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Can you believe December is here?

Time flies when you’re having fun…. And there always seems to be something important which takes the place of writing a newsletter! Now, finally, here I am again.

I did not travel much this year. I had a knee replacement in May and it worked! I am now getting around very well. Of course, work did not stop, especially now that I have a smaller team. Ricardo left to start his own company, although I would very much have liked him to take over the reins at Tierra Yucatan. Laura also left, and after nineteen years together, David Palomo left as well. He left to start a law office with his grown sons. I miss the long-time companionship, but they are doing great and with the support of Karla, Javier and Alex, so are we! Isabel is now the front-desk bilingual support and my trusty Rocio runs the office with an iron fist. We are here, or as they say in Yucatan, Wayan’e!twogirls

Yucatan just had it’s fist “cold front” of the year in early November, bringing some welcome rain plus pleasantly cooler days and nights. “Cold” in these parts means we are still in short sleeves and light cotton, but really enjoying being in the 80s rather than the 90s.

At the end of November, we celebrated the national holiday for Day of the Dead (Hanal Pixan here in Yucatan). My village of Tepakan started festivities on a Friday night, with the children dressed in their Day of the Dead best putting up traditional altars in the park, and a candle-lit Parade of the Spirits from the cemetery to the central park. In the days and nights that followed, the festivities became more home- and family-oriented. Citizens of the town could be seen cleaning the graves of loved ones, refreshing things with fresh coats of paint, and putting flowers everywhere. In each home, a small personal altar or ofrenda was filled with photographs, flowers, candles, favorite foods of their dead relatives (see a photo on the banner above). Those foods included tamales, pib, some candy for the souls of the children, and perhaps a beer or a tequila for one’s beloved and remembered grandfather or father. Traditional orange cempaxochitl marigolds, dark red coxcomb and purple bachelor’s buttons…. the flowers and colors were everywhere.

I spent November 1 helping make traditional Yucatecan tamales with Maya friends in a nearby village, learning recipes and how to wilt the huge banana leaves over a fire to prepare them as wrappers. It was a long day, but fun, and rewarded by heaps of steaming hot tamales colados tamaleprep(steamed) and tamales tortillados, both filled with shredded chicken and pork. And both pretty and delicious! Now that those festivities are over, it is time to start thinking about making Christmas puddings. I will go to San Antonio for the holidays and that’s an essential part of any Christmas dinner in my family.

Regarding the Merida real estate scene, no cold front here! Things are selling faster than ever before and consequently prices, even for old unremodeled homes, are spiraling upward. Closing costs have increased a bit for both buyers and sellers with the introduction of some new taxes and mandatory appraisals to set property values. You should expect closing costs now to be around 8% of the purchase price, although this will vary by location and appraised value. We will be happy to help with estimates on specific properties when it comes time to make offers.

Spring in Yucatan

Spring has Sprung in Yucatan!bougainvilla

It’s sunny and warming here in Yucatan, with perfect cool evenings for outdoor dining in our many excellent restaurants. Locals and visitors alike are out enjoying walks under Merida’s huge old trees, especially on weekends when the streets in Merida Centro are closed to traffic and Paseo Montejo becomes a cycling route. Bici Ruta closes off many of the busy streets on Sundays for bicycles, and gives everyone a chance to see the city while biking leisurely with your family and friends.

Easing of travel restrictions has brought visitors to Merida from all over the world. If you are thinking about making Merida your home, don’t wait!  Homes are selling fast and prices, though still reasonable, will be rising as demand exceeds supply.

I took a trip to the beach yesterday and found everyone getting ready for Easter, which is a big beach holiday for locals. Many new restaurants are opening in Chelem, Chuburna and Telchac, and there is much building of new developments all along the coast as you travel east from Progreso.

Some COVID precautions are still in effect – masks required and temperature taken at the door of all businesses – but we expect these measures to be lifted as soon as our infection rates get lower, which could be very soon. Some come on down and enjoy the Yucatan spring!

