Thursday, August 10, 2017

CULTURE SHOCK LESSONS #104: Moving to Mexico--Noisy Roosters, Dogs, & Chachalacas!

Plus Other Daily Sounds of Mexico
Dogs, Rooster, and Chickens in Front of Our Home

     Choosing to retire in Mexico for us meant a decision to live in real Mexico. That meant finding a small affordable, Mexican-style home in a barrio, a Mexican neighborhood. We found our perfect Hacienda-style home at the end of a cobblestone road surrounded by friendly local families and a sprinkling of international expats. An unexpected surprise bonus is that the Cake Lady lives behind us, so we enjoy the aromas of her cakes and breads baking, different recipes each morning. We really love living in our barrio. There were just a few other surprises that challenge our patience.
Roosters Crow At All Hours!
Crowing Roosters
The first test was adjusting to the annoying crowing of roosters. At. All. Hours! I have always despised being on vacation in an exotic place like Hawaii, enjoying a morning of sleeping in, only to be awakened at dawn by a rooster crowing. Then I found we had moved into a neighborhood full of roosters that crow at all hours of the night and day. I thought I would lose my mind when the first one started crowing at 3:00 AM, waking me from a sound sleep, and other roosters followed with their own variations of crowing every half-hour or so until 9:00. Then there was the young rooster, “Junior”, I called him, who was practicing his crow. He would wake up and start crowing if I turned on my bathroom light at 1:00 in the morning. I would quickly turn the light off and mutter, “Shhh, go back to sleep, Junior” and he would quiet after a few minutes.
I am still amazed that I no longer hear the roosters crowing at night. The brain learns to block out repetitive noises during sleep. I suppose it is much like people who say they no longer hear a train that goes by their house every night at 2:00AM. I guess I would miss the roosters if they were gone. They sure don’t keep me from sleeping in until 9:00 in the morning when I choose to these days.
Part of the Dog Pack On Guard in Our Road
Barking Dogs
The second challenge of living in the barrio was adjusting to the loud, sometimes incessant sound of barking dogs. Our neighbors across the street have a protective pack of mutts that vacillates in size from nine to seven, depending on how many passed away that year, whether a litter was born before the mama was spayed, and how many new dogs wandered in to eat or play and never left. The alpha male (not shown) scared me so badly the first few times I encountered the pack, every dog running loose and free to do as they please. When I approached the gate to our home, I would pick up Bella, our dachshund, and just stand still in the road while the large, Shephard-mix faced me, feet set, teeth bared, fiercely barking as if to say, “This is my street and you are not passing me”, and all of his canine pals were backing him up with loud agreement. I wouldn’t pass them until one of the neighbors came out to see what the commotion was about and call off the hounds when they recognized me.
Now the neighborhood dogs know us and greet us with wagging tails. Some even come to us for a belly-rub or a scratch behind the ear. These days, when the pack starts their ferocious, noisy, continuous barking, we know there’s a stranger in the area. Those dogs are helping keep the neighborhood and us safe. We appreciate them.
Then there are the nights that a dog starts yapping for some unknown reason and it goes on for hours. I often wonder if the dog's people left it at home alone and the dog is just feeling abandoned. Jon thinks the dog is just yapping to hear himself talk. Whatever the reason, the annoying ruckus can continue for hours. I am grateful that the white noise of the ceiling fan and nightly use of ear plugs help me block out the sound of yapping dogs at all hours of the night.
A Chachalaca Eating Berries in Our Palm Tree
Raucous Chachalacas
The unbelievably loud, raucous sound of a flock of Chachalacas in the mango trees next door to our house makes roosters crowing seem pleasant by comparison. About the time the roosters stop crowing in the morning, the Chachalacas start their group “squeaky-hinge” bird calls. These large birds, similar in size and appearance to a wild turkey, are interesting to watch. They are nearly silent as they flap and walk their way to the top of the mango trees to roost each evening. Usually seen in pairs and groups of pairs, they have a quiet, sweet chirp as they communicate with their mates and young. But, be ready for the sound of eight or ten making their morning wake-up calls!
When we first visited Sayulita and I heard a tree-full of Chachalacas singing their awful song, I recall commenting to Jon, “How can people live next to that?” Then we found ourselves living next to that and wondered how we would adjust. We not only adjusted to it, we enjoy them as part of the sounds of Mexico. We just smile when we hear the Chachalacas start their morning chorus, we shake our heads, and we sometimes comment, “There they go.” After an hour of squeaky-hinge birdsong, they quiet. The chickens clucking as they scratch in the flowerbed outside our garden wall and hang out with "Juan the Crested Guan" are the only background noises for a while.
"Juan the Crested Guan" Hangs Out with the Chickens
Other Sounds of Mexico
There are other daily sounds of Mexico that are noticeable and were sometimes annoying when we first moved there. There are the loudspeaker sounds played by vendors selling their wares including three gas truck companies, each with its own unique musical or vocal recording. Other trucks and cars drive with their speakers announcing the sale of produce, seafood, bread and pastries, beds and mattresses, and other necessities for day-to-day living. A scrap-metal man drives his truck by daily looking for discarded junk to recycle, the purified drinking water trucks make their rounds, and the flower man calls through the gate when he has a wheelbarrow full of potted plants to sell.
The Produce Truck Speakers Announce His Arrival at Our Home

