It's been now two weeks in Mexico, and I can't believe I'm finally here!

For all of the months I worked toward my goal of moving to Mexico, it seems unreal that I actually accomplished it! The final week in Pittsburgh was stress-filled, as I wrestled with luggage weight limits and what I wanted/was able to bring with me.

I had explored shipping possessions with Estafeta USA (a Mexican shipping company similar to UPS or DHL), which wasn't outrageously expensive. However, to be able to get my things through Mexican Customs, Estafeta needed a detailed spreadsheet documenting every item in the shipment, with purchase date, model and serial number, etc. If I had started that process earlier, this wouldn't have been too difficult, but in the final week I admitted to myself that I didn't want couldn't handle another stressful process! So I continued the Marie Kondo process of trying to decide what sparked joy, and managed to weed everything down to fit inside two enormous suitcases, a large backpack, and a person item.

The photo above is the result—everything I own and have collected over 50+ years, reduced to a couple of bags. While in one way it makes me a little sad to give up so many possessions, in another way—and the way I am focusing on—is that I arrive in Mexico carrying only the most important things to me, without the clutter that inevitably collects in a life well-lived.

 

The Journey

Because of some recent troubles getting an Uber ride in my Pittsburgh neighborhood, and not wanting to leave getting to the airport to chance, I booked a town car. It was prepaid online (including tip), and guaranteed to arrive on time. (You can pre-order an Uber ride, but it's not a reservation. Instead, at the time you want to be picked up, Uber sends out a pickup request to its drivers, who may or may not take the job.) I couldn't handle that uncertainty—more stress!—so the town car was the way to go.

Heavy bags

Because I had booked a first class seat on United, I got to use the shorter Priority Access ticket counter line. The woman at the counter struggled a little to get my first bag off of the scale, so I told her I would be happy to move those bags from the scale to the belt behind, if that was allowed. She thanked me for that (and placed a "HEAVY" tag on each bag) and told me she'd welcome the help. But then another agent started working at the adjacent counter, and my agent (I'm sorry I didn't get her name) told me in a quiet voice that the other woman was the supervisor, and if she saw me behind the counter there would be hell to pay! She managed to get the bags onto the belt, and in a conspiratorial whisper told me that the supervisor wouldn't have ignored the fact that each of my checked bags were a few pounds over the limit. She gave me a high five, wished me a good flight, and with a burden considerably lightened, I went to the gate.

The flights (Pittsburgh->Houston, Houston->Morelia) were uneventful and comfortable, although the second flight departed a little late due to the outer bands of Hurricane Ida causing delays.

Upon arrival in Morelia, I entered the country on my provisional resident visa with no problem. However, when going through Customs, the agent saw my ginormous bags and insisted on pulling me aside for inspection. I told him that I was only carrying personal items, all used—and after searching the bags, he evidently reached the same conclusion, and waved me on. (Although when trying to zip up the one bag, the zipper jumped its track, leaving that bag with the lid gaping open, something that several helpful people pointed out to me!) I managed to get the bags into a cab, and was off into town.

 

Hoteles Concepto Morelia

Not wanting to have to ask the host of my AirBnB to meet me at midnight to check in, I had booked a hotel room for one night. The hotel was recently renovated and has a fresh and lovely design; the challenge was that my room was on the second floor, and the only way there was up a spiral staircase. I told the guy at the front desk that there was nothing in the large bags that I needed for the night (smart packing!), and they found a space where the suitcases could stay until I checked out in the morning.

In the morning, after a really nice made-to-order breakfast included with the room, I got an Uber to take me (and the enormous, half-open bags) to the AirBnB.

Complimentary breakfast

AirBnB

What had initially attracted me to this particular AirBnB was the location on one of Morelia's prettiest squares, and also the rooftop deck that overlooked said square. Rather than trying to describe it, I'll let pictures speak their thousand words...

 

 

Earthquake

On Tuesday evening, September 7, I was watching television when something just didn't seem right. I noticed that the room was shaking side-to-side, and the hanging plants were suddenly swinging. By the time I realized what was happening, I ran to the door to get out into the street, but the room had stopped shaking and everything seemed normal (although all of the dogs in the neighborhood went berserk!)

Facebook immediately lit up with messages, and while it was clear that nearly everyone in Morelia felt the quake, there seemed to be almost no damage being reported.

Earthquake epicenter

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake as a 7.0, centered a few miles from the heart of Acapulco (about 360 miles from Morelia). Mexico sits as a part of the so-called Ring of Fire, with many active volcanoes, and its seismic activity comes from the same plates that drive earthquakes along the California coast (and all the way up into Alaska.) There were three deaths reported from falling debris across the region, and some 8,000 buildings that were damaged.

It was definitely an interesting experience (and one that I know I'll encounter again), but not something I was expecting in my first week!

 

Green Card

On Friday, Rosey and I went to the INM office (National Institute of Immigration) to finalize my visa. The provisional residency visa I had obtained at the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia allowed me to enter the country for a 30-day period, instead of the typical 180-day tourist visa. Sometime within those 30 days I needed to report to the immigration office to do some additional paperwork (and pay an additional fee!) After being fingerprinted and photographed, we emerged from INM with my green card in hand. I also received a CURP number, which functions—much like a social security number in the U.S.—as a unique national ID number (but granting no social security benefits!)

