Easter in Querétaro

Easter in Querétaro

So much to say, today, but first, I want to focus on my Sophie Poodle.

It is Easter here. Ninety-plus percent of the people in Mexico are Catholic. That makes Easter one of the biggest holidays of the year, here. In Querétaro, most businesses shut down from Thursday to Sunday. People are everywhere! Strolling down the streets, hanging out in the plazas with their families, shopping — you name it. They are out there doing it.

In addition to the locals, there are a lot of tourists from around Mexico and beyond taking in the sites. Festivities range from street fairs and church events to concerts and frequent fireworks. This is where poor Sophie’s story begins.

Fireworks

Being downtown is a blessing and a curse. It is great to be within walking distance of all the colonial buildings, plazas and historic sites, but it also means that we can hear everything. While I love the sound of the cathedral bells, the street musicians, and the crowing of the local rooster, there are some sounds that are not as pleasant.

For example, they are always working on the streets, and every night you can hear music from the plazas and various arenas around the area, sometimes well past midnight. Since Wednesday night — the start of the Easter holiday week — they have been setting off fireworks. Sometimes during the day, the construction involves destruction. It frequently sounds like things exploding or guns being fired. These noises have Sophie absolutely terrified!

For a big dog, she’s quite a baby when it comes to things she doesn’t understand. She starts shaking uncontrollably, which leads to heavy panting, followed by attempting to hide in a corner, or more likely, my lap. We have tried giving her some Xanax the the veterinarian gave us, but it doesn’t do much good. So we just try to comfort her the best we can. Poor baby!

Izzy, meanwhile, could care less. I’m hoping today will be the end of it so Sophie can relax a little before we send her off to the boarder Monday night. Yep, another big stressor. She hates riding in the car. At least she doesn’t scream like her sister. I feel sorry for these people who will  be taking care of them while we are in Texas. We will only be gone two days, but the dogs will be at the boarders for three nights, due to the timing of our flights. I’m sure they will all be fine. I just worry about them.

San Miguel de Allende

Yesterday, we took a drive in our new car to San Miguel de Allende. We’ve heard so much about it. It is only about an hour’s drive from here, although newbies that we are, we missed the turn off and had to go a little farther (duh).

First view of the cathedral
First view of the cathedral

Easter weekend was not the best time to go there. There is a really big cathedral there where thousands of people flock for the holiday. The streets are very narrow and very steep. So much so, in fact, that the police stopped letting people drive into the town. We were pretty much forced to park our car on the outskirts of the area and walk. It didn’t help that we had no idea where we were going. Like sheep, we followed the herd into town, which led us down a VERY narrow and VERY steep street. The street was so steep, that a taxi trying to drive up it became stuck.

Poor Lyn has bad knees, and the walk down was not so much fun for him. We made it, though, and found the church. Of course, it was opposite a plaza, where there were food vendors and people selling charms, rosaries and what not. I bought a couple of things — a rosary made of paper beads and some key chains to send to friends for gifts.

It turned out that Tiffany and Tom were also in San Miguel for the weekend, so we arranged to meet them for lunch. We ate at a charming cafe called Correo. Of course, it was on the street named Correo as well. A small place, it held maybe 10 tables, all apparently filled by non-natives. Lots of Americans and, I assume Canadians.

The food was traditional Mexican and delicious. We had sopas to share — soft fluffy tortillas topped with chicken, cheese and tomatoes. Delicious! The hot sauces here are quite hot. Fortunately I had a large and tasty Sangria with vodka to wash it all down! For lunch, Lyn had steak and I had albondigas (meatballs) and rice.

San Miguel de Allende market
The market

Afterward, Tom and Tiffany took us to a local market. It was huge! Inside was everything from food to home decor. Lots of traditional Mexican ceramics, pewter and tile mirrors, and, of course, embroidered clothing and purses. I passed on the purchases, although I coveted many things. Our new house is fully decorated and I can’t imagine where I might put anything new!

