When we first moved to Mexico almost a year ago, we didn’t take a lot of time looking around Querétaro before choosing to settle in a privada located in the Sonterra Fraccionamiento, located on the west side of the city.
For the first while, we were thinking we’d made a mistake in taking up residence so far from the city. The drive to get to any significant shops was about 20 minutes, which seemed like a long time. In Calgary, we were just five minutes from major grocery stores and malls. In Sonterra, there are a few small restaurants, a produce store, general store and a bakery (and an OXXO, of course), but not much in the way of large-scale shopping.
Sonterra Fraccionamiento is a large residential development that was started about ten years ago. (Our privada was built in 2013, according to the date stamped in the concrete work.) It was designed as a collection of residential ‘privadas’, or private, gated communities, with basketball courts, soccer pitches, playgrounds, fountains and opened air exercise equipment. All of this
is situated in well maintained public green spaces with abundant flora and over a kilometre of paved walking pathways.
The longer we live in the Sonterra community, the more we appreciate its attributes.
High Security Property
Mexico in general takes property security much more seriously than we see in Canada. True, in Canada we are more likely to see alarm systems and other deterrent methods. Here in Mexico, property crime is the most common type of crime. As a result, nicer properties often utilize highly effective (and often nasty) physical deterrents, including razor wire or broken bottle glass atop walls and high voltage wires.
The entire development of Sonterra has a concrete and brick border wall that surrounds the entire property, protecting all 40+ privadas from easy access to the public. Some sections of the wall feature metal spikes and high voltage barriers on top of the walls. Each of the privadas inside the community has its own walled and gated community, usually containing 40-100 homes.
To say the least, our home inside the Sonterra Fraccionamiento development is very safe. For anyone to reach our front door, they would first have to come through the Sonterra main gates. At that checkpoint, the guard on duty records the license plate number and number of occupants in the vehicle. If he has suspicions the visitors are up to no good, or don’t seem to have a legitimate reason to enter, he can turn them away. As a vehicle leaves, it is checked against the record and ‘signed out’ so it is known that they have exited.
A couple of times now, some of our legitimate visitors have been turned back at the main gate. The guards apparently didn’t like the look of either the Samsung repairmen (who were coming to fix our new washing machine for the third time) or the plumber (who needed to install a pressure pump and admittedly did look a bit dodgy). If the guard won’t let people through, we have to drive to the gate guardhouse to complete paperwork to acknowledge that the people have a legitimate reason for entering the development.
Once the hurdle of the front gate is passed, the visitors have to enter our privada, which is a walled fortress with its own gate, guard house and 24/7 on-duty guard. Anytime visitors are coming, we need to advise the guard in advance to expect them. Even then, the guard (either Hosea or Raul, whichever is on duty), sometimes decides they don’t look quite right. In that case, the visitor sometimes has to call us so we can walk over to the gate to tell the guard they can pass.
Even though the security here can feel a bit heavy-handed at times, it does give us a good feeling knowing that nobody can easily enter.
The Sonterra property features many common areas outside of the closed privadas. These areas have an extensive walking pathway system that covers several kilometers in total distance. The condition of the pathway system is maintained fairly well, although some of the structures, such as the low walls around gardens, sometimes lack for maintenance. In a few places, some of the rockwork and tiles are falling off and need to be cemented back in place. Overall, though, the condition inside Sonterra is far better than the maintenance we see on city streets.
The low quality of the cement used sometimes results in pitted concrete on the pathways. We’ve seen how this work is done, and the methods explain a lot about what goes wrong with the cement batch control! The mixing methods usually involve a pile of cement/sand mixture on the ground and a worker with a shovel who pours some water into the center of the pile. The cement is batched right on the ground with no apparent measuring of any of the materials. After a few years of weathering, the initially smooth pathway starts to look more like exposed aggregate as the weak cement erodes away from the surface.
Among the planted gardens and pathways there are other interesting features. There are a couple of fountains, although these seem to be in poor repair much of the time. The fountain near the main gate hasn’t been operating for months and the water left in the pools provide ideal conditions for mosquito breeding. The system probably requires new equipment, which is expensive.
Public spaces include open air exercise equipment. Some of the equipment seems very odd compared to what might be included in gyms in Canada. There are weird side-to-side leg swinging and forward stride things as well as knobby back massaging devices of doubtful efficacy. Other equipment is
more recognizable, such as the ski simulator, chest and leg presses. Of course, most of this equipment is not well suited for someone as tall as I am. With dimensions so far outside that of the average Mexican, some of the equipment is downright awkward to use. Still, it is nice that it is provided as
one of the perks of living inside the community. Our family tries to use the equipment at least once a week. For me personally, doing so has been helping to keep my otherwise tricky back in reasonable working order.
It is impossible to describe the public grounds inside the Sonterra development without mentioning the flowering trees and bushes. Mexico in general has many more species of flora than Canada, but with the mild winters there is almost always something in bloom, year round. Lots of the plants are familiar from Canada, but not because they grow in the wild. Many things we see growing as trees here in Querétaro often live as small, sickly potted plants in offices and homes.
A couple of noteworthy examples are poinsettia and ficus. Here in the city, poinsettia (called ‘buenas noches’ in Spanish) grow into towering trees covered in the trademark red blooms normally associated with the Christmas season in Canada. Ficus, typically encountered as a small potted tree that drops leaves everywhere in corporate offices, is a common shade tree found along many neighbourhood streets. It grows to over eight meters tall and is often trimmed so the underside is flat and at about head height (for a Mexican).
The concept of preventative maintenance seems to be a foreign concept in Mexico. The concept of ‘good enough’ seems to be carried pretty far here. If something is still functioning, there is no need for maintenance, right? Until something actually breaks down, it is unusual to see any work being done.
Nobody in Mexico is too concerned about labour costs, as workers are cheap to employ. Minimum wage in Querétaro state is $250 pesos per day (currently $17.21 CAD). Lots of labouring jobs would be minimum wage employment. As a result, we frequently will see half a dozen workers chiselling rock or cement with hand tools rather than one worker with a machine doing the same job. Power tools are expensive, whereas manual labour is cheap, plentiful and provides abundant employment.
The lease on our Sonterra property is coming due in a couple of months and we will be needing to make some decisions about what to do next. Where we are now is fine, but a home is a bit cramped and the supplied furniture isn’t comfortable. We’re considering trying a new property, but where that will be is yet to be decided. Given the level of safety and the amenities here in Sonterra, we are thinking that a large place, with our own furniture, might be the best approach.
Living in Mexico has already been an adventure, and we look forward to seeing what the next chapter holds.