We Bought A Car!
We tried life without a car, and all our reasons for doing it were sound. We’d save money, we’d get in better shape, it’s better for the environment, and if all else fails there’s always public transportation and taxis. So why didn’t it work?
When we moved to Cozumel we sold our car to a friend back in the states. I really liked that car, a 2008 Ford Taurus X with 3 rows of seats that plowed through bad weather as if the sun was still shining. I didn’t mind selling it though. We were looking forward to not having a car payment, insurance, licensing, maintenance, gas…it all adds up. I was looking forward to pocketing that money instead, and not feeling guilty for getting not-great gas mileage as the planet heats up around us.
We wanted to get outside and get in better shape. We wanted to walk, and for longer trips we planned to buy bicycles. We’ve ridden bicycles in Mexico before to get around, and Jason and I enjoy walking around town, but I admit we didn’t take the girls’ shorter legs into account in this plan.
We moved in July when it was already hot in Iowa. In Mexico it was melting, liquid humidity. Last year I was in Mexico for 3 weeks and I got acclimated, so I thought it was just a matter of time before we adjusted. What I didn’t know was that this has been one of the hottest summers the Riviera Maya has seen; people who have lived here for years are having trouble coping. As new arrivals we really didn’t have a chance.
This was how our conversations went every time we left the house:
“Kids, want to go to the ocean?”
“Yeah! Let’s go!” jumping up and down.
1 minute later as we walked down the sidewalk one block away from our house:
“Uhhhh, are we there yet?” says the child dangling from my hand.
“No, but it’s not far.”
“I’m so hooooooot!” Dramatic wailing and head flinging, sweat flying off her face.
“Yes, it’s Mexico. It’s hot, and we’re going to be walking a lot so we need to get used to it. “
“I can’t walk anymore! It’s too hot!” Dragging feet and moving in slow motion to illustrate her misery.
“You could stay here on the sidewalk but it won’t get any better so I suggest you keep walking. You’ll feel better when we get there and get in the water.”
“No I won’t, I’m just too hot!” Starts to wail at police siren volume. I keep walking, gritting my teeth.
Needless to say this was not a pleasant mode of transportation for any of us. Jason and I could deal with the heat and usually one child would do okay, but the other one would be such a whiny, complaining mess that it made all of us miserable. They even took turns; one day Rory would do fine and June would be the one dying, another day Rory was the wailing banshee and June was a trooper.
The first time we traveled Jason and I found we really enjoy walking to get to know a place. When you are in a vehicle or even on a bicycle the scenery whizzes by, your attention is focused on the road and the traffic, and you miss a lot. When you walk you can peek in doorways, stop and go as you please if you spot something interesting, and talk to other people on the street. I highly recommend it, especially in a new neighborhood.
This time we discovered that when you’re walking everywhere even a smaller city seems large and spread out. We aren’t vacationing this time, we’re living here and we have to accomplish daily tasks like work and groceries and laundry instead of just going to the beach or meeting friends. Add to that two whining, resisting children that made us extra slow and everything seemed to be very, very far away from our house.
Going anywhere outside of town was out of the question unless we got a taxi, but we didn’t want to rely on them any more than we had to in order to keep costs down. It became a constant battle. The kids learned quickly about taxis and suggested we take one at the slightest opportunity. Hmmm, the grocery list is larger than usual and will be a lot to carry-we could take a taxi, Mom! I know it’s getting late and it will take a while to walk there, but we could take a taxi. It’s hot outside. Taxi?
I felt like the Taxi Nazi-“No! No taxi for you! We are walking!” It was a role that neither the kids nor I enjoyed.
Walking also meant we had to really think about where we were going. In a taxi you just tell them a name or maybe an address, and he finds the way for you. On our own we had to look it up or ask about it, or sometimes circle the area looking until we found it. There were times when we stopped for ice cream to placate the children, took a break when we passed a park, and then found that it took over an hour just to walk somewhere that we had expected to be a “quick trip.” We were saving money but losing time.
So what about the plan to ride bicycles? We looked at bikes in every store but kept holding off on buying them. In the U.S. we lived on a low traffic side street and I still insisted the girls ride on the sidewalks and stay on our block (I know, how did I go from that to Mexico?) In Mexico bikes ride in the street, whichever side works for you, in between the cars, and generally take their role as part of traffic literally and traffic here is a little nuts.
We knew this before, but once you are standing there thinking of giving your 6 and 8 year old a bike to ride off into that chaos it seems much more daunting. Dangerous. Foolhardy. Yeah, I’ll say it: I chickened out on letting them ride bikes everywhere. I’d rather be safe than sorry, so no regrets. We’ll still get bicycles, Jason and I can easily get around locally on them and the kids love to ride, but they won’t be our main mode of transport like we planned.
Then we moved into our permanent house that we’ll live in for the next year. It’s on the north edge of town, but everything we need seemed to be within reach and we planned to put the girls in the Montessori school two blocks away. It was a perfect plan, until we found out that Montessori was full. Instead we enrolled them at Gardner Institute, over 3 kilometers away (for our American friends that would be 1.86 miles.) It was too far to walk twice a day, even if we were willing to risk sweating through their pretty new uniforms. Public transportation is good if you are not particular about arrival times, but when picking up and dropping off from school we’d need to be on time, especially since Gardner will lock you out if you’re late in the morning. Getting around was becoming a serious problem.
After we had a surprising amount of trouble finding a taxi on the first day of school we decided to rent a car for the rest of the week to take the pressure off. We had rented from Isis Rentadora already, and when Jason told her why we were back she shook her head and said, “You need to buy a car.” When the rental car owner tells you to buy a car instead of trying to make more money off of you, well, you might need to buy a car.
School was the final straw. We needed to be able to go places without taking up the whole day. We needed to be safe when we traveled on our own. We needed to be able to get outside of the city sometimes to volunteer and sightsee. We needed to be able to get our kids to school now that we had signed them up. We needed our independence back. We needed a car.
This wasn’t a decision we took lightly. Jason and I both went back and forth, not wanting to spend the money, not sure of the legalities, and not wanting to fall back into old habits. We moved here to change our lifestyle, not recreate it. I realized that everything we considered doing had to revolve around where it was and how we would get there, and that wasn’t what we wanted to focus on.
We looked through ads and talked to people and today we took the leap, went out and bought a used car. Afterward it was so strange to be driving our own car, we didn’t even know where to go and just drove around for a while. It’s funny how plans change.
It’s a 1994 Blazer and in surprisingly good shape, and it’s pretty and doesn’t smell, but the most important thing is that it runs. I’ve never been one to name my cars, but this one was too easy: it’s all white, even the roof rack. Diablo Blanco! Let’s hope it doesn’t live up to it’s name!
We’ll still be walking places, and we’ll still get bikes, but now we have more options and greater reach. As far as school goes, we’re breathing a sigh of relief (although I still hate getting up at dawn, don’t think that will change any time soon.)
So now we just have to figure out where we want to go…
Update: We went out the morning after buying this car, first day of driving it to school….and it wouldn’t start. Luckily Jason knows a lot about cars and is pretty sure he knows what it might be, but my next post might be all about mechanics that make house calls, because that’s how it works here, you can’t call a tow truck. I’ll keep you posted…