New apartment tour!

Back in May, we bought an apartment in Roma Norte. Now, just three months later, the apartment is full of furniture and appliances, we have electricity, gas, Internet, and water service, and we added blinds and balcony flooring. And this past week, we added a bed frame, a TV and TV stand, and some chairs and tables for the balcony. It’s interesting to compare the apartment to what it looked like when it was empty, so here’s a new tour video.

New video: Bad behavior

The first video we recorded in Mexico City!

The LA Times published an inflammatory article about Americans who are “flooding” Mexico City and annoying the locals. This story has since been proven to be full of misinformation, but it’s fair to say that Americans and other foreigners are having an impact here. We have some thoughts.

The original article: Californians and Other Americans are Flooding Mexico City: Some Locals Want Them to Go Home

The retort: LA Times Writer Paints Mexico City Residents as Intolerant & Bigoted

New videos, back to CDMX

We posted a video version of Why Mexico to our YouTube channel–you can find the original article here–along with a shorter video, Night and day, that shows the views from our balcony.

Also, I’m excited to say that we’re heading back to Mexico City next week for several days. This is my first trip there since May, when we closed on the apartment, though Steph was out in June with our daughter Kelly and made a lot of progress on the furnishings. I’m hoping to make more progress on this trip: we still need a base for the bed in the main bedroom, some kind of combo bed/couch/futon/whatever for the second bedroom, a TV and TV stand, and other items. But it’s shaping up nicely.

Also, our son Mark will be joining us. This is his second trip to Mexico City and the first time he’ll see the apartment.

More soon!

Making progress

Stephanie is in Mexico City this week with our daughter Kelly, and they have overseen two significant improvements to our apartment: blinds for all the floor-to-ceiling windows and Trex composite decking for the balcony. In this video, we connect on Zoom to discuss everything we’ve added to the apartment across the last two trips and what’s still left to do on future trips. We’ll break down how much it all cost in a future video.

Check out the video on YouTube!

Why Mexico?

The most common question we get from friends, family, and strangers about our new focus on Mexico is why? This has been phrased ambiguously, or even politely. But with a few close friends, it was blunter and more forthright. Are you crazy?

We’re not crazy. But it should come as no surprise, especially by Americans, that Mexico is misunderstood: Mass media and our government both portray Mexico as some kind of Narco-controlled hellhole. If the U.S. State Department were to cast the same critical lens at the United States, with routine mass shootings, even of children, it would recommend that no one visit that country too. But maybe we can arrive at some less sensational middle ground. There are dangerous places everywhere. And we avoid those places, whether they’re in Baltimore, Detroit, or New York City. Or Mexico.

Photoshoot in San Miguel de Allende

But this isn’t about places to avoid. It’s about why we pivoted away from Europe after visiting there for at least one month a year for over 15 years. It’s about why we turned to Mexico. And not just Mexico, but Mexico City specifically. And not just Mexico City, but a specific part of Mexico City, the colonia of Roma Norte. And, I suppose, the apartment we chose, with its nearly perfect location.

This is a complicated story. It’s complicated enough that it will require multiple articles, and multiple videos for that matter. But what I’ll do here is lay out the high-level overview. And then Stephanie and I can expand on this later, over time. And it goes something like this.

Zocalo, Mexico City

I’ve been working from home since the mid-1990s, and my wife joined me over 20 years ago. We’re both writers, and remote workers, and have enjoyed the freedom of working from anywhere for much of our adult lives. But our children kept us rooted in the same home for 15 years: they had friends, and school, and activities, and we didn’t selfishly move around when they were growing up.

We did, however, travel. In 2003, Stephanie and I returned to Europe for the first time in over a decade, and the kids stayed with their grandparents as we toured southern Germany for about 10 days. We then visited Paris in late 2005 and early 2006 thanks to some unbelievable cheap airline sticks. And then we started taking the kids to Europe every summer, starting in 2006, usually for three weeks at a time. We also visited Europe at other times each year, sometimes just the two of us, and sometimes with the kids. We were “the family that travels,” as our daughter Kelly described it early on.

