Saturday, June 25, 2011

Roundtrip Airline Tickets: Merida to Houston

I just scheduled a business trip back to the states via Continental/United Airlines. Continental is the only airlines that flies directly from Merida to Houston, TX. Their direct flights come into Merida on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday nights and they fly back out to Houston the following morning after each one of those days.

Normally I book through Expedia because they show cost comparisons between competing airlines like Aeromexico and the Continental. Usually I have found that Expedia's prices always match the prices found on Continental's website.  Not tonight!!! For the past two weeks Expedia has been charging an additional $64 for the same flight I was looking at. 

Word to the wise. Check for their prices in addition to the travel sites. It was worth it for me tonight.

Have a good one.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Price of Gas in Merida.....6/23/2011

Right now the price of gas in Merida is $9.24 pesos per liter. Based on a peso to dollar exhange rate of $11.75 USD to $1 Peso.....that converts to $2.97 USD per gallon....I believe. Gas is still cheap here compared to the U.S., Canada and most of Europe from what I understand.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mexican Car Insurance

This is the insurance broker we use for our auto insurance policy here in Mexico. Click Here.

I just renewed for $162. That covers my 2001 Ford F-150 for the entire year. It was more last year because I carried theft coverage and had a higher declared value on the vehicle. The reason we did liability only is because we are considering nationalizing our vehicle before October. Once you nationalize a foreign vehicle you have to start carrying domestic insurance.

Nationalizing means you register your U.S. or any other foreign vehicle and get Yucatan plates on it. You can only nationalize a vehicle once it's 10 years old from the year of manufacture. That means, starting in October, 2010 through October, 2011 you can nationalize all foreign made vehicles from 2001. After this October only vehicles manufactured in 2002 will be eligilbe for nationalization for the next year.

I still need to do some research on this. I will update you if/when I find something out.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Santander Bank

It is my understanding that Santander is the largest bank in the Eurozone. Therefore some of you reading this may recognize the name. I myself had never heard of them until we moved to Mexico. The reason I bring it up is this.....If you are a Bank of America customer in the United States then do your ATM withdrawals at Santander ATM's and bank branches. It's Free!!!!!

When we found this out we started saving about $50 per month in ATM fees. If you do a $7,000.00 Peso withdrawal at Banamex it will cost you about $11.00 USD in ATM fees. I am not sure if other banks in Canada or the U.S. have this type of arrangement with a Mexican bank but at least BofA does. The only drawback is that Santander will only let you take out $6,000.00 pesos per withdrawal in a 24 hour period. I have taken out more than twice that much on some occassions at other banks, specifically the one aforementioned but not at Santander.

Just a word to the wise. Hope this helps.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Make a License Plate

I am not sure if each state within Mexico has it's own law in regards to the number of plates your car needs or if it is a Federal law. I do know that in the state of Yucatan you are only required to have one plate. However, from my conversations with other expats, if you only have one plate you are more likely to be waved over for inspection at roaming state police check points simply because they can't size you up. Since they can't tell if your car has plates until you pass them they are more likely to have you pull over, look at the back of your car and then decide if they are ready to let you pass.

This is what I have heard form others. So.......A mutual Texas friend of mine who lives here in the Yucatan showed me how to make a plate at Office Depot or Office Max. Cost.....In the states it will run about $10 USD. My friend made his after he lived down here for a while. 

Step One: Take your original plate off your car and take it into Office Max or Office Depot. Have them take a photocopy of your license plate on color copying, not black and white.

Step Two: Have them laminate the photo with a plastic laminator. Then have the lady there take a razor blade or large paper cutter and shave the edges off of it until it is the exact size as your original plate.

Step Three: Take the most durable plastic/foam poster board you can find in the store. Look around until you see something that is non-paper and looks like it has some weather durability.

Step Four: Have them take a spray adhesive and spray it on the back of your laminated photo of your plate. Place the photo onto the plastic poster board. Then have them cut the poster board around the edges of your laminated picture until everything is the exact same dimensions as your original plate.

