Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tips for Living in a Mexican Fishing Village without a Bank


When I arrived here in 2007 the road from Calle Doce to Kino had just been widened and paved and not too long before that the first ATM machine had been installed. In the days before the ATM machine the woman at the pharmacy acted as money exchanger, or people went to the bank in Calle Doce.

Off and on Kino has had more than one ATM machine. Two of the machines were blown up, the one by the mayor's office (that one has never been replaced) and the other by the police office which was repaired but has been out of order for a long time now.

The most reliable are the machines at the Pemex but they have the highest ATM rates, around 70 pesos (not including what your bank charges). Those are swipe-card machines which I like because my debit card is my money lifeline and I'd hate to lose it in some plastic-hungry machine. Only once did the Pemex machine screw up by giving me less pesos than requested and recorded on my receipt. I called that Corporate Bastard Bank of America and, no questions asked, they took my word for the error and adjusted my account.

The other machine is by the Red Cross and its ATM rate is around 40 pesos. It's a swallow-your-card machine but so far I've had no problems with it. This is the machine most people use but quite often it is out of service.

The best deal going is the relationship between Banco Santander and that Corporate Bastard Bank of America: No ATM fees and no international use fee. Nada. Zip. It's a real thrill to look at your receipt and see 0 transaction fees. I love that Corporate Bastard Bank of America!

Use pesos when you are here. This town is not yet touristy enough to want mostly dollars. Restaurants like La Palapa and Pargo Rojo will take dollars at close to the exchange rate. Casa Blanca will take your dollars, too, but at the 10:1 rate so you're better off using pesos. The same is true with the little grocery stores; they'll take dollars but I'm not sure they're going to mess with doing the math on 12:1 or 13:1.

The ATM by the Red Cross dispenses mostly 500 peso notes which can be hard to break. I use them when I get gas or at the pharmacy or the Super T Del Mar which seems to be brimming with smaller notes.

I think that's about it except for this word of advice: learn your numbers in Spanish. Most clerks and vendors will tell you the amount in pesos, not dollars. At a grocery store you can look at the cash register to see what you owe but still, learn your numbers!! I have never been given the wrong change but still, learn your numbers just in case someone makes an honest mistake. My head is like a block of cement when learning Spanish but in my journals I wrote out the dates in Spanish and once I got 1 to 31 down, the rest was pretty easy. Still some people will say the amount so fast that I'll be lost and have to ask them to slow down and 500 always confuses me but I do pretty good.

I heatedly disagreed with a friend when she said the guy at the Pemex in Calle Doce should know his numbers in English (this was after she asked for 160 pesos worth of gas in English and he just stared at her like she was speaking a foreign language). First of all, the only non-Spanish speakers who stop at the Pemex in Calle Doce are the gringos headed to or from Kino; it's not like that town has an ex-pat community. Secondly, we're in their country and the burden is on us. So if nothing else learn your numbers up to 100 with that rascally 500 and un mil for 1,000 and you'll be set.

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