Emily and Alfred

Emily and Alfred

20 October 2006 Interviews & Editorials 17

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

Emily and Alfred : We moved from Seattle, WA in September last year, 2005. We were up for a change in weather, attitudes, lifestyles and it was good timing for both of us.

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

Emily: We considered a couple of other places- New Zealand and Hawaii. We were working on something in New Zealand that fell through plus being far away from family was not appealing. Hawaii fell through and thankfully or I think we would be in a lot of debt. Mexico was out of the US but did not seem so far away from family. Learning another language was appealing.

Alfred: Izamal felt like it could be home from the moment we first visited and Macan ché was, to paraphrase Goldilocks, "just right." The first time we walked through the door, we knew we wanted to be in a place "just like this."

YL: What did you plan to do after you moved here?

Emily and Alfred: We bought Hotel Macan ché in Izamal and it was an existing business. We wanted to add retreats and workshops, such as yoga, to the already successful hotel business.

YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?

Emily: As far as the hotel business, it is doing better than expected. We have hosted two yoga retreats and have had other groups here conducting workshops. We continue to see the growth and possibilities.

Alfred: I think we both had visions of having a bit more free time than we currently do. We both have several interests that we wanted more time for, but "making" that time has been an interesting process. When we started running the hotel, neither of us had any experience running a hotel. It's not rocket science, but we're both of a hands-on nature and the first six months found us completely absorbed. We're becoming better stewards of our time now, though it continues to be a growing process.

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

Emily: We live on the hotel property in the Casa Principal. It was the only decision really in our case. Luckily from our house we can hear the doorbell and yet it feels private enough.

Alfred: And, unluckily, we can hear the doorbell from our house! The funny thing about this business is that people come to the door in packs. Rarely does the bell ring just once, but rather in succession. It makes you wonder if the tourists here all travel at the same time. Not to bite the hand the feeds us, because it really is much worse when the doorbell doesn't ring!

YL: Now that you live here, how do you like it?

Emily: There are days I am completely enchanted and then there are days that I wonder what the hell was I thinking. But that feeling is no different that any other place I have lived in such as New York and Seattle. There is a time and a place for everything. It is a good time for the both of us to be here in Mexico.

Alfred: I wake up every day wondering if I'm going to feel like I'm living in an exotic foreign land, but it's just home sweet home. Then there's the sun, that glorious sun! When we lived in Seattle it was a monumental event whenever you actually saw the sun. You knew it was there, but only as a vague presence. Here it's right in your face. One minute that warm, comforting feeling of basking in the sun and the next, that baking, basting, burning feeling. It gives you everything from the exhilaration of a clear beautiful day, to the sleepy siesta mood that seems to hit regularly about 2 pm.

YL: Would you ever return to your former location?

Emily and Alfred: The U.S. yes, Seattle probably not. But never say never…

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

Alfred: Here you are so evidently confronted with the ancient. All the pyramids, the Mayan people, the stone everywhere all reminds one constantly of the great age of this place. Even new things take on a tinge of the very old (ask anyone with a mampostaria house). That backdrop tends to stretch out time and thought in a very fascinating way.

Seattle was a very beautiful place, very close to nature as is Izamal. However, Seattle was all about evergreen forests and rain forests, and lots of surface water everywhere. Here the water is primarily below ground and that shifts your relationship with water. The tropical plants give off a sort of calm lazy aura, whereas the evergreen forests in Seattle seem to hum with purpose.

Emily: There are certainly differences but once you are living here it doesn't really feel that different. When I visit the US there are definite things that stand out, things look shinier to me in the U.S. from the minute you get off the plane - especially cars. You don't see that many older cars in the U.S. and in Mexico it is amazing to see how many years someone can get out of a car.

I notice the difference in service when I am in the U.S. We were just in a college town in Massachusetts and it was so jarring to feel obliged to tip people when they were rude, have your change tossed at you without much eye contact, and to feel rushed out of a restaurant for quick turnover. I prefer being over-waited on in Mérida restaurants. It feels more like an event than a meal.