Step Five: Purchase a license plate holder at your local auto parts store (See right). On our last trip we just took the one off of the back of my friends truck and used that one. Place your black-market plate into the license plate frame to make sure it fits. It should be pretty snug which is a good thing. This step is not optional. If you don't put a plate holder on it you can see the edges of the plate and tell it is not real metal.

Step Six: Buy four mounting bolts about 2 & 1/2 inches to 3 inches long from your local Home Depot along with 4 washers and 4 nuts for the bolts. Also you will need a drill and a drill bit just slightly larger than your mounting bolts.

Step Seven: Line the plate with the plate holder up where you want it on your front bumper. Drill some guide holes through your license plate into your front bumper. Then remove your plate and finish drilling your holes. When finished mount your new plate and step back from the car. You be amazed how real it looks.

I would install it right before you drive over the border into Mexico so you are not driving reasonable distances in the United States with a pseudo-plate. Wal Mart parking lot off of the main Highway heading south in Brownsvile, TX is a good location. I am sure there are laws against doing this in the United States so if you have the chance and the money just skip everything and get a real plate. We did this for my friends truck because we were in a pinch and I didn't notice that he needed to do this until we were standing in Houston, TX.

However, if you can't get a real plate and you are reduced to doing it this way then, when you get done you are not going to be able to tell the difference between your newly made plate and an original from your state's Department of Public Safety, especially after it is covered with bug splatter.

Happy plate-making!!!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Driving in Merida

I was thinking about doing a post about what it is like to drive inside the city of Merida. Then I came across this video today and thought, "Why bother writing. I'll just post this." This is sometimes what you see here. Enjoy!

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

The thing I like most about driving in Mexico is the roundabouts. Instead of a streetlight at every major intersection you have interspersed among them Glorietas. This means less waiting on lights to change. One of the things I like least about driving here......the roundabouts. Bitter-sweet. Roundabouts (Glorietas) may have as many as ten entry and exit points with the potential for pedestrians to cross at each street.

People sometimes want to merge prematurely into your lane so you have to drive defensively at all times. People rarely use their blinkers here to indicate lane changes. Also, motorcycles and mopeds weave between cars on both roads and at intersections while cars are stopped. They also will try and pass moving traffic between you and the curb. Very unwise yet they do it all the time.

My advice when attention and never assume that those around you are. Drive cautiously and drive slower. My wife and I talk less when driving here because of the risk of distraction. Pedestrians have the right-of-way at crosswalks on major roads so you have to watch for them as well. 


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Driving through Mexico...a 2nd time.

In May I made the drive from Brownsville, TX to Merida for the second time. It was a bitter-sweet experience. The last time I was a little apprehensive because it was my first time and I was driving by myself. This time I co-piloted/navigated for a new friend that moved down here with his family so I was able to take in the sites a little more but there was one thing I noticed: The Border Violence is spreading and tension within certain areas of the country is increasing. You see it at the border crossings, state boundary check points, and inside cities in the Northern parts of the country.

I am not saying I would never make the drive again. What I am saying it takes alot of physical and mental energy to make this journey, even if you know what you are doing. Driving through parts of Mexico today is not what it was even a year ago. In addition to the violence factor you have to consider that.....

