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Last year I shared some details regarding how we deal with Snail Mail while living in Mexico.  We chose a virtual mailbox service – Traveling Mailbox, which we’ve now been using for over a year, and it’s been fantastic!

  • It’s super easy to view our mail online, and save or print things that we want to keep.
  • We don’t get any junk mail.
  • I’ve received credit cards, and had them forwarded to me.
  • I’ve received checks, and I’ve been able to deposit them online using my bank’s mobile app.
  • Their online customer service chat has been easy to work with, and they respond quickly.
Usage

I track our usage every month, so that I can gauge if we’re on the right plan.

Traveling Mailbox Usage

I really had no idea how much mail we would be getting, so we started on the Extended Plan, which gives us 100 Incoming Envelopes / Month and  80 Page Scans / Month.

We’re averaging 17 envelope scans and 27 page scans per month.

That’s way less mail than we used to get in the US. Although I bet a fair amount of the mail that we used to get was mostly catalogs and unsolicited junk mail.

Available Plans

Traveling Mailbox Pricing

They allow you to upgrade the plan at any time or downgrade without any penalties.

Looks like it might be time to downgrade to the Basic Plan.

Business Usage

My business partner and I recently switched our business mailing address to Traveling Mailbox as well. We used to have a PO Box for our business – but that required someone to physically drive to the post office to retrieve mail, and then we would scan anything important, and then upload it to our shared Google Drive. Now we’ve elminiated trips to the post office, and everything is already scanned. It’s great!

Summary

We’ve been super happy with Traveling Mailbox, both for personal and for business purposes, and would definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking to simplify dealing with snail mail. It’s especially great for people who travel a lot or live outside of the country.

Affiliate Link Disclosure

Note: the Traveling Mailbox links in this post are my affiliate link, so should you sign up using my link, I do get a small kickback. I think it’s enough to buy a beer. Or maybe two beers down here in Mexico! So if you do sign up, please use my link, which will help keep me well inebriated!

The post How much mail do we get? An update on our Traveling Mailbox Usage appeared first on TexMexExpats.

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During a recent trip to Puebla, we spent a day visiting Cholula. It’s a beautiful town, about 30 minutes outside of Puebla city.

Great Pyramid of Cholula

First stop was the great pyramid of Cholula.

At first glance, the pyramid looks like a hill as most of it is overgrown. The south side of the pyramid has been excavated and there is a network of tunnels inside. On top of the hill is a gorgeous church.  It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the New World, as well as the largest pyramid known to exist in the world today. The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BC through the 9th century AD.

In the tunnels of the pyramid

 Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios

At the top of the pyramid is The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies. It’s a beautiful church with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Pulque

After all the walking around the complex, and to the church at the top and back down again, we stopped off at a little cantina for our first taste of pulque. Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant. It is traditional to central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has the color of milk, a somewhat viscous consistency and a sour yeast-like taste.

For our first time, it was recommended to try it mixed with fruit, so we had a strawberry pulque, which was actually quite refreshing on a hot day.



Church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla

Next stop was a visit to the Church of Santa Maria Tonantzintla. The name Tonantzintla means “place of our little mother”. The name comes from the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the earth mother who became the equivalent of the Virgin Mary when the Spaniards conquered the pre-Hispanic world. This style of architecture is known as indigenous baroque.

San Francisco Acatepec

Another amazing church – this one is covered in tiles made of the famous Puebla talavera.

Cholula Hot Sauce

For the record – Cholula hot sauce is not from Cholula. It’s from Jalisco.

But – fun fact – Cholula was first introduced to the United States in Austin, Texas back in 1989. Cool little Austin tie-in right there!

The post A visit to Cholula appeared first on TexMexExpats.

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Recently we spent a long weekend in Puebla – and we had a great time. It’s such a beautiful city, full of great architecture, amazing food, and the famous talavera pottery.

Where is Puebla?

Puebla is  in east-central Mexico, southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla is easy to get to. You can fly into Mexico City, or directly into Puebla. We took a 2-hour direct flight from Cancun into Puebla.

Stay

We stayed at Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía, which is a boutique hotel just a couple blocks from the town square.

It’s located on Callejon de los Sapos (Alley of the Toads). On the weekends, the street turns into a very cool bazaar full of vendors selling antiques.

