The crew has been hard at work since Oct. 20, and the outside walls are almost done for the new master bathroom. The guys should be starting on the plumbing in just a few days. Then the outside work will be finished and they can start converting the bathroom to a laundry room.
Architect Cristina Allera has been working closely with Leslie to make sure we get all the nice touches, like a vanity in the new bathroom where Leslie can sit to do her makeup. Similar to what we had in our Westmont master bath.
Our excellent carpenter, Heriberto, is building the kitchen cabinets in his Guadalajara shop. We’re excited about having more storage space and more counter space.
Here in Mexico there are no studs and no drywall. All walls are made of brick with cement/stucco over the brick. Trees are hard to come by here — bricks and concrete are cheap and easy. Plus, there’s no reason for termites to invade your home because there’s very little wood.
In another development, we both got Mexican driver’s licenses last week. Leslie’s Illinois license expired on her birthday (Oct. 16). There’s no chance we would go back to the States right now, so the option was to get a license from the state of Jalisco. So we both got brand new licenses, even though my Illinois license is good for a few more years.
We hired someone to get all the paperwork put together, then they walked us over to the license bureau where we took a 10-question test — all about road signs — in English on a computer. Then we got pictures made and in about 15 minutes we had our new licenses.
While the Lakeside area is still not seeing a lot of new COVID cases, the governor of Jalisco has clamped down because hospitalizations statewide are at a critical point. Leslie and I are still doing everything we can to stay safe — even avoiding friends we think are not being careful enough.
I will leave you with a few shots of the hummingbirds and butterflies that hang out in our yard. Our Canadian next-door neighbors Sharon and Quentin have two hummingbird feeders on their back patio. I’ve seen as many as 15 to 20 hummers over there, and most of them pause in our yard to dine on real flowers. They’re fun to watch.
The title of today’s post uses the Spanish word hogar (home) rather than casa (house) because Leslie and I are gradually trying to turn this house in México into our home. We spent three weeks in San Diego recently, and it felt great to come back to familiar surroundings instead of moving on to another new city or country. We did that for a little over two years as “vagabonds.” Now we’re settling in. And we like it.
We’re fairly confident the leaks in the roof have been fixed — for now, at least. We haven’t had a torrential downpour like those that brought this problem to light in the first place, but one is coming! There are still a number of “issues” with this place but now we have Eddie, the best handyman in México, on our side. Eddie spent many years in the U.S. and is fully bilingual. In addition to fixing a toilet and other repairs, he hung up most of our art work for us. Builders don’t use lumber and drywall here, they put up brick walls and cover the brick with concrete — for interior as well as exterior walls. Bricks and concrete cost less than lumber and drywall here, and no wood in the house means fewer termite problems.
Hanging artwork here is not as simple as nailing a hook in the wall. We marked spots where we wanted to hang something, and Eddie drilled a hole in that spot. Then he inserted an anchor into the hole and put a screw into the anchor, left it sticking out a bit, and hung the picture on the screw. Having our art on the walls makes the place seem more comfortable — more familiar. Eddie admired some of them, as did Salvador, our bottled-water delivery guy.
And here’s a surprise. We have roommates! Sort of. A pair of barn swallows has built a nest on the wall of the house, just outside the master bedroom. We’ve seen at least three baby birds in the nest, but there may be four. There are lots of swallows in this area right now. Leslie and I enjoy watching them dart and dive around as we have a meal on our patio. Lots of hummingbirds here, too, but they tend to be camera-shy.
As promised, here are some photos of how the house is turning out, all full-size so you can see better:
Finally, in the last post I left out something important. With the rainy season comes higher humidities and lower temperatures. You may recall that when we moved into this house three months ago, temperatures were high (90° F.-plus) but low humidity and a nice breeze off the lake made it more comfortable. In rainy season it still gets into the low 80s during the day, low 60s at night. But now the humidity can be as high as 70 percent. We still think this is a nearly perfect climate. After all, it has never snowed here!
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.
The last major eruption was in 1968, when 87 people were killed. It was active up until 2010. Now it’s a major tourist attraction, as are Costa Rica’s other volcanoes. At least five are still active.
This side trip was another effort to see more of this country, since our time here is limited. We stayed two nights at the Lucky Bug Bed & Breakfast, which is right at the edge of a rain forest. Upon arrival, we heard howler monkeys in the jungle. Rob, one of our hosts, told us the howler is the loudest animal on earth. Louder than people?
We heard a lot of strange bird calls that were also pretty loud, and frog noises at night. Never caught a glimpse of a monkey or any of the strange-sounding birds. But we did see hummingbirds at Rob and Monika’s feeders, and a white ibis on their small pond.
The Lucky Bug is just outside the town of Nuevo Arenal. The “Nuevo” part is because the original town of Arenal was flooded in 1973 when a dam was built and a very small lake became a huge lake. That dam now provides 12 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity and the lake is beautiful, with lush, green hills all around it. We saw some people kayaking, but the tourist boat that will take you out for a ride (like we did on Scotland’s Loch Ness back in 2016) was only available in the town of La Fortuna. We didn’t get that far. If you lived here you would definitely want a view of the lake. And there are a number of properties for sale, as well as long- and short-term rentals.
Nuevo Arenal is quite small. There are other villages in the area, as well as the larger town of La Fortuna at the other end of the lake. La Fortuna got its name after the 1968 eruption, which spewed volcanic material up to five kilometers away and destroyed the small town of Tabacón. But La Fortuna was spared, so the name was changed to reflect its good fortune. One website I checked says that’s a myth. Maybe.
Lots of gringos live in this area, including our B&B hosts (he’s from the U.S., she’s from Germany). Some of the other local B&Bs appear to be gringo-owned and catering to North American tourists. I got directions at one point from a small group of North Americans at a bar called Karacters. Seemed like a fun crowd.
The climate is nice: mid-80s F. in the daytime and mid- to low-60s F. at night. We actually had to close the windows our first night there. Driving is a challenge because of the hills — lots of turns and twists on narrow roads.
Leslie and I thought the region was just a bit too rural. A dearth of health care would probably keep us from relocating there. Our host Monika complained about having to see what she called “cow doctors” unless you went to San Jose, which is almost a four-hour drive. So if we choose Costa Rica as our new home, the Lake Arenal area would probably not be our first choice. Great place to visit, though.
Next post will be a review of what it costs to live in Costa Rica. Spoiler alert: It ain’t cheap. I’ll leave you with some photos.