjust, but right now, it’s an effort to walk upstairs to the kitchen, much less to carry boxes and do physical work. Jay is a champ! (Have I mentioned that he’s the best husband in the world? Because he is. Truly.)
  • There’s cable TV, but there’s no guide and no DVR. I know, first world problem, right? I flipped through every channel and pressed every button on the remote, and there’s no guide to tell me what shows are on when. Without a DVR, it’s pretty irrelevant anyway, since the chances that I would make time to watch a show when it airs is nil. So unless we get a VPN in place and work out a different solution, TV won’t be happening for us this year. There are worse things that could happen.

My Thoughts…

As I was thinking about this past week, I was first and foremost grateful for good friends. We are sliding into this far more easily and gradually than I every dreamed, and it’s all because of our wonderful friends here.

I am disappointed that we didn’t get out more. We haven’t walked around the neighborhood or driven around or gone into town. We certainly didn’t go out to an event! We are both introverts, and we know our default behavior is to stay home in front of our computers.

But I am going to cut myself some slack about that. We just got here, and neither of us was 100% this week. We really were busy the whole time either working or moving in or sleeping. (Okay, so we made time for a lot of siesta. We were tired!) And we don’t have a pet sitter, yet, though we’re working on it. It’s okay that we didn’t accomplish anything outside of the house this past week. We just can’t let that become our introvert habit and miss out on this gorgeous city.

Yesterday was a good day. Incredibly peaceful, even though we still got a fair amount done. I was finally able to think about the OTHER things I want to be doing, the things that I put on hold during the last eight months. I want to get out my camera and learn to take GOOD pictures. I want to write. I want to train my dog. I want to learn Spanish! It’s time to relax and do some fun things.

I’m looking forward to what’s to come!

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We made it to San Miguel de Allende!

I am exhausted, but we made it. The house is absolutely GORGEOUS — I’m absolutely in love with it.

We got here yesterday around lunchtime, and we were met by the property manager, Adriana. She gave us a tour, and I was impressed with absolutely everything. The house had been shut up for a while, and it was stuffy, which concerned me initially. We have opened the windows and turned on the fans, though, and it’s much more comfortable now.

After the tour, we called our friend Luis, and he and a friend came over to help us unload the trailer. After that I ran to the grocery store. It felt so good to drive without the trailer! I don’t think, though, that we’ll do a lot of driving here. The cobblestone streets will absolutely shake the car to pieces! I’d rather let taxis deal with that kind of wear and tear.

I go back to work tomorrow, so this is my one day to get settled. Luis and I went out together to run some errands this afternoon. What a godsend he is! He is bilingual and able to help me do things like get Mexican SIMs for our phones and arrange for fast internet.

Mexico is a cash-based economy, and that’s going to take some getting used to. We have some rather hefty getting-started expenses, and I had to get cash to pay them. Thank goodness there’s a safe in the house. We pay those expenses on Wednesday, so thankfully, we won’t have large amounts of cash for long. After that, it will be just what we need day-to-day.

I owe you pics of the house, but I’m tired. Later!

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Crossing into Mexico

We crossed into Mexico from Laredo, TX early this morning. What a day! Here is my report for others who might be planning the same thing.

Entering Mexico

We crossed on Bridge #2, which is the end of I-35. We were pulling a trailer, but I made a mistake and got in the “Nothing to declare” line. They sent me back, and I had to make a u-turn on the bridge — pulling a trailer.

Lesson #1: Get in the right line. LOL. If you’re moving, that’s probably the one with stuff to declare.

This was my view, as we waited our turn:

They had us open the trailer, and they looked at our inventory. Ours was NOT a consulate-approved menaje de casa. (There was just no way the timing would have worked for us.) So we had to pay duty of $5000MX. I was fine with this.

We did not have to unpack the trailer. We didn’t have to take the dogs out of the car, and they waved off their paperwork. The guards were friendly people with little-to-no English. (A major goal is to learn Spanish while we’re here, and we’ve started, but we’re not ready for a conversation.)

Aduana

Next we had to drive through Nuevo Laredo to get our visas stamped and the TIP for our car and trailer at Aduana.

Lesson #2: Know where you’re going.

The way is NOT marked, and it’s a bit convoluted. I used this page…

http://panamrace.blogspot.mx/…/entering-mexico-via-nuevo-la…

…but more importantly, I figured it out, turn by turn, on Google Maps the night before. (There’s one road that isn’t labeled on Google Maps as described on that page, but you can follow the instructions and see what they’re describing. That weird turn IS weird, but there’s an arrow, and other people will likely be turning there too. You’ll be fine.)

We stopped on the way and changed our money. We didn’t have to. There is a place to do that at Aduana.

