The time comes for us to each leave the teacher “dorm housing” and find our way into our own places. After a couple weeks of searching, mostly via the Yucatan version of Craigslist, I found a place and have moved out of Colonia Maya and across Calle 7 to Colonia Montecarlo. And as everyone knows, once you cross Calle Siete, you’re movin’ on up.
I now separate my recyclables, food scraps and regular garbage (good job Merida local government for pushing this program), there are more sidewalks and less dirt roads, one amazing looking wood fired pizza restaurant I look forward to trying, and the mother lode of all, a Super Aki Grocery Store. Basically it’s a Trader Joe’s meets Whole Foods. As you enter they have a little coffee pot with a sign above saying enjoy a cup while you shop. The neighboring store, Soriana, while lesser in quality but larger and cheaper, has free bakery samples. A recent sample was sugared bread stuffed with dulce de leche goat’s milk caramel. If they pull me out of this country, it will be for the surveillance footage showing my abuse of these treats “gratis.”
Otherwise, Montecarlo has the standard OXXO, the Lavanderia, an empanada stand, a fruteria, and lots of newly developed houses in between. This area is actually not a full fledged Colonia but rather a Fraccionamiento which by definition is:
In Mexico, “fraccionamiento” applies if houses or apartment buildings are similar in style and in year built, especially when the community was planned or built by the same constructor; otherwise, “colonia” applies.
Ok, so it’s a “Sub-division” and you can see in the pictures what that looks like here. Modern and new sub-divisions are not my preference but the colors make them adorable. Clean, safe and walking distance to work was my basic criteria, so even though I’m still 30 minutes from the more happening downtown, this is where I’m living. Merida has just hit 1 million people and this means major sprawl, literally leveling of jungle and clearing out fields and “rapid construction” type of sprawl. The influx has much to do with the danger in other cities as well as decent jobs in Merida, mostly in the medical industry. It’s a sad state of affairs in many parts- the crime in this country along border towns is atrocious, but has sadly increased in the interior cities of The Republic. I had to use that. It’s how Mexicans talk about the whole country and I had never heard it much until recently when locals kept referring to the rest of the country as “The Republic.” Crime in Mexico City, Guadalajara, even San Miguel Allende and Guanajuato is on the rise. I had it explained to me what else comes with hitting 1 million people when I inquired of my boss’s husband (a safe reliable source for information) as to whether there’s any drug cartel activity in this region. Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to.
Once a city hits a million it becomes a “place of business ease” for “trafficking”. So while there are no major drug runs happening here, it is a business location for having trucks specially outfitted or fixed up and re-fueled for long hauls coming through from Central America. It’s insane and nauseating to me, but apparently the reality of big business and by most standards Merida remains a very safe city.
Back to more pleasant news…
My little studio is essentially a “mother-in-law” unit, it’s own detached space behind a woman’s house. From the street entrance are two metal doors opening onto her patio and large concrete structure which is her home from where I walk down an open corridor to the back, up two flights of stairs, and you’re in my spot. It’s simple, inviting and clean. The kitchen is outfitted with only a hot plate and microwave and mini fridge but it’s great. I haven’t cooked in two months and made no-bake black bean with red sauce enchiladas in a sauté pan on a hot plate last night. Amazing how much one can do with less, once you have less.
Shelter now covered, I had to get enough water to sustain daily life here for more than just a couple days at a time, not to mention gobble up plastic bottles. Here’s the deal on water. You buy it in jugs, 20 liter/5 gallon jugs called “Garrafones” to be precise, same as the ones in office buildings in the states. There are little shops all over that sell Agua, including OXXO. While I was at teacher housing my first hit of reality that I was no longer in the U.S. was when a more seasoned teacher said, “When you need water, just grab the wagon and we’ll go get some.” Looking around at the other’s rooms I found I would also need a plastic pump to put in the jug to release the water out and fill water bottles, pans, etc. Apparently I’m camping. So one afternoon, we pulled the wagon one would normally use for toting children or yard scraps down the dirt/cobblestone streets about a ½ mile to OXXO and bought two 5 gallon jugs of water. The attendant rang us up at $22 pesos a pop – quite inexpensive for this necessity, and asked “Where is your transport?” We motioned to the door and sheepishly walked outside and pointed to the feeble wagon. No SUV, not even a taxi, just our wagon. We then took the bumpy road home with our water bottles bouncing around, straining the cracks in our abused plastic wagon, laughing hysterically as traffic moved past. Did I mention it was 93 degrees out? NO? Well it’s the first time I’ve forgotten that detail. This has become a post sunset errand.
Now that I’m in Fracc. Montecarlo I still need water and I don’t have a wagon (thank God). I can always get 2 liter bottles and carry them home to get by for now; make coffee, brush my teeth, etc. because no matter how fancy a house one might land here, the tap water is not for using. Luckily the owner’s daughter is generous and read my mind as I hauled the last of my suitcases up the two flights of concrete stairs, she said she’d just picked up extra water jugs and I could have one. Quite gratefully I hauled the 20L clear liquid gold up to my new abode, tore off the top seal, put in my pump and filled a glass.
Walking to school the other day I saw a big iron gate open, next a side car type motorcycle drove up and HAND DELIVERED water to a home. Ah, to live like such Queens and Kings. One day, one Colonia further up. I’m sure someone living in California has a similar procedure and thinks I’m over-reacting. In the end it is pretty fun, the errand that is “getting water” as I write it on my to-do list, and that first swig makes me so grateful.
It’s been a challenging last couple of weeks at the school and I recognize a lot of my bumps in getting settled here have more to do with a new job in a new field, new co-workers, and then the fact that it’s in a new city, country etc. Some days after I’m off work and walk to get some dinner it dawns on me, yes I am living in Mexico.
I’m currently preparing for a two-hour Saturday class that is pretty fun; children in private schools come on Saturday for extra help with homework or to practice listening and speaking skills. It’s suggested I show a Halloween cartoon and talk all about ghosts and goblins. I love that last class one sweet 8 year old student completely dismissed Halloween saying he celebrates Hanal Pixan. Hanal Pixan is the Maya version of Dia de los Muertos. The cultural layers deepen and I’ll find out more about this tradition as I attend festivities starting next weekend!
I miss pumpkin patches and falling leaves piling up in fall, but continue to enjoy the wild fruit concoctions, exploring in my off time and marveling at altars being assembled around town.