Leslie saw this on a bumper sticker last week, and they are words to live by if you’re a retired ex-pat living in Mexico: Carpe mañana! Latin mixed with Spanish, but hey — that says it all.
No, we’re not going to put that bumper sticker on our “new” car, which is a 2013 Honda CR-V, black with beige leather interior. We opted for a used car because Leslie didn’t want to cry when we got our first “ding.” And if you’ve seen our photos of the narrow cobblestone Ajijic Centro streets in previous posts, you know it’s just a matter of time. Actually, the most dents and dings occur in the Wal-Mart and Super Lake parking lots. A photo was promised, so here it is.
Leslie and I survived Fat Tuesday, which is called Carnaval here in Mexico rather than Mardi Gras. There are small parades leading up to Shrove Tuesday — as it’s known in the Anglican tradition — and a big parade on that day with elaborate floats and people dressed in outlandish get-ups. Rather than throwing beads, people in the Ajijic parades douse the crowd with flour and smash confetti-filled eggs on people’s heads. Leslie and I are familiar with these cascarones (cask-ah-ROAN-ez) from our time in San Antonio, Texas. It’s been a week since Carnaval and you can still see confetti in Ajijic’s main street and main plaza.
Check this link to the Ajijic News website for details about Ajijic celebrations from New Year’s Day through Easter. Carnaval is about halfway down.
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church celebrates Shrove Tuesday each year with a pancake supper: pancakes, sausage links and applesauce served at 5 p.m. in the church garden. This year, I volunteered to flip pancakes while Leslie helped serve. She also contributed her famous raspberry sauce. The church kitchen has two stoves. With cast iron griddles attached to both, my friend John and I turned out enough pancakes to feed about 50 people — and the raspberry sauce was a huge hit. One of the Social & Hospitality Committee ladies claimed she saw at least one person licking their plate!
Finally, we’ve started the process to have our household goods moved here from the storage locker in Lisle, Ill. Move-in date for the house in Riviera Alta is May 1. More on that to come.
Leslie and I are officially no longer vagabonds. We recently signed a one-year lease on a new home in the Riviera Alta neighborhood of Ajijic. We’re in the process of moving all our furniture and household goods from a storage locker in Lisle, Ill., for a May 1 move-in. And we bought a car! A 2013 Honda CR-V, black with beige leather interior. Photos next post.
February has been a busy month, as you can see. But we’ve also been busy having lots of fun. We attended four concerts in the Northern Lights series, also known as Festival de Febrero. Most of the concerts in the two-week series are classical, but there is some jazz also. Proceeds from ticket sales go primarily to support aspiring young Mexican musicians. Here’s a brief video of pianist David Fung performing with the festival chamber orchestra:
Fung has performed with a variety of outstanding orchestras in the U.S., Europe and Asia, including the Cleveland Orchestra. He’s on the faculty at the University of Georgia. There were several other soloists, most of whom have been appearing annually at the festival and are crowd favorites.
One concert, called “Rising Stars,” featured a string quartet of young Mexican musicians, some of whom were part of the inaugural Festival del Lago Academy of Music in August 2018. We learned that the two-week academy was a big success, with 37 international students learning from 10 faculty members. Twelve of the students were from right here in the state of Jalisco, while another dozen were from other parts of Mexico. Thirteen came from places like South Korea, Iceland and Holland. Faculty members were from Canada and the U.S., as well as European nations.
We also attended (on my birthday) Show Stoppers, a twice-yearly effort by Los Cantantes del Lago, a choral group led by Tim Welch, who we know as the excellent choir director at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. Performers entertained a sold-out crowd with tunes from “Cabaret,” “Hello Dolly” and “Call Me Madam,” as well as other pop songs. This was the 18th edition of this popular event.
Here’s a brief video of Wanda White, Jacqueline Collin and Donna Houghton singing “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” which some of you may remember as a hit by the Everly Brothers. Wanda (left) sings in the St. Andrew’s choir:
And there was non-musical fun and learning. Leslie and I attended a class at The Lake Chapala Society on “Mexican Manners.” It was taught by Leslie’s Spanish teacher, Alfredo, who is director of education at LCS. He explained how to greet our Mexican neighbors at different times of the day, what to do in a variety of situations interacting with them, and some tips on using the right words in Spanish.
We plan on taking more classes at The Lake Chapala Society. There‘s onecomingup on local fermented beverages. We just might try that one!
More to come soon, as we get the ball rolling for the move to Andalusia 3 in Riviera Alta.
Apologies. It’s been awhile since the last post, but there hasn’t been much to report until this past week or two. Now we’re very busy and getting things done!