  • The drive is long (Over 1200 miles from Brownsville, TX to Merida).
  • It is choppy. You make alot of turns and detours even though you take Hwy 180 almost the whole way down.
  • The quality of some of the roads is not up to American standards. Even toll roads along the way are torn up and bumpy at certain points.
  • The roads are more consistently narrow. Mexicans driving requires alot of 'close-call' passing to get around the car in front of you and this will require a few more deep-breaths, and oh-my-goshes and did you see that's on your part.
  • There are check points all over the place in every state and at every state boundary. This includes roaming military checkpoints that can pop up out of no-where. It has a totally different feel from the U.S.
  • Some cities that you drive through and will need to stop in are not always safe outside the walls of your hotel. Uh-hum (clearing throat).....Tampico anyone?
I am going to give you my advice on some more specifics as if I were in the car with you. One, if you are making this move with kids then fly your wife and kids down after you make the drive. Do not make this drive with them if you can absolutely avoid it. A husband and wife driving down is fine. But not with kids. Mexicans know this and so do most Americans and Canadians in my opinion. Fly the kids. Do not drive them down. OK. Here goes.
  • Never leave your I.D. somewhere else than in your pocket or carry-bag. Never, Never, Never. Ever. When you get pulled over, and you will get pulled over, you better have these in hand and not buried somewhere in the car or back at the hotel. Don't make this mistake folks!!!
  • When you arrive at the border crossing to get your visa (if you don't already have one) and your Car permit, have all your paperwork on your car. Mexican Insurance Policy purchased in advance (2 copies). 2 Copies of your registration. 2 Copies of your title. 2 Copies of each passport. When you get your visas at the border they will have a guy working a booth with a copy machine right there in the same building as the the immigration office. He will make copies of visas for free. Tip him at least $2 USD or $25 Pesos as a good gesture. I have him $50 pesos as a good gesture and they treated us well.
  • Do not take pictures of anyone at the border crossing. This is for the security of the Mexican policeman and soldiers and their families.
  • When you are standing in line at the border crossing offices do not talk on the phone. Do not move around alot. Stand still, be respectful and speak only when spoken to. Be still. This tells the Mexican soldiers, police and government officials that you are respectful of their authority and they will treat you well for it. 
  • Stay in nice hotels. It is worth the money. Holiday Inn in Tampico is $100 USD per night. Well worth it. Clean, nice pool, secured parking and friendly staff. Quality Inn in Villahermosa is about the same price. Clean, good location, safe for parking. Both include free breakfast. Both are clean and hospitable.
  • Be very respectful of everyone. Smile and say muchas gracias as much as possible.
  • When passing through checkpoints look straight ahead and drive slowly. Do not look at the soldiers unless they wave you over.
  • If you do get problem. Just make sure you don't have even so much as your grand kids pop gun in your car. Absolutely no guns, no weapons, no knives, no Swiss army knives that you had since you were a 4 year old boy, not even one old empty shotgun shell....nothing. If you need a knife then buy one when you get here. Don't travel with that stuff. They will ask you 'Donde Viene?' this means, 'Where are you coming from?' Show them your passport and your visa. All should go well. Thank them for their time and move on.
  • Hide your money on your person. Don't leave your wallet sitting out on the dashboard or in plain-sight.
  • When gassing up at Pemex say "Magna lleno, por favor." This means Magna (green) gas and lleno (pronounced yeno) means "filler-up." Por favor means 'please' obviously. Always tip the gas station attendant at least 5 pesos. If he cleans your windows tip $10 pesos if you dare. 
  • Buy a good Mexico map to have with you. You can you can buy GPS for Mexico but you don't have to have it. I didn't. 
