Salsa and…………..New Shoes! A Week in Chapala

Sometimes this blog just writes itself. We don’t have a list of topics we’re set to discuss. We simply chronicle life here in Chapala at lakeside. Whatever comes up is what you’ll see here.

Bonita is visiting the States for a few weeks, so I’m here enduring the seventy degree weather during the day and the low sixties at night. As they say, somebody’s gotta do it…………………

This week salsa has been on my mind, and, more importantly, my tongue.

Now, just a warning. I love my salsa HOT! As in spicy hot. The hotter the better for me. When I sample salsas locally, the vendors, seeing an obvious gringo, warn me, oh es picante (Spanish for spicy hot). I assure them I like it that way. And sometimes it really is nice and spicy.

To get the really spicy ones here, and, never fear, there are lots and lots of salsas available in mild to bland, I usually have to buy bottled salsas.

Funny thing, fresh salsa is rare here. There is a family that makes fresh every day and retails down at the local mercado. Yummy! But they are the exception. All the restaurants have salsa; pretty much all make their own. And to get fresh salsa, that’s what you do here. You make your own.

But that’s not me. So, I hunt for salsas in shops and markets.

A few weeks ago, we were in Mexico City.  At one restaurant, I was served a smokey, spicy, earthy salsa that was just divine. I wanted some and the restaurant was willing, but flying and salsa as a carry-on do not mix, so I asked our server if the mercado attached to the restaurant had any comparable salsa. And they did.

I now have a local shop owner hunting this down for me.

Sunday, my neighbor and I made our way to Guadalajara to an event featuring artists and artisans from all over Mexico. Took us a while to actually find the place, even with the help of Google Maps. We were very glad that we didn’t give up the search.

The venue was Expo Guadalajara, which is a huge exhibition hall.

As we entered the exhibition/market, we got a spectacular reminder that the Day of the Dead is rapidly approaching here in Mexico (Thursday and Friday, November 1 and 2).

The show was a delight and to my joy there were several artisan salsa makers there.

Now, in the U.S., salsa typically means one thing: a thick red sauce of tomatoes and onions and cilantro in either mild, medium or hot (and what they label as hot tastes very mild to me).

In Mexico, salsa is a marvel. All kinds of variety.

One vendor from Veracruz had habanero with lemon, habanero with garlic, and straight habanero. All truly wonderful.

And then, there were the shoes.I’m pretty much a typical guy. I have a pair of everyday shoes (sneakers), and a couple of pairs of more formal shoes. That’s it. But these shoes were something else and I just couldn’t resist.

So howdaya like my new shoes?????? (Yes, I really did buy them!)

Dealing with Mexican Immigration Part 2

Last week we described the beginning of our residency visa journey. Today, the thrilling conclusion of the beginning of our saga on dealing with Mexican immigration.

We crossed into the U.S. by vehicle for the first time in almost ten months. From Nuevo Laredo, Mexico to Laredo, Texas.

If one is expecting the raging torrent of a river when crossing the Rio Grande, one is going to be disappointed. At this part of the border at least, it’s more a meandering stream than a swift river. But that it’s a border is very clear. Mexican officialdom staunchly on one side, U.S. officialdom on the other.

In Laredo, one is back on familiar ground. Fast food joints, the usual arrays of big-box stores. Could be anywhere U.S.A.

So we did our bit stimulating the economy after checking into the hotel. Off to Walmart to get some of the either can’t-get or hard-to-get items in Mexico. Starbucks Cold Brew coffee, a Ninja Foodie. Various other miscellany.

The next morning we went to the Mexican Consulate.

Now, our experience with consulates is very limited. Indeed, I had been to one only once, the American Consulate in Guadalajara, when I needed some papers notarized by an American notary. I made an appointment and off we went to the consulate. It’s huge; an entire block in Guadalajara. It’s busy. And it looks like, and is guarded and staffed like a fortress. Security is everywhere. Like the TSA, only if it was run by the military.

So that was the image and impression I had in mind going to the Mexican Consulate in Laredo. We left plenty early, expecting a rigmarole to even get inside. Google led us there, into the heart of downtown Laredo. An older part of town. Somewhat sad-looking brick buildings and homes. And there it was. A relatively small brick house. We parked less than a block away and walked in.

Nothing at the door. We simply opened it and walked in. No military presence.

Inside, we passed thru one of those doorway-like metal detectors, staffed by two private security officers. They asked our business, gave us a number and invited us to sit down among other folks all waiting for their turn.

We were early. Our appointment time came and we were invited to a desk with a lady who apparently was American. We conversed a little. Perfect English. Thank goodness!

In turn, we presented our papers, the most important of which is proof of regular income deposited into a financial institution. Social Security and/or a pension is perfect.

After the papers were processed, we were asked to an interview with one of the Consulate officials. A very pleasant Mexican man who asked us why we wanted to move to Mexico. We explained and we chatted a little longer and then we went back out to the waiting area while our visas were initiated.

A few minutes later, we paid the $36 U.S. fee (each) and received our visas.

The process has begun.

Dealing with Mexican Immigration

Last week we made the long trip to Nuevo Laredo and then to Laredo (Texas).

