Today, I woke up with a full blown head cold (upper respiratory infection) feeling like crap. Sore throat, cough, congested, head and body aches. Feeling bad in a foreign country is a little disconcerting, but I do have local contacts (property managers) that would ensure if my condition got worse they would get me the proper care. Also, I was advised if I’m feeling like I should see a doctor I just need to go 5 miles up the road to the Farmacia and the duty doctor could see me promptly and likely prescribe some meds. Having a sore throat the past few days lead me to inquire to the Farmacia if they had the equivalent of the Target brand 12 hr. nasal decongestant I brought with me. Went to two different ones and no luck. The last one said the closest would be Sudafed which requires a doctors prescription. Guess this is how Mexico is trying to control the manufacture of meth.
Since I don’t have much to share for the course of the next few days because I was just moping around the complex, I thought I’d share some observations since I’ve been here. Please bear in mind, I’m not criticizing or expressing negativity but just a view point neither good or bad. After all, I am a guest in a different country with a different culture. We, Americans some times have narrow viewpoints and high expectations, making us viewed by many foreigners as arrogant. Anyway in no particular order, here are my thoughts.
The Weather – Been the same almost everyday. Lows at night 68, 69, 70 degrees and highs of 83, 84, 85 degrees. I’m located close to the ocean (across the highway). My guess is ¾ mile away. During the day there are gentle breezes all day, keeping it comfortable most of the day unless you are in direct sunshine and packing a backpack. Of course just like Florida it’s hottest in the late afternoon, but the breezes help. I’m outside most of the time in the shade and I can always dip in the pool to cool off. The inside of the Casita is hottest between 5 and 7pm, but it cools down at night pretty quickly. Plus I’ve got an overhead fan in the main living area and over the bed. I only need a sheet for cover at night.
Anyway right now is a great time to just run around in a bathing suit all day long. I did see it rain twice since I’ve been here. The first time it was a short two minute mist. The second time was a 5 minute short shower that barely wet the ground. Hardly seemed enough for all the greenery around me.
Since I’m in the jungle, the sun doesn’t really reach the Casita until 9 am or later, making sleeping in easy to do (which I haven’t yet so far). I don’t get to see a sunset and it is dusk for a lengthy time starting a little before 5 pm. So far days have gone by quickly, likely because I’ve been working to get settled and address issues.
The Terrain – In this part of Mexico, there is a thick jungle over a brown soil with lots of lime stone rock. This limestone is every where. I don’t know where the agriculture is conducted, but it has to be tremendously labor intensive to clear an area. This is confirmed just by the activities in this “development”. I have seen truck after truck hauling brush away where they are clearing for a road or new home. I can only say that the people that live in this “development” definitely want to be isolated. While they do have some beautiful homes here behind gates, walls, and sometimes razor wire, they have to traverse a “gravel” limestone road to get out to the main highway. Many have four wheel drive vehicles, but some use small cars. I’ll comment on road conditions later. Clearing areas for development is happening in this area faster though because of the introduction of big company money and modern efficient equipment. I’ve been told that the area is going to be one of the world’s prime vacation spots if not already one. Due to my settling in and illness I have not partaken in the amenities of the area yet. I’ll comment when I do.
Noises – I’m located about a 1/3 of a mile off the main road. This road is the main road along the coast to Belize. It is two lanes going each way (four lanes). It carries all the tourist traffic, the local traffic, and the commercial traffic. So during the day it is noisy, especially the trucks with their jake brakes. Sunday being the exception. At night it quickly quiets down after dark. So nights are quiet and the night creatures come out and chime in. I hear owls, night birds, and bats I think. I haven’t seen any of these to confirm it though. Mind you the windows are open so you hear everything and an occasional “bump” in the night is a little unnerving. Of course in the morning there is bird chatter, but other than that not much other that trucks and cars going by the complex on the “gravel” limestone road. Guess I can say while you know you are near civilization, it is fairly peaceful hear. Yesterday, I decided to play some music to break the silence.
Oh, one last thing, there is something out there that makes a clucking noise off and on all around the casita mostly during the day and at night a little further away. Sometimes, it seemed to follow me around the Casita. I think it is bats. I have rushed outside to try and see the source but no luck. Just now it clucked outside the open kitchen window. It would be nice to know what the hell is making that sound. Might need to ask the locals.
A couple of other noises are a rooster crowing all day long in the background. I don’t hear him right at this moment, maybe somebody finally ate him. At night there is the occasional dog barking, the distance between homes makes it a little more tolerable.
Driving in Mexico – While I haven’t driving extensively here I have driven to Akumal (4 miles south) and Playa del Carmen (17 miles north). By the way, everything here is metric ie; kilometers, etc. So looking at speed limit signs is deceiving and not having a firm grasp on the metric system it is difficult to estimate distances when signs are posted in kilometers. My first driving experience was around the “development” here. It’s a crushed limestone one lane road and curves through the jungle so sense of direction and where you are is difficult. By the way, my Tom Tom GPS system works here but doesn’t register any of the roads in the development. I suspect it may not register other areas too. However, it does register the main roads and city streets which can be helpful if you have any kind of address. But I haven’t figured that out yet.
