Riding out the Storm in Mexico

It’s very strange to feel so disconnected from my home country. After less than six months, I feel like I’ve been in Mexico forever. Many American and Canadian expats have returned home but we decided to stay here indefinitely. I feel extremely fortunate to be riding this out here rather than in the US and it’s a weird thing to try to explain so I’ll skip it for now.

Baja has been somewhat late in joining the pandemic but the beaches are now closed and people are being strongly encouraged to stay home. So far, we’re seeing a major reduction in traffic and people on the streets but people don’t seem to be panicking at all. The grocery stores are fully stocked. In addition to the roosters and ranchero music, I can still hear power tools being used on job sites. People who need to feed their families will continue working as long as they are physically able and no amount of social media infographics will deter them. The Mexican government is promising stimulus pesos but that doesn’t help people whose employers have already closed and need food now.

There seems to be a belief here that COVID-19 only affects the upper class. I assume that’s because the virus was initially spread from China by travelers. Mexican elites brought it to the mainland after visiting Vail and interacting with Italians who were there for a ski competition. The first two cases in Cabo were brought by tourists. I’ve seen some anti-American comments on the local Facebook groups by those who believe we brought the virus to the community but so far, no torches and pitchforks.

Some people on social media are calling for roadblocks to keep people from Cabo and La Paz (where there are confirmed cases) out of town but the genie is already out of the bottle. Military checkpoints will definitely be set up on the highway in the event of social unrest but there is no stopping the virus; it just lives on surfaces too long to be contained.

Right now, everything feels fine here. Flowers need to be watered and the dogs want to play. It’s beautiful outside and I may do my yoga on the porch so I can look at the ocean. It may be the calm before the storm but right now nothing is preventing me from enjoying my day.

Waiting for Ramón

I have a very special relationship with a man named Ramón and I don’t even know his last name. We’ve been corresponding on a monthly basis since last November. Our conversations are 99% one-sided but the outcome is what matters.

It turns out only about 6% of homes in México have natural gas and most of them are in the southeast region of the country. As of 2017, Baja California Sur had no demand. The electrical grid is the polar opposite of reliable so that means if you don’t have solar or a generator, you’re using propane to cook and heat water.

It is my understanding that some homes do have those huge permanent propane tanks like you see in rural areas of the US that are filled by the big tanker trucks. This is not the case at our house. We have this setup, which I am told by the bf is on par with the situation in Iraq:

I have learned a 30-kg tank lasts almost exactly 30 days without being extra careful about usage and that costs 605 pesos, which is about $25 US using today’s exchange rate. That’s outrageously expensive compared to my monthly natural gas bill in Arizona…and this is ONLY for the kitchen stove and water heater.

I am not trying to pay $25 a month for cooking and showering so you know my cheap ass bought a $15 hot plate. Electricity is crazy cheap here so we try to cook with the hot plate as much as possible and use it to heat the house when it’s chilly outside.

So anyway, I learned about Ramón from a local Facebook group and people just contact him on WhatsApp to get their tank deliveries. He has only replied to my request via the app once. Normally, he just shows up and honks at the gate. This means once I make the request, I have to stay home and wait…sometimes for 30 minutes…sometimes for days.

Imagine washing your hair out of a plastic bucket that has been sitting on the patio warming in the sun. It didn’t take long to realize we needed a second tank to use as a backup while we wait for Ramón.

Don’t think for a minute I’m bashing him because he’s super professional and obviously very busy. In fact, Ramón brought me a propane tank in his personal truck on New Year’s Day with his wife looking displeased in the passenger seat. I was absolutely gobsmacked and extremely grateful.

The last time I saw him, he seemed to be in a good mood so I tried to practice my Spanish a bit. Too much…got it. We’re not on that level. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared so much about what a stranger thinks of me. I don’t want to piss him off because I need that gas!

Businesses are still operating in BCS but people are definitely trying to limit contact with one another. I imagine the propane delivery guys are overwhelmed by the demand as everyone prepares to be home for the near future. I sent my first request early on Tuesday and then a follow-up first thing this morning. Sherman needs to go to the vet for a Rabies booster before the vet has to close. He should be here any moment. Until then, I’ll be waiting for Ramón.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not even going to joke about COVID-19. Everyone knows someone whose immune system is compromised for whatever reason and any virus can be lethal to them.

So far, Baja California Sur hasn’t really seen much activity. There was at least one cruise ship with infected passengers that stopped in Cabo but the last time I checked, there haven’t been any confirmed cases. I’ve seen some rumors online about a positive test in La Paz but nothing confirmed.

My immune system is ridiculously strong so I don’t worry about how sick I will become if I am exposed. However, I am incredibly sensitive to those who aren’t so fortunate. Staying home is my standard operating mode so the concept of social isolation doesn’t phase me. I worry about those who actually enjoy the company of other people. Two weeks in isolation is enough to drive a normal person mad.