Moving Progress

That said, we are almost completely moved in to our new house. We brought all but one box over the other day. Having a car is great! All of it fit in our new Fit. We will still have to get our clothes and other things over there this week.

We brought the car into town yesterday. It is parked in a secure lot, which, of course, isn’t open today. So, tomorrow I will try to get some other things moved over so that when we get back from Dallas on Wednesday, we will be able to bring the dogs and cats over there and start living.

 

 

 

Blessed with Good Fortune

Blessed with Good Fortune

It always amazes me when, somehow, all of our blessings become evident all at once. This has been one of those weeks. And, as I look back at this past month, I cannot believe just how much we have achieved.

Apostille

After two weeks of waiting, and several days of panic, our marriage certificate with Apostille arrived yesterday. Don’t think I just sat around waiting! (Don’t you know me by now?) I started calling FedEx last week to see what was going on. Then, this week, one of our colleagues at Globoworld joined in the effort. He is local and has contacts in FedEx and in the Aduana (customs). He called on my behalf, as well, and I also took the extreme actions of emailing the Mexican Consulate in Dallas and reaching out to the US embassy to explain the situation and solicit help.

Whether it was the frequent calls or attempting to add some pressure from above, something shook loose, and we finally got our package yesterday. Just in the nick of time, since today started the Holy Week holidays here when most everything is closed.

Bottom line — we have all the documentation we need to get our permanent residency visas.

Car

Another delay we experienced was in the purchasing of a car. They do not let “extranjeros” just buy a car. You have to prove residency. We provided the dealership with our lease and paid by wire transfer, thinking it would help ease the beaurocratic headaches.

Yes. And No. The idea was a good one, but actually making the wire transfer was quite complicated. The problem centered around the fact that we now have local phone numbers. Wells Fargo, where we have had accounts for 16 years, will not accept foreign phone numbers. But, here, you cannot open a bank account without a local number, which is why we changed them.

In addition, the cost of a one-year prepaid plan here for both of us was less than our typical monthly rate in the US. Seemed like a no-brainer to me! And, we still have international calling and plenty of data.

We had no idea that Wells Fargo — our bank — would now become a problem. I do almost all my banking online. It is so much easier. No checks, no postage, no problem. If I need cash, I go to an ATM. Of course, here, I get charged fees every time I use the ATM. For that reason, it seemed to make sense to open a bank account here.

You see where this is going.

To make this story a bit shorter, the answer to our problems involved calling our financial adviser and having her make the transfer, which she did. You might think that would be the end of it, right? No.

We still had to wait for four days for the money to arrive in the account of the dealership. Then, after signing my life away and paying even more money (the delay in the transfer resulted in a different currency rate), to pay the account in full, get temporary plates, and a year’s worth of insurance, we were told we could pick up our car… tomorrow (Thursday).

Phew.

Interesting note — we cannot drive the car in Mexico City because the laws there are different. Go figure. Thankfully, we have no plans to go to Mexico City.

Move

If I may digress back to the beginning of this post, I want to assure you that, while the process has been a little frustrating, everything we have wanted to or needed to do, we’ve done. Blessings!

Add to that the fact that we have also been renting a house in the suburbs, and you see how lucky we really are. We have stayed in our Airbnb mostly because of the car situation and not wanting to stress the animals any more than is necessary. We’ve planned to move most of our stuff into the house this weekend, although we probably won’t actually move in until after we return from Dallas on Wednesday.

Having the car will really help with the move. We can take multiple trips to get all of our stuff there, and then take the animals over when we are ready. We have paid for our Airbnb until 4/18, so we’ve got time.

While we are away, we have arranged for the dogs to go to Pension 3 Perros. They are so nice. They even offered to pick them up here in el Centro. Because of the timing of our flights, the dogs will stay with them for three nights, even though we will only be away for one.

When we get back and pick them up, we will take them directly to the new house.

TaDa!

So, to recap:

In the space of one month we have:

  • Sold our house in the US
  • Moved to Mexico
  • Opened a bank account
  • Rented a house
  • Bought a car
  • Found jobs
  • Arranged to become residents
  • Made new friends

I would say those are some amazing blessings!