New Tax Regulations in Mexico

NEW REGULATIONS COMING FOR TAXPAYERS
by Linda Jones Neil
For many years the SAT, Mexico’s taxing authority, has been collecting tax on income from Mexican rental properties.   The law is clear:  no matter where the money is paid, if the income is generated from a property located in Mexico,  SAT is entitled to its tax.    And the authorities are watching the company websites, the property managers, the vacation rental companies and the digital platforms on internet.  They KNOW there is major tax evasion taking place!
Since many owners have not come forward to honor their tax obligations, a new law goes into effect on June 1, 2020.   Beginning June 1, anybody who accepts a booking through a digital platform (think AirBnB, VRBO, Home Away, etc) will have the applicable taxes deducted before the balance is sent to the owner!   So…….. no evasion!   No way to avoid the taxes!  These new regulations are defined in Articles 113 and following of the Income Tax Law (ISR), Section III, and Articles 18 and following of the Added Value Tax (IVA), chapter II.
The law breaks tax rates and procedures for payments into two categories:
The Resident in Mexico: if the owner is a resident of Mexico, he may obtain a taxpayer identification number (RFC) and declare income less allowable deductions.   Taxes are generally lower than for non-residents but the requirements for residency are fairly high including minimum time in the country each year and verifiable proof of monthly income.   In most cases the monthly declarations are provisional and an annual declaration must be filed with the tax authorities.
The Non-Resident in Mexico:  If the owner is someone who came, fell in love and bought a property for appreciation, for retirement or just for fun but  is not in a position to live in the country or does not have sufficient stable income, he or she is a NON-RESIDENT, and declares under a different formula.   Tax rates are fixed and an annual declaration is not required.
Both residents and non-residents who promote their properties through AirBnB, VRBO and any other digital platform, will be taxed and funds withheld from income based upon their immigration status.
What about those who rent through a property manager?  or privately?  What about those who rent sometimes through a digital platform and sometimes through other sources?
The law has not changed.   Both residents and non-residents must declare their full income and enforcement will most likely be stricter than ever.   For the non-resident, a Mexican person or entity must be appointed to collect, declare and pay taxes.  No RFC is required.   The tax is fixed, on the gross, it is a definite tax and no annual declarations need be made.
Evasion of tax is a criminal offense.   Articles 150 to 178 of the Fiscal Code provide for imprisonment of up to six years for evasion of taxes.   Not only is it a criminal offense but the taxpayer must pay the past due taxes and very substantial interest penalties which amount to 1.3% per month, compounded.   Unless taxes and accrued penalties are paid in a timely manner the property can be seized and put up for auction.   Additionally, in a reform of Article 118 of the Fiscal Code, no landlord may demand payment of past due rent in the courts without submitting proof of tax compliance.    This is not unlike tax evasion consequences in the US and Canada!
The good news on all of this is that Mexico has tax treaties with 32 nations, including the US and Canada.   Thus, taxes paid in Mexico are a credit against income in both countries!   Double taxation is never an issue!
copyright 2020. C. Phoenix, S.C. Reproduction prohibited without consent. # # # #
About the author:
LINDA JONES NEIL is the founder of The Settlement Company®, which specializes in real estate transfers, escrows, and consultations.  Settlement® provides a full accounting and taxpaying service for residents and non-residents.. For further information on taxes on rental properties please contact:  The Settlement Company®, info@settlement-co.com.
THE SETTLEMENT COMPANY®

Covid-19 Yucatan Update

Corner store in Tepakan with hand sanitizer at the door

Corner store in Tepakan with hand sanitizer at the door

I have to give the Mexican government high marks for at least seeming as well prepared as possible for what we are all experiencing during this Coronavirus pandemic. The government began by putting in place a six-phase plan for the stages of the emergency.

Phase 1 was when the virus was spread principally by people bringing it from abroad, and Phase 2, which lasted until yesterday, was slow controlled spread from person to person.  Last night Phase 3 was announced.  This is the phase when we will experience the most spread of the virus in all communities with the greatest pressure on our hospitals and medical teams, with the peak estimated to be around May 8 to 10th.   Social distancing has been put in place. Only businesses deemed necessary have been open for more than a month.  Schools, restaurants and bars are closed, and, in fact, Yucatan has been a dry state for the past few weeks.

