Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Family Member

Missy is the newest member of our family! We found her at the local Pet Sanctuary run by Sylvia, Jill & Steve. We have not had a dog in several years, and we promised the boys we would look once we moved in. We went to local Mall to see all the pure bred, 100's of dollar dogs & then started to inquire about a local dog pound.

We thought it strange that several of the locals did not even know they had a dog pound. Jill was gracious to explain to us that the Mexican culture here in Merida does not usually look at dogs as pets, they are interested in guard dogs. They also do not subscribe to spay & neuter, so the Sanctuary has workshops to educate the locals. Many mixed mutts run the streets here and calls will come into the Pet Sanctuary to pick them up.

Missy was found on the street several years ago and was taken to the Sanctuary with her newborn puppies. Her pups were all adopted out, but Missy was overlooked for 2 years. Surprizing to us as she looks mostly chocolate lab & has a great disposition. Sylvia named her Mama, but our son, Joel was confused about having 2 Mamas in the house, so we chose Missy as her name.

Santuario Evolucion always needs donations of dog food and other items. If you are local and wish to help, please contact Jill Benson at

What are Yucatan people like?

What are Meridians like? Please understand that what we share with you is just our interpretation coming from the American culture. In no way do we judge or make fun of the people here, they just do some things differently than we are used to. They can be very kind and gracious most of the time and at other times can appear to be rude, but only by American standards.

Our first few days in Merida have been spent running around shopping to set up our home. Even here Wal-mart does seem to have the best prices on many items along with some sort of warranty or decent return policy. While at the check-out counter at the nearest WM Supercenter, Jay, myself and the boys were waiting as the cashier totaled our purchase & out of the blue comes a woman with her children cutting right in front of us to address an issue with our cashier. She never looked at us or acknowledged us, & as we walked away with our cart, she continued her conversation very focused on the issue she was trying to resolve. On another occasion, while standing in line at Costco to get the boys some pizza, Jay experienced a woman cutting in front of him three different times within a span of 3 minutes for three different issues. She only acknowledged him on her third cut-in with a “perdon” when she physically had to move him to get to the counter.

 What we have been told though is this culture is very social and likes close physical contact, so if you are used to having your space, well…..don’t always expect that to be the case, especially with the lower social class in Meridian society! With the upper more educated class you will not experience this. Some people down here do not respect personal space as in the states & in fact if you leave any space between you and the counter, some people assume you are not really trying to wait in a line and have no problem moving in front of you.

Now for the gracious & kind side of the people here. We have been so blessed to have new friends and helpers here in Merida. Francisco, Sebastian, Arleta, Javier, Claudette, Larry & Tammy….We have been given people to lean on for small things. Jay tried to pay our landlord’s son-in law to help us set up utilities and he refused payment. On another day Jay ran into a local Baptist pastor while they were both looking at weedeaters at Home Depot. Larry and his wife Tammy and their 4 sons are originally from Decatur, Alabama. They have been in Merida for 10 years and pastor a Baptist church here of about 175 people. Fransisco, pictured to Jay's left in the photo, is our attorney and now friend. Arleta is his business partner and our realtor.

The list goes on. Javier was the one that built the home we rent. He came over at 8:30 PM one night at the drop of a hat to fix our water tank when the depth sensor stopped working and we ran out of water. He had us up and going again in 15 minutes so we could all take showers before going to bed. (In this climate you need to take showers before you go to bed all 365 days of the year.) When I told he and Sebastian we could just fix the water tank the next day they absolutely refused to let it wait and insisted they come over and fix the problem right away. Juakin (pronounced “wa-keen”) our next door neighbor is extremely laid back and easy to talk to although he travels on business most of the week and we almost never see him. All of these people are extremely educated, bilingual and very friendly. Our realtor and friend Arlette was previously a dentist and learned how to speak English by watching American television shows. WOW! That is a smart girl.

One thing that is very unique about the Meridian culture is that, at least among the middle to upper classes, men and women greet each other with with a handshake AND a kiss on the cheek. Men greet each other with hugs at times minus the smooch or just the simple handshake but for some reason it has become customary for men and women to at least push their cheeks together and make the sound of a kiss.

