Leslie and I are finally back in our home here in beautiful Ajijic, Mexico. We moved back in at the end of January and have been working on getting things in order. Our architects, Juan Allera and his daughter Cristina, did a great job. This renovation took longer than expected and cost more than expected. What did you expect?
This project grew from the original idea of moving the laundry back to the master bedroom closet area and updating the kitchen. We ended up adding a new bathroom on the front of the house and creating a full laundry room with lots of storage in the master suite — where most of the laundry is generated! We gutted the kitchen and put in new appliances and custom cabinetry.
This video gives you a basic one-minute tour of the bright new kitchen. There’s narration, so please turn up the sound:
This second video shows you some of the neat features Juan and Cristina built into the kitchen at Leslie’s request. Again, there’s an explanation:
We’re still getting the laundry area organized, so look for more videos soon!
Pandemic woes continue here. The governor of Jalisco clamped down recently, requiring those over 60 to stay home. We heard they were actually checking IDs at Wal-Mart to keep seniors out. Fortunately, we rarely go to Wal-Mart and the restriction does not apply to the smaller mercados where we shop. Masks are required everywhere. We’re both signed up for vaccination appointments but have not yet received a firm date and time. Can’t wait to have an open house and show off our renovation!
Our renovation is almost done and, of course, it’s later than expected and a little over budget. What a shock! We have our rental until Jan. 15 and we hope to move back into our home by then. We’ve got lots of cleaning to do!
The next important thing is to get everybody COVID-vaccinated so you can come visit!
Leslie and I will still be in our rental for Christmas. The upgraded kitchen and bathroom projects will apparently go into early January. Hopefully done by Jan. 15. So here are a few more photos of the renovation, along with a Merry Christmas to all!
Maybe. The renovation is on schedule. Work on the kitchen plumbing and electrical is done, as is the wall repair and painting. The appliances have been delivered and the carpenter is taking last-minute measurements for the cabinetry. So the kitchen, at least, may be finished on time.
We’ve been picking out tiles and fixtures for the new bathroom, and the old bathroom is almost ready for the washer and dryer. I’m providing as many photos as possible at the end of this post.
In other news, Leslie and I always believed there was a bit of “magic” in our charming little village of Ajijic. Now the federal government agrees. Ajijic was just named a “Pueblo Mágico,” or Magical Village. It’s one of 11 new Pueblos Mágicos throughout Mexico. There are now nine in the state of Jalisco.
This program promotes tourism, especially among Mexicans. So there is some concern about how the village is going to handle lots of new turistas. Parking is quite limited in the village and there are not a lot of hotel rooms available. The upside is that local officials expect a number of improvements — most notably an enormous project to move all utility wires underground. That will likely take years to complete. We’ll see.
Leslie and I have been to several Pueblos Mágicos in the time we’ve lived here. We think this designation will be great for the Lakeside area.
Finally, the pandemic continues. We’ve heard news reports that Mexico has a plan for distributing the Pfizer vaccine early in 2021. We are in the third priority group, right behind health care professionals and people over 80. No discrimination — natives and gringos will all be treated the same. Maybe this is the beginning of the end.
Today (Nov. 17) marks four weeks of construction and the new master bathroom is taking shape in our Mexican casa. It may not be quite as large as we expected but it will have two sinks with lighted mirrors, a walk-in shower with a rain-style shower head, and a vanity area for Leslie, with a nice boveda ceiling.
The crew is putting in the plumbing and electrical, which means the floor is still dirt. They’re starting on the new laundry room and the new kitchen, too. We think everything is on schedule.
We’re selecting tile, faucets, fixtures and kitchen appliances now. So many choices!
One huge change has already happened. The new master bathroom and kitchen renovation was Phase One. Changes to the front wall and entry into the courtyard was to be part of Phase Two. But our architect, Juan Allera, proposed doing all the work to the front entrance now because it made sense. I asked how much that would add to the total project. The figure was fairly low because it’s mostly labor, so we gave the green light. Most of the front wall is gone now!
We still hope to be back in our house by Christmas, but some of the appliances are going to take a few weeks to deliver. Fingers crossed!
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.
Leslie and I are finally getting the renovation started on our house — six months later than planned. We hoped to have all the work done in April and May before we moved in. Because of the quarantine, our homeowner’s association did not allow workers into the neighborhood. Later, when that was allowed, we decided it was not a good idea to have people we don’t know coming into our house. We’re taking extra precautions during this pandemic.
Also, as we’ve lived in our new home, our small project grew bigger. The original plan was to get the washer and dryer out of the kitchen to gain more storage and counter space. We planned to get stackable machines and squeeze them into a space in the master bedroom closet, then update the kitchen cabinets with new doors and buy new appliances.
