November 30, 2006
Like every city Durango has its good points and bad points. Since some of the people reading this site are considering moving to Durango I though I'd list out some of the advantages and disadvantages of living in Durango Mexico.
- Scorpions – If you live near the mountain or in the downtown area you are going to have scorpions. In a newer house this is likely to be less of an issue, but it is always something you are going to have to deal with.
- Food costs – Durango imports most of their food from other states, so the cost of the food is generally the same as the US and many times more. Shopping at the market can help, but even there the costs usually aren't below what they would be in the United States.
- No Language Schools – There don't seem to be any Spanish language schools available. Most of the schools are there to teach you English. In some ways this can be a benefit because it means that there aren't a whole bunch of people around who speak English so you'll won't have as much opportunity to speak English.
- Pollution – Although it doesn't have the smog and bad pollution of Mexico City, Durango does have it share of pollution. The city is big enough that the many trucks and buses place a heavy toll on the quality of air. This can be minimized by picking a house way from the heavily traveled roads.
- Few Tourists – Durango doesn't have a bunch of tourists from the U.S. This is beneficial because there isn't an economy built around charging northerners high tourist prices.
- Inexpensive Housing – The housing prices are very reasonable especially if you can find something that is being offered for rent by the owner.
- Beef – Durango grows its own beef, so the prices are reasonable and the quality is high.
- Walmart – It is nice to have a familiar store nearby even though the inventory is different from the U.S.
- Healthcare – The doctors we worked with were very good, highly skilled, extremely nice and very inexpensive.
- Elevation – The elevation of Durango helps keep the summers from getting too warm and the fact it is in Mexico helps keep it from getting to cold in the winter.
- Internet – Durango has two cable companies that provide internet as well as DSL through Telmex. The cable modem prices are very reasonable and comparable (sometimes even cheaper) than similar service in the U.S.
- Safe Taxis – The taxi service is safe compared with the issues in Mexico City.
There are other advantages and disadvantages of living in Durango, but hopefully that will be a useful starting point for people looking at a possible move to the city.
November 27, 2006
We made it back into the States crossing at Laredo. Our plan was to come across at the same place where we originally went into Mexico–Laredo Bridge II. Unfortunately due to strategically missing road signs, we ended up crossing at Bridge I. Bridge I, seems to be primarily a tourist bridge, so it took us about 3 hours to get across. The bottleneck was the U.S. side of things of course.
It appears that many Mexicans make their living selling stuff to the U.S. citizens waiting in line to go back. We were offered everything from a small drum set to corn on the cob to windup chickens. Evidentally, "No, Gracias" is one of those phrases with multiple meanings. Usually it means "no, thank you," but I guess sometimes it can be translated "I'll buy your dancing chicken if you let it run all over the hood of my automobile."
At one of the stop lights leading up to the bridge, we saw someone with what seemed to be a fairly effective marketing technique. Once the light turned red, he would run around depositing a handful of candy on every reachable dashboard. Then he would revisit each recipient collecting payment if possible. If you keep your windows up, you'll reduce your chances of buying something in this area.
After several hours of street vendor entertainment, it was our turn to cross. The border guard eyed us suspiciously when I told him we had been in Mexico since October and were planning on going back in January. He wanted to know what type of work I did to be able to spend so much time in Mexico and how much money we had with us. I told him I worked with computers and we lived very frugally. We had a couple hundred dollars in U.S. currency and about the same Mexican. I think you start to run into problems if you are carrying more than $10,000 per person.
He seemed particularly suspicious of the side panels of our car and kept banging on the doors in the same way you'd kick at the tires of a used car. Our Yorkie isn't use to having people beat on the side of the car, so she started barking at him. I was thinking "Great, our car survives two months in Mexico only to have its paint job destroyed by an overzealous U.S. custom official and the interior shredded by a freaked out dog." Even though the suspicious looking side panels got a lot of attention, he never even looked in the trunk or at our luggage.
He came back to the window and asked. "Is anyone else with you in the car?" I guess maybe he wanted to see if it sounded like we were lying, but seriously is someone really going to say, "Just Jose. He is sleeping under the luggage cover in the back of the car because it is more comfortable."
Finally he was satisfied that no incredibly skinny people were hiding in the walls of our Volkswagen and he sent us on our way. We drove over a very large well painted speed bump and out into downtown Laredo.
November 27, 2006
In the parts of Mexico we’ve seen, there appears to be a different approach to speed bumps than what we are used to in the U.S. In the States, you paint the speed bumps white or yellow, so they are easy to spot and so drivers slow down. The idea is to keep people from coming through really fast because they can see that there is a speed bump.