Hot air balloons over Teotihuacán

During this time, Stephanie and I started thinking about a future in which we’d split our time between the U.S. in Europe. This time was always vague, in the distance, and so we never really worked out the details about how that would work, or how we’d even afford it. Maybe there would be more home swaps, at different times of the year, once the kid’s school schedules were no longer the deciding factor. Maybe we could house-sit. Or something.

We loved Europe, and still do, but over time it became obvious that it wasn’t necessarily perfect. The weather in most of western Europe is as extreme as it is in the northeast United States, where we live, with very cold, dark, and often snowy winters, and very hot and humid summers. Ideally, we would split time such that we would avoid the worst weather anywhere. But the bad times in Europe, weather-wise, are the same as they are in our part of the U.S.

Condesa in Mexico City

This problem was driven home in the winter of 2015, when we had over six feet of snow on the ground and the relentless back-to-back snowstorms were so bad that we had to replace our house’s roof and windows that Spring. I had had enough, and I began thinking about how I could orchestrate a future in which I never had to experience a winter like that ever again.

We took a baby step towards that future in 2017 when we moved from the Boston, Massachusetts area to the slightly milder Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. By that time, our son Mark was already in college and Kelly was about to finish her first year of high school. I would never have asked her to move while still in school, but she actually initiated the move, and away we went. This move accomplished a few things. It allowed us to financially downsize. It gave us an extra three weeks of Spring and an extra three weeks of Fall, making winters a bit more bearable. And, most important, it proved that this future we had been thinking about was obtainable: moving out of a house you’ve been in for 15 years is daunting, but we went from decision to move in less than four months. I’m still really proud of that.

Cacti, Zocalo, Mexico City

A few big changes have occurred since we moved to Pennsylvania. First, Kelly graduated from high school and is now in college herself. Mark, our son, has graduated from college, and he lives in Rochester, New York. And the pandemic hit in 2020, ending our annual home swap streak and, worse, any chance of traveling to Europe. And about two decades of regular international travel, 2020 was like getting hit with a brick.

By early 2021, vaccines had arrived and travel was slowly opening up again and so I naturally started researching what we might be able to do. Europe was out of the question, unfortunately. Though it looked like we would be able to go there, we wouldn’t be able to resume home swaps because it looked like the United States wouldn’t allow Europeans into our country. We had contingency plans for a home swap with our friends near Amsterdam, but as the year wore on, it became obvious that would never happen.

Street food in Mexico City: Los Cocuyos

Mexico was among the places I began researching in early 2021. (I also looked at Puerto Rico and Lisbon/Portugal) I wrote about that process in The nudge, but the most interesting thing about Mexico, to me, was that this was a place we had never really considered. We had visited the country two or three times, most recently in Cancun with the kids, but there wasn’t anything particularly compelling about the country.

The thing is, we had only visited places on Mexico’s border with the U.S. or, in the case of Cancun, its coastline. And while neither appealed to us, there’s a lot more to this country, as I discovered in early 2021. And the more I looked at it, the more I realized that Mexico had a lot of the same qualities that we liked about Europe. And, intriguingly, a lot of advantages that Europe lacks.

Rainbow over Mexico City

As with Europe, Mexico offers great diversity, with wonderful urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness areas to explore. It has an incredible food scene that is nothing like the sad “Mexican food” we see in most of the United States. It has a rich history and incredible culture. And there is a surmountable level of difficulty, enough of a difference to our home to make it interesting but not so different that it’s off-putting or difficult to manage.

But Mexico’s advantages over Europe are perhaps more interesting. Where Europe is mostly expensive, Mexico is affordable. Where Europe requires tiring overnight flights spanning 5 or 6 time zones and often with two legs or more, Mexico is an easy 4-to-5 hour non-stop day flight away with just a single time zone change from the U.S. east coast. The climate of the interior of Mexico is consistently mild, with little variation between the seasons, the inspiration for the phrase “eternal Spring,” and a sharp contrast to most of Europe. And the people are universally friendly and accommodating to those from the United States and elsewhere, something we’ve certainly experienced in Europe, but not universally.

