When I arrived in Merida and began to acquire friends in 1979, most were people who were seriously ‘doing exciting things’. The ‘retired’ expats of today would not have found Merida livable because there were no big box stores or cheap communication with ‘home’. It costs almost two dollars a minute for a US call, if it went through. There was a devaluation -- and a time without toothpaste in the stores.
In 1981, when the then American Consul invited all the resident US citizens to a Fourth of July Picnic, we all fit around two wooden picnic tables in the back yard of the Consulate. Calle 53 in Santiago was a favorite downtown location for expats. We were few.
Marilyn Smith and her sister had been here the longest (with a few notable exceptions). And it was through Marilyn’s gift of her home for the establishment of an English Library, that MEL was created. Instead of using the home where Marilyn lived, they decided another building on the same street would provide better housing for the new library. But the provisions she left in her will provided the nucleus.
At that point in time, and I refer to 1980, I remember a very different type of expat. The foreigners came ‘to do things’ and to study. The “lunch / brunch crowd” and the cocktail circuit did not exist. If it did, they didn’t invite me ! Expats got together under a few umbrellas in front of Hotel Caribe for breakfast and gossiping. And I remember people talking of other things, besides their ‘houses’.
In 1981 I had in my possession a guide book, edited by a British publisher called Baekecker. And it clearly stated that Merida “was not a place favored by expats because they considered the climate unhealthy” !
In 1982, Jorge and I had acquired a large piece of an old coconut ranch, in operation since the 1930s, located about 5 or 6 kilometers south of Boca Paila, on that sliver of beach, rimmed on one side by the Mesoamerican reef system, and on the back by mangrove swamps and a bay. The bay behind our cocal went by the funny name of “Quita Calzon” — or in English — “Take your panties off”. There were remains of Mayan watchtowers along the coast, back in the coconut forest. And an enormous boa inhabited the stones of the ruin nearest our palapa.
And at that time my social life in Merida became limited to house guests at Casa Mexilio and the adventure tourists who provided us with the financial resources to continue living in paradise. Xamach was the place, and Jorge and I established what we still refer to as our “Casa Mexilio Educational Experimental Field Station”. It was a place for misfits, lost souls, and people like me seeking a place “at the end of the road”. The bay was rich with conch and lobster, and on the back waters the bone fishermen came, to catch a fish you can’t eat ! It was possible to push all the way to the reef in a small boat with a 5 meter wooden pole. In good weather a man from Valladolid passed once a week with fresh vegetables. And if we were lucky the ice man passed sometimes, and buying a chicken or making a phone call was reason for the 50 min. trip to the village. Tulum had one telephone, controlled by a man who sat at a desk and who took long midday siestas.
THEN — Hurricane Gilbert came, and our lives changed. The tourists abandoned us for almost two years. Remember, there were no cel phones, no internet, and our numbers languished on Rolodexes in travel offices all over the world. For those of us present in Yucatan in September of 1988 , we still mark time between Pre-Gilbert and Post- Gilbert. My beach home was put on a tilt.
And it was during those twenty years of travel back and forth between Merida and Xamach, that I acquired my anti social rep. Frankly, I was just too tired, between the driving, the diving, running the small hotel in Merida, the educational experiment station at Xamach in Q. Roo, and my fishermen friends, to think about socializing. There was little time left over for cultivating Merida friends, except for those wonderful women who lived right across from our home on 68th Street, Yolanda Canto and Alicia Escalante. We were all musicians and loved and admired each other dearly. Jorge was thirty-something, I, forty, and the women were in their 80s.
The lethal yellowing disease came and killed all the coconut trees — And then I got hit in the head wile traveling and suffered two brain operations and the loss of a year of my life; and then the African killer bees attacked me, leaving me traumatized and unable to walk alone on the beach.
And then I spent nine years in the Catholic Church, and that almost killed me again.