Our Favorite Chapala Restaurant (Please keep it quiet!)

I’ve hesitated for a long time about writing this post about our favorite restaurant in Chapala. Partly because we’re come to think of it as our little secret. And partly because until one of our most recent visits, we had not encountered any gringos there…and the place is pretty much always hopping.

Finally, we decided we had to reveal. Los Milagros de Dalila or, loosely translated, the Miracles of Delilah. (If anyone knows better, we’d be happy to know.)

It’s on Route 23, a few miles beyond the mountain pass that separates the Chapala area from greater Guadalajara. Right on the way to and from the airport. We passed it several times, noting each time that it was very popular. Lots of cars, every time.

Finally, on a trip back from the airport, we decided to stop in.

Los Milagros is a cafeteria. You wait in a (sometimes quite long) line, get a tray and approach the single serving station. Drinks and desserts tempt you as you approach the hot food area.

Basically, they serve burritos. There’s an array of choices to put in your burrito. They specialize in lenga (beef tongue). Chicken, pork and beef possibilities too.

I don’t speak much Spanish and neither does Bonita. We’re learning. And at Los Milagros, Spanish is the language. So, we point and gesture and the patient servers work it out and we get our meal. Most often, though, a kind soul waiting in line steps up to translate for us. We’ve had that experience over and over here in Mexico and we are so grateful.

With your burritos you get frijoles (beans). And on top of the counter, Los Milagros has a big plate of grilled chilies and another of grilled onions from which you can take as much as you want on your plate.

Then you pay. They do take credit and debit cards. Yet, almost everyone pays with pesos.

You take your tray and move to one of the two large dining rooms, take a seat and dig in.

Oh, wait, what’s that? In the front?

Yes, yes indeed it is a salsa bar. With pickled jalapenos, and mild to hot salsas. Self-serve.

Just wonderful! The food is hearty and basic and delicious. Good for the soul!

And for the two of us? Typically, $200 pesos, with food for us both, beverages, and a dessert for Bonita. About $11 U.S. And we take part of our feast to go. (They supply the boxes.)

Los Milagros is open 24/7/365. Yes, that’s correct. They never close.

It’s clean and bright (every time we’ve been there, we’ve seen workers mopping the floors). And very family-friendly. Indoor and outdoor seating.

So, with some reluctance, we’re letting you in on the secret. Just try to keep it quiet, okay???

Chapala, Mexico: It’s a Plastic World

Mexico loves plastic, at least this part of Mexico does and the same seems to hold true for the regions we have visited (only a few to be sure).

Everywhere you’ll find chotskies being hawked with aplomb from stalls and individuals walking the malecon and the streets and all among the numerous vendors and small shops lining the streets.

The kids seems to love them. Brightly colored plastic animals pulled along by happy cherubs brings a smile to the face of all but the most Scrooge-like.

Yet, the presence of plastic is woven into the very fabric of commercial life here.

At least twice a week, I head to the mercado to visit what I think of as “my” salsa vendor. A lady with a table at the edge of the sidewalk in the commercial zone. Fresh salsa and beans available every day. Delicious!

When I go, I buy a little bit of a supply and this is what is handed to me when the transaction is complete.

A (very) inexpensive plastic bag with my purchased goodies inside. Easy to carry.

Unpackaging the contents leads to yet more plastic.

Yes, that the salsa. Each cup is carefully and skillfully wrapped in its own plastic bag and tightly tied at the top. (I’ve never been able to untangle the knot; hello, scissors.)

And finally, once the cup is revealed, it too is inside a plastic cup and top made by the standard-bearer of disposable cups, Dixie Cup. A “taste” of what used to be home.

So, all totaled, I come home with four individually-wrapped plastic Dixie cups, each in their own plastic bag, placed in a plastic shopping bag.

Now, I also buy beans here. They come in a more solid, yet still plastic tub with a lid. The two I buy are put in yet another plastic bag before going in the shopping bag.

I come one with six plastic bags, four plastic Dixie cups and lids and two plastic tubs with lids.

And I can tell you that the salsa vendor moves a lot of salsa and beans, every day.

Compound this with the hundreds, if not thousands, of street vendors and there’s a whole lot of plastic around here.

Moreover, as described in an earlier post, local custom is to drink bottled water. And, guess what, the bottle is plastic.

Plastic is often vilified by by environmentalists and alternative health practitioners as harmful to both the planet and to all types of life.  I sympathize; I really do. Yet, living in Chapala, and being surrounded by plastic, I can also appreciate what drives its use here. It’s inexpensive. Every peso counts here for many people.