Being a pedestrian in the U.S. is a huge inconvenience to drivers and they let you know it. In Izamal we walk in the streets and get out of the way of the cars and no one seems to get mad about it. Trash burning is common and my least favorite thing about Izamal. Toilet etiquette is obviously different. I think I eat less sugar here in México although we never pass up helados on the carretera at Hoctun! But the bottom line is "Wherever you go, there you are " and that continues to surprise me.

YL: What do you love about living here?

Emily: The VIP lounge at the Gran Plaza cinemas!

I like this chunk of paradise we live in. Macan ché is beautiful and it is paradise to live on this great piece of tropical gardens, with visitors from all over the world, and lots of help. I like making new friends and those random acts of kindness you encounter here. Also people always have time to talk. You don't feel the busy frenzy here.

Alfred: The people! Everyone here makes it a habit to greet one another. Also, there's a tremendous focus on family. The rhythm of life here is slower and softer. Even though we find ourselves working a lot, there will always be some reminder that there are more important things than work. Maybe its because we encounter so many people on vacation or maybe its just like that here. Regardless, it is a precious gift.

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

Emily: Friends, teaching yoga regularly, taking long walks in Seattle, drinking good black tea when it is cold and rainy outside, Netflix, good sushi.

Alfred: Hmmm, my life feels pretty contiguous with little sensation of former, current or even future.

YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here?

Emily: A learning experience. Lawyers, accountants, and good people who work for you are a very important part. Sometimes being la dueña can be a drag.

Alfred: For me (and I'm sure also for Emily, but perhaps to a lesser extent) the biggest hurdle in our business is Spanish. The people who work for us here all speak only Spanish or Mayan and while I'm getting better at it all the time, there are definitely times when I'd like to better express myself. Its very humbling to be el dueño (or even Don Alfredo) and still talk like a three-year-old.

We've been pretty lucky at how easy the business end has been for us. We expected a lot more bureaucracy and that it would be difficult to accomplish things (and given our recent experience with electricians we've certainly felt some of those difficulties), but for the most part it has been very easy.

YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?

Emily: Not really. It just depends on the lifestyle we want to lead. I go back to teach yoga in Seattle for fun and to keep that alive.

Alfred: Actually, neither of us has ever done just one thing to make a living and that makes life extremely sweet and variegated for us. Certainly the hotel business encompasses hundreds of jobs and that diversity suits us well.

YL: Do you work as much as you used to "back home" or are your work habits different here?

Emily and Alfred: In the beginning we worked a lot more. I think we had to make it our own, learn the business, and pave our way. Now we try and get out of the way a little more and let the staff handle things. It gives us more freedom and time to do other things we would like to do. We don't have to insert ourselves all the time for things to run smoothly.

YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?

Emily and Alfred: It is a small town and people gossip. I don't think they gossip about tourists.

YL: How is your Spanish?

Emily: Not bad. I grew up on the border in El Paso, TX so hearing Spanish was not at all foreign to me. My father is Mexican and I spent lots of time with my Mexican grandmother, although they spoke English a lot of the time. I think I picked up the most Spanish by going to church with my grandmother but that is only useful up to a point! Bilingual was not in when we were growing up.

Alfred: Those verbs! Those damn verbs! Half of the time I can't tell if someone is speaking about themselves or their aunt or the guy in the tienda down the street. And you can just imagine how confusing it must be to figure out just who I'm talking about!

YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your day to day life?

Emily: Sometimes yes. We manage fine with employees and basic conversations in Izamal and Mérida. But Macan ché attracts guests from all over. From our one year of being here we have noticed more business from Europeans and Mexican Nationals than U.S. or Canada. We just hosted a group of Europeans and damn if they don't all know about three languages!

I feel most limited in conversing with the Nationals. There is definite service etiquette and my participation is not that fluid. The language is very gracious, flowery, muy amable, atentamente, a sus ordenes, and on and on. I saw it in my Dad when I was a kid. I used to think he just knew everybody but I realize that you just treat everyone as if you do.

The other barrier is writing in Spanish. We often have to respond to emails in Spanish. I usually disculpe myself before I start. I now have someone who helps me. The biggest difference between when I respond in Spanish and when he does is about three paragraphs. He knows how to make it flowery!

