Ooooh…we have water again (and other expectations which must be managed)

A typical home in Mexico tends to have a tinaco on the roof and possibly a ground-level cistern because water delivery is tricky. Rather than go into a boring explanation, you can learn all about it here if you are so inclined. I have written previously about my frustrations in learning how to get laundry done when there is no water but it hadn’t been an issue for a few months. The lockdown gave me nearly first-world water pressure on laundry days and I was borderline giddy with excitement, aside from the whole people dying thing.

Once businesses reopened, I returned to my routine of starting laundry at about 7:30 am so I could do two loads before the pressure dropped. Keep in mind, the stackable washer/dryer is on the covered porch and is connected to the outside water spigot so the temperature of the laundry is the temperature of the water. It drains into the yard via an exceptionally attractive PVC pipe. Anway, I noticed the pressure dropping lower than normal a couple days ago and assumed there was a problem with one of the water mains so an outage was inevitable. I was right.

Yesterday, people in various neighborhoods were discussing their water situations online and there were scattered outages but we were still dripping along. When I turned on the irrigation to water the trees this morning, there was nothing. No big deal…we have the tinaco so we can still bathe and I can carry buckets from the kitchen sink to the washer in a pinch. If it drags on for too long, we can have a truck deliver water. I checked again at around noon and literally said out loud to no one, not even the dogs, “Ooooh…the water is back on.” I use terminal prepositions when talking to myself.

So this is my life now. I literally push my dogs out of the way to slay aggressive scorpions on the kitchen floor. I vacuum gecko shit from the window sills. I listen for the garbage truck every Friday morning and rush to meet it. I complain when the price of a 30-kg propane tank increases by 70 pesos (approx US $3). I can almost sing along to my neighbor’s favorite songs. And I get excited when the water outage is limited to a few short hours. Now I just need to accept that my Jeep will never run right again. This is Baja.

What if you walked away from everything you ever knew?

It seems like an entire lifetime ago but I was once married to one of the nicest people to ever live. That’s a pretty strong statement and I stand by it one hundred percent. Even though I’ve now been divorced for 18 years, I distinctly recall the feeling of wanting to escape. For about the last two years of my marriage, all I wanted to do was load my two Rottweilers in my Jeep and drive far, far away. The destination was irrelevant. I just wanted to get lost.

This year, for the first time in my life, I spent Independence Day in a foreign country. The beaches are closed again due to COVID-19 but other than that it was a regular Saturday. The neighbors were drinking and singing along to their favorite songs. My dogs chased birds. I watched the ocean and social media from our front porch. Twitter was depressing as hell.

I’ve written before about feeling disconnected from the US but I feel like this is different. Right now, I feel like Mexico isn’t far enough away. At the same time, Mexico feels like home. None of this makes sense to me but we’re living a much simpler life here. We don’t own a television and there are no political ads on Netflix, ya know? Maybe it’s a cop-out but I’m done picking sides. All that matters to me right now is my own sanity.

I’m turning 45 later this month and have been reflecting on how people find their places and purposes in life. I’m one of those people who has never quite fit in, no matter the situation. I’ve tried and given up and tried again. It was kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I just don’t belong in a conventional role or a conventional family. Speaking of family, mine thinks I’m batshit crazy and I accept that. People are convinced I’m going to get caught in the crossfire of some cartel war when the reality is I’m walking around the backyard checking to see if the mangoes are ripe enough to eat.

I guess this makes me a selfish asshole but at this point, I have no intention of returning to the US. If I did, I don’t even know where the hell I would go. A cabin in the woods in Wyoming? Civilization is just not working out. How far can we go and still avoid freezing to death? Just north of Antarctica sounds good. Unfortunately, we can’t drive all the way there. You know, the Darien Gap and all that unpleasantness. It’s my understanding the ferries are no longer running through that area. Yes, I’ve actually looked into it. We could take a ferry from La Paz to the mainland and drive to Panama but that’s the end of the road. So then the question becomes how to transport the dogs? Can we all hop a freighter together? Where will they poop?

