December 20, 2006
In Durango clothes dryers seem to be fairly rare. You can buy them, but they seem pretty expensive. One reason they aren’t used much is because of the way electricity is sold.
In Mexico you pay a basic rate for electricity. Once you go over a certain amount of electric use they bump you to a higher rate–not just for the overage, but for your entire bill. Worse still, once you trigger the higher rate, you stay at that rate for several months. I don’t know what the exact amount of the higher rate is, but from the people I’ve talked to it sounds like it is a pretty drastic increase.
It makes sense why people wouldn’t want to use an electric dryer because it would have a high chance of pushing your bill over into the extremely high usage bracket. Gas dryers would quickly empty the small tanks that most people use to power their water heater.
The constant sun makes it easy to dry clothes on a line. As long as they get direct sunlight they will dry very quickly. However everything ends up with a slight “crispy” feel. Mexicans try to compensate with vast amounts of laundry softener.
December 14, 2006
In the U.S. if a policeman gives you a ticket, it is generally a very simple process. They give you the ticket and you can mail in your payment. The state keeps track of you on the computer, so if you do not pay, they will issue a warrant for your arrest. In Mexico it works a bit differently.
In Mexico if they gave you a ticket and just let you go, they would assume you’d never come back to pay it. Based on my experience down there, this is probably a very correct assumption. So to make sure you pay your fine, they will take your license until you come to the station to pay the fine.
Sounds simple enough, but keep in mind if you go to the police station, your license may still be with the policeman who gave you the ticket. This brings us to a discussion about bribes. Most people in the U.S. have heard about bribes in Mexico. In practice, Mexico is doing a very good job of getting rid of corruption in the police force. However there are still some police who may try to get a bribe from you.
Generally if the policeman wants a bribe, they will tell you about how much of a hassle it is going to be for you to go to the police station and how long it is going to take. They will go on for quite awhile about how inconvenient it is going to be and how much trouble you are going to be in. This is code language asking for a bribe. If you don’t want to bribe the police (which is illegal by the way), just insist that they go ahead and take your license to the police station so you can pay your fine.
The police can make things difficult for you by not taking the license to the station until they get off their shift. I’ve heard of people driving through Mexico who had to wait all day without going anywhere because the police were trying to make things difficult because they didn’t pay a bribe. The police chief kept calling the policemen who had the license telling them to come back in, but they didn’t until 9pm when they finished with their shift.
If you do want to pay a bribe (and I’m not suggesting that this is a good idea), you wait until they start telling you how much trouble it is going to be to go to the police station and you ask “Is there anything else we can do?” or better yet “Can I just pay you the fine and get my license now?” This can possibly get you off without temporarily losing your license, but you may end up paying a lot more than the normal amount of the fine. Sometimes you may end up paying just a fraction of what the fine would be.
If you want to try this, make sure you phrase it that you are paying them the fine. If you misunderstand and they really aren’t asking for a bribe, you may be talking to an honest policeman. Offering them a bribe is illegal, so it could get you in more trouble. Offering to pay them the fine directly helps keep you out of trouble.
Sometimes if they are trying to get a bribe, they will tell you that your fine is going to be much higher. If you go to the police station you will be charged the correct amount. In the better police stations, if you mention that you were told the fine would be for a higher amount, it will help them get rid of corrupt policemen.
If you don’t want to deal with paying bribes, but you also don’t want to be stuck all day in a little town waiting for your license to make it to the police station, there are a few things you can do. First of all you can get an international drivers license. You can get these in the U.S. at AAA. They cost around $20 with the photo. Technically they aren’t a legal drivers license without your real license, but you can start out by giving it to the police when they ask for your license instead of your real license.
They might ask to see your real license as well, but there is a pretty good chance that they will just take the international license. You’ll still probably want to get it back and if you have been given a ticket. I don’t suggest trying to get by without paying it. However, if someone is trying to cause trouble, you are much better off giving a copy of a license that you can replace at any AAA than your actual divers license.
I have also heard people suggest making a few laminated color photo copies of your state drivers license. That way if the police lose it or it never makes its way back to the police station, you aren’t stuck in a foreign country without a license.
