Janice Fraser

Janice Fraser

24 September 2007 Interviews & Editorials 39

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

Janice: I moved to Merida in early December 2006. I was living on the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo, California, with my son, Adam.

Why did I move? Well, my first visit to Merida was in 2005 and at that time I bought an old colonial house and then made my sensible-retire-in-five-year-plan. A couple events persuaded me to shorten my five year plan to a one year plan! First, my son was graduating from college in June 2006 and told me that he had made the decision not to stay in San Luis Obispo after graduation, and second, the sellers’ housing market was at a high in California. The thought of being an ‘empty nester’ was not appealing to me, and having the house in Merida provided an immediate solution to that unappealing situation. I decided to jump on the sellers’ market, sell my house and forgo the five year plan. For some reason I felt it would be easier to be an ‘empty nester’ if I did it in a foreign county where I barely spoke the language while renovating an old colonial house! So, I put my house in San Luis Obispo on the market, gave away or sold my possessions, packed up what I couldn’t part with, loaded that stuff along with my two cats into my 1994 Subaru and I set off with my friend and we drove to Merida.

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

Janice: I have to answer that question kind of backwards. I know why I choose Merida now: I have fallen in love with the city’s rhythm. There is vibrancy about the city that is hard to resist. I feel it in the people I meet, in my daily life, and the places I explore. I had not felt that in other places I had been.

When I came to Merida in 2005 my intention, then, was to see firsthand the ‘realness’ of the real estate market and learn more about the city that I had been viewing from afar, on the internet, for almost a year. I must say, even from that first whoosh of heat and humidity that hit me that September evening as I exited the air conditioned building at the Merida airport, to the in and out of the car tour around the city while house hunting, to the squeezed in day-trips to ruins and the hospitality that was extended to me, I was not disappointed in what I saw in my very full, albeit four-day visit.

At that time, I chose Merida on a more rational basis for what I would need for my future. I felt this was a safe city in which I could retire and live alone, on a limited budget and obtain good health care. The flight time is short to my family in the States and I also felt that I would be able to assimilate easily into the culture while at the same time feel like I was on vacation!

YL: What did/do you plan to do after you move(d) here?

Janice: I made three goals prior to moving to Merida.

The first goal was/is to take a year to renovate the old colonial house that I purchased in Centro (I do want to mention that a very good friend of mine shared in my enthusiasm of retiring, exploring and being in Merida and did invest in the property and more so, in my dream, and I thank him). I have done home renovations before, but never renovated one constructed of mamposteria. I wanted to be here for every phase and to approach the renovation process with an unhurried agenda, an open mind, and to treat the transformation of my house as an extension of my own transformation, so to speak... as part of the adventure of moving here. I figured that all in all, whether it was trips to the planning department, the hardware store, the light store, the pasta tile factory, reviewing the house's electrical or plumbing plans, being involved in the daily progress and decision regarding the changes to my house, or simply thumbing through design books, it would be a great year-long introduction to discovering Merida and settling in. I have not been disappointed.

The second goal is to figure out what I would like to do with the free time I will have once the house is completed. Now that I am not working a traditional United States work week, I want to do the creative projects that previously I could only squeeze in the time for on a nonworking Saturday or Sunday. I want to work with my hands doing something creative that does not tie me down to an organized schedule, whether it is with food, paint, metal or some new medium.

Goal three is to travel around Mexico, and Central and Latin America. At this point, I will continue to take the day trips around Merida, but eventually I want to venture further and further away. Part of this goal includes finding the local treasures to decorate and furnish my house….to be able to have a travel or adventure story behind each piece purchased.

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

Janice: Right now I am doing exactly as I intended.

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

Janice: I bought a house right away as I mentioned above. And, yes, I think I made the right decision. However, since I bought a house that had to be renovated, I have been renting until the renovation is complete. I think renting an older house with a ‘personality’ has been a good experience for the do's and don’ts for my own house.

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

Janice: I love it. Every day is a new adventure, planned or unplanned! That is what I love about Merida; I have yet to experience a day that didn’t involve a wow! factor, or bring a smile to my face.

The process of renovating my house has been quite an exciting and positive experience for me. I am working with a great couple, (Victor and Ingrid Carrillo) they are both my architect and contractor; they have a couple of foremen and many craftsmen that each have been working with them for almost a decade. The majority of the albaniles (concrete or masonry workers) that work on my house are hired from the pueblos outside of Merida. When the crew first came to do the yard clearing and the demo work, I learned it is customary for them to stay in the house during the week. They’d bring their hammocks to sleep in and worked from sun up to sun down. Sometimes I would have a meeting at my house during their lunch time and walk in to wonderful cooking smells from a creatively-made cooking pit in the cleared backyard. I have been keeping a photo journal of the renovation and when I look back on the photos I have taken so far, I see that the crew is smiling in every picture…whether they are working in the hot sun or waiting out the rain. Right now I am in the ‘detail’ stage of the renovation, so all of the projects that the craftsmen have been doing in their shops (iron work and carpentry) while the albaniles worked in my house have been brought in and are being installed. For the past month, the painter has been at the house preparing the old walls for painting, and now the outside patio covers are being constructed. I love the energy, the voices, and the banging and chipping noises that echo in the house when it is full of workers. I also love to go on a Sunday morning when no one is working and the house is empty. That is my time to enjoy the house, imagine the end of the project and to admire the work the crew has done during the week but without interrupting their work as they do it.

YL: Would you ever return to your former location?

Janice: To visit yes, to live no.

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

Janice: The humidity comes to mind first. Being able to get something to eat after 9 p.m., that isn’t fast food, is great, that infant cars seats are not required, the amount of fireworks that go off, no above-ground rivers, pedestrians and bicyclists on the highway, seeing families walk arm-in-arm around town, the respect for elders and that a family gathering is just that—the entire extended family, just to name a few.