  • Here is a link to directions from Brownsville to Merida. Click Here.  Print off these directions at this website and keep them with you. You won't regret it. They are well done and I agree with about 99% of their recommendations. My wife and I know Peter and Linda and we appreciate their contributions even though they weren't the original authors.
  • On your first day cross fresh early in the morning on the main International Crossing in Brownsville/Matamoris. Drive to Tampico and stay the night there on your first day. I recommend the Holiday Inn right as you drive in on the main road into Tampico. If you want to go farther down the main highway then fine. You can get closer to the main restaurants that way. 
  • On your second day drive from Tampico to Villahermosa. I know the map I had you print out with Peter and Linda's advice says to stay in Minitatlan on Day 2. Villahermosa is only about another hour down the road and it is more modern and the hotels are more accessible and modern. Also, I could not find the hotel they recommend in Minitatlan. I tried to stay there on my first trip and found the city to be rather unclean and "risky" if you know what I mean. Others obviously think differently. I recommend the Quality Inn in Villahermosa. It is on the right about halfway into the city. You can't see it from the highway but you can see VIPS restaurant. It is about 2 blocks behind VIPS. VIPS is Mexico's version of Denny's and is owned by guess who?  That right......Wal Mart.
  • Also, I recommend you start this three day drive either on Saturday or Sunday. Why? Mexico half-way shuts down on Sundays. The streets are more passable, fewer cops are out, fewer people are out. Most people are at home hung over and asleep or are at church. This means the country doesn't wake up until around noon so it is easier to drive. I recommend starting on Saturday with your drive from Brownsville to Tampico on Saturday and the drive from Tampico to Villahermosa on Sunday. Day 2 is the longest drive of the three days and it also takes you through many mountains along the way. You will be halfway to Vihallermosa by the time Mexico wakes up on Sunday. My two cents. 
  •  The third day's drive is from Vihallermosa to Merida. It is the shortest day of the three. I recommend the coastal route. It is prettier by far from a scenic standpoint and you will have time to stop and get out and dip your toes in the water at some spot along. On the third day you will go through quite a few military checkpoints from state to state (Tampico, Campeche and Yucatan). Remember the rules and all will be well.
  • Before you leave the states order about $300 USD in Mexican Pesos from your bank. You will need the money for toll roads between Tampico and Merida on Day's 2 and 3 of your drive. You can also use the cash for gas stations and restaurants. You can hit an ATM anywhere anytime in Mexico. No problem. It is just that you half to stop. I don't recommend ATM's in Matamoris or Tampico. I don't like stopping or getting out of the car unnecessarily in those cities except for my hotel in Tampico. My feelings and maybe not others.
  • If you use cash at a gas station or restaurant always count your change. The waiter at Applebees in Villahermosa tried to short me on my change on my last trip. This is a common tactic amongst cashiers and waiters in both the U.S. and Mexico, especially in Mexico. They think you are not going to count it or don't know how and it is a way for some of them to make a few extra dollars each day.
  • Last but not least, make sure you have a license plate on the front and back of your vehicle. Yes, I know the law in Mexico requires only one plate. But sometimes these policemen forget that and pull you over because you don't have one. Order an extra plate if you need one. Or, you can take a picture of your plate at Office Max, have it laminated and adhered to synthetic/plastic posterboard, put a license plate frame around it that you can buy at any auto parts store and bolt it on the front. The cost, around $10 U.S. I know. We just did that for someone last month.
I know I made it sound like a gauntlet. In some ways it is. Be prudent, be smart and pray for God's help. Then sit back and enjoy the journey. And when you get to Merida get out and kiss the ground. Once here you will notice the difference in the Yucatan versus the rest of the country.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pablo and Sophia

