Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fire and TRX

Celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

August 15 is the day when people of the Catholic Church observe the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. In Mexico it is another week filled with parades, non-stop fire crackers fireworks and music. In one town it is also celebrated with the running of bulls.

However, in our small Burrough here in Mérida, it consists of days of fire crackers, fireworks, music, marching bands and parades. (Anytime from 6am right through till 2am.)  The procession starts with the fire cracker/fireworks team up front, followed by a float with a statue of the Virgin Mary, followed by families and finally the Valiant with the sound system playing Mexican traditional music. The families participate by walking behind the band with their crests in the form of embroidered banners, honouring their passed loved ones, dressed in their Sunday best.

It is a loud experience, that somehow comes across as sombre and demands a respectful demeanor from the onlookers. Mexico is such a country of contrasts and I'm a long way from understanding all the customs, but they respect their elders and celebrate life.

In our everyday life here in expat world, we are often astounded by some of the negative comments posted online. On the other side of the coin, no one has posted that they have regretted their decision to move to Mexico. Mostly people wonder why they took so long to make the move. 😉

Working out with the TRX

Herman and I bought the TRX just before we left Canada. We saw many positive reviews of the system but mostly we thought it would be so easy to pack, because it takes up about as much space a a brick when packed away.  TRX works with your own body weight and the angle you lean.

I have to say Herman is getting ripped. He definitely has the beginnings of his abs back. Ok, so he is also on a different diet. I still eat more than I should, SURPRISE! But I like the feeling of  tighter muscles, especially in the triceps area, which is a bitch to shape up when you're over forty!

Of course it works, if you use it. So far we are enjoying working out with it and thought we'd share our abs, back and tricep workout.

In this week's video:

  • Herman shows us how to make a fire the Mexican way
  • We give a blurry synopsis of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary procession, AND
  • We demonstrate the TRX system without the benefit of sponsorship support

All while living the dream.

Friday, August 11, 2017

He's got skills

We experienced some weather again this week, much the same as before, but not as much as we thought we might.

Tropical storm Franklin came through the Yucatan and dropped lots of water on us. The rains were heavy at times, but luckily flooding was kept to a minimum. In other parts of Mexico they were not that lucky. Campeche was hit with extreme flooding, but it wasn't until it moved across the Gulf of Mexico and hit Veracruz that it was upgraded to a hurricane. Mudslides in the mountainous region of Mexico is a serious concern and with an expected foot of rain in those areas, it was a given. This is the first hurricane of the 2017 season and I was relieved that we did not have to tape windows and evacuate. In our drive through Mexico on our way here, it was clear that they experience a lot of storms. All the towns we drove through had evacuation routes clearly marked.

Herman studied architecture when I met him, and after I worked to help him finish his studies, he started out his career in the architectural division of the Public Works Department.  He loved his work there, which included renovation, additions, maintenance and modernization of historical buildings. However his real talent is in design. As a private designer, he had just completed two high end house design projects in Port Elizabeth. This house was later purchased by a Miami investor.

However, when we moved to Canada it soon became evident that being from another country working in that field would not be financially viable to support a young family and he went back to school to start his career in IT. I know that this was a difficult choice for him, especially since he really did not like computers. However, he did what needed to be done. (All immigrants have this in common: do what needs to be done to get 'er done!)

One of the reasons we selected living in Mexico is that the construction here is very similar to that in South Africa. The weather plays a big role in the technology you use in housing and Herman's knowledge is compatible. It is a country that supports the entrepreneurial spirit in any way it can and does not set up barriers by unnecessary bureaucracy. Having said that, they are extremely strict on paying workers insurance as a full time employer.

Since we started thinking about what we want to do here, Herman's interest in designing again was peaked and having been the shoobee-do-wa girl in the background, I have noticed the happiness this brings him. It is amazing to see someone do something they love and then sad to realize how long a person has been unhappy just going through the motions. Honestly, there is no other career that he should have ever considered. Here are a few of the things he has been working on:

A lot of properties in Mérida are historical buildings that are hardly more than rubble behind the exterior walls. Herman took one of these properties and designed what it could potentially look like. This way an interested buyer can envision the potential of  the property.

