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Valerie Pickle

Valerie Pickle and her employees

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”?

Valerie: SNOW!

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.

The Pickled Onion in Santa Elena

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.


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38 Responses to “Valerie Pickle”

  1. hi valerie thanks for giving such an inspiring inteview!!!
    I am a mexican from the state of jalisco and my wife is from the state of veracruz.
    we live in las vegas, nevada usa and we are planning to move to yucatan.
    i manage a restaurant and have worked in restaurants for the past 13 years (i am now 33 years old). reading your article took away my fears about starting a business in a land where i have never been. (yes, like most mexicans, i have never visited the yucatan) so reading the interview gave me faith in doing what i’ve been dreaming for the past year.
    thank you !!!

  2. Valerie,

    What a great interview. You are like an onion, every time we speak, or now, seeing your interview little layers peel away and I learn something new about you. What a great adventure we are on.
    I was taken with your statement “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.” This should be required reading for every gringo coming out into the world.

    Good to see the picture of you here, and my how your staff has grown. I am so pleased things are going so well.

    Looking forward to seeing you – soon! Here or There

    Debi in Merida

  3. Your final piece of advice is utterly essential no matter if one is in Yucatan, New York , Houston, or Toronto. Thank you for it.

  4. Hi Valerie – we stumbled across this article and are thrilled to see that things are still going so well for you and that your business has obviously grown (it was just David & yourslf when we were there). We ate at your restaurant a number of times during our trip in March 2007 and you treated us like royalty with such personal service and amazing food! As we sit here in the cold and snow, your words of wisdom are inspiring. Take care and we hope to see you again.

    Rick & Thea Connery (Calgary, Canada – ex Essex, UK)

  5. Sometimes, we get the idea that our choices, in Yucatan, are the beach and Merida… I am a “country girl” at heart – so I tend to keep looking back over my shoulder at the southern part of the state. It is so nice to see an expat living in what I would call “the country” and loving it.

  6. Hi Valerie,
    What a perfect attitude you have. Respectful, optimistic, contemplative, generous. I bet this comes through in the food you prepare – makes me want to jump in the car and buzz down to SE. See you soon!
    Beryl

  7. Enjoyed the lengthy interview. Not just a paragraph or two – but a more indepth National Public Radio type interview. My wife and I hope to come over from Valladolid some day and eat at your restaurant. Can we view your menu on line and what about directions to your restaurant?

    JOHN and DORIANNE VENATOR

  8. Greetings Valerie,
    I am so excited to see your restaurant is open and thriving. You have done wonderful things with the property since I last saw it in December 2006. Thank you for sharing a cup of tea with me – before you had even opened. You are such a wise and warm hearted woman. I hope I will see you again one day.
    Meanwhile, I’m telling everyone in Tacoma and Seattle about The Pickled Onion!
    All the best,
    C.A. Cosgrove
    Tacoma, Washington, USA

  9. Hi Valerie, Not sure you will remember me, I’m a friend of Jackie Moxon, I think we met at Eden. Loved your story, so inspiring. My daughter Jenn and I started a catering business in 2005, we feed the seniors at the David Durward Centre, but who knows maybe the Yucatan or some other place will beckon me. I’m sure it was a lot of hard work, but it sounds heavenly!

  10. My heart is full of joy, after reading Your article I have been going to the Yucatan area for 6 years in a row. Mexico is always on MY mind ,I live in the state of Maine USA, its way to cold and the People are getting colder by the day in USA!!! I miss the genuine true People of the Maya,I know They are so proud,and work hard at what They do. I plan on going to Merida on Our next visit, and look forward to seeing and talking with You, as I am counting the days untill We can move to the Great Country of Mexico…Love to You and good Health, Ifeel like I have always Known You just from this article…TimPerry P.S> If You would ever like to drop Me an E-mail just to chat with asoon to be Expat….timperry1953 [at] hotmail [dot] com Adios!!!!!

  11. What a wonderful interview! It very well captured the essence of Valarie. Not only is the food at the Pickled Onion a real treat, but it is a real treat to visit with Valarie as well. It is well worth the trip from Merida…very relaxing and serene.
    Rainie Bowie

  12. Hi Valerie–I have just bought a house in Merida, in Santa Lucia to be exact. I’m a New Zealander living in LA and now about to move, at least part time, to the Yucatan. It was most inspiring reading your words on life there, I hope to find the same peace and joy there that you have.

    On another note, that Sunday brunch at Hacienda Ochil IS delicious, we loved it. When we are next there we will come and visit you at the Pickled Onion, I can’t wait!!

