This is just a quick post to let you know Leslie and I are just fine. We think we’re very safe here in México, and we’re actually worried about our friends in the U.S. and Europe because of the coronavirus.
As of this writing, there are 316 cases of the virus in all of México and only 27 in the state of Jalisco, which includes Guadalajara with nearly 1.5 million people and Puerto Vallarta with over 200,000. It also includes the Lake Chapala area where we have made our home with hundreds of other ex-pats. Of those 27 Jalisco cases, 10 were in a group of people who went on a ski trip to Vail, Colorado, and contracted the virus there. So far, only two people have died from the coronavirus in México.
We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. We know those low numbers will go up, and maybe soon. In Jalisco, schools are closed, concerts and plays have been cancelled, and churches have suspended all activities. Even our bank will only allow five people in at one time. The governor has asked non-essential businesses to close for a week. Even the weekly outdoor market, the tianguis, has shut down. My Spanish class is now being conducted via Skype. Many restaurants are offering take-out orders, and one of our favorite places will even bring your order right to your car.
Our community, Riviera Alta, has suspended weekly social hours and closed all common facilities (pool, library, gym, tennis court) for a week. We have a number of high-risk folks here. Some are merely among the “elderly” group and a few have compromised immune systems. Some of our Canadian friends have already gone back north
My old buddy Jerry — back in our Army Reserve days — used to remind me of the ancient curse that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” Now I have a better understanding of that line.
Leslie and I wish you continued good health — now and when we are once again living in uninteresting times. We’ll keep in touch!
Sorry it’s been so long since the last post. There hasn’t been much to write about lately and Leslie and I have both been down with head colds. Now we’ve recovered and there is big news to write about.
We have bought a house! It’s going to be a difficult move — the new house is two streets down the hill. Yes, our new home is right here in Riviera Alta, the Ajijic neighborhood we have come to love. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bath house with a great view and a “bonus” room with full bath on the lower level. We’ll probably use it for storage at first, but now we’ll have extra room for multiple visitors.
After looking at several homes for sale, here in Riviera Alta and in other areas, Leslie and I decided this place could be our long-term Mexican home. It’s fully furnished, so we’ll need to decide how to blend our furniture in with what our friends Donna and Jim already have. For example, our dining room furniture, which Leslie had long before she met me, will go to some lucky person. The table in our new digs is a huge round table that was made for the space it’s in. It seats eight. Leslie says the chairs need to be recovered, though, because the fabric is not really our style.
The house needs a small renovation: moving the washer and dryer out of the kitchen and adding more counter and cabinet space in the kitchen, as well as a new stove and a new dishwasher. We hope to get that done before we move in. Donna and Jim are moving out April 13, and our lease runs through the end of May. We should be able to make it work.
In other news, we’ve managed to survive the depths of winter here in the Lake Chapala area. It lasted nearly three weeks. For a few days, the daytime high struggled to get up to 60° F. Overnight lows were in the upper 40s. I actually wore a sweater a few times when we went out for dinner or to a concert. Our friends in the Chicago area are saying terrible things about us right now — I understand that. Sorry. But climate is one of the big reasons we’re here.
We were delighted with a visit from Leslie’s sister Laura. Leslie and I were both still coughing and sneezing, and our energy levels prevented us from taking Laura everywhere we wanted to. But we hope she’ll be back. We think she was impressed with the array of flowers in this area — especially here in Riviera Alta where the bougainvillea covers retaining walls with a riot of color. She enjoyed walking on the málecon and shopping in the village.
We did trick Laura just a bit, though. We all had dinner at one of our favorite local spots, Teocintle Maiz, the top-rated restaurant in Ajijic according to Trip Advisor. Laura thought she would pay for dinner, to thank us for hosting her in our home. But many Lakeside restaurants are cash-only. And they don’t take dollars, either. So I whipped out the pesos and paid the bill. Even better, I told her what the bill was in U.S. dollars — a little over $50 for three people, including wine. Another reason we live here.
That’s all for now. Watch this space, though, for details on the big move!
We’ll have this view of Lake Chapala after we move:
This is the second Christmas in México for Leslie and me, and this year is much busier than last. We’ve already had the Riviera Alta neighborhood Christmas party and the annual Carol Sing and Pot Luckat St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. We’re joining other families for Christmas dinner at the home of neighbors Barbara and John, and dropping into at least one “open house.”
We also enjoyed the CASA — Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic— Christmas party. Leslie presented in the “appetizer” category: Polenta Bites with Mushrooms. She overcame some problems with the polenta and won first place! Her presentation was very good, but the consensus was that the taste of the mushrooms was maravilloso (mara-vee-YOH-so, marvelous)!
And I’m not trying to brag here because my part in this is very small, but the St. Andrew’s choir has been hitting it out of the park the last few weeks. We did “Ave Maria” by William Gomez (a native of Gibraltar) a few weeks ago — in Spanish. Click on the link to hear a small choir (like ours). If you’re interested, go to this video to see the words at the bottom of the screen. Our friend Judy had people in tears with her soaring mezzo-soprano solo. We’ve worked hard on the Christmas Eve anthem: “There Is No Rose” by Philip Stopford. The chorus in that video performed a cappella, and we will too.
Here in México, Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, is more important than Christmas Day. Families usually go to church for the Misa de Gallo (ME-sah day GAHY-oh), a late-night mass celebrating the Messiah’s birth. Family is very important to Méxicanos, especially on Nochebuena. A big family dinner may include tamales, pozole (poh-ZOH-ley, a hearty corn-based soup) or roasted chicken for most. Richer families may be able to afford a Spanish stew of dried cod and potatoes called bacalao a la vizcaina (bahk-ah-LAHO a la veez-cah-EEN-ah), or a dish called revoltijo (rev-ol-TEE-ho) that combines wild greens with dried shrimp fritters in a rich mole sauce. There’s more, like traditional turkey (pavo) with a rich stuffing based on ground meat or sausage, but I’m getting hungry!
Family members often exchange gifts on Nochebuena and the niños try to bust open a piñata. These are special piñatas with seven points, representing the seven deadly sins. The person trying to break the piñata is usually blindfolded to represent blind faith as a way to combat evil. Here’s a short video I took during the Christmas party at Olé México, where I’m taking Spanish classes:
The festivities often go into the wee hours — sometimes until dawn — with music playing constantly. That means Christmas Day is usually quiet, since most are still sleeping.
What are you thankful for? Leslie and I are thankful we live in Ajijic, Jalisco, México. The climate is nearly perfect, almost everything costs less than in the U.S., and we’ve made great friends here among the locals and the ex-pat community. But before we talk about Thanksgiving, let’s briefly address something a lot of you are thinking about: Safety.
We don’t know what happened when nine people in a convoy of black SUVs were killed recently in a remote area just across the border from Douglas, Ariz. Some say cartel gunmen mistook them for a rival cartel. Others don’t buy that, saying they were targeted because their farms were over-using scarce water resources, hurting local subsistence farmers. We may never know. Leslie and I are glad that since that incident, only one person has asked us, “Are you safe there?” I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt — I believe he was being facetious. Mostly.
The short answer is that we feel safer here than we did in the U.S. Sure, there’s violence in this country, just like in the States. But it’s almost all between rival drug cartels. The difference here is that innocent bystanders rarely become victims. Granted, we live in a small-town environment. That kind of thing may happen in big cities like Guadalajara but not to the extent it does in Chicago, for example, where you can get killed by a stray bullet while driving on the Eisenhower Expressway! See articles in the Chicago Tribune at least once or twice a week — like the woman with six grandchildren who had just parked her car in front of her house when a bullet struck her in the face. Almost never happens in México.
Bottom line: None of the ex-pats in this beautiful community fear violence of any kind. The cartels leave you alone unless you mess with them. And if they start shooting, it’s generally far away from populated areas — and they hit what they aim at, unlike Chicago gang members who don’t shoot straight.
The Lake Chapala area is blessed to have thousands of ex-pats, mostly from the U.S. and Canada. While those of us from the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving near the end of November, Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October. So Lakeside celebrates two Thanksgivings!
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church has an annual Harvest Comida (ko-ME-dah, Spanish for “food”) about halfway between the two Thanksgiving celebrations. It’s the biggest event of the year for the Social & Hospitality Committee, and Leslie is a member of that group. In fact, she was co-chair of this year’s event, along with our Canadian friend Sylvia. More than 80 people enjoyed roast turkey with all the trimmings, courtesy of Chef Pedro at Ajijic’s Go Bistro, one of our favorite restaurants. Dessert was a variety of pies made by the members of the S&H Committee. Leslie’s pumpkin pie went fast, as did her mincemeat pie.
Another recent event was the annual Feria Maestros del Arte, sponsored by the Ajijic Society of the Arts. This is an opportunity for artisans from all over México — some of them from indigenous tribes — to show and sell their creations. We took a long look at the huaraches — a type of pre-Colombian sandal. Maybe next year. We also considered some small carved animal figures, but we don’t have a good place to display them. Maybe next year. I finally settled on a cotton short-sleeved shirt with a Mayan warrior embroidered in relatively subdued colors.
Leslie and I also attended the Garden Guild show at a beautiful hacienda just a short walk from where we used to live in the village. From the outside, it’s just a brick wall with a door in it. But walk through that door and you find a sprawling home with a nice pool and a very well-equipped kitchen. It’s been used as a bed & breakfast in the past. There’s even a chapel!
Our friend and neighbor Margaret is an active Garden Guild member. She has given us cuttings from her garden to jump-start ours, and she developed a rough plan for making our back yard look better. We enjoyed seeing her floral arrangement and those of other Garden Guild members.
The Garden Guild’s community service project over the past year has been replacing foot bridges at three spots on Ajijic’s malecon. When we lived in the village, I went for a jog on the malecon every morning. Those bridges were the only treacherous part of the run, and now all three bridges have been fully replaced. I don’t jog there anymore, but I really appreciate the Garden Guild’s efforts.
Next time, more on why Leslie and I are enjoying our life in México.
Before we talk about Dia de los Muertos, I need to brag a bit on Leslie and her volunteer work with Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic — CASA. Every year, CASA auctions off a special themed dinner, prepared by CASA members, for eight people. Proceeds benefit Niños Incapacitados,which helps local disadvantaged children with medical issues. The person who won this year’s auction donated 70,000 pesos, or roughly $3,600 USD, for a very good cause.
This year’s theme was the menu for the last first-class dinner on the Titanic — the meal served on the night the ship sank. Eleven courses, all paired with wine. Leslie was asked to help another chef create one dish, a vegetable terrine in aspic. Because the other person had unavoidable issues, Leslie ended up making the dish herself. It got rave reviews! She also volunteered to be a server. CASA tried to be as authentic as possible with elegant place settings and flowers. But servers on the Titanic were men, so the eight serving ladies (one server per diner) wore tuxedo shirts with bow ties and added drawn-on mustaches!
Dinner was at the stately home of our friends Carol and David (also CASA members), with a sweeping view of Lake Chapala. The diners got into the act too, wearing Titanic-era clothing. Two of the men were even decked out in kilts with full regalia! And they raved about the dinner. To see the full menu, click on this link to the article in the Guadalajara Reporter (it’s in English!).
I hope you watched the movie Coco to learn how important Dia de los Muertos is in México. Check out these two links to learn more: Mexperience newsletter offers general information, while Lakeside Guidehas photos of last year’s celebration here in Ajijic. The main day was Nov. 2 with events in Ajijic as well as nearby communities Chapala and Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos (better known simply as isht-lah-wah-KAHN). Leslie was recovering from the big dinner (eight hours on her feet) and I just didn’t feel well, so we didn’t see the Ajijic parade or go on the cemetery tour as planned. Fortunately, I have some great photos and videos (some of which are at the end of this post) provided by three friends from my Spanish class — James, Lynn and Pamela. Gracias!
Finally, Ajijic’s malecon (boardwalk), was the setting for Lakeside’s part in “Thrill The World,” the annual world-wide dance event. It’s not related to Dia de los Muertos at all, but it is held on the Saturday before Halloween every year. Dancers, made up as zombies, collected money from sponsors to perform to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on Saturday, Oct. 26. Proceeds benefit Cruz Roja, the local Red Cross group.
Leslie and I arrived in the Lake Chapala area of México on Nov. 1, 2018, and we’re about to celebrate our one-year anniversary here. We enjoy a great climate, excellent health care, terrific restaurants, lots of ways to stay active and involved, and a low cost-of-living. The guest room is ready, so come see us! Nuestra casa es su casa!
We’re staying pretty busy. I’ve joined the choir at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, and Leslie is co-chair of this year’s Harvest Comida, a dinner that celebrates Thanksgiving — both the U.S. (November) and Canadian (October) versions. It’s one of the church’s most popular events.
Our garden is thriving, as long as I keep an eye out for leaf cutter ants. These nasty creatures come out at night and slice up the plants in our yard and our neighbors’. If I could find the nest, our grounds crew could wipe it out. But the nest seems to be in a rock wall that’s covered with bougainvillea so it’s nearly impossible to reach. I dust with powder regularly and that helps. While we were in San Diego for three weeks in the summer, these ants cleaned almost every leaf off the plants we put out just a few weeks earlier. Won’t let that happen again.
Day of the Dead is coming soon — a very important holiday in México. It’s definitely not the same as Halloween in the U.S. Dia de los Muertos is actually on two days, Nov. 1 and 2. Most gringos simply say, “If you want to understand this celebration, just watch the movie Coco.” Here’s a link to an article on the Ajijic News website, with details about Dia de los Muertos and other celebrations in October and November.
More on this celebration in the next post.
We still get lots of questions about how things work here for ex-pats. One of the most-asked questions is, “How do you get your mail?” Frankly, we don’t get much anymore. People we still deal with in the U.S. (doctors, financial advisors, etc.) communicate electronically. Leslie’s birthday was earlier this month, and a few people asked how to send a birthday card. Answer: Electronically! And most of you used email, text, Facebook or online greeting card services — thank you!
Since we sold our house in the U.S. over three years ago and started this journey we have used U.S. Global Mail to handle what little actual mail we receive. I’ve mentioned them before but it’s worth repeating — if you plan to relocate overseas or do extensive foreign travel, you should sign up for U.S. Global Mail. You can do that by clicking on one of the two previous links. Check out their website first, but when you’re ready to sign up please use one of these links so USGM will know I sent you to them.
Our mail goes to a Houston address. USGM emails me when we have mail and I can see a picture of it through my account on their website. I usually direct them to either throw it away or send it to me. If I’m not sure what it is, I ask them to open it and scan it. Most things get tossed. For important things, such as new credit/debit cards, USGM gives me many delivery options — FedEx, DHL, UPS and other carriers. I can see how much the delivery will cost, how long it will take to reach me and if I can track the shipment online. It’s not cheap, but it’s dramatically less than having a friend or relative take it to a FedEx office and ship it. Plus, I’m not imposing on anybody to do that for me. I’m paying a professional service I trust and depend upon. I highly recommend USGM.
We also get questions about health care, home ownership and safety. I’ll deal with those topics in later posts.
Leslie and I are cat-sitting in beautiful downtown San Diego while daughter Stephanie is enjoying a well-deserved vacation on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It’s sort of a vacation for us. We walked two blocks to Petco Park to see the San Diego Padres play the San Francisco Giants (Stephanie has a season ticket package).
The Padres lost, but it was a good game. On Independence Day, we watched fireworks from the crowded Embarcadero (a city park along the marina). Best of all, we’ve attended worship services at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on Coronado Island, where our friend Tom exclaimed, “Welcome Home!” the first time we walked in.
Dining out is one of the best things about living in San Diego. We’ve already been to some of our favorite places, such as the East Village location of Breakfast Republic and The Blind Burro. We still have a few places on our go-to list, but Stephanie recommended a new spot on J Street called Whip Hand for burgers. Leslie had a glass of wine with her burger, but I had to try their Beer Bank — you get a card to use at any of about 20 different self-serve taps, mostly local craft beers. You can pour as much or as little as you like and pay by the ounce. I poured a healthy taste of five different IPAs and spent roughly the same as buying one brew. Burgers and beers were excellent. We’ll be back.
We’ve also done some shopping for things that are hard to come by in Ajijic, like the shampoo I use for thinning hair — can’t buy it in Mexico (except through Amazon) so we’re “importing” some. Also, an optometrist in Ajijic warned me that soft contact lenses, unlike most things in Mexico, are about double the price we pay in the U.S. So I got a year’s supply from the Costco optical shop here in San Diego.
You may be wondering if the two recent California earthquakes caused any problems for us. Only in the most minor way. We barely felt the first one, a 6.5. The epicenter was hundreds of miles away so all we noticed was a slight movement. A day later there was a 7.1 that happened while we were driving home from shopping in Carlsbad and dinner at the Del Mar location of The Brigantine seafood restaurant. When we got home, we pulled into the parking garage and found the elevators were out of order. We were glad Stephanie’s condo is on the second floor and her parking space is on B1!
San Diego isn’t close to any active fault lines, so it’s rare to feel a quake in this area. But this one was strong enough to trigger the earthquake protocol on the elevators in our building. As we came out of the garage stairwell onto the ground floor, a resident taking his dog for a walk asked excitedly, “Didja feel it?” But we didn’t, since we were on the freeway at the time. We were only slightly inconvenienced by walking up two flights.
We’ve enjoyed taking care of Lewis and Piper, Stephanie’s two Maine Coon cats, and they seem to appreciate our attention. Lots more to do and see while we’re here. We’ll be driving to Los Angeles to pick up Stephanie on July 13 (for direct flights to and from Europe, LAX is better than SAN), then we have a few days to spend with her before we go home July 19. I must admit, I have enjoyed driving her BMW!
In a previous post I noted that May is the hottest month in the Lake Chapala area. It got up to 90° F. or more several times during May, but low humidity and cooling breezes off the lake or the mountains made it feel comfortable. Now “rainy season” has begun. That means lower temps, higher humidities and lots of much-needed rain.
One storm sent driving rain out of the north, and it came in under our front door. I mopped up a full bucket of rainwater!
A few days later, our new best friend Eddie came and installed some weather stripping on the front door and two other doors that were problematic. Eddie lived in California for many years and is fully bilingual. We hope he’s going to do lots more in coming months.
We’ve been told that as the season progresses, the storms come more frequently out of the south. We’re not sure that’s true, but it would be great because the two doors on the south side are sliding glass doors and rain won’t come in if they’re closed.
Rainy season runs until September or October. The mountainsides outside our front door are already getting a bit greener. I have a “before” photo. As soon as it gets to peak, I’ll snap an “after” shot and post them.
On another note, Leslie won another prize at the June meeting of CASA — Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic. The theme was “picnic” entrees and desserts. Leslie’s “open-faced spicy pimento-cheese sandwiches” took the People’s Choice Award. She got lots of comments from CASA members saying those sandwiches took them back in time to family picnics where pimento-cheese sandwiches were a staple. I, too, have fond memories of those sandwiches. But my grandmother never put jalapeño peppers in them!
Finally, still no photos of the inside of the house. Sorry! Hopefully, Eddie will come tomorrow to help us hang art on the walls and the place will be more photogenic. But we still need to locate some necessary items of furniture. First priority, however, is for me to decide on a new grill.
Leslie and I are headed back to the States this week. While daughter Stephanie is taking a well-deserved vacation to Italy, we’re going to be house-sitting and cat-sitting for her. So we’ll be back in San Diego for about three weeks. Looking forward to seeing friends at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on Coronado Island. I’ll try to post from there, since this is sort of a vacation for us.
Leslie and I have arrived in our new Ajijic home and we’ve had multiple challenges. But after a day of dealing with one problem after another, we can have a glass of wine on our patio and watch an amazing sunset. And since we moved in, we’ve eaten nearly every meal outside. Every day is a good day in Ajijic!
Our furniture and household goods arrived safely – a little late, but without any serious issues. Just a few scratches and scrapes here and there. We haven’t unwrapped all the artwork yet but it appears everything is intact. No broken frames or broken glass that we know of. We have a little less storage space than expected, and in the unpacking process we have (several times) said, “why did we bring this?”