That’s right…while my home country is burning itself to the ground, I’m pondering the logistics of artificial turf on the deck of a container ship and how much trazodone it would take for my Plott Hound to avoid a psychotic break during the voyage. Sorry, not sorry.

Who Knew I Would Be a Fan of Paying Bribes?

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the intricacies of paying bribes. It definitely happens in some industries to obtain permits and political favors but there’s usually some sort of quid pro quo rather than cash directly changing hands. In the US, citizens are extorted via citations for violations of obscure and often contradictory codes which somehow try to convince us the state can be a victim. The system is much more straightforward in Mexico.

Getting mail and packages delivered in Baja can be an adventure. From my first day in-country, I was told to never, EVER use the Mexican Postal Service for any reason because things just disappear. We’ve had 100% success with DHL delivering to our house. They honk at the gate and we’re off to the races. I ordered a mango slicer from China via Amazon Mexico and the end carrier they used was a local company called Estafeta. I’m guessing they don’t deliver because they called and let me know my package was ready for pickup. We live in a small town so it was barely an inconvenience. There are also local companies who transport letters and packages from the US to Baja so if you have a seller who won’t ship internationally, it’s no big deal. You just use their US address and they charge a fee based on the invoice amount. Easy peasy.

So we ordered an item from Amazon US and the Chinese seller offered shipping to Mexico. Yayzies! I tracked the package from Shenzhen all the way to La Paz and that’s where it stopped. Wouldn’t you know, the end carrier was the Mexican Postal Service. I sent the seller a link to initiate an investigation to locate the package since it had been there since May 14 and I seriously doubt they took any action. The bf was discussing the situation with our mechanic who just happens to live next door to a mailman. Our mechanic passed along the tracking info to his neighbor, who immediately located the package and agreed to bring it to town for the low, low price of 450 pesos (approximately $19.52 US). I have no idea if that’s what the mailman had to pay to release the package or if that was his service fee. I also don’t care.

There is a similar process for resolving traffic citations, expired vehicle registrations, etc. Rather than going to the police station and dealing with a lengthy hassle, you can generally just settle up with the officer on the spot and then go on your merry way. I appreciate the opportunity to expedite the process. My time is valuable and the rules are generally very limited. For example, dirt bikes do not need to be registered and are street legal. Yesterday, I saw a family of three riding a four-wheeler past the Pemex station. They were not recreating; this is a legit form of transportation. I do enjoy living in a place with limited rules and restrictions. The plumbing is garbage but the freedom is fire.

It’s sort of fun learning there truly is a workaround for everything. You just have to ask a local how to make it happen and have some cash on hand.

It’s Not Looking Good in Minnesota

Catching up on the latest news in the US makes me grateful my top concern today was catching the garbage truck. I have completed that task and can now bask in the foggy Baja morning. It’ll warm up someday.

Honestly, it’s times like these that I point to when people seem baffled by my sudden move to Mexico. The term “Going Galt” evokes a massive eye roll but there’s a point where you just want to get off the damn ride. Why stick around and lament something that is utterly unfixable?

I’m old enough to remember when Americans could agree on a set of facts. We generally agreed on intended outcomes and our differences manifested themselves in our beliefs about the best paths to achieve those outcomes. Now we’ve gone completely off the rails. Gaslighting, virtue signaling, concern trolling…it’s all just too much.

Americans have gotten lazy and overprivileged. We’ve stopped being thinkers. We’ve eaten every line of bullshit fed to us with a knife and a fork and asked for more. We’ve stopped paying attention to things like how money really works and abdicated our responsibilities for keeping our government in check. We’ve been so focused on viral cat videos that we forgot to question why a particular officer in Minnesota had EIGHTEEN complaints of excessive force and had never been prosecuted. I’m not saying a frivolous complaint has never been filed because that would be provably false. I’m saying maybe it’s worth a look, ya know?

