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?!?

Let There be Internet!

I’ll be the first to admit I have been spoiled by the first world and all of its “problems.” I’ll also tell you I haven’t been this frustrated with internet access since constantly hearing “GOODBYE!” in 1995.

The house we rented in Mexico did not come with internet. At first blush, it didn’t seem like that much of an issue. How hard could it be to order service? Oh honey…let me just tell you.

Telmex is the main ISP in our area. I was told to check their website and see if they service our address. I mean, that sounds easy enough but the Telmex website asks for the neighborhood before giving one an opportunity to enter an address. Our US-based landlord didn’t even have the correct neighborhood listed on the lease so we had some sleuthing to do. My first-world brain still wonders why the ISP doesn’t *know* which addresses belong in each neighborhood of their service area but this is not, in fact, the first world.

With all relevant information obtained, we were able to request installation and received confirmation that a technician would arrive on Monday, October 28. They confirmed the appointment multiple times via telephone but alas, no installation occurred on October 28.

I accidentally made contact with Telmex via Twitter on October 30 and that went about as well as one would expect. They rescheduled for November 2 and no-showed again. The excuse they used when contacted via telephone was that they couldn’t find our house. It’s not like I have a screen shot from Google Maps showing our house in relation to a very well-known landmark a couple blocks away that I could have sent them via DM on Twitter or literally any other platform. That would be crazy.

They rescheduled again for November 7 and no-showed again. With that third strike, they were out. I spent THREE WHOLE DAYS watching for these fools. So I contacted some guy on WhatsApp and he was at our house installing blazing fast internet the very next day.

I had been relying on *maybe* 2G mobile data for weeks. There were people doing work at out house the first week and I couldn’t just leave my dogs there all day while I sat in a coffee shop with my laptop. I didn’t realize just how much I depend on reliable internet access to get through the day. I still remember when AOL was too much trouble because connecting to a free line in Wichita took 30 minutes or longer. I honestly couldn’t understand the appeal.

Fast-forward a couple decades and I’m a full-blown addict. Once my devices were connected to that sweet Wi-Fi, it was like dopamine was being injected directly into my veins. I probably streamed video for a solid seven hours. It was pure binge-watching bliss. I can’t watch everything from Mexico but I can watch a lot.

The lesson in all of this is there is always a workaround. Smile, nod and say, “That’ll be fine.”

Driving Baja

Whose brilliant idea was this, anyway?

We decided to cross the border in Mexicali to save time and money. After being delayed due to a late Amazon package and a bad wheel bearing (not mine), we left Arizona much later than we expected. As a result, the crossing we intended to use was closed for the weekend so we used the busier one on the west side of town.

Being in two vehicles can be a challenge, especially when the leader gets pulled over for an inspection and is extorted to the tune of 3,000 pesos. We sat for a couple hours while they decided what to do with us and the psychotic hound had a panic attack requiring a dose of trazodone. Great start to a nerve wracking drive.

Highway 5 from Mexicali could have been in the US. There was a ton of traffic in San Felipe and the road quickly deteriorated after we left heading south. Little side detours for construction were unpaved and extremely rocky in spots. Some of them included very steep climbs and descents and I thought I would need 4WD a couple times. A large unpaved section that continued for a few miles was a little sketchy, especially considering we were running out of daylight. Views of the mountains and Sea of Cortez were absolutely breathtaking but it was impossible for me to divert my attention to taking photos while driving due to the road conditions. I learned my dogs are not fans of off-roading. My Jeep was absolutely made for those conditions and it would have been fun, had I not been carrying cargo with feelings. I feel like I should get a cheesy t-shirt that says something like “I survived driving Highway 5” but I’m content to settle for bragging rights.

We made it to Highway 1 right before dusk and had no choice but to continue after dark. There were no shoulders and terrible (mostly nonexistent) road markings in most spots. Mountain curves were terrifying after dark. It was impossible to see. We had been up since 4 am and semi-trucks were driving way too fast for the road conditions. We finally made it to a hotel just outside Guerrero Negro at about 10 pm. Lulu wasn’t even talking to me by then.

The lead vehicle lost its fuel pump as we were leaving the next morning so we sat until after lunch and only made it to San Ignacio where we stopped for the night. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful aside from being utterly confused by Mexican towns and whatever rules drivers seem to haphazardly follow. We finally made it to Todos Santos at about 8 pm the next night and my dogs and I were toast. They weren’t listening to anything I was trying to tell them and I was beyond exhausted. We got the keys to our house and completely crashed.

The drive was better and worse than I expected. It is my sincere hope that I never have to do that again.

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