The big news first: We may have found our new home! A few days ago Leslie and I looked at a new 3-bedroom, 3-bath home in Riviera Alta, one of our favorite communities in the Lake Chapala area. It has a great view of the lake to the south and the mountains to the north and west, so we’ll see amazing sunsets. It’s outside the central village of Ajijic so it’ll be a bit quieter, and some Canadian friends from church live right down the hill. Best of all, it’s unfurnished so we can bring all our furniture and household goods to Ajijic. We expect to sign a one-year lease next week, so nothing’s definite until then. More as things start to happen, but we are excited.
Leslie had a major role in the annual Italian Dinner fundraiser at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church on Feb. 1. She made her authentic Italian sauce, which is Stephanie’s favorite, for the featured lasagna. Not only did Leslie get a round of applause at the dinner, but one person spoke up Sunday morning during “parish time” after the service. This person was thrilled to have had a gluten-free vegetarian version of the lasagna and raved about how good it was. For everybody else, there were meatballs and Italian sausage. We learned Tuesday morning at the organic market that our friend Gregor, the sausage king of Lake Chapala, sold some Italian sausage to people who enjoyed the dinner so much they wanted to buy some. No, we didn’t get a commission.
The dinner was a big success, both in being a treat for taste buds and in raising funds for special projects around the church. Leslie and several other women on the Social and Hospitality Committee worked on the meal for three days straight. There was some leftover lasagna, which several people happily purchased to take home — that’s para llevar (PAR-ah yeah-VAHR) in Spanish.
I managed to stay out of the way by helping my friend Al tend bar, which is an important job! It was easy, though. We sold wine, beer, soda and water. The hard part for me was making change but I don’t think I shorted anybody. Wine, 40 pesos ($2 USD). Beer 25 pesos. Bottled water 10 pesos. I think Al said we went through almost 20 bottles of wine!
The Mexican fuel crisis, which you may have heard about, seems to be over. It reminded me of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo that created shortages and long lines at U.S. gas stations. This gas shortage was caused by the Mexican government’s attempt to stop the theft of gasoline. For years, thieves have siphoned gas — lots of it — from government-owned pipelines, then sold it to the gas stations at a lower price than Pemex charged. It’s been going on for a long time, but new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as “AMLO”) is trying to root out corruption.
I shot this brief video of a line at the Pemex (the government-run oil company) station on Ajijic’s carretera (main road) about two weeks ago. I was eastbound at the time. You can see the line on the other side of the westbound lane of traffic. It’s a little hard to see until there’s a break in traffic, but there are probably 20 to 30 cars waiting. Here it is:
This is a very short line, comparatively. About a week before I shot this, I waited 45 minutes in line at the BP station on the libramiento (bypass). By the time I got to the pump, they only had premium and I could get just 500 pesos worth (about $26 USD). That gave me half a tank, but I continued to look for opportunities to fill up. One day when I was taking Leslie to a friend’s house, we noticed the BP station west of Ajijic was pumping. And there weren’t even 10 cars in line. Then we saw a tanker truck at the Pemex station just down the road and I knew I was in luck. On my way back home, I pulled into the Pemex station with only two cars ahead of me.
The traffic is horrible here and the roads are bad, so this added insult to injury. But if this is the biggest problem we have — well, we can have a glass of wine and watch the sunset! Even if January was fraught with the gas crisis, the Lakeside Weather website shows the lowest overnight low temperature so far in 2019 is 54.1°F. and the daytime high so far this year is 78.8°F. To our friends in the Chicago area: Come on down! If you just want to feel cold, we’ll use the Celsius scale and say it’s 25° (77° F.).
Finally, we’re both working on our Spanish and looking forward to the Northern Lights Festival, which begins this week. It’s a series of classical music concerts by talented young performers from around the world. We bought tickets for four concerts. More on that next time.
Leslie and I picked up our residentepermanente, or permanent resident, cards yesterday from the Instituto Nacional Migratión office in Chapala. In the U.S., we call those “green cards.” Here, they’re called visas, and strangely enough they really are light green! Now we can sign up for health benefits available to people over 60, and we can get a Mexican driver’s license.
Next up is buying a car, and we have a lead on a good one but the owner won’t be back in Ajijic until the end of the month. No rush.
We’re both getting more involved at St. Andrews Anglican Church. Leslie is a rising star on the Social and Hospitality Committee and enjoys the monthly Book Club meetings. I’ve agreed to help run the sound system for Sunday morning services (it’s not complicated), and I’m getting more involved with the men’s group called The Company of Gentlemen. Leslie has started a new Spanish class, and I’m still working on my skills. I have a decent vocabulary, but I need more practice in putting sentences together and understanding Spanish speakers. I can make myself understood — mostly. Google Translate helps.