I believe that your ticket serves as your drivers license if your real license has been taken by the police, but I don’t know how long it is valid.
This information is based on talking to a lot of people who have driven through Mexico and a brief personal encounter with the police. Laws change and any of this information could be outdated by the time you read it.
December 8, 2006
The Mexican flag consists of three stripes green, white, and red with an emblem in the center. The overall general design of the Mexican flag has been the same since 1821, but the current flag was officially adopted in 1968.
The emblem in the center of the flag is the image of an eagle holding a large snake. Below the eagle is cactus a rock and a lake. The Aztecs had a legend that their gods had instructed them to found a city where they saw an eagle with a snake. According to the legend this is the city that became Mexico City.
Originally the three colors represented green for independence from Spain, white for the Roman Catholic religion, red for union between Europe and the Americans. Overtime the meanings were changed and the current official definition of the flag is doesn’t assign a meaning to the colors. Generally the colors are now known to be green for hope, white for unity or purity, and red for religion or blood of heroes.
Up until 1968 Mexico used the tri-color flag without the emblem for some things. However when they hosted the 1968 summer Olympics, this presented a problem because it was identical to the Italian flag. This led to the current definition that requires the emblem.
In 1995 the legal definition of the Mexican flag was changed once again because it didn’t allow for the reverse side of the flag to allow the eagle to face right instead of left as it is on the front of the flag. After the 1995 change, an official flag can now be viewed from both sides.
December 4, 2006
Most people have heard that people from the U.S. can’t buy property in Mexico. This isn’t entirely true. In fact the only real regulations are on the near the border and coast. These areas are known as the “restricted zone”. The “restricted zone” is the area within 100 kilometers of any Mexican border and within 50 miles of any Mexican coastline.
Originally the “restricted zone” was created to protect Mexico from foreign invasion. The idea was to keep any foreigner from owning land that could be used to bring in troops and launch an attack on Mexico. This was written into the Mexican Constitution in article 27. The constitution was signed in 1917 and made a lot of changes to who could own property.
From briefly reading over this section of the Mexican constitution from 1917, it looks like it took a lot of land away from people. It changed the concept of land ownership to one where the government actually owns all the land and even though they sell it to individuals for use, the government can get it back if they want it. From what I’ve seen this doesn’t happen often and when it does it is similar to what happens in the U.S. when they put in a highway through an area that used to be private property–the government has to pay a reasonable price for the land.
Other than the “restricted zone” foreigners can own land subject to Mexican law. Just because you are a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean the land becomes U.S. property. It is treated just like a Mexican citizen owned it.
If you are looking to buy land in Mexico keep in mind that you real estate is not regulated in Mexico. There is no type of real estate license required. Anyone can sell real estate and there isn’t any type of code of ethics that they all agree with. You will want to work with someone trust worthy.
If you want to buy land in the “restricted zone” there are ways to do it. The Mexican government knows that selling the costal areas is a great way to bring in money not just for the sale of the property but for the local economy. Foreigners coming to Mexico and spending money are a great way for the country to profit financially. However since the law about the “restricted zone” is written into the constitution it would be very difficult to change.
The Mexican government came up with a work around. You can create a legal entity in Mexico and use it to buy the land. Since the land is owned by a Mexican entity, this fulfills the constitutional requirements. If this entity is a trust, a foreigner can be named as the beneficiary. The trust is administered by a Mexican bank which is obligated to act on the behalf of the beneficiary of the trust.
These types of trusts are called fideicomiso and last for 50 years. While the land is in the trust it can be sold, inherited, etc. In the last year of the trust, it can be renewed for an additional 50 years. This can go on indefinitely.
Legal transaction involving the property must be done through the Mexican bank that holds the trust because the bank actually holds the title to the property.
Many people think the trust is a type of lease because it lasts for 50 years. At one point I think the closest thing to owning Mexican coastal land was to lease it for 100 years. The current method of creating a trust seems to work around the lease situation and provide more control for the foreigner wanting to own land in the “restricted zone”.