The main centers of infection have been the larger cities, particularly Mexico City.   In Yucatan, Merida has the highest incidence, but we have so far managed to keep the numbers low.  As of yesterday, the government reported the following numbers:

 

Total confirmed cases in Mexico …………………     8772

Total recovered ………………………………………….        2627

Total number of dead ……………………………….          712

 

Total confirmed cases in Yucatan…………………………      172

Total recovered ………………………………………………….         5

Total number of dead …………………………………….          10

 

As you can see from the above numbers, the measures they have taken (social distancing, gel everywhere, disinfecting cars coming in and out of villages) has helped keep people fairly safe.  There have been one or two cases in most larger towns in Yucatan, but nothing so far in my village of Tepakan.  In addition, to prepare for the medical emergency, the Governor of Yucatan obtained 110 additional ventilators for use in hospitals and ambulances.  That said, we have a huge lack of N95 masks and protective equipment of all kinds.

The hardest thing that has affected almost every family in Yucatan and all of Mexico, is that there is less and less work.  Construction projects are shut down and more and more people are out of work.  For people who live on a few dollars a day, this is becoming more and more difficult.

Yesterday, trucks came to every house handing out one “dispensa” to each family (80,000 total were distributed). A “dispensa” is a box containing some food supplies and soap. It is a help, but not enough to keep everyone fed.  Below is a

Spraying down the car as it enters town

Spraying down the car as it enters town

translation for yesterday’s newspaper, Diario de Yucatan:

 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Governor Mauricio Vila Dosal launched the delivery of this aid that comes to support families during this period of economic inactivity in the face of the health emergency. Together with the mayor of Mérida, Renán Barrera Concha, Vila Dosal confirmed the distribution plan that is being carried out in the Yucatan capital.

House by house, a total of 80,000 food packages were delivered to each home in the 47 police station districts of Mérida, as well as to homes in the marginalized areas of the capital. This program was launched today by Governor Mauricio Vila Dosal and the Mayor of Mérida, Renán Barrera Concha, to support Yucatecans during this period of economic inactivity due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In warehouses where the food packages are kept, the Governor and the municipal president of the Yucatan capital verified the distribution plan that will provide this monthly support, so far planned for April and May, to be delivered to the homes of Merida families who need it most.

It was explained that the State Government is distributing 20,500 packages in Merida, and another 43,000 packages to the houses that are located in surrounding areas.

In addition to these efforts, the Merida City Council has already distributed more than 16,500 food aid packages in shelters and civil associations, support that will continue to reach a total of 20,000 people. In this way, it seeks to benefit a greatest number of people.

The aid from the Government of Vila Dosal is part of the State Plan to Promote the Economy, Jobs and Health of Yucatecans. This plan will distribute 1.8 million food packages to 450,000 Yucatecan households during the months of April and May. They hope this will alleviate the economic effects that inactivity is causing due to the health emergency. Starting last Wednesday, April 15,  distribution was also initiated to each home in the 105 municipalities in the interior of the state.

Accompanied by the head of the State Secretariat of Social Development (Sedesol), Roger Torres Peniche, the Governor and Barrera Concha participated in the preparation and loading of the first trucks that left the warehouse with food aid packages to be taken to the door of the beneficiary homes today.

To do this, Vila Dosal and the Meridano mayor followed proscribed sanitary measures, which are also implemented every day to protect the health of the collaborators and the population.

The Municipal President stated that as a sign of this joint work, since the first day the health contingency began, close communication has been maintained within the State Government regarding pertinent measures and creating emerging programs to safeguard the health of all citizens.

Those in charge of carrying the dispensas house-to-house are following the corresponding sanitary protocols, such as using face masks, gloves and keeping a healthy distance with the beneficiaries, in order to guarantee that they reach Yucatecans in the healthiest and safest way possible. .

