Monday, November 30, 2015

2 more disappear while travelling in Mexico...

I live in Mexico for 7 months each winter.  I return to the same city, rent the same apartment and travel extensively with my Mexican friends.  I've learned a few things about Mexico that should be shared with anyone travelling in Mexico during this current drug crisis.

1. If you are flying down to an all-inclusive, try to stay at your hotel and enjoy the amenities there.  If you must visit a city or town nearby, go with a group of people (preferably with someone who is or speaks Spanish) and only travel during daylight hours.  Also if you are caught travelling at night, stay on the major highways, and not the freeways that are extremely dangerous.
2. If you are driving in Mexico, don't have an expensive vehicle (such as a motorhome or luxury car).  You will just attract attention to the fact that you are probably wealthy, compared to most Mexicans.
3. When driving, stick to the major highways (as above) and travel during the day.  Full size pickups and vans are targets in many states because they look like Narco vehicles.  If you happen to be driving through one of the more dangerous states: Guerrara, Michocan, Jalisco or many of the US border states; driving one of these vehicles is like waving a red flag.
4. Renting apartments or houses in Mexico requires some close analysis before you make your decision.  Mexico is not anything like the USA or Canada.  If you don't have big walls with barbed wire or electrical fences, you will more than likely get robbed.  Many cities like Lake Chapala have many Americans and Canadians living in them, and their homes are about as secure as their places back home.  Not at all.
5. It is important to choose a safe location to live in also.  Many neighborhoods may have houses that look safe, but if you happen to need juice or something else at the corner grocery, it can be dangerous just going outside.  I live in a large neighborhood with 24 hour security at all entrances, and my cul-de-sac has 24 hour guards at our 20 foot gate.  Our house inside is surrounded by 15 foot walls with thorns on top.  Kind of like living in a prison, but at least I can sleep at night.
6. Anytime you go out shopping, don't wear flashy jewelry or anything else advertising the fact that you have more money than the residents.  I drive a 1999 Pontiac Sunfire in Mexico and blend right in with the locals.  I only wear nice watches or clothes when going to a special function, and do not walk around town in this attire.
7. When withdrawing money from bank machines, I try to always have a friend with me to keep watch.  Fortunately my bank only lets me take out so much a day, and if I did get robbed, it would only hurt a little.  Oh, and make sure that if someone is robbing you, give them your money and anything else they ask for.  Most are armed and will kill you in an instant if you don't comply with their demands.
8. If you plan on spending any amount of time in Mexico, learn Spanish.  Not only will it allow you to communicate with the local residents and buy your groceries and other items easily, it will give you the advantage of knowing what someone may be saying about you nearby.  If a couple of guys are standing nearby and talking about robbing you, knowing Spanish may save you.
9. Get a cheap Mexican telephone and keep it charged with pesos.  Texting in Mexico, from one Mexican phone to another, is cheap (1 or 2 pesos for an outgoing text, and free for incoming).  The emergency number in Mexico is not 911, but is 066.  Of course, you'll probably have to speak Spanish, and well, hopefully the police actually respond.
10. So, because we are all considered to be rich visitors, we should do our best to downplay this perception.  I have spent years trying to convince my Mexican friends that I am not rich, with little success.  They feel that if we can travel to Mexico each year, and rent a nice house/apartment and apparently not do any work at all, we have to be rich.  In their eyes, I guess we are.

So, don't wear expensive clothes or wear flashy jewelry, don't drive luxury cars, travel only during the day whenever possible, stick to the major highways, rent only secure houses/apartments in secure neighborhoods, and try to stay out of the dangerous Mexican states. Watch your back at all times, and you should be alright.  Or you can do what a lot of people suggest - stay out of Mexico.  But sorry, I love the people, the food and the winter climate for to much to follow that advice.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Renting houses and apartments in Mexico.

I have been spending cold Canadian winters (well, not so cold on Vancouver Island) in Mexico for 5 years now, and was fortunate enough to find a fantastic place to live and probably one of the best landlords, and now friends, in the country.

My first visit was funny because I was asked by the landlord to sign his rental agreement, all in Spanish, which I didn't understand in the least.  A friend, who was 15 years old at the time, tried to translate it for me, but a legal document is a little much for a teenager.  Nevertheless, after the document was sort of explained to me, I signed.

Another thing the landlord required was for me to sign a number of promissory notes equal to the number of months I would be staying.  After I paid the rent each month, one of the promissory notes would be returned to me.  This was something the landlord did to protect himself in the event that I did damage to the apartment or created such a disturbance that he had to get rid of me.  This was never required BTW.

My landlords father owns two homes in Lake Chapala which he rents also.  In addition to the contract and the monthly promissory notes, they require the tenant to sign a very large promissory note to cover them in the event the tenant blows up the house or something similarly as drastic.  Many tenants in Chapala are Canadian/American, and they feel threatened by these procedures.  I must admit that if I didn't know the landlord personally, as I do now, I might be hesitant too.

Recently an American lady wanted to rent the house in Chapala, but had some concerns.  I talked to her on the telephone and answered all of her questions.  She later emailed me with more questions - which I answered.  Yesterday, she emailed back with her decision to NOT take the house.  Her reasons were not about the promissory notes or the contract.  She was upset that a deposit was required by the landlord to hold the house for her (and stop other potential tenants from inspecting the premises), so that he could then fly to Chapala and make sure the house was perfectly ready for her.

She was upset that he had instructed her that, after flying to Chapala, if she no longer wanted the house, she would forfeit the deposit.  She felt this was extremely unfair, and that he should cover all costs in the event that she backed out of the deal.  She was also worried that she would commit to a 6 month lease (because it is a house and not an apartment), and that if she got sick and had to return to the USA prior to the 6 months ending, she would lose her security deposit.

The landlords previous tenant had also run into difficulties and had to leave early, but was not charged the security deposit.  It is sad that this lady has decided to find other accommodations as she does not trust Mexican landlords.  Too bad.  She had actually found probably one of the best landlords in Mexico, but decided to try and find something better.  Good luck.