Fires, househunting and Christmas

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Stephanie’s Christmas tree, overlooking the corner of 9th and Island. 

Once again I’ve taken a long time to put up a new post. But I’ve got a lot of very good excuses for my procrastination! We continue to look at possible retirement locations, but we’ve been doing some Christmas shopping too.

First I should tell you that Leslie and I are not in any danger from the wildfires ravaging Southern California. Most of the fires have been north of Los Angeles in Ventura County. The biggest and baddest of them, the Thomas Fire (they name fires like hurricanes here in California), is one of the worst in the state’s history.

The Lilac Fire (now fully contained) was the only one in San Diego County. It hit the North County area pretty hard. You may have seen national news reports about a number of thoroughbred horses being killed when this fire swept over a stable complex. Heroic efforts by horse owners saved many horses. Two people trying to save them were seriously injured, but it looks like they will both recover. Fortunately, the Lilac Fire never came near downtown San Diego. We didn’t see or smell smoke at any time, and we didn’t venture north while the fire was at its worst. We saw the effect of the Santa Ana winds, though. Nasty stuff. And humidities were below 20 percent most of last week.

Leslie and I have visited a few more places we could consider living, provided we’re forced into Plan B for whatever reason. Escondido is in North County (that’s what they call the northern part of San Diego County). It’s an inland town of about 150,000 that has a few 55-plus communities. Nice town, roughly 30 to 45 minutes from downtown San Diego. We also spent some time looking around Solana Beach, an upscale community right on the Pacific Ocean. Both are places we could definitely afford to live. We just wouldn’t be able to buy food or clothing or anything else for that matter!

That’s the big drawback to Plan B. Rentals can be $3,000 to $4,000 a month, or higher, for a two-bedroom apartment. Buying a condo means shelling out upwards of $500,000 in the downtown area for a two-bedroom — more if you want a view or an upper floor in a high-rise. And it’s not much better in the outlying areas where we’ve been looking.

 

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The North Park neighborhood, an older area just north of Balboa Park. Costs are a bit lower here than in downtown, and it’s a neat area. A possibility.

There is a way for us to pay for housing here, but it involves dipping into investments way earlier than planned. That raises the specter of outliving our money, which is not something we even want to think about.The other downside, especially to apartment rentals, is that everything is so small. We’ve seen two-bedroom apartments in North County that are about 850 square feet. The bedrooms are too small for our king-size bed.

Gotta go to the upside, though. On Tuesday I met with some guys at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. It was noon, and we were sitting outside. I admit, I wore a long-sleeved shirt. But my new friends Tom and Lee were both wearing shorts! Looking for “normal” temperatures in the low 60s F. for Christmas Day.

And so it goes.

That’s all for now. Merry Christmas to all our family and friends, and Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends. Happy New Year to all!

More in 2018.

I leave you with this photo, taken at the North Park Farmer’s Market last Thursday afternoon:

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Yes, that is a chicken on the woman’s shoulder. A pet? Maybe, we didn’t stop to ask. Most people have dogs. But hey, it’s California. 

 

 

 

Year Two begins with one more stop in Mexico: Ajijic

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Leaving Midway on a direct Volaris flight to Guadalajara. A little better prepared than a year ago, and still advertising for Jake’s Country Meats!

First, let me assure you we were completely unaffected by the earthquake that killed more than 230 people in five Mexican states, primarily in Mexico City. We are a little over 330 miles from Mexico City, so we did not feel the quake here in the Lake Chapala area.

And a correction: Last post had a pronunciation guide for Ajijic, but I got it wrong. Sort of. There is some debate. One source says “ah-he-HEEK,”  but the locals often drop the hard “c” at the end, making it “ah-he-HEE.”  

Ajijic is a 450-year-old village where the cost of living is relatively low and the climate is “the best in the world.” This town is at roughly the same latitude as Hawaii and the same elevation as Denver. Average temperature is 68 degrees F. It’s near the end of the rainy season right now, and daytime highs are in the high 70s to low 80s with overnight lows in the low 60s. The humidity seems to run from 50 percent up to near 80 percent after a storm.

Like San Miguel de Allende, Ajijic has narrow cobblestone streets and a central plaza. There are a number of colorful shops, art galleries and restaurants in the centro. Population numbers vary but 15,000 seems to be a good number, with at least a quarter of that being retired expats, mostly from the U.S. and Canada. Some live here year-round, many more stay through the winter before heading NOB (north of the border) for the rainy season. There are several other villages along Lake Chapala — Jocotepec, Chapala and San Antonio Tlayacapan just to name a few.

Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. It’s 50 miles long and 11 miles wide, at its extremes, with an average depth of about 15 feet. Ajijic’s “Malecon,” or boardwalk along the lakefront, is a great place to jog/walk in the mornings. I often see egrets, herons and pelicans on the shores.

