Why I Can’t Compete with Mexican Women

My first clue was 9 years ago at university here in Cancun.

In 1st semester, my Mexican classmates would frequently ask me, “Laura, where are your earrings?” “Laura, why didn’t you do your hair today?” “Laura, why do you have huge bags under your eyes?” So for the past 9 years, I have made sure to never leave the house without earrings and concealer. The comments have almost entirely disappeared. (I still don’t “do” my hair, though, because I’m not sure what that means. Now that it’s super-long, nobody says anything, so I think I’m ok.)

On Saturday, Jorge and I went to a wedding. I put on a pretty dress, strapped on some nice sandals and covered my face in exorbitant quantities of makeup. This time, I was determined to get it right.

And yet, once we were at the reception, I looked around me and saw scores of Mexican women with beautifully crafted makeup designs. We were surrounded on all sides by immaculately blended smoky eyes, perfectly glossed lips and expertly placed lashes, all complemented by skin-tight cocktail dresses, push-up bras and sky-high heels. These women are good. My makeup looked bland and colorless by comparison. So what is a girl to do? I rushed to the ladies room, where I had to wait for two tween girls to take some selfies before I achieved mirror access, then I put on as much eyeliner as my eyes could handle. Better. But still not enough. Eyeliner was all I had in my arsenal, so it would have to do for now. I swore that for the next big social event, I would attempt a smoky eye.

Today, it’s happening all over again. The internet at my house is down, so I had to rush to Starbucks this morning to start work at 9am. I barely had time to wash my hair before I left the house, but I did manage to shower and miraculously iron my shirt. So here I am right now, sitting at Starbucks, with a naked face and damp, tangled hair. This Starbucks, however, is a fancy Starbucks. The people who come here are Cancun’s elite… or at least, they pretend to be. The women here have perfectly straightened hair and brightly colored wardrobes that look anything but effortless, or sometimes expensive workout gear paired with a full face of makeup so they can look spectacular during a session at the nearby gym. When the men walk past my table in their tightly-fitting button-up shirts and overly gelled hair, overpowering scents of Lacoste and D&G reach my nostrils for a brief instant. My ears are filled with the sounds of the baristas preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the giggles of 30-something Mexican trophy wives, and the over-enunciations of Mexican businessmen trying to impress their colleagues. It’s a fashion show, and I showed up unprepared.

And surprise, surprise… once again, I’m the only female in the room with no earrings.

 

A Cancun-Style Fairytale

In summer 2005, I left my family and friends behind. At age 19 I had moved to Cancun, a place where I didn’t know anybody. My first memory of the city is riding in a van from the airport to the downtown bus station. The van passed through the entire length of the Cancun Hotel Zone, stopping to let off other passengers along the way. The city had me hooked immediately. From that first van ride from the airport, I was mesmerized by the glittering lights of the huge beach hotels. This was where I belonged.

This week, 9 years of exploring, writing and learning have culminated in something pretty cool: one of the biggest travel publications in the world has named me a Cancun expert.

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m the Travel + Leisure Cancun Local Expert!

It’s every travel writer’s dream to write for a huge publication like Travel + Leisure, and I’m beyond happy to be working with them. I’ll be sharing my Travel + Leisure articles periodically on the Gringation Blog Facebook page so you can see even more of this city that I love so much.

They also have an extensive list of other great travel experts in different cities across the globe, which you can see here. I’m in good company.

From confused teenage American in 2005… to top Cancun travel expert in 2014!

Thanks to my parents for going along with my crazy move to Mexico, to Jorge for always being there to convince me I’m superwoman, to my boss Michele Kinnon at BuyPlaya Real Estate for recommending me to Travel + Leisure, and to all of my Mexican friends who have showed me what this culture is all about over the past decade.

What We’ve Been Up To

I know I’ve been writing a ton about our little adventures over the past few months, but I haven’t talked much about the day-to-day lately. With Tulum vacations and hanging out on Cancun beaches, what have we been doing between our mini vacations?

This semester, Jorge got a teaching job at a Cancun high school. He’s teaching calculus, geometry and physics, and he seems to really love it. I’ve seen him tutor his cousins before, so I knew teaching was really his thing. It’s fun to hear him talk about his students (he has over 40 students in each class. Yikes!) and to see him grading papers and making lesson plans at home. So proud!

For a few years, my goal has been to get enough freelance writing work so I can quit my day job and work from home. As much as I like my office job, it’s my dream to be able to go on tours, on vacation, etc (and write about it!) without having to limit myself to my vacation days. In the past few months I’ve gotten a few new freelance jobs, and it looks like I might be very close to my goal. Unfortunately, right now this means that I’m working 4 jobs!! I get home from work and continue working on the computer every evening. It’s been tiring, but I still enjoy it. Writing about being on vacation isn’t so bad!

