I just sank into a huge comfy brown leather chair, easily the most comfortable chair I’ve come across in Mexico. I find myself wishing for a waiter to place a beverage at my side while I watch a big screen with Iron Man or the whatever the most recent Robert Downey Jr. movie is these days.
Instead I’m staring at a poster advertising some blood lab analysis special deals. There is no waiter, definitely no Iron Man, just a nice young woman in teal blue hospital scrubs, tying a tourniquet around my upper arm.
I’m here at the lab to have my blood drawn as part of my midlife DIY one woman HMO strategy here in Mexico.
The simple version is this:
Our new cute apartment is right around the corner from a hospital. We walk by it as we go to the playground where we now work out most mornings.
Prior to our appearance, the playground was usually empty in the mornings. At first, the group of older jardineros (gardeners) in charge of the grounds were suspicious of us as we intruded on their morning break time, which seems to be about 30 minutes of shooting the bull, leaning on a rake. I say “break”, but from what I am not sure, as it seems to precede any work. Maybe warm-up is a better word?
Now that they realize we are not undercover productivity consultants working for Parks and Rec, we all exchange greetings before Sergio and I go off to our shaded corner to start our burpees while they resume their chat.
Sergio notices and admires their homemade dustbins with long handles, made from a corner of a plastic box cut off diagonally and attached to a wooden slat. They use them to gather the small bits of trash collected while raking the sand and gravel.
Sergio loves “repurposing”, which, to many Mexicans, is not a trendy eco-friendly activity, but a practical way to save some pesos. The minimum wage here is less than $5 per DAY, so a $15 Made in China dustbin from WalMart represents a big splurge for these guys, and likely might result in some good natured ribbing from your fellow jardineros.
However, like all Mexicans, the gardeners do have access to national health care, which brings me back to the theme of our story.
On our way to the park we also pass a big lab, sensibly located across from the hospital. It has excellent signage and big banners out front advertising the “paquetes” or special deals - the more tests of your blood you order, the more you save. Throw in a urine test and its quite the bargain.
We stopped by earlier this week to get some information.
Tip: In Mexico, it is still usually best to stop by, in person, for info.
A phone call is second. Relying on the website is a distant third. More like a last resort, really.
The muchacha at the desk told us that we didn’t need an appointment, and that if we came in the morning our results would be available by 4. Same day service! The front counter was strewn with several small flyers detailing each of the paquetes. Prices in pesos, obviously. 100 pesos is about $5 USD right now.
We both just had birthdays, we are due for our physicals, so we decided to have basic blood test done before we go in to see the doctor.
I got into this habit in the US of calling the doctor’s office before my appt. to ask them to order the lab work so I could get it done before hand, and actually discuss the results with my doctor during the appointment.
I don’t want to make time to go the office just to sit on a table and have la Doctora listen to my heart and then tell me to go get my blood tests and come back later.
Yesterday morning we skipped breakfast, my favorite meal, so for me, this is quite a sacrifice. We arrived at the lab. It is in an older building with a spotless waiting area, big windows and a fan blowing the air around.
We go up to the desk and choose our paquete - the basic blood work for glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. It costs $15, which is probably a tad high to be honest. I have seen it advertised for $7.
I add on a thyroid test a la carte. This is an extra $40.
Sergio asks about the prostate blood test, and yes, there’s an app for that. With a bit of marketing flair, it is called the Paquete Padre.
However, his national insurance will cover the cost of that test, he just needs to make the appt and go in. So we decide to wait on that one for a couple of weeks.
There is a large, inviting waiting area with a fish tank in the corner. There are more of the comfy brown chairs here, but here is a moment of irony - I choose to sit in a hard plastic chair.
I’m thinking of germs, the proximity to the hospital, of who might frequent the lab, and how it’s probably easier to sanitize the white plastic chair than the big leather ones.
We wait about 2 minutes, and another young lady calls me into the room to draw the blood. In that room, I have no choice but to sit in the comfy chair, it looks clean enough, so I decide to make the best of it. It occurs to me that maybe the chair is a protection against the possibility of someone fainting and injuring themselves falling off a plastic chair with no arms.
She tells me to make a fist, my vein pops out, she draws the blood and that’s it.
Sergio is up next. He has great veins, too, so we are probably her easiest customers of the day. That and he makes her laugh by hamming it up and acting afraid.
After all the excitement, we decide to walk to breakfast at one of our favorite cafes in La Paz, Maria California.
It is a slow breakfast place, and I want to revisit it because the first time we came, we had an appointment, we had to rush and I felt shortchanged of the experience.
It’s a lovely spot, right across the street from the best AirBnB ever.
The restaurant is on a corner, they have leveraged their location and created a wraparound greenery filled patio of sidewalk seating, with lots of bougainvillea and shade. I took pictures for future reference. You can also see the marina just down the hill, with the blue bay peeking out from behind. They have live acoustic music on the weekends.
The menu starts with 2 pages of juices and includes excellent traditional Mexican breakfasts that emphasize the best of what that means - quality eggs and fresh salsas, and minimizes the less desirable version that usually involves too much grease, tasteless eggs, questionable chorizo, and fried tortillas.
