Sunday, January 22, 2012

There are BUGS in Merida.

There are bugs in Merida.  Lots of them.  Not ants or even mosquitos, although there are lots of those as well.

No, here in Merida, it looks as if there was a great migration at some point in the city's past of the venerable Volkswagen Bug.  You can scarcely walk down a single block without seeing one or two of them parked at the curb, and hearing the distinctive sound of another one traveling up the adjacent block.

According to Wikipedia,  the Volkswagen Type 1, widely known as the Volkswagen Beetle or Volkswagen Bug, was an economy car produced by the German auto maker Volkswagen from 1938 until 2003. There were more than 21 million manufactured, and the Beetle is the longest-running and most-manufactured automobile of a single design platform anywhere in the world. 

That explains a lot about the situation on the streets of Merida.
From 1955 to 1964, the Bug was shipped in un-assembled "complete knockdown kits" from Germany to be put together here in Mexico, and in 1964 the car began to be produced locally.  The VW Bug was even used as a common taxicab in Mexico City.  (Thanks again, Wikipedia!)

Unlike mosquitoes, the VW Bug is one of the nice things about Merida.  I grew up with the old Herbie the Love Bug movies (the version with Helen Hayes, not the more recent LiLo adaptation), and Darren had his own bug during his early years in Sydney.  So a walk down the streets of Merida in the cool mornings past a rainbow collection of these particular bugs brings a little bit of nostalgia about the past to go along with the excitement about new experiences to come.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Yucatan Bound!

It's official!  We're all booked for our next trip to Merida (frequent flyer seats via Mexico City!) and by happy coincidence it looks like we will be there for Carnaval. Six days warming ourselves in the sun and we are also looking forward to catching up with friends at La Boheme, the inevitable fireworks, and panuchos on Santiago square.  See you there amigos!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hold the Bus!!!!

Since my last trip to Merida I have been meaning to let everyone know about part of the journey I took to get there.

Yes, I took the bus!

You see I wanted to try different ways to get in and out of Merida. I wanted to compare price, times, and how many hours it takes. So this time I flew into Cancun and then caught the bus across.

Might I was great! Well, there's not a lot to see in the way of wonderful vistas BUT this way you don't have to wake up at 4:00am for that 7:00am Continental flight into Houston and miss out on a full last day of my holidays.

I flew into Cancun and went to the ADO desk just outside the terminal and asked to catch the Platino bus to Merida. The girl looked puzzled and then told me that there would be a 'first class' bus in 30 minutes AND it would pick up right here. So I reluctantly agreed as I wanted to get to Merida and paid my 420 pesos.  She did say 'First class,' didn't she?

Anyway, the coach came on time and I didn't have to leave the airport so that was great. There were only two other people on the bus! Yes there were only the three of us on that bus. Ok, so it wasn't luxury, just a regular type of coach.  I went to the back and laid across the back seat and slept. Oh, and if you are going to catch the regular bus...take a blanket or something warm, as it was freezing on that bus! But we got to Merida right on time and with no fuss.

On the trip home I had a friend coming with me, and we booked the Platino bus this time. It left at 10:00am and we got to the Cancun bus station with plenty of time to get a cab to the airport and catch our flight.

Let me tell you that the Platino bus was awesome and well worth it (actually it cost the same as the regular coach???? yes it did.) The seats reclined nearly all the way flat and were super comfortable with your own tv with movies to choose. There was a restroom up the back and you were given snacks and drinks for the trip.

You get to choose your seat when booking, and if you are traveling alone the bus is set up with two seats on one side and a single seat down the other side. Which will be perfect for me as I like to put my headphones on and read a book or sleep or just chill (without someone trying to speak to me!)
 A four hour bus trip to catch a direct two hour flight to Atlanta...yeah, I'll drink to that!

So I would definitely recommend traveling this route as it was cheaper than a flight through Houston and the actual travel time with waiting is also about the same or maybe even a less using the bus if you time it right.

I would definitely use the Platino bus again (even the regular First Class bus was fine!).

It was really easy to catch...I say go for it!

Monday, January 9, 2012

How To Buy a House in Merida

There is no question about it, a Merida house hunt is a heady experience.  Some approach it methodically, renting for six months to a year (or even longer) in an attempt to be sure that they have the right city and the right neighborhood.  Others come for the first time on vacation and leave with a purchase contract.  We fell somewhere in the middle, deciding to buy on our first trip but looking at multiple properties over the course of nearly a full year before we settled on ours.  There is no right or wrong just have to do what feels comfortable for you personally.

Others have posted good advice that was helpful to us, and so we thought that we would add a few of our own lessons to hopefully pay it forward and assist people who are starting their search now. 

Your long term plans may influence where you buy. 
Merida has multiple options among its barrios, and the one that you select can make a difference in ways that you might not have considered. Are you planning to stay for a few years or for decades?   Anyone who regularly peruses the listings will recognize that a well-priced property in Santa Anna's Gringo Gulch is easier to resell than a fixer-upper in San Cristobal, but if you are planning to stay a while then there are some truly spectacular properties south and east of the Plaza Grande in neighborhoods that are only just catching on with expats.  For the time being, the resale market in Centro is really primarily an expat market, so it is worth knowing where expats are more willing to buy.  If you are planning to stay on long-term, though, this is less important. 

Be realistic about how you will live in Merida.