Entrance to Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

Callejon de los Sapos (Alley of the Toads)

Interior courtyard of Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

Interior courtyard of Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía

Shop

As you walk around the city, especially on weekends, there’s a ton of markets – jewelry, crafts, antiques, clothes, pottery, food – anything you  want!

Architecture

There’s beautiful buildings and spaces throughout the city. It’s always a surprise seeing what’s behind a wall or gate!

The rooftop patio of McDonald’s offers one of the best views of the zocolo – really!

Eats

Puebla is full of good eats – lots of moles, tacos árabes, cemitas, candies. We barely scratched the surface of the culinary delights of Puebla.

Spit-roasted pork. for Tacos Arabes

Cemitas – huge sandwiches. The bread is the star. That big ass cemita was 50 pesos (about $2.50 US!)

Talavera

Authentic Talavera pottery comes from Puebla, because of the quality of the natural clay found there and the production techniques which go back to the 16th century! Talavera is everywhere – the dishes, tiles on the buildings, planters – it’s gorgeous!

We visited a Talavera factory, learned about the entire process, and watched artisans hand painting the pottery. We ended up buying a set of dinnerware that they’re custom making for us! We should have it in about a month.

Drink

When in Puebla, be sure to check out  La Pasita – the oldest cantina in Puebla.

We tried the house’s namesake pasita, a sweet raisin liqueur that’s served with a cube of salty cheese and a shriveled grape on a toothpick. Tasty!

Photo Ops

La China Poblana

El Mural de los Poblanos Restaurant

Cholula

We also spent a day in  the town of Cholula, which is about 30 minutes from the center of Puebla. That will have to wait until the next post. Stay tuned…

Wrap Up

We completely loved Puebla, and we would definitely love to return. But there are just soooooo many great places to visit in Mexico – no wonder we love living here!

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Recently we had the opportunity to dine at Há restaurant with some friends at the Hotel Xcaret Mexico, which is part of Xcaret, just south of Playa del Carmen.

It was an amazing dinner, and the Xcaret grounds, and the restaurant itself, are gorgeous!

The executive chef of the restaurant is Carlos Gaytán, who is the first Mexican to obtain a Michelin star. He was also on the TV show Top Chef.

Welcome to the experience

Water, Water Everywhere

Há is the Mayan word for water, so it’s no surprise that the restaurant has incorporated water prominently into its decor.

As you walk into the restaurant, the entrance walkway is flanked on either side by jets of water, and you’re walking towards a large flowing, cascading water cyclone (for lack of a better word). Super cool!

Funky Mirrored Ceiling

Dinner

Dinner was a tasting menu – 7 courses, with wine pairings

Tasting Menu

The meal was full of surprises – including lots of “smoke”, bonus plates, and unexpected twists.

Pre-dinner cocktails

Mashed potatoes & chicken – really!

Shrimp sausage appetizers – the “dirt” was an edible cacao mixture

Grouper and a tamal

Very cool presentation - YouTube

Chile Relleno

Duck Breast & Duck Leg Carnitas

Tweezers as a utensil – Por qué no!

Dessert

More dessert!

In addition to the normal menu, we also received a few extras (as our friend Gabriel is friends with the Chef). Midway through the meal, we were invited to the bar, where we watched the bartender mix together fresh fruit and mezcal, and then he poured in some liquid nitrogen, whipped it all together, and produced a refreshing cool treat that was close to a sorbet or a granita – with the delicious mezcal smokiness.

Wines

The wines were all Mexican wines, mostly from the Valle de Guadalupe region.

We had white, red, rose, and dessert wines. My favorite by far was the Madera 5, which was a blend of Cabernet and Sangiovese. I may have to seek that out to try again at home. But, overall, I thought the wine selections could have been better.

Post Dinner

After dinner, Chef Irving stopped by to check in on us again, and of course we needed one more pic in front of that awesome water feature!

And no, I don’t know why we all have clenched fists!

Of course, after a few drinks, you can’t help but put your finger into the water feature!

Ha' restaurant - YouTube

After dinner, we strolled around the grounds a bit, talking in the beauty of the hotel.

Hotel Xcaret Mexico

Hotel Xcaret Mexico

Wrap Up

This was our first time dining at restaurant whose executive chef has a Michelin star – so it was certainly a rare treat. The food was so creative and delicious, the plating was like art, and the service was outstanding.

This was quite a special evening, and we’re so glad that we were able to experience it – and even better that we were able to experience it with great friends!