A few weeks ago I also got to meet a blogger who I’ve known online for 3 years! Ang (of Football, Sushi and the Pursuit of Happiness) was staying at a Cancun resort with her fiance Steve. We got lunch at Fish Fritanga, which I hadn’t tried before but it was amazing, then went to Plaza La Isla to walk around and have some drinks.

The dogs have been pretty good, too. My idea of relaxation is being able to hang out at home with these lovely ladies…

Konan caught sleeping in our bed

Dolly with the puppy dog eyes

Suki in her favorite sleeping spot... on my purse

We also went to Cozumel over the weekend for Carnaval, and we got to snorkel with starfish! Pics to come. 🙂

Expat Life: Do You Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture?

There’s a lot of debate about just how much an expat should integrate into the local culture. During my years in Cancun, I’ve met many expats who hang out almost exclusively with Mexicans. I’ve met even more expats who have mostly expat friends and hardly speak any Spanish. I also know lots of people who fall somewhere in the middle. Some expats criticize others for living in an expat neighborhood, not learning Spanish, not socializing with Mexicans, etc etc etc.

Here’s my personal experience:

When I first came down to Cancun, I went to a Mexican university, had all Mexican friends and lived with Mexican roommates. For 4 years, I watched only Mexican TV (didn’t have enough money for cable), listened to mostly Mexican music and only talked to Mexican friends online (Facebook wasn’t around yet.) I would often miss home and my family, but at no point did I ever really miss the American culture. Still, with nobody around to understand the culture shock I was going through, I was often in a bad mood and sometimes became a little anti-social. There were great memories and my amazing college friends were unfailingly patient with my endless questions, but I often felt kind of alone. Sundays were always especially hard for me because Mexicans spend Sunday with the family… and I had no family here.

University Me with Damayanti, one of my best amigas in college and today 🙂

Soon before I graduated, Facebook became popular and I was once again able to be in touch with my old friends from back in the States. I also discovered celebrity gossip websites. Even though they’re a horrible habit, for some reason I felt that these gossip sites connected me in some small way to my culture.

Amigos Cesar, Pamela, Jhovana and Graduation Me

After I graduated, I began to work a job with a few other native English-speaking expats. They introduced me to some online expat communities and I began blogging. Finally I got cable TV, which in Mexico means lots of American TV shows (with Spanish subtitles, of course). At this stage, I still hold on to many of my Mexican friends and of course now I have a huge Mexican family through my husband Jorge, but lately I’ve become closer to my expat friends. It’s so great to be able to speak in Spanglish, rave about how great it is to live in Cancun and yes, occasionally gripe about things in Mexico that annoy us.

The current Me, hanging out with Mexican amiga Cyndi and Brazilian amiga Nadia

I’ve seen both sides, immersing myself in the culture 100% for 4 years, which allowed me to learn everything I possibly could from the Mexican culture, open up my mind and even take on a few cultural traits that I used to hate but now love. However, after leaning more toward the expat community in the past 3 years, I’ve found friendships where I can be more open about my frustrations and reclaim a bit of my “American-ness” without leaving behind everything I’ve learned.

The new me loves trashy American reality shows, enjoys Mexican banda music, listens to Top 40, eats tortas, only reads books in English, speaks 100% Spanish at home, speaks 100% Spanish at work, speaks Spanglish with her friends and loves to explore Mexico. I’m able to take the best of what I love from both countries and make my life my own.

That’s just my experience, though.

What do you think? Should expats be closer to the Mexican culture or their home culture?

Parque Ecologico Kabah

Lately I’ve been running quite often at Parque Ecologico Kabah (Kabah Eco Park) in downtown Cancun. It’s by far the best place for a run here in the city, with a 2 km trail winding through the jungle with markers every 100 meters.

If you go on a weekday, you’ll see tons of runners sweating their way along the trail, and even some bodybuilders sculpting their physique at the rustic outdoor “gym”.

The "gym"

Most of the trail looks exactly like this, with dense jungle on either side. That's my running buddy Nadia in purple!

There’s also a large playground area which is used a lot on weekends. You’ll see tons of families and school grounds exploring the park on a Saturday or Sunday.

The main playground area

Swings!

More common areas

I’ve seen lots of different animals on my trips there, including crazy huge yellow ants, chacalacas, a snake and coati (known as pizot in Yucatan Maya).

A gold star for anyone who can tell me what kind of ant this is, because I haven't been able to find out.

Ant showing off his spiderman skills

I’d heard about a pond, so I asked Nadia to show it to me on our most recent run. I was absolutely giddy when we came across this:

A huge group of coati! (Can you see them all?)

Run, dude, run!

Thanks for the picture of me, Nadia!

