Leslie and I are still settling into our new digs with challenges on a near-daily basis, mostly due to poor workmanship or cheapest-possible materials used in construction (e.g., broken toilet seats, broken shower head). We’ve harbored thoughts of bailing out and trying to find something better. But that would mean moving all our stuff again, so we’ve decided to do what we can to make the place habitable. So no photos yet. Please be patient. We still have work to do.
There is news, though. Last week, Leslie did a “presentation” at the monthly meeting of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic — better known as CASA. Members must present a dish at least three times a year but are encouraged to do more. Presentations are judged by three local food service professionals — chefs, restaurant owners, etc. Attendees get to sample everything and vote on the People’s Choice award.
There are two categories: entrees and desserts. For May the entree category was cold soups or salads, and the dessert category was bar cookies. Leslie presented “Ajo Blanco (AH-hoe BLAHN-koh),” or white gazpacho. It’s a Spanish dish with Moorish influences. Ingredients include almonds, cucumbers, garlic and grapes. Her soup was one of 10 entree entries…and the professional panel awarded her third place!
I’ve never been a big gazpacho fan, but this was an outstanding soup. Fortunately, there was some leftover to bring home.
May is Lakeside’s hottest month. Daytime highs have been in the upper 80s to lower 90s F., but humidity is usually less than 20 percent. That’s why most of the white pelicans have migrated north. The dry air and the constant breeze keep things fairly comfortable, even without air conditioning. But rainy season is coming, and we’re looking forward to watching the mountainside turn from brown to lush green.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every so often we just have to take a “down day” because there’s so much going on!
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!