Alameda Central, Mexico City

In researching Mexico, I quickly realized that we’d probably want to focus on Mexico City because of its accessibility. It’s the biggest city in the country and has the biggest airport with the most non-stop flights from the U.S. It’s also centrally located, and an ideal base from which to explore the rest of the country. But we still tested this theory when we visited Mexico in 2021 and 2022 by visiting other places, like San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Puebla. Each was interesting in its own right, but also remote, and this only reinforced my preference for Mexico City.

As for Roma Norte, that came out of our January 2022 trip, when we spent two and a half weeks in Mexico City with the specific goal of finding one or colonias—or neighborhoods—on which to focus in the future. We visited several, but Roma Norte—where our Airbnb was located—was by far our favorite. And when the time came for a side trip to Queretaro, I suggested that we simply stay in Roma Norte, and Stephanie agreed. We had found the location we liked and didn’t want to leave.

Tacos from Los Cocuyos

Mexico isn’t perfect, and neither is Mexico City. There is incredible poverty there, and it can be right in your face. And Mexico City is a big city—the biggest city in North America, and bigger than any city in Europe—and it can be loud. Spanish is a requirement, and anyone who believes that they can simply get by speaking English, even in a friendly area like Roma Norte, is out of their minds. We are learning.

But when I compare Mexico City—and Roma Norte in particular—to any place in Europe, it’s clear we made the right decision. We still love Europe, and we hope to visit again and again in the future. But the advantages of Mexico are real, and the disadvantages are surmountable. Roma Norte, for example, is a very safe and relatively quiet oasis in the sea of noise that can be Mexico City. And for now, at least, it seems like we’ve found that place and are setting ourselves up for that future we always envisioned.

We’ll dive deeper into the pros and cons soon.

Free money: How to make the exchange rate work for you

Day to day, it works out just fine to know that the exchange rate is roughly 20 pesos to 1 US dollar. We don’t need to know the exact exchange rate if we’re just buying some Al Pastor tacos or huevos rancheros.

But when we were buying our apartment, we realized that it was important to pay attention to the rate. If it went up from 20 to 21 pesos per dollar, we would effectively save about 5% on the sale price. That adds up to a lot of money. It’s a $12,500 difference on a $250,000 purchase, for example.

Find the company you want to use for wire transfers

I researched a few different companies for transferring money and settled on Wise. Their balance of fees and exchange rates worked out best for us. (Some companies don’t charge fees, but they offer a lower exchange rate, so it ends up costing more.) You can pick a few sites, enter the amount of money you want to transfer, and see what the cost will be.

Set an alert for the rate you want

At first, I was obsessively tracking the exchange rate by refreshing the web page probably 20 times per day. But eventually, I got smarter and set up an email alert for the rate you want. (You can enter your email address at the bottom of this page to get alerted when the exchange rate reaches a threshold you set.)

The exchange rate ranged from 19.44 to 20.68 in this month

I picked a rate of 20.5 pesos per dollar, which was an OK rate for the time period when we needed to move money. We only had a month to watch for a good rate, so we couldn’t hold out for something like the phenomenal 25-plus rates from March and April 2020. You can look at where the rate has been for the past month or six months and figure out what rate you want.

The exchange rate hadn’t reached 20.5, and our closing date for the apartment was approaching. So, I thought I would have to settle for a rate around 19.8. But some of the documentation we needed from the Mexican government to purchase the apartment wasn’t ready, so we had to postpone our trip. But I had a couple more weeks to watch the exchange rate and ended up with an exchange rate of 20.52. (By sheer luck, when we transferred money for the 20% down payment in March, we hit on a 21.17 exchange rate, which was among the best rates in the past year.)