Poodles!

View along Av Universidades A view from our walk this morning. I know the dogs will like our new location, as there are a lot more green spaces there. The community even has a dog park!

Sophie chilling at homeIzzy not wanting her picture takenFYI. It is going to be hot today!

Ex-Pat? Stop Calling Yourself That!

Ex-Pat? Stop Calling Yourself That!

Americans are incredibly duplicitous sometimes. Here we are, living in Mexico, and calling ourselves “ex-pats.” No, we’re immigrants. Just like the Mexicans that go to the US for a better life, we come to Mexico for a better life, or perhaps I should say, a better quality of life. We are NO DIFFERENT. So why to we get to be ex-pats and they are immigrants? Because we think we’re special.

Guess Again

Lyn and I have only been here for three weeks and we have run into a number of challenges. For example, simply opening a bank account requires you to have proof you live here (i.e., a utility bill, etc.) and a local phone number. Fortunately, although my Spanish is pretty good, I was able to find a banker that speaks English (thank you, Tiffany!). In the case of complicated financial or legal matters, it is a bit easier to do in your native language. I can just imaging what it would have been like for Lyn to try to do it on his own in Spanish. He is learning some right now, but very basic stuff at the moment.

Not only did it take several hours in the bank and a mound of papers to sign, but we also had to go and get local phone numbers, which took another two hours and cost several hundred dollars. Best part? The chips won’t work in our phones!!! So, we have paid for two phone plans for a year that we can’t even use. However, we now have two local phone numbers. Ha!

Imagine what it is like to be Mexican in the US, where not only can you not speak the language well, if at all, but you are looked down upon simply because you are from that country south of the US border. You become virtually invisible.

Let’s reverse our scenario and see what that might look like:

  1. You decide you want to live in the US because it is the “land of opportunity.”
  2. You get on a plane with your five suitcases and four animals, rent an airbnb and just go.
  3. You find out that it isn’t that simple. You first have to get residency (oops, I didn’t know that) before you can get a car. And you need a car because the city where you are living has no real public transportation. You don’t know anyone in the US, so you have no one to tell you these things you didn’t know.
  4. You can’t rent an apartment because you can’t understand the language.
  5. You can’t exchange your pesos for dollars because you can’t find a place that will do it or explain to you how to get it done. (Banks in smaller cities don’t do currency exchanges and, in the US, we don’t have money changers on every block.)
  6. You can’t find work because you don’t have residency. The only way to get work without residency is to have a skill that is in high demand, and you don’t. (We were lucky. Being a native English speaker is a highly sought-after skill in Mexico.)
  7. But wait, even if you could work, you don’t have transportation. Besides, no one will hire you because you don’t speak the language.

Yikes.

So how is this different? Are Mexicans ex-pats from the south? Or are Americans just that special (i.e., racist) that we get a fancy term to designate the fact that we are foreigners in a foreign land?

Me? I’m an immigrant from the US.

Start Treating Everyone Like a Person

It’s about time Americans (and by that I mean people from the US, since Mexicans are Americans, too) started treating everyone as well as the Mexican people treat us. We are welcomed here, invited into their homes, asked to teach their children, and provided with healthcare and status as people who care enough to be want to be here. There isn’t anything here that we don’t have in the US, except perhaps the stress of the insane lifestyle and drive to earn massive amounts of money.

I actually prefer a calmer lifestyle, where when the workday is over, I can relax at the plaza and watch the families play with their children in the square, have a nice meal and a drink, and enjoy the delicious evening air.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

In my last post, I told you that we had decided the order in which we should proceed:

1. Jobs

2. Place to live

3. Car

Well, so much for planning. On Thursday afternoon, we found a gorgeous house to rent in El Refugió, a housing development off Fray Juniper Serró, a little north of downtown. It is brand new and completely furnished, and approximately equidistant from Juriquilla, where I hope to be teaching, and the downtown area. There are small shops and the all-important OXXO (convenience store) along the edge of the community, which makes it very attractive as well.

