Have you noticed it? The comments on websites are snippier, people are impossibly rude and impatient in traffic, harder cliques are forming, locals no longer like foreigners very much, and more of the expats seem to be going into social retreat. Foreigners are talking more about leaving the Yucatan. I have a few theories, some contributed by friends, on why this mood is so acute in Merida.
1. The weather. This unrelenting spate of extreme heat and draught has taken its toll on everyone. Even those who like to tough it out, and say, “I don’t mind the heat,” have to admit that this is a bit much. I understand that the ERs are full of people with heat stroke. The heat makes me feel like a prisoner in my home, car, and stores and theaters, where I can be in the a/c. I was thrilled to be in the dentist’s office (Dr. Claudia on Calle 53) where the a/c is marvelous. It is not fun to take a walk, and probably not very good for many of us. Favorite restaurants are no longer pleasant. If you drive outside the city, you see that most foliage is brown and dying.
If you use a/c in your home, the costs of electricity are greater than they are in the USA.
2. The City continues to grow and change. There are so many new immigrants from other parts of Mexico that the characteristics that used to make Merida feel so incredibly friendly and neighborly are disappearing. A few years ago, if I walked from my house in Santa Ana to the zocalo, virtually everyone I encountered on the street would say hello (I always had to be careful with buenas dias and buenas tardes, as everyone seemed to know exactly when the clock passed noon). Now, people stride past at close quarters without making eye contact.
The City has grown huge, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it is losing its charm. When I bought my house, I was the only foreigner on my block, and now there are no more native Yucatecos. Women no longer sit outside in rocking chairs in the evening.
There are entire new colonias springing up where Yucatecans are in the minority, edged out by immigrants from DF and other cities. My friend Mary tells me that in her neighborhood, xxxxx, where her neighbors are long-time local homeowners, she still retains the pleasant aspects of the old Merida.
The traffic has become horrendous. The City is trying to come up with solutions, but it will take years.
Americans are no longer the rich guys. Yes, we used to appear to have more money than almost anyone else, and people were anxious to accommodate our whims. But now, we look like paupers next to the fast-growing super wealthy Mexicans in Merida. We are not big deals any more. We are socially and financially outclassed by a huge sector of the new population.
3. The real estate crash. It’s difficult to sell a house in Centro where many foreigners live, especially if it is listed at over $200,000 USD.
Many gringos fell in love with Merida, sold their homes in the USA, and invested in their dream homes in Merida, specifically in Centro. But just like in the caving real estate market in the USA, the homes here have plumetted in value. To add to the problem, the new gringo arrivals spent a lot of money on renovations, frequently going way over budget, as they discovered more and more things that they wanted fixed or changed in the the renovation process.
So if you bought a home five years ago for, say, $400,000 and spent another $200,000 renovating it, and have divested yourself of your home in the USA, you are now left with a Merida home that could sell here for perhaps $350,000 after you’ve spent $600,000. It’s a painful thing to sell a home at a huge loss. So you have a choice. Put it on the market where it will sit for a very long time, or cut your price drastically.
4. The cost of living in Merida has gone up. A chicken costs the same in Merida or Duluth. A lot of produce is as expensive or higher. Utility bills, except for water, are the same or higher than in the USA. A doctor visit that used to cost $30 now costs $60. Gasoline prices are high. Eating out is the same or more than in the USA if you are looking for something besides panuchos or tortas. Coffee actually costs more here. It costs $16 to get into Chichen Itza. The only thing that remains a bargain are the property taxes. (Shhhh) But then, we have to pay fidecomisos every year (lease agreements for our houses which we can’t actually own outright in Merida).
5. Some gringos want to return to the USA. Because of the heat, and the predictions that summers will be permanently hotter here, plus being disappointed by the local medical services, plus the changing nature of the City, many foreigners want to go back to the USA. The thrill is gone. They are tired of struggling in Spanish, dealing with various service personnel, fixing the ever-occuring leaks, going through the agony of licensing cars and getting annual immigration documents and so forth. They find that the local health care system isn’t all it’s cracked up to be unless you pay privately out of pocket. Some people find that the climate is bad for their health (heat and humidity, added to dust).
And people miss their families up north. Relatives may not be rushing to the torpid tropics to visit them as they had hoped.
A certain proportion of people from the north who fall in love with Merida have always wanted to leave after a few years. Now it is harder because people can’t recoup their real estate investments and if they sell at a reduced amount, they can’t afford to buy the homes they want in the USA or Canada. They are stuck with staying here and hoping things change, or going to the USA, leaving their Merida homes in the hands of costly caretakers and renting places in northamerica.
Being hot, stuck and unhappy makes people cranky.