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Summer Rains

In Yucatan they say that we have four seasons… two dry seasons and two rainy seasons. But if you look at the average rainfall, almost all the rain comes in the summertime. The beginning of summer (and of hurricane season) brings the big rains… usually, those sweet afternoon tropical thundershowers that provide relief from the build up of heat throughout the earlier part of the day. To my mind, there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of those towering thunderheads on a hot Yucatan afternoon and the downpours that follow are a blessing for people and plants alike.

This year it seems we have had more rain than usual at the beginning of the season… and rain that continues throughout the day. This is a bit unusual but not altogether unwelcome, as in recent years we have had a few summers with less rain than usual. Given the choice, I’ll take more rain over less rain every time. Rain brings out the best in a tropical garden, giving the ground a good soak to prepare it for the next dry season.

According to the weather websites, the most rain falls in Yucatan in September. But June, July and August are full of rain as well. Yucatan is in what they call a tropical desert, because when it gets dry, it gets very dry. And in April and May, and towards the end of the summer, it will get very hot and very dry, providing quite a challenge to many plants in your garden if they are not watered regularly.

Hurricane season isn’t over until November 1, and that’s about when Yucatan experiences a colder rain which is usually associated with nortes, cold north winds that blow the rain down from Texas and across the Yucatan Peninsula. Those rain experiences are not the kind you associate with a tropical environment. They are colder and windier. For rain in October, November or December, you usually need a sweater. Nortes are a part of life here, and are usually numbered by the local press, as in “Here Comes Norte #18!” in the headlines of the daily paper.

But the summer rains are different! Those are warm and full of excitement… and usually over as quickly as they began. Most people come to the Yucatan in the winter months to enjoy the sunshine they cannot get at home in the North. But for my money, summer in the Yucatan is wonderful because of the rains. The gardens are green and growing out of control. The afternoons are hot… all the better for enjoying your swimming pool, the beach or a siesta in your hammock. And the relief brought on by the afternoon summer rains is a tropical experience not to be missed! After all that drama during the day, summer nights in this part of the world are a time to be outside, socialize and enjoy the stars. Come to Yucatan in the summer for the rains and the heat… you won’t be sorry!

China Comes to Yucatan

Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife visit Chichen Itza YucatanThis week, the president of China, Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, came to Mexico and visited the Yucatan. In particular, Xi Jinping wanted to visit Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world and the crowning jewel of Yucatan tourism. Those of us who have visited Chichen Itza multiple times are used to the sight of El Castillo rising above the grassy lawn, and we sometimes forget how amazing a sight it is the first time. Xi Jinping was reportedly duly impressed and, according to an article in the Diario de Yucatan, declared himself an admirer of the Maya culture.

The Chinese president and his wife were accompanied, of course, but a large Mexican delegation which included the president of Mexico and his wife, and the governor of Yucatan. The photo (courtesy of the Diario de Yucatan) seems to show that his wife was enjoying herself but perhaps Xi Jinping himself was suffering a bit from the heat. He talked about his expectation that China will invest in Mexico’s infrastructure, renewable energy, telecommunications, electronics and the automotive industry. He also added that it was a little premature to talk about a free trade agreement between the two countries.

If these things are true, we expect to see more Chinese people moving to Mexico and especially to the Yucatan Peninsula as it was the only area of Mexico that the President visited outside of Mexico City. That’s quite a compliment for our area and perhaps a harbinger of investments and tourism to come! Obviously, at this point this is all just speculation… but we’re considering studying Mandarin just in case!

Ricardo Goes (Swims) The Extra Mile….

The Por La Libre event is one of the top open-water swimming events in the world. About 1000 racers, both pros and amateurs, compete in either a 3 kilometer or a 10 kilometer race in the beautiful blue Caribbean waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. One of the highlights of the race is swimming over Cancun’s Underwater Museum. This year was the 8th year that this race was held and people came from all over the planet to participate.

Ricardo Hassey, as anyone who has worked with him knows, is an incredible real estate agent who works for Tierra Yucatan here in Merida. He is also an incredible athlete. After working with Jennifer Lytle, owner of Tierra Yucatan, for days at the International Living Ultimate Event in Playa del Carmen, Ricardo took off for Cancun where this Saturday 25th May, he competed in the Tenth Internationl Por La Libre open water swimming event. He sawm from Cancun to Isla Mujeres in just over three and a half hours. What a guy!

If you click on this link, you can see the route of the Por La Libre swimming event.

The End of Fideicomisos?

While it is a little too soon to celebrate, it looks as if the Mexican Constitution will soon be modified to do away with the fideicomiso or bank trust! This will make it much less expensive for foreign buyers purchasing in Merida, at the beach and everywhere within 50 kilometers of the coast of Yucatan… or anywhere in Mexico. As an foreigner, you will now be able to buy and own outright (which you can already do outside of the protected zone) anywhere in Mexico.

Until proposed amendments are ratified, we still have to set up the bank trust. But once the law changes, as a foreigner, you will be able to simply close down your existing fideicomiso and will no longer have any annual fee.

