Elizabeth Arnott

Elizabeth Arnott

10 March 2008 Interviews & Editorials 12

YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?

Elizabeth: I came from London UK at the end of 2000.

YL: Why did you move?

Elizabeth: I had decided that I needed to change major aspects of my life, to live in a country with a completely different culture, climate, and language, and I certainly did that by coming to Merida, Yucatan.

YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?

Elizabeth: I had a choice between going to Goa, India, or Merida, Mexico. The irony of choosing Mexico over India is that my new life prospects in India and the contacts I already had there seemed to imply too much work. It was planned that I should teach at the local music academy, teaching the teachers more up-to-date methods. It was all arranged that I should have a beautiful house at the beach, etc. but this seemed too much like hard work for me. However, since living here, playing full time in the symphony orchestra and teaching two afternoons a week, this is more than enough to keep me busy, and far more than I ever envisioned when I decided to move here. In fact, I had no idea that there was much of a cultural life in Merida, and was delighted to discover such a lively arts scene here. After I had been here about six months I joined the Orquesta de Cámera de Yucatán, which then evolved into what we now proudly call the Orquesta Sinfónica de Yucatán. The local government decided to go against global trends and enlarge rather than downsize, and luckily I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Gradually musicians started coming from all parts of the world, Europe, USA, South America, etc. until at one time we had more than 14 countries represented.

YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?

Elizabeth: Not at all. I had intended to live a hedonistic life, lie in my hammock, drink margaritas, visit the sites and sights of Yucatan, and generally take it easy. I had plenty of time in my first six months or so to travel around. I had a marvelous time visiting major and lesser-known Mayan sites, beaches near and far, Celestún with its amazing flamingo nature reserve, pueblos and cenotes, the Caribbean coast, Tulum, Isla Holbox, etc. I traveled the length and breadth of the Yucatan Peninsula and down through Tabasco to Chiapas. I had no intention of working, playing in an orchestra, or teaching. However, having been a musician and teacher all my life, it is difficult to stop! So here I am doing the same thing, but in a completely different culture, temperature, and environment.

YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the
right decision?

Elizabeth: I rented at first, and having found the ideal house for me, spent three months renovating. So I did not move in until I had been in Merida for almost a year. Yes, it was a very good decision, not only to buy, but to buy this particular house. It is perfect for me. It is located in Santiago, so it is within easy walking distance to the centre, and I can safely walk home at night after concerts. The size is perfect, the layout is perfect, I even have a garage to safely park my car off street. Everything is just ideal!

YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?

Elizabeth: Waking up every morning to see the sun shining, again, and knowing that it will shine again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.....

YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?

Elizabeth: I miss my son, my family and friends from England.

YL: What *don’t* you miss from your "former life"?

Elizabeth: I do not miss the cold weather, rain, cloudy skies, short days in the winter, and the stressful life my friends and family seem to live. Everyone seems to be worried about something, and although Big Brother is watching you with cameras at every street corner, I definitely feel much safer here than in London.

YL: What is your favourite local food?


Elizabeth: I am passionate about the local fruits, and have a tropical breakfast every day: papaya, mango, mamay, zapote, banana.... whatever is in season. Guacamole prepared from the freshest of avocados. Sopa de lima. Frijol con puerco. Chicken grilled over a wood fire......

YL: What is your favourite time of year here and why?

Elizabeth: Winter is hot and sunny, and that is wonderful. Summer is hotter and sunnier, and that too is wonderful. It’s always my favourite time of year.

YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?

Elizabeth: That’s easy. I take them to Cuzamá (50 km south east of Merida) to visit the three cenotes by horse-drawn mini-rail truck. A cenote, one of the unique features of the Yucatan peninsular, is a natural underground pool, considered sacred by the ancient Mayans. Many of them are stunningly beautiful, and the ones at Cuzamá are among the most attractive in Yucatan. They are deep underground, lit by beams of sunlight streaming through a hole in the roof, with turquoise-coloured crystal clear water. All my friends who visit say that this is the highlight of their stay. I myself was so taken with Chunkanán, the village at the beginning of the route which takes you deep into the jungle to visit the three cenotes, that I bought a piece of land there, and have constructed three mayan-style houses in a compound on the edge of the village. There is a large swimming pool fed by pure cenote water from a 14 metre-deep well, pumped up by a traditional windmill. The houses have palapa roofs and are the typical rounded mayan house shape. The extensive grounds have been planted with fruits trees and colourful tropical plants.

YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?

Elizabeth: My favourite restaurant is also my local restaurant, only two blocks away: Villa Maria, Calle 59 x Calle 68, Centro. It is owned by two of my earliest Merida friends, as it is right next door to the apartment I rented when I first arrived. It has an extensive Mediterranean menu, with delicious dishes such as goat’s cheese tart with olives and sun dried tomatoes, grilled lamb cutlets, mocha mousse. The building is a lovingly restored colonial mansion with Moorish arches surrounding the central patio where I have my regular table.

YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living where you lived before?

Elizabeth: The pace of life is much slower, people are very friendly and easygoing, and although it seems to take longer, things do get done, but all in their own good time. Also, a strange aspect that most people seem to agree on is that some things which, according to past experience, should be easy to achieve seem almost impossible, whereas other things where you brace yourself for insuperable problems seem to resolve themselves more quickly and easily than you could imagine.

YL: What strange, unusual or amusing things have made you smile?

Elizabeth: Three things seem to me to be bizarre and amusing, considering we live in such a hot climate:
1. I saw an advertisement for sun bed tanning
2. Someone tried to sell me antifreeze for the car
3. A new ice rink has been opened in the north of Merida

YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?

Elizabeth: I am very fortunate in that I have friends from various different communities - my musician friends from the orchestra, my expat friends, and locals I have met from all different stratas of society. Over the past seven years I have met so many interesting people.

YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?

Elizabeth: I learned my Spanish here in Merida. I began with an intensive four-week course, three hours a day every morning, and homework every afternoon. This gave me a fantastic kick-start, and from then on it has been a question of talking to everyone and anyone, just to keep practising, and it gradually becomes easier. It has been an interesting experience, reinforcing my belief in the Suzuki method of violin teaching, whose main teaching points are listen and repeat, which is exactly how I have learned Spanish, living surrounded by Spanish speakers, so plenty of listening opportunities, and the best way to learn vocabulary is to repeat, repeat, and repeat.

YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?

Elizabeth: Entre dicho y hecho hay mucho trecho. This means that there is a large distance between saying and doing, but it sounds as though there might be some treachery involved! No pasa nada hasta que pasa. This means that nothing happens until it happens. I find that this is a very important lesson if you want to live a stress-free life here. Things take their own time, and usually work out just fine, even if t is not exactly what you had in mind.

YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?

Elizabeth: I am in the process of becoming a Mexican citizen.

YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favourite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?


Elizabeth: Apart from the Yucatan Peninsular and Chiapas and Tabasco, I have visited Mexico City, Oaxaca City and coast, Veracruz and Xalapa, Guanajuato, and Morelia. My most memorable experience was in Morelia when i went to the butterfly sanctuary where Monarch butterflies arrive in the millions all the way from Canada. It was a sight never to be forgotten to see the branches of the trees bowed down by their weight, and to experience the feeling of beng among so many that it felt like it was raining butterflies.

YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?

Elizabeth: Most Mexicans are welcoming and generous. I love the gentle grace and charming good manners of the Yucatecans. Every day, when walking to work in the morning, I am greeted by an old man who sits in his doorway and says ‘Buenos dias, huerita bonita’, which means 'Good morning, pretty little white lady'. (Political correctness is not something to worry about here in Yucatan - 'small' is a term of endearment, and 'white' is - well - I am white!)

YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?

Elizabeth: I am concerned at the huge gulf between the rich and poor. Some Mexicans are among the richest in the world, and yet there is extreme poverty in the pueblos.

YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?

Elizabeth: I have seen tremendous changes in the arts, more galleries, concerts, a much more dynamic arts culture. Also there is more availability of products, especially international food, so preparing my familiar meals is not a problem. There are many more interesting restaurants too.

YL: What are your plans for the future here?

Elizabeth: More of the same, thank you.

YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?

Elizabeth: Don’t be in a hurry. Things take their own time. Keep in mind what you want, but be open to suggestions. Set yourself realistic targets. Don’t expect to achieve too much, too fast. One day at a time.

YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?

Elizabeth: Thank you for being so hospitable and welcoming to us foreigners.