Lesson #3: Aduana has a disorganized parking lot not made for trailers, and there are a TON of people and cars.

But it is incredibly well organized. You start in the line on the left end of the building, and simply go in order, whether you think you need to or not. One good thing is that only ONE person from the car needs to go in. (This was nice, because I could stay with the dogs and keep the A/C running.

Lesson #4: Know what paperwork you need, and have originals and copies of it.

We had… passports with visas, drivers licenses, marriage license, car title, trailer title, car registration, trailer registration, health certs for dogs, and Mexican car insurance.

If you don’t own your car or trailer outright, you’ll need a letter of permission from the bank or whatever that owns it.

Step 2 or 3 in the process at this building is copies. Even though we had copies of the above, we went through this line anyway, because we got paperwork in step 1 that needed copies.

Lesson #5: Make sure everything is correct before you leave.

If you have a residence visa, for example, you need a CANJE stamp, not a Tourista stamp. The person doing our TIP missed the trailer the first time through — I caught it, though, and we got it straightened out before we left.

After all this was done, we were ready to head toward San Miguel de Allende.

Lesson #6: There are several ways to get to wherever you’re going. Don’t panic.

The driving is pretty much like it is in the States. We had an on-board navigation system, and it DID work — but not all do. That said, by husband also used Waze on his phone, and he really helped me know what to expect.

We drove from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey to Matejuala on the first day — sticking to the highways and toll roads. (Bring lots of money for tolls and gas.)

Lesson #7: There are fewer gas stations than I expected.

The lots are gravel with pot holes. There’s nowhere to park a trailer or potty your dogs. We actually didn’t stop (other than gas) until we got Matejuala. Poor puppies. There are no rest stops, per se.

Lesson #8: When you get gas, make sure they zero it out before they begin pumping. Give them no money before. Insist they zero it. Pay what it says in cash — count out the money you give them clearly.

The first gas station attendant tried to take advantage of us. No one else did.

Lesson #9: Pay attention to your driving!

The lanes are narrow, there are lots of trucks, there are lots of curvy steep climbs, and if there is something blocking a lane, they don’t post signs! Holy crap, we were almost on some things before we saw the flagger. Scared me a couple of times!

You are responsible for getting out of the way of faster cars. Stay aware and be considerate.

We are spending the night at the Las Palmas Midway Inn in Matejuala. Very easy to find and dog-friendly. I really love this little place!

This was a tough day — the toughest of the trip — but really nothing went wrong. It was just long and stressful. Patience and flexibility are the key.

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We’re on our way!

We’re on our way to Mexico!

Friday didn’t go as smoothly as I’d planned, but we stayed flexible (and tried to be patient), and it all worked out.

The movers were supposed to be at the house by 8am. They were going to get all our remaining furniture and stuff out of the house (and transport it either to the donation site or dump), so the maids and carpet cleaners could do their thing. They, however, were down a truck and couldn’t get to us until 2pm. Panic!

Just then, our lawn guys arrived. We asked them if they would like to earn some extra cash. What lifesavers! They emptied out entire house into our yard, so the maids and carpet cleaners could work. They are not only fantastic lawn guys — truly — but fantastic people, as well.

The maids came on time, and did an amazing, thorough job. The carpet cleaners followed, and again, great people, great job. The movers showed up at 2:00, and made quick work of the load. (Honestly, I wasn’t mad at them. It wasn’t their fault!)

While the movers were working, I picked up the dogs and ran the final errands. We were on the road by 3:30.

Of course, 3:30 on Friday afternoon means we were sitting in traffic. Sigh. We pretended we were on Mexican time and tried to be patient. Fortunately, we were going only as far as Yelm (near Olympia) that evening.

We spent the night with our dear friend Leslie at her wonderful, remote cabin. Oh, I just loved her place! Horses and woods. I was ready to give up Mexico and just move in.

But we had places to be and people to say goodbye to. So early Saturday morning, we were off, heading south toward Portland. We met our friend Greta, and our friends Myella and Jason, at a diner/truck stop in Ridgefield for breakfast, then continued on to Hood River to say goodbye to Polo’s co-owner, Kari.

The stop in Hood River was a treat! We went to an off-leash park next to the river where her brood and ours got to have a wonderful time in the sand and water.

Jay snuggles with one of Kari’s girls

Isn’t Polo handsome?

The whole gang

After we said our goodbyes, we were on the road. We spent Saturday night in Pendleton, OR, and then today we drive to Salt Lake City.

Sadly, tomorrow Jay flies to Florida for a work-related class, and the dogs and I continue on without him. We’ll meet later in the week in Oklahoma City, and then do the final phase of the trip together.

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