     We love these daily sounds, which have become background music of our life. But our favorite is when the Soni-gas truck comes up our street, the speaker playing a woman’s voice singing. Before we have caught the first notes of her song, the alpha male dog outside our gate begins to howl and soon the whole pack joins in, howling a plaintive song. We laugh while the music and howling continues until the Soni-gas truck resumes his travels away from our corner of the barrio. 

     Don't Miss Out On This 99¢ Kindle Deal Available Until August 15, 2017! Click HERE to view my eBook "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" on
"Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" eBook

Sign up for my Monthly Newsletter by Clicking this Link:

Monday, July 17, 2017

CULTURE SHOCK LESSONS #103: Moving to Mexico--No Toilet Paper in the Toilet?

And What Do You Mean There's No Water?

A Common Sign on the Door of Bathroom Stalls in Restaurants

Please Don't Put the Toilet Paper in the Toilet!

     When we first started traveling in Mexico years ago, we had to undergo a big adjustment to toilet paper handling. How do you break a life-long habit of using the toilet paper and automatically dropping it in the toilet? It took reading many signs in restrooms of businesses like the one above, and many times of thinking, "Oops, I dropped it again. I hope the toilet flushes okay", before we had adjusted to the Mexican way of handling toilet paper.
     After travelling throughout Mexico for years, we've become very familiar with signs in restrooms of restaurants and other places of business reminding us not to put the paper in the toilet. It is customary in most parts of Mexico to put the toilet paper in the garbage can (or bin, as some call it) next to the toilet, not in the toilet. The reason is simply that the sewer systems and plumbing in Mexico clog easily and who wants to deal with an overflowing toilet?
A Garbage Can with a Plastic Bag Liner is a MUST by Each Toilet!

     When we moved into our home in Mexico, we did what every other resident here does--put a garbage can by each toilet, lined with a plastic bag. Now for the two hardest parts of this adjustment to living in Mexico. First of all, making it a habit to put the toilet paper into the garbage can is a challenge. You would not believe how difficult that was to remember at first! Secondly, wrapping up the dirty toilet paper after... well, you know, and putting it in the garbage can, too, is just yukky at first. The easy part of this new life habit was dumping the garbage can each day to prevent odor.
     I'll never forget the first time our daughter and her family came to visit us in Mexico and on their first day there I explained the "No Toilet Paper in the Toilet" custom. The look of shock and disgust on Michelle's face was a memory I will never forget. When she said, "Even with number 2?" I tried not to laugh, but probably didn't succeed and said, "Yes, just wrap it up and put it in the garbage can. Believe me, you don't want this toilet to clog and overflow."
     Now when we travel in our motorhome, we follow the same toilet paper rule. It's amazing how much easier it is to flush the sewer system in the RV. The hard part for us after living in Mexico for two years is when we go to someone's home or to a public restroom in the United States and we are looking around for the garbage can to put our toilet paper in. It just doesn't feel right to drop it into the toilet!

What do You Mean There's No Water?

No Water at the Garden Spigot?