Editor's Note: If you want to sample some of the Good Life that Elizabeth loves so much here, you can rent one of her little houses out near the cenotes. You can learn all the details at http://sacnictemx.blogspot.com.




  • Vickie 8 years ago

    Dear Elizabeth: My husband and I will be staying in Merida this Jan/Feb. My husband is retired after a long career in Music Education (PhD, specializing in vocal). We are considering Merida as a retirement home. Finding an outlet for his love of choral conducting and teaching would be a very important consideration for us. Just wondering if you have thoughts or suggestions. Many Kind Thanks.

  • Jayne 14 years ago

    Hi Elizabeth

    Mexico City has been in our news recently and my thoughts turned to you, so I fed your name into Google and look what I found! I'm glad everything is going so swimmingly for you. Remember landing at Bournemouth on our way back from Rome, with fog at Heathrow and a national rail strike?!!

  • Karla 14 years ago

    Hello Elizabeth, I am very surprised that English people is living here,
    I like England and the english culture the posh accent, indeed it´s quite amazing
    I´d like chatting with u some day. I hope you can write me back,!

  • Frank Stovall 14 years ago

    I am a 56-year-old boomer folkie retiree soon-to-be-ex-pat-in-Izamal, currently residing in Portland, Oregon. My only regret about leaving Portland is leaving the folk music scene here. Do you know of any folk/bluegrass/swing/fiddle-playin/banjo-pickin people who get together for fun in the Merida area? Contact me at folk.frank@hotmail.com if you do. Thanks!

  • Countdown to Mexico » Blog Archive » It’s the First Latin American Blogger Awards! 15 years ago

    [...] on Merida and the Yucatan - which sounds dry and businesslike - but oh, no, it isn’t. From interviews with people living and working in the area, to excursions into the countryside, to restaurant [...]

  • Lewie Conner 15 years ago

    Loved the article and can't wait to meet Elizabeth, hear her play and see her Myan get-away.

  • Jimmie Berg 15 years ago

    I certainly enjoyed the article and the responses. I would love to know if the apartment that you first rented is available and who to contact.

    I am a 63 year old PhD student who needs to get out of the cold eastern Colorado weather and relocate to a sunny and warm location. I have severe asthma and need the warmth and sunshine and to be near an ocean.

    I spent 6 months in Ecuador last year and had a fabulous time, but the temperature was just a little too cold for me. I grew up in West Texas and am used to hot temps.

    I would love to hear from you or anyone about renting a small apartment with Internet or near an Internet Wi-Fi spot as I am doing my degree online.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful article.

    Jimmie Berg
    Eastern Colorado wheat fields

  • Mark Callum LONDON and MERIDA 15 years ago

    Thank you Elizabeth for a marvelous summing up of all the things that also made me decide, as a fellow "Englishman" to buy a property in Merida 2 years ago. Luckily for me I have Elizabeth as a close neighbour in Merida and she has taken me to visit her beautiful Palapas near the beautiful cenotes. If you wish to experience the feeling of Mayan village life and the amazing sounds of the birds and the stillness of the countryside with its night-time sky star-studded like a pin-cushion - then this is the place to stay. Like Elizabeth ,the disparity between the rich and poor in Mexico concerns me, but I do see positive things happening. The recent high profile fight against corruption initiated by the Government is the beginning, hopefully, of more prosperity for everyone in this wonderful country. And let's face it, corruption is everywhere! The positive aspects of the Yucatan so outweigh any other considerations that I could not imagine settling anywhere else - especially at winter time !

  • Curtis Watson 15 years ago

    Congratulations to Elizabeth on all her achievements! Had I not known this wonderful lady
    (from London) with her very positive and 'happy-go-lucky outlook on life, I might have found some of this a trifle unreal. No such luck. This is the genuine Elizabeth Arnott I know! I too look forward to visiting some day soon. She'll probably find this hilarious but I intend to surprise her!

  • Tito 15 years ago

    Congratulations to both the interviewee and the interviewers for simple answers and questions in a dialogue that the less is more concept in a verbal manner. Ditto for Elizabeth Arnott´s Web presentation.

  • Deborah Simpson 15 years ago

    I just brought some friends visiting from the US to Elizabeth's wonderful palapa houses in Chunkanan this past weekend. It was fantastic! Definitely a great place to bring visitors.

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