In Mexico, speed bumps seem to be used as punishment instead of a deterrent. The speed bumps are made to blend in as much as possible. I guess the idea is that if you are going to fast you’ll ruin your car and maybe you’ll be more careful next time.
Before we headed back to the U.S. for the holidays, I took the car on a quick drive around Durango to get gas and get it washed for the trip. My friend was explaining how the roads worked and who had the right of way. He said that most of the East/West roads in the center of the city had the right of way and most of the North/South roads had to yield. Sometimes this was marked with stop signs, but there are several intersections where there is no markings at all. I asked how you know who has the right of way, and he said you just know by living there for awhile.
I don’t understand how you could give someone a ticket for not obeying a non-existent sign. Before you travel in a town you’d have to get a list of all their streets and read each one to see who has the right of way. I think I’m safer just assuming the other person isn’t going to stop.
November 24, 2006
Sunday we’ll be heading back to the U.S. to spend the holidays with family. We’ll be leaving most of our stuff here with our friends in order to keep more room available for bringing down baby stuff when we drive back in January.
We went around town and took a bunch of photographs today. Hopefully we’ll have more time to edit them and put them up over the next few weeks.
It is going to be a long drive back. I’m planning on leaving around 4am in order to make it all the way to Austin before it gets too late. It will take us about 10 hours to get to Laredo and another 4 to get to Austin. If we are sick of traveling we can stay in Laredo overnight. I think I would prefer to drive about 7 hours and stay in Mexico and then head out early for the border the next day. But since we aren’t very familiar with the hotels here and we have a dog, it probably would be pretty difficult to do. We may want to leave a little earlier so we can try to hit the border by mid afternoon.
Living in Mexico is challenging. It is a different culture and so there are a lot of little things to get use to. We are very fortunate to have great friends that are helping us out so much. It is frustrating to be somewhere that you can’t even make a telephone call and set up and appointment. This is, of course, our fault for not knowing Spanish, but it can be so challenging to try to do little things like that.
We are growing, though, and that is the whole reason we came down here. I’m not just talking about understanding more Spanish, but growing in our cultural awareness. It is easy to look at another culture and think that they would be so much better off if they did things the way you are use to them being done. It is a lot more difficult to look at yourself and your own set of cultural expectations and re-evaluate which ones are really important.
November 24, 2006
Haley and I met with our Spanish teacher again today. I'm beginning to see that we have very different learning styles when it comes to languages. Our teacher is helping us to say things correctly which is good, but I'm still at the point that I don't really care if I said it right or not. I'm just trying to muster up enough Spanish to communicate. If I say something wrong, I don't care as long as I don't accidentally insult someone and get myself dumped off in the middle of the desert.
I guess since Haley has a much better grasp of Spanish from her work at the clinic she is interested in saying things correctly. I was reading a blog post from someone who has been in Mexico since February 2006. He started out by taking classes for 3 month 3 hour per day. The idea was that he would understand most everything in 3 months and be fluent at the end of 6. It sounds like a good portion of his lessons were learning Spanish grammar.
That might be a better way to start. While I like the idea of just kind of learning by just through experience, having a solid grammatical foundation might be better. At least that way I wouldn't develop a bunch of bad habits. At the same time, it is difficult for me to concentrate of verb tenses, when I really just want to be able to ask what isle the orange juice is kept on. I suppose grammar will become more important when I want to carry on a conversation about something other than just meeting basic needs.
Maybe after Christmas we'll look at a more aggressive lesson plan. If over Christmas I can get through the rest of the Rosetta Stone course, I think I'll be in good shape for when we come back down in January. At the very least I'll be further along that I was when we moved down here.
November 24, 2006
It is cold here. The houses are all constructed to stay cool. At night the temperature gets down to the mid 20s (Fahrenheit). During the day it gets up into the 70s, but the houses are made so they don’t warm up. For example, our friends’ house has several windows all around it, but they are all set up so they don’t get any direct sun. They let in light, but it doesn’t hit the windows directly. This is great for the summer when you want to retain the coolness all day, but it is a real problem in the winter when it is cold.
Since the houses are made out of concrete and most of the floors are tile, everything seems even colder than it really is. Our friends have a small propane heater that they use to keep things warm at night. For us the night time isn’t too big of a problem because we brought some thick blankets from the U.S. that work well. It is in the day time that it feels uncomfortable. We usually run the heater for about 30 minutes around 10 am to help warm things up a little.
When we get our own place, it will be interesting to see if we can come up with a way to get the sunlight into the house without ruining the cooling design for when it is warmer in the summer. Maybe a bunch of mirrors aimed at the windows during the winter would do the trick.
