Friday, 22 November 2013

The Traveler's Life - An Irishman in Mexico

November is my ‘month of bureaucracy’, one I look forward to annually with some trepidation. This year however, it has passed without a hitch, making me wonder whether Mexico’s famous bureaucratic processes, which for so long have been time consuming nightmares, are finally being overhauled and improved to the benefit of all?

The month started with the renewal of my “Residente Temporal” (temporary resident) card – formerly known as ‘FM2’. It was the first time I was renewing under the new immigration rules, reason alone to be nervous, but forms were filed, appointment was given, and the card (previously given on the spot) was sent from Mexico City in less than 2 weeks, rather than the promised 3. Since the new rules allow multi-year renewals, the first time will also have been the last time I need to renew, and in 2 years from now, I will be able to change to the permanent resident card. Immigration – check!

Next, payment of my Fideicomiso (bank trust, which enables non-Mexicans to own property in the restricted zones of the country, near the coasts and international borders – soon, hopefully, to be abolished). I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Scotiabank, the holders of my Fideicomiso. They love me, as they get to take my money every year; I hate them for their inefficiency and lack of customer service. Last year, they double charged my fees to my credit card, and it took months of corresponding with the bank and the credit card company to get the charge corrected. This year, I decided that cash was the way to go; presented myself at the Scotiabank location on Calle 59 in centro, paid, and was given my receipt right away. That easy. Fideicomiso – check!

Finally, renewal of my Yucatan driving license. Obtaining the original 2 years ago was a bureaucratic farce worthy of its own TV show, so it was with a large pinch of salt that I took the instructions for renewing it, which made the process sound extremely easy and straightforward. According to the state government website, I could renew at one of the ‘modules’ located around town, presenting nothing more than the original license and a photocopy. Expecting the worst, and armed with passport, proof of address, and reading material for a lengthy wait, I went to the ‘module’ at Plaza Fiesta. There was no line. I handed my old license to the clerk (copy was not requested), provided a digital signature, fingerprints, and photo, and paid. Ten minutes later, I was back outside, new license in hand. Driving license renewal – check!

So what is going on? I pay my electricity bill, phone bill, and water bill online. Annual property tax can be paid online. Garbage collection fees (at least in centro) can be paid at one of the ‘modules’. I even recently received a package from Acapulco by Correos de Mexico, the notoriously inefficient Mexican postal service, in less than a week. Life suddenly seems less complicated here. Don’t worry though; if you are missing the experience of spending an entire day dealing with meaningless paperwork, there are still opportunities. Recently a friend of mine lost the license plate from the front of his car. The resulting process was also worthy of its own TV show, and stretched over three partial days.

While we’re on the subject of documentation, one of the benefits of being ‘An Irishman in Mexico’ is being able to present my Irish passport as ID, in banks, offices, etc. The passport is primarily written, as one would expect, in Irish. It carries glorious paragraphs such as “Iarran Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha na hÉireann ar gach n-aon lena mbaineann ligean dá shealbhóir seo, saoránach d’Éirinn, gabháil ar aghaidh gan bhac gan chosc agus gach cúnamh agus caomhnú is gá a thabhairt don sealbhóir. Yup, it’s all Greek to me, too. There are not many Irish people in Merida, and hence, Irish passports are a rarity, and it is always a delight to see the look of complete bemusement on the face of the clerk or official who requested to see the passport. Even I don’t speak Irish, but fortunately, the salient parts are also written in English, from where I can translate them to Spanish if requested.

What else this week? Feria Yucatan continues at the fairgrounds at Xmatkuil, to the south of the city. Check the website at for schedules, maps, and more information. If you haven’t been yet, plan to go before it ends on Sunday December 1st.

And hopefully next week, the long awaited and often delayed opening of “Union Jacks”, Merida’s first British restaurant!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Don’t miss the Gran Vaqueria at Feria Yucatan!

The Feria Yucatan is in full swing at the Xmatkuil fairgrounds, attracting the normal crowds to the rides, concerts and events for which it is famous. There is something happening every day at Xmatkuil, however if you plan to go only once during the event, then make it Friday November 29, which is the day of a truly unique event, the Gran Vaqueria, a traditional colonial hacienda style dance and party which runs from 7pm.