Alfred: Surprisingly less than I would expect, given my less than mastery of Spanish. It's amazing how much one can communicate with just a few words, lots of smiles and an open attitude. Where it does become difficult is when something is (or seems) really important such as dealing with the different municipal services or working with vendors. I'm always impressed and relieved when I find out that the other person and I understand the same thing!

Emily: Context is key. I may understand Spanish a little better than Alfred but if we are talking about electricity or construction he understands more. I don't know what those things mean in English!

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

Emily and Alfred: Everyone's situation and choices are unique. Don't listen to anyone else's advice!

Okay one thing: if you don't like bugs don't move here. I can't believe the variety of bugs; seems we have entered a whole new bug season! If I leave my porch light on at night, the screen is covered with these little beetles. They look like cacahuates to me. I saw a tarantula the other day in the kitchen and where do all the ants come from? I was talking to a guest recently and we decided that it was really the ants that built the pyramids!

YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?

Emily and Alfred: No

YL: If you aren't, do you think you will become one?

Emily and Alfred: It is too early to say.

YL: Why would or wouldn't you?

Emily and Alfred: It does not seem necessary at this point in the journey.

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

Emily and Alfred: For the most part we feel welcomed and also a little alien. We get some good long stares especially from the kids.

Our neighbors are kind and we buenas back and forth all day. We have another kind neighbor that likes to make food for Alfred. She brings him queso napolitano, which is different from flan she points out emphatically!, and plantings from her garden.

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

Alfred: México is a place of tremendous riches and opportunities. However, often times it seems as though there is no coherent vision to make those riches and opportunities available to the general populace. There also feels like a lack of hopefulness among the people. I think that because corruption and nepotism is so strong here, that many people feel resigned to that as the norm and don't have the vision to change it. But somehow you can still feel the change in the air. It may take a very long time, but there is an opportunity here and the spirit is slowly awakening.

Yucatán in particular feels poised on the edge of tremendous development and opportunity. We have invested substantially our entire wealth here and we feel like it’s a very good investment. One tries not to have a "me-first" attitude (especially when one has only been here 12 short months), but it feels very important that the growth that will inevitably occur here be managed very carefully and very wisely. Whether or not that wise management takes hold, many people will do very well here and I hope that they will remember the gifts they received from Yucatán and be ready to give back. Being a foreigner here it's even more complicated. Naturally, the process of giving back starts with us.

YL: What are your plans for the future here?

Alfred: We hope, as we become more successful here, to be able to give back to our community and to participate more in the life of this area. Things move slower here and its interesting to learn to hold the space patiently and plant seeds. We've started some of that and we'll see how they grow. As part of our strategy and goal to build the hotel business, we are encouraging yoga and other spiritually-minded groups to come here and experience some of Yucatán's and Izamal's magic. This is a place of depth and history. We love it and we love the opportunity to share it.

YL: Do you see your business growing?

Emily and Alfred: Yes and it already has.

YL: Do you see yourself staying?

Emily and Alfred: I think a minimum of 5 years and then we'll see.

YL: Any last words?

Come visit us in Izamal! Es muy tranquilo!

Emily and Alfred operate the Macan Ché Bed & Breakfast in the town of Izamal in Yucatan. Emily teaches yoga and has a beautiful smile and Alfred cooks up some pretty amazing dim sum!


  • stormy 14 years ago

    Change has been rampant in Yucatan over the 25 years I have been visiting. The locals were just learning to drive the first time I was there, there were a lot of cars in the ditches in the morning. Wild game was common and for sale, I ate wild turkey, deer and pig every day in the countryside . Pelts of the big cats were hanging in the markets. Logs on trucks going to the mill were so big they could only haul one at a time;those are all gone now, as well as most of the game animals. Horse drawn carts with wooden wheels were used in town as well as the countryside. Merida was a city of a half million, Cancun was 36,000, Playa del Carmen had about two hotels, it was just a side road off 307 for the ferry over to Cozumel. Fishing skiffs were pulled up on the beach at Progresso. The standard of living has improved a great deal, there is power along most of the roads now, the water is potable in the bigger towns, the little stick huts are not as common, people have cars where they had bikes. Poverty is still a big problem but not nearly what it was 25 years ago. I feel that tourism, free trade and infrastructure improvement have driven this increase in the general standard of living in Yucatan.
    I visited Izamal for the first time about two years ago, my wife and I were taken by the step back in time quality of the town. The horse carts that you called with a cell phone when you wanted a ride were a nice blend of the old and the new. Izamal seemed like a safe town, the police checked us out as soon as we drove up, they just wanted to be helpful from what we could tell but they were also making sure we were not trouble. Izamal is on our short list for "winter in Mexico" in a few years.

