“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.
Tim Cahill

Expat Life in Merida Blog #2

NOTE: As of March 2022, most Yucatecans are vaccinated, and almost all Coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted. Nowadays, life is beginning to look more and more like life before Coronavirus. In addition, while Juan Carlos and I remain close to Chucho, he has moved out of my casita. The casita is available for rental now.

Expat Life in Merida Blog Part 2

What a Difference a Year Makes in Merida: The Value of a Dog and My Success as an Expat Making Mexican Friends in Merida

Me (Paul Heller) in my garden, November 2020 


When I wrote my last post about my life in Merida in June 2020, I did not have a rosy outlook for 2020-2021. The world, including Merida, was in the depth of the pandemic, and I spent most of my time cooped up in my house alone. I also felt some residual discomfort leftover from the Express Kidnapping I lived through in Puebla in January 2020.

In 2020, I settled down in Merida full-time after spending most of the previous nine years either on the road in Montreal or living part-time in Merida. But honestly, my heart would have preferred to be on the road. 

Thankfully, a happy set of coincidences aligned made me glad to be anchored to Merida. While I still want to travel when things calm down, I am now excited about establishing a new chapter of my life here. 

The reason for this change of heart: my friends and my dog, Lobita. As the pandemic winds down, I plan to make even more friends through social events and volunteering around Merida. 


I got my precious dog, Lobita, through an unexpected event. My friend, Ann Tanchuk (also mentioned in my post on my Express Kidnapping), went to Canada in late February 2020 and planned to return in early April 2020. However, she could not come back due to the pandemic. After a mutual friend could not take care of Lobita anymore, Ann asked me to care for Lobita. I agreed because I like dogs and thought it would not be long before Ann returned. 

I was mistaken. Ann arrived in Merida two weeks ago (August 2021). I have had the dog for seventeen months and have fallen in love. I love Lobita because if I take loving care of her, she will respond in kind. It is not complicated. 

Last year she caused problems pissing on rugs, scratching at doors, etc. But just paying attention to her and making sure she got her food and regularly walked etc., she got better. Now she is a delight.

Juan Carlos (front) and Chucho (back) 

Juan Carlos (and Chucho) 

I met Juan Carlos, my dear new friend, through Mario Leduc, in April 2020. We got together in April, May, and June 2020 but could not spend much time together because of the pandemic. 

From April to August 2020, I ordered food using Uber Eats. In early August, I realized I could have Juan Carlos cook for me at a similar cost. Juan Carlos needed a job. (He was a manager for a local hotel that closed its doors temporarily during the pandemic). 

I realized that I would eat better if someone cooked for me. I also knew deep down that since I was depressed and alone, I needed someone in my life daily. So, it seemed natural that I would offer him a cook and property manager job. (I pay him around $400 a month for his services which is a good wage here. So good that when the hotel offered his job back, he refused because I gave him a much ¨cushier job than the hotel). 

Juan Carlos is both an excellent employee and friend. He is reliable, attentive, kind, and intelligent. His support has helped me get through my depression, take better care of myself, and design a new chapter of my life. 

After getting my Coronavirus shots in Merida, I got to know Juan Carlos’s family and friends. One of his friends, Chucho, needed a place to stay, and I offered him my casita and a job helping me around the house. Chucho is very charming but a bit flighty. He is now studying to be a massage therapist with my help, and I hope the school will help him become more focused and responsible. 

I care about my friends and Lobita and look forward to them becoming lifelong friends and essential parts of the next chapter of my life as a teacher and business owner.  

Progreso Malecon (promenade) is approximately 30 miles from Merida. Due to Mexico’s low-cost, relaxed lifestyle, Progreso and nearby communities have become popular destinations for snowbirds from Canada.

Take Fifty Plus Nomad’s Living and Traveling in Mexico Workshop

Let me use my extensive experience living and traveling around Mexico to:

Help you decide if living in Mexico is right for you (it isn’t right for everyone)
Share my passion for Mexico
Find your perfect place in Mexico.
Set up, enjoy, adapt and create a joyful new life in my adopted homeland
Travel around Mexico comfortably, safely, and enjoyably on any budget.

