I decided I should actually make a point to try to write ‘about’ something for a change. And what better place to start than where we live: Cuernavaca, Morelos. Fifty miles south of DF, but it takes a good hour and a quarter in good traffic, two on the bus really (by the time you get out at the south station an make your way downtown). But on the bright side, the bus – with bottled water, tv, a snack and internet – is only 125 pesos or about $9.50 Canadian and the cab isn’t much.
The weather, so far, has been ideal. Seven months in and our ‘hot’ season consisted of about three weeks during the end of April and very beginning of May with temperatures ranging upwards of 30 C (92+ F). Once May came, the rains started (conveniently at night) and it cooled down. Our humidity has been marvelous, well below 25% most times, although logically, right before a huge storm, it spikes for half an hour.
The services are good – Costco is just a colonia or two away (10 minutes by car), we have a Super Chedraui supermarket with a large gourmet section within walking distance. Superama delivers (order online). You can get pretty much what you want. We haven’t gone to the big shopping center much – the one with the VIP movie theatre with bar/bistro meal service to your lazy boy leather chair. But it’s there, and it’s got some decent restaurants and a huge Mega that I must explore one day. As well as the usual clothing and shoe stores which I avoid like the plague. The bird seller is on the exit to Tabbachines (our exit) from the highway, in case you want a parrot or macaw.
Not many people you encounter day to day speak English. So it would be difficult to move here if you didn’t intend to learn Spanish right away. There is a large middle class, and upper-middle class. Some wealthy class. These people all speak Spanish and English but the conversation tends to be primarily Spanish, with some English thrown in. I believe you will find that in major Mexican cities but don’t quote me.
But they do tell us that the economy is not good here. That’s why we don’t have a Palacio de Hierro (like the HUGE one in Puebla, where the economy booms). It was booming in the 90s. But there had been drug violence and people left. It seems to be under control as far as we can see. But we’re old, and don’t hang out at the casinos or discos at 2am so we couldn’t really say how dangerous it is. We feel safe. And we have a huge Liverpool.
Back to the weather. It’s usually about 25 C (80-ish), max. And lows of 17, 18 (65-ish). There are exceptions, like teh hot season. And sunny. It’s still the rainy season but for six months, we’ve only had one day time shower (more like drizzle, when some hurricane was disrupting the Pacific). Otherwise, it’s been big wondrous thunder storms, conveniently at night. We haven’t done a December/January yet, but those two months will tell. They are generally the coldest months in central Mexico but reported to be relatively pleasant here (not below 15 C (60F) at night. The vegitation sure is tropical compared to San Miguel but it’s not humid and not all that hot. All the birds here live outside. We have a pair (not these ones) of wild parrots who fly past the house around dinner time most nights. Lots of lush green, everywhere. Things grow so quickly here. So far, the weather gets about a 9/10.
We have some very nice restaurants here, and while not taco stand-prices, they aren’t north of the border prices either. I think it’s a bit of a misconception about Mexico that the food in restaurants is cheap. Yes, it’s really inexpensive to get great tacos from the place down the street – that’s like buying poutine from the food truck up north (or a pretzel or hot dog in New York). If you want to eat in a nice restaurant, it’s not super cheap. A meal for C and I at a nice spot, with an appetizer to split and two main courses, and I will usually have a couple of beer and occasionally a desert – runs about $50 – $60 with tip (Canadian). It would cost $80 – $90 at home, I’m sure. It’s still reasonable, but it’s not like two can dine for $9.99.
Alcohol still is about half price (except scotches, bourbons and good champagnes) and I’ve raved many times about the produce and flowers. The veterinary care here is exemplary, and again, I’m going to guess about 60% of the cost of equivalent care up north. We have excellent international medical coverage of up to $10 million per person, worldwide except USA, for less than $300 a month per couple. That’s okay, really. The power is cheaper here, I think (than Canada). The water bills are reasonable. Communications are much cheaper. Hundreds of channels of cable TV plus cable internet is just $48 a month. A regular landline with 1,000 minutes of free calling worldwide and domestic unlimited free calling, plus souped-up internet is about $40 a month. We have two internet providers, based on how often it used to go out on us in the center of San Miguel, but it has only ever happened once here, after an overnight storm.
There’s a lot of history here and I’ve mentioned much of it in the past. Maximilian (self-proclaimed Emperor of Mexico from 1864 until his capture and execution in 1867) and Carlotta, who resided in Mexico city, had a weekend place here. It is about two blocks from this house and has been converted into a huge botanical garden. The church across from it dates to the 1500s. Technically, the church is San Miguel de Acapantzingo, so they had a huge party on St. Mike’s day, September 29. I wanted to go on the Ferris wheel but no one would come with me, based on the fact that all the kids’ rides were held together with baling twine. Lots of culture happening here – Chinelos, Aztec dancers, parades. Can’t wait for Day of the Dead with the cemetery directly across the street.
