What I've Learned Being An Expat In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico...So Far
As some of you may know I made the move to Cabo San Lucas this year. My goal is to live here for a year and see what happens. As of now, I have been here for 3 going on 4 weeks and so far so good. I’ve not ventured too far from the comforts of my apartment, however, I don’t believe that will be too much longer. I have come in the hopes of living my life as full and complete as I can and figuring out what I want to do with my life next. I hope to find what I’m looking for in the process, whatever that is. Though, this is not totally about me. It is about the things that I have come to see and learn since I’ve been living here in Mexico.
1. You don’t need a job to get an apartment!
This was something I didn’t even really think about. In my eagerness to make this happen, I was so focused on saving and planning and preparing but….what if I couldn’t get an apartment?! Luckily Mexico doesn’t really put too much stock into it. Or perhaps the Lord up above intended for this to happen for me and merely waved the concern out of anyone’s mind. When I arrived, I met with the realtor. He brought me to the apartment and I signed a lease. That’s it! No one asked me for a job name, a bank account summary. Nada. And for that I am thankful or I wouldn’t have a fabulous apartment right now with a beautiful ocean view.
2. Your Gas is Pumped For You
Pretty much every gas station in Mexico has an attendant that pumps your gas for you. I really don’t know what the method is behind this but it’s kind of weird at first. I first encountered this in Tijuana, MX. A friend and I pull up and we don’t know what to say to this. The first instinct is to get out and pump your own gas. We are from the U.S. and accustomed to self-service. I don’t know how many other countries do this but MX is one for sure. When the attendant comes up to your window, they will ask you what type of gas you want, Magna (regular) or Premium. You answer but first you are to make sure that before they start pumping the screen reads $0.00 before beginning to pump. This really did not seem to be a concern. Every gas station we went to was very honest. One attendant even pointed out to us that he was starting at $0.00. The other kind of awkward part is deciding if to tip or not. This is obviously a service that is provided although you don’t ask for it. Plus, I now live here. So do you tip? So far I have not been able to bring myself not to do so. I have read that if they don’t do anything extra outside of pump your gas such as wash your windows or check your oil, you don’t have to tip. Maybe I’ll get to that mindset one of these days.
3. There is only one gas company to choose from.
You read right. Currently in MX there is only one gas station by the name of Pemex (Pay-mex). Pemex is a Mexican state owned petroleum company created in 1938 by then president Lazaro Cardenas. That means that the money it generates stays in the country of Mexico. It does not have any controlling oil companies dictating what it should and should not do. It is also the world's second largest non-publicly listed company based on total market value. And no gas station has different gas prices. They all cost the same. Now that I can handle. Last time I got gas it was equivalent to $3.32/gallon. And I was even brave enough to ask for a specific amount. If you only knew how this vexed me you'd be giving me a congratulatory high-five right about now.
4. Lane dividers mean nothing.
And I thought people in Dallas drove crazy. They have nothing on Mexico. If you are driving a rental or your own car in Mexico it is best you wear a seatbelt. Locals in Mexico seem to always be in a mad dash to get somewhere. I on the other hand, take my time and let them go around if necessary. I figure they have somewhere to be more that I, a non-working, single expat who has no family or important obligations to get to. But this calm driving to avoid any fast swerving local has allowed me to take in the scenery and just enjoy the drive. I have seen some beautiful views by taking it slow. As long as they maneuver around me I’m cool. What I have noticed is that they don’t want to be hit just as much as I. If you don’t appear to be a threat they will continue their fast-moving pace. But if you’re coming in their path they do abide by the street laws and not just lunge out in front of you. Also, turning signals can be kind of confusing. I have noticed locals use their signal appropriately but if someone is behind you, they may mistake your turning signal for a “you can go around me” signal. Something I try to be aware of.
5. Exact change is a fluid concept.
Getting back the wrong change or none at all is something I’ve experienced as a tourist and I overlooked it. Well, to be honest I overlook it now but it is something I try to limit. It’s sometimes difficult as an expat to avoid this if you have a dollars versus pesos situation. Since I have been here I have tried to use only pesos but I still have some dollars to get rid of. Now if you are in a large store such as Walmart or Costco the subject of getting the wrong change back isn’t as prevalent. However, if you are in a small store that rarely gets dollars or even at the gas station the attendant may tell you he doesn’t have any change from dollars. How is one to know? You don’t, so you go with it. I remember an incidence in a hotel where the waiter said he didn’t have any more change when we should have received $15 back. Still to this day, I’m not sure if I misunderstood his Spanish or if he was trying to pull one over but I and my friend stood our ground and said we needed change back. If you’re talking a couple of pesos, fine, but when you’re up in the money I want my change back. So he finally left out of the restaurant and went and got the rest of our change for us and I was pleased by that. When in a situation of awaiting your change back just stand firm and make sure you get what you’re supposed to get. I know it may feel embarrassing to count it out in front of them but if you think it should more than what they gave, do it.