My Expat Healthcare and Temporary Residency Experiences in Merida

  • Generally, dealing with my house in the past year has been relatively easy. Juan Carlos and I have found contractors to help when necessary, and he and Chucho have done some work. I plan to offer classes in 2022 and need to spruce up the place beforehand. 
  • I received my Mexican temporary residency renewal quickly in January 2021. The last two times I tried to renew was a nightmare (see my previous post). However, the immigration office here in Merida has upgraded its technology, so it now only takes two weeks to get a residency card. In addition, I used the beneficial services of Yucatan Expatriate Services (YES) to help. I will try, if possible, to become a permanent resident in two years (with YES’s help).  
  • With assistance from Mario, Juan Carlos, and several doctors (including a local sleep doctor, psychiatrist, and psychologist), I fought off a bout of depression and dealt with sleeping apnea. While I paid for all these services out of pocket – all -except the sleep apnea machine, tests, and a brain scan- cost less than in the US, and everyone seemed entirely professional. (An office visit for 45 minutes costs around $35-45; you can usually get an appointment the same week, and doctors typically have appointments at night). Most also spoke good English. 
  • I have had both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in Merida (first at the end of May, second at the end of June), but many people in the Yucatan have not. Most things are open, but the overall situation is still somewhat tricky. Both shots were easy for me to get for most people in my age group and older. Now they are taking younger people and people who have not received the vaccine before. It seems to have gotten more difficult for them. (Juan Carlos, 26 years old, got his chance to take his first dose in early September). The Coronavirus situation is not as bad as last summer, but there is still a significant death rate. (The number of reported cases of Coronavirus in Mexico is irrelevant because access to testing is limited and has been throughout the crisis). People are still mostly wearing masks though they have become more relaxed than in the past.  
  • A couple of weeks ago, Juan Carlos convinced me to try to lose weight. (I am fatter than ever, having gained around 10 kilograms during the pandemic). Most Mexicans visit nutritionists when they want to lose weight. So, I decided to follow in their footsteps. I spent over an hour with a nutritionist, and she was able to set me up with a menu based on my needs, tastes, and habits. Juan Carlos has religiously cooked the menu, and I am pleasantly surprised so far. The food keeps me feeling full, and it is all quite tasty. If I keep to this diet and begin integrating exercise into my routine, I should achieve my target weight in about a year. 
I bet you, older indigenous women like the one pictured here in her huipil, have fantastic stories about how Mexico has changed over time. Take my Spanish classes, and you can understand these stories in Spanish without a translator.

Fifty Plus Nomad Offers Four Exclusive Spanish Workshops and Courses

Fifty Plus Nomad’s one-on-one, Intensive Spanish course, using the one-of-a-kind Polyglot Method, provides personalized coaching so you can converse comfortably and deal with daily life comfortably in Spanish.

Our Survival Spanish workshops teach you enough Spanish to deal with many typical situations facing travelers and expats.

Our “Teach Yourself Spanish Workshop” will develop a plan so you can polish up your Spanish on your own and provide follow-up coaching.

Workshops are offered online or in person at the beautiful Casa Los Dos Gallos in Merida.

Rediscovering My Love for Teaching in Merida

Teaching Juan Carlos 

I also rediscovered something I have always loved: teaching languages and travel workshops. I taught in Russia from 1994-to 1995 as a volunteer under demanding situations. The classes did not have a regular schedule and no curriculum. I enjoyed the freedom to try new things and found it an excellent way to learn about Russian people. 

Between fall 2005 and spring 2009, I taught seminars on living and traveling abroad to over 500 classes through adult education programs throughout the USA: 

In December, Juan Carlos asked me if I could teach him English. I thought about it for a while and realized I missed the classes I taught in Russia and the seminar teaching. I loved the creativity required to develop a lesson plan and wanted to see how much education had changed in the 26 years since I taught in Russia. 

I was delighted to discover the rich array of resources on the internet and YouTube that did not exist 26 years ago. I also rekindled my love for giving lectures about cultural and societal differences between the US and other countries. 

Juan Carlos and I have studied together for around an hour and a half a day for eight months (equivalent to 250 class hours). He has made substantial progress and can now handle and understand most English conversations with little difficulty. We have used many YouTube videos, songs, TV clips, audiobooks, and vocabulary-building exercises (My favorite is similar to Jeopardy).

The Chaya leaf (pictured here) is used in many dishes in the Yucatan. You can even have a Chaya Margarita and juice. (Photo by Frank Vincentz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Ready for a One-of-a-Kind Chance to Discover the Yucatan?

Spend a partial or full day enjoying two unique Yucatan experiences with Fifty Plus Nomad.

Eat a Rustic Home-Cooked Yucatan Meal
Let Juan Carlos Cab, one of the region’s best home cooks, show you the Yucatan’s rich and unique mixture of Mayan, Mexican, Lebanese, and European flavors.

Take our Yucatan Society and Culture Workshop.
Discover what makes the Yucatan unique from the rest of Mexico and learn how to understand and fit in comfortably with the Yucatan’s relaxed and hospitable lifestyle.

Want to Find Out More or Schedule an Experience?

Contact us via Phone (from outside Mexico: 011-52) + (Merida) (999) 611-0154 or via WhatsApp or cell phone at (Merida) (999) 388-8821 or through our Contact Form

Check Out the New Face of Fifty Plus Nomad 

As a result of rediscovering my love of teaching and a desire to change my blog to ensure that it better meets the needs of the Fifty Plus Nomad community, I have:

Want More Blogs About Expat Life in Merida?

Check out these blogs from Travel to Merida and Amy Jones,

Additional Traveling and Living in Mexico Posts From Fifty Plus Nomad

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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