I guess if you’re one of those people and have never worked from home, here are a few things that may help:

Stick to a routine. Unless you’re too ill, maintain your normal sleep schedule. Plan your days the same as you would at work. You still need to do laundry and dishes. Pets still need to be fed. Even completing tiny tasks like painting your toenails will make you feel like you accomplished something. Try not to binge watch television all day. Get some exercise…and it doesn’t have to be anything major. Even if you’re stuck in an apartment and can’t go outside, you can do a couple easy yoga poses or light stretching. If watching or reading the news is making you anxious, leave it alone for a few hours. If the sun is shining, open the damned curtains already.

Tomorrow I’ll be cleaning floors, changing bedding, and bathing dogs. That’s enough to occupy my time on a dirt road in Mexico. I’ll worry about the global economy shit show another day.

I Feel Like a Dog Trying to Ride a Donkey

I can write whatever you want. I just really need you to tell me what that is. Except for dialogue…I hate writing dialogue.

My brain feels like it’s too full of information and completely devoid of coherent thoughts at the same time. We currently have two to three show concepts (depending on how you look at them) trying to find a buyer. The fourth (or third?) will likely need to be tidied up and released online without a buyer. It’s compelling enough that it needs to be seen but it has been difficult to get producers to watch enough video to understand why that is.

My point is that I’m totally fried right now. The show concept that appears to have the best chance of making money is the one with the most complex subject matter. My job is to translate information that people with advanced degrees have difficulty understanding into something interesting and entertaining to the average person whose attention span is shrinking by the day.

Remember when The Big Bang Theory jokes went over your head? In the first season, there were several instances when I experienced a serious lag between Sheldon’s joke and my comprehension and gigglesnort. Apparently, there were quite a few viewers who never got the jokes so the writers dumbed it down. That kind of ruined it for me. So now I (a former overachiever turned college dropout) am tasked with metaphorically splitting atoms, convincing a producer people will care about splitting atoms, and figuring out how the hell to make the masses care about splitting atoms. Or something like that.

It’s obvious that I need to take a break but my brain doesn’t like allowing it when there’s so much work to be done. The subject matter is spinning on a constant loop too quickly for me to get a grip on any one piece of information. Just when I think I’ve got one, the slightest distraction completely ruins my train of thought. Incredibly, the barrio music being broadcast at maximum volume by my neighbors actually helps with this. It all has a sort of consistent happy melody that acts like a white noise machine heavy on the accordion. I just need the dogs to settle in for their post-breakfast nap so I can stare at the ocean and let the words come to me.

Gather ‘Round the Hot Plate

I may have previously mentioned our house in Mexico has no heat. You might think due to our town being situated on the Tropic of Cancer that this is no big deal. You would be what I like to call wrong.

Seven years of desert dwelling in southern Arizona has made me severely cold intolerant. Anything under 70 degrees is uncomfortable. After growing up in Kansas and being assaulted by constant hurricane-force winds, prolonged exposure to anything more than a  gentle breeze makes me a little stabby. Right now, I’m dealing with both…in a house without heat.

Gas is expensive in Mexico; propane, gasoline, whatever…it’s outrageous. Electricity, however, is dirt cheap. So you would think an easy solution would be to buy a space heater and stop bellyaching. In a house with US wiring, you would be correct. Unfortunately, I live in a house with wiring so piss-poor a hair dryer precipitated a visit from an electrician. There is no way this house could support a space heater. We could turn on the stove but again, propane is outrageous.

My solution was to order an electric hot plate from Amazon Mexico. Delivery took a few weeks since DHL temporarily misplaced the box somewhere near La Paz but I guess once the workers decided it wasn’t worth stealing, it finally made its way to us. This little burner puts out some serious heat but obviously cannot be left unattended. Our morning routine is to turn on the hot plate and stand around it until the sun is positioned to warm the kitchen. The house is basically a concrete bunker so there is no warming the whole house until the weather changes.

This morning, we have virtually no water pressure from the municipal line so I’m carrying buckets of water from the kitchen (via the reserve tank) to do laundry on the porch. Between the carrying of the water and the trips up and down the stairs from the roof deck clothes lines, I’m both working out and warming up with a spectacular ocean view. Cup half full, people. CUP. HALF. FULL.

Small Fish…Even Smaller Pond

This is what was on my mind at 2:00 this morning.

I didn’t go to Journalism school. I’ve never worked in television. I did work at a newspaper once, though…in Accounting.

I’ve been helping with research and writing for a TV show concept and I’m 100% completely and hopelessly out of my depth.