Be patient, but not greedy

Of course, watching the exchange rate feels a little like gambling. I had decided ahead of time that I’d move money at 20.5. But once the rate got there, I questioned myself. What if the rate kept climbing, and I locked in at 20.5 when I could have gotten 21 or higher? Was I being patient, or greedy? In the end, locking in at 20.5 turned out to be the right choice. That was the best rate it reached in the month when we could move money.

Move your dollars to your transfer bank early

One thing almost made me miss out on the exchange rate I wanted. When you send money to Wise via wire transfer, they lock in your rate for what they consider enough time for your bank to send the money to them. There’s more time built in for weekends. In our case, they locked in our rate for 24 hours. But my bank (Ally) can take more than 24 hours to complete a wire transfer. You have to request a transfer before 3 pm on a weekday, they review the request later in the day, and then send the money by 6 pm the following business day. So, I spent the day obsessively watching the accounts to see if the transfer went through and checking the exchange rate to see if it was getting worse.

I figured out later that I could have saved myself some stress. You can hold money at Wise in multiple currencies. So, I could have transferred the money to Wise in dollars and just let it sit there. Then, when the rate was good, and I wanted to move money, I could transfer it right away. Once your money is in your Wise account, rolling it between accounts only takes seconds. And when we made the final payment on the apartment, transferring money from pesos in Wise to pesos in the seller’s account only took a couple of hours. That meant we could get the keys to the apartment that night, not a couple of days later.

Look into what your bank allows for international wire transfers

Here’s something to know about international wire transfers—not all banks treat them the same. We have some money with Citizen’s Bank, and they allow international transfers only in person. The closest branch to us is about 30 minutes away, so that’s not super-convenient. Ally doesn’t allow international transfers at all. But it works with Wise, because Wise uses a Wells Fargo account for US transfers, so you are effectively doing a domestic wire transfer.

We don’t need to follow the exchange rate as much now that we’ve finalized the purchase. But I still keep an eye on it. If the dollar is strong, we can move a few months’ worth of living expenses into pesos so that money will go further when we need it. It’s an easy way to earn an extra 5% or so with almost no effort.

How we got started down this path

It’s interesting how much can change in just one year. But it’s even more interesting when you can precisely document when and how that change occurred. Which is what I just did.

2021 has been a whirlwind. In January, Stephanie and I stayed at an Airbnb in Roma Norte for two and a half weeks, and we visited several of the top neighborhoods in Mexico City with an eye toward future visits. Then, on the last day of our trip, our lives changed: we walked around the corner, saw that the apartment building there was having an open house, and we toured two of the apartments. Then, we flew home, and, within days, we hired someone to represent us there, indicated to the owners that we wanted to purchase a specific apartment, and put down a small deposit. Within a month, we had returned to Mexico City to make a down payment. And then a month and a half later we came back again and closed the transaction. We got the keys that night and started furnishing the apartment. In the span of four months, we went from thinking about spending more time in Mexico City in the future to owning a place.

But we did put ourselves in a position to do this. And we did so the same way we always do things when it comes to planning for the future. It starts with a nudge, some communication from the outside world that causes me to do a bit of research. That research can last hours, days, or weeks, but it usually ends in defeat because it will turn up some information that proves to me that this isn’t the right direction for us. But sometimes that research changes things, and I’ll discuss it with Stephanie. And, if it’s important or good enough, perhaps share with her the newsletter, article, book, video, or whatever it was that sent me—and now us—down this new path.

And that’s what happened with Mexico. In my mind, it all started in early 2021 when something caused me to begin researching Mexico. By this point, we had lived through about a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we believed that we’d be able to travel again that year. And thanks to that pandemic, we had been reassessing things, and thinking about moving forward with some long-discussed but vague plans to start splitting our time between the U.S. and some international destination. Maybe Mexico—a place we had visited but didn’t think much of—could be that place.

