The Weekend Cottage Guest, Oaxacan Style

Think THEY'RE coming back?

“a guest will shower like a novice hooker after her first john has left”

Increasingly return travelers to the City of Oaxaca are opting to extend the duration of their visits from one or two weeks, to months. Some ultimately decide to lay permanent roots. This sociological phenomenon, impacting mainly the baby boomer generation since about the mid-nineties, has spawned a unique quandary which has little if anything directly to do with the movement towards early retirement and economic factors associated therewith. It is in many respects similar to a problem encountered by cottage and country home owners, which the literature has lamented fancifully and almost jokingly, without proposing viable solutions: guests by invitation or otherwise showing up for a weekend (if the owner of the retreat is so lucky), toting a box of candies or bottle of Bordeaux, and then proceeding to eat, drink, party, swim, dirty, use the abode as a base for their own further travel in the event of inclement weather, and then leaving the pooped proprietors, often the Monday evening of a long weekend, to clean up before braving the horrendous traffic back to the city.

Those same visiting friends and family now have it even better, and we, many of whom have sold our Northern getaways (because we couldn’t), opting for a Mexican alternative, are in a much more precarious predicament than ever before. The cost to us has increased exponentially…financially, emotionally and temporally…while ironically there is much less that we can do about it. We can’t subtly suggest they might want to drive home a day early, much less turn them loose in the city, countryside or a craft village with their limited or non-existent Spanish.

A guest will shower like a novice hooker after her first john has left, pushing to the recesses of his mind what he’s read about the Oaxacan shortage of and delivery system issues with water. There are a variety of solutions. Tell him that ordering a pipa of water costs, and the next time you have to do so say you’re short of small bills and request a little loan. Pull a similar trick when you have to pay for propane to make that shower nice and hot. If connected to city water: inform him that 80% of the pipes are broken; ask him to help you clean out the filter; remind him that singing in the shower leads to parasites.

Their foreign cellular phones never seem to work, even though they swear they’ve made arrangements back home. Accordingly, they use our land lines, repeatedly promising that they’ll settle up later on. They don’t understand that we pay per call, and sometimes per call and per minute, and that it costs more to call a local Oaxacan cell phone than to call anywhere in Canada or the USA. Put a change box and a stop watch beside every phone, with a posted list of charges. The more you charge the more they’ll think twice about calling the office, their kids or their third cousins twice removed.

No matter how much mezcal you put out on the bar, or Dutch or Canadian beer you’ve bought on sale and with which you’ve filled the fridge, they’ll search out and find that bottle of single malt scotch that you simply can’t buy anywhere in Oaxaca, or for that matter in Mexico City. So when they email a couple of days before arrival and ask what to bring, don’t say a loaf of good rye bread, a length of weather stripping or a bottle of SHOUT liquid stain remover (all highly sought after in Oaxaca), but rather ask for “just a couple of liter size bottles of Lagavulin 16 year old Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky.” If they say they couldn’t find it at duty free, just say we can run to Sam’s Club, and then choose a mega litre bottle of Don Julio Añejo fine tequila.
No doubt your guests will offer to fill up the car and pay for a few restaurants, and to be fair, some insist on paying for every such expenditure. So when the offer is made, the worst thing you can do is argue or say “don’t be silly.” Let them do it, because at the end of the day you’ll still end up on the short end of the stick. Better yet, simply say “sure!” Maybe they’ll begin to understand. And when the dirty dishes that by now you’ve elected to let stay dirty in the sink, on the counter or in the guest room, leave you with nothing upon which to eat, just say “boy, I guess we better eat out again at that fancy place which you so graciously took us to last night.”

Unless added precautions are taken, some of the previously proposed resolutions won’t work and in fact might backfire. On occasion ATM cards are rejected or eaten, and credit card companies authorize the purchase of only low ticket items. Guess who’s stuck with the restaurant bills and giving the loan? In the same email you send a couple of days before their arrival, remind your guests to confirm with their banks that their withdrawal cards will work in Mexico, to bring along the email address of their home branch just in case, and to alert VISA that they’ll be making purchases out of the country. When they ask in that final email whether to bring travelers’ checks, US dollars or pesos, simply say “lots.”

Many peripheral friends somehow feel the need to visit, even though their histories have been characterized by exclusively beach vacations, and their knowledge of and interest in Oaxaca has been limited at best. No matter how many times we explain to them that we don’t have a pool and that the closest beach is four and a half hours away along not the most pleasant of roads, they still come, spending two minutes at Tule, seconds at San Martín Tilcajete and moments at Monte Albán. After three days of a weeklong vacation there’s little more to do with them, short of driving them to Hierve el Agua, standing by the precipice, and giving a gentle nudge. Alternatively you can ask your friend who works at Hotel San Felipe to do you a little favor by letting them relax by the pool, and eat and drink. This will also resolve the disappearing scotch problem.

The foregoing is an amalgam of dilemmas…a sampling of issues and difficulties which have arisen in Oaxacan households of part and full-time expats. The Northern methods of resolving such matters were, as suggested, relatively easy, and cottage guests appeared much more sensitive to the difficulties the visits created. The catch in Oaxaca, by way of comparison, is rather straightforward. We’re stuck with them until the return flight leaves, and once they’re gone it’s more difficult to settle up financially. The more you’ve acted as gracious hosts, the stronger the likelihood they’ll tell others how wonderfully they’d been treated, oblivious to reality and perpetuating the conundrum. The best solution of all is to post a copy of this article on the inside of their bedroom door, entitling it CHECK OUT TIME.

Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ) ©

Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ) boasts Oaxaca accommodations characterized by quaintness and the personal touch of its hosts, combined with the service and comfort found in quality Oaxaca Mexico hotels. Consider a Oaxaca b & b as an option to a Oaxaca hotel or other Oaxaca lodging style.

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