     Shortly after moving into our casita, I was working in the garden, Bella keeping me company, and I decided to water the plants. When I turned on the garden spigot, no water came out of the hose. I was puzzled. I had used that hose to water plants before and it had worked, so what was the problem?
     When I asked my housekeeper about this, she shrugged and said, "No agua." Apparently this was not surprising to her. We soon learned that our village, as well as others in Mexico, have an interesting way of conserving water when there is a shortage. The city water department turns the water supply off! Sometimes the water is off for days at a time. Sometimes we are on "half-days" which seems to mean that the water is off during the day and on during the night. The idea of limiting the water supply is to keep people from washing their cars, watering the plants, and wetting the street with a hose, a common practice to settle the dust in front of one's home.
     I could have watered my plants using a hose fed by our home water supply, but I didn't want to waste the water stored for household use. That water is precious during a water shortage. I solved my problem of watering the plants and conserving water by installing a drip irrigation system that originated from the spigot tied directly into the city water supply. I would turn it on late in the afternoon, though no water was flowing at that time, and leave it on all night. By morning, the garden and potted plants had been slowly watered through the drip heads. The added benefit of the drip irrigation system is that it leaves no standing water for mosquitoes to lay their eggs in.
Drip Irrigation to Each Pot and Plant Conserves Water 

     This water rationing method seems to work in our village to decrease water wasting. The residents just find ways to work with it. Thank goodness our home was built with a large underground cistern to store water and three tinacos to hold water on the roof. When the city turns on the water supply, the underground cistern fills. The tinacos have a float that measures the level of water inside and when the level drops too low it flips the switch to the pump which pumps water from the cistern to fill the three tinacos. 
Roof-top Tinaco Stores Water Pumped Up, Gravity-Fed Out

     People who live in homes without an underground cistern to store water or with only one tinaco sometimes run out of water and have to call the water truck to deliver water. The truck pumps water into their rooftop tinacos. I am told it is quite expensive to purchase water from the water trucks, especially if the home or rental property uses a large quantity of water. When building or purchasing a home in Mexico, it is wise to make sure the home has an adequate water storage and supply system.

Bucket-Flush the Toilet?

     Mexico is where I learned the technique of "bucket-flushing" the toilet. What do you do when you push down the handle on the toilet and no water flows into the toilet bowl? You look for the bucket sitting beside or floating inside a large barrel filled with water. You dip the bucket into the barrel to fill it, and then dump the bucketful of water into the toilet bowl. Wow! The toilet flushes. This is the necessary technique if you are in a restaurant or home that has insufficient water storage or the city water is turned off. In most of these cases, the water valve at the base of the toilet has been turned off to conserve water so that there will be enough water running to the sink to wash hands. 
Bucket-Flushing the Toilet Can be a Culture Shock
     Thank goodness, we have not had to resort to bucket-flushing in our casita in Sayulita because we have plenty of water storage, so far. But, I do remember while living in Ashland, Oregon, during the flood of 1997, the bucket-flush technique came in handy. We were without water and electricity for three days and had to use buckets of water from the swimming pool to flush our toilets. We were glad we had learned how to bucket-flush our toilets while traveling in Mexico.

Sign Up for My Monthly "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" Newsletter by clicking: HERE 

     To read more about our adventures in Mexico, check out my other blogs and books shown on my website:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mazatlan in July: We explored From Punta Cerritos to the Marina

The Hills in Cerritos were Beautiful with Blossoming Shrubs
     It was hot last week when we arrived at Punta Cerritos RV Park. We didn't have the energy to ride the bus all the way to Old Town Mazatlan to go to dinner, so we decided to try restaurants between Cerritos and the Marina, some fairly new and some have been around since before Ginger's Bilingual Horses. Here is a photo tour of our fun in Mazatlan last week.
Frigate Bird Flies by Cerritos RV Park Pool
     The Punta Cerritos RV Park's swimming pool was not only a great place to cool off, it was a perfect place to take a photo of a Frigate bird. The fisherman on the beach below and the wind currents along the cliff bring the Frigates. As we lounged by the pool atop the cliff, the Frigates were flying at eye level and very close to us.
We Always Look Forward to Dinner at FISH
     Each time we visit Mazatlan, we make a point of having dinner at FISH, Fresh International Seafood House. We enjoy their Shrimp and Chips dinner.