Coati, chickens and ducks living in harmony

Beautiful mangrove pond

So for all you Cancun expats looking for a place to run or explore, Parque Kabah is a favorite of mine. So peaceful and so beautiful!

Yours truly jogging into the sunrise

Weekend Recap

My weekend was pretty average, but lots of fun! Here’s the rundown:

Friday Night

Jorge and I finished watching Game of Thrones season 1.

It’s a good series, but they really cut back on the important battle scenes. (and by “cut back on”, I mean “cut out entirely”)  It’s fun to watch, but I’m liking the books a lot better. Isn’t that always the case?

Saturday

Saturday morning was work, work, work. Blaaaaah!

Saturday afternoon, Jorge and I went with our friends Damayanti and Leo to one of our fave downtown Cancun restaurants: Muellecito. They have an outdoor terrace with a palapa roof that I looove, and the food (mostly Mexican seafood) is amazing.

I'm obsessed with their free shots of "caldo de camaron"... shrimp broth. Spicy and delicious!

They always serve chips with numerous sauces (tamarindo, chipotle, etc etc). Since I'm *still* on a diet, I limited myself to 2 chips with chipotle mayo.

My lunch! Shrimp burger, yum 🙂 Again, thanks to the diet, I had to give all my fries to Jorge. However, I can tell you from past experience that they are delicious.

In the early evening, we drove around with Damayanti and Leo while they ran some errands, then we put my diet resolve to the test even further with a trip to Peter Piper Pizza, which is pretty much exactly the same as Chuck E Cheese. (We’re so exciting on Saturday nights.) We received possibly the worst service I’ve ever gotten in my life (they even ran out of pizza sauce at one point…), but it was still a fun time with friends.

Sunday

At 8:30 am Sunday morning I got a text message from Nadia saying “Wanna go for a run right now?” Since I still had awhile before church, I said sure, and we met up at the park at 9. We ran/walked 2 laps around the park (4 kilometers total), and we even saw a 5-foot snake cross the path right in front of us! Scary…

I had to cut our run short to go to church. I’m lucky my church is casual because I showed up in sweaty running clothes, but nobody seemed to mind. Still, if I ever run that early on a Sunday, I’ll make sure to bring clothes to change into next time!

Sunday afternoon I did nothing. I had some lunch, took a nap on the couch, watched some Animal Planet and played with the dogs.

Suki also had a relaxing Sunday afternoon, it would seem.

When Jorge got home from work in the evening, we showed up late to his little cousin Sofia’s birthday party. We spent an hour eating cake (or veggies, for me) and having a laugh with Jorge’s parents.

Camila and Sofia "smiling" for the camera

Jorge, his parents and some close family friends 🙂

How was your weekend?

House Tour: Outside

 

House Tour: Our Room

House Tour: Upstairs

House Tour: Living Room

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

 

Last but certainly not least is the part of our little Cancun rental house that won me over from the beginning… the outside. When I first saw the house, I fell in love with the climbing tree in the front yard. It’s still my favorite part of the entire place!

Let’s start off with the backyard, shall we?

Backyard

We still love our new patio and the palm trees are growing nicely, although the grass we had seems to have been a failed endeavor.

The large fan palm is by far my favorite of our palms. I kinda wish I'd only used fan palms since it seems to do so, so well in our backyard.

The back of the house... a hot mess, but that doesn't bother me because we rarely have to look at it. The big duct tape X on the window is probably left over from Hurricane Wilma back in 2005. After Wilma, many Cancun houses still had duct tape Xs that wouldn't come off the windows. (They're put on there to keep the window from shattering in a hurricane)

Love the design in our patio! Dolly and Suki like it, too.

We FINALLY moved our orchid tree from the front planter to the backyard. The flowers and leaves immediately died off (we figured they would), but the branches are still green 3 weeks later, so I think my precious orchid tree is gonna make it! I've been watering it every evening.

 

Front Yard

(I use the word “yard” loosely)

View from the front door

When the house owners painted the front this bright orange a few months ago, I was less than thrilled. Now, however, I really like it! Very bright, but very cheerful.

Our beautiful copa de oro tree

Love this view 🙂

Our yellow flowers have gotten pretty wild! I like it. Please excuse our table, we like to eat lunch outdoors sometimes.

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

 

House Tour: Our Room

House Tour: Upstairs

House Tour: Living Room

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Outside

 

Happy Monday, readers! I hope you all had an amazing weekend.

Time to move on with the house tour!

I'm taking you down this hallway from the living room... you can see our pantry (yay pantry!) on the right, then the bathroom door (from Friday's post). On the left is the kitchen, and at the end of the hallway is our storage room.

 

Kitchen

Our kitchen is probably my least favorite part of the house. There’s only one small square of counter space and it’s very narrow, making it very difficult for Jorge and I to be in there at the same time.