Más mariachi! Last weekend, we walked down to the Lake Chapala Society for a concert featuring two groups from the U.S. that play Mexican music: Mariachi Estrellas de Chula Vista from San Diego, and Grupo Bella from the Los Angeles area. It was a great concert.
Here are a couple of short videos. The first is the (almost) all-female Grupo Bella. Their leader has done a lot of research into Mexican culture and music, and she shared some of her insights with the sold-out crowd. The second video clip is the group from San Diego, which I thought had flashier costumes.
First, please open this link for a Happy New Year gift for everybody. It’s a YouTube video of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed by an award-winning all-female mariachi band from right here in the state of Jalisco. They’re very good. Runs about six minutes. All traditional mariachi instruments, plus a non-traditional piano. Enjoy!
Speaking of Jalisco, did you know that tequila is only made here in Jalisco (and just a few places in some nearby states)? On the day after Christmas, Leslie, Stephanie and I went with a small group to a boutique tequila distillery just outside the village of Tequila, about 90 minutes northwest of the Lake Chapala area. We learned a great deal about tequila-making, and we tasted 10 or 12 different tequilas. Then we spent some time in Tequila itself, where Stephanie had a great idea: “Shouldn’t we drink a margarita in Tequila?” Well, the answer was yes, so we closed our day with margaritas at the Jose Cuervo gift shop and bar.
I found a very good explanation of tequila-making on a website called The Spruce Eats. There’s also a Wikipedia page that offers much more detail, if you’re interested.
Our excellent guide, Javier, started us out in the agave fields at Tequila Selecto, a small distillery that makes many different kinds of tequila. We learned that it takes seven years of growth before an agave plant can be harvested. During that time, the plant shoots out rhizomes that are removed from the mother plant and transplanted in another field. Javier said the agave plant, “makes little kids.”
Harvesting the plant entails chopping the leaves off and digging up the ball, called a “pineapple” because — well, it looks like a pineapple. He then walked us through the process of roasting the pineapple, fermenting and distilling the liquor. Some tequilas are distilled twice, and some even three times.
There are several different kinds of tequila. Javier said the white tequila, also known as blanco or silver, is his favorite. Silver is not aged. It goes straight from distilling to the bottle. Reposado is aged in oak barrels from three months to a year. It’s a slightly darker color and tastes more oaky. Añejo is aged from one to three years and is even darker and smoother. There’s also an extra-Añejo that can be aged up to 10 years, and a crystallino, which is aged tequila with the coloring removed.
According to Javier, you should only buy tequila that is labelled “100 percent agave.” Tequila is made from the blue agave plant. There are other types of agave, but they are used to make other liquors, such as mezcal. He also gently chided North Americans who “do tequila shots.” He said, “That’s not how you drink tequila. You sip tequila.” When you have really good tequila, sip it neat. No rocks. No salt. No lime.
So what’s the besttequila? Javier had the answer, and it was the best piece of advice he offered: “The best tequila is the one you like.” Of course, that means you must “do your homework.”
After lunch in an open-air restaurant overlooking the beautiful Sierra Madre Mountains, we went into Tequila for some free time. The biggest tequila producers are in Tequila, including Jose Cuervo, Sauza and Patron. However, Javier says bigger isn’t always better. He recommends trying a few of the less-well-known brands. Quite a few of our tour group left with bottles from Tequila Selecto.
If you come to visit us here in Ajijic and are so inclined, we’ll be happy to accompany you on the tequila tour! But be sure to check your luggage so you can take a bottle home. You can’t have liquids in a carry-on.
As this year ends and we look forward to 2019, Leslie and I are focused on finding a long-term rental property we’ll be happy with for years to come, and learning more Spanish. Stay tuned!
My closing last time included Prospero Año Nuevo, or “Prosperous New Year.” But today the locals are greeting us with a simple, Feliz Año! It’s always good to do as the locals do, so Leslie and I wish you a happy year!
It’s time to wish everybody a Merry Christmas! Only this year I’m doing it in Spanish, since we live in Mexico now. As an added bonus, I will not include a video of me singing the José Feliciano song. You’re welcome.
Leslie and I are still in temporary housing, so we debated about how to decorate for Christmas this year. We thought about a live tree, and we checked Costco in Guadalajara for a “permanent” tree. Then we attended an arts and crafts fair one Saturday afternoon at The Lake Chapala Society and found two gems, both from the same vendor.
