March 29, 2006 — There is a lot to learn when you buy or rent a house in Mexico, and utilities can present challenges. Here’s how we currently stand:
WATER: Our realtor took my husband Kelly to the place in our town where you pay the water bill, and by presenting several documents, Kelly managed to get the bill in his name. He also learned there was almost a 50% discount if you paid in advance for a year, and in our case that was around $100 US for the year for unmetered water. He paid it. With lots of gardens and a swimming pool, we will be using more water than we did in Colorado, though over time we will make the gardens more ecological.
We have since found out that in our town (San Juan Cosala, by Lake Chapala) the town water is not available 24/7. Lately it’s been more like 8 to 10 hours a day, often morning to late afternoon. Yesterday I read in El Ojo del Lago, a monthly free magazine in English, that “the town of San Juan Cosala is dealing with water distribution problems related to plugged-up or broken pipes and hoses. While the overall plan is to switch from hoses to more durable pipes, for now the community has periods of time when water is not available.”
Luckily, we have two water storage tanks on the property.
ELECTRICITY: We still haven’t succeeded in getting this in our names, but we know where the office is in the nearby town of Jocotepec. They need a copy of our multi-page deed to the house, which we got last week, and we need to mark a form with those little circles that look like the meter.
The power goes out from time to time, and local people tell us it happens more when it rains. We had a lovely rain last weekend, and sure enough the power went out at 7:30 PM on Saturday night. We happened to have the phone number to report outages, and a very courteous woman took our report about an hour after the outage.
The power was still out the next morning, when we set off to walk to the hot spring about a mile from here. One of our Mexican neighbors, who hadn’t spoken to us much before then, pleaded with us to make a fuss with the federal commission for electricity, or CFE, which administers the power. He said they would listen to us where they wouldn’t listen to them, ordinary Mexicans. He had wanted to watch a movie on TV the night before and was unhappy to have missed it. He was even unhappier that a scorpion had bitten his thumb in the dark night when he hadn’t been able to see it. (When I walk from our bed to the bathroom in the night, I use a flashlight! We’ve found two scorpions in the house so far. One this morning was in two parts and our cat was playing with the parts. She may well have killed it.)
When we got back from the hot springs, the power was on.
GARBAGE: The truck supposedly goes by every day but don’t hold your breath. Or you may want to hold your breath when you go down the street when the truck hasn’t been around for a few days! Garbage collection is free, paid for by property taxes, but tipping the garbage men now and then is recommended. We will when we get a chance.
PROPANE: Hard to miss on this one. A private company, Zeta Gas, has trucks roaming the neighborhoods from very early in the morning. Each truck is equiped with a loudspeaker which blares out the sound of car horn and ZETA GA-A-A-A-S! on and on. The propane comes in tall cylinders which cost about $30 US, and they take your old tank. We have two tanks but a lot of local people have one and so they are out of propane til the truck comes by.
BOTTLED DRINKING WATER: There are trucks from different companies that deliver this in roughly 5-gallon bottles. We’ve made an arrangement with a little store around the corner. The husband or hardworking 16-year-old son (NOT an oxymoron in Mexico!) brings us the water as needed. We like getting to know this family. A significant percentage of the bottled water sold in Mexico is sold by the Coca-Cola company, the Victoria brand of water.
TELEPHONE: Telmex, the phone company for land lines, told me none were available here. I’ve since heard stories where sometimes they are available for Mexicans more easily than foreigners. We are happy enough without a monthly bill and with a Mexican cellphone. Our US Verizon cellphone with the North American plan is what we call out on… the Mexican number is just so local people can call us.
INTERNET: We have our own satellite system that travels on our motorhome or at present is in the backyard. I wonder what we would do without that and without a landline phone: a friend in that situation in another part of Mexico got a Mexican satellite system much like ours.
TELEVISON: We brought our US satellite setup down with us, but it doesn’t work this far south. So we cancelled it and now have a Canadian setup which we got here in the Lake Chapala area and are greatly enjoying. Most American shows we want (like the Daily Show) are available. We are figure skating fans, and last week appreciated the much more extensive Canadian coverage of the world championships.