I still haven’t heard back about the job/demo class. I am hopeful, but I will start to look other places next week. We really need to get to work! I know Lyn is quite anxious. I sent his CV off to the school, too. We will wait to hear on that one. This weekend we plan to work on his academic CV so he can start looking for university positions. That, naturally, would be his preference.

The New House

One of the things we really liked about it, was that it was very tastefully decorated. Everything was brand new and well coordinated. There is a small grassy garden area, which will be perfect for the dogs.

While it isn’t “big,” it has plenty of space, two floors, and three bedrooms. It is an attached house, so we share walls on both sides. The construction here is mostly brick and stucco, so you don’t really hear anything. The walls are just too solid.

The same is true here in our Airbnb. You would never know that we are right off a main street. Although, some nights, when there are things going on, you can hear the crowds roar. The sounds come over the top of the building and drift down into our garden area, which is open to the entire house. Since we never close the windows (why would you…the weather here is gorgeous), we can hear it quite clearly.

The rent is also very reasonable — $750 US a month. Of course that doesn’t include utilities, but those here are minimal. Electric and gas, mostly. Water right now is free because the community isn’t finished. There is also a swimming pool (yes!) and green spaces for walking our babies.

Friday Night in Querétaro

The city is very different at night, especially on Friday nights. Everyone is out walking in the plazas. There are musicians and performers everywhere, and the kiosks and stores stay open late. The church steeples are all lit up, too, making for lovely photo ops around every corner.

Last night, Lyn and I took a stroll as well. On one corner was a man playing a saxophone with some prerecorded music. He was really good! We listened for a while, and I took some pics and recorded a little bit. I wanted to include it here with my post so you can enjoy it as well; however, it is taking too much time figuring out how to do it. (Tell you what: I will post it as soon as I get it sorted out.)

Since we had already eaten, we decided to look for a place to get some flan. We walked down to Restaurant 1810, where we had eaten once before, and had a little flan and listened to more music. There are two musicians that set up right outside the restaurant to play. One plays sax and violin, and the other the piano. Unfortunately, there was a concert going on right behind them. It turned out to be a student band. They were very cute!

There were also some performers going into a building along the square, perhaps to rehearse for an upcoming performance.

Today I am going to try to get to an bazar of independiente artists and others that our Airbnb host has organized. We don’t have a car right now, so we will have to Uber it. It looks to be between here and where we usually go to shop at WalMart.

Don’t judge! It has everything we need plus groceries and you can’t beat the prices. It isn’t like some WalMarts in the US. It is clean and usually quite empty of people. It is located conveniently in a shopping center with a small mall, Petco and Sam’s Club. There is also a Costco here in Querétaro, but we haven’t found it yet.

The Poodles

We’ve been trying to get the dogs out and about at least once every day. It is hard here because the sidewalks are virtually nonexistent and the streets are extremely narrow. The other day, Izzy hopped off and was nearly hit by a taxi! Lyn gets very stressed whenever we take them out. We have to meander around the block to avoid the crowds on Juarez to get to Av. Universidades. There is a decent walking path there for the girls. We just go a few blocks and turn around. They are getting used to it, but Lyn isn’t. It is easier when I go by myself.

The girls have gotten a little shaggy, so we bought a clipper. I just trimmed their faces and feet for now. They look better. I bet they really miss Andrea (Wizard of Paws). I know I do.

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It

One of the things I like about living in the Col. Centro Histórico de Querétaro is that there is a river that runs down the center of Av. Universidades with walking paths on both sides. It reminds me a bit of the Boise Greenbelt, except that here the water is not as nice and it isn’t as “green.” There seems always to be a soapy foam in the water, as well as various discarded items (i.e., trash). I think the foam may be due to the people constantly scrubbing the statues and features along the path, but I can’t be certain.

Sophie & Izzy on Av. UniversidadesThe warm climate here also invites people to sleep outdoors on the many small retaining walls and benches that line the walkway. They also use the fountains to bathe and clean their clothes. Not the most sanitary approach to living, but some people must do what they must do.