But here’s the main thing: Since we began this vagabond journey at the beginning of October 2016, Leslie and I have slept in nearly 50 different beds — some good, some not so good. (Leslie says she gets credit for one extra bed because she was in the hospital in San Diego!) Now we have our king-sized memory foam mattress, the one from our home in Westmont, and we’re both very happy.
Every box we open reveals some item we haven’t seen in three years. It’s like Christmas in May! I’ll share inside photos next post. If you were ever in our Westmont home, things will look familiar!
There are frustrating things about the house, some of which are typical of Mexican building practices and some of which are simply due to the owner’s builder cutting corners and going with the cheapest stuff possible. We’ve been promised some upgrades over the next few months. Stay tuned for updates. Then there are other issues, like going a full week without wifi! That’s a long story, but it has a happy ending because we finally got a much better wifi than I originally thought was available.
Our home is in Ajijic’s Riviera Alta development. It’s a three-bedroom, three-bath home but relatively small and a bit more open than most traditional Mexican casas. We are at roughly 5,000 feet elevation. From the patio we have a view of Lake Chapala and the mountains on its southern shore. The house faces north, with a great view of the San Juan Cosalá Mountains. But this is fire season in the Lake Chapala area, and our views this week have been impaired by smoke. One day the smoke was so bad we could not see the other side of the lake.
This time of year, local farmers traditionally prepare for new planting by burning off last year’s crops from the fields. It hasn’t rained here since the end of January, and that was less than one-half inch. So it’s very dry, and sometimes the fire gets away from the farmer so we see smoke billowing up from just on the other side of the mountain, or on the other side of the lake. We’ve also heard that people camp up in the mountains and burn their trash rather than packing it out. That’s a problem too. Driving home one night, I saw flames on our side of the mountain — very high up. Apparently that’s the first time it’s happened in decades.
For several days we saw a helicopter with a huge bucket hanging about 30 or 40 feet below the skids. The chopper flies from the north over our house to Lake Chapala, dips down (too low for us to see), then comes back up with a bucket full of water and heads back north, which is where most of the fires are.
The fires began April 27. As of May 12, most are either out or controlled. Rainy season begins roughly in mid-June, and the mountains will become a gorgeous green. Right now, Leslie and I are learning that May is the hottest month in this area. Most gringos go back to Canada or the U.S. for several weeks to escape the heat. We may do some European travel next year, if only to avoid smoke from the fires.
Actually, the heat is not that bad. It gets into the upper 80s to near-90° F. during the day, but the humidity is low — sometimes as low as 10 to 20 percent. And there’s usually a nice breeze off the lake. At night, that breeze sometimes intensifies and the temperature drops to the upper 50s F. Right now, at 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening, it’s 83° F. with 17 percent humidity. Perfect for dining alfresco and watching the hummingbirds and swallows.
I just realized it’s been a month since the last post, but there hasn’t been that much to write about lately. I also realized that we’ve been in our home at Independencia 22 for six months. That’s the longest Leslie and I have lived anywhere since we sold our Westmont home three years ago.
But now we are packed up and ready to move to our new rental in the Riviera Alta neighborhood on the mountain side of the carreterra (main road). The lease is for one year and is renewable. More on the house, including photos, once we move in.
Leslie flew to Chicago at the beginning of this month to supervise a moving crew that loaded our furniture and household goods for transport to Ajijic. It’s been in a storage locker in Lisle, Ill., since the end of September 2016. Last we heard, everything was in Laredo, Texas, waiting for U.S. customs to give the go-ahead. The original plan was for the shipment to arrive at the house May 1. Looks like it may be a day or two later but we were prepared for that.
I’m sure you remember that a warm climate was one of the key factors in our decision to relocate to Mexico. We’re heading now into the warmest part of the year: May and June. This afternoon it’s 86° F. with 22 percent humidity. We think it’s pretty comfortable, especially since it still gets cool at night. But many of our Canadian friends have already gone NOB (north of the border) because, “It’s so hot!” That’s okay, and we will miss you, but there are fewer gringos dining out now so we don’t need reservations at many of our favorite restaurants!