I've been in Morelia just a few days, but wanted to provide an update on my journey so far...

Hello, México—Goodbye, Debit Card

As soon as I got through immigration and customs at Morelia's General Francisco Mujica International Airport (with its four gates!), I wanted to use the ATM machine to withdraw some Mexican pesos. No problem, I even went the easy route and selected the English language prompts on the ATM. What I neglected to do was retrieve my card!

I had gotten distracted by the lack of a cellphone signal in order to summon an Uber, and walked away from the machine in order to purchase a voucher for a taxi into town. As soon as I realized I was missing my card, I ran back to the machine, but a message on the screen informed me that my card was being retained for security reasons, and that I needed to visit a local branch of the issuing ATM.

Crap! Now what am I going to do!? I've only been in the country for ten minutes and I've lost access to my money!

Fortunately, I had also brought a couple of credit cards with me (and I had informed both banks that I would be traveling in México), so I used a credit card to purchase my taxi voucher. But I have another four weeks to go in a country where almost all transactions are done in cash.

As Scarlett O'Hara would say, "I'll think about that another day." So I asked the cab drive to recommend a nice restaurant in the center of town where I could enjoy some good Mexican food and a couple of beers, while sitting in a shaded sidewalk cafe facing the main cathedral. By the time I had finished, I was a little calmer.

Can you hear me now?!?

My next task was to get a local cellphone number, otherwise I would be charged a fortune in roaming fees. I walked a few blocks to a Telcel store I had seen on the map (Telcel being the largest cellphone carrier in the country.) A nice young man listened to what I wanted, and gave sold me a one-month plan for 80 pesos (about $4—remember, everything in México is really inexpensive!) Happy to have accomplished this, I went out to the street to order an Uber to take me to my apartment.

But my phone had absolutely no internet or data service! Annoyed, I returned to the store, and had the guy check it again. He couldn't get it to work either, and suggested that my phone just wasn't compatible with Telcel's service. I agreed with him, and said I would try another carrier, and it was clear from his demeanor that the transaction was complete. I asked about getting my money back, and he completely balked, saying he wasn't able to issue a refund. I explained (in my inelegant Spanish) that selling me a product that doesn't work doesn't seem fair. He agreed, but said there was nothing he could do—he wasn't authorized to issue refunds.

Telcel logo

I told him I completely understood, and that I would be happy to return at a time when there was a manager there to speak with. He got a little nervous, conferred with a colleague, and then reiterated that he wasn't able to process a refund. And yet, I persisted. I reiterated that no one likes to get ripped off, even foreigners. He finally opened the cash register and slammed the money on the counter. I gave him a heartfelt !Gracias! and left.

Crap! Now what am I going to do!? I've only been in the country for two hours and my cellphone roaming is going to drain me dry!

So I turned off roaming, and once again heeded Scarlett's advice. I found a cab and started off for my AirBnB apartment.

Home is where the suitcase is

My AirBnB host is Eduardo, but I learned that he actually lives in Toronto, and relies upon his mother to help guests arrive. Patricia doesn't speak English, so she was relieved that she could give me the apartment tour in Spanish.

It is a lovely little two-bedroom unit in a complex of similar apartment buildings, about a 20-minute walk from the Centro. Fully furnished with modern furniture, a well-stocked kitchen, and a great bathroom with walk-in glass shower. There even is a stacked washer/dryer set, and a smart TV with local cable and apps like Netflix and Youtube. I will be very comfortable here.

Being in Morelia

On Wednesday, I decided to take up the quest for Mexican cellphone service. But having been burned by the young Telcel guy, I decided to go with a known leader in global telecommunications: AT&T. I've had AT&T Mobile service before, and AT&T is the second largest provider in México, so that seemed like the best bet. I walked about 20 minutes to an AT&T Store (the kind where they only sell AT&T-branded phones and services.)

Once I told them what I wanted, they suggested a special promotional plan that includes 2 GBs of data, and unlimited talk and text, not only in México, but also for calls/texts to or from the United States. The promotion required pre-paying for 12 months of service at a cost of 2,043 pesos. That sounds like a lot, but you're learning the lesson that nearly everything in México is significantly less expensive—a year's worth of cellphone service cost me $103. (That's about $8.50 a month.)

So now I have wireless service with a Morelia area code and number—I'm starting to feel that I belong here.

Palacio de Justicia

With one victory behind me, I decided to try to tackle the debit card issue. I went to the main BBVA/Bancomer branch in the center, and spoke to a manager. He tried to be upbeat, but he admitted that after 24 hours, cards retained by the ATM are destroyed (for security reasons.) There was no way for me to get my card back, so he suggested that I contact my bank for assistance.

I emailed my Charles Schwab banker, and he said there would be no problem with re-issuing my debit card and shipping it to me. He asked me to call their main customer support line in order to properly block the old card and get a new one ordered. I'm expecting the new card to arrive in 2–4 days via FedEx, and Schwab waived the shipping charge, saying it wasn't really my fault. (Although my carelessness is what caused the issue!) So I'm happy to say that the two crises that started my trip are now being fully resolved. 

Feeling a little better, I took a quick stroll in Centro, and spent some time just sitting on a bench in the shade, taking it all in. All of the Google Street View images I've pored over have been two-dimensional, and to suddenly see these places in the flesh was overwhelming...I swelled with emotion and almost started to cry...it's so beautiful here.

Morelia street

Almost all of the buildings in Morelia's Centro are built from the local pink stone, and thus linked by color and material, create a cohesive whole. Preservation of these historic buildings has long been carried out, and in 1991, the historic center was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I am so looking forward to exploring every street and building!

Trash Talk

To me, one of the most charming parts of Morelia life is in the collection of garbage. So much of México's labor is performed by hand, by individuals working hard, and nearly every aspect of life here is run on a cash economy. Rather than employ a fleet of municipal vehicles and employees to collect trash once a week (like in the United States), trash pickup here is done daily by private businessmen (and women), who are paid by the residents.

Every morning, and again in the afternoon—every day—the trash man walks through the neighborhood, ringing his bell, which you can hear when he's still a couple of blocks away. You bring your trash to the front door, where he collects it in exchange for 5–10 pesos (25¢–50¢) If you haven't sorted the recyclable items, he'll do that also.

But the brilliance of the system is that you can have your trash picked up any day you want, without having it pile up while waiting for trash day. And what I've learned from observing my neighbors is that you place your trash out in front of the building, with your pesos tucked under the bag. He collects the money when he takes the bag, and you benefit from the convenience of the system.

I know it might be kind of strange to find delight in the collection of trash, but it's one of the little things that make life here so nice. I'll share more of these with you next week.

Morelia street



Morelia—Week 2