Also, if you care to observe how waste is handled here, you’ll see that the trash workers sort out the trash by hand, putting recyclables in huge cloth bags and then dropping them off at local recyclers. You’ll also see people on the streets picking up plastic bottles which they can take for recycling and earn a few pesos doing so.

Finally, for the really plastic-phobics, some good news. Scientists have recently created an enzyme that breaks down plastic rapidly.

But for right now, if you choose Chapala as a potential expat location, learn to love plastic. It’s everywhere here.


Cost of Living in Chapala, Part 2

In a prior post, we discussed the cost of housing in the Chapala area. Here, let’s explore the other major variables that affect the cost of living in Chapala.

Although we do not directly pay for utilities: water, gas, electricity, and internet (they are included in our rent), friends here tell us that they spend about $100 U.S. dollars a month on these items.

TV is another story. We know some expats purchase TV through local services here, cable or satellite. We choose to access TV through web-based services such as Netflix and Fubo. DirectTV is another option. With TV accessed through the web, you may need to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connecting through a server that is based in the country where you are purchasing the service. (Some of these services are only available to the U.S.geography so use a VPN that allows you to specify access through a U.S.-based server.)

In total, we spend about $60 U.S. on TV.

Food and groceries. A lot of variability in this category as well that impacts the cost of living in Chapala. We’ve found that prices for ingredients are fairly uniform and remarkably inexpensive (compared to the U.S.) for locally-sourced produce and meat. It’s routine for us to visit the local mercado where lots of local vendors hawk their wares. We visit a fruit and vegetable stand (there are several), a carniceria (butcher), and a salsa vendor.

At the vegetable vendor, we walk away with a couple of large bags stuffed with fruit and vegetables, enough for a week of eating, for between $5 and $7.50 U.S. The butcher provides us with beef and pork and chicken. Typically, we get a kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef for about $7.50 (U.S.) We also buy fruit from the numerous vendors that line the main street of Chapala. I’m in love with the salsa I can get fresh every morning. Ditto with the frijoles (beans) with or without chili or carne (meat).

Some expats are squeamish about buying off the street. We aren’t. We’re choosy though and we have learned to develop familiarity with the vendors and tend to re-visit the same ones over and over. The locals buy here; why not us?

Products that are imported from the U.S. can be readily purchased here, either at Walmart or a local shop called Super Lake which caters to gringos and has lots of the favorite items gringos crave. However, compared to the locally-produced items, they are premium-priced.

That said, we frequent Pancho’s Deli Market. It’s small and packed with goodies gringos like us love. Excellent produce and fruit and staples such as jasmine rice, Asian sauces, chips, and other such items. Superb service too.

Dining out is also variable, just as in the U.S. The Chapala area has lots of restaurants that cater to gringos, ranging from what you might call diners in the U.S. all the way up to white tablecloth places. We gravitate toward the restaurants that cater to the locals. The prices are better; the food usually good to excellent, and the price (other than the money) is having to learn a little more Spanish in order to communicate our needs and wants. We think it’s worth it.

That said, you can eat heartily at lunch for about $5 U.S. for two. Dinner costs more in the $10 U.S. range. At gringo-oriented establishments, expect to spend $20 and up for dinner. (And, for transparency, we do not imbibe, so the prices I have quoted here do not included any adult beverages you might want.)

What else? Oh, household items. Hello, Walmart. Local brands cost about a third less than in the U.S. The familiar U.S. brands are about the same or slightly higher than in the U.S. Likewise with clothes.

A trip to the movies here? About $6 U.S. for two. Yes, for major Hollywood releases. See our previous post about the movies here.

We visted Guadalajara recently to partake of opera broadcast Live from the Met. In the U.S., the last time we attended the tickets ran $22 per person. Here, we paid about $10. (Remember, that pricing in pesos varies daily depending on the exchange rate.)

So to sum up, you have a lot of control of your cost of living in Chapala. Go local, go native, and you can live on a surprisingly small amount of money. Such as the average Social Security check (in the range of $1300-$1400 U.S. per month, or even less). And you can splash out, spending pretty much any amount above that.

Ah, the choices of living in paradise.

A Musical Odyssey in Guadalajara

Yesterday we indulged in our love of live music with a day trip to Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara. Well, sort of. As noted in a previous post, Mexico is full of music. We enjoy it almost every day here in Chapala. Yet, we were longing for the musical events we loved back in the U.S. We got our wish satisfied.

First up, we took in an opera broadcast live from the Met (the Metropolitan Opera in New York City). Truth be told, it was a delayed broadcast of last Saturday’s actual live event (on March 31), delayed because of the overwhelming celebration of Holy Week and Easter throughout Mexico.