The second concept is for a property in the forests between Cancun and Tulum for an eco-hostel that would be welcoming the budget traveller and backpackers.

Lastly I am including the initial sketches of what he's planning for our property (not to scale of course).

I hope you enjoyed his creativity with me.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


It has been four months since we arrived in Mexico and we decided to have a little celebration. Typical Mexican food included, tomato salsa, tortillas, pork stir-fry, re-fried beans, Mexican tunes and some wine. I realized that I am including more peppers in my meals; we are getting used to hot food. It was an awesome meal. I also reminded myself that I had to look forward and not back; Mexico is my home now. It is the only way to fit in and be happy.

We had a really large rain storm come through the other day with wind speeds of up to 75 mph. Thunder, lightning and lots of rain. We love the storms, reminds us of South Africa in the summer when we were growing up. It's the start of hurricane season, which we know nothing about. But we will probably learn very fast. The rainy season has a lot of rain, but not like monsoons and the humidity is less than what I can remember from the summers in Durban.

It is very hot this week and a tropical storm seems to be in the works for next week. Days feel like 44, with actual temperatures reaching 36 degrees (Celsius of course). Humidity is higher and everything feels a little sticky. Since we don't have a pool right now, we fill buckets with water from the tap and just pour it over our heads - we call it poor boy's swimming. But it is effective. And with a pre-storm breeze, you can cool down. You have to wait at least 4 minutes for the water from the tap to cool sufficiently not to burn...

I love Zumba. Seriously, it is almost as much fun as tennis. I found the creator of Zumba, Beto Perez's show in Utah online and work out on that sometimes and in a moment of craziness I decided to record a few minutes and share it. I probably won't do that again; it is not easy to watch yourself look ridiculous. But seriously, I enjoy this so much that I sometimes laugh out loud!

Friday night we went to the local park where there is a small mid-way during the summer for the kids. Some stall selling fries and candy, balloons, some outdoor café's and a double story trampoline for the kids. We and ended up watching a bit of the softball game that was underway. Several home runs and lots of cheering followed. It was a fun walk in the neighbourhood and it's nice to see so many people enjoying the warm evening in the park. Of course there was activity at the church and it seemed like a mass was underway.

Xena has become a true lizard hunter after almost catching a rather large iguana one afternoon. She only let it go, because I was yelling at her to drop it. I don't think she will listen to me next time. She now hunts and stalks each and every one of them. She scratches (and even bites) all around their concrete nests and though they are extremely dumb, they have managed to avoid her so far. I think it's just a matter of time until she gets one.

The house seems to get really hot in the afternoon and early evening, and in this current heat the house felt like a sauna last night after dinner. Cooking in the kitchen only adds to the heat. We noticed that the neighbours sit in front of their houses on the street, so we decided to try it. And voila! It was much cooler out front, with a really nice breeze blowing down the street. We sat there for about an hour cooling down and with all the windows and the front door open, the house cooled down quite a bit so we could relax inside again.

We heard this week that our house purchase is expected to be completed by the end of the month. I am so excited about this. Not sure if I should be, but I am. Either way, we will be in our new home on September 1 - even if we are renting. Now I'm lying awake at night, thinking of all the things I have to do when I move in.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Is this the real life?

Is it just fantasy?

So far we are just hanging around; in "wait"-mode for our closing date, which has been postponed indefinitely.

To keep busy, we exercise a few days a week, I study to get my TESOL certification, we do our Rosetta Stone and our QROO-Paul Spanish lessons, once a week we walk to the Lucas de Galvez market, we go grocery shopping and visit the local market around the corner twice a week. For our new house, I've sketched a garden layout and Herman is designing the additions to our property in SketchUp. We cook dinner every night, drink some wine, read or chat. It's not a hard life though, just slow, lazy and sometimes boring. For the first time since we were 16, we are not working for someone else. It is liberating. We are also contemplating what the name of our house will be... Most of all we are saving money for when we move.

Herman finally had his eyes tested and got some awesome new frames. The optometrist spoke excellent English and after three days Herman had his new progressives.