Ok, back to history. This town was established by the Olmec Indians, 3200 years ago. But it was the Nahuatl who named it, Cuauhnāhuac, or near the woods. Which was the name that Malcolm Lowry used for the city in his book, Under the Volcano – which, by the way, has never been out of print. The Spanish mangled the name when they invaded and somehow came up with horns of cow (Cuernavaca). And it stuck. It was nicknamed Land of Eternal Spring by Alexander von Humboldt in the 1800s – known for its spring like weather and constant temperatures in the 70s. Located on the southern slope of the Sierra de Chichinautzin mountains – it was the summer residence of many Aztec warriors. Later, The Shah of Iran had a house here, as did the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie and also Helen Hayes. Barbara Hutton (Woolworth heiress), spent $2.2 million building a Japanese-style retreat in 1959 (the equivalent of $17.9 million today). Lots of the Hollywood crowd fleeing the McCarthyism in the US came here, as did Timothy Leary. In fact, he first did acid here. And people like Louis Farrakhan still send their kids to private (American) boarding schools here. Which are very international in enrollment. And full.
There are luxury grounds and palatial homes behind these walls. We’ve been behind a few of the doors. It’s very Great Gatsby looking here (behind the walls), but it looks like that year round, as opposed to the Long Island version. I guess it is what we expected, so far. It’s been a great place to land, although we might have offered a six-month term instead of 12. But there you go. It has taken us longer to get to town than we expected. Or maybe it just isn’t as convenient as we’d hoped is probably a better way to put it. The airport has been great. It’s a two-hour bus ride (direct to the terminal door) and it does only cost about $17.50. And it leaves pretty often, with internet. Buses to the city take an hour in good traffic, and then it’s a cab ride downtown. You can do a lot in a day, but if we leave after dark, we usually take an Uber back (about $80).
Let me give you an example of my day. I get up, usually before 6am, not always but often. And rarely do I stay in bed once the alarm goes at 6am. I get up, brush my teeth, take my vitamins, give the dog their morning treats, start my computer, put the kettle on, grind the coffee beans, make the coffee. By now the dogs are ready for breakfast and after that, I make fruit smoothies. Then, I settle in to read Google news. From there, I’ll go to the Globe & Mail and sometimes the New York Times, depending on what’s going on in the world. I always check the Globe investing section. I download the email from overnight – usually about 15 of them. And if there’s anything to deal with, I do.
Next, I do work for the home decor magazine. Today, I’ve been researching spectacular floating home interiors. And posted an already-written piece. Then, I took notes (from tape) on some of the memoirs I am working on (someone elses’), that was two hours. I’ll edit and enter those chapters tomorrow. Then, someone had to go grocery shopping – Superama’s a great store but that took another 2.5 hours out of my day, from leaving to all groceries put away. It was a major shop. And now I’m back at my computer. I will take an hour off – while I write this blog – and then I’ll work again for two hours or so – til 6:30 pm. So it’s not like I’m just lolling around the pool eating bon-bons.
But, as I sit in the cabana and look out over my laptop, I can’t help but feel very lucky. As I went to the grocery store in a t-shirt and flip-flops, wearing my sunglasses, I felt lucky. Yes, I have to do the same things as I have to do up north – figure out how to earn money (and then do it) for the most part. I’m not sure what we’d do if earning money wasn’t required. I had my first part-time job when I was 13 years old. I lied about my age – it was Davis Cleaners on the north side of Carlton St., just west of Parliament St. in Toronto. Long gone of course. But I was going to Jarvis that fall and it was on my way home and there was a sign in the window one day, so in I went and got the job. I can’t imagine not earning money, somehow. I guess that’s because I like to spend it.
So, Cuernavaca all it’s cracked up to be? It is, really. Convenient services and shopping, gorgeous climate, a day trip to the capital. You can get pretty much anything, anytime. It’s a city. It’s not a pretty city outside her walls. She looks like any Mexican city. Except the tourist places, which have their own appeal for some (it’s easier to run a business in a tourist place, for example, because you’re selling to gringos). We have met some nice people here – both Mexican and gringo but the gringos have been here for decades and work (real estate agents, teachers). They all speak Spanish fluently. But you have to. I like it here. I have no complaints. I could die here.
I suppose one might ask, then why are you moving to Mexico City in March? Well, because that was always the goal. Because it’s a world-class city and we likely won’t get a chance to live in Paris or London. Or New York. Never say never but time is running out. So we’ll go up there for a couple of years and see what we think. It’s only 45-minutes from Cuernavaca (the part of DF we’re moving to) – so it’s not too far for people to come and visit. For Sunday brunch, for example. We’ll stay in touch with our friends here, we’re good at that. And we’re less than 1km from Azteca Stadium. Where people like the Stones and Bruce play. Watch how popular we are then – that’s walking distance. We may not stay more than a few years, we’ll see. If you hang around long enough, you’ll see too.
I’ve just pulled out the Day of the Dead altar materials and will post photos when it’s assembled. I need some more stuff. I’m not sure if I’m going to use this fabric or not. It’s Alexander Henry – his Mexican fabrics are quite colorful and whimsical (not all are Day of the Dead). It’s made in Japan and imported through LA. Anyway, the pieces for the altar I have are quite spectacular, so I think I should cover the altar/boxes in a plain color tissue. The Henry stuff is too busy for that. Perfect for cushions though, don’t you think?
I’m also watching the Canadian elections very closely. Election day is Monday, October 19. We voted through the embassy in Mexico by special ballot. We’re pretty sure it’s going to be a Liberal government (Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre) and if it is, I’ll probably be up north a lot more this year to do business. Which will be good, but will be much easier once we actually live in the city. The airport becomes a regular cab ride. But, that’s a topic for Tuesday, not today. Although it’s looking good for Justin, I gotta say.
And so I leave you on election day in Canada with a Blue Rodeo protest song. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Canta, no llores.