Villages throughout the state are represented, competing with each other for the most spectacular dress, and best jarana dancing.  

The Gran Vaqueria takes place at the Teatro del Pueblo, inside the fairgrounds, and to whet your appetite, here are some photos from last year’s event. Thanks to Feria Yucatan 2012 Facebook page for the photos.

Check the website at for schedules, maps, and more information.

Monday, 11 November 2013

“Chaud Devant” opens at UVM in Merida

Merida, Yucatan – November 11, 2013 - A unique ‘temporary’ restaurant opened for business today, at the Glion hotel school building on the campus of Universidad del Valle de México (UVM), located on the road from Merida to Progreso, just outside the periferico. Glion Institute of Higher Education, as it is officially known, is a world famous, top-rated Swiss hospitality school, which operates schools in other countries in conjunction with local institutes; in Mexico, they partner with UVM.

A project by the 5th semester students, this semester’s concept is “Chaud Devant”, a French-Mexican fusion. What does “Chaud Devant” mean? In France, when a waiter needs to cross a crowded restaurant with hot plates, he calls “attention, chaud devant!” to alert his colleagues.

During their 4th semester, student teams of four to five people compete for the grand prize; namely to develop their concept into an actual restaurant, which they will run for one month. The winning students are responsible for everything, from developing the concept, to food preparation, service, and managing the restaurant.

The restaurant caters mainly to the campus, however is also open to the public from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm, from now until December 6.

The menu features breakfast items including a ham and cheese filled croissant ($25 pesos), traditional omelets with a choice of fillings ($30 pesos), and Mexican breakfast staples molletes ($25 pesos) and chilaquiles ($32 pesos).

Lunch offerings include appetizers of mushroom soup ($24 pesos) and chicken brochettes ($27 pesos), with mains encompassing French items such as the Chaud Devant salad ($26 pesos), ham and cheese quiche ($36 pesos), Mexican house nachos ($46 pesos) and fusion dishes such as the fusion roll, a crepe stuffed with lettuce, avocado, onion, refried beans and chicken ($32 pesos). If you are still hungry, desserts include crepes ($24 pesos), and fruit tart ($24 pesos). Soft drinks and coffee range in price from $10 – 14 pesos.

We regretted that we didn’t feel hungry enough to try everything, however were delighted with our selections of the fusion roll and the ham and cheese quiche, both of which were fresh and delicious, and the quiche quite reminiscent of what one might find in Europe. We’ll be making a return visit soon to sample some of the other offerings.

Menus are in English and Spanish, and the students serving you speak English, so if your Spanish is not good, don’t let a fear of being unable to communicate put you off going.

There’s an expat connection at the school as well, since Greg Fryer, the food and beverage leader, and teacher of many of the culinary classes, is Canadian, resident in Merida since 2004.

It’s well worth a visit to “Chaud Devant”, and easy to get there – just head north on the highway towards Progreso, take the Dzitya exit, make a u turn, and head back towards Merida. You will see UVM on the right. Enter through the gates, park, and then walk back to the Glion building, which is right next to the gate. Visit for more information.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Traveler's Life

Business unexpectedly took me to Ciudad del Carmen, in our neighboring state of Campeche this week. I’d passed through there before, but this was the first time I had the questionable ‘pleasure’ of overnighting there.

Ciudad del Carmen was a small city mostly devoted to fishing until the 1970s when oil was discovered in the region; since then it has grown and developed substantially. The oil industry (and businesses supporting it) is now the overwhelming reason for the existence of the city, which is correspondingly unappealing to the casual visitor. Check any website related to the city, and one of the main ‘attractions’ mentioned will be ‘El Zacatal Bridge’. Yes, a bridge. If bridge viewing is not your thing, then it’s probably a good idea to keep right on going through Ciudad del Carmen, although it’s worth a stop to admire the stunning beach scenery alongside the road between Champoton and Isla Aguada.  