We sit down. Sergio says we must order a juice that includes carrot, orange and beet juice, to help us replace the blood we gave for the test. He is very interested in health stuff like that and has a curious set of beliefs about health and treatment ideas inherited from his grandmother.
He would have made an amazing EMT or nurse in another life. He’s action oriented, not easily fazed and doesn’t need much sleep.
I am impressed with his juice counsel and I agree. Why not?
So, imagine my surprise when the waiter comes by and he orders our juice with a hot chocolate and sweet cornbread chaser.
I say, “That is your post-blood draw breakfast? Hot chocolate and pan de elote?”
He grins and says “Pero mi amor, it's corn!”
Corn, or Maiz, is indigenous to Mexico, and it is practically its own food group here. It was an important part of the pre-hispanic diet and tortillas still serve as basic sustenance in poorer areas.
Even so, corn isn’t exactly a superfood, even when it isn’t wrapped up in sweet batter at topped with caramel sauce and a cherry on top.
I laugh and feel angelic as I order a big salad with tuna for us to split. It’s not that I have anything against hot chocolate and pan de elote, it’s just that somewhere along the way I lost my tolerance for sugar. When I eat too much I don’t feel good at all within about 15 minutes, and the crash lasts for a couple of hours at least.
Later that afternoon, on our way back to our apartment, we stop by to get our results. Sergio looks at the numbers doubtfully and says, “Who is going to explain these to us?”
I say, “Google!”
When we get home, I pull up some search returns and we look at our results. The cholesterol number is not broken out into HDL and LDL, so that’s annoying.
But it also doesn’t matter because the total number is higher than it should be, for both of us. I’m surprised, I’ve never had high cholesterol and my eating habits are not that much different than they have been.
It is also ironic because when I lived in Northern California, I was eating much more meat than I do here; I knew the local producers there and the meat was incredible. In fact, I was eating bacon several times a week then! And now I don’t eat it at all. In general, Sergio is suspicious of eating too much meat and is almost a vegetarian.
But numbers don’t lie, unless they mixed up our results with the portly señor in front of us at the lab.
We discuss the likely suspects for saturated and trans fats in our diet here. A coconut crema paleta several times a week. Somehow fritos jump off the display at the store and insinuate themselves into our cupboard, too. The delicious fresh-made fried flour tortilla chips and / or french fries with a beer a few times a week. Lastly, and probably the biggest issue, is a suite of full fat dairy products, imbibed daily.
The truth hurts, because we found a local small dairy run by an energetic young woman and her family. You can swing buy and buy your fresh milk straight from Bessie in a repurposed plastic bottle. Can I tell you how delish this is?
Now it looks like we'll need to cut way back on la leche, especially this fresh fat bomb version.
In fact, Sergio announces gravely he is giving up butter, sweet breads, and milk.
I know this man, the first two items would be a stretch, the last would never happen.
I say to both of us, “It’s not about giving up. It’s about eating less of those items and replacing them with higher quality alternatives. So, those loaf cakes you buy as “bread” at Chedraui to save money (and have your cake and eat it too) for breakfast? My stash of lime and chile Fritos? No mas amigo.”
The Universe is conspiring to help us. Our first day in our apartment we went to the El Faro cafe and small art gallery, they just opened a new location near us. The owner has been a baker for 30 years. Her breads are some of the only in town, (indeed, in Mexico!) that we have found that don’t have sugar or refined flour.
She uses many ancient grains and bran, even in her treats, which are sweetened with honey or a Mexican version of a mild brown sugar called piloncillo.
She does not sell sweet corn cake with caramel sauce and a cherry on top.
Below are some shots from El Faro.
The woman who waited on us is a retired professor from UNAM in Mexico City. She told us when she arrived in La Paz a few years ago, she weighed about 260 lbs and had health issues. Since then, she has been eating better, including the healthy breads from El Faro, she is more active, lost about 100 lbs and looks and feels much better.
Wow. Do you ever consider how many amazing stories “everyday” people have to tell? With her story as inspiration, Sergio and I will keep tweaking our own habits for the better and keep you posted.
We’d love to hear more about your journey to a healthy balance, too! We are not a health and fitness blog (obviously) but I don't see how we can talk about living your best midlife without some conversation around how we treat our bodies, especially because what we do now really affects the next 20 or even 30 years.
Thank you for reading! I’ll be reporting from Texas and Montana and Tulum the next few weeks. I am not looking forward to leaving my Meximan for a month, but I am looking forward to seeing family - we are celebrating my awesome Dad’s 80th birthday near Houston.
Then I’m heading to Montana for more fam time with my Mom and Tios, including skiing in Whitefish, MT, followed by a trip to Tulum with Jessie before I come back to La Paz before Christmas.
All the while I'll be checking in with work. Is this a big spontaneous trip? No. I planned my November this way from the beginning of 2018.
This is what makes the tradeoffs of having a very simplified home base worth it - I can afford to integrate my dream circuit - mountains to beach and back again, family time, with an urban dose of Houston and Mexico City in the mix, into the last few weeks of the year.
Thanks again for reading, please pass it along if you enjoyed it.
All our best -
Kala and Sergio
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