  13. Hello Valerie.
    I’m so happy for you and your succses. You are wonderfull person. You made me think, ones again.! I’m looking for a place to live for a two years now, and did not fined the right one, jet. With your warm introduction of the place you live in Santa Elena and Yucatan people. I think that I fined the right spot. Life is wonderfull so do you. The article is great and you and your “Picled Onion” looks wonderfull too. Take care my friend. Hugs Zl.

  14. Valerie!!!!! So great to see some publicity for you. We were there in July with our daughter and the couple meals we had in your WONDERFUL place were delightful. We stayed at the Sacbe cabins right across the street from your restaraunt and finding you with your warm smiles, friendly conversation, yummy food and beautiful ambiance was one of the blessings of our trip. We look forward to our next visit. All the best to you and your fantastic staff!!!

  15. My wife and two children will be moving into our new condo near Puerto Villarta in early Feb. Thank you for the encouragement of your article as we venture into familiar but relative unknown territory. We are excited as well as a little nervous about how life will change for us.

  16. My husband and I ate at the Pickled Onion last February on our way through the Yucatan, we loved it! The food was delicious, and the girls working in the kitchen came out afer out meal and chatted with us about Santa Elena and Maya ways. (It was late and our group of 6 were the only customers at the time) i am dreaming of retirement soon and a move to the Yucatan…… thank you for wonderful stories like this and great photos!!!

  17. Valerie

    Loved the article. My first experience at the Pickled Onion is one that I will never forget in that it was my 60th birthday in April 2007 and Valerie and David put on such a wonderful diner for us. The weather even made the night complete with a storm that threatened to blow us right out of the restaurant and forced us to move 3 times during the diner to stay or attempt to stay dry. We ate every night at the Pickeled Onion during our stay at the Flycatcher Inn in Santa Elena in April and again when we returned to the Yucatan in December. Wonderful food, the advacado soup is delightful my favourite and if you are staying in the area I would also recommend her boxed lunches for those travelling on the Ruta Puuc.

    Give my love to David and his sister and I hope to see you again in the future.

    Allan

  18. I love the Pickled Onion and take people there every chance I get! Valerie is a wonderful person and a great cook. Her staff is lovely and she treats them so well it is no surprise that they love her. Valerie is only getting started here. Can’t wait to see what is next.

  19. Hi Valerie, I was wondering if you have a website and also an email or any way of which to contact you? I am coming to Yucatan in May and would love to visit your restaurant! I’ve been scouring the web for an address but the closest I can find is that it’s near to the Flycatcher Inn! Please email me dubyadotdot [at] yahoo [dot] com many thanks!

  20. Thank you so much for publishing this great article. Valerie is such an inspiration. I do believe, just like you do Valerie, that everything happens for a reason. I have been planning to go to Merida and the surrounding areas for a long time. I was in Cancun many years ago, for my honeymoon, and now my last child is about to leave home to go to college, which means that I will have enough free time to do it. I am very excited about finally travelling to the Yucatan Peninsula once again! I for sure will visit you and will taste your great food, I am sure I will love it! Take good care of yourself, and I will see you soon!! Adios por ahora, Zandra

  21. Hi there Valerie, your interview was very interesting and your cafe sounds wonderful. We are actually wanting to move to Merida this summer and want to open up a restaurant. It can be a little scary but this a dream of ours.Can you give us any helpful tips on where to start and how to do it in Mexico. We would really like to know how hands on we can be in our buisness, what is allowed? We want to find a place where we can live and open up our buisness to start, have any suggestions? Look forward to hearing from you, thanks!

  22. My husband, brother and myself love Valerie, her staff and her food. We can not recommend it highly enough. We always eat there when we stay at the Flycatcher Inn. Her box lunches are terrific and very economical. They are a must when you are travelling to the pyramid sites in the region. Like Trudy, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  23. [...] readers to miss out on a day at the fair, even if they were kind enough to say that dinner at the Pickled Onion made up for it. My apologies again to Carol, Alfred (from Hotel Macanche) and any others. However, [...]

  24. I will be spending some time in the Merida area and would like to get in touch with Valerie. Her interview was very informative. I would like to relocate to the area & have some questions she may be able to answer for me. Any help in this matter would be appreciated. Thanks

  25. We also will be relocating to Merida this summer and would love to get in touch with Valerie. I was also wondering if she could answer some questions for me. Thanks, any help would also be very much appreciated.