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I find it funny the questions we get asked abut living here in Mexico. Elizabeth’s Dad has asked us if we see US news stories, or if we can watch US TV. Of course we can! We’re in Mexico, not on Mars! We have the internet.

But there is some truth to the question, as there is some content that is blocked, such as some streaming TV and movies. This is referred to as geo-blocking (or geoblocking). Geoblocking is where access to internet content is restricted based upon the user’s geographical location.

Even though we’re in Mexico, we still have our Amazon Prime (including Amazon Prime Video) subscription, and we also have a Netflix subscription. And we recently wanted to access some Showtime series, so we pay for a Showtime subscription. But, depending on the particular content that we want (movie, TV show, music) – it might be geo-blocked.

Youtube fail

So this is where a VPN can come in handy – as a way to access this content by working around geo-blocks.

What Is a VPN?

VPN is an abbreviation for Virtual Private Network. In short, a VPN secures your internet connection so that the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted and safe from prying eyes.

Defend yourself from data monitoring and eavesdropping

Rather then your computer connecting directly to a website, the traffic is first routed through a VPN server. This will hide where your computer actually is located.

Unblock Websites by hiding your location

For example, my laptop is in Mexico, and when I browse to youtube or showtime, those sites can see that I’m in Mexico. But, when I connect through my VPN, those sites think I’m in the US. And streaming sites (such as Netflix, HBO, Hulu, etc.) change which content they allow you to see depending on your location. And some (such as Showtime) don’t allow you to view anything at all if you’re not in the US.

Benefits of a VPN Encryption –  Defend yourself from data monitoring and eavesdropping

If you use an untrusted network (meaning a network that you don’t own, manage, or trust who manages) – then you should definitely be using a VPN. If you’re using the free wifi from the coffee shop, in the airport, or in the town square – you should be using a VPN. Without a VPN, your data can be sniffed and stolen.

Unblock Websites by hiding your location

As I mentioned earlier, using a VPN can allow you to access streaming content (music, movies, TV) while you’re traveling, and especially when traveling outside the US.

Privacy Protection from my ISP

I’m not familiar with the ISP and privacy protections here in Mexico. It’s hard enough understanding them all in the US. But I do know that the ISPs generally want to know and collect as much information as possible. So a good VPN will help protect your data and activities from your ISP. I think this is extra important here in Mexico.

What Makes for a Good VPN?

When looking for a VPN provider, there’s a number of things to consider:

  • Server locations – Ideally, your VPN provider should have servers located around the world. If you’re concerned about accessing streaming content in your home country, then they should have servers in your home country.
  • Connectivity Protocols – you’ll see terms like SSL, TLS, IPSec/L2TP, PPTP and SOCKS5. Unless you’re super nerdy, likely the secure protocol you want is included. SSL is the most common.
  • Logging – Some VPN providers keep logs on your connections, your browsing and streaming history, and more. Ideally, your VPN provider should not log anything.
  • Speed – When you’re connecting through a VPN, you’re adding another step that your data needs to travel through along the way. This means that using a VPN will always be slower. With a good provider, the amount of slowdown should be negligible and not noticed at all. So be sure your provider has the bandwidth capacity and speeds needed.
  • Support – Proper technical and customer support is super important to me. A good provider will provider 24x7x365 support.
  • Price – as with everything, price is always a consideration. Most of the good VPN providers today have similar prices.
What about Free VPNs?

Yes, there are free VPNs, but remember the old saying – you get what you pay for. Free VPNs need to make money somehow. They will typically log your activities, and will serve up ads. They may also sell your activity data and usage. They also tend to lack proper customer support.

VPN Comparisons

If you want to get super nerdy, check out the Detailed VPN Comparison Chart from That One Privacy Site.

He’s put together a super detailed breakdown of almost 200 different VPN providers. He doesn’t offer any recommendations, only details and comparisons – so you can make your own choice.

My Preferred VPN

After a lot of research, I decided on Private Internet Access. (PIA)

Full disclosure – I do receive a small commissions if you purchase PIA through one of the links on this page.