Our First Time to Pancho's Newest Restaurant

     This was our first time to visit Pancho's second restaurant, across from Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort. The food and service were excellent.
La Mona's Second Location is at the Marina

Our First Time to La Mona's at the Marina

     La Mona's Pizzeria in Old Town Mazatlan has long been a favorite of ours. Since we were staying at the Punta Cerritos RV Park, it was a much shorter bus ride to the new La Mona's at the Marina. It was high time we tried it. The pizza was just as good. It was "Heads or Tails" night, where the waiter flips and the customer calls it in hopes of getting a free drink, so it was extremely busy. We hadn't expected that at the marina location in July. Though it was a good experience, we really missed the atmosphere of the Old Town location.
Mr. Lionso's at Playa Bruja is Being Remodeled & Enlarged

Playa Bruja is Cleaner with Garbage and Recycle Cans

     We couldn't resist walking over to Bruja Beach and having dinner at Mr. Lionso's, overlooking Playa Bruja. We were surprised at how much it had changed with their new remodel and additional dining room. But the food was still priced inexpensively. The shrimp cocktail, margaritas, and service were very good. Sometimes we just have to return to our old stomping grounds. The waves were good that day and we wished we would have done some boogie boarding.
Sunset Above Punta Cerritos RV Park

     Returning to the Punta Cerritos RV Park after dinner, the sunset was always a treat, different every day. Mazatlan has always had such beautiful sunsets!
     Sign Up For My Monthly Newsletter, "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" by clicking HERE

Thursday, July 6, 2017

CULTURE SHOCK LESSONS #102: Moving to Mexico--Geckos Live in the House!

And Anoles in the Garden!

This Anole Puffs Out His Throat Pouch When He Sees Me

This is How He Looks Before He Puffed Out His Throat
     The first time I encountered a gecko in our house in Mexico, I wasn't sure who was more startled, me or the gecko. It was two years ago, the day after we closed on the purchase of our home and we were excited to begin cleaning so we could move into our Hacienda-style casita. I walked into the kitchen, my arms full off cleaning supplies and almost dropped them in surprise as I saw a six-inch long gecko scurry across the kitchen wall and scoot behind a wall-mounted Mexican clay light fixture. Then I giggled at myself. Had I actually screamed? I hoped none of the neighbors had heard me. I had been scared by a little gecko! That's when I began to learn about these little creatures and ended up loving them.

Geckos in Every Room of the House

     I knew geckos lived in the garden and on our tile patio. I later learned that anoles, a type of lizard that are similar to geckos, also live in the garden. I had seen one of these fast little critters dart across the patio and dive under an equipal Mexican chair when we first toured the house. But after moving in, I soon learned that we would be sharing the inside of our home with quite a few geckos. They each seem to have their own section of a room where they live, their own territory. Two geckos lived in the kitchen, though on separate walls. One lives in the office near the bug zapper, attracted to the glow of the UV light.
Geckos Love to Hang Out Near the Bug Zapper

     At least two geckos occupy the bathroom, I'm sure, because I see two on or near the ceiling when I go in at night. This really gave me the creeps at first. We didn't have critters living in our house in Oregon, so this was a big adjustment for me. I soon discovered that one 3-inch long gecko sleeps during the day behind my hand mirror leaned up against the tile back-splash. The first time I picked up the mirror and startled that little guy out of his slumber, I jumped and he darted behind the counter shelf. Now I know he's there and I apologize to him for disturbing him when I pick up my hand mirror. Yes, I have begun to talk to the little fellows in baby-talk. Occasionally, in the evening when we are reading in bed, we see two baby geckos, about an inch long, crawling across the bedroom ceiling. You can imagine how I baby-talk to those cute little creatures.

Nocturnal Animals, Startling at Night

     Geckos are nocturnal animals, so I really don't see them in the house very often. It was my nighttime visits to the bathroom that were unnerving at first. As I stumbled in by the light of the bug zapper, half asleep, I would be startled awake by two 4 or 5-inch long geckos skittering across the ceiling or wall to the nearest hiding place. It took me a year of living in our Mexico house before I became so comfortable with their presence that I now mutter "Hola, gecks" as I walk into the bathroom at night, my eyes barely open. And they don't even skitter away any longer. 
A Gecko as I Squint at it in the Bathroom at Night

Gecko Poop Each Morning

     So how do I know where the geckos live if I rarely see them during the day?  Because they leave gecko poop in the same areas every night. Each morning I use a damp paper towel to wipe up the little turds left in the same spots, on the top of the tile baseboards, on a section of kitchen counter beneath a light fixture, on the floor, and sometimes stuck on the wall. They poop where they live. At first, this was disgusting and gross to me. Now it's just part of living in an area of Mexico where we throw our windows and doors open each morning and enjoy living with nature.

