Not ready for the long goodbyes

blackrockharborIt’s this time of year that makes me sad to be eventually leaving coastal Connecticut. Here we are, living right where the Revolutionary War was fought, celebrating Independence Day with that New England flair and flavor that I’ve always loved.

There are two neighborhood Facebook groups that I have joined. One for residents in Black Rock, Connecticut, where I live, and one for Mérida, where I will live. Right now, it’s hard to tell one from the other: mosquitoes are the big topic on both. Both groups are sharing recipes for homemade repellents. There are other similarities: local merchants promote their goods, people gripe about speed bumps and doggies and kitties are introduced for adoption. Where’s the best place for wings? People on both groups want to know.

The Black Rock community group started after storm Sandy, a horrible disaster that seems to have pulled our community closer. In Mérida, just the everyday challenges of adjusting to a new culture brings English-speaking expats together, to commiserate, squabble [Read more…]

Three Mérida homes that deserve some love (updated)

Casa Santa Lucia

Beautifully designed Mérida homes, deprived of a loving buyer, are common in Yucatán. It seems every day there’s a new one, cold and alone, sitting idle in the streets of the Centro Historico. Won’t you adopt a deserving home today? Here are four:

1. Casa Santa Lucia. It’s a little small, but really smart looking, and check out the view from the roof patio. I thought for a while that I might have a view from my upper terrace, but it’s not the case. It’s a view of nothing; just there to catch a breeze, so I’m jealous

[Read more…]

My little slice of Mexico a few blocks from home

Finally, there’s an attempt at yucatecan food not too far from my house, in a fairly upscale town where the 1 percent live. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that they misspelled “pibil” on the menu, but there it is: Cochinita “piibil” — slow-cooked port, refried beans, pickled red onion, cilantro, in a soft corn taco for $4. The atmosphere is trendy and loud, filled with well-dressed patrons. We couldn’t even get in last Friday night.

We don’t need them, anyway. We have the authentic thing closer to home. Home of the 99 percent.

Just a few blocks from our house is evidence of Connecticut’s surging Mexican population. Twenty years ago, [Read more…]

Sipse: Foreign ownership up, tourism down on the Peninsula

Local media don’t mention expats very often, but today’s Sipse reports that while tourism is down, foreign ownership on the Peninsula has increased 60 percent this year.

In just the last six months, half the houses sold in the historic center of Mérida and the Yucatán coast were bought by people originating from other countries, especially the United States and Canada. The historic center is under 3.5 square miles and contains about 20,000 properties with historical value, of which between 3,000-4,000 are ruins. Of those, 34 percent are beyond repair, according to Sipse. The coast offers new construction.

Meanwhile, a 2 percent decrease in air passengers reflects both a decline in the tourist economy and lengthier stays by people arriving by plane.

The economic crisis in the United States may have been a catalyst for people looking for retirement options that took them outside their home country. But the area’s natural beauties and a general sense of hospitality are what makes the region in particular so attractive, experts quoted in the article say. [Read more…]

Happy Birthday, Google pushpin map

Where would I be without my interactive Google map, which last week turned one year old. That’s a full year of personalizing my web map with virtual color-coded pushpins, linked from my browser’s toolbar. This exercise was invaluable in helping get the lay of the land of a place I’ve spent 25 days in. After reducing a series of Yucatan Today maps to shreds, I decided to go high-tech.

Over time, it has grown, now including the Red Light district (note the ! in a red triangle) to the south, the beloved Wayan’e busy taco stand to the north, where the burger-and-shake icon (the icon choice is limited) in Itzimná. There is also every House Hunter house I could locate, and 80 percent of all the se vendes that we’ve been shown in person. Centro is a small place, but it’s easy to get mentally turned around when your real estate agent zips up and down and sideways along one-way streets. Early on we would be marching through a house with no idea where we were in relation to anything. After viewing a home, we’d dash to the nearest corner and look right and left, trying to get our bearings, while the agent quietly fretted about missing our next appointment.

The best part of the map is that every street in the Centro has been photographed by the winding Google Street View car, so I can drag that orange man you see in the upper left, and check out any street — even stroll the block. This is why I even surprised myself when I counted only 25 days of actual, as opposed to virtual, presence in Mérida.

The map keeps alive memories of our first encounters with Mérida properties. Last year seems so long ago — we were babes in the woods. As will happen when you’re exploring new relationships, I had a mad crush on one particular property early on in our search. But in time, as our sophistication grew we started to see fatal flaws, and we realized that some appealing characteristics weren’t as unique as we first thought. We knew we’d have to develop a critical eye to make a smart choice, and not just go all gooey for some pretty exposed beams.

Now that we’ve found a house, I use the house to mark restaurants I want to visit, and I still like to explore neighborhoods, especially when a new property listing appears (yes, I’m already ready to do this again). Or sometimes, I just take a leisurely stroll.

What about the ‘suburbs?’

The lady in the huipil gives it away. If she weren’t there, where would you guess this photo was taken?

Over on Yolisto, there’s an ongoing discussion of Mérida’s neighborhoods. Residents of Campestre seem contented. The freestanding, sometimes eccentric homes up there are often resemble Jersey shore weekend homes. Others have compared the neighborhoods north of Centro to San Diego or south Florida. Not at all what I am looking for! So why do I keep looking up there?

Closer to Centro, I have noticed some pretty-ish homes in Itzimná. I can’t help but notice that some finished homes there are prices under what some Santa Ana ruins are going for.  There’s a bulky Mediterranean-style home, painted pink with white balustrades, there that I’m strangely attracted to, although I’m baffled why a house that scale wouldn’t carve out room for a garage.

Going there would stick me in that model of living (which in my shorthand I’m calling “suburban” but I know that’s not a precise term) that I don’t see for myself. Again, for my New York friends — it’s like shopping for a co-op in Chelsea and buying a ranch in Bergenfield.

Another person on the expat forum may have found a happy medium. He is “is close enough to enjoy Centro and the wonderful old homes, but not so close that traffic is backed up all day in front of the house. It’s not too much farther to the Circuito de Colonias and is 98% residential. A few corner stores and “Coke & chips windows” on a few houses. Very settled. All the families have lived here for generations, so it is stable, practically zero crime, everyone knows everyone, no one “acts annoying” (like loud music – really!), just laid-back, peaceful, “tranquilo” Merida. It’s great!”

It’s one thing to tolerate streets with heavy traffic, but when buses idle in front of your house, you’ve bought the wrong casa.

Another contributor splits her time between Campestre and Santa Ana. When in Santa Ana, she can no longer ride her bike.

“I enjoyed being walking distance from lots of restaurants and cultural events, and the street life was a lot more interesting than in my much quieter “suburban” neighborhood. However, grocery shopping was a challenge and I didn’t want to ride my bike on the congested streets. I was on a relatively quiet street, but the front door was so close to the street that every time a car zoomed by it seemed to suck the air out of the living room and replace it with exhaust.”

Shopping in Centro is so easy because you’re scouring a three-square-mile area. If I start looking at points north — for wide streets and somewhat better access to those Gulf breezes — my job becomes a lot more complicated.