My next drive was into Akumal which is a seaside tiny town that is attracting a number of tourist because of the beach and a snorkeling lagoon. To get to the beach side when traveling south, you’ve got to go past the town and take the “Returno” to take the exit to the town. Speed limits are 20 -25 miles per hour here I guess because of the tourist or maybe because of all the potholes and speed bumps. I was glad I was in an SUV and not a little car because you could see all the scrape marks left by cars bottoming out after the speed bumps. Anyway, I notice not much parking anywhere which explains the paid parking when you entered the town. I was lucky enough to score a spot in front of a restaurant and got a take out lunch. After that trip, I definitely wouldn’t want an expensive car down here. It wouldn’t be long before the suspension was tested or tire blown or just banged up from locals who don’t have the same value appreciation as Americans.
Driving into Playa del Carmen was different too. The highway switches back and forth and speed limits range from 50 KM/HR to 100 KM/HR. The road is a patchwork. Not like smooth US roads. So you are exercising your suspension all the time. I notice though that there are mostly small cars on the road. I don’t know if this was a matter of economics or supply and demand. Speed limits were routinely violated. The Collectivos were always speeding. You have to be wary driving down here is all I can say. Once inside Playa speeds were 25 miles per hours, but with speed bumps, tourists, unmarked intersections, no street signs, etc. Parking is a big problem. I haven’t figured it out yet. I hope to go back soon and spend some time in Playa del Carmen to get to know the town better.
The advice for driving in Mexico – STAY SHARP.
Grocery Shopping – It seems where ever I travel, I end up first at a grocery store. Either foreign or domestic. My first visit here was to the local Chedraui, which is a big chain here in Mexico. When I first went, it was by Collectivo and with a backpack to carry things. I was only after a day or two provisions. The building was an enclosed structure with a few other small shops including a Farmacia. I also noticed an internet cafe and hair salon (men and women). When I went in the front entrance of Chedraui, I was stopped by what I believed to be store security. Through what they were saying in Spanish and motions I got the idea I had to check my backpack at the desk to my right. When I approached them and gave up my backpack the lady noticed it contained my computer and she directed the security officer to tag it and let me in with it. Ok by me. The store was relatively clean and it was what I’d describe as a Super General Store. It sold just about everything. I was looking for quick recognizable foods to prepare. Found oatmeal, cans of tuna, mayonnaise, crackers, and a frozen Lean Cuisine (garlic linguine). I was looking for other microwave meals, but the Lean Cuisine was all they had.
They just didn’t stock any prepared meals at all in the freezer section. In one aisle, there was nothing but rice and beans in plastic bags. One corner was the dedicated bakery, I noticed the bread and pastry was in the open and not prepackaged as in the US, but the attendants were wearing paper masks to cover their nose and mouth. People were grabbing an aluminum platter and tongs before picking out different breads and pastries then heading to the attendant’s station to have them priced by weight. This is the standard how bakeries work in Mexico I later found out, when visiting other stores (Soriana and WalMart) in Playa del Carmen. I did buy a loaf of bread later and found it to be superb. As good as US bakeries and it cost about $1.20 US for two small loafs. Local bakers have a lock on the market I think. They do stock commercial American style bread loafs but in limited quantity.
I also notice that there appears to be a love for delicatessens. Lots of lunch meat and cheeses. I didn’t partake, but as far as lunch fare goes it look like it’s very popular here. So far for me it’s been home made lunches of tuna and mayonnaise on crackers with a piece of fruit.
After this initial grocery shopping adventure, I could see I’m going to have trouble developing a menu of items. Breakfast is easy with oatmeal, fruit, and a cereal called Fitness which is slightly sweetened wheat flakes I think. Also they do use eggs extensively here, but it is curious they don’t refrigerate them??? And they sell them mostly by the two dozen carton. I picked an 18 egg carton the smallest I could find.
The meat and seafood sections are extensive. Didn’t buy any until I could get a Mexican recipe for some. When I did buy some for some pork lime cilantro tacos I bought a 1lb (I think) package of pork loin to be cut up in piece. I needed chicken broth for the recipe and I couldn’t find any so I bought beef broth. Later I found chicken broth cubes to use. Looking forward to preparing my first Mexican dish, but I think it’s an American recipe. The key seems to cook authentic Mexican cooking to save on the “Gringo tax”.
The grocery stores here tend to be all inclusive, selling clothes, hardware, appliances, liquor, just about everything. There seems to be a big competition on pricing between Chedraui and WalMart. Blatantly, with each store showing comparisons shopping carts of products with blown up copies of receipts.