Our front door is now adorned with a cornhusk wreath, and inside we have a “decorated” green cornhusk Christmas tree. By next Christmas we expect to be in our long-term home, so we can bring these back out and add to them.
Our daughter, Stephanie, is coming to Ajijic for Christmas this year. She’s thrilled to be on a plane for a few hours instead of the full 24 hours it took her to get to Malta two years ago. We’re taking her on a tour of Tequila, Mexico. That’s right — there’s a town called Tequila, and we expect to visit at least one tequila distillery for some tastings. This much we know: If it’s not distilled in the state of Jalisco, it’s technically not tequila. More on that in the next post. If this tour works out well, all our visitors can expect a trip to this town, one of Mexico’s “Magical Cities.” Need any more incentive to come down?
UPDATE: We visited the immigration office in Chapala last week to provide photographs and fingerprints. That’s the last step before receiving our permanent resident cards. Good news is, that means our applications have been approved. Bad news is, we’ll have to wait until January to get the actual cards. Stay tuned!
This first month in our new home has been fraught with illness and the pains of settling in. But Leslie and I have kicked our colds and are both healthy now. We’ve accomplished our biggest goal — getting the paperwork started for our permanent resident cards. Just two more steps to go. We hope to have our cards before Christmas.
This is a busy time in Ajijic — it’s party central until the end of the year. For example, recently we went to the annual Feria Maestros del Arte in nearby Chapala. It’s more than just an art show, it’s a celebration of more than 80 highly talented Mexican artists in a variety of fields: pottery, textiles, baskets, jewelry, etc. It’s a way for artisans to sell their work, but it also raises awareness about the nature of Mexican folk art. The artists use local materials in their art, using techniques that have been handed down through many generations. The Feria is about saving this art and helping the artisans.
Following Día de los Muertos is Día de Revolucion on Nov. 20. This celebrates the 1910 revolution that toppled Army general Porfirio Diaz and brought democracy to Mexico. We missed the parade. On Nov. 21, a fiesta began in honor of St. Andrew the Apostle, the city’s patron saint. We heard some of the late-night partying and wandered through a bazaar set up on the malecon (boardwalk). Then I happened upon some locals in the main square one afternoon where a band was playing (fairly well) and a guy was singing (pretty badly). There were several caballeros (people on horseback) watching. One man’s white horse was dancing to the music, but no humans were.
The San Andres Fiesta lasts until the end of the month. Every day there are bands playing, church bells ringing and cohetes (bottle rockets) going off at all hours to announce masses being held in local churches. There are several parades, too. We can hear band music at 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., as well as during the day. Streets around the main square are blocked by carnival rides and food stands. One of our new friends here told us that when November ends, then the locals start celebrating Christmas. These are apparently two very noisy months!
Leslie and I are trying to establish some routines in our new home. She’s already involved in the book group that meets monthly at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, and I plan to attend the monthly men’s group lunch later this week. We’re looking forward to a pot-luck dinner and Christmas carol singing event on Dec. 7. We had dinner with new friends Carol and David, and they invited us to join an already big group at their home for Thanksgiving dinner. There were nine in all, and the food was fantastic.
We’ve also signed up for the “Introduction to Lakeside” class offered by The Lake Chapala Society on Dec. 13. We attended the class last year when we were here for six weeks, but going through it again — now that we’re full-fledged LCS members — will get us updated on banking, health care, housing, traffic and other important topics.
Oh, and while the Chicago area endures its first big snowstorm of the season, Leslie and I enjoyed a glass of wine and some charcuterie on our patio yesterday while we watched the sunset wearing T-shirts. It was about 75° F. It’s not perfect, though. A few weeks ago the daytime highs were around 68° and unusually windy. The forecast for the coming week calls for some rain and a couple of days in the mid-60s. It’s in the low-50s around sunrise when I go out for my daily jog on the malecon, so I just toss on a sweatshirt and I’m fine.
Leslie and I arrived safely in our new home about a week ago, right in the middle of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. We like this Mexican tradition. It’s far better than what Halloween has become in the U.S. There’s a fun element to this three-day holiday, but much of it is sacred. The link above takes you to a very good National Geographic piece, and there’s more in this link to Trip Savvy. I encourage you to learn more.
Even though we were sharing a bad cold, we walked through the Día de los Muertos displays in Ajijic’s central plaza. Families set up altars to honor deceased relatives, and organizations like the Lake Chapala Society also participate. Most of the altars are made with dried flowers — primarily marigolds — so they look a little like Rose Parade floats. And everywhere you see the iconic skeletal character Catrina. Even the gringos get their faces painted to look like Catrina. We saw one woman with full Catrina make-up. She even put make-up on her dog, who seemed to enjoy the attention he got!