It must be emphasized that, with the aim of benefiting the largest possible number of people, four food supply packages are being provided per household, which should allow support for most Yucatecan families.

With strategies such as these, the State Government reiterates the call to the entire Yucatecan population not to leave their homes at this time. This is why these packages will be delivered directly house by house, allowing citizens to avoid crowds and prioritize social isolation as the main prevention measure.”

COVID-19 in Yucatan

Yucatan in The Time of COVID-19

Statistics as of April 11, 2020 (Yucatan)
Total confirmed positive March and April………… 93
Recovered Confirmed cases……………………….……. 58
In isolation recovering at home:……………………… 18
Hospitalized…………………………………..……………… 11
Deaths……………………………….……………………..….. 6

 

Merida has excellent hospitals, clinics, and doctors. However, with a large disadvantaged population scattered in small villages and living on a limited diet in close quarters, and most families living on a very small and precarious income, this coronavirus puts the state on the brink of disaster.

Every village in Yucatan has a small clinic and a 24-hour doctor, but they are only able to deal with the simplest and most common emergencies. Facilities equipped to deal with complications of coronavirus can only be found in Merida and would be swiftly overwhelmed if the virus is allowed to spread without any intervention. Throughout Mexico there is very little testing, so statistics are unreliable.  As I write, the national government estimates the coronavirus infection in Mexico is expected to peak in two or three weeks. With that in mind, Mexico is trying to buy 10,000 ventilators and monitors from the United States.

Thanks to quick action both on a national and a local level, we have had very few COVID-19 cases and those have been generally limited to Merida itself. My village of Tepakan has not yet had an infection, and neither has the larger nearby town of Izamal. Early in March, we started closing non-essential businesses everywhere and practicing social distancing. By the third week in March, the police of each village had set up checkpoints that discouraged unnecessary traffic, applied gel to everyone’s hands as they passed, and gave advice on precautions. Early in March, the villages all cancelled plans for Easter gatherings and for the annual fiestas which in our area happen soon after.

Tierra Yucatan closed its doors to the public except by prior appointment.  By March 17th, I allowed one person in the office at a time. This person was required to arrive by personal car (not public transportation), to work three or four hours behind closed doors to answer phones and update the website. That person was also tasked into looking after our little office zoo:  three rescue cats and a turtle. All employees, including the gardener, cleaners etc. are on full salary through the epidemic. My priority is to look after my little “family” and keep us all safe.

As of last week, we changed to just have someone checking the office. The cats, who are after all my responsibility, are living with me out in the little village of Tepakan, my principal home for more than twelve years. I hadn’t planned to have four cats, but they are good company when one is home all the time. I feel very lucky to have a cool and comfortable old rock-built house, a large lot with many fruit trees and a pool large enough for a bit of swimming and aquarobics. Of course, I worry about the safety of my neighbors. But so far, so good.

For me, April and May are the most difficult months to be in Yucatan at the best of times. Our weather is at its very hottest and there is no relief in sight until rain starts in June. The countryside is burned to a crisp, with grass fires that have laid bare the roadsides and many patches of dry, leafless trees. The heat and the dead landscape alone make me feel anxious. I keep bowls of water out for street dogs and stray animals, as there is no relief from the sun for them. This year is statistically much worse than usual, with a forecast of temperatures rising to 107 degrees ( 42C ) in the afternoon for the next ten days. Luckily, evenings are pleasant! We all go out for a breath of air, a short walk and a chat at a distance with the neighbors. Normally this is the time of year when I would plan to travel for a few weeks to see family in cooler places. I would visit friends and family in England, my son and family in Washington State….but not this year! Now I am crossing off the days on the calendar and waiting for the rains to start. Perhaps by June we will see our way forward and soon after can welcome you all back! Life will begin to move back to our old pattern and I can open the office doors! If we have to wait a little longer, at least the rain brings life and hope back to the dry thirsty land.