“You’re going to think this is crazy,” I recall telling Stephanie once I had done a bit of research. “But I think we need to look into Mexico for the future.” She gave me that look that many Americans give you when you tell them you want to spend time in Mexico. That “are you nuts?” look. “I know,” I continued. “Let me explain.”

And I did explain. And we did visit Mexico in 2021, twice. Once in June, when we stuck to Mexico City for about a week. And once in August, when we came for two weeks and visited San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Mexico City; the kids joined us for the second of those two weeks, in Mexico City. And then we returned again in January 2021 for two and a half weeks. And … well, you know. Our lives changed.

Probably because of this strange and sudden turn of events, I’ve been wondering lately exactly how we got here. That is, what specifically triggered the research that led to the trips that led to the purchasing of an apartment? How did this happen?

And I figured there was no real way to find out. As noted above, I know that I started researching Mexico in early 2021. But I wondered when. And why.

So I looked. And I found the answers.

On January 31, 2021—almost exactly one year to the day when we would walk into the apartment we would buy soon thereafter—I watched three informational videos about Mexico, all by “QRoo Paul” of Two Expats Mexico: Can I afford to live in Mexico on Social Security?, Top 10 Tips for Retiring in Mexico, and Why We Moved to Mexico from the U.S. I also watched a variety of retirement- and finance-related videos (like Roth IRA conversions). And, unrelated, some Dennis Miller standup.

I was surprised that my YouTube history went back that far. But I was also curious about what had triggered this viewing. And I didn’t have to look far: for years, I had subscribed to an email newsletter from Live and Invest Overseas because of our interest in splitting our time between the U.S. and some international destination (probably Europe, originally). And one of their newsletters that week caused me to check out their YouTube channel. And watch several of their videos, among them No More Snow Shoveling: Our TOP 6 RETIREMENT DESTINATIONS to escape winter, Isn’t there a Social Security penalty for retiring overseas?, and Where Should I Retire? Soul Searching is Step 1.

So that was the nudge, what caused me to start my research on YouTube: these videos rated Mexico very highly.

I found other Mexico-centric YouTube channels pretty quickly, of course. And I started buying books. I purchased The Move to Mexico Bible on February 9, 2021, followed by Retirement Secrets of Mexico – Thrive as a couple in safety and comfort for <$25K per year! a week later, and Fodor’s Inside Mexico City, The Fun Side of the Wall: Baby Boomer Retirement in Mexico, and DK Eyewitness Mexico (Travel Guide) in March. I was off to the races. We were off the races.

And in just one year, everything changed. Amazing.

Welcome to our apartment in Mexico City

Our apartment in Mexico City is on the sixth floor of a newly built six-story building in Mexico City’s Roma Norte neighborhood, on the corner of Cordoba and Cualihila. This is the extreme southern border of Roma Norte—the northern boundary of Roma Sur is a block to the south—and towards the neighborhood’s eastern edge.

Location-wise, it’s next to perfect. All of our (current) favorite restaurants, bars, and shops in Roma Norte are short 5-to-15-minute walks away, and the closest Metro stop—Hospital General—is just 7 minutes by foot. You can walk to the desirable Hippodrome area of Condessa in less than 15 minutes as well, opening up a whole new selection of choices. Centro is about 10 minutes by Uber, and we can get to the airport in about 20 minutes.

Roma Norte, Mexico City
Roma Norte, Mexico City

The apartment is small, maybe a bit smaller than we’d hoped for at about 750 square feet. It consists of three main rooms, a combined living space and kitchen, and two bedrooms, and there are two three-quarter bathrooms and a laundry closet. There’s also a long balcony, accessible from both bedrooms, that faces south.

It’s on the top floor of the westernmost of the building’s two towers, but there is a shared space above us that’s open to the air. This space has storage closets for each of the apartments, which are called bodegas, and through a quirk of fate— it’s in the corner—ours is the biggest. We also have one parking space in the basement parking garage, but we’ll never use it as we don’t plan to buy a car.