  • They have server locations around the world, including in the US. They actually have servers in 28 countries.
  • They support the SSL and all the major security protocols
  • No logging. From their FAQ:
    PIA absolutely does not keep any logs, of any kind, period.We can unequivocally state that our company has not and still does not maintain metadata logs regarding when a subscriber accesses the VPN service, how long a subscriber’s use was, and what IP address a subscriber originated from. Moreover, the encryption system does not allow us to view and thus log what IP addresses a subscriber is visiting or has visited.
  • Speed – they have a boatload of servers, and fast Gigabit port speeds. My downloads are slower when connected to the VPN, but not enough that it’s noticeable.
  • Support – 24x7x365 support, online forums, and tons of self-help resources.
  • Price – On a yearly plan, it’s only $3.33 USD per month – and it’s under $3/month if you do a 2-year plan. I find that a very reasonable price to pay. They also have a monthly plan. You can also pay using Bitcoin or Ripple, if you want to be stealth with your transaction.
  • Multi-Device Support – I’ve installed PIA on my Macbook, my Windows laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad – and they’ve all worked flawlessly.

I’ve been using PIA for the past year or so, and I’ve been completely happy with the service.

I use it when connecting on public/free networks, and at home to access streaming content, such as Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, and when using Kodi. While I’m at home, if I don’t specifically need it (such as to access geo-blocked content), then I turn it off, as I rather not incur any bandwidth slowdowns at all if I can help it.

What about my Smart TV?

Many people access their streaming content through apps on their Smart TVs. So how can you use a VPN with your Smart TV?

I haven’t needed to do this myself, but what I’ve learned is that you cannot setup a VPN directly onto a Smart TV.

But, there are a couple of options.

  1. You can setup the VPN on your Windows or Mac computer, and then share the WiFi connection.
    1. How to share your internet connection on Windows
    2. How to share your internet connection on Mac
  2. Setup VPN on the router, so that every device that connects to your router goes through the VPN. This means you don’t need to setup the VPN on each device. But, it typically means that you need to flash the firmware on the router. There are many tutorials for this online – Google’s your friend here. Or buy a router that already has this pre-configured, such as through FlashRouters.com

As I said, I haven’t had to go down this route yet myself, but I may play with these options in the future, and if I do, I’ll post my findings.

Summary

I’ve been using PIA for the past year or so, and I’ve been completely happy with the service.

It’s taken me from this:

whomp-whomp

To this:

Watching Homeland

So if you’re concerned about privacy (which you should be), or just want to access your favorite content regardless of your physical location, a VPN is a good choice – regardless if you use PIA or another vendor.

Affiliate Link Disclosure

Note: the Private Internet Access links in this post are my affiliate link, so should you sign up using my link, I do get a small kickback. I think it’s enough to buy a beer. Or maybe two beers down here in Mexico! So if you do sign up, please use my link, which will help keep me well inebriated! Muchas gracias!

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One would assume it would be easy, in 2018, to simply pay a utility bill online. One would be incorrect. At least in Mexico. CFE (Federal Electricity Commission) is our electric company here in Mexico. Our electric bills are delivered every 2 months here, so over the last 10 months, we’ve paid our bill 5 times. It seems like every time we pay it, it’s with a different method.

Pay Offline – at OXXO

When we first arrived here in Mexico, we simply gave cash to our landlady, and she paid the electric bill. Likely by going to the local convenience store – OXXO. OXXO’s are a chain of convenience stores all across Mexico. It seems like you can do almost anything at OXXO-  buy beer, pay your utility bills, re-charge your debit card, add minutes to your cell phone, etc.

Pay directly online at CFE

Shortly after we moved, I was able to create an account at the CFE site, and I was able to access my bill. It’s actually a decent enough website, and provides historical data, access to your bills, etc. In addition, I could pay my bill online with a credit card. w00t!

’cause I’m all about earning those credit card points!

Success!

It was actually super easy to pay online at the CFE website, and I was able to use one of my US credit cards.

Rejected!

Fast forward two months, and I again try to pay my bill online at the CFE site, but my credit card is rejected.

The message I got was: 02M200005: REJECTED TRANSACTION, TRY WITH ANOTHER CARD

Ouch. I tried with multiple credit cards, MasterCard and Visa – all the same. The word ’round the campfire was that CFE had stopped accepting US-based credit cards. doh! Time for a new plan.

Pay with Xoom

A friend told me I could pay my CFE bill with Xoom. Xoom is actually owned by PayPal, and their primary purpose seems to be making it easy to transfer money to people in other countries, either into a bank account or at a cash pickup location.

In addition, they allow for online bill pay – such as paying your phone bill, gas bill, cable bill, and electric bill.