I was in Merida yesterday to sign cheques and take care of a few necessities. It was strange to see the empty streets with no buses, no tourists, very little traffic and most businesses and all the malls shut. Walmart, Costco, Petco, Office Depot are all open and well-stocked and all enforcing a safe distance between shopping carts. There are places where life and commerce goes on. From last weekend, all alcohol sales are banned and face masks must be worn in public. I think the main goal of the dry law is to make sure any family money is spent on necessities right now, and perhaps to reduce family violence when people have been shut up together too long. I must say everything both in Merida and in the villages seems peaceful and very orderly. We have to hang on, stay safe and look after our neighbors.

We are thinking of all our friends and clients in the United States, Canada and around the world. We hope you and your families are safe and can’t wait to see you all again back in Merida. You can write me for anything you need or to let me know how you are at jen@tierrayucatan.com. Look after one another!

Love,

Jen

My Trip To Iran

Iran is in the news, and this reminds me that I didn’t share the details of my trip there in October 2017! So, belatedly, I will catch you up with as brief a version, which will hardly do it justice.

I discovered a country struggling with enormous economic and environmental problems. Despite that, I met wonderful friendly people who were eager to meet foreigners, eager to talk and share, and eager to help when needed… and, of course, I saw breathtaking art and architecture. I felt as if I was walking through thousands of years of history, going back to the conquests of Alexander the Great and before. There were many surprises, but perhaps the biggest surprise was how freely people in the street expressed resentment of the policies of the religious leaders. The other surprise was the deep respect and appreciation of President Obama for his loosening of sanctions and willingness to negotiate.

At the time of my visit, this seemed to open a window of hope for economic growth and a better future for the highly educated young people, almost all of whom spoke perfect (or almost perfect) English. I know many reading this will have other opinions… but it is important to separate the ordinary people from their government. It is quite possible to love one and not the other!

For a holder of a US or British passport, there are quite a few difficulties to be overcome to visit Iran.  Obtaining a visa involved a background check and took about three months to be approved.  As a citizen of the US or Britain, you have to book a guided tour and are supposed to have a guide with you at all times. I found in fact that once I was in Tehran, I was free to go wherever I wished, quite alone.

I spent one day exploring the very efficient and cheap Metro underground which whisked me from one side of the city to the other in swift comfort and was very easy to understand. There is almost no crime and I never felt fear for my safety. Quite the contrary, as women dressed “modestly” as required by law (headscarf and loose long-sleeve top covering the rear), are treated with complete respect.  I arranged my visit through GAdventures (www.gadventures.com) with whom I had been to Uzbekistan, Rajasthan and Eastern Turkey in the past. I appreciate their small groups, interesting itineraries and a great willingness to be flexible and make it possible to include things of special interest that are often not on the original schedule. They allow plenty of free time, too, to explore on your own.

I had a great time… hope you enjoy the photos!

Summer… and care of your pasta tile floor!

Family

Summertime!

It’s that time of year… children are out of school and everyone who is able has moved from Merida to the beach. There is always safe swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. The water  is smooth as a mirror in the morning,  and a cooling breeze comes up in the evening, which means you seldom need air conditioning. Average temperatures in Merida are reaching 94 degrees, and dropping into the 70s and low 80s at night. This is hot, yes, but comfortable compared to many parts of the USA right now (friends are sweltering at 110 degrees in Dallas, they tell me).  These are the days for getting up early to do anything energetic, enjoying the swimming pool or a siesta in the afternoon, then dinner al fresco when the sun goes down.

AbiAndOliver

I plan a short get-away this year.  I have a new grand baby Oliver, born on May 20th, and it is time to get to know him.  My son Zac and his family returned from two years in Malawi and Heather (a doctor, OBGYN) is now working with the hospital in Yakima, Washington.  It will be my first visit to that part of the United States, and of course I am looking forward to it very much.

One of my reasons for this blog post  is this:  I just came across useful information on the care of pasta tile floors.  If you haven’t bought yet, perhaps you don’t need this, but almost everyone who already has a home in Merida has a home with our beautiful tile floors. And everyone who has a tile floor (including me) can use this information.