These are our new family members, Pablo and Sophia. Our boys wanted to try out bird ownership and since KATO had a sale on all birds and aviary accessories we thought we would give it a go.

In recent shopping excursions to local tree and plant nurseries we noticed that a few of the business owners have very large bird cages full of parakeets in their place of business. Typically Americans put birds in smaller cages. Not in Mexico. Even at KATO (local pet shop chain in Mexico) the birds never have their wings clipped and are kept in larger cages. Soooo....................I went to work on something better and $125.00 at Home Depot and 20 construction hours later we put together a large bird cage for our starter pair of Keets. It was well worth it.

Let's just say they have come alive. In the smaller cage they hardly ever moved and didn't have room to fly. Now......They seem very very do the boys. The cage is 5 feet tall, 43 inches wide and 21 inches deep. I have to admit even my wife and I are really enjoying them. Putting the bird cage outside is very common in Mexico. The year-round warmer climate allows for it. 

I wonder if they would give us our money back on the smaller cage??? Oh well.

Jay Blackshear

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Finally. We have not had significant rains this calendar year that I can remember....maybe in about 6 months. This is not common for Merida per the locals.

The rainy season starts here in June and runs through October. During this time we will start getting rains about 5 or 6 days a week, up to a couple of times a day for 15 to 30 minutes on average. This also means that the mosquitos will start breeding, bats will have plenty to eat, and you absolutely have to mow your grass once a week or it grows out of control.


Friday, June 3, 2011


In October of last year I started to suffer from some form of chronic fatigue and I wasn't sure what was causing it. Everyday around the early afternoon it was all I could do to fight the urge to lay down and take a nap. I've never had this problem before so when I started to struggle with this it was a bit of a suprise to me.

But there was one other physical symptom I was having that was causing me to question if my immune system was fighting something off that it had never before. I noticed that every time I took a hot shower I would get these tingling sensations all up and down my forearms and lower legs. It literally felt like I had ants crawling all over my limbs. When I would get out of the shower and dry off the tingling sensations would slowly disappear. I thought maybe I was having a blood circulation issue with my body along with the fatigue.

One day I ended up speaking with a family friend about my issues. She is an American lady who has lived here in Mexico with her family for 13 years. She told me that she had been through the same experience when they had moved to Merida (minus the tingling arms and legs) and that through the course of time had learned that she had parasites in her body from some external source like bad food, city water, poor sanitary environments, handling cash money....something. She advised us to take Vermox. This product is sold in every pharmacy, Wal Mart, Costco and grocery store chain in Mexico.

Although I did not realize it at the time, I had been exposed to parasites through some source like those mentioned before. They had developed so badly in my system that when I put my skin under hot water the parasites and amoeba would start moving around inside my arms and legs. They were literally robbing my body of nutrients and causing me to "gas out" way before I normally would in the normal course of my day. Once we took the Vermox we started to feel a noticeable difference within the hour. But for me personally, because my case was so far advanced compared to Christine and the boys, it took me about a week to slowly recover from the lingering affects of the damage that the parasites had done to my body internally. It was as though I had experienced some minor tissue damage similar to what one does when exercising and my body needed some time to repair itself.

I will give you this advice if you vacation or move here: Take Vermox at least every 60 days, wash your hands constantly and use hand sanitizer when out in public. Because many Expats that live here maintain and operate out of their Bank Accounts back in the states or Canada, we end up doing alot of ATM withdrawals and operating with cash-on-hand quite frequently. This means handling alot of paper currency that carries oils and bacteria from the hands of other people.

I have watched the sanitation guys that pick up our trash open up every trash-bag they grab off of the curb before placing it into the back of the trash truck. They look for recyclables like plastic bottles and aluminum cans to recycle for extra cash. They do this with their bare hands over and over throughout the day. These guys then in turn probably take cash out of their wallets to pay for food at local vendors and convenience stores along the way. This money then circulates throughout the community. This is just one example of cross contamination that I have witnessed while here, something that you don't see back home. Get my point?

If you handle cash here, wash and sanitize your hands.........And take your share of Vermox.

J.E. Blackshear

Thursday, June 2, 2011


 Uxmal is about an hour south of Merida set among rolling hills and trees. It has arguably one of the best architectural pyramid reserves in Mexico and Central America.

This was our first trip there. We would have stayed longer to do more climbing but Merrillee, Christine's mom was getting tired. We retired to the on-site restaurant where we had Chayla mixed with Orange Juice and Pinapple Juice. It was delicious. 

To eat we had panuchos and sopa de lima. Very good authentic Mayan food.

Pictures of the flamingos in Celestun are next.

God Bless,
The Blackshears

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Celestun is a small fishing village on the far west-coast of the state of Yucatan. We actually made two trips there this week. I preferred making only one but was "asked" to make a second. We enjoyed both however and look forward to going back hopefully with friends very soon.

The following are pictures of our first trip earlier last week.

 La Palapa is the best restaurant to eat at in Celestun. Good prices and flavorful food and drinks.

While eating there we spotted a dolphin swimming about 100 yards off the beach near where the boys were swimming. It was neet to watch it swim by.