Over the last four-plus months we’ve started thinking bigger, especially after we found a few issues in the master bath. Now we’re adding a new master bathroom onto the front of the house, reworking and improving the closet and other storage, and putting side-by-side laundry units where the bathroom is now. We will also get a new linen closet and utility closet, neither of which exist now. And we’re gutting the 12-year-old kitchen down to the walls. All new cabinetry, all new appliances, more storage and more counter space.
In fact, the kitchen is already gutted and the bathroom will be gone in a few days. Everything was removed carefully by Fernando, who works as a gardener for at least two of our neighbors. Fernando is building a house for his family in Chapala on a shoestring budget, and he can use all the cabinets and appliances from our house.
We feel fortunate to have hired Juan Alera and his daughter Cristina as our architects. Juan has done home building and renovation for years in the Lakeside area. Cristina studied architecture at the university in Guadalajara (where one of her professors was her father) and for a year at a university in France. She speaks English and French in addition to her native Spanish.
Construction begins Oct. 19. Juan says it will take two months, but we’re allowing for three just in case. And since now we have no kitchen and no master bath, and things are about to get very dusty and dirty, we’ve moved out for the rest of this year. Again, we’re very fortunate to have rented a home right here in our neighborhood, just two streets down the hill. It will be easy to go back and get things we need, and to check on construction progress. We hope to be back in our house before Christmas.
Leslie and I are finally home. After two years of being vagabonds in Europe and The Americas, and 18 months of renting apartments and homes in the Lake Chapala area, we have moved into our house in Ajijic, Jalisco, México.
We have a lot of work to do. First, a complete kitchen remodel. It’s a bit small, so we’re moving the laundry to a space in the master bedroom closet that we don’t really need for clothes. We’ll get a new stackable pair for that location, then move the refrigerator into where the laundry is now. That will open up room for more cabinets and counter space. There’s painting to be done (way too much purple right now) and new plants to add in the garden, and maybe a facelift for the front. But all of that will have to wait until we believe it’s safe to have contractors working in and around the house.
As for the pandemic, our little corner of paradise is no longer virus-free. As of Monday, July 6, there are 32 confirmed and 10 suspected cases in the Chapala municipality (similar to a county in the U.S.), which includes Ajijic. There have been two deaths. The good news is no new cases have been reported to the government in the past few days. There are roughly 50,000 people in the Chapala municipality.
The state government has loosened restrictions somewhat, but face masks are required in grocery stores, banks and other local businesses. Restaurants are allowed to serve dine-in customers as along as there’s adequate separation. We’re still getting food delivered to our house, though.
We’re debating whether to start in-person church services again in August at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, but it sounds like most of our members are fine with waiting until later in the year. We’ve been doing a Morning Prayer service — Episcopalians will understand that — every Sunday morning on Zoom, and it’s getting better every week. We have anywhere from 30 to 40 people signing in, some from the U.S. and Canada.
The church is not wasting this time, though. We’ve already had big mirrors removed from the north wall of the sanctuary and the whole sanctuary painted. Instead of pews, we have moveable chairs, and until today they had brown upholstery that looked worn on most. Now they’re all a nice dark blue. We got 175 chairs recovered for 300 pesos each. That’s less than $15 USD each.
It’s rainy season here, so heavy thunderstorms roll through almost every night. If they hit before bedtime, we get to see the light show. If it’s 2 a.m., like many nights, then we roll over and go back to sleep.
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:
Earlier today (Wednesday, Aug. 29), Leslie and I picked up our visas from the Mexican consulate here in Chicago. The folks there were very helpful and easy to work with. Thanks, Jorge, for all your assistance! Oh, sorry — I mean, gracias por todos, Jorge! Now we can purchase plane tickets for our flight to Guadalajara, probably on Oct. 31.
Once we arrive, we’ll have 30 days to appear at the immigration office in Chapala and complete the two-step process for our permanent resident cards. Those cards identify us as legal permanent residents of Mexico. We can come and go as we choose, and there’s no need to renew.
Last week, we sent in a deposit and signed a six-month lease on a casita in Ajijic. It’s new construction on Privada Independencia with three casitas. We got #1, which is closest to the street. We’re excited about moving into this place. There are two bedrooms, two baths, a nicely equipped kitchen, water filtration system, washer and dryer, and a mirador shared with the other casitas (remember, that’s an outdoor space on the roof, usually covered and with a view).
We’re looking forward to reconnecting with St. Andrew’s Anglican Church and the people we met there a year ago. Hope they still have our name tags! This is a vital church that does a lot of good work in the community, and we hope to find ways in which we can contribute.
Finally, Leslie had cataract surgery yesterday (Tuesday, Aug. 28) on her left eye and is really excited at how well she can see just a day after surgery. Her doctor is very pleased with her progress. Final step is a visit with an optometrist in about a month to see if she will need glasses for reading or driving. Hopefully not!
We’ll keep you posted as the time approaches for us to leave for our new home. The vagabond days are almost over!