I found this on the website of one of the companies still making these lovely tiles, many from the original 150 year old forms. The site is www.mosaicosdzununcan.com.  On the same site you can find galleries of design, ideas for laying tile if you plan new construction. Also, I am sure they will arrange for you to see the tile being hand-made at their factory in the village of Dzununcan.

Another excellent site is that of Mosaicos La Peninsular, www.mosaicoslapeninsular.com.  They also have showrooms in Merida and are ready to explain the manufacture and care of the tiles… they can show you their manufacturing facility right there in Merida Centro. This is a very old craft and interesting to watch and understand.  After seeing it, you will appreciate even more those hard-wearing carpets of color in your Yucatan home!

Maintaining Your Pasta Tile Floor

Recommendations for cleaning the pasta tiles, after they have been polished and shined for the first time:

Do not use chlorine and acids. The continuous use of detergents will dull the mosaic tile. It is preferable to use Pinol cleaner with the use of gas morado (also known as petroleum or kerosene).

It is recommended to mop the floor once or twice a week with only water and a shot of gas morado (about one tequila shot).  Instead of sweeping with a broom, you should use a straight mop (dusting mop) previously sprayed with gas morado (kerosene) allowing it to dry up for 1 or 2 days or as long as necessary in order to get completely dry. For best results, instead of the gas morado, you can spray on anyone of the following products: “adelimp”, “tratamop”, or “red oil for polishing furniture 3 in 1.”

That’s it! Have a great summer!

A Few Days in Morocco

img_1520

The experience of traveling for a quick six day trip to Morocco (from England where I was visiting my mother) was very much worth it.

The first day,  I was up early and spent most of it on a bus crossing the High Atlas (868 hairpin bends on a very narrow road). The bus was First Class Direct, but it still took five hours to go 180 km.  The hands in the photo belong to the lady sitting in front of me. I loved the design on her hands and after trying to do so surreptitiously over her shoulder, got up the courage to ask in pidgin French if I could take a photo.img_1457

There was lovely scenery as we climbed about 7500 ft into a pine forest, then through a dry barren rocky landscape with adobe mudbrick villages. The houses are built one on top of another, huddled against the outcroppings.  Finally the bus descended onto a wide plain with an almost dry riverbed, passing crumbling remains of ksars, the adobe palace fortresses of Berber chieftains.

Ait Benhaddou is one of the finest remaining ksars, now partially restored by UNESCO.  After all that traveling, I was in no mood to do anything except relax, so I got up early and left this pretty little hotel and neighboring mosque to walk over to OLD Ait Benhaddou.  To get img_1495here I had to go into Ouarzazate, a large town built almost entirely since 1920 as a French administrative center controlling the south and Sahara. The town is now famous for huge film studios specializing in desert classics.  From there, a taxi back up the road 40 km and down the narrow track to this rather isolated and very peaceful village. (That is, except for the gaggle of tourists who just arrived…their voices echoing around the hotel.  All I can do is hope they’ll find their rooms and settle down!)

When I told my host Aziz I hadn’t liked the designs they offered at one particular hammam, he took me next door to meet his Berber neighbor Semia. She offered to demonstrate for me how they create the beautiful henna designs that the women wear on their hands.

img_1490I watched as first the henna powder was kneaded and pounded with warm water, until it smelled like grass clippings and had the texture of whipped cream at the “stiff peaks” stage. The design comes as a black plastic stencil, which I am assured is the correct traditional Berber way. Semia and her very strict-looking mother sat me on the floor, back against the couch facing the TV and began to very thoroughly plaster henna paste over the stencil. It all took quite a long time, while I watched Alice in Wonderland.

Once they were satisfied, first feet, then hands were encased in two layers of plastic shopping bags. Then I was buried in quilts and blankets to get REALLY hot and marinate for two whole hours.  While Mother Aisha finished plastering and bagging me, Semia cooked Berber flat bread filled with dried sheep, sheep fat and her own special spice mix which sounds awful but was really delicious.  As I had no hands, she sat and fed me bites followed by sips of mint tea. It was as if I was a baby again.