There are many other events here, such as parades and an outdoor screening of the movie “Coco.” Illness kept us from participating, but we’re looking forward to next year!
We like our new place. It’s a townhome on the west side of downtown Ajijic, a short walk to the lake, to the central plaza, and to many of our favorite restaurants and shops. This is new construction. We are the first residents, so we’ve found a few little glitches that our property manager is fixing. We’ve found it’s also much quieter here than where we lived last year. We have yet to hear any bottle rockets going off at 5 a.m.
Yesterday we went to the immigration office in nearby Chapala to start the second part of the process to get our permanent resident cards. More paperwork to fill out, more ID-style photos to take and more money to pay. It shouldn’t take us long to pull everything together, but we’ve heard it can take several weeks to get our cards. When you live in Mexico, it’s very important to be patient!
Leslie and I went to church Sunday at St. Andrews Anglican, and we were welcomed back. We saw some familiar faces and met several new friends. The greeter even helped us find our old name tags from last year. They knew we’d be back!
We’ve also been to the weekly Wednesday street market, known as the tianguis. We can walk there easily, but walking back home with a load of fruits and veggies is not so easy. Fortunately, parking is adequate. Next week, we’ll hit the organic market on Tuesday, and a new Monday market we just learned about last weekend.
So we’ve begun the third year of The Vagabond Retirees, but we plan to stay in Ajijic for that entire year, and possibly longer. Stayed tuned, there’s more to come…
The vagabond years are over. Leslie and I are headed for our new home — Ajijic, Mexico. As the temperatures dropped here in Chicago’s western suburbs over the past few weeks, we have enjoyed seeing the beautiful fall colors. However, we didn’t expect to see snow flurries. It’s a sure sign we stayed in the Frozen North too long!
We’ve been in the U.S. since mid-July, and we’ve accomplished a lot. For example, Leslie has excellent vision now, thanks to Dr. Lafayette’s cataract surgery, and she was able to spend quality time with her two sisters and daughter Stephanie. The best thing about being here so long is that we were able to have great breakfasts, lunches and dinners, some at old “favorite” places, with our many friends in the western suburbs. And we can both hit the road with excellent haircuts! Thanks, Traci!
We also enjoyed worshipping with our friends at Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville, where Director of Music Dan Wagner has begun a monthly Evensong. If you like great choral music, you will love the Grace Evensong series. And we had a ball visiting The Morton Arboretum in Lisle to see the trolls. If you live in Chicagoland — or if you plan to visit here — you gotta go see the trolls! (See big photos below.) This terrific, slightly quirky, display of art will be at the Arboretum until the end of 2018 and possibly longer.
People who learn of our plans often ask, “When are you coming back?” We’ve been approved for Permanent Resident status in Mexico, so we don’t expect to come back! We may return to the U.S. for a two-week vacation next summer to see family and friends. We might also vacation in Europe. Realistically, though, we’ll remain at least one full year in Ajijic and evaluate after we’ve experienced all the seasons.
Many of you have asked if the blog will continue. Definitely, yes! And I hope you’ll continue to follow us. Leslie and I already have plans to join friends in Léon, Mexico, for an international hot-air balloon festival in mid-November, so we expect to have lots of things to tell you about during our first full year of non-vagabondness. (That may not be an actual word, but it’s really descriptive!) And, of course, all our friends have a standing invitation to visit us south of the border.
Now it’s goodbye to the U.S.A. Next post from Ajijic!
Three weeks from today (Nov. 1), Leslie and I will become full-time ex-pats in the town of Ajijic, Mexico. We’re getting so excited that I’ve had a song going through my head lately — James Taylor’s “Mexico.” Click on that link to see a You Tube video of a live performance that will get you out of your chair. You may even feel the need to have a margarita, or some chips and guacamole!
Leslie regularly visits the “Ajijic Newbies” Facebook page. It’s a terrific resource and will help us learn more about our new home. Here’s a great article from Forbes magazine on some of the misconceptions many people have about living in Mexico. Somebody posted this article on the “Newbies” page.
As for our time here in the U.S., we’ve just about wrapped up all our appointments with physicians, and we’re continuing to have lunches and dinners with family and friends. But temperatures are starting to drop — frost advisory tonight — and that means we’ve been here too long already.
We’re watching two hurricanes that bear our names! Yesterday, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida panhandle at just-below Category 5 strength. Hurricane Leslie, on the other hand, is ravaging the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean and is no threat to any land mass. Well, where we’re going (5,020 feet above sea level) we won’t have to worry about tropical storms, whether they’re named for us or not.