We've tried to make things less cluttered by putting shelves and hooks up. They've been a huge help!

You can really feel the smallness in this one. I love how the refrigerator door opens directly into a wall. You have to stand in the corner to open it.

Jorge's cereal collection on top of the fridge, and part of my vast fruit collection on the counter. Our boxes of milk (yes, in the Yucatan, they're boxes) have a special place on the floor.

Jorge and I dream of one day having a big, open kitchen with tons of counters and cabinets. For the next few years, this will have to do.

 

Storage Room

Our Cancun rental house was advertised as 3 bedrooms, but I’m not sure this room is big enough to count as a bedroom. Maybe for a 3-year old with no need of closet space? I dunno. At any rate, we use the back room as a storage space.

In the right-hand corner, we have some old clothes and a bunch of wedding gifts that we love but can't seem to fit into our tiny kitchen. We're hanging onto them until we can get a bigger house.

We recently got the brightly colored bins to organize all our stuff. So far, they've been amazing for papers and random junk.

 

House Tour: Living Room

 

House Tour: Our Room

House Tour: Upstairs

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

House Tour: Outside

 

The living room is my favorite room in the house right now. It’s filled with so many of our collectibles and so many memories.

For the first year and a half in this house, the living room was empty!

This is how the living room looked for a year and a half

Another "before" shot

But ever since December, we’ve finally saved up to buy enough furniture to be able to spend some time here. Love, love, love!

aaand after! We're still missing a ceiling fan in place of the bare bulb.

Gotta love my 7-year-old upright fan, with a bag hanging over it to keep it from vibrating too much. I tie up the curtains during the day because I have no curtain holders!

Our beloved entertainment center, and a red light cover my friend Viri brought us from Tepoztlan, Mexico

filled with all the things we love most!

Part of Jorge's Nintendo collection... Super Nintendo and Game Cube

A little blurry, but this is a candle my mom got me and some dead coral I collected in Akumal

On top of the entertainment center is a painting of Rio de Janeiro my sister Sarah did, and a wooden sailboat I bought in Belize

Also on top of the entertainment center, a cool photograph/drawing mix and a wedding album, both created by my sister Sarah

My alebrije collection... I'll do a separate post on it in the future. It's my fave thing! Some I bought, most are gifts from my mom.

I got this "barro negro" piece in Oaxaca City, Mexico

Another piece from Oaxaca, this one made of "barro rojo"

A photo of my dad and me at my sister Noelle's wedding, with a frame my sister Sarah gave me

On the wall, a photo collage from my sister Noelle's Vegas wedding

Above the sofa, a tryptic painting by my sister Sarah (sorry for more blurriness, I wish you guys could see the beautiful colors here)

My carpenter grandfather made me this beautiful magazine holder several years ago. We don't read magazines, so we use it to store Nintendo accessories 🙂

Our coffee table, another item made by our carpenter friend Leo. We saw one at a department store, took some pictures, and had Leo make it cheaper (and bigger).

House Tour: Upstairs

 

House Tour: Our Room

House Tour: Living Room

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

House Tour: Outside

 

Next stop on our house tour is the rest of the upstairs! Just like our bedroom that you saw yesterday, the other rooms upstairs have had a few improvements done, but still have a ways to go.

The Guest Bedroom

This is probably one of the more embarrassing parts of the house because we haven’t really touched it since we moved in. Right now it houses my old bed (the one I used my first 5 years in Cancun), my old plastic dresser and our broken ironing board.

We use the bed for drying damp clothes and storing stuff we have no good place for.

We recently brought down my old bedsheets/comforter from the US, but I'm scared to put it on the guest bed because I dunno what the humidity will do to it!

Yet another amazing closet! I cleaned most of it out last month because it was filled with papers, but it still holds my mini-library , my wedding dress and my "winter clothes" (which in Cancun means light jackets)

 

Jorge’s Bathroom

The upstairs bathroom mainly belongs to Jorge. Ever since I discovered that the downstairs bathroom has amazing water pressure, I have taken it over as my own. You’ll see that later this week!

A few months ago, we had our friend Leo (who also made our headboard) install some shelves to clean the bathroom up a bit.

The shower is pretty big! I still can't wait for the day when I have a bathroom with a counter, though. Dare to dream...

Here are the shelves Leo made. We'd been waiting so long to have a place to put our soap dish / toothbrush holder set that we got as a wedding present.

 

Upstairs Landing

The upstairs hall is surprisingly bright thanks to a small skylight. We also have a linen closet. A LINEN CLOSET! Like I mentioned yesterday, it’s so hard to find a rental house with closets in Cancun, and we have several really big ones. We really lucked out.

Look at the size of that linen closet!

Skylight! Maybe someday we'll get a light fixture to cover that bare bulb... but probably not.