As far as grocery shopping goes I can’t tell if it is less expensive from the US. I think I’ll be OK for breakfast and lunch, but figuring out what to have for dinners is a problem for me. I’ll continue to Google and look for ideas. I did buy a package that looked like a fast meal the other day and tried it. It turned out to be pork rinds cooked in a verde salsa. Yummy! Still learning. I’m not starving just in a bit of disarray. I did have an absolutely fantastic burrito with a cabbage salad prepared by Gynna the chef at Gynn AK restaurant in Akumal, but I can’t be eating out every day. Just glad that meals will be furnish during the retreat I will be attending soon.
The local peoples to a foreigner in there mist – Everyone I’ve met here has been as helpful as they could be given the language barrier. Some smile while passing, most do not. Some appear just as frustrated with the language barrier as I am when they know I need or want something. This area is not dependent upon tourist as Cancun or Playa del Carmen is, so there is less of a need to be bilingual. Those that are bilingual are extremely helpful. When I do run across an American, they tend to be chatty appreciating the connection
Living Conditions – Living here is a bit rustic. I believe the owners intended it that way with the emphasis on outdoor living. I am growing accustom to it, but initially it was almost too close to camping out. There is an outdoor cooking area. It contains a wood burning oven made of concrete and a large gas grill. Doubt I’ll use these as they would take a lot of clean up and really not intended for feeding one person. There is also a small gas grill under the palapa. It’s so rusty inside I doubt it would work. Inside the casita is a small newer gas stove and oven. This is what I’ve been using for cooking.
Agua – I was warned repeatedly not drink the water here. Well so far I haven’t. When I first arrived I was so paranoid that I was doing dishes in the drinking water. I later learned it’s OK to use the water for dish washing. I was told you can actually drink the water but it is high in minerals and has some bacteria that your system is not used to. I don’t use it to rinse my contact lenses. I use a cup of drinking water for that. Drinking water is delivered on Wenesday and Saturday by a big water truck where they will go by each residence and look for empty bottles placed out for collection and replacement. The cost is $25 pesos (about $2 US) for a 20 liter bottle. I bought three on Saturday and that may be enough to last me as long as I’m here. Showering in it isn’t bad either I can’t detect much difference that what US hard water is like. I did notice they sell a lot of muratic acid down here for keeping the piping clear. This little complex is on a well system and I haven’t seen a pressure tank, so as you can imagine you can piss harder than the water coming out of the faucets and shower head.
Food (Eating) – Breakfast seems the easiest meal. I found oatmeal, eggs and bacon, and cereal at the stores. They also have fresh fruit. Lunch is a little harder, but they seem to like canned tuna a whole lot down here. It was plentiful in the grocery stores. A little mayonnaise helped it out, but I couldn’t find anything else to put into it. Maybe some onion, didn’t see any pickles. Each grocery store has a huge delicatessen with all kinds of meats and cheeses. I haven’t tried it yet, but it appears the Mexicans like their sandwiches. Dinner is my biggest challenge. After eating pork rinds one night, I’m hoping for better. Worse case I’ll go out, but have been too sick to do that.
I was warned to soak vegetables and fruits in a solution of anti-microbial stuff for 15 minutes before using them. I’ve been doing this religiously. It looks like iodine when you put it in the water. This stuff is available at the grocery store and can also be used to treat water prior to drinking. Don’t think I want to try it.
Laundry – I haven’t developed a huge pile of laundry while here because some days I just wear a bathing suit all day. I did do some laundry using the washing machine which is outside of the palapa. It seemed to be a newer one, but the controls are all in Spanish. I finally figured it out and used some “ACE” soap and softener. I’m sure this is actually Tide since I recognized the container color scheme. I did notice what is primarily sold in the stores is powdered detergent. Liquid hasn’t fully caught on down here. Anyway the washer worked well, it even came with a step stool since it sits so high on a concrete pad. Drying the clothes is by clothes line. Took me two days to find the clothes line here, but got a line up complete with clothes pins and things seem to dry fairly quickly with the nice breezes here. I did notice that wet things inside the casita don’t seem to dry too well ie; bath towel. Anyway laundry keeps me busy for a half day. When I move into Cancun I think I’ll just send it out to be done.
Shelter – I must say that this is a first for me to be living in a thatched building. It hasn’t rained hard enough to test it’s permeability. I’m hoping it won’t be tested while I’m here. The weather has been so nice that I leave the screened window open all the time. The casita stay cool enough until mid afternoon for about three hours. I’m usually outside by the pool or under the deck of the palapa at the table writing, etc.
I do think there are bats living in the thatch of the roof. I hear occasional clucking around the eves. Also I have seen bat shit on the walls of the casita.
To me building a home here would be very challenge because of the course terrain. As I write this, I hear a power jack hammer working to likely clear large limestone rocks from where they are digging.
As I said these are just some initial observations, I’m certain I’ll have more the longer I stay here.