It is also possible to create a Mexican corporation that is foreign owned and that corporation can buy land in the “restricted zone”. However the corporation can only by land that is not for residential use and there are other restrictions on what the land can be used for. It appears that if you created a corporation and bought a shop that had living quarters above it, you might be able to live in above your shop, but I’m not sure.
If you are looking to buy land in Mexico make sure you find someone who you can trust who can help you through the process. Law change and just because something is legal to do doesn’t mean it is the easiest way to go about purchasing property.
December 4, 2006
There is not much to say about the corn, but it is so good it deserves its own blog entry. Street vendors sell great corn. I am avoiding street vendors while I am pregnant so I got mine at a cook out.
The corn is cooked in the husk over an open fire. All of the corn is placed in a big kettle and stirred with a big stick until it is done. When the corn is done is can be eaten in two forms, either on the cob or scraped into a cup like cream corn. It is not only the cooking method but the toppings that make the corn good. The corn can be topped with butter, sour cream, shredded white cheese, salt, chile, and even lime. It is definitely worth trying. I shouldn’t recommend street vendors so I am not but if you are with some one you trust who can recommend a vendor try it. It is like the corn they show the guy eating in the awful and dumb movie Nacho Libre.
December 4, 2006
The primary Mexican diet consists of carbohydrates. Rice, beans, tortilla–oh and some form of meat. It is surprising how many people do not know that beans are a carbohydrate and not a protein. I worked at a clinic and was discussing with some of the medical assistants and non-medical staff that even though rice and beans make a complex carbohydrate, beans are still a carbohydrate. They did not believe me until the doctor confirmed what I was saying.
Anyway back to rice, beans, and tortillas. Mexicans don’t seem to eat many vegetables. When they do it is lettuce, cucumber and occasionally corn. I will talk about Mexican corn later because it is amazing.
I remember growing up in Texas at all the Tex-Mex restaurants and even at home we would have this knock off version of rice. It was red with some unidentifiable objects in it. I always avoided it. It was not until my good friend made rice was for me that I realized what this red stuff was supposed to be. She cooks her white rice with water, oil, and salt. If she wants a tomato flavor she will add a tomato bullion cube or tomato puree.
She also makes other amazing rices using the same method of cooking. She will add onion and garlic. Sometimes she adds a chicken bullion to this. I think she also has some secret ingredient because it always turns out perfect. Of course lime can be squeezed over any of these varieties because lime and chile are added to most foods. At others times she adds sour cream to already cooked rice and it is very good. All the rice I have had so far in Mexican is very good even though I prefer whole grain rices.
Beans can be bought pre-boiled at any of the little corner stores. You just have to choose who you trust to have good beans. They come in either a plastic container or bag. Of course you can make them yourself at home with water, salt, oil, and a little garlic and onion. The dried beans can be bought anywhere and they are pretty inexpensive. If you choose to buy them pre-cooked they can easily be turned into refried beans. They are first pureed with a little juice and then put in a skillet with oil or lard. My friend uses canola oil because she is trying to be a little healthier. You can buy olive oil in Mexico though, we will have to try that some time. Anyway they are cooked in the skillet with the oil until they are how you want them, hopefully not too long or they will dry out.
Tortillas can either be corn made from Maiza (this is corn flour, very different from corn meal and will not work for cornbread–I tried) or flour made from horina (normal white flour). Or it is pretty easy just to walk down to the tortilla shop and buy them pre-made. In Mexico corn tortillas are used more often. Sometime my friend is going to teach me how to make tortillas but that has not been a necessity yet. I will learn before we leave Mexico. My cousin Joy, who is married to a Texan from Mexican descent, makes the best flour tortillas in the world. Her mother-in-law taught her. When I was teaching my friend in Mexico how to make a pie crust she said it was pretty similar to making tortillas. Someday we will see.
December 2, 2006
There are all kinds of fruit drinks available in Mexico and they are pretty simple to make. It is just adding water and sugar to taste. This is the same as making lemonade or sweet tea. The different types of fruit I have tasted made into an agua include: papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon, orange, lime, pineapple, and cucumber (a vegetable).