We need to get our priorities in order. The US has become a giant Karen full of rules and regulations and taxes and more rules. The criminal justice system is a fucking farce. Breathing air has become criminal activity. It’s like everyone declared themselves HOA President and it’s fucking chaos. I’m done. 

I hate what has happened to us. A better person would probably stick around and try to work on a solution but I fear we are far beyond the point of repair. It’s much easier to see how dysfunctional the situation has become from a distance. If things don’t improve, this trial separation could ultimately lead to divorce.

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.

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.

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.

Afraid to Ask What’s Next

Here’s a recap of my Mexico drama thus far: Weeks without wifi. Weeks without trash pickup. Locked out of the house and rescued by the internet guy who knew a guy. Days without running water. Honestly, I have to carry buckets of water from the kitchen to the washer even when the water is “on” because the pressure in the line that feeds it is virtually nonexistent. So that’s my arm workout. Anyway, most of this has taken place when the boyfriend is gone so it’s been my shit to deal with…alone in a foreign country.

Then Tropical Storm Raymond happened. Fortunately, the storm wasn’t as bad here as it was in Cabo. It rained for a few days and was pretty fucking miserable being cooped up in the house with the dogs but at least we didn’t lose power and I didn’t need to leave the house for anything. Our house is on a pretty steep hill so I didn’t have to worry about flooding. If I had needed to get to the mercado, however, I probably would have done it on foot because the road was a full-blown muddy river. I made sure my LED lantern batteries were fully charged and was happy I didn’t need them.

Yesterday morning, I was participating in an all-day online Payroll and Human Resources symposium. Gotta get those continuing education credits! Everything was going just fine until the power went off at about 10:30 am. It seemed strange for this to happen on a perfectly still and sunny day but okay.

After a couple hours, I started to worry about whether the bill had been paid because it sounded like my neighbors had power. I was told when I first moved here that the bills are left taped to the gate every two months and if they aren’t paid on time, there is no mercy. They just cut your shit right off. I have received a water bill but nothing for electricity so I contacted the landlord to make sure that wasn’t the problem. So I was running my phone battery down with *maybe* 2G cell data trying to communicate with someone who wasn’t picking up what I was throwing down. Finally, he was able to confirm it had been paid in early October so that wasn’t the problem.

We have solar chargers for electronics but they need to be in the sun for a while before they are ready to start doing their jobs. I can relate. Unfortunately, I ran out of daylight before that happened. I took a drive to charge my phone and possibly avoid a psychotic break but it was essentially a failure on both counts. I let the boyfriend (who is still traveling) know I was conserving my battery and switched to airplane mode. Between my Kindle and the LED lantern, my night was set.

Imagine how thrilled I was to wake up this morning and learn the power was still off. At that point, I began worrying about the food in the fridge and freezer even though I had been careful to only access them when absolutely necessary. We stocked up before the boyfriend left on his trip and that included duck he plans to cook for Thanksgiving. I really didn’t want to deal with replacing a bunch of spoiled food. The solar chargers went up on the roof deck right at sunrise and finally began putting in some work.

There was leftover coffee from yesterday so at least I had something stale to reheat. I was reminded how much fun it is to light a gas stove with a short match. That’s something I hadn’t done in more than 30 years. I wasn’t about to try the oven but I did grab some perishables out of the fridge to minimize the waste. Cooking really isn’t my thing but being high maintenance isn’t always an option.

A guy in an orange vest came by at about 12:30 pm and worked some magic near the electric meter. After 26 hours, I can only assume the food is fine. Every device was promptly connected to its charger. The (now) on-demand webinar has resumed. I am back to my regular level of isolation and I’m afraid to ask what’s next.

Trash in Mexico

Sometimes the smallest victories are the most fulfilling. Today, I am overjoyed with my successful navigation of the garbage collection process in my neighborhood. I don’t even know who I am right now.