It is one of the sadder aspects of living here — seeing the homeless and disabled people begging on the streets. We try to keep change handy for when we pass them. Just like in Boise, sometimes we walk on by and send up a silent prayer for them.

Our Anniversary

Yesterday was a very significant day for us. Our 20th Anniversary. I am so lucky to have found someone who makes me smile every day and gives me such joy. (I think he feels the same. I HOPE he does, anyway!)

Lyn at AlioliTo celebrate, I chose what looked to be an upscale restaurant for dinner. Alioli is located on one of the more touristy streets downtown. It is a lovely setting with comfortable seating and a beautiful view of the alley where so many locals sell their wares. Unfortunately, the food was a bit disappointing.

The cheese platter was lovely, with five different varieties of cheese, fruit and candied nuts. The menu had a wide variety of unusual items, such as barbecued octopus, etc. I’m not that adventurous when it comes to food, though.

My disappointing dinner at AlioliFor the main course, Lyn ordered the short ribs, which he liked immensely. I ordered the Creamy Chicken, which would have been more appropriately called Creamy Chicken Bones. There was absolutely no meat on it! The waiter told me it was because it was a small bird. So? You still have to have something to eat and you can’t eat bones.

Lovely view from AlioliUnlike in the US, the restaurant did nothing to compensate us for it, so we paid the check and left. I don’t think we’ll be going back there anytime soon.

The Interview

Among the other highlights of the day was my job interview at the International School of Querétaro. The school has a large campus in a town called Juriquilla, which is about 5-6 miles north of the center of the city. They have upwards of 1000 students and more than 170 teachers and staff, sports fields and a swimming pool.

The position I interviewed for was to teach English in the Middle and High Schools. I loved the two women I interviewed with. The first, Blanca, is the director of the school. She was having a tough day due to the death of one of their teachers over the weekend. It was her job to tell the students and teachers. My heart went out to her!

Marcela, the second, was the Academic Director. She was very nice and very professional. She asked me a lot of questions and seemed to like the fact that I had a marketing background and good computer skills. My lack of experience was also seen as a benefit, since it meant that I would bring fresh ideas and energy. A lot of the teachers there have been there for more than 10 years. That, I thought, was a good sign.

The next step will be for them to arrange for me to give a demo class. They will let me know when and what topic. Yikes! I will be quite nervous, however, that usually passes once I get in front of the class.

Cars

One of our dilemmas is that we have to return our rental car today. Yesterday we spent a lot of time looking for a car to buy. They are less expensive here, but the process is more complicated than in the US. Once you pay, it can take 48-hours for them to deliver the car to you. And, it appears we may have to get additional visas in order to buy a car.

I’m not quite ready to do that yet, so we are going to Uber for a while.

Lyn and I agreed that the process we should follow is 1) get jobs, 2) find a place to live, and 3) get a car. So that’s what we will do.

Querétaro

Querétaro

OMG, we´ve been here three days so far and are just loving it. It is so different from Boise, but so quaint and lovely. Our house is small and right downtown. We walk everywhere, except when we have to go to the store. Then we drive.

Our rental car is a MiniVan. The streets here are so narrow, with people parking on the sides. It is very scary to drive here, but drive I must.

Today, for example, we took a drive out to where my interview will be on Tuesday. It is in a suburb called Juriquilla, which is supposed to be a very nice place to live. It isn´t far by distance, but the traffic makes it seem light years away. Juriquilla is a lot more modern locale, with several malls, a WalMart, a Petco, and some interesting restaurants. Today we ventured to the Office Max and ate at a little taquerilla. Had something called ¨conchas.¨Delicious. Couldn´t tell you much about it, but the meat was very tasty.

The school itself is surrounded by a wall and looks like it takes up about a block with several buildings. I will let you know more after my interview on Tuesday.