November 24, 2006
Every day around 2pm, the neighbor kids get home. They entertain themselves by kicking boxes right outside our window. This seems to keep them busy for several hours at a time. At first I thought they were beating on my car. I was happy to know that it was a box that belonged to someone else.
I went out and met them yesterday. The older ones spoke and understood English. The younger ones spoke English, but didn’t understand me. I would ask them a question, one of the older ones would translate it into Spanish, and they would answer in English. Must be my crazy Kansas accent. More likely it is the crazy accent of their foreign teacher who is trying to teach them English from who knows where.
School runs from 8 am to 2 pm Monday through Friday. They said there are some schools where the kids go in the evenings. I didn’t understand if the schools started later or if they just ran longer. We’ve seen some of these when we’ve been out walking in the evening.
November 24, 2006
Ever since we moved down to Mexico, I've been working on my business using the internet. Part of the work is some consulting and the other part is working on developing website assets (including www.mexico501.com). The biggest thing we had to have for this to work is an internet connection.
We were able to get a 512k connection for about $32 USD per month. It isn't quite fast enough for what I need, but it was a very good price point. It is plenty fast for our internet phone connection and that was the application most sensitive to low bandwidth. We were expecting the internet to cost about $100 USD per month, so the cable modem seems like a really good deal.
Our internet phone is another very important key to being able to work from here. We use Vonage for our personal calls and Skype for business. With Vonage, we are able to use our existing cordless phone just like we did in the U.S. It still startles me when I hear it ring because I keep thinking "I'm in Mexico, the phone shouldn't work down here."
I also have a Blackberry through TMobile that can send and receive email internationally for a reasonable fixed fee. We use that when we are on the road to let people know where we are. Phone calls would cost $1.50, so email seems like a good way to keep connected without the high fees. We may eventually get a Mexican cell phone that wouldn't cost nearly as much.
Before we came down here I went ahead and invested (splurged) on a really high quality monitor. The 24 inch screen is easy on the eyes it gives me a lot of extra space to work.
I really miss my office chair. Right now I'm using a borrowed fold up chair that collapses on me 2 or 3 times a day. Bringing the office chair down probably wouldn't have been worth it, but I think I'll look for one once we get our own place. I'm also borrowing a fold up desk that fits nicely in the corner of our borrowed room for right now. When we rent our own place, I'll probably look into getting a desk of some type. I may just get a large flat door from Home Depot and use it. That is what Amazon does for their employees. It wouldn't cost much and I wouldn't feel bad about leaving it when we eventually move back to the U.S. plus if we ever need a door, we'll have one available.
November 24, 2006
When we had our first lesson with the Spanish teacher, I asked a bunch of questions about the economic situation in Durango Mexico. Minimum wage is $42 pesos (about $3.80 USD) per day. It sounds like this is the going rate for unskilled manual labor. Our friends said that many people can’t even get the minimum wage for work. Most people work a 6 day work week here. This seems pretty amazing when you consider that a pound of tomatoes cost about $36 pesos.
Our teacher said that WalMart was considered a very good employer because they will hire young people and work around their school schedule. Working full time at WalMart pays about $500 pesos per week or about $45 U.S. Dollars. So that would give you a yearly salary of around $2,300 per year.
Our friends told us that $50,000 pesos per year (about $4,500 USD) is a pretty average annual salary for skilled labor here. That is what many of the lawyers and accountants make each year. Obviously there are many people who make more. Teaching at a top private school seems to pay somewhere around $1000 USD per month, but I think that is highly variable as well. Tuition is about $350 USD per child. Most of the teachers at the top private schools are brought in from overseas because all of the classes are taught in English.
The teacher also said that the cost of food in Durango was much higher than in some of the other Mexican states because almost all of the fruits and vegetables have to be imported from elsewhere. Durango does raise beef, so the beef prices are supposedly pretty good. We didn’t buy a lot of beef in the U.S., so it is harder for us to compare the price of beef.
November 24, 2006
I definitely have the nicest doctor in the world. I guess in Mexico they don’t teach the class in medical school on how to be a jerk. I called my doctor today to talk about my lab results, and he said he would check and to call him back in 45 minutes. When I called back, he was busy with a patient in labor. He was so incredibly apologetic that he did not have time to check the labs.
It is very different than the states. I would never have my doctors cell phone number or get to talk to him. I would only talk to the nurse unless it was a major necessity or one of the doctors at Health Intervention Services, because they are so are wonderful too.
I am very grateful for the doctor I have to deliver my baby. Not only is he very smart and relaxed, but he also actually cares about his patients too.