Sunday, December 7, 2014

Things are different here!

For those of you reading these words in a cold northern climate at this time of year, it may sound superfluous for me to say that things are different here in the Baja compared to western Canada, where I spent most of my life before settling here.  Particularly when winter weather, in much of North America, has arrived with a vengeance even before that season has officially begun!  So pardon me, but, THINGS ARE DIFFERENT HERE IN MEXICO, and I don't just mean the weather!   

Let me backtrack a bit.  I was at a loss for what the Blog topic was going to be this week (an event that I had previously thought I would write about didn't work out) and so I was thinking about possible topics while I went about getting a number of things done on a day off from the Office.  As I went about my "to do" list, the idea began to form that the day's activities would provide a glimpse into how doing a number of fairly mundane activities is different here in Mexico than wherever we may have come from and how things are done there.

Banking in Mexico can be a challenge for many of the ex-pat community, particularly those of us
whose Spanish is limited, but beyond the language there are different customs and regulations that apply here which makes navigating the system even more difficult for many Foreigners.  A reality that is further complicated by the ever increasing security requirements around international money transfers everywhere in the world.  For this reason, many of us, as well as a large number of Mexicans, use ATMs whenever possible, but that too has become more challenging recently when we lost one of the two Banking Companies that serviced the Loreto area and now there are only a couple of locations where we can access a "money machine", other than at the one remaining Bank Branch in town.

So with this as the background, I recently went to the Bank and waited for one of the two people who speak English there to set up online access to my bank accounts, a necessary first step before I could do transfers from my account to another third party account.  I wanted to be able to do this because I am now making a regular monthly payment into another account and being able to do it online saves me driving 30 km round trip into town, and then often waiting in line for up to an hour to make the transfer in person at the brick and mortar Bank.  

Under the impression that I had already set up my online access, it was now time to try to make my first transfer and so my first task of the day was to try going to the Bank website (on which most of the necessary instructions are in Spanish) and do the transaction.  Unfortunately, it didn't go well.  In fact, due to my confusion with the necessary procedures and uncertainty over passwords, it wasn't too long before my repeated and unsuccessful attempts to gain access resulted in my account being blocked and receiving the message (in Spanish) that I would have to go back to the Branch to re-establish access.  So much for the convenience of online banking!

Faced with the need to go into town to the Bank again, I got myself organized to do some other errands while I was there.  That entailed preparing "crib sheets" of the necessary information in Spanish for some of the things I was going to do, using my reasonably reliable new best friend - Google Translate.  I wrote earlier this Season about my written Spanish responses to the inevitable questions asked at the Federal Checkpoints on my drives north and south, and how well they worked,  and this is the same idea, except I write out questions or requests that I have translated into Spanish when the language requirements are beyond my own limited (but improving) vocabulary.

Now prepared with my crib sheets and banking files in hand, I headed into town, stopping first at a Ferreteria (hardware store) where I wanted a 3 prong extension cord, some muriatic acid and distilled water (trust me, it's too complicated to explain!).  But after parking the car in front of the store, I was stopped on my way in by the driver of the truck I had parked behind, who I knew vaguely, and who had apparently recognized me as working for Nellie in Loreto Bay, someone he had been trying to get in touch with.  After his explanation (in English) I was able to give him her phone number and carry on with my errand in the store - which I mention only because the small town coincidence of this chance meeting is one of the other differences I find here in Loreto.

After a successful completion to the hardware shopping, I continued into "downtown" Loreto and made my way to the Bank, where first I used my Mexican debit card to withdraw some pesos from my account at the ATM, and then went into the Branch itself where I was pleased to see that the line-up was only 6 or 8 people long.  When I made it up to the Cashier I handed him my first note requesting the transfer of funds into another account - but as soon as he read it he told me (in Spanish) there was a problem with the account number I wanted to transfer into. 

Fortunately, I was able to use my cell phone to call someone and get the correct number and was then able to make the transfer.  When that was completed I handed him a second note requesting a replacement for my debit card which had begun to split, (possibly due to excessive use?), after the Cashier had inspected the card and confirmed its damaged condition.  He then began a multi-step procedure that required inputting a surprising amount of data into his terminal, printing out several signature slips for me to sign, disappearing into a back room and returning with an envelope, inputting more data, and then making a phone call to someone followed by a several minute conversation, and eventually he presented me with my brand new debit card!

But I wasn't finished yet, I then took a seat in the waiting area until the Bank Manager, who is one of perhaps two people working there who speaks fluent English, and with whom I have done most of my banking set-up in the past, came out of his Office, saw me, and waved me in to take a seat.  I explained being blocked out of my online access and he proceeded to reset the account, confirm the correct PIN number and reset my password, following which he walked me through the sign in procedure online - which I took (hopefully) complete notes of for future reference.
After thanking him for straightening things out for me I left the Bank and made a few more stops including another first for me in Loreto - getting a blood test!  My Doctor in Canada had asked that I get blood work done while I was down here and send him the results, so I went to the large Medical building that was across from my Dentist's Office, where I had seen a sign that there was a Medical Lab and walked in to the small reception room.  I handed the appropriate note to the person at the desk, who didn't speak English, and she signaled another woman in a back room who joined us and re-read my note.  She quickly confirmed that they could do the required test and after entering some data into their computer, took me into another room where she expertly drew a vial of my blood and I returned with her to the desk where a receipt was printed out for $350 pesos (less than $30 US) and told me that I could pick up the results the next day.  When I asked about their hours later in the week, she offered to email me the results, which I received with a scan of the test document the next afternoon.

As I drove away from the Lab and headed back to Loreto Bay I considered how long it would have taken me to get that test done back in Canada, which would have required usually up to an hour's wait, or perhaps less if I had booked an appointment ahead of time, but here I was the only "customer", I was in and out again in less than 10 minutes and they were going to email the results directly to me - not bad for a "second world" medical system!  Which brings me to the conclusion that while some things are much more complicated and time consuming here, others are surprisingly straightforward and efficient, but in either case the truth remains - things are different when you are "Living Loreto"!