YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and where did you move from and why did you move?
El Maloso: Let’s see. This is not your typical ex-pat story. For one thing, my wife and I were still young! There was no divorce, no termination papers, no retirement and no frustration with the fast paced life in the so-called first world. In other words, there was no eye-opening, life changing moment. So for those readers looking for juicy gossip, sorry.
It was 1987; my wife and I were working in the hospitality industry in Vancouver, B.C. and received an offer to jointly open and manage a 250-seat restaurant in sunny Cancun. We thought this was a great opportunity for both of us as we were to be involved in the process of creating the restaurant, from the kitchen to the cutlery. And our kids could grow up in what I thought would be a saner environment – more family oriented – than what I was seeing in Canada.
We were welcomed almost immediately by the fury of hurricane Gilbert in ’88 resulting in economic woes for the Cancun hotel and restaurant industry. Then the owners of the restaurant sold out to a time-share company and our management contract was over. This pushed us from the Caribbean side of the peninsula to Merida, where we arrived in 1990.
YL: Why did you choose the city you live in over other places in the world?
El Maloso: What, you didn’t read the tremendous run-on sentences in the previous answer?
YL: What did you plan to do after you moved here?
El Maloso: There were two things I wanted to do – besides the usual find a place to live and all that mundane stuff – when I thought about living in Mexico; first, buy a white Jeep with big fat tires and second, learn to speak Mayan.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?
El Maloso: Well we have a beautiful house and garden and rewarding jobs. However, I neither drive a white Jeep – or any other color for that matter – nor do I speak Mayan.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
El Maloso: Having family in the Yucatan, we lived in a ‘borrowed’ apartment in Cancun, enjoying the spacious accommodations and lovely neighborhood that characterize your typical Cancun ‘supermanzana’. Once we moved to Merida, construction began on our present home on the outskirts of the formerly white city. Having a house outside of Merida rather than in some questionably fashionable neighborhood, was a great decision.
YL: Now that you live here, how do you like it?
El Maloso: I absolutely love the house and garden we have built, the friendships we have developed, the Yucatecan food and the relaxed pace of life. While the negatives might include the lack of some services, the abominable state of most of Mérida’s streets and the extremely laid back style of most suppliers (plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, electricians etc.) these are mostly things I can live with. What is somewhat harder to digest is a little deeper – the hypocrisy of the so-called devoutly religious, the overt racism, the lack of concern about the ongoing destruction of the environment and the incompetence and outright cynicism of the politicians.
YL: Would you ever return to your former location?
El Maloso: I would not rule out returning to Canada, perhaps on a part-time, half a year here, half a year there basis. It is a door I am not closing anytime soon, especially one considers the very real possibility of a repetition of the Mayans disappearance (massive deforestation, water depletion, civil war). Such positive thinking! Then again, I might not. Some sort of international long-stay travel might be the ticket, balancing the attractions of and sights of other places with the peace and quiet of our home in Merida.
YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living where you lived before?
El Maloso: Vancouver vs. M erida? Everything is different, in a striking way. Vancouver is in Canada. Merida is in Mexico. Weather. Supermarkets. Streets. Police. Society. Newspapers. News. T.V. Food. People. Government. Taxes.
YL: What do you love about living here?
El Maloso: Let’s see: Queso Relleno, definitely; the best IMHO is at the Hacienda Teya, and the Poc Chuc in Mani; being able to wear summer clothing practically year round; a fresh, chilled mango on a hot day; swimming in an underground cave with the sunlight gleaming through the rock ceiling is magical; no points off your driver’s license for speeding; the history and the feel of the old haciendas; the magic of walking among and climbing around unexplored, tree covered ruins in the roped-off sections of the Mayan archeological sites.
YL: What do you miss from your “former life”?
El Maloso: It’s funny but I would say the cold. After 18 years of humid heat, sometimes on a visit back to B.C., it is so refreshing to step outside and feel cold air in my lungs.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here?
El Maloso: It’s a challenge. As far as the government goes, the more legal and forthcoming you want to be, the worse off you are financially. It is sanest to keep a low profile and comply with regulations and such as they are presented to you. The phrase ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’ also applies to business. Be prepared to adjust constantly as the rules of the game are changed. As for suppliers and contractors, one must get used to the fact that these will not act like in Canada or the U.S.; you will have to actually pester them to sell you something. Delivery times and termination of jobs will also be a lot longer than up there.
YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?
El Maloso: In my case, no. But you cannot expect to come here and work for someone else in the normal wage per hour sense as you can in the US or Canada. The wages are simply too low and you will starve unless you adopt a very modest Mexican lifestyle which in many cases resembles what us folks up north would call camping.
YL: Do you work as much as you used to “back home” or are your work habits different here?
El Maloso: As a business owner, the responsibilities are greater but owning your time is priceless. I work less now than when I had to work shifts and stick to a schedule. In fact, don’t tell my boss, but I am doing this interview on ‘company time’!