YL: What do you love about living here?

Janice: Liquados, the culture, the architecture throughout the city, having access to the internet, the adventure potential, the weather, the downtown market, the haciendas, brightly colored nylon shopping bags, the back roads, swimming in the cenotes, feeling at home, the people; both the locals and the expatriates, enjoying each day as it comes without feeling that I must rush through it to the next day in order to get to the weekend.

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

Janice: Mountain ranges, black licorice and all things Trader Joe’s.

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

Janice: I am not currently doing either.

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

Janice: I haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

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

Janice: From my perspective, the city is different for expatriate residents in that we get to see beyond the marketed tour sights and take our time to do things like wander around the art galleries, the churches, the museums; experience more cultural activities; ride the bici-ruta; drive the back roads to the villages that surround the city; shop in the open market; swim in the cenotes; have more opportunities to see what lies behind the facades of the houses in centro; walk on the beach; cruise through Noche Mexicana on Saturday night or the Plaza Grande on Sunday afternoon; find old haciendas; mark our calendar to celebrate every saint day or national holiday; to choose which square to have a botana and sit under the night sky watching the dancers; or... Well, residents have the time to do all of the things tourists can and should try to experience; but usually don’t have enough hours in the day to do so.

YL: How is your Spanish?

Janice: Improving a little each day.

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

Janice: No, with the few words I know, a bit of hand gesturing and my favorite helpful tool—a pen, I do pretty well. It is funny though, sometimes when I do practice my Spanish, the Spanish speaking person I am talking with will prefer to speak in English…..not sure if that is a reflection of how bad my Spanish is or just their desire to learn English!

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

Janice: If you do move here, whether it is full time or part time, keep in mind that you are the one that made the decision to move to Mexico and leave behind your former life and lifestyle. So, maintain your initial level of excitement (that I hope you had!) and your raison de faire for moving here and your move will be a much more positive one!

YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?

Janice: No

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

Janice: Yes, one day.

YL: Why would or wouldn't you?

Janice: To be able to contribute to the community where I am living with my vote and to not have to renew my FM3 every year.

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

Janice: In my experience so far I have been treated very well, as a matter of fact, like family in some cases. I feel very welcome.

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

Janice: I am positive. It will be interesting to watch the next six years.

YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Janice: I would like to accomplish my goals number two and three above!

YL: Do you see yourself staying?

Janice: Yes, definitely.

YL: Any last words?

Janice: “Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.” -- Buddha


  • JESSE 10 years ago

    Hello Janice. I happened to be cleaning out some old paperwork and came upon your business card from when we first met. I looked thru your photos from 2007...all I can say is amazing! absolutely amazing!!!! Merry Christmas and hope you are doing well!! Jesse P.

  • Dennis Laursen 12 years ago

    Hi Janice,
    The house looks great!
    Please email me bigdbbq@me.com

  • baldwin 13 years ago

    Eduardo, Brenda, etal-The house is great. I was very happy with the choices that I made with this house. The project took 7 months to complete. The work included building a perimeter wall (286L x30w), re-purposing the old water tank for the pool (the property was the ice house for colonial San Jose), building a new casita and modernizing the main house. I came in 7% over budget & this was mainly due to my additions and changes. Victor and Ingrid Carrillo are wonderful architects to work with, as a matter of fact we are beginning work on another project.
    Here is a link to the yard 2 1/2 years post renovation.

  • Brenda Thornton 13 years ago

    Your home is stunning. Are you glad that you went with a stone home after having done it?

    If you do not mind sharing it with me and other readers, exactly how long did it take to complete your home and did it come in on budget or were you surprised?

    It is a lovely and simply delightful home and I wish you much happiness with it and your life in Merida.

  • Eduardo 13 years ago

    Hello Janice Have been a long time since the last time I emailed you, How is your house doing?

  • Jenni 14 years ago

    OMG! It's fabulous! You and your architects did a wonderful job. I want to do the same soon. Thanks for sharing the photos and your interview. I'll be there sometime midyear and permanently early 2010.

  • Janice 15 years ago

    HI Eduardo..
    Thanks for checking out the renovation photos. You must go down to the last comment by me titled "Renovation Numbers Update" to get to the most recent link for the photos (not sure why one crosses out the other). --Janice

  • Eduardo 15 years ago

    Hello Janice, I tried to see your renovation pictures but the page is not there anymore

  • Bettye 15 years ago

    Hola Janice,

    We met briefly at our smalle house on Calle 49 last fall when we were finishing up with renovations. My husband and I will be in Merida first week of March and would enjoy seeing you and your new house. Hopefully we'll be finishing up some odds and ends with furniture shopping and gardening and enjoying a wonderful visit to Merida.

    Looking forward to hearing from you---bradleybty@comcast.net
    Bettye Bradley

  • Michael Gross 15 years ago

    This is a wonderfully inspiring interview. Thank you Janice for sharing your story and renovation photos! I share your love of old houses and have completely remodeled my Craftsman-Style home in the Bay Area (California) and now I'm ready to move to the Yucatan to do something similar to what you have done. I'm trying to decide between Merida and Valladolid and would welcome any comments or comparisons. And Janice, if you feel comfortable emailing me at mdgconsulting88@yahoo.com I would really appreciate it if you could give me a ballpark idea of what the property and renovation cost ended up being. Thanks!

  • Donna & Ryan 15 years ago

    I just perused your picasa photo album - Janice, your home is beautiful! Victor and Ingrid are building our house right now, on the beach, and your photo album gets me pumped! I am so glad we chose such a reputable, creative and productive team to build our 'dream home'.

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