Geckos Make Loud Noises

     Late afternoon of our first day living in our casita, we were sitting on our porch enjoying a glass of wine and watching the hummingbirds buzz around in our garden. Suddenly, we heard an animal overhead, hidden in the wooden beam and tile porch roof, making a rather loud clucking noise. We looked at each other and I said, "What was that?" We later learned that geckos make this noise, probably to establish their territory.  I've since decided it sounds like a kissing sound, and I enjoy it. Now I purse my lips and kiss back.

Geckos Eat Mosquitoes and Other Insects

     Thank goodness we have geckos in our house! They eat mosquitoes and other insects, which helps prevent the spread of Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, and the Zika virus. To read more about this, see my article FIGHTING MOSQUITOES: Preventing the Spread of Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, & Zika
     So geckos may be attracted to our Mosquito Zappers partly due to the light they give off, but also because the mosquitoes are attracted to the Zappers. That makes the area around the Mosquito Zapper a food-rich territory for the geckos. It took a while for us to adjust to the gecko poop, the loud sounds and startling movements of the geckos. Now we are thankful that the geckos live in our house and eat the mosquitoes and other insects.

Geckos and Anoles are Entertaining

    Geckos and anoles are entertaining to watch as they climb the plants in the garden and run across the patio, searching for bugs. But they seem to be social creatures. They have gotten so used to us that they come quite near when we are sitting on the porch. One even hopped up onto the chair Jon had his feet propped on, crawled up onto Jon's leg and sat there looking at us for a few minutes before he jumped across to the patio table. 
     The male anole that puffs out his throat pouch has come to visit us every day this week. I think he is flirting with me because he puffs out his throat pouch when I talk to him. He seems quite proud of his beautiful throat pouch, his means of attracting mates and laying claim to his territory. I think he is beautiful and I tell him so each time he puffs out his throat.

Sign Up for my Monthly "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" Newsletter by clicking HERE

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

CULTURE SHOCK LESSONS #101: MOVING TO MEXICO--No Dishwasher, No Garbage Disposal, No Washer or Dryer

And No Air Conditioner!

Downsizing & Simplifying, Life in Mexico is Pretty Restful
     More and more people are expressing interest in moving to Mexico, living a simpler life on less money. Simplifying means living with some inconveniences and fewer luxuries. Adjusting to fewer amenities is not for everyone! 
Where is the Dishwasher?!!
     Possibly the most frequent comment from others about our new life in Mexico is, "I couldn't live without a dishwasher!" I recall saying those very words myself at one time in my life. How our perspective can change! While I was washing dishes today, I thought, "How much time did I spend loading and unloading the dishwasher in my old life in the United States?" Now, I wash dishes once or twice a day while Jon dries and puts them away. I'll bet the 30 to 45 minutes we spend doing dishes each day is about the same as it was when we had a dishwasher. That's time we stand together each day now, working and talking about our plans for the day. Not such a bad thing.
     Why do most homes in Mexico lack a dishwasher? First of all, it is a relatively large expense to purchase a dishwasher, especially when living a frugal life where every peso counts. Secondly, dishwashers are water and electricity hogs. In Mexico, if something uses electricity, it is an expensive luxury. If there is another way to do the job without using electricity, then that's the way it is done.
What? No Garbage Disposal?
     Another common question from those unfamiliar with life in Mexico is, "Why wouldn't you have a garbage disposal?" The first reason is that a garbage disposal is just another expensive, unnecessary appliance that uses electricity. We scrape our dishes into the trash can as quickly as we would scrape them into the sink, so no time saved by having a disposal. An important reason not to have a garbage disposal in Mexico is that the sewer systems cannot handle grease and solid materials, even when ground up by a disposal. We put drain screens in each sink and shower to keep solids from clogging the drain lines and we clean the screens at least daily. It is much better to put food waste into the compost pile or the landfill.
Who Needs a Clothes Washer and Dryer at Home?

     We are frequently asked, "How can you live without a clothes washer and dryer?" Easy. We take our dirty laundry to the Lavandería once or twice a week and pick it up clean, neatly folded, and bagged for a very reasonable price. Since my skin is sensitive to fragrances and dyes in most Mexican laundry detergent, we take our own Kirkland UltraClean Libre y Transparente, Sin Tintes Sin Perfumes, purchased at Costco in Puerto Vallarta. We include one Rubbermaid container with a one-load measured quantity of our "detergente especial" in the top of each bag of laundry. The ladies at our Lavandería know us well, so they always use our detergent, no fabric softener, and return our Rubbermaid containers each time for reuse. Who needs a clothes washer and dryer at home?