The opera was the Mozart classic, Cosi Fan Tutte. I’ve seen this opera a number of times, each time a different production with a new stage setting. This latest iteration had the backdrop of 1950s Coney Island, complete with circus artists filling the stage. A truly glorious production and beautifully sung by the six leads.

Teatro Diana hosted the event, right in downtown Guadalajara. And it’s a perfect setting for the Live from the Met broadcasts. Yes, the subtitles are in Spanish, so brush up on the libretto before you attend or, better yet, use the opportunity to learn written Spanish.

Following the opera, we headed toward Telmex Auditorium in the northern part of the city, where the Corona Capital Festival happened. The Festival is billed as the premier musical annual event in Mexico. [Telmex Auditorium hosts many major musical acts, both Mexican and internationally-known.}

We did not know what to expect, beyond the relatively limited information on the festival website.

Still, we had a powerful (for us at least) reason to make this foray–David Byrne of Talking Heads fame was bringing his solo tour to Guadalajara in support of his new album, American Utopia.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the number one question we get as geezers living in paradise is how safe it is to live here.

We drove easily to the venue, found parking and began the walk to the festival entrance. Police presence was everywhere. Not heavily armed, although I’m sure if the need arose, those resources were readily available. I felt a lot more safe here than at similar events I have attended back in the U.S.

Approaching the entry, there were two pathways. Several times I was admonished to move over the right side (Bonnie and I were walking on the left side) so we moved over. Then the reverse would happen. Finally, an English-speaking Mexicana explained that men and women entered separately.

So we split up. At the entry, ticket displayed, I was gently patted down by a security man and then was asked to go over to show my day bag to a police officer for inspection. Bonita received a similar inspection from a female. This accomplished, Bonita and I met up again and went through the final gate where our tickets were scanned and we were finally in the festival grounds.

And we sure felt like geezers. The sea of people were all in their twenties and thirties, although the twenties and younger were the main demographic. The only people we saw who could be described as mature were either police, festival officials or firefighters.

And, we saw no other gringos the entire day.

Yet, we felt totally welcome, even though we were the source of some amusement among the young.

The grounds were sparkling and dazzling; multi-colored structures, mainly presented by Mexican corporations dotted the landscape. Along with lots of food vendors (with a deep selection of all kinds of cuisine) and cerveza (beer) everywhere.

And it was hot and sunny. Early April through the end of May is the hot season here. We managed to find some shade under a canopy near one of the food courts and crowded ourselves in with other refugees from the heat.

The festival boasts three main stages and a couple of smaller ones. Music is continuous from the open (1PM) to the an hour before the close (1AM). We sat and ate and enjoyed whatever music was playing, while we waited for David Byrne.

David was scheduled from 5:20PM to 6:20PM so around 5PM we made our way through the crowds (every increasing) to secure ourselves a good spot to enjoy the show. Miraculously, we found a shaded area beside the sound control tower and joined several hundred youths there.

Right at 5:20 (the entire festival ran with military precision), David came out on stage and it was on with the show!

A collaboration with the Detroit School of the Arts, after David did the first song by his lonesome, the curtains parts and ten musicians joined him onstage: four drummers (each having one drum used like a marching band), keyboard, guitars, synth and a dancer or two.

The show was a mix of cuts from American Utopia and some of the Talking Heads catalog (Once In A Lifetime and Blind were standouts). And to finish, of course, Burning Down The House.

It was the first time either of us had gotten to see David and we had never had the chance to see the Talking Heads (although the move Stop Making Sense is a good second).

The show was everything we had hoped for and even more.

Following the show, with the blazing sun finally on a course to set, we found seats on a picnic-table bench and rested, awaiting Alanis Morissette. Right on schedule Alanis hit the stage. We listened for a while and finally decided to make our way home.

Did I mention we are now geezers?

A little too much angst in the music and we were unwilling to await one of our all-time favorite songs, Thank You, which we assumed would be the closing number, so we headed for the salida (exit).

We might have stayed. The Killers, a band that is huge among the twenty-somethings were headlining. We’d listened to them on Spotify (yes, it works just fine here in Mexico) and both felt they were not quite our cup of tea. And the other headliner, Robin Schulz, had canceled his appearance. We would have stayed to see him!

So, satiated with glorious music, albeit it radically different styles and environments, we made our way back to Chapala.

But not for long. Next Saturday, we’re off for the live broadcast of Luisa Miller by Verdi live from the Met, again at Teatro Diana.

Ahhhhh, the musical life is a good life. At least for these geezers in paradise.