Sorry. I had to take the following two pictures just to show you how odd things can be sometimes down here. Just in case you don't understand proper beach "hygiene".....the local government posts signs for people to remind them to seek out a public restroom....i.e. go in the water about 20 feet out (wink wink).

On the way back to Merida we stopped in a small village and took photos of a lady making hand-made homocks (sp?). I asked her what her name was but she was too shy to tell me.

We also passed a small housing development not too far from there where we saw many newly built homes. These homes are probably only about 400 square feet....and that may be stretching it a bit on the size. The cost.....around 150,000 Pesos. That's about $12,500 USD. They built a park next door with a good track to run on, a soccer field (I love this country), and work out equipment built to withstand the weather and accessible to all. Interesting. Very peaceful low-income Yucatecan neighborhood.

That was our first trip to Celestun. We got there late in the day so we didn't get to go on a Flamingo boat tour. They recommend that you go before 2PM in the afternoon when the birds are much more settled in their natural habitats due to calmer winds and less waves on the water.

This was our second trip. My mother-in-law Merrillee was determined to not miss the Flamingos and I am very glad we didn't. Apologies in advance for the lack of resolution on some photos. The batteries were going dead in my camera and I forgot to bring backups. I couldn't zoom in on anything I was taking pictures of so we had to settle for second best here. I did get a picture of a small crocodile however.

The Flamingo tour is either one or two hours long. The two hour ride is $40 USD more and takes you to the Campeche side of the water inlet. The bridge into Celestun is near the state dividing line between Campeche
and Yucatan. THe best part of the tour is on the Yucatan side of the water inlet where all of the features of the tour are. If you ever come down for a visit stick with the one hour ride. It's cheaper and a better quality tour.

The boys loved the boat ride even though we were getting pelted with rain the first 30 minutes or wife and Merrillee....not so much. You can tell Joseph was having a blast. He didn't care how much the rain pelted him in the face.

Before we were assigned a boat I prayed and asked the Lord to determine who our boat captain was going to be for the day. His name....Jesus....literally. I didn't get his picture unfortunately. He also had this sticker in his boat... Mi pais: Mexico. Mi salvador: Jesus. Translation: My country: Mexico. My savior: Jesus.

Coincidence? No way.

Flamingos. These birds are absolutely beautiful.

Part of the tour includes a ride through a long canopy of Mangrove trees. This was were we saw the baby crocodile.

You can barely see his head. Right in the middle of the picture is a crocodile head about 9 inches long with two white eyes sticking out. He has himself backed up to the foliage directly facing the boat.

Again, my batteries in my camera were going out and the zoom feature wasn't working because of it. Jesus our boat captain says that at night the crocodiles come out. Per him they grow to 2 and 3 meters (6 to 9 feet roughly.) Big enough to do damage.

Another quarter mile down the coast is a fresh water cenote that helps feed the water tributary. Their they dock your boat so you can go inland about 100 feet and go swimming in the cenote if you want. The cenote is filled with fresh water tropical fish. After seeing our crocodile, Mama Bear (My wife) decided our sons were not going swimming anywhere but on the coast. I had to agree with her. 

Sorry you have to keep cranking your neck but there is not rotation feature on the blog posting page.

After we returned from our stroll around the cenote the Lord brought another boat to the dock with Merillee's name on it, albeit it was slightly mispelled. She still got a big kick out of it and took it as a photo op. The boat captain helped her climb in the boat so we could take a picture.

The boat ride back to the main dock.

Caught a photo off this bird hanging out on a fishing boat as we were about to dock. Looked like some type of sea stork of some kind.

We saw all types of birds on this tour: Pelicans, Osprey, Flamingos, Seagulls, .....the list goes on. Great bird watchers trip.

We then hit La Palapa and the beach one more time. Good food, friends, sand, .....

The boys are slightly worn out. Too much sun. Now time for some french fries and chicken strips before heading home.

The streets of Celestun.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures.

God Bless,

The Blackshears in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.