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
El Maloso: Tourists will see the ‘attractions’ and find them interesting and lovely. “Oh look, honey: the typical dancers with trays of bottles and glasses are dancing in front of the Palacio Municipal- how charming!” Residents will have to deal with the infrastructure, which in many cases (police, state government, et al) is still very third world. A clear example of this is the two offices the municipality has set up in their municipal palacio. One is for tourism – all glass, air conditioned and flat screen LCD monitors on the computers and quite modern, the other is for the residents making payments on property taxes – open air, no air conditioning obviously, three dirty cashier windows, old PC’s with dot matrix printers. After a while, as a resident, unless maybe if you actually live there, you don’t want to fight the traffic to downtown anymore, regardless of how many colorfully-garbed jarana dancers will be balancing bottles on their heads that night.
YL: How is your Spanish?
El Maloso: It’s pretty good. When I first came to Mexico and heard how some gringos were mangling the language and getting ridiculed behind their backs, I vowed not to be like them – probably because ridicule is not my favorite form of getting attention and also because it was just plain embarrassing. I mean some of these gringos had been in Mexico for 15 years! So I called up some imitation skills – I used to do a mean Ronald Reagan – learned the basic vowel sounds and I was off.
YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your day to day life?
El Maloso: Nope. I flip back and forth pretty fluently. It does become a problem though, when the mind inserts Spanish words when you are speaking English and vice versa. Sometimes the vocabulary gets intertwined.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone planning a move to the Yucatan?
El Maloso: Don’t pay attention to the romantics. Don’t get confused – the novelty will wear off and the exotic and charming will become what they really are – exotic becomes just plain different and perhaps irritating and charming often becomes rather disgusting. Take a look at the real estate sites that advertise properties in the Yucatan. There are DUMPS for sale for 30,000 USD in some out of the way place like Tecoh or Uman and yet, if you were to believe the accompanying copy, the place is the potential house of your dreams! Unless your self-esteem is at an all time low and you live in a run down trailer park outside Detroit, it most certainly is NOT! Another example: the market, for example, is not charming, it’s disgusting. So dispel any romantic notions and analyze a possible move to the Yucatan coldly, with your brain, not your heart.
How to achieve this state of unflinching analysis? Come visit and stay a while. Rent a place of your own for a month or three. Visit the hospitals, the police station, the ayuntamiento. Do some shopping – not for trinkets, shop for groceries, take your car (if you have one) to a mechanic. Have something fixed in your rental place, just for fun. Enjoy. If you find you are not minding some of the minor inconveniences, by all means consider a longer-term stay. And definitely talk to locals about investing in real estate – find out where the growth is, where the crime is, where the water is scarce, where changes are happening that will affect your investment.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?
El Maloso: No.
YL: If you aren’t, do you think you will become one?
El Maloso: Not if it means giving up my Canadian citizenship. The information I get is always mixed. Mexican officials say “Surrender your Canadian passport”. I don’t think so.
YL: Why would or wouldn’t you?
El Maloso: Even after having lived here for this long, I am still proud of being Canadian. Internationally, Canada has a great reputation and having the privilege to be a Canadian citizen is not something that one should just toss aside, given the state of the world today. Did you know that Canada has possibly the world’s largest reserves of fresh water? Of course you did. A major commodity that will at one point be in very short supply, which means that when George and Co stop fighting for oil, they will start fighting for water. But I digress. Becoming a Mexican wouldn’t make any difference in my life except that perhaps I would be able to own property outright or vote. Of the two, owning property would be the most attractive. But property can be owned without being a Mexican national. So what is my motivation?
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
El Maloso: For the most part, I feel welcome. Not only welcome, but also privileged in the sense that since I am not considered a “Yucatecan”, which would imply adhering to certain pre-established rules of societal conduct, I am free of those limitations. While I still feel like an outsider at times, it is a feeling that I, in particular, find liberating and not at all unpleasant.
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico?
El Maloso: Pessimistic, in that I feel there is great economic potential but that it will come at great cost; cultural and environmental.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
El Maloso: Buy a large property, preferably with a whole lot of native vegetation (jungle) and build a small private palapa home in the middle with some sort of cenote to keep me cool on those hot April and May nights. Then, bequeath the property to the state after I die to leave Yucatan with at least one little patch of greenery amidst all the depressing cement and concrete.
YL: Do you see your business growing?
El Maloso: Yes.
YL: Do you see yourself staying?
El Maloso: Yes.
YL: Any last words?
No place is perfect. There are stupid people everywhere. Make a positive impact wherever you live.
Note: El Maloso, called Ralf by some, is the first online expatriate in Yucatan and has been posting his pithy observations on NotTheNews for years. He owns and operates Mayan Xic, located in La Gran Plaza Shopping Mall.