Retiring to Mexico has been an eye opener for this naive American expat. Back in 2008, when I’d first planned the move, I absolutely felt that I knew what I was doing. After all, I’d traveled to many tourist spots over the years, and felt I’d seen the real Mexico, even if most of my time had been spent on the tourist reservations. So, really, how different could it be? Sure, I needed to learn more Spanish other than “una mas cervesa, por favor,” and “donde esta el bano?” This might be the time to point out that, ironically, I no longer drink, so one of those phrases wouldn’t help me now anyway. But, I was sure I was prepared for the move. I’d just learn what words I’d really need to “get by,” do a little writing, and take a few photos. It was to be a quiet way to ease into my golden years, yes?
My first lesson in reality was simple. They have milk in boxes, not bottles, boxes, and you won’t find them in the refrigerated section, they are on the shelves along with the cream. Said milk also doesn’t come in gallons. America is one of the last three, or four countries, I think, that still doesn’t use the metric system and I’m just old enough to not have been exposed to the concept of meters, or litres, in school. Okay, so I will need to learn the metric system as well. A small hurdle. But, my grocery problems had just begun. Here’s one example. I grew up spending quite a bit of time in the south and, in the south, we make real lemonade with real lemons. On a particularly hot day I had a taste for some lemonade and off I went. But, lemons weren’t to be found, anywhere. There were limes, huge piles of them, in fact, but no lemons. I assumed they must have not stocked them yet so off I went to ask a store clerk. The problem was that my Spanish skills had only grown to where I could order dinner (if there were pictures of the meal on the menu) and ask for directions (if the person was extremely patient and willing to point). I’m not sure who was more frustrated, the clerk, or me, but I’ve still not made my lemonade. I’ve lived here for four years.
Next lesson was learned while I lived on the island of Isla Mujeres. Toilet paper is absolutely not to be flushed, ever. It is to be placed in the trash can found alongside just about every toilet on that island. Now, many of the more modern homes and businesses here, on Cozumel, have plumbing that can handle it. But, if you plan to visit, just look for the trash can first. If you forget, move away quickly, especially if wearing flip flops. Since I’m sure you get the idea, enough said about that. Oh, and take it seriously when they say “don’t drink the water.” I assumed that I could make coffee with tap water since the water is, basically, boiled. I lost a couple of pounds after that idea. Now, I only use the water in the twenty litre bottles that are provided by vendors who drive around the neighborhoods and, lightly, honk their horns. You learn to identify that horn when in need and thirsty. Another unexpected skill we develop.
While writing this I’ve noticed that the wind has picked up quite a bit. We have a “norte,” or north wind blowing (think strong gusts). And, yes, new terms for weather as well. I digress. I’ve decorated my outside deck area with local cloths for shade and color. I just went outside to try and take them down, but my deck is on the second floor and I was standing, briefly, on a ladder. While poised with one foot on the ledge and the other on my ladder I happened to look down and made eye contact with a local walking by. Her expression helped me to make a quick decision. I’d rather pay 100 pesos for a replacement cloth than get blown over the edge. So I’m back inside with my two dogs who, apparently, know better than me about what to do in this type of weather. They are hunkered down on their beds and they aren’t moving.
Ah, my dogs. I’ve adopted them here and, when they don’t listen to me, I just assume it’s because, once again, I don’t speak their language. Can’t get around the fact that this is Mexico and the language is Spanish, period. Now, for those of you who’ve read my posts before, you know that my lack of language skills have gotten me into way more trouble than just not having obedient dogs. Telling cab drivers I’m horny, asking for directions to cheap pigs, and ordering coffee along with a blue car are just a few of the many mistakes I’ve made. I’m happy to say that I can now be understood, and understand, way more than I did four years ago. But, I still can’t hold a full conversation because I still have to translate in my head. I hear what is being said, but, by the time I translate that, and then translate my response, the moment is gone. Thankfully, the locals are a patient lot, especially when they see that someone is trying (and I need to learn to think in Spanish as well).
Now, there have been many unexpected lessons I’ve not talked about at length, many. The final meal of the day is often served around 8:00; good to know when having folks over for dinner. The favorite form of transportation is the moped. Whole families use them, often at the same time. When you see one, just move on, no need to stop and stare like I did. Want a hot shower in the summer? That’s simple. Just turn on the cold water somewhere around 2:00 in the afternoon. That repetitive childish tune you hear in the street is the vendor who can replace your gas, the bicycle bell is the guy who will sharpen your knives. But, and this is important, neither one is the ice cream truck. I’m still waiting for that. Oh, and children are welcome everywhere and folks down here still dress for mass. The list goes on.
Am I complaining? I certainly hope not, it’s been worth (almost) every moment. Most significantly, it’s made me realize that I can laugh at myself. I wish I didn’t have to do that quite so often, but, there it is. And, this island is just beautiful. In fact, all of the pictures posted here I took just while walking around either this morning, or Tuesday night. Pretty hard to complain when this is where I live in January, and this is what I get to see.
But, a bit of advice to others getting ready to visit, or move here. Cozumel has forums, newsletters, and Facebook sites run by the folks who’ve already been through it all and are willing to share information. I so wish I knew about these a few years back, could have saved me a lot of those “special moments.” Sites like “Cozumel 4 You” and “Cozumel My Cozumel” have been invaluable for many, including me. Got a question? Post it. Someone will answer and, usually, very quickly. They will also share information such as where to find things not typically available on the island. In fact, a posting just last week is what made me think of this while inside hiding from the wind. Apparently there were lemons at Chedraui, a local store, and, because this is a special event, someone put the word out. Unfortunately, the word must have spread quickly and I was out of luck again. I did wait until the next day, not sure what I was thinking. But, that’s okay, I’ve learned that limeade is pretty tasty too. It’s all about the acclimation. Salud!
p.s. if you live in the Corpus Christi area and happen to find colorful cloths lying in the street, they were mine……….by all means, enjoy. Yes, I’m still learning!