     "What about an air conditioner?" When we bought our little Mexican house, there were ceiling fans in every room, but no air conditioner. Many Mexicans and expats live without air conditioning year around in their homes. We lived with that just fine through the first winter. By April I could see that I was going to need the bedroom cooled for sleeping at night. We soon took a bus trip to Home Depot in Puerto Vallarta and a taxi ride home with a new Rheem® minisplit that Jon installed in the bedroom. Beginning sometime in May each year, we start using our air conditioning when we sleep, set at 25°C which is 77°F. Around mid-June, it becomes hot and humid enough in the afternoons that we close the exterior doors and windows and run the minisplit to cool the three main rooms of our home. With fans pushing the air from the bedroom, that one little air conditioning unit keeps our home at about 83°F in the afternoon, just cool enough that I can sit in my office and work. 
We Added One Air Conditioning Minisplit in the Bedroom

     Or we turn off the air conditioner and take our boogie-boards to the beach and cool off in the ocean.
Jon Catches a Wave on His Boogie Board

     We adjusted to Culture Shock Lessons #101 easier than many would because we lived full-time in our motorhome for a year before we purchased our small home in Mexico. We still live in our motorhome three to four months of each year and enjoy the RV life. It's not so different really. In the motorhome there is no dishwasher, no garbage disposal, no washer and dryer. But, there ARE TWO air conditioners. We have not yet adjusted completely to the summer heat after living in Mexico for almost three years. That's when it's time for an RV trip to the Redwood forests of California and the beaches of Oregon.
Cooling Off in the California Redwood Forest

Sign Up for my Monthly Newsletter, "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" by Clicking HERE

Take a look at our other adventures by viewing my website:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Our Favorite Restaurants in Sayulita, Nayarit are Open During the Summer

Barracuda Fish Tacos and Ruben's are both on Calle Delfines
     Summer may be the low season in Mexico when fewer tourists visit, but Sayulita still has lots going on. In many small towns, restaurants begin to close in June when business slows and don't reopen until November when high season begins. 
     In Sayulita, we are grateful that most of our favorite restaurants are still open. The June heat means it's too hot for me to cook. It's easier and more fun to walk downtown for dinner, for good people watching, and to see what kind of street entertainers are performing that day. Plus, I don't have to wash the dishes!
Yeikame Traditional Mexican Restaurant
Yeikame is more than a taco stand, with excellent traditional Mexican food and wonderful service! This is one of our favorite places for lunch. We are hooked on their large, cheesy chicken quesadillas made with blue corn tortillas (we order them with less salt). They have very good aguas frescas, a light, refreshing drink made with fruit juice, fresh herbs, and then served over ice. Currently in the top 5 of 109 restaurants on tripadvisor. At Calle Jose Mariscal # 10, downtown Sayulita.
Tierra Viva has Fine Dine Downstairs, Sports Bar Upstairs
     Tierra Viva is only a ten-minute walk from our casita, and the food is amazingly good, so it has become our second home. We eat breakfast or brunch there at least once a week, usually the Eggs Benedict with ham or bacon and avocado--yum! Our favorite dinner, often once weekly, is the Tierra Viva Shrimp--the freshest grilled shrimp in town, we think, served over a bed of vegetables sautéed in soy sauce and other delicious ingredients.

     To read about more of our favorite restaurants in Sayulita, most of which stay open during the summer months, click HERE
     I invite you to sign up for my "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" monthly newsletter by clicking NEWSLETTER SIGN-UP

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

10 Reasons I Can't Learn Spanish While Living in México

After Almost Two Years, I'm Still Struggling!

Learning Spanish Feels Like Getting this Burro to Move!

     We've lived in México for almost two years now and I'm still struggling to put a full sentence together in Spanish! It's like trying to get the stubborn burro to move in the bronze sculpture show above, 'Andale Bernardo' in Puerto Vallarta's Lazaro Cardenas Park. That burro is never going to move, no matter how hard the boys and dog push and pull! Will I never speak Spanish fluently? What is my excuse for not being able to carry on even a simple conversation yet?
     I don't think I'm alone in this struggle to learn a second language. Quite a few other people from the United States and Canada tell me they also have trouble learning the native language here in México. Some are expats who live here year around. Many live in México for the winter six months and return to their home north of the border for the summer. That's plenty of time to grasp a significant number of Spanish words and phrases! 
     To be honest, I know lots of names of things. I can order my meals and drinks in restaurants, with help from a menu written in Spanish, of course. I can understand numbers when they are spoken (most of the time) and I know the Mexican currency well enough to handle paying for my meal or groceries. I can even ask where to find items including cuts of meat, vegetables and fruit, queso (cheese), leche (milk), totopos (corn chips) and most other things in the grocery store or pharmacy. Luckily, much of the Spanish language is spoken with fewer words than English. I have mastered the sentence, "Do you have granola?"--"Tiene granola?" That one is easy! Even I can handle two word sentences at the grocery store!