What this trip did remind me of however is the quality and value provided by the long distance bus services in Mexico, which have been the main method of travel around the country for decades, and continue to be, although the low-cost airlines are starting to make inroads in this area. I traveled from Merida to Ciudad del Carmen by ADO GL, part of the ADO transport group. The GL service is considered ‘executive’, meaning extra legroom, more comfortable seats, two onboard toilets, and for me, the most valuable amenity, the fact that sound for the onboard movies is delivered via individual headphones (provided) rather than broadcast over the onboard PA system, meaning that if you don’t wish to hear the soundtrack for the continual movies, you don’t have to! Value, compared with a similar journey in Europe or the USA is excellent – the 5 hour 30 minute journey cost $418 pesos. The same journey on ‘regular’ ADO (1st class service – only one onboard toilet and broadcast movie soundtracks) costs $358 pesos, and on ADO Platino (luxury service with 2 toilets, seats that recline way back complete with leg rests, only three seats abreast, and individual movie screens) runs $536 pesos. I’ve taken the Platino service before between Merida and Cancun, and it is indeed an extremely comfortable experience.

If you need to make a long journey in the region, and the bus is the easiest or most convenient way, don’t be scared to do it, the ADO group services will take you where you want to go in comfort and safety.

What else this week? Feria Yucatan has started at the fairgrounds at Xmatkuil, to the south of the city. Check the website at for schedules, maps, and more information.

And on Monday, the opening of a unique temporary restaurant at Universidad del Valle de Mexico – run by the catering students at the Glion School for a month every year. This year’s project is called “Chaud Devant” and will be offering breakfast and lunch with a mix of French and Mexican cuisine. Watch this space for a report and more information.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

Holier than thou...

So it seems I ruffled some feathers with my recent 'Jehovah's  Witness' photo. This morning, I received an email from an American acquaintance who lives part time in Merida. Below, is her missive, and my answer.


Dear Stewart,

I read with interest your comments on Facebook. Since the ladies you spoke to would not comply with your request for their names and addresses I felt it proper to give you mine so you could visit. My name is ****** and my address is ******. My husband and I have been Jehovah's Witnesses for some 50 years, in fact we are in Merida now and ***** is giving the public talk at our Kingdom Hall next Saturday. If you don't care to visit us please contact ******* as he and his family have been Witnesses their entire lives.

I can't blame the ladies for not giving you their personal information. In this day and age would any woman give a complete stranger her name and address? Would you? I certainly wouldn't. When out in the ministry I will give a stranger my name and email if the person seems interested in studying the Bible. Many want to know why God permits suffering and when will wickedness be done away with on the Earth. We do our work because it was a command from Jesus Christ to witness and teach God's word to people just as he did. (Matt. 28:19 & 20) We are only following his direction. If an individual is not interest we move on to someone who is.

It grieves me that you find it necessary to bother innocent women on the street that are only doing their godly duty. It has rarely happened to me as most people admire our work and are grateful someone has taken the initiative to bring good news to their door.

So please phone if you would care to come and discuss the Bible's message. I look forward to hearing from you.


* * * * * 

Hi *****,

Nice to hear from you, and welcome home! 

Indeed, I know that you and ***** are Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as ****** and his family, and I have always appreciated that none of you have ever tried to force your beliefs on me. Please thank ****** for bringing my Facebook posting to your attention. 

I have no issue with Jehovah's witnesses per se - my quarrel is with anyone who comes uninvited to private houses, intending to indoctrinate others with their beliefs, be they Jehovah's witnesses, Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, or Devil Worshipers, all of whom would receive the same treatment. I believe religion is a private matter - the aforementioned groups are free to practice and believe what they wish, in the confines of their own homes and religious premises, or indeed, in public places where preaching is permitted, and people have the choice to listen or walk away. My issue is with ANYONE who brings religious messages to private houses, uninvited. 

While I understand your point about ladies not wishing to give out their personal information, I am sure you will agree with me that there seems to be a strange discrepancy in the fact that they feel free to visit houses uninvited, yet don't offer a welcome to people who wish to visit them? Of course I have no interest or intention of visiting them, but feel it is a valid way to make the point. 

You (by 'you' I mean Jehovah's Witnesses in general, not only you personally) believe you are doing as commanded by God. Many of us disagree with that, and therein lies the problem. Clearly your (again, JWs in general) behavior isn't going to change, since 'you' carry this belief. It's important therefore that 'you' understand the reason for the hostility you encounter sometimes. 