Waiting for the henna gave me plenty of time to talk to Semia in a mix of English and French.  She is 30 years old and won’t marry because, she says, Moroccan men want to control every detail of a woman’s life.  Her sister works, and Semia stays home to take care of her two small children. She says she hardly gets out of the house.  Her father is retired with a very small pension and life is very difficult.

img_1493

Finally just as I could stand or rather sit it no longer, the big reveal. Blankets off, stencils peeled, excess henna scraped off with a knife, skin rubbed with baby oil and instructions not to bathe.  Semia and I are now lifetime buddies, too. She gave me a pretty headscarf and some of her spice mix, and I gave her a fistful of dollars, feeling inadequate to have nothing more.  Of course, I left with promises to return to Ouarzazate for a real local experience in her company.

img_1498

I toyed with the idea of not coming back.

This is my sheik as he invited me to move in as his 4th wife. Okay, maybe not!

You can always recognize a tour guide because they are the only ones dressed as Berbers.  This one took me on a tour through the date palms and olive groves of the large Skaura oasis, with many old kasbahs which guarded the camel caravan trade routes from the Sahara to Marrakech.

From there to the oasis of Fint, a much smaller oasis but with dramatic black volcanic outcroppings. It has been much used as a movie set.

One of the photos is of a little “fixer upper”….no doubt soon to be a luxury vacation home for the Italians, French and other Europeans flooding into the area.   This is near where I’ve been staying in Ouarzazate.

img_1539a

The next day, I got back on the bus, back over the High Atlas and enjoyed a brief sortie into the souks of Marrakech. And now, back to England and back to Merida!

 

Carlos Hassey Esparza

Carlos Hassey EsparzaThese are sad times at Tierra Yucatan.

Our friend and companero Carlos Hassey Esparza passed away suddenly on Saturday morning.

None of us can believe that he won’t come walking through the door to make us all smile with his ready jokes, good humor, kindness and generosity. Carlos was loved and respected by all who know him, an old school gentleman who is enormously missed. One of the first to join our team at Tierra Yucatan, his passing has left a huge hole in our office. I know all of you who know him or worked with him will feel his loss.

RIP Charly.

More Magic in the East

market23 Sept: Leaving beautiful Bukhara behind with a bit of a sigh. I would have liked a bit more time to explore and to SHOP. So many carpets, forged knives, incredible hand embroidery, silk and more silk, but it is time to go, and we head for the hills. After the green fields full of melon, tomato, cotton, corn and the many apple orchards around Bukhara, the Kizilkum (Red Sand) desert begins again. Today we are travelling north east and into the low mountains. On the way, we make a stop at Chashma Spring, sacred to the Zoroastrians and to many locals for its crystalline water known to cure all ills. We see the locals coming with plastic bottles to fill and take home. The spring is interesting because it is very like our Yucatecan cenotes, and is also said to have been formed by an asteroid fracturing the earth’s crust, creating underground rivers. And here I thought that only happened in the Yucatan! Above the spring, on the hill, we are shown the remains of an adobe fortress believed to have been built by Alexander the Great around 330 B.C.

yurtcampAbout 4pm, finally, we arrive at the yurt camp. Sadly, there are now no nomads in Uzbekistan. So the yurts are not exactly authentic… a little bit kitsch, but interesting to see. The Uzbeks have always been a settled farming and trading peoples, but the Kyrgyz, who were once nomadic, were “encouraged” to settle during the years the area was part of the Soviet Union. They still live here, but now in scattered farms, and yurtinteriortheir huge herds of black/brown goats and sheep graze far and wide on the brown grass of the hills. We are four “girls” to a yurt. Our yurt is quite roomy and comfortable inside, and pretty, too! I love looking up at the many wood spokes supporting our dumpy felt Hobbit house. Next on the agenda, a camel ride on a beautiful furry dromedary with eyelashes to die for. As it turns out, a camel ride is a bit like a pony ride. We are led, five at a time, around a short loop of trail… that was quite enough! It’s been a long time since I went for a pony ride! Right afterwards, we climb up on the goatshighest dune to watch the sun set. My fellow travelers are all keen photographers, and it WAS a pretty sunset.

After dark and after dinner, we listen to a singer who accompanies himself on a sort of fish-skin guitar with dirgelike doleful music. It is not hard to imagine words, especially after the free bottles of rather crude vodka which accompanied dinner.

“It is so cold and the snow is so deep….the camel has died and now we will have to eat the baby camel…now how will we collect firewood?…I hate living in a yurt.” Ah, yes… vodka is great for the imagination.

4 Sept: I slept very well in the yurt. It was a perfect temperature… not too hot, not too cold. A few of the group are beginning to have wobbly innards, but for me, so mullahandcatfar so good. Today, we go to Samarkhand, which is about a 5 hour drive. After the bus ride, we get to Samarkhand around 12:30, and start a city tour at 2 pm. Samarkhand has truly amazing historic monuments which seem scattered over a large area until you get the hang of the route. The second day they were quite walkable actually, especially because our hotel is just across the street from the Registan complex.

The first stop on our tour was the burial place of Timur (Tamerlane), the great ruler of Samarkhand. We couldn’t resist watching while a group of local ladies posed for their photo op…but surprise! They were just as fascinated by us, and made us join them for the encore photo!

6 Sept: We got for a morning tour, this time around the Registan. These are three of possibly the most beautiful mosques (also known as madrassahs) in the world. One is still in use as a Friday Mosque and the others are the domain of the ubiquitous artisans, including miniaturists, antique sellers, carpets sellers, sellers of embroidery, marketand all of it of very high quality. Next we see the Bibi Hanum mosque and after that, we get a free afternoon to wander around. On this afternoon our group split up, the majority going back to Tashkent a night early, to go on to Kyrgyzstan tomorrow. Six of us stayed on together for a last day in Samarkhand.

7 Sept: I apparently ate something which didn’t agree with me on my last night in Samarkhand, and spent the day stretched out on my bed drinking green tea, reading a bit, and sleeping. It was a free day and not being up to shopping probably saved me from myself. At 4 PM, we boarded the very impressive high speed train to Tashkent. The train is spiffy, new and Spanish-made, with pretty air hostesses and a small snack served on the 2.5 hour 200 kph run. We were met at the station and chauffered back to our group starting point, the Hotel Uzbekistan for one last night of luxury. The luxury included a king size bed, white duvet, and a 15th floor view over Tashkent. I was finally feeling better, but still ready to crawl between the snowy sheets for an early night. Tomorrow I will be starting my solo trip to Ferghana Valley.

9 Sept: It isn’t that they don’t have a Sept 8th in Uzbekistan. I have lost a day somewhere. It is easy to do!

walledcityOn September 9, Hamid, my driver, arrives to pick me up. It’s a nice change to be able to ask all the questions you can ask because there are not 17 of you. So many questions about life here! And of course, I have a lot of questions about real estate. Although the government owns all the land, home ownership rates are very high. On the breakup of the Soviet system, everyone got the chance to buy their home for a very low price (a few thousand dollars) and low interest loans are available. Hamid is also curious to know about how WE do things… how I manage rentals, the buying process, costs of real estate. It turns out that some things are universal.

We talk all during the drive to Ferghana, which is the center of Uzbekistan’s silk and cotton production area and a very odd shape. Ferghana is a sliver of land poking north east from Tashkent between Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan. It crosses Uzbekistan’s highest major mountain range through an arid pass with a lot of construction going on. The road is being improved (it needs it!) and a new railway section is being built with the help of China and is almost complete. The area is dry and dusty, but in winter it is often snowed in by the severe weather which blows down from Siberia for around 40 days of the year. It makes me glad I live in the Yucatan!

And here I will leave you. Stay tuned for the next blog post, when I will take you to the potteries, spend a night in Ferghana and see silk from beginning to end at a Yodgorlik traditional factory.