Yucatecans and Non-Yucatecans: This are two terms that you here from time to time in the Yucatan. Basically the people of the Yucatan are a proud people. Their language, although Spanish, is spoken with a Yucatecan dialect. If you are of Latin heritage, speak Spanish and show up here, you won't be able to hide the fact that you are not Yucetacan. The dialect is different, the slang is unique, and if you don't grow up here you can't hide the fact that you didn't. 

All in all our experiences have been very blessed. We have run into several Canadians and Americans while here, many of whom have lived in other cities in Mexico. And everyone of them says the same thing: "Merida is considered the safest, easiest, most convenient place to live in all of Mexico....especially for people from other countries.

Hibiscus Tea

We had been in the Yucatan only three days when we ran into Larry & Tammy Allred, a family originally from Alabama that has been here for 10 years. We have become fast family friends. The following weekend, Tammy fixed us a wonderful dinner and introduced us to a few native Yucatan foods and drinks. The watermelon juice was a little too rich for me, but we loved the Hibiscus tea, which is a prominent drink here in the Yucatan of Mexico. I was excited to also find out the great benefits of drinking hibiscus tea.

Hibiscus tea is the infusion made from the calyces (sepals) of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower, an herbal tea drink consumed both hot and cold by people around the world. It is also referred to as roselle (another common name for the hibiscus flower), flor de Jamaica in Latin America, karkadé in Egypt and Sudan, bissap in West Africa, sorrel in Jamaica, and red sorrel in the wider Caribbean, and other names in other regions. Hibiscus tea has a tart, cranberry-like flavor, and sugar is often added to sweeten the beverage. The tea contains vitamin C and minerals and is used traditionally as a mild medicine.

Hibiscus tea contains 15-30% organic acids, including citric acid, maleic acid, and tartaric acid. It also contains acidic polysaccharides and flavonoid glycosides, such as cyanidin and delphinidin, that give it its characteristic deep red colour.

Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

Blood Pressure

Studies have shown hibiscus tea to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure and may control cholesterol.

One study was done using adults with pre-hypertension or mild hypertension. Those who had three cups of hibiscus tea a day had better results than those who didn't (a 7.2 point drop in systolic blood pressure compared to 1.3 points). Those who had the highest blood pressure reading at the start of the study, showed the greatest results.

Weight Loss

Hibiscus tea contains an enzyme inhibitor which blocks the production of amylase. Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down complex sugars and starches. Drinking a cup of hibiscus tea after meals will reduce the absorption of dietary carbohydrates and will assist in weight loss.

Immune System

Hibiscus tea is rich in vitamin C and makes a wonderful herbal remedy to fight off colds and infections by strengthening the immune system.

Other benefits of hibiscus tea include preventing bladder infections and constipation if taken regularly.

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Life In Merida

Merida is modern and traditional all at the same time. Yes, you will find many American companies here. They all look the same as the ones in the States. Just picture Costco, Sam’s, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Burger King & McDonald’s, all the major car dealers, Office Depot, Blockbuster, …..then add some palm trees to the parking lot and you’ve got the picture.

Then to imagine the traditional side~

My first thought as we got closer to our new home was that these people should be getting notices from there Homeowners associations, if in fact they had any. They do not always separate commercial and residential dwelling on some streets. In some of the older areas you will see a home next to another home that has been turned into a café or store of some sort. Then you can go 5 streets over and see several of the most gorgeous Meridian mansions in a row and then one block over is a partially vacant lot, with a torn apart building on it, and then several three room homes with clothes lines hanging in the front yard one street over from that. In some strange way though, it is still very picturesque. Real eye candy on a regular basis. I find myself wanting to take pictures constantly as this is very different from what you see in America. I am lured at times with a desire to go sit on the sidewalk and just people watch for hours, or drive around in the evenings when people stroll in the streets.

So far, Jay does all the driving here and I am real okay with that. I think my husband described the traffic movement here perfectly. If you have ever seen the animated Bee movie, were the bees race around in perfect close harmony and never run into each other…..that can be driving in Merida. I have never seen anything like the way people drive here in Merida. From the faint lines in the street, you can assume at one time they did have lanes and then someone came along and painted new lines a few feet over. So you have to take a good look at the street and decide where the new lane really is. Nevertheless, you see very few wrecks here as compared to the states. You just have to make sure you are always going fast enough, turning quickly enough and if you don’t, someone will let you know with a prompt blow of their horn. I could safely say that traffic movement here is managed mostly by horns blowing.