The apartment building

The building is new, as noted, and constructed of concrete, and it meets the modern standards for being earthquake-proof. The floors in the living space and laundry are marble, but the bedrooms have serviceable faux wood floors.

Having never been inhabited, the apartment was empty when we arrived save for a small kitchen with a surprisingly nice oven in the back corner of the living space and some built-ins in each bedroom.

Thanks to its location, it is the second-most expensive apartment in the building after the two-floor penthouse, at $280,000. By comparison, the apartment on the floor below us, which is otherwise identical, cost $271,000. We considered it, but we like the idea of not having anyone above us. (That said, anyone in the apartment building can use the shared space, of course, with reasonable limits.)

Of course, there’s more money to spend. We need a refrigerator, various kitchen items, a washer (which will go in the laundry), beds, desks, living room furniture, a TV, and various towels, linens, and other items. We have rough ideas about how we’ll use the space when we’re working, which is based on our years of experience doing home swaps. The second bedroom will need to be dual-use as a home office, too, for example.

But we’ll get to all that. For now, we’re just happy to have taken this huge step into the future. The other minor steps will come in time.

What happened

In January 2022, Stephanie and I visited Mexico City for two-and-a-half weeks with one primary goal in mind: find the colonia, or neighborhood, in the city that we would use as a base for future trips. We were pretty sure that Mexico City was the place, so to speak. But we had come up empty on our previous trips—-in June and August 2021, respectively—in part because we had stayed in Centro, the historic center of Mexico City. And so this trip would be different: we had found a terrific Airbnb that was located in one of the more desirable and expat-friendly colonias, Roma Norte.

We told very few people what we were doing. And I’m honestly surprised that only one person asked what the heck we were doing when we started posting photos from the trip to Instagram and Facebook. Sure, there were occasional visits to tourist destinations, and the requisite street food and restaurant meal photos. But our trip must have been puzzling to our friends and family, as most of the pictures were of neighborhood walks from all over the city. Clearly, we were doing research.

It didn’t take us long to realize that Roma Norte was it, but we didn’t voice this to each other until it was time to book a second side-trip outside of Mexico City. We had spent a long weekend in Puebla earlier in the trip and had rough plans to visit Queretaro in a similar manner. But when Stephanie brought this up, I dug in my heels. “I kind of just want to stay here,” I said, noting that we had already found several great restaurants and enjoyed walking the safe streets of Roma Norte at night. Why even leave?

Steph agreed, and that was that. Roma Norte would be our home away from home when we visited Mexico City in the future, and we’d use that as a base to explore the rest of the city, and country. Had that been all we accomplished on that trip, I would have considered it a win, given our past inability to find the right neighborhood. But then it happened.

On our last day in Mexico City on that trip, we had headed over to the airport in the morning to get the COVID tests we’d need to return to the United States. (On previous trips, we’d gotten tested at a hotel, but the airport was less expensive. And we discovered on subsequent trips that there are local places in Roma Norte that are even less expensive.)

After that was done and we had returned to the Airbnb, we weren’t feeling particularly energic, so I offered up an idea: let’s walk down the street and visit the one real estate agency we’d seen in the entire city—they seem to be rare in Mexico City—and find out what we needed to do first should we want to rent or buy an apartment. At that time, this was something that was going to happen down the road, maybe years down the road. But it wouldn’t hurt to get started down that path.

She thought this was a fine idea, so we exited the Airbnb, walked the half-block down to the road where we’d seen the real estate office, and turned the corner. And that’s when our life changed.

The new apartment building on the corner was having an open house. We had walked by this apartment building dozens of times in the past few weeks, but we hadn’t even realized that it wasn’t fully occupied. In fact, the only thing I had remembered about it was that the front stairs seemed kind of steep. But the older gentlemen we met outside—he spoke almost no English, and we spoke only a little Spanish—indicated that we could come inside and take a look. And so we did.