Xena has become a true Iguana hunter after she had one by the neck earlier this week and it took some coaxing from me for her to let it go. She now stalks them and tries to dig them out of the block wall. She event tries to climb the wall and managed to get onto the 5 foot ledge at the back of the property. Herman and I think that she may think that these Mexican "dogs" are super cool the way they can climb up the side of a walls... She had her third birthday on July 24th and loves her prickly rubber ball. Our four legged BFF is entertaining in a quiet life kind of way.

As you may or may not know you are not truly Canadian until you get some ink, and because I really don't like wearing jewellery, I decided a few years ago to get my wedding ring tattoo. Since then I've been fascinated with jewellery tattoos. I've wanted a Mexican-themed bracelet for a few years now, but felt that I had to get it done in Mexico, despite nervous comments from friends. One brave Mexican tattoo artist who speaks excellent English (Andrea Espadas from Makech studios) advertised on an Expat Facebook page and I decided to take the plunge. I have to admit I was a little nervous myself, but as in Canada, you have to check out the joint first. And this time, I had my secret weapon: Herman (who hates tattoos with a passion by the way). He was impressed with the cleanliness and large windows letting in light (hee-hee) and it was a go. After several attempts at getting the design just right, we set a date. Then we spent at least 30 minutes getting the positioning right and dropped about 4 glyphs to make it fit better.  The final product after a week is featured in the video below.

Why I picked the images you  may ask? Well here goes:

The centre and main area is the rose with lace, which represents (to me) Mexico, the Day of the Dead and the celebration of life. My grandparents also had a rose garden when I grew up, which was always something I associated with them. The two panels on either side have some of the glyphs from the Mayan farming calendar. The Mayan Haab calendar comprises of 365 days but with 18 months of 20 days plus the 5 unnamed days. Each glyph represents the activity that was traditional for that month.

The eight glyphs in my tattoo represent:
Uayeb: the 5 unnamed days which were the days where you didn't do anything because the belief was that these were bad luck days and if you went outside bad things could happen (rest is always good).
Kankin: No festivals were recorded for this month, but it is believed it celebrated the canine (go Xena).
Keh: It is believed that they honoured deer during this month (who doesn't like Bambi).
Mol: Wooden edifices were made for the gods (artwork is awesome).
Xul: Feast for Kulkulkan the feathered serpent, which featured comedians and burning of incense (major god of the Mayans and everyone needs a laugh now and then).
Yax: Temples were renovated during this month (spring cleaning yeah).
Zip: The month to honour the god of hunting (for the meatatarian in me yum)
Uo: Shamans and physicians gave offerings to the god of magic (what's life without a little magic).

So, not much happening around here right now, but we are going to visit a few craft markets and some festivals over the next few days and hope to take pictures and videos of those to share.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pok Ta Pok

We decided it would be fun to do some target shooting like we used to as kids, so earlier this week Herman bought a slingshot at the market. It is not as easy to shoot with as we remember, but Herman seems to be getting the hang of it really well (see video). I am a little more challenged, even though I used to be able to shoot really well as a kid...really. Luckily my lack of skill was not caught on camera.😏

An ancient Mayan game called Pok ta Pok, was a ball game played to thank the gods for a bountiful harvest. A re-enactment of the game is hosted in Mérida every Friday evening at 8pm and we finally made it to one of these exhibits.

In the re-enactment there are four players on a side and the aim is to score by passing the ball through a circle about 8 feet above the ground. The players can only touch it with their hips or thighs. The ball weighing anywhere from 3 to 4 kilograms is not easy to hit with a hip or thigh and after only a few minutes of this game the players were sweating and tired. No substitutes for these players, and you played until one team scored.

Prior to starting the game, incense is burnt for purification and then a priest performs a purification ritual. The players then start in earnest. It didn't take long for the crowd to get into the game and with numerous near misses, there were lots of oohs and aahs! I really enjoyed myself and it seemed that everyone else did too. A video compilation is posted below.

If you ever visit Mérida, make sure to attend the game which is re-enacted every Friday evening at 8pm in front of the Mérida cathedral next to Plaza Grande.