Casa De Blackshear

One of the first things you will notice about our new home here is the amount of natural light that comes in through windows and skylights. This brand new home seems to have been built for energy efficiency with lots of natural lighting, insulated windows and concrete construction, which helps keep homes cooler & more structurally sound during hurricanes. We only have to turn our lights on in the evenings. Electricity can be expensive if you are not careful. The floors are all tiled as carpet is not used here. Area rugs are used on tile living spaces.
If you cannot afford a washing machine for your clothes, you are provided with an outdoor wash basin (see left) This is placed in an outdoor room off of the porch area. We do have a washer, but the homes are built with cold water spigots only & most appliances here are in spanish. Clothes dryers are expensive here. For a clothes dryer we use plastic racks from WM of course with a fan blowing on them. Many people just use clothes lines.

Dishwashers are an item of luxury here and only afforded by the wealthy. We do not have a dishwasher, we have become “The Dishwasher.” The amount of water and electricity usage from dishwashers can be pretty consuming.

We have air-conditioning only in the upstairs bedrooms and use a fan at the bottom of our stairs for our living room and kitchen. They do not have standard HVAC systems like you see in America. Gas stoves are preferred as natural gas costs much less than electricity.

We opted for a smaller refrigerator for two reasons, first and most important was that the front door entrance to your Casa may not be wide enough for a regular size refrigerator and secondly, the smaller refrigerator uses less energy. This forces us to shop a little more often as we have several grocery stores near us. However, this gets us in front of people more often for more social contact. Several friends have asked us what it really costs to live here. I will put that in a later post as we are still waiting on our first round of utility bills. We will have a better idea in a couple months. I can definately tell you we are paying less to live here than we did in San Antonio.

We run into Americans from time to time. Here is a picture of a group of American teenagers from a boarding school in New Jersey. They are here for the summer as foreign exchange students. We saw them at the mall near our house and were immediately curious about them. We approached them and struck up a conversation with them and asked them if we could take a picture. They of course happily agreed. We asked them if they spoke any Spanish and the answer from them was pretty much "no." We then asked them if their host families spoke any English and the answer was again "no." Nothing like lots of hand gestures and a hard core crash course in language studies.

The weather here is pretty much the same every day during the rainy season. Light cool breezes in the early part of the day and the early evenings. Potential for rain almost every day. The picture to the right is of the skies over the southern part of Merida moving into the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico. High's are usually around 95 degrees from May through September. It's no worse to us than Dallas or San Antonio, TX. In fact, I would say it is probably a little cooler than Dallas but the increase in humidity makes up for the lower temperatures making it feel hotter more often. I, Jay, went for a jog last week and found out the hard way you don't want to be out jogging past 10AM. The humidity can hit you pretty hard if you are not used to it.

This is a picture of a palm tree in our neighbors yard. I am not sure what kind of palm this is but you see them everywhere down here. You can see a palm branch fell off and onto our fence. This particular tree is about 30 feet tall. I would describe them as having a very "majestic" appearance. Their trunks are as hard as concrete. Also, as you can see from the picture, most fences around peoples homes are fairly tall. Talk about privacy. Most people have fences that are anywhere from 8 to 15 feet high. We have a certain kind of lizard down here that we were told is called a Toloc that you will see crawling on top of these fences from time to time for a good sunbath.  It looks like a small iguana. We looked out our second story bedroom windows today and saw two of them crawling on our neighbors fences. One of them looked like it was almost 2 feet long. They are afraid of humans and will run off if they see you coming. If we can get a picture of one we will post it. We asked Javier, the man who built the house we rent, what they taste like and of course he said "chicken"

Saying Goodbye!

We have a few close friends from San Antonio & saying goodbye was not easy. We know we will stay in touch and maybe even see each other again soon. My friend Karen is a sweety and her son, Chris is our Joseph's best friend. Karen & Chris took us to Peter Piper Pizza for a farewell party & we sure had fun. Karen is pregnant with their little girl Faith, due in August. Karen has a  miraculous testimony about her pregnancy & God has graciously blessed them & I am so happy for her.
Our good neigbor and friend, Lydia, treated our family to the best enchiladas in San Antonio. Our last few days in San Antonio we had sold our refrigerator and dining table with chairs, practically everything we had. Lydia new exactly what we needed along with the great night of fellowship. We will miss them, but will stay in touch. Lydia took our
last family photo from San Antonio.