The building consists of 11 apartments, with two towers of 6 stories each, and it had only recently been completed, we learned. In the ground floor office, which would eventually be rented as an apartment, we viewed a model of the building, and the gentlemen, Mauricio, handed me a price sheet listing the available departamentos (apartments). All of them seemed affordable to us, in the $235,000 to $280,000 range, save the penthouse, which occupies the top two floors of one of the towers and has its own rooftop terrace and costs about $485,000. We were never going to buy the penthouse, but he took us there first.

It blew us away. Of course it did. Its rooftop terrace, in particular, is amazing and it offers a panoramic view of the Reforma skyline. It also looks down on the building in which our Airbnb was, and so we took a few pictures of both the skyline and the Airbnb from this unusual vantage point.

I turned to Mauricio and explained, haltingly, that the penthouse was too expensive. Scanning the price sheet he had handed me, I pointed at #601, the only apartment on the sixth floor of the other tower. That one was listed at $280,000, which was a bit more than we wanted to spend, and we weren’t ready to buy anyway. But it would be interesting to see an apartment—a new apartment—in Mexico City that was at least in our price range. Could we see that one?

Of course we could. Mauricio took us over to #601 and let us into the unit. Like the penthouse, it was completely empty, but this one is on one floor, and is smaller, at about 750 square feet. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one off the main bedroom), a large living space with a kitchen area in the corner, a washroom with room for laundry, and a large balcony. We stepped out onto the balcony, which faces south and offers views of buildings and mountains to the southwest. Gorgeous.

Then we walked back down to the temporary office, and my mind was racing. We were absolutely not ready, and I figured we’d plan future trips where we would visit more areas, stay in more Airbnbs, and get a better feel for the neighborhood. Longer term, I thought we would rent first and maybe buy only after were absolutely sure what we wanted to do. But this apartment had thrown a wrench into my brain. Surely my wife would explain, logically, that it was too soon. That we needed to see other places. That we needed more time.

And then we thanked Mauricio, exchanged WhatsApp numbers, and stepped down those really steep front stairs and into the Mexico sunshine. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. And so I asked Stephanie, the voice of wisdom and rationality, what we were going to do next.

“I really want to buy this place,” she said, surprising me. I think she had wanted me to talk her out of it. But I didn’t.

“I do too,” I answered.

And then we did.


Stephanie and I were in an Uber heading to a meeting in Polanco, and we had turned onto Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, with the Museo Nacional de Antropología on our right and the gigantic Bosque de Chapultepec on the left. I had my window open because it was beautiful outside, as it almost always is in Mexico City. And then I heard it, a crazy siren sound that seemed to rise out of the woods rather than a vehicle.

“That sounds like the siren you hear at the beginning of a movie about a zombie apocalypse,” I joked, “and then it flashes forward to two years later and everyone is dead.”

When we arrived at the office for our meeting, we ended up having to wait for a while, and our attention turned to a TV in the waiting area that was broadcasting news about an earthquake that was happening somewhere in Mexico. We had never been in an earthquake, but we knew they were fairly common in the center of Mexico, and in Mexico City in particular. And so we paid a bit more attention to the news than we might have otherwise. The footage showed people standing outside in the streets, but it didn’t seem like anyone had been hurt or any property had been damaged.

When the other people arrived for the meeting, they pointed to the TV news coverage, and so I asked them if they knew where the earthquake had hit. I didn’t know enough Spanish to understand the location from the TV, but something I had heard made me believe that it had happened in Oaxaca, which isn’t that far from Mexico City. Maybe there would be aftershocks.

That happened here, I was told. It had hit when they were driving to the meeting.

Which meant that it had hit when Stephanie and I were driving to the meeting, in the Uber. And that explained the siren. It was an earthquake warning.

But we hadn’t even felt it.

When I asked about that, I learned that’s the case with most earthquakes. And that when you hear that siren, you should head outside immediately, just in case.

And that was how we experienced our first Mexico City earthquake. Hopefully, they’ll always be that uneventful.