Limones, Pepinos, Tomates, Papas, Cebollas, Zanahorias, I've Got Those!

But, my Spanish is very poor and not getting better. I have "10 Excuses for Not Learning to Speak Spanish Fluently" after living here for two years. I use one or two of these whenever the situation calls for it:
Cooling Off at the Beach in Puerto Vallarta
1. It's Too Hot to Learn Anything! This excuse only works from about June 1 through October 31, but I used it to drop out of Spanish class last June. I had stuck it out for two months though, attending a one-hour class twice a week, and I have the notebook and hundreds of flashcards to show for it! But, June, July, and August are pretty hot in Mexico. Cooling off at the beach usually wins over practicing Spanish this time of year!
Fine Restaurants or Taco Stands, Waiters Speak English to Us!

2. Most of the Waiters at the Restaurants Speak English so I Don't Need to Learn Spanish! This is one of the quirkiest things I've observed in México. When we speak to the waiters in restaurants, we greet them in Spanish and we order in Spanish, intending to practice the local language. But, whether we are in a fine restaurant or at a taco stand, they reply to us in English in almost every case. So, we carry on a completely bilingual conversation, with us practicing our Spanish and the Mexican waiter practicing his or her English. Sometimes I think, why bother to learn Spanish? A wise Spanish teacher once taught me to say, "Quiero hablar Espanol; me ayudas?" (I want to speak Spanish; will you help me?) I have been lazy about saying this to waiters, but they are happy to help me with words or sentences, so it's time for me to be more persistent about asking for help.
Fine Restaurants or Taco Stands--Waiters Speak English To Us!

3. It's Too Hard! I Just Want to Speak English. It is hard to learn Spanish! Conjugating verbs, present tense, past tense, slang, Mexican Spanish variations... There were times during Spanish class last year when I would "hit the wall" after just 30 minutes of lessons. The instructor would kindly excuse me from speaking in Spanish and let me finish the class by just listening to the other students speak while I took notes. I think I've progressed to the vocabulary level of a 2 1/2-year-old child. The neighbor kids speak to me at times when I'm outside watering the plants or walking through the barrio (Mexican neighborhood). One day three of them gathered around me and asked where Jon was. I thought for a minute, but couldn't find the words, so I used hand gestures, two hands together next to my ear with my head tipped, to indicate he had gone to sleep. The four-year-old said "dormir?" I smiled and replied, "Si, dormir!" I was excited that I knew that word--it means "to sleep"! Maybe if I try harder and keep talking to the neighbor kids, I can improve my Spanish to the speaking level of a 3-year-old by the end of the year.
These Kids' Dad Asked Me to "Share" a Photo of Their "Zebra-Donkey"

4. Facebook has a Translation Button so I can Read my Mexican Friends' Posts. That is a pretty humble excuse, I admit. But, look how lazy we can be with that little translation feature. I am going to commit to trying to read the Spanish sentences from now on, before I click "See Translation"!

5. I'm Too Old to Learn Another Language! Well, I'm no longer "Before the Age of 59", or even before the age of 60. I still feel young, but learning new things does seem much more challenging now than during my school-years. Why didn't I take Spanish classes in high school rather than the two years of German I took? I would have a much better grammatical basis to build upon while learning to speak Spanish here in Mexico. At times, I believe that old saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks!" But, maybe I should focus on that other saying, "You're only as old as you feel" and start practicing as though I'm in high school language class again, only it's Spanish this time!
Feeling Young Next to La Catrina--I'm Only As Old As I Feel!