Like a lot of people, I suffer from a pretty serious case of imposter syndrome. I know I’m not a complete moron but I also know that I swim in a relatively small pond. This project is out of my league in a major way and every word I write proves I don’t belong anywhere near it. I actually wonder what it takes for people to feel like they deserve their success. Surely there are people who aren’t complete narcissists who have a healthy sense of their accomplishments, right?

The concept has a shit ton of potential. I would watch it on purpose even if I didn’t know anyone involved with it. The last thing in the world I want is for the pitch to come off as an amateurish effort because one of the people drafting it is…well…a fucking amateur.

So I’m writing this in the middle of the night rather than getting the sleep I so desperately need or working on editing the show document.

So here’s the thing. I don’t know if it’s even a pitch or a treatment or birdcage liner because this isn’t my industry. I’m so old I still fight the double space at the end of each sentence. Like, I actually remember true carbon copies. It seems like an odd time to shake the Etch A Sketch but here we are. Today is another day and as soon as this is published, I’ll get back to it…whatever IT is.

Spend your Attention Currency Wisely

Despite lacking some first-world conveniences, Mexico has provided me with an absolutely priceless lack of fucks to give. I still read about as much news as I did while living in Arizona but I care so very much less. With the next election dumpster fire taking place later this year, I feel my timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

Apparently, there is another Democratic debate tonight. This is Number Seven. Is anyone still paying attention? Does anyone still care? I say this as a news and politics junkie. Party no longer matters. It’s just a different flavor of the same bullshit. Everyone is rooting for their team but both teams suck and all of the players are horrible people. It’s kind of like when the NFL welcomed Michael Vick back into the league and we just memory holed that nasty dog torture episode.

Has anyone noticed what’s going on with the global economy? How much physical gold is China really holding? Why is the US Fed considering lowering rates again when the Dow is at record highs and everything is going so well? Why is the New York Fed pumping billions upon billions of dollars into the overnight repo market? Has anyone made the connection between certain countries in the Middle East deciding they no longer want to trade oil for dollars? Seems like this could all be kind of important. Politics is just a drama-filled distraction.

My dog is having eye surgery this week for a luxated lens. We could either remove it or have a prosthetic lens implanted in the eye, which will resolve the glaucoma issue, so that’s what we’re doing. He won’t be able to see but the eye will look relatively normal and it’s less invasive than removing the eye altogether. The cost is just under US $800. Ask me again why I moved to Mexico. I really don’t know if I will ever live in the US again.

After I finish the breakfast my boyfriend is cooking for me, I’ll do a little Yoga on our porch overlooking the ocean. Then I’ll help him refine the pitch for a TV show he’s working on. Maybe I’ll go for a run if the sun ever makes an appearance. What I can say with absolute certainty is that I will not spend one minute watching that debate or following it on Twitter. I prefer to focus on what matters.

What happens when your dog gets sick in Mexico?

There have been some pleasant surprises over the past couple months in Mexico. No, the propane has not been delivered so I’m sitting in a cold house unable to warm up with a hot shower. It rained so I can’t even count on the sun to warm up a bucket of water. But…BUT…my sweet Sherman has been treated by an extraordinary veterinary specialist.

About a year ago, Sherman’s right cornea was scratched. I’m not sure how it happened but I’m blaming his psychotic sister. Both dogs are on Banfield wellness plans so Sherman had been seen by a few different vets and was prescribed a few different ointments and an oral antibiotic. The scratch healed but the redness and cloudiness in his eye failed to improve.

Once we got to Mexico, it quickly worsened. He and I both have severe allergies so I wasn’t sure if that was compounding his problem. I had to change his food since Canidae isn’t sold in Mexico and couldn’t rule out a food allergy. The change in climate was pretty significant and my eyes were certainly suffering. Maybe he was experiencing the same?

Veterinary options in our town are limited and I wasn’t sure how to even go about having him seen. Apparently, you walk in and ask. The vet took one look at Sherman’s eye and said he couldn’t help. He didn’t have the equipment needed to test his eye so he gave me the phone number of a veterinary ophthalmologist in Cabo.

I was concerned about calling this specialist with my crappy Spanish so I looked him up online and found the Facebook page for his practice. He had Messenger enabled so I sent him an appointment request copied from Google Translate and he replied within minutes. We scheduled an appointment for the same afternoon and he asked me to send him a message via WhatsApp so he could give me directions to his office. That confused me for a moment but he literally replied with coordinates because the place isn’t the easiest to find.

This guy is amazing. He tested Sherman’s eye and immediately diagnosed him with glaucoma. He explained the treatment process and warned me that it involves a lot of trial and error. He prescribed a prednisone drop for the redness and betaxolol to reduce the pressure. We were told to have Sherman rechecked after a week on the drops. He charged about US$30 for the appointment and testing. My Arizona vet charges more than that for a regular office visit. Specialists charge more than double that amount.