The boys were very excited to get on that airplane. Joel asked about it for days, although he thought we were going to visit Grandma in California. We highly recommend Mexicana Airlines. We were so impressed with their service, standards and meals. Very clean airplanes, very gracious stewardesses. Our trip took us to Mexico City to change flights, which is an old but very clean airport. Then on to Merida, Yucatan Mexico.

As you read this post, we have been in Merida for 6 days and are settling into our new home and town. I promise to have the blog running on real time in the next few days as I know some of you wanted to see pictures of  Casa de Blackshear & the town itself.

What do I bring?

This is not a simple question and it will vary depending on the person or family. Our family of four had begun a downsizing journey in the States, 5 years before we actually made the move to Merida. After much research coupled with our budget info, we decided to sell everything except what we could fit into 8 check on bags (2 per person) & 8 carry on bags (2 per person) and what we were able to fit in the cab of our truck that my husband drove down. We flew on Mexicana airlines, but as they are going through financial difficulties, Continental will be your next choice & you need to check their baggage guidelines. We were allowed two carry on bags per person & 2 of those bags were our 2 laptops we were bringing. If you are bring in any new items, make sure you have a receipt when declaring them.

Read this guideline sponsored by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), but you must also abide by the Mexican import laws, so check out Continental Airlines guidelines for what you are allowed to bring into Mexico. Make sure your luggage fits the sizing guidlines. We were on a tight budget, but we found great luggage deals at Wal-Mart. Our 8 check in bags cost us about $15.00 each. We used various backpacks and bags for our 8 carry on bags.

We did pretty good research before hand when deciding what to bring, but in hindsite, after being here awhile, we wished we would have brought a few more items. Here is what we found out before we left. Bring only Summer clothes as most months here are warm. You will only have a few months, December & January, that get a little cooler. Some of the expats think it is funny to see the locals in sweaters during those months as they say it really is not cold enough for them. If you need warmer clothes once you get here, Wal-Mart is still the lowest price, but if you have fancy taste, you will definately pay more for the various Shopping Malls here. If you prefer Organics, in your shampoos, toothpaste & Toiletries-grab these before you go as they are rare to find here and pretty expensive when you do. We stuffed a few bottles of everything into each check in bag without any problems. Remember to seal them in ziploc bags to prevent leakage.

If you have children, you are allowed to fly in with one full bag of used toys. My strong recommendation is that you work with your kids before you pack to find the most important toys to them and stuff in as much as you can. Toys are very expensive here, almost double in some stores. Super Wal-Marts here are not like the States, they are not stuffed full of choices & some items are more expensive than the States.

You cannot bring food items into Mexico. There are many supermarkets here in Merida, including Sams Club, Costco & a variety of local chains. You can get some organics at Costco here, but there will be some items you cannot get anywere here that you can typically find in the states. Our biggest hurdle was "Goldfish", our boys favorite snack is not stocked here, but they got over it.

Last but not least! If you have children-I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure you have brought favorite items for them. Moving to a foreign Country can be stressful for kids, so you need to make sure they have comfort items. Favorite blanket, pillow, book, stuffed toy, dolls. The very first room to set up in your new home should be the children's rooms. They need to feel secure in this big move you have made. This is probably the best decision we made when we moved here. We immediately got bunk beds, unpacked toys and set up there room first & it has been easy going ever since! I have heard stories about families moving without planning ahead for their kids and the result was not pretty.

Driving To Mexico

There goes my brave husband, driving our truck from San Antonio, TX to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. He crossed the border in Brownsville were it is still safe to cross. It took him about 3 days to make the drive, with a sleep stop in Tampico and one more in Campeche.

Jay said the best part was the change in scenery as you go from texas flat to palm trees and some mountaineous terrain in the distance, very tropical. Some of the prettiest scenery you will ever see.

He said the stressful part initially was getting over the border and through the various checkpoints he drove through down the coast line as you never know when the rules will change or when someone will want to search your truck. That is why you will see in the picture, he had very little in the truck as we were advised by our Mexican National friends to not bring attention to the truck .
All and all he had alot of grace on him to make the drive.