A friend in Merida told us recently, "I had this picture that I wanted to walk to the main market every morning to buy fresh fruit for my breakfast and make a real change in my life, but the reality was that I just kept ending up in Costco so the house near the market turned out to not be the right one for me."  I suspect that his experience was not an unusual one, since most of us probably have our own romantic notions about how we will eat healthier, walk more, and generally be all-around better people when we live in Merida.

But it is unlikely that you will become a whole different person, so be realistic about what is important to you.  Some people would never be comfortable as the only expat on their block, and some will not be comfortable with anything less.  Are you best suited to the middle of Centro (the primary tourist district), the edges (which are more local), or the northern suburbs like Garcia Ginares or Colonia Mexico (closer to shopping, Starbucks, and some great new restaurants)?

Noise happens.

There is no question that life in Centro can be noisy, with frequent celebrations, fireworks, and lots and lots of buses.  There is a reason why realtors note that a property is "on a non-bus street." It is worth visiting a target property at different times and on different days to see just how busy your potential new block might be.  We didn't realize until a third visit that a property that we really liked only seemed quiet because our first two visits were on the weekend. 

Take lots of pictures, notes, and measurements.

They say that when you pack for vacation, you should pack what you think you need and then remove half of it.  The corollary for a Merida house hunt is that you should take all of the pictures that you think you need, and then take at least that many more.  Really.  Digital photos are cheap, and when you are sitting in your living room north of the border trying to remember what the tiles looked like in the front room, or whether there were wooden or metal vigas, or what the neighbors' houses looked like, you will only regret not taking extra shots.  If there are two of you looking, each of you should have a camera.  Likewise, even if you don't draw well, take a second to draw a rough plan of the room arrangement at the house that you see along with the location and the price(s) of the property, and if you think you are even marginally interested, take a few measurements of the primary spaces and jot them down too. 

They are not about to run out of houses in Centro.

Finally, be assured that they are not about to run out of houses for sale in Centro.  There was actually a point at which one of us (I won't say who) exclaimed, "but if we don't buy now, there might not be any houses left!"  Now, after several more trips where each day starts with a long walk through a new neighborhood, I realize how silly that concern was.  There is an enormous supply of properties in Centro, renovated and unrenovated, large and small, opulent and modest, colonial and modern.  They might not all be for sale now, but Centro is a long way from being stripped of its great opportunities.  There is no reason to rush or to push a square peg into a round hole.  The right house is there for is just a matter of finding it.

Our own hunt was full of ups and downs, excitement and disappointment.  But truth be told, I already miss the experience a little bit.  So take your time until you find just the right place (and the right price) that works for you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tiny Houses and Merida

 I first heard the term "tiny houses" after hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans, Louisiana.  At the time, "Katrina Cottages" were proposed as an alternative to the much-maligned FEMA trailers that littered that city's streets and seemed to create more problems than they solved.  The idea of of the Katrina Cottage was a permanent small, sturdy, dignified structure that had all of the necessary amenities of a home, was expandable, and could be delivered for less than the cost of a FEMA trailer.  There is a nice description of the history of the Katrina Cottage here.  From Katrina Cottages, it was just a short jump to find information about what some have called the "tiny revolution."
Although there doesn't seem to be a specific definition for a "tiny house," proponents of tiny houses pretty much say the same thing...a tiny house is a home that is big enough to meet your needs but small enough to limit your costs, the time that you need to spend on cleaning and maintaining, and your impact on the environment, leaving you more time and money for the things that are most important to you.  (You can read a list of "top ten reasons to live in a small house" and see some examples and designs here.)

When we were last in Merida, my attention (and my camera) kept getting drawn toward the many small facades on the streets of Centro and the possibility that these properties would make great "tiny houses."  If you think about it, the reasons that people back home opt for "tiny houses" is a lot like the reasons that many people consider a move to live in a way that meets one's needs without being excessive, to re-connect with a style of life that is more about people and experiences and less about the acquisition of stuff, and to step away from a "bigger is better" lifestyle.
La Pianista is back on the market...

When you go through the real estate listings in Merida, houses with narrow facades on long, narrow lots are usually at the lower end of the price scale, so it is pretty easy to get excited about them.  Of course, not every narrow facade hides a tiny house.  "La Pianista," made famous by the second House Hunters International episode as "the house that got away", is described in some listings as a 2700 square foot house!
Not Casa de Toh...
The owners of Casa de Toh have chronicled their own creative approach to a small house in Merida.  They set out to renovate in a way that was cost effective and sustainable and to create a house that made the best use of natural light and air so that it could be efficient.  Their site is a great guide to a small house renovation.
Whether your inspiration is one of the amazing "tiny houses" or Katrina Cottages, or Casa de Toh, or another small house in Centro, it really is possible to live well in a space that simply meets your needs.  We don't know yet what our own house will look like, but there is a lot to learn from these small, reasonable, and thoughtfully designed places. 


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Which one did we choose?

Well it is 2012 and the time has come to let everyone know which property we ended up buying and will set about this year turning it into our little oasis in the sun.

Was it House Number 1? The white house close to Santiago square.

Or was it House Number 2? The pink house south of the main market.

House Number 3? The grand deco casona.

Or House Number 4? The large house on the large square lot on Calle 80.

And the house we chose is.....

None of them!!!!

Even though we had great intentions of finding a beautiful original casa that we could renovate, we ended up finding a vacant lot of land on calle 63. It is a quiet (no bus) street only three blocks from Santiago, and at the end of the day proved to be the best choice for us.  It's not much in the way of pictures, but we are really excited about all of its potential.