Here is a translation of an article published recently in the Diario de Yucatan:

* * * * *
On April 23, the full House of Representatives approved an initiative to reform Section I of Article 27 of the Constitution, which allows foreigners to purchase land housing exclusively for non-commercial purposes in a zone of one hundred kilometers along borders and fifty along the beaches.

PAN deputy from Yucatan, Raul Paz Alonzo, author of the initiative, together with the coordinator of the PRI representatives in the House, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, says that the document was referred to the Senate, which could approve it in brief, and now needs the approval of at least 17 state legislatures.

With these changes, says Paz Alonzo, foreigners (who he says are mainly retirees) will have legal certainty, allowing them to apply for mortgage loans in their home countries in order to acquire a second home in Mexico.

The American retiree market alone is worth $2,500 million pesos, says Paz Alonzo. He believes that Yucatan state will attract some of that market, leveraging the features of the Yucatan, such as climate, security, medical services and facilities such as golf courses, all of which are of great interest to retirees.

Also, explained the deputy, many of the Canadians who come to the Yucatan coast in winter will now be able to buy houses directly with bank loans in their own country. The same will be true for those who plan to open homes for the elderly on the Yucatan Peninsula or those who already have housing developments near the coast or within one hundred miles of the borders.

Under the new law, adds Paz Alonzo, selling Mexican properties in the United States will be easier and will put Yucatan on a par with Florida, increasing the Yucatan’s share with that large market of retirees.

Trusts At a Glance

Until these changes are made, foreigners are not allowed to own land in the “zone”; they can however buy the land through a fideicomiso. In this trust, the banks are listed as “owners” of the property purchased by foreigners.

High Costs

This situation has led to non-Mexicans, in their capacity as trustees, dealing with high costs of setting up trusts and paying registration fees, as well as fees for paperwork, appraisals, taxes, permits and more.

Objectives

Therefore, one of the objectives of the initiative is to eliminate the middleman, in this case real estate companies and banks.

Security in Mexico

Pop Quiz: Which national capital has the higher murder rate, Mexico City or Washington, D.C.?

If you answered Mexico City, you’d be in good company – after all, Mexico is a war zone, isn’t it? But you would be wrong, on both counts.

Based on FBI crime statistics for 2010 and Mexican government data released early this year, Mexico City’s drug-related-homicide rate per 100,000 population was one-tenth of Washington’s overall homicide rate – 2.2 deaths per 100,000 population compared with 22. (Drug violence accounts for most murders in Mexico, which historically does not have the gun culture that reigns in the United States.) And while parts of Mexico can be legitimately likened to a war zone, drug violence afflicts 80 of the country’s 2,400 municipalities (equivalent to counties). Their locations have been well publicized: along the U.S. border in northern Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states, and south to Sinaloa, Michoacan and parts of San Luis Potosi, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guerrero and Morelos states.

The flip side is that more than 95 percent of Mexico’s municipalities are at least as safe as the average traveler’s hometown. Yucatan state, for example, had 0.1 of a murder for every 100,000 people in 2010 – no U.S. tourist destination comes close to that. Most cities in central Mexico, outside of the scattered drug hot spots, have lower murder rates than Orlando, Florida. It would seem fairly clear – fly, don’t drive, across the border into the safe regions. Yet whenever people say they are going to Mexico, the invariable response is “Aren’t you afraid?”

Media sensationalism accounts for much of the wariness. “Gangland violence in western Mexico” “Journalists under attack in Mexico” and “Mexico mass grave toll climbs” sound as if the entire country were a killing field. The story might name the state, but rarely the town and almost never the neighborhood. And some reporters apparently are confused by the word “municipality” – some of the killings reported as being in Mazatlan, for example, actually happened in a town miles away from the city – akin to attributing murders in East Palo Alto to San Francisco. But the biggest factor may be that travelers looking for a carefree vacation simply find it easier to write the entire country off than to learn what areas to avoid.

The Mexico Tourism Board is working to change that. Efforts so far have concentrated on getting accurate information to travel agents, who funnel the lion’s share of tourism to Mexico’s popular destinations. Independent travelers’ primary source of information is the State Department travel alerts, which are finally getting better at pinpointing the trouble spots. “We are trying to work with U.S. authorities in making these travel alerts specific and not general,” said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, the tourism board’s chief operating officer. “Unfortunately, they have projected a somewhat distorted image.”

If you’re totally spooked, there are places in Mexico that pose no more risk than Disneyland. If you’re open-minded but don’t want to take unnecessary risks, we have places in Mexico that are safer than Miami, New Orleans or Washington, D.C.

(This article is adapted from an article in the S.F. Gate)

Frijol Con Puerco

Delicious Yucatan meal in Merida Yucatan MexicoAll over Merida (indeed, in most of Mexico), on almost every block, one can find a little “cocina economica”. These tiny restaurants with only two or three tables offer excellent home-cooked food at remarkably low prices. You can buy a filling home-cooked lunch for the equivalent of around two or three dollars! Everyone living here has their favorite place. Each “cocina” has a choice of several dishes a day, and on Mondays the tradition at every single one is “frijol con puerco”, a delicious local version of pork and beans.