When we visited the ruins in 2015, the guide showed us the arenas where these games were actually played. They were large and the walls were tapered towards the players. The goal scoring holes were about 20 feet above the ground. I added some pictures from that visit below. Rumour was that the losing team's leader would die or the entire team would be killed. Other reports said that the winners would be sacrificed.

The game is still played today and I will be looking out for a modern day version of this.

At Uxmal ruins the actual Pok Ta Pok arena.

Sloped floor to the base of the arena to prevent the game from stopping.

The goal circle from the base of the arena.

The goal circle from the sloped wall of the playing area.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dancing in the Street

Whenever we have a large rainstorm, which is about twice a week since this is the rainy season, the house we are renting leaks and the living room is flooded. We have a squeegee to sweep the water out the front door and Xena enjoys the activity quite a lot. She loves water. So we just take turns sweeping out the water and it works really well. Also cleans the floor. Bonus!

One thing everyone always asks about is the safety in Mexico. The media obviously focuses on the negative as they always do, but we do not proclaim that is is the safest place on earth. However, the Yucatán province is supposed to be the safest area in Mexico. The main reason for this is the lack of drug cartel activity in this area, because it is not on a drug route.

Of course there are break-ins and domestic violence and car accidents. There are crazy people everywhere. We hope violence won't touch our lives, so we live our life and try to enjoy it one day at a time. Children, parents and grandparents spend their time together as much as they can here. Everyone goes about their daily lives and try to make the best of it. So far, it seems that the people here are caring, helpful and humble. What's not to like?

We love going to the parks and walking in the streets with the other families around us. Last Sunday evening we decided to head on down to Plaza Grande in downtown Mérida to see what's going on outside the palace. In the summer, every night of the week around 8pm there is some cultural event at the plaza. Sunday evenings there is street dancing where for two hours there is live music and Latin dancing. We were amazed at how many people were there and by 8:30 pm we joined in. There was hardly a spot on the street where you could move. People from all ages were dancing and some couples were extremely good. One  little Mayan lady must have been close to 80 and she and her partner were putting on moves that you won't believe!

We walked around the stalls and because this is summer holidays there were lots of tourists from Mexico and Latin America around. It is not the time of year when "gringos" visit, so it was nice not to be accosted by the many vendor runners focused on the rich American tourist types. I had some candy floss while we sat on a bench doing some people watching. We then had the good luck of being right in front of a group of young men doing some break dancing/street gymnastics just before we headed on home. All I can say is: Fabulous!

Here is a short video:

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Temple of San Sebastián

This past weekend was Canada Day and a very difficult time for me to be away from Canada. I missed my family and our friends and just about everything else that is Canadian. We had our own barbecue Saturday night, but it just wasn't the same without friends, family, fireworks and red and white outfits everywhere. So I ventured out to the local park to take some pictures of the cathedral and keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

We are staying in the Colonia of San Sebastian. It is a nice neighbourhood and around the corner is the centre of this borough. The focal point of the square is the Temple of San Sebastián.

Original building and newer additions are visible on this historic building. (When the Spanish arrived in the Yucatan, they destroyed most of the Mayan temples and built their churches on top of the ruins to prove their dominance. I'm not sure if this site is the same. The old stone construction is beautiful.)

Parque de San Sebastián

Temple of San Sebastián

Front entrance to Temple of San Sebastián.

Clock tower

Temple of San Sebastián

The view from the back of  he Temple of San Sebastián.

One of the most popular trees of the Yucatan (delonix regia) has these bright orange flowers. I love the colour and they are everywhere in the city. The trees have large unsightly plumes up to a foot long that makes them quite messy part of the year.
The Mayor of Mérida promised the residents that exercise equipment will be installed in all parks in the City. This is one of the examples of the equipment. The machines work with your own body weight.

Typical of parks in Mérida are the basketball court and baseball diamond. The parks are extremely busy between 6 and 9pm every evening of the week, but especially Sunday evenings. When we go for our morning exercises around 7-8am, the park is a hive of activity.

Baseball diamond.
Herman walking along the church wall.