He can laugh now at the strange reactions he would get from the border guards when they saw a cage with gerbils sitting on the front seat next to my husband. One even joked with Jay about sticking his hand in the cage. Not a great idea as gerbils have a pretty nasty bite. You can bring your pets into Mexico, just make sure you read their regulations first.

Jay found some great detailed driving info on the web. If you want to see what the drive is like, This site  gave the best detailed information on driving from Brownsville to Merida. Make sure to obtain Mexican Vehicle Insurance well in advance of your trip.

Garage Sales

When you move to another Country, you have to decide whether to ship your stuff with you at a pretty high cost, or sell it all. We decided to sell it all, not that selling all mean't much to as as we had already been downsizing for several years in preparation for this move. As A family of 4, we downsized in steps from a 2500 sq ft home in the Dallas area to a 1200 sq ft home in San Antonio.

This is where Craiglist & Garage sales become important. We started by Craigslisting our biggest items & then went through 5 garage sales to clear out most items.

The trickiest items were the refridgerator, washer and dryer as we needed those until last & selling our Chevy Van. So we collected phone numbers from interested parties and let them know when we would be ready to sell.

We just finished our last garage sale, so now I go to my other favorite site Freecycle, a great place to just donate stuff to other people who like to recycle items.

It is easy and safe to use. Alway request and do porch pick ups. Never let someone in your house.

Looks like we are just about ready to go. My Husband Jay will drive our truck down to Merida next week and fly back to pick us up, then we will fly down as a family.

Stay tuned for our next update!


Here we are at the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio, Texas~ beginning our journey by obtaining our passports. My husband is patiently waiting through all the paperwork/picture process.
Joel wanted his picture taken several times and our sweet picture taker obliged his hammed up poses. Joseph also requested several shots as he was not sure he looked his best.

It is now a requirement to have a passport when you go to Mexico from the United States. Just contact your local County clerks office for information and requirements. Give yourself at least 4-6 weeks to obtain the passport, otherwise you will be charged a larger fee for a rush passport.

Here is my passport photo. If  you know me, you know that I do not like pictures of myself, but I was actually pleased with this one. Much better than my drivers license picture!! We went to the Courthouse during the week when there was less traffic and barely had to stand in line. I have heard that Saturday's can be pretty busy, so plan accordingly especially if you have children. Just remember if you have obtained a passport at any other time in you life, you will be required to have that information for the file clerk. I was caught off guard when I realized that I had a passport about 15 years ago for a trip I took to Brazil & Equador. I tossed that one years ago as I figured it was expired.
Our boys patiently waiting for their passports!

Merida, Yucatan Mexico

Merida is the Capital and largest city of Yucatan, the population is about 1 million and its known in Mexico as the "White City" because of his antique white spanish and french style buildings. Merida is rich in culture and people that maintain their Mayan costumes.

Merida is also known for having great typical food, like the Poc Chuc, Salbutes, Panuchos, Pavo Relleno and Sopa de Lima. The people from Yucatan speak spanish with a very special accent that can be recognized. A third of the population of Yucatan still speaks Mayan language although mostly in small Towns and villages.
Merida is located in the Northwest part of Yucatan, at the east is Quintana Roo and to the west the state of Campeche. Merida is just about 20 minutes from the beach of Progreso (pictured left) and about 2 hours from cancun and playa del carmen.

Merida is growing quickly and has been developed a lot in the last few years, with new malls, parks, hotels and centers of entertainment being developed. Here is known as a secure city with peaceful population that love tourism.

Most of the tourists usually go to Cancun, Cozumel and playa del carmen, however more people are wanting to visit and know Merida for its beauty, antique buildings, theaters, museums and people. Also if you stay in Merida, you are near many of the archeological areas like Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Cenotes.

Yucatan is known for all its great Haciendas that you can visit. There are very beautiful haciendas that are classic like the Hacienda Temozon which is also a Hotel, Hacienda Teya with a great Restaurant and Hacienda San Antonio Cucul which is inside the North part of Merida.

As you can see there is a lot to discover in Merida not to mention its churches, Cathedral and handcrafts of its people. The pyramids is what attracts a lot of tourist to Merida which are about an hour from here.

Join us on our Journey!