Here is one version of the local recipe for you cooks out there who like to experiment – you won’t be disappointed! (for 4 or 5 people)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb of black beans
1/2 lb of pork loin or leg, cut into small cubes
1/2 lb of pork ribs
Bacon fat
1 fresh chile “guerro” (long pale and not very hot chile)
2 while or yellow onions
1 sprig of epazote
1/2 C chopped cilantro
2 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 C chopped radish
1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
The evening before, wash and clean the beans then leave to soak, covered with water.

1. Cook the beans with 1 tsp salt IN THE SAME SOAKING WATER, covered, over medium heat until they begin to soften.
2. Add the pork and and continue to cook until everything is tender (Some people prefer to fry the meat before adding to the
beans – up to you!)
3. Fry onion until soft and slightly browned and add to the beans with epazote and the whole chile. Cook slowly a further 30
min. then remove from the heat.
4. At the same time, cook sufficient white rice for your dinner party – around 1 cup cooked per person.

For the “salsa”, finely chop the second onion, cilantro and radish. Put together in a mixing bowl, add salt, juice of the lemon or lime and mix together (blend if you prefer it more liquid than chunky).

How to serve:

Serve in soup plates with a cup of rice and garnished with chopped radish, cilantro and chopped onion to taste, and some salsa. Enjoy, and wish you were in Yucatan!

Our Growing Community

Merida just keeps on getting better and better in every way, especially when wonderful and interesting people choose to move down and join the community. It is one of the biggest pleasures of our work.

The latest arrivals, who are moving in next week, are Bruce Talbot and Sandra Gregory. This dynamic international couple met while working in London for the BBC. Sandra (English) was a producer of documentaries and Bruce, originally from New Zealand and an accomplished sax/clarinet player, was working on jazz recordings. From the BBC they moved on to Washington D.C., where Bruce helped the Smithsonian compile jazz recordings and Sandra was an executive producer with the Discovery Channel.

You can read more about Bruce here on the NPR website. And a little about Sandra Gregory’s accomplishments here.

They will be living in Centro, and I look forward so much to having such a great couple as new friends. Welcome, Bruce and Sandra!

Spring in the Yucatan

Spring arrives in Merida with a bang! And this year, that bang was just a little bit louder. We started spring with a huge and violent storm that took out a lot of trees, electrical lines and rained hail down on the centro of Merida.

Now we are in the two months that no one loves in Merida. Contrary to the expectations of many visitors, April and May are our two hottest and driest months. Usually April and May are VERY hot, and there is not a cloud in the sky. In this hot season, we residents stay in the shade and look forward to June’s daily thunderstorms. By the time June comes around, the rains are so welcome. They drop the temperature and bring the trees and gardens back to life.

This year the dry season has been pushed off a bit by dramatic displays of lightning and two very heavy storms over the past few days. Best of all, these storms have brought pleasant cool evenings.

One of the greatest pleasures of Merida is spending the evening on a patio somewhere, dining under the stars. For this ritual, I suggest sitting outside at Hennessy’s Irish Bar, or at the roof-top bar at Rosas y Xocolate for views of Paseo Montejo. Enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer as a way to stay cool as you enjoy the view!

Yucatan, A World Apart

As we come to the end of yet another year in sunny Yucatan, we have much for which to be thankful. The heat is over now and we are entering those months of 75-80 degree weather which make winter in Merida such a complete delight. This year passed without any hurricanes, and even though Merida always weathers hurricanes beautifully, we are thankful for that as well. We are thankful, too, for the peace and safety we enjoy here in the Yucatan. There is so much bad news in the worldwide press about gang warfare in other parts of Mexico. It cannot be said enough that Yucatan remains a state completely unaffected – a world apart.

Merida was just the subject of the popular New York Times travel series, 36 Hours In…, which you might enjoy:

36 Hours in Merida, Mexico

Let me take this opportunity to wish all our friends a very happy Holiday Season and say many thanks to all of you for your support, which has made 2011 another great year for all of us! We look forward to 2012, not the end of the world but, as our Maya friends living here have said all along, the beginning of a new and exciting cycle.

Legal Update – Part One

I have had several questions lately regarding IRS filing requirements for US citizens with corporations, bank accounts and fideicomisos in Mexico.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of changes to the US tax code. Some of these changes affect American citizens who hold property in a foreign country, who belong to a foreign corporation or who are beneficiaries or trustees of a foreign-owned trust. My good friend Robert Schilling, a CPA in New York, has an investigation underway. More details will follow as I receive them.

Robert says that the following seems likely, although the IRS needs to provide additional rulings:

  • Persons with their residential property (no cash) in a fideicomiso should probably file Forms 3520 and 3520A.
  • Persons with a Mexican bank account need to file other forms (unknown at this time), in addition to the 3520 and 3520A.
  • Persons with a foreign corporation need to consult a CPA who is well versed in tax law as it applies to foreign-owned property.

There is a great deal of confusion, and I think the majority of people do not file, simply because it is so difficult to get information. Bob recommends filing in order to avoid any potential penalty for not doing so.

If you want to do some investigating of your own, here are links to information and instructions about those forms on the IRS website:

More information will be posted as we receive it.