When we returned for the recheck, Sherman’s eye pressure had been reduced but not enough so we added travaprost to his regimen. I should add that Costco carries the prednisone but not the other two so we ordered them from a pharmacy in our town which caters to the gringo population. I am quite certain we are not getting the best price but they are reliable and I can communicate with them reasonably well. It takes three days for the orders to arrive and I can absolutely live with that.

The vet wanted to see Sherman again after we tried the new drops and I was dreading another drive to Cabo but he said he would be in our town for church the following Sunday and could see him there…at no charge. So I met this guy at the local mission and he walked up with his magic wand to test the pressure again. It still hasn’t been reduced to a normal level but he thinks it may take a little time on the new drops so we’ll see him again next week.

Americans are generally suspicious of medical professionals who practice in other countries, even though many of them were educated in the US. When I lived in Arizona, I learned all about medical tourism in Nogales and heard great things from my friends and coworkers. My Arizona vets didn’t mention glaucoma to me at all and did not test for it. They didn’t refer him to a specialist. It took coming to Mexico for my dog to receive proper treatment from an experienced professional we all like and trust. Go figure.

Design Flaws

I would rather this not be a late Festivus airing of grievances but the reality of Mexico is that there are some design flaws. It was obvious going in to this living situation that I would need to lower my expectations. Unfortunately, I’m accustomed to things working and my mother has always told people my idea of roughing it is staying at a five-year-old Holiday Inn.

If you’re sensitive about the environment, definitely do not move here. The landfill has been on fire more often than not and I don’t even want to consider what all we’ve been exposed to since October. This isn’t just some chemicals combusting either; There are unknown individuals who have been spotted setting these fires which are poisoning everyone. There’s a group of gringos trying to get recycling to become a thing. I wish them luck because the locals just dump their trash along the road. Raw sewage regularly flows in the one road that gets people in and out of town. There’s a group trying to help with that as well because it’s also flowing into a wetlands area by the beach. The washing machine is set up to drain into the yard so I think about that every time I do laundry. We can gentrify a lot of places but I’m not sure this is one of them.

We were having problems with the kitchen sink not draining at all. I’ve been very careful about what goes down the drain since we’re on septic and there’s no garbage disposal. There was no reason for a clogged drain. It turned out the brand-new plumbing to the kitchen sink was constructed in a manner which denied the existence of gravity. Yay, physics!

Thank goodness this house is concrete because the wiring is super sketchy. We had to have the bathroom light switch replaced due to reasons I do not fully understand. I assume it was also poorly designed and was overloaded plus condensation was running down the tiles into it, etc. Who knows. It made a bunch of pops, smoked a lot, and stopped working. There’s an outlet in the kitchen that puts out a burnt plastic odor when used. It barely rated a handyman shoulder shrug. We try not to use it.

Central air conditioning isn’t a thing in Baja. Some homes have mini-splits in a room or two and we’re fortunate to have one in our living room. We got here in October, though, and it hasn’t been hot enough to use it. It has been fucking cold, however. This house has no heat so I was looking at the unit to see if it has a heater. The remote control has a setting for heat so I decided to see what that was all about. I couldn’t get the fan to turn on at all on the coldest or hottest settings. It turns out the unit was installed incorrectly so the fan didn’t work. The guy told me if geckos get into the unit, they can fry the board. I asked him if there is any way to keep geckos out of things and he just shrugged his shoulders. I showed him the remote has an indicator for heat. The manual shows heat. But the unit doesn’t have heat. The guy said they just use the same remote and manual for all models. I’m not sure how one is supposed to know it doesn’t have heat. I guess that was how. If you’re wondering why we don’t just use a space heater, see the paragraph above about wiring.

Fortunately, it doesn’t rain much here. We have had a couple tropical storms and I have learned the windows are very poorly constructed. There was water streaming in around the windows and down the walls during the last rain storm to the point where I was running out of dry towels to soak it up. I threw some wet towels in the dryer but the heating element died long before our arrival and this was an exercise in futility.

I’m writing this while freezing my ass off in a cold house. Yes, we’re back to the heat issue. I could turn on the stove to heat the kitchen but we’re out of propane. Again. A 30-kilo tank apparently only lasts a month and God forbid anyone would use a large permanent tank around here. I sent the gas guy a message on WhatsApp yesterday but it was Sunday and he didn’t respond. But that doesn’t mean anything. He never responds. He just shows up randomly and honks until you open the gate. So I wait.

As I wait for the telltale honk, I will leave you with some possible tourism slogans for Baja:

Mexico: Nothing works.

Mexico: Be prepared to wait.

Mexico: Fuck you, gringos.

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