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Traditional house on a cobblestone street.

Leslie and I have settled into our new digs, a very nice home on Donato Guerra street in the central section of Ajijic. We have two bedrooms (family and friends can come visit!) and a patio with a pool. There’s a good bit of street noise and a few mosquitos, but the house is terrific. Some of that street noise is the clip-clop of horses’ hooves. Yes, you can see locals on horseback here almost any day of the week. The kitchen is probably the best-equipped we have seen in our travels.

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Leslie has already whipped up some great meals here!

And we have four female roommates: Audrey, Doris Day, Racer and Bean (photos below). They must think we’re okay, since they sleep in our laps and ask for belly rubs. Thanks, Anita and Ken, for letting us live in your home for the next few weeks!

We have become members (through the end of October, at least) of the Lake Chapala Society so we can take advantage of their many social and educational offerings, and meet more people here. They help expats with health and legal issues, offer personal enrichment classes, and sponsor bus trips to the shopping mall in Guadalajara. LCS has lots of things for expats, but they also sponsor ESL classes for local people who want to improve their English. Our friend Marlene, who has lived here almost two years now, is a volunteer ESL teacher.

I’ll leave you with pics of our four housemates.

Hasta luego!

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Audrey has her own chair! Her name is on the heart-shaped medallion.
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Bean, short for “String Bean,” can open the patio door by herself, but never closes it.
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Racer, short for “Speed Racer,” loves belly rubs.
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Doris Day, a tiny kitty who loves to cat around outside at night, but is always at the patio door seeking entrance when I get back from my morning walk/jog.

 

Butterflies and a white horse

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Leslie and her horse got along great.

Show of hands, now — how many of you thought you would ever see Leslie riding a horse? I know you just can’t wait for the explanation, so here we go.

On Thursday, we went to Santuario Sierra Chincua, a monarch butterfly sanctuary high in the mountains about a three-hour drive from San Miguel. This is  one of the places where the mariposa monarca spends the winter.

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Monarchs love milkweed, but there is none in the sanctuary. So they eat as much as they can on the migration.

They migrate from Canada and the northern U.S. down to Mexico every year. Millions of them. And we spent a few hours with them.

 

Leslie and I went with five other people and Daniel, our driver. Getting there was not easy or fun. The van ride is very long and sometimes quite bumpy, and there’s not much to see along the way. But Daniel did a great job and got us to the sanctuary.

Sierra Chincua sits a little above 8,000 feet, and the difference in elevation is obvious — it’s cooler and breathing is slightly more labored, for example. We had a choice of walking up a dusty trail to where the monarchs were, or paying an extra 100 pesos to ride a horse. If you want to come back on the horse, that’s another 100 pesos. So we shelled out 400 pesos (about $20 USD) and we both mounted up. The horses were very gentle, and guides led us the whole way.

We dismounted after a 30-minute ride and walked a bit farther up a narrow trail into the forest. Soon we could see butterflies. They were in the trees, on low bushes and plants, flitting through the air. They were everywhere. They flew right past us sometimes.

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Butterflies everywhere. 

Daniel taught us how to tell the difference between males and females, and he said many males die in the sanctuary after mating. He said that last year there was snow in the sanctuary, which is highly unusual. Many butterflies died. He also explained that birds eat dead butterflies, but only the body. The wings are toxic to birds. Sure enough, we found several places where wings were lying on the ground, but there was no butterfly body.

We could only see a small part of the sanctuary, which covers several acres. But in the small area where we were allowed to stand, we could look up into the sky and see them wafting around. We could look into the forest and see trees heavily laden with butterflies at rest. And there was no sound. All you could hear was the wind in the trees. Amazing!

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Those are clusters of monarchs taking a nap in the trees. You can also see them flying.

Then it was time for a late lunch. Daniel took us to one of several small restaurants in the sanctuary compound, where he said the owner made a great mushroom soup. Several people, including Leslie, had the soup and all agreed Daniel was right! I had a potato and chorizo quesadilla, and it was fantastic. The hot sauce they served with it was great too. And really fresh hand-made corn tortillas — so much better than store-bought. Even better than our favorites, El Milagro.

Daniel explained that the local indigenous people make a living by taking care of the butterflies, and of the tourists who come to see them. They start as children, offering to watch your car for you while you’re spending time with the butterflies. As they get older, they work as horse wranglers or guides, or they do other work in the sanctuary, such as selling tickets or working in maintenance. Most don’t get paid much, if at all. They depend on tips, so our group tipped well.

According to Daniel, former Mexican president Vicente Fox provided substantial funds to build a nice entrance to the sanctuary, as well as quality buildings for restaurants and gift shops. This made the experience better for the tourists, and helped the people who work there.

Next time, arts and culture in San Miguel de Allende. Spoiler alert: There’s lots of culture!