You mention that if a person is not interested, you move on to someone who is. If only that were the case! Why then, do the same witnesses come through the street week after week, knocking at the same doors? If indeed it was only once, I would tolerate it (indeed, I did, on the first occasion, many moons ago). To have the disturbance in the street week after week (indeed generally speaking more than once a week) is surely a gross invasion of privacy by anyone's definition? And they don't knock once and move on. They knock again, and again, and again. The 'Mexican' way to handle unwanted visitors such as these is to disappear inside the house and ignore the visitors. It's amazing how quickly the street empties of people, doors close, windows close, and blinds go down when the witnesses appear. You would think the street to be uninhabited, or a small atomic explosion to have occurred!

The British way is rather more confrontational however. I'm sure you are familiar with the prevailing British belief that religion is a very private matter, having spent a long time in the country yourself. I can also assure you that in Britain, visiting witnesses tend to receive a rather ruder welcome than the toned down version I provide here! I can't speak for Texans, never having lived there, but when I lived in New York, I found people to be quite opinionated (to say the least) and am sure that being 'out in the ministry' there must be an experience in itself. 

I've always thought that it is best to avoid discussing religion (and often politics) with friends. I have friends who are Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim, and personally believe little of what they do. I know that. They know that. They don't try to force their beliefs on me, I don't force mine on them. As Benito Juarez said, 'respect for the rights of others is peace'. The right to believe what one wishes, in the privacy of one's home, without unwanted  propagandists at the door should be a primary one. 

I appreciate your offer to contact you if I wish to discuss the bible's message. That is the way it should be done, allowing me to initiate the contact if I wish. 

Hope you will enjoy your stay in Merida! The weather has not been great recently, and we have had a horrendous rainy season, which seems never ending. I was hopeful it was over, but now the nortes have started arriving, yet without enough strength to clear across the peninsula, resulting in a lot of wet and humid weather, and I see the forecast is for continuing unsettled weather for the next 10 days at least. 



Paseo de las Ánimas once again captivates Merida

Last night, Merida witnessed one of the most unique and interesting events of the yearly calendar; namely the Paseo de las Ánimas, or Passage of the Souls, an annual occurrence coinciding with Hanal Pixan, the Mayan version of the better known Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.

To accommodate the ever growing number of visitors, this year’s event took place over an extended route, all the way from the General Cemetery to the arch at San Juan.

The procession itself was of course the highlight, with children and young people, wearing traditional Yucatecan dress, and face makeup to appear like sculls.

Visitors also enjoyed guided tours of the cemetery, the regional gastronomy on offer, and the exhibition of the typical Yucatecan altars along the route, set up by families and businesses alike to remember those no longer with us.

Three stages, one at the cemetery, one at La Ermita, and one at Parque San Juan offered a selection of entertainment, including performances by Trio Trova Nova, Las Maya Internacional, Trio Los Juglares, and the ‘Vaqueria de las Ánimas’.

The Paseo de las Ánimas is one of those events that could only occur in Merida, and we hope that those who attended enjoyed it, and those who were not in town will make an effort to be here next year!

* * *

Coming soon: The next big (OK, huge) event on the calendar in Merida is the Feria Yucatan, the state fair, which will commence on Friday November 8, running all the way until Sunday December 1. The fair is one of the largest in the country, and is a major commercial event. It takes place in the fairgrounds at Xmatkuil, to the south of the city, directly down Calle 50. To get there, just follow Calle 50 south, until it ends, turn left, and follow the crowds!

This year, shows will include the ‘Caballeros del Reino’ (a medieval horseback show), an ice skating spectacular, and a dolphin show. The midway area will include all the usual fairground rides, and concerts and performances by local and nationally famous artists will include Espinoza Paz, Banda MS, Alejandra Guzman, and Maria Jose. On 14 different days, the Teatro del Pueblo will feature concerts and other entertainment events entirely free of charge.

A truly unique event, and well worth making the drive for is the Gran Vaqueria, a tradional colonial hacienda style dance and party on Friday November 29, from 7pm. Other attractions include judging of bovines, working dogs, and vast exhibitions on many subjects, as well as food, drinks, and music at every turn. Entrance fee will be $15 pesos per person; car parking will be $30 pesos per car. A bus service will run from centro. Come on down to Xmatkuil! A good time is sure to be had by all. More information can be found on the Feria website: