Back in the U.S.A. — briefly.

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Looking north from Petco Park just before the game started. See the brick building just above the woman in the orange shirt? That’s Park Lofts, where Stephanie lives.

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).

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Stephanie has great seats!

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.

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Lewis (top) and Piper enjoy their tree that gives them a great view of Island Avenue.

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!

More to come…

See you later!

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Didn’t get to see the Cubs play this time, but we did enjoy the game. Thank you, Steph!

Rainy season is here!

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.

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During “rainy season,” rain usually comes late in the afternoon, as in this photo, or during the night. We’ve been awakened a few times by thunder at 3 a.m.!

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!

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I mopped as long as the rain rushed in under the door. Just one of several reasons the door is being replaced. Hopefully by the end of July.

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.

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Leslie’s winning pimento-cheese sandwiches. They were VERY good!

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.

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At least the wine fridge is full! Some Mexican wines are very, very good. Come down for a visit and we’ll let you try some.

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.

Hasta luego!

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On the patio just outside the kitchen, we have rosemary, basil and thyme growing in pots!
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At our front door, which is soon to be replaced by something that will let light and air in, we have some terrific Talavera pots with Gerbera daisies (left) and geraniums. We’re working on making this place look better.

 

 

So many challenges!

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Our house at Andalusia 3 in Riviera Alta.

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!

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The rear of the house with our Mexican style dining set, which is right in front of a sliding glass door into the living-dining area. The glass door to the left is the master bedroom.

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.

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Smoke rises from a fire on the southern side of Lake Chapala. The white rectangles you see are berry farms. 

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.

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We watched this helicopter make multiple runs to gather lake water for use on the fires.

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.

Next time, a wrap-up on the move and more photos!

Hasta luego!

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Tonight’s sunset was just okay. Really great ones coming soon!

Moving day is almost here!

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This is a tabachin tree, another reason this area is so colorful, especially this time of year.

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!

More to come — soon!

Hasta luego!

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I think this yellow-blossomed tree is called a primavera tree. Gorgeous flowers.

Spring is here!

You may have noticed we have a new title for the blog: “Ex-pats in México.” Since Leslie and I are no longer vagabonds, I thought it was time for a change. The URL is the same, though, and if you signed up for notifications, you’ll still get an email to let you know a new post is up.

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The jacaranda — harbinger of spring in Mexico.

Meanwhile, it’s definitely springtime in our little corner of México. There are several flowering trees — most notably the purple jacaranda (hah-kah-RAHN-dah) — that make the landscape colorful. Climate is a big reason we’re here, and we’re not disappointed. At night we leave the windows open in our bedroom and have the ceiling fan on. I no longer need a sweatshirt for my daily jogs along Ajijic’s malecón as it’s in the low- to mid-60s F. at sunrise. During the day it’s been reaching the upper 80s F., but with low humidity it feels great. Of course, our Canadian friends — and there are a lot of them here — often complain about the heat!

The snowbirds have already started leaving, most of them going back to Canada. The next influx is the sunbirds, mostly people from places like Arizona and New Mexico who come here to get away from the heat! They should start arriving soon.

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Alon Sariel (left) and Michael Tsalka wowed the Viva La Musica! crowd at Haus der Musik.

Another benefit of living Lakeside (as the Lake Chapala area is known) is culture. During March, Leslie and attended the final concert in this year’s ¡Viva La Musica! series. We enjoyed a mandolin soloist and piano/harpsichord accompanist, both Israeli musicians and exceptional talents. We also saw a performance of “Sweet Charity” at the Lakeside Little Theater. This is a community theater group, but many of the cast and crew are seasoned theater professionals who have retired to México. They did a great job.

We also benefit from membership in the Lake Chapala Society. Leslie and I attended a class on death in México. Things are different here, and gringos need to be prepared. It’s most important to have a local doctor, and Leslie has already found a great doctora (woman physician) that she likes. I attended a class recently on how to watch U.S. TV shows here in Ajijic. And I got help with an e-mail problem from the LCS tech guys. Free.

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The main course at the Garden Party was a frosted sandwich loaf, decorated with edible flowers.

The Social & Hospitality Committee — better known as “S&H” — at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church ushered in Spring with its annual Garden Party. It has traditionally been a fun event for ladies to gather in spring dresses and fancy hats, but this year the luncheon was also open to The Company of Gentlemen (that’s the St. Andrew’s men’s group). Leslie helped make the lunch and hosted a table, while I tended bar.

Finally, our neighbors Gail and John invited us to join them on a boat ride last week. We got a chance to see our adopted home from the water. Our little boat motored west from the Ajijic pier down to San Juan Cosalá, a small town just west of Ajijic. It was a fun morning.

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Ajijic from a boat on Lake Chapala. You can see several jacaranda trees. The mountains in the background are brown right now, but they will be greener than green when the rainy season arrives in June.

Every so often we just have to take a “down day” because there’s so much going on!

Hasta luego!

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Leslie had fun wearing her hat and hosting a table at the Garden Party, which was actually IN the garden at St. Andrew’s.
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My hat is in sad shape, so my buddy Miles got all the hat compliments as we kept the champagne flowing. The ladies asked us to wear bow ties, which instantly afforded us a modicum of class.

 

 

Vagabonds no more — for now, at least!

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The Ajijic sign on the malecon, overlooking Lake Chapala. The “C” has a musical motif, and there’s a lot of music to be heard here, especially in February.

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.

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This string quartet did a nice job kicking off the Northern Lights festival.

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:

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Alfredo teaches us the different ways to say “hot” in Spanish.

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 one coming up 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.

Hasta Luego!

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One of the acts at Show Stoppers was this trio of mariachi-style musicians. They did several beautiful songs in Spanish. Tim Welch, director of Los Cantantes del Lago, is seated at the piano.

Househunting success, lasagna and gas lines

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!

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We may be living in this new home for at least the next year — maybe two.

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.

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Leslie’s lasagna. She cooked for 75 people!

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.

Hasta luego!

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I see this fisherman nearly every morning on my sunrise jog along the malecon. There’s usually a bunch of white pelicans hanging around waiting for a treat. As the temperature warms up, these pelicans will go north for the summer.

 

It’s official! We are permanent residents of Mexico!

Leslie and I picked up our residente permanente, 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.

Hasta luego!

We visit Tequila and drink tequila. Confused? You won’t be.

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.

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Javier explains how agave plants propagate.

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.

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The “pineapples” will be roasted for three days in the building behind the pile of plants, or in the tanks to the left for several hours.

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.

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Tequila is aged in oak barrels to make reposado and anejo tequilas. There were hundreds of barrels in this warehouse.

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 best tequila? 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.”

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At this small distillery, labels are applied by hand.

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!

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Joined by new friend Rita, we had an outstanding margarita at the Jose Cuervo gift shop..
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This was the view we enjoyed during lunch.
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Every barrel of aged tequila is sealed with a label like this one to control quality.

Feliz Navidad!

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.

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This is our Christmas tree this year.

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!

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

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Our cornhusk wreath. We are in Casa #1, Maria Felix. She was a Mexican movie star and singer in the 1940s and ’50s. The other two casas in the “Tres Divas” complex are named for Delores Del Rio and Frida Khalo.