  26. Hola Valeri,
    It was very nice meeting you on May 21, 2008, my husband and I went to your restaurant after we read about you in the Yucatan Living website. I am originally from El Salvador and my husband from St Louis, Missouri. It is amazing how we felt in love with Yucatan already! We hope to see you soon as we have plans to visit later in the fall. Thank you for the non-alcoholic Sol you gave me and to show me the meaning of the word Flycatcher which is the Yucatecan Mosquero Bird! Thank you for a wonderful meal and for showing us your lovely casita and pool. Love, Dennis and Maria

  27. My wife and I just returned from a week in Yucatan and Q Roo – were chased off the coast by Arthur – ha! We were staying at Uxmal, and one day while returning from a smaller site on the Ruta Puuc, my wife saw the Onion and said it looked neat. That night we returned for a wonderful dinner – thanks Valeri! Even though she was the only one working (this being the down season) and there were two other couples there, Valeri took lots of time to chat. Highly recommended and we’ll be there again. Only today upon returning to the States did I find this website and interview with Valeri.

    ps all you touristas visiting the ruins – take the time to go see Ek Balam. It’s a little out of the way (north of Valladolid) but well worth it: massive structures and no vendors inside like Chichen.
    Love, Tom and Laura

  28. hola valerie,
    found your interview when I was gooleing around. Hope you and everybody else in lovely SE is doing fine. We will be back in February 2009. Stay well, and please keep us informed if there are important news from SE.
    A big hug!!
    Stephan y Alma

  29. Message for Valerie:

    We dined at the Pickled Onion several times last year. We are bringing a group next February and would like to have lunch with you one day. There will be about 18 of us. How can we get in touch with you to reserve?

  30. Hello Valerie,
    I’m very pleased to find this article about you. My husband and I dined at your restaurant just over a year ago and enjoyed the delicious veggie choices you offered. As I am also a Valerie and from Canada and a great lover of the Yucatan, we shared a few stories from our respective pasts and hopes for the future. So glad you are continuing to do well! We plan to stop by the next time we are in Santa Elena and will spread the word.
    Until then, all the best,
    Valerie

  31. [...] Ticul Fiesta: 3 Day Event This fiesta is in honor of San Román. Ticul is a shopper’s paradise. This is where you want to go for the gorgeous red clay pottery you see throughout Merida and beyond. There are several artisan cooperatives in a variety of fields here. For example, you can also purchase locally made jewelry, hats, embroidery, woven material, and shoes in Ticul. Debi in Merida made it out to the fair in Ticul in March and posted a great article about one of the local potters. On your way, don’t forget to stop in Santa Elena and have lunch at the Pickled Onion. You can read Yucatan Living’s interview with Valerie Pickle here. [...]

  32. Hello Valerie,
    I will be joining Reg & Larry for Christmas dinner at the Pickle Onion..looking forward to meeting you and enjoying your fare.
    Great article!
    A fellow Canadian living in the Yucatan,
    Jacquie

  33. Thank you for all the nice replies to this article if you would like to contact me my email is Valerie6971 [at] hotmail [dot] com
    Valerie from the pickled onion.

  34. I loved the Pickled Onion, my husband and I ate there aevery night while in Uxmal. The food was great – especially the Mole, and Valerie and her staff were delightful.

  35. [...] Ticul Fiesta: 3 Day Event – Sept. 3 through Sept. 5 This fiesta is in honor of San Román. Ticul is a shopper’s paradise. This is where you want to go for the gorgeous red clay pottery you see throughout Merida and beyond. There are several artisan cooperatives in a variety of fields here. For example, you can also purchase locally made jewelry, hats, embroidery, woven material, and shoes in Ticul. Debi in Merida made it out to the fair in Ticul in March and posted a great article about one of the local potters. On your way, don’t forget to stop in Santa Elena and have lunch at the Pickled Onion. You can read Yucatan Living’s interview with Valerie Pickle here.  [...]

  36. me encanto esta historia. Saludos desde Ticul Yucatan Mexico!

    (Translation: I love this story! Greetings from Ticul, Yucatan, Mexico!)

  37. Excelente articulo Valerie, estuvimos apenas hace una semana solo 1 dia hospedados, nuestros planes no eran pasar por ahi, sin embargo, por algo pasan las cosas y nos encontramos con tan acogedor lugar.
    Greetings from San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

  38. Things have moved on a lot with The Pickled Onion since this interview, but the ethics are still the same. The restaurent is indeed very good, but try staying in one of the ecological palabas which Valerie has now, and you will really have a treat. We were there this autumn, and stayed far longer than expected. There is so much to do in the area too, and it was lovely coming “home” to Valerie each evening. Go on. Spoil yourselves.

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