6. No such thing as an address.
I currently reside in a resort type of residence so I have an exact address. But if you try to find something outside of a resort or a well-known establishment, forget about it. Pretty much nothing here is labeled. I have found the places that I have learned of by talking to other expats or locals. If I don’t get the scoop from them it’s merely by doing my own accidental investigations. Meaning, looking for one thing and coming across another. I had the task before me a couple of weeks ago to find an ATM that I could use that wouldn’t charge me a fee. Well I got on the world wide web because it’s world wide and barely found the info I was looking for. I finally narrowed down a few ATMS which had addresses but when you go out on your hunt, the buildings don’t exactly advertise those addresses. You don’t even know what street a building is actually on. You think you do because you are on it but then weird curves occur or streets end and pick up elsewhere under different names and you’ve lost your trail. But I guess that’s why I have a whole year to discover such things. By the way, I found the ATM. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to do with my life, an investigator. Nah, probably not.
7. Where’s the soup!
I’m a Campbell’s Thick and Chunky girl. Before my move, Chicken Corn Chowder to be exact. Before my expat days, I would purchase soup in the stores for using on those nights when I didn’t feel like cooking and wanted something to just heat up. So naturally, I look for my old stand by in Walmart here in Cabo and there is none available. I have gone through each aisle and combed through the “soup” aisle only to find creams of mushroom or creams of chicken along with a variety of queso soups which just looks like queso. Not really what I was looking for. So my search for a backup meal is still going strong. I have however come across a few dishes that I do like and found myself craving some days. There’s a delicious meat called chicharron that goes great on a hot dog bun. Now I don’t know if that’s how most locals feast with it but I enjoyed it. There’s also a creamy chicken type soup concoction that comes from another store called Mega. I don’t know exactly what’s in it but it’s awesome! I haven’t been back by there to get it yet but I will. It is not canned but served by someone from behind a deli-like counter within the store. So all in all, I’m making do with the non-soup situation. I have two more stores that I can scour and see if they happen to carry canned soup. If not, I’ll be fine. It’s just another aspect of expat life. You don’t come for likenesses so much as to enjoy the differences.
No grass to roam.
This one wasn't new to me. I know that mostly around Mexico in general is nothing but sand, palm trees and cactus. What I didn't expect was how that would appeal to my little pooch, Pepper. She has seemed to adjust to it pretty well. It is I who has had a slight problem with it. Used to be, walking her was nice. I took to the sidewalk while she took to the grass. When she did her little tinkling business, pardon me, she was on the grass and her pee-pee went pretty much underneath the grass, limiting contact and making it a smooth transition. Well those days are gone. Now when she goes it just runs off underneath her and if her legs aren't positioned just right it may run off to her paw cutting short a tinkle session (because she's as prissy as I) to avoid getting her feet wet. So now I try to aim for more of a flat spot which is easy to say, for her to go on. This is just something both her and I will have to adjust to. I'm thinking of adding wet wipes to the grocery list next time. She'll have to start wiping her paws before she comes in. (Little dog walking humor.)
8. Everyone’s extremely friendly.
The times that I had visited Mexico as a tourist, I had never seen anyone be mean or disrespectful. I can also say that as an expat as well. Upon my arrival there were several instances where my friend and I had to rely on strangers in a strange land. Driving through Mexico, you hope that nothing happens where you have to ask for help or to be in a bad situation. The times that we tested those kinds of moments we had nothing but positive returns. My car had a mis-hap along the drive in to Mexico and everyone we came across was so helpful. These weren’t people in a resort looking for a tip, these were normal day to day people doing what helpful people do; lending a hand. And for every moment, and there were a few, I felt truly happy to say that this was the place I chose to be an expat in.
I’m still learning things here and as time goes on the things that I’m not used to will become normal. For now, my time in Cabo San Lucas has been a truly blessed experience and I’m glad I still have a ways to go. I hope I continue to have the same success that I have had since I have been here. I’m living the life that I have saved up for and still find myself not believing that this is my life right now. When my year is up here I hope I will be sad. It will only mean that it was a great experience and that I will miss it.