Food

Seems like all the restaurants are outdoors. Tonight we ate a Restaurant Bar 1810. Not sure why, but I´ve been gravitating toward Italian and ended up with the Salmon Ravioli. Lyn had the lasagna, but it wasn´t to his liking. The restaurant isn´t really an Italian place, its just what we ordered. One of the dishes on the menu was ¨sauteed grasshoppers,¨ apparently a local delicacy. We passed on that one. We were able to have flan, which was delicious.

Since it is Friday night, the plazas were full of vendors, entertainers and people milling around. There were hundreds of small booths with local handicrafts and, of course, the occasional person begging. I´m amazed at how industrious people are here. Today, in fact, there was a man who went into the street when the light turned red and juggled these huge knives. It was very impressive.

Language School on Our Street

On our way home from walking the dogs, we stopped by a language school about 10 doors down from our place. Lyn ended up taking a private Spanish lesson for an hour and plans to return tomorrow for more. I´m so proud of him! I know it is hard to be in a place where you don´t understand the language.

I´m having an ok time with my Spanish, although when I´m tired it all goes to hell.

As we explore more and more, we are finding many beautiful places so close to us. We are right in the center of the old city. Here are just a few pictures from our outings today.

UGH – Continued

UGH – Continued

It has been a few days since I started telling this story. Hopefully I can get it down now without crying or tearing my hear out!

So, on Friday, 2/16, we closed on our house. That was the simple part of the day. When we were done there, we went immediately to the UPS store on Vista, where Elisabeth got on the phone, once again, with the Boise hub manager. A few minutes later, he came in person.

The short version of the story is that someone at UPS screwed up and never should have told us they could ship our things. And, because of the strict rules about shipping to Mexico, the best case option would be to downsize even more and donate the rest. The hub manager even offered one of his trucks to deliver all of our things to whatever charity we chose.

With no other options, Lyn and I began methodically going through each of the 30 boxes. Anything made in China was an immediate no-go, meaning that any electronic devices (like my Bose Soundlink), some of my favorite designer shoes and clothes, and gifts that had been brought to us from China by friends, were not allowed and went directly into the donate pile. Since whatever was left was going “expedited,” i.e., air freight, we needed to be brutal in what we kept.

Ultimately, we got it down to nine boxes. We had to keep things like our diplomas and my tennis rackets, and we dutifully went through our remaining clothes and worldly possessions to ensure that whatever we kept would meet customers restrictions.

The entire ordeal took eight hours — an entire day! Every item in every box was cataloged so there would be no confusion. Copies of our passports, drivers licenses and a letter stating why we were shipping the items was included in each box. When it was all done, the remaining boxes were weighed and measured, Cost to ship — $2700. Of course, with the way things are between the US and Mexico, we may never see any of it.

After spending the day at the UPS store, I felt like I had made a new friend of Elisabeth. She was so kind in letting us camp out in her shop all day and use her supplies. I know it was a major inconvenience. At the end of it all, though, we are 21 boxes lighter and leaner.

We did, however, have to buy two extra suitcases so we could accommodate some additional shoes and things that we wanted and knew wouldn’t otherwise make it. Together we had five checked suitcases and two carryons. Oh, and two pets.

Poodles!

I haven’t written about the poodles in a long time. The good news is that they have both arrived safe and sound in Queretaro. Sophie travelled two days to get here, but arrive she did, as did Jack the cat. We were quite relieved to see them and to once again have all of our “children” with us.

Here are a few pics for you. Izzy and Mocha went with us in the cabin while Sophie and Jack went Cargo. Izzy enjoyed the food in first class, as well as being let out of the crate. Despite giving her veterinarian prescribed Xanax (thank you Dawn!), she whined considerably. She may have slept about an hour, as did I. The flight attendant was very accommodating, despite federal regulations to the contrary. I think it understood it was better for all involved and on the plane if she was loose and calm rather than crated and crazy.

Mocha stayed very quiet in her kennel under the seat. We put a blanket over her, which helped. She, too, was medicated, although the meds worked much better on her than on Izzy. She was pretty stressed after arrival. Hence the clingy photo at the bottom. She’s better now.

Jack didn’t seem phased at all. Here he is rolling around on the windowsill in our new temporary digs.