Green card

I'll have to go back there again next month—I need to appear in person to change my address once I move to permanent digs. (We used the address of the AirBnB as a temporary address.) But now that I've seen how the process works, it's not at all intimidating, and the people at INM appear to be very helpful.

 

Mexican Independence

Cathedral with decorations

This is the week that Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain, and the whole country is draped in the colors of the Mexican flag. Mexicans are extremely patriotic, and the Independence Day holiday (actually, more like two days!) is a highlight of the year. And because a large part of the drive for independence came from Morelia (or Vallodolid, as it was known back in the day), this city feels especially proud.

Quick History Lesson
At 11:00 pm on Saturday 15 September in 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo rang the bells of his church to call his parishioners to take up arms against the Spaniards. Soon, these ragtag groups of farmers and businessmen were being led by José María Morelos y Pavón, a fellow priest in Vallodolid (who had studied under Hidalgo.) Despite a number of victories over the Spaniards, Morelos was eventually captured and executed for treason, and thirteen years later, the city of Vallodolid was renamed to Morelia in his honor.

Every year, at 11:00 pm on the night of September 15, in every town in Mexico, el grito ("the cry") is re-enacted. The President (in Mexico City) or high official in other cities stands on the balcony of the government building and makes a rousing speech, calling for Mexicans to remember the ideals upon which the country was founded. The short ceremony ends with "Viva Mexico" being called three times by a flag-waving crowd in the main square. The rest of the evening is party time, and bars and restaurants are packed with celebrations until the wee hours of the morning.

 

Highlights from the 2019 celebration in Mexico City is available in this YouTube video. (Due to Covid, there was no grito in 2020.)

 

Although there are no subtitles available, the president is offering several points to which the crowd shouts "Viva!" While the initial names are those of the heroes of Mexican independence, the others are dedicated to other people and cultural values. Here is the full list:

 

 

 

  • to independence
  • to Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo
  • to José María Morelos y Pavón
  • to Jesefa Ortíz de Domínguez
  • to Ignacio Allende
  • to Leona Vicario (a female journalist during the war of Independence)
  • to the mothers and fathers of the county
  • to the anonymous heroes
  • to Mexico City
  • to indigenous communities
  • to liberty
  • to justice
  • to democracy
  • to sovereignty
  • to the universal brotherhood
  • to peace
  • to the cultural richness of the country

 

If you look at a global calendar of dates, you'll see that the date for Mexican Independence is officially September 16th. It is a federal holiday, mostly because everyone is so hung over from the night before; it is the day of rest and enjoying time with family and friends. Even the country's main airport in Mexico City (the largest in Latin America) is closed for five hours as part of the celebration. But the celebration is really felt during the whole month of September.

I don't know what Independence Day 2021 will look like. Because of efforts to control the pandemic by discouraging large gatherings of people, the main square is closed off to prevent people from congregating in their usual plazas. I don't know if we'll have the grito—it may be a virtual event on television. But I'll tell you: from previous visits to Mexico during Independence week, this is an incredibly exciting time to be here!

And one of the most iconic food items for the month of September is chiles en nogado. A poblano pepper is stuffed with a picadillo of pork and beef, cooked with warm spices (cumin, cinnamon, etc) and laced with raisins and other dried fruits. The dish is served with a sauce made from ground walnuts, and garnished with parsley and pomegranate seeds—comprising the three colors of the Mexican flag. But just as importantly, walnuts and pomegranates are harvested in Mexico each September, making this dish a good example of eating locally and seasonally. Plus, it's freaking delicious!!!

 

Chiles en nogado

Permanent Home

I've really gotten to like the neighborhood in which I'm currently living. It's convenient to a number of stores and restaurants, groceries, and just a short walk from el centro. So in my walks around the neighborhood, I've started to pay attention to "For Rent" signs posted on buildings. One such sign caught my eye, and I asked Rosey if she could make an inquiry.

When I mentioned the property to the Morelia United members (the expat group), one guy told me that the house had six bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an internal courtyard—all for a monthly rent of $10,000 pesos (that's $500 USD).

Now, all my life, I've always found that something "too good to be true" usually is. So I was a little sceptical that this place could be as described, but when Rosey and I went to see it yesterday, I was delighted to see that almost everything was true:

  • While there are indeed six rooms in which you could put a bed, I think it makes more sense to consider this a four bedroom house.
  • While there are indeed three bathrooms, one of them is just a half bath.
  • And while the monthly rent was reported to me as $10,000, in reality it is just $9,000 ($450 USD).

Although Rosey had made some appointments for later this week for other apartments (among them a one-bedroom for $12,000), I decided not to lose this incredibly opportunity. I contacted the landlord (a family who lives next door owns the house) and told him I definitely wanted to rent it, and he responded that he was very happy. (There is a perception that renting to expats is much more desirable, because we're generally older, more settled, financially secure, and possibly more likely to take care of a place.)

So I'll work with Rosey on the lease and setting up of utilities, and then, as the house is technically "unfurnished," I'll need to get some furniture. (But the house already has a number of wardrobes and tables, some chairs, and a refrigerator and stove, which will save some costs, and the expat community has a good network of used furniture.) I'll definitely be in there by October 1st; since the house currently stands empty, we're trying to see if they'd let me have access a little earlier.

Calle Guerrero 45

 

So I've only been here for just two weeks, but so much has happened, and I couldn't be happier. I have met a great group of friends, and every single day I discover another thing about life in Morelia that delights me. I'll post an update once I'm in my new home.

Thank you for reading!