Sunday, August 27, 2006

Living in Mexico - getting it right

Before we began this adventure, we read everything we could get our hands and eyes on to prepare us. Probably the best book we read was “Head for Mexico” by Don Adams. You can buy it on Amazon, and if you have any desires at all to follow in our footsteps, you should get a copy and read it at least five times. Don’s message from the beginning is that “Mexico is not for everyone.” You need to have a sense of adventure. Obviously. You cannot be obsessive-compulsive about neatness, punctuality or living an orderly life. You must be patient. That one bears repeating – YOU MUST BE PATIENT. As he points out continually, there is a vast difference between being a tourist in Mexico and living here full time.

OK – we read it all and said to ourselves and each other, “Of course. We understand that.” But there is no way to understand it until you experience it. Primarily because of the language barrier and the cultural differences, conducting day-to-day business becomes a real challenge. Every day.

For example, we have learned that the previous owner of our house did not seek and receive any building permits to build the house. This means that when Manuel (our contractor) goes to the municipal office to seek permits to build the second story, the clerk will look at the file on our property and say “But there is no house there to build on to.” What would happen next is anyone’s guess. Perhaps we would have to pay the delinquent permit fees (at $120 MXP per square meter, that would be $10,800 MXP, or about a thousand dollars). But wait, there’s more! We might also have to pay fines and penalties of an as-yet-undetermined amount. It also could mean that the rather modest property tax of about $35 per year would be re-assessed for the past ten years and we (as the current owners of the house) would have to pay the difference.

Fortunately, we have a good lawyer (we think). His name is Sergio Santana, and for less than $500, he will prepare a packet for the municipal officials which shows that the house was already built when we bought the property (this requires lots of pictures). He will make several trips to Valle de Banderas, the equivalent of the county seat, and maybe one to the state capitol in Tepic to convince the officials that we do not owe the past penalties or the original fees. How he will do this is too complicated to explain here. Then he will assist in getting the appropriate permits to build the second story.

This is not a catastrophic or even an unusual situation. It happens all the time, and must be taken in stride. But it was unexpected. And it illustrates one of the other points Don Adams makes in his book – expect the unexpected. Always.

These unexpected events, in varying degrees of magnitude, occur just about every day. Jerry and I are both good problem-solvers, but we lack the necessary cultural tools and language skills to make the right choices in many cases. So we rely on new friends to help us. We have been very lucky in that regard.

So why are we here? And why do we stay here? At the end of a long, hot and humid day, when we have made two trips back and forth between Vallarta and Bucerias (40 minutes each way) to get copies of documents or pick up an item that is needed right now, we do get a little weary. The feelings of helplessness or frustration in not being able to express needs or wants can be quite overwhelming, something we could not possibly have appreciated ahead of time. The internet chatter and forums make it look easy, seamless. Big shock for some, upon arrival and believe it or not, many folks move here and are quite indignant that English isn't widely spoken.

But where else can you fall asleep at night to the sound of geckos chirping? Wake up to the bluest sky you ever saw? Paint your house any color you want? Never worry about heating bills? Pick limes, bananas and orchids from your back yard? Experience a smile and a cheerful greeting from everyone you pass on the street? Eat fresh, ripe mangoes every day? Buy the most delicious taco you ever ate from a smiling vendor on the street corner for five pesos (45 cents)? Accompanied by a glass of cold watermelon juice? Experience thunder and lightning so intense that it sets off every car alarm in the neighborhood? Then feel the rush of coolness from the rain showers that make everything fresh again and turn the surrounding jungle (jungle!) an unimaginable variety of green hues? Feel completely safe from gangs, road rage and random gunfire? Receive excellent health care from a caring and compassionate doctor for about a tenth of the price US?

We’re staying right where we are.


Anonymous said...

I ran into your blog, and must say that I LOVE your art!!!! Always liked the whimsical side of art best, and anything of la vida mexicana.... so I'm sold.

I also notice that you are from Portand. My husband and I have lived in Lincoln City, Or for 18 years. We also have two homes in La Cruz, have been spending part of the winter there since 1995.

Maybe we will run into you one of these days (Sergio has been our atty for years also.)

Where can I find your art in Bucerias?? We will be down there only from the 10th - 21st of this month, and I am doing a bit of decorating at Casa Susana.

Sue Lyons

Roxana M Reagon said...

Karen and Jerry ~

I was fortunate enough to be a guest in your yard (for Spanish classes with Sean) this past Tuesday. Having read all your web pages and looked at Flickr phots and art, I can tell you without a doubt that I am delighted to have finally met you at last!

Your final paragraph on this portion of your blog is exactly what I've been telling folks en El Norte for the past ten years, but I'm sure I haven't expressed it as eloquently as you have. None of them have a REAL inkling of the deep-seated excitement one who lives here feels when they, with fresh-brewed mountain coffee in hand, open their kitchen door and wander out on a brand new morning! It's like no other feeling I've ever experienced. Thank you for writing it so well.