So for the last few months, I’ve been successfully using Xoom to pay my CFE bill.

Their service charge is $2.99 USD. For me, it’s worth it to pay my bill online with a credit card. It’s convenient, plus I’m all about earning credit card points.

A week ago, I tried to again pay my CFE bill using Xoom, but it seems that they no longer accepted CFE payments.

I reached out to Xoom, and here’s what they had to say:

As you may have learned, we are experiencing a service interruption with transfers going to CFE (Comisión Federal de Electricidad). We are working with our partner to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

We apologize for the inconvenience and will inform you as soon as the service is available again.

Time to change tactics again.

Switch App

Someone on one of our local facebook groups said he had been using the Switch app to pay his CFE bill since last year, but as of this month they also no longer allow bill pay to CFE.

I’m guessing that CFE changed something on their end (from a technical standpoint), and that’s affecting the integrations with Switch and Xoom.

Pagamobil

Another friend (Kim at Run Away Realty here in Puerto Morelos) suggested using the pagamobil app. I downloaded the app and signed up.

Add a payment method

From the home page, click on the Formas de Page icon at the bottom of the app.

Click on the + Agregar metodo de Pago to add either a credit card or enter your PayPal account info. I used a credit card.

Account Validation

From the home page, click on the Mi Cuenta icon. Make sure your personal information is correct (this gets entered during account sign up)

Click on the Verificar Cuenta icon.

From here, you’ll want to :

  • Verificar Correo (verify your email address)
  • Verificar Telefono (verify your mobile phone number)
  • Verificar Identification (verify your ID). I uploaded a copy of my Mexican driver’s license.

Now that all your information is entered, you can pay a bill.

Pay a Bill

Once you’re logged in, from the home page, click on Luz y Gas (Lights & Gas)

click on the Pagar for CFE button

Click on escanea con camera, and take a picture of the barcode on the bottom your CFE bill (which you can get from CFE website).  I tried entering the 12 digit service number manually, but that didn’t work.

Select your form of payment, and submit.

Waiting…

My bill pay seemed to be successful, but it went to an In Process status. I had to wait a couple of days for pagamobil to verify my information and ID.

After 2 days, my bill pay showed as Pago Realizado (payment made).

I logged into the CFE website, but my bill didn’t show as paid.

I waited one more day, and finally the CFE website showed my bill as Pagado (paid)

Pagamobil did charge $55 pesos as a service fee (Comision por servicio)

So, I was finally able to once again pay my CFE bill online. This time it was using the pagamobil app, on my US-based iPhone, using a US-based credit card.

Next Time

In 2 months, when my next electric bill arrives – we’ll see what happens.

I’ll try again to pay directly on the CFE website, but I don’t have high hopes that they’ll accept my US-based credit card.

Hopefully the pagamobil app will still work!

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We were recently interviewed by Todd Nevins for his Go Hunt Life! podcast.

Todd interviews people who have pulled the ripcord on life and have made a big change. It was a fun conversation! And we realized that we have a number of mutual friends with Todd – pretty cool.

Unfortunately, I say “um” about 12,000 times. Dang! I have to work on that.

Check it out – Dodging Goats and Selling it All For a Life Working in and from Mexico 

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Nopales - YouTube

Join Total Health by Elizabeth and Dona Sonia & Chef Marco as they show how to shop for, clean and prepare cactus pads (leaves/paddles).

A few things discussed in the video:
  • How to shop for nopales – what to look for,  what to avoid
  • How to clean and store them
  • How to cook them. If you’d like the recipe in this video, click this link.
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Washing Fruit & Vegies in Mexico - YouTube

Join Total Health by Elizabeth and Dona Sonia & Chef Marco as they show how to make sure that you stay safe and healthy while visiting or living in Mexico.

Covered in this video:
  • Why you want to wash your fruits and vegetables even if you live in the US & Canada
  • Pros & Cons to the different methods: Microdyn, vinegar, bleach
  • Organic vs Conventional produce
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I know I’ve already posted a bunch of pics from San Miguel de Allende, but I can’t help it – the city is beautiful.

Parraquia

The domes remind us of Florence

Fountain

Church

Hand door knockers and pineapple lights

Wedding

One afternoon there was a wedding, All of the guests paraded through the square. There were musicians, dancers, guys on stilts, puppets – it was quite a fiesta!

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