I have lived on my own since I was 17 years old. When I was in college, I moved every six months and had it down to a science. What I’m saying is I know how to handle things. There’s a list of providers in every location and you just start contacting them to establish services. Easy! Everyone knows this.

Unfortunately, that is not how things work in my little slice of Baja. I asked my US-based landlord for information about obtaining services (such as trash collection) and he completely ignored my inquiry. Okay. I asked a local and was told some neighborhoods have trash collection and some don’t. I was instructed to watch my neighbors and see if they put trash out by the street. If not, there’s a weekly trash collection site about a mile away that I can use for a suggested donation of 50 pesos. That seemed simple enough.

My hearing is borderline superhuman. Two Fridays ago, I woke up at around 7 am and heard what I absolutely knew was a garbage truck somewhere in the neighborhood. Sure enough, the truck came by at precisely 7:25 (too quickly for me to carry my bags through the gate) and I found myself standing on the porch taking photos of it. I thought I needed to contact the company and set up an account. Stupid American.

I spent that morning furiously Googling all things garbage-related in the area. I learned that garbage is collected by the municipality of La Paz (sort of like a county) and is included in the property taxes so I don’t need to do anything but leave my black bags by the road for pickup each Friday morning. Perfect! I set my alarm for 7 am each Friday, thinking that would give me plenty of time to move the bags outside the gate in time for collection. The alarm is a redundancy; those goddamned roosters down the way will never let me sleep so late.

Last Friday, I was ready! The boyfriend and I started moving bags out to the road and he opened the outdoor trash can to remove the final bag.

Let me talk to you for a moment about maggots. I am not a medical examiner. I have no need to have any knowledge whatsoever of the breeding habits of flies. Mexico apparently thinks otherwise. I’m not sure what kind of flies dominate the Tropic of Cancer but these are not normal flies. There is some strain of a highly evolved, freaskishly prolific fly that can lay an infinite quantity of eggs on any surface. This is a scientific fact.

What we witnessed when he opened that lid was the stuff of horror movies. There were maggots crawling everywhere. I mean *everywhere* and what was seen can never be unseen. I am so incredibly thankful he was still there to handle that issue because we were on the way to the airport and I seriously could not deal with that on my own.

In the short time we spent grossing out over maggots and loading my Jeep, the wild pack of dogs from across the street had torn into a couple of the bags we left by the road. Are you fucking kidding me right now? I needed to get him to Cabo to catch his flight. So there was trash strewn about along the road and we had to leave. The bags went back inside the gate for me to address later. I have no idea what time the truck finally showed up but it was well after 9 am. This will be relevant in a minute.

I could have taken the trash bags to the collection point the next day but I had to stay home and wait for the internet installation. So yes, those nasty-ass trash bags sat another week right inside the gate. Honestly, my anxiety over this situation has been a little intense and I am so proud of my doggos for completely ignoring them.

I kind of want to murder the neighborhood roosters but they saved my ass this morning. They were screaming at one another and when I looked at my phone, I saw it was only 6:30 so I tried to go back to sleep. My alarm was still set for 7:00 so it would be fine. Hahahaha….no. I heard the garbage truck and bolted out of bed. Ladies: Have you ever noticed how long it takes to put on a bra when you’re in a hurry? I ran to the gate and barely got the bags to the road by the time the guys arrived to collect them…at 6:55.

While I was victorious this morning, I am extremely concerned that I need to camp outside my gate like a Black Friday shopper just to accomplish what should be a very routine task. What time will the truck arrive? I have to place the bags in the proper location while avoiding the pack of wild trash-eating dogs. Should we place bets? Should I create a flow chart? How much alcohol should I consume today? I keep seeing the dad in A Christmas Story, whose turkey was eaten by the neighbor dogs when they got into the house. This is going to be a thing, isn’t it?!?

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