  • huango 16 years ago

    how funny! i`m from yucatan, living in socal and i`m reading about my hometown in this website (perhaps because i miss it so much,i should be there with my family)

  • Cathy Sparling 16 years ago

    An extremely interesting article. I have visited Izamal several times recently and find it a delightful town. Will be staying at Macan Che this December and am looking forward to our visit.

  • Santiago 16 years ago

    I enjoyed reading your interview. My wife and I have been to Merida (26 yrs ago) and loved it then. Recently, we have been looking at property to purchase with the intent of retiring in Merida. We're interested in a home first and foremost and are reviewing various properties as we speak. However, we are also interested in running a very low-key B & B for the purpose of meeting people.

    I am a Mexican citizen and fully bilingual. Again, I know Merida and know that we would feel very comfortable living there.

    Any feedback from you will be appreciated.

  • Khaki 16 years ago

    Izamal is getting a shot in the tourism arm with the selection of Chichen Itza as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. Loads of new activities and attractions for tourists - so put Izamal on your list of places to visit - its a winner!

  • Rick A. 16 years ago

    Great article. It's nice to see people take a great chance and have it work out. My wife and I visited Izamal over 20 years ago and will be coming back again in a couple of weeks. This time with our children. We plan on staying at the Macan Che and I know we'll enjoy it as much as all the reviews say others have.We've been to the Yucatan many times over the years and keep finding exciting places to explore. Can't wait to meet Emily and Alfred.

  • Bertin et Lucie 16 years ago

    Great article, it makes us remember our stay at Macan Ché and the great people we've met
    there, Emily, Alfred, Vicente and Rosio to name a few.
    Lucie et Bertin

  • Will 16 years ago

    Great interview. My girlfriend and I stayed at the Macan Che in September and it was an amazing place. We talked briefly with Emily and Alfred, they were very friendly and a great source of tips for exploring Izamal. It was nice to learn more about them.

  • Denis Larsen 17 years ago

    Wonderful to read what you are doing in Izamal. My wife and I are starting a bed and breakfast from scratch in Valladolid. We're reconstructing an older (not colonial) house in the historic district. It's nice to know that others have been successful with similar ventures. And that you can be successful without prior experience.

    Our vision is similar to yours, I think. We hope to have seminars and classes as well. I am a licensed massage therapist and hope to do some teaching as well as providing massage services for our guests. I also have an amateur interest in both archaeology and anthropology (have volunteered at a Mayan dig in Belize and attended a anthropology field school in a small Yucatecan village) and hope to learn a lot more of both the history and the culture of the area.

    I have been coming to the Yucatán for 10 years, working with a group called Mano Amiga (www.manoamiga.net) to build concrete roof for people in need. The group started in the Yucatán after Hurricane Gilberto in 1988. Since then we have constructed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 roofs. No one kept track in the early days so we don;t really know how many we have done. We facilitate student groups from the US and are based in Chuburná Puerto in the winter months. We've worked in Chuburná, Chelem, Progreso, Chixchulub, Sierra Papacal, Cosgaya, Noc Ac, Suytunchen and Merida. About 8 years ago we added Isla Mujeres to our work schedule. And this year we will add Valladolid. A small pioneer group will construct three roofs between Christmas and New Years.

    My wife and I must make a trip to Chuburná in December. Perhaps we can stop by and say hello if time permits.

    Until then, cuidate

  • Michelle 17 years ago

    What a wonderful article! I visited Macan Che last March, and I can't wait to plan a return trip. It was absolutely wonderful to enjoy the beauty and history of the Yucatan FAR from Cancun. Macan Che was the most relaxing accommodations I've ever had the joy to experience!

  • Becky 17 years ago

    What an interesting interview. Emily and Alfred sound like great people with a great attitude and outlook on life. I think I will have to make a trip to stay in their hotel. I'm sure they make everyone feel especially welcome.

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