6. I don't want to make a mistake and sound ignorant when I say the wrong word. I'm not confident enough. When I go to the beauty salon to have my hair cut and colored, I speak mostly in English to the hairdresser, Marta, and she speaks in Spanish to me, trying to teach me, I believe, because she does speak English at times. We both understand each other with enough hand gestures. Jon speaks Spanish to Marta and I envy his ability to carry on a conversation with her. One day, Marta said to Jon, in English so that I would understand her, "I think Terry is shy. She doesn't want to speak Spanish." I nodded, thinking that was a very tactful way to put it. I answered her in English, of course, "Yes, because I am afraid I will say the wrong words." I was thinking, "...and I am afraid I will sound ignorant." Marta just nodded, smiled politely, and continued to speak Spanish to me, helping me learn a few words each month when I have my hair appointment. 
Vicki Points and Says "El Cangrejo!" and Laughs
7. I can use to write my instructions for our housekeeper and my Spanish posts on Facebook. Do I really need to learn to speak it? I like it when our housekeeper, Vicki, speaks Spanish to me, complimenting my flowers and showing me that Bella has "el cangrejo"--a crab cornered in the yard. Jon helps me by translating since he knows more Spanish than I do, learned when he was a child in Ecuador. I know how to say "Gracias" for her information.  Vicki teaches me a few words each week while she cleans our house. I know how to answer her when she asks where to start cleaning, either arriba (upstairs, literally above) or abajo (downstairs, literally below). I even understand when she tells me "necesita una escoba nueva(you need a new broom) or asks me "¿Dónde está la escalera?" (where is the ladder?) But I can't come up with a sentence to ask her if she can dust the cobwebs, even though she has tried to teach me multiple times. So I use to find out the translation. It even has a Speaker Button next to "Translated by Microsoft" that speaks the phrase so I can hear it and practice saying it over and over. So then I ask Vicki, stumbling a little over the words, "¿Puede limpiar las telarañas?" She smiles and says, “Sí, puedo limpiar las telarañas.” Maybe I'll learn a few sentences if I keep practicing and Vicki continues to patiently help me each week.
What Would I do Without the Translation Website?

8. I'm Too Busy! I teach Zumba class Monday and Wednesday mornings each week and after that I am too tired! Jon and I volunteer in various events including beach and riverbed clean-up days, SayulitAnimals Dog and Cat Spay and Neuter Clinics, and at the ProSayulita Fiesta. When I'm not writing my books and blogs, I'm gardening, sweeping the street in front of our casita, cooking, washing dishes, and doing everyday chores. Then, it's time to take a walk or do something else that's fun. Life may be simpler here in México, but we are always busy!
Teaching Zumba each Monday and Wednesday Morning Keeps Me Busy!
9. It's Too Expensive to Take Spanish Classes! I did find that after two months of taking Spanish Classes two days each week, it was really cutting into my budget. I had also purchased one Spanish workbook and could foresee needing additional books--more expense. So I told the Spanish instructor that I needed a break from classes and took my Spanish workbook and flashcards home with the full intention to keep practicing every day. When I got bored with my flashcards, I purchased an online Spanish class called "Shortcut to Spanish" for only $39.95. It seems pretty easy to use, but the key is you have to use it. I have used it maybe a total of 10 hours, and that is definitely not enough. Then we bought a 10 CD Spanish lesson that we planned to listen to while we drive the motorhome. We haven't made it past CD #1. It is expensive to keep investing in all these Spanish lessons and still not learn enough Spanish to be fluent. I guess there is more to it than just spending the money! 
Since I Spent the Money on "Shortcut to Spanish", Maybe I Should Use It!

10. I would rather go boogie-boarding, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, golfing, gardening, teach Zumba, anything but practice Spanish! Let's go Stand-Up Paddleboarding after I practice a half-hour of Spanish!
Stand-Up Paddleboarding is More Fun than Practicing Spanish!

     Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I have used all ten of these excuses for not learning Spanish. I'll bet some of my readers have used at least a few of these excuses, too. Now that I've written my pathetic excuses and publicized them, I see how ridiculous they sound. I am committing to practicing Spanish at least 5 hours each week, and not just when we are dining out in a restaurant! At the end of each day, I know that I have spoken Spanish multiple times throughout the day, greeting people I pass on the street, talking to the cashier at the mini-supermarket, introducing myself to a Spanish-speaking Zumba student in my class, and during other brief encounters as I walk through town. I do speak Spanish. I just need to work harder to learn to speak more, and I will. No more excuses!
At the End of the Day, I Realize that I DO Speak Spanish
Sign Up for my Monthly Newsletter by Clicking HERE