YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Valerie: I left Canada 3 years ago, heading to Ticul to teach English in a small private school with no expectations of actually living in the Yucatan.
YL: Why did you move?
Valerie: My idea was to come and teach English with the hopes of learning Spanish. I wasn’t really thinking on making a life here but planned to continue travelling through Central and South America.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Valerie: I think Ticul and especially Santa Elena where I now reside chose me. While visiting Merida during my three weeks in Progreso, doing a teacher’s practicum, I had a chance meeting with a lady whose father had lived in Ticul for over 30 years. She knew of a small private school there that was looking or would be looking for a teacher in Sept of 2004. I returned to Canada with the email address of Martha, the school owner and I began corresponding with her. She accepted my offer of work and so I started my journey in Yucatan. I became very fond of the place, the people, the culture and did not have the desire to return to Canada after two years here.
I don’t believe in coincidences; everything in life happens for a reason. The next happening was a chance meeting with a hotel owner from Santa Elena. During conversations with her she mentioned that Santa Elena lacked a decent restaurant to which I replied "Well, I don’t mind cooking!" From this encounter sprung a restaurant on the Ruta Puuc which I now own and operate.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Valerie: It took about two years to decide on my next action. Building the restaurant was an interesting experience, but I had great help from Santiago, the husband of the hotel owner. The construction took from April 2006 to December 2006. We opened on Christmas day 2006 without electricity, which took another 6 weeks to install.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?
Valerie: As you can see by now, there were no plans. I just go where the wind blows me!
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you? What do you absolutely love?
Valerie: Oh, I just love the people. Here in Santa Elena, they are sweet with a great sense of humour. Even though the restaurant can be quite busy at times, it is such a beautiful location and it brings me lots of tranquility and peace. To see the sun in the morning and hear the birds singing and watch the corn swaying in the fields, the moon rising and the stars that shine SOOO bright is breathtaking. It is always a wonderment.
YL: What do you miss from your “former life”?
Valerie: At times, my children and grandchildren, but I know that they are all doing fine. And I believe that home is where the heart is.
YL: What don’t you miss from your “former life”?
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Valerie: Locally made empanadas with Chaya and queso relleno.
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Valerie: ALL year, even in the heat of summer. I love it!
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Valerie: My restaurant, of course! And I like to take them to Uxmal as I live so near and it is so great.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Valerie: Well I do get tired of my own cooking occasionally. The last time I went out to eat was at the Hacienda Ochil for a Sunday lunch. It was lovely and the ambiance was great too.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Valerie: Santa Elena is one of your typical Mayan villages and therefore has retained its charm, though with the influence of Americans dollars things are slowly beginning to change. It really is a tourist spot along the way to Uxmal and other places. Seeing through the eyes of a tourist, a tourist would consider the people quite poor but living here, one see things through different eyes.
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?
Valerie: Yes, I do have friends here from the community and don’t get much time to hang out in Merida with the expats.
YL: What is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?
Valerie: Having had a business in England and in Canada, I have had lots of experiences. Here it just takes a little longer to get the show on the road. But there are great lessons in patience. My employees make things much easier for me and always arrive with a smile on their faces ready to start work and they work hard. I feel so lucky to have them around me. Never do I ask them to do something I would not do myself.
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Valerie: It is equal wherever you are. It all depends on your disposition and attitude toward life.
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Valerie: I should say "Yes!" to this as in the past my hardest thing to learn was to delegate. So I look upon this venture as my own personal lesson in life. Learn to delegate! and its working! I do work at a much slower pace. Even though it is a long day, things still get done. How great is that? I just don’t get as stressed as I would back home.
YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Valerie: No, I did not know much Spanish when I arrived and have learned as I have gone along. I take every opportunity to study and continue studying. The language only becomes a barrier when the staff burst into Maya when it gets busy, but body language is easy to understand.
YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?
Valerie: Gracias a dios! "Thanks to god". It is just a common expression out here.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Valerie: No, I am not a Mexican citizen as I carry two passports now: one English and one Canadian. I am not sure at this point what it would take to become a Mexican citizen and have not really thought too much about it. It took me 20 years to become a Canadian citizen so who knows how long it will be before I consider another one! I’m also not sure if I can carry three passports.
YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favorite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?
Valerie: I have travelled around the peninsula and I like Merida very much for all the cultural activity that it provides. But my heart is here in Santa Elena. Also I like Lake Bacalar because of its blue waters; to swim in them was exhilarating, like swimming in the cenotes.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Valerie: I have not come across too much resentment; more commonly I feel welcome for being able to give employment. I feel I have great communication skills and one can do this in any language. But through the grapevine I hear the town people like me, so that’s good!
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?
Valerie: It is certainly growing in tourism and I feel it is a good thing.
YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?
Valerie: I am happy with the way things are and I can see progress happening.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Valerie: Right now to continue developing the grounds, planting trees, flowers etc. I want to employ more people. I would really like to turn the restaurant and grounds into a more of a spiritual retreat, but little by little.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Valerie: Mmmmm… well… I would advise that you leave all your mental and emotional baggage behind in your country. Take a deep breath, let go of all your old hostilities, and get ready to embark on a new adventure in life. Life is an adventure and we are here to experience everything to its fullest.
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
Valerie: A great big "Thank You!" for your patience with a foreigner and thanks for the laughs you have given me and for your warmth. Nowhere else have I ever felt such comfort.
YL: If there is anything else you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan, former Yucatecans, people planning to visit for an extended tour…), please add them here:
Valerie: Live day to day! What happened yesterday has gone. Today is new life!
Editors Note: Valerie Pickle and her staff run the restaurant called The Pickled Onion. Next time you take a visitor out to Uxmal, make plans to stop in Santa Elena for lunch. The surrounding village and the central church there are also worth a visit.