The purpose of the journey was two-fold: to apply for our temporary residence visas and to renew the permit for our U.S.-plated vehicle.

Up until now, we’ve been in Mexico using tourist visas. This allows a citizen of another country to be in Mexico for up to 180 days, where upon that person must exit. One can return immediately for another 180 days and some, if not many, expats use the tourist visas for living in Mexico.

However, with a U.S.-plated vehicle, its permit must be renewed every 180 days and this can only be done at the border. (The tourist visa must be renewed as well by exiting and re-entering Mexico.)

With a temporary residence visa, a person can bring in a foreign plated vehicle (by driving it into Mexico) and use it for the duration of the temporary residence visa–up to five years.

So we had a strong incentive to obtain temporary residence visas. Once we have them, we won’t have to drive to the border every 180 days.

The kicker is that the process of getting a temporary residence visa is that it must be originated outside Mexico. One cannot apply for the temporary residence visa while in Mexico.

So we did the usual searches online and found most of the information we needed. The forms, the requirements. What we could not figure out was how to actually make a appointment at a Mexican consulate in the U.S. (Neither of us are fluent in spoken or written Spanish.)

So we engaged an attorney (abrogado) here in Mexico. And are we ever glad we did. Without him, we would have been lost.

He made our appointments and instructed us what paperwork to bring to the consulate.

(For anyone needing his help: Alvaro Becerra. He has been a godsend for us. Providing free advice for legal, immigration and naturalization issues. New clients possible. 333-201-3123 (Number in Mexico). Alvaro speaks English along with Spanish.)

One important note: it is critical to turn in the tourist visa (called an FMM) when crossing the border. This is easy when you fly. The airline takes it as you board the plane. However, when driving out of Mexico, we’ve heard numerous stories from ex-pats that they tried to turn in the FMM when exiting and the officials at the road border crossing won’t take them.

From what we have heard, the FMM must be returned because one ends up in a bureaucratic nightmare if you are in Mexico with two different visas, which is what would happen if the FMM is not returned and you enter based on the visa you receive after successfully qualifying at the consulate.

We took another option to turn in our FMM. We went to the Immigration office in Mexico close to the border and turned ours in. No problem. We also turned in the permit for our vehicle.

Then we drove out of Mexico for the first time in ten months.

More to follow.

Note: please do not take what we say here as gospel on immigration to Mexico. Conditions and requirements change frequently and without notice. That’s why we so strongly suggesting Alvaro or a Mexican lawyer of your choice to help guide you.

More on Mexico City

Our visit to Mexico City is somewhat of a misnomer. We saw a relatively limited part of the city. After landing at the airport, we took an Uber to the Condesa neighborhood, about a 45 minute ride. Urban sprawl all the way. And traffic, lots of it.

The scale of Mexico City is indeed awesome. Over eight million people live in the city and another thirteen million in the greater area. When we flew out of Mexico City on our return to Guadalajara, it seemed that we flew over the City for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. It just goes on and on.

All of which is to say that the impressions we share here are based on a limited look. Though by the end of our extended weekend there, we both definitely look forward to our return.

First, Uber is everywhere. Lots of cabs as well, but we stuck to Uber. At current prices in U.S. dollars, the rides are very inexpensive.

Second, the parts of the City we saw were a mix of historic and modern buildings. Wifi is everywhere. Infrastructure is very good. Connectivity is excellent. Even in the parks.

Third, Mexico City sports an abundance of street art. Unfortunately we saw a lot of it on the bus tour, so photos were a challenge. I’d love to go back just to photograph this artistic aspect of the City.

It was cool in Mexico City during our visit. It’s just shy of 7,500 feet. Half again as high as Denver. So cool weather comes naturally. I had not brought any warm clothing, so the morning after our arrival we ubered off to Walmart to buy a fleece jacket for me. Glad I did because later that day we took a tour of the City by bus. Even though the sun was shining, I was thankful for that jacket.

Dogs are everywhere. Not like in Chapala. Not a street dog identifiable. No. We saw hundreds, maybe thousands of dogs during our three days there. All kinds, many apparently pedigreed. And lots of pet shops of course.

Along with pet shops, shoe stores. One after another. All kinds of shoes. Glittery, shiny, lacquered, it seems that shoes are an obsession there.

The dining was excellent. In Condesa, there were multitudes of vegan restaurants, all small, mostly outdoor seating. With made-to-order offerings that were totally tantalizing.

We can’t wait to go back to explore more of this vast city.



A Trip to Mexico City

Last weekend Bonita and I took our first “long” trip in Mexico. On Saturday, we boarded a Volaris flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City.

We had considered driving. It’s about a four and half to six hour trip, depending on where in Mexico City one is going. We’re very glad we didn’t. Negotiating Mexico City seems nightmarish, at least to this gringo and geezer. So we let Uber do the driving.

We had booked into an AirBnB offering. Turned out to be a delight. Right in the heart of Condesa, one of Mexico City’s historical wealthy districts. Our lodging was in a beautiful home owned and operated by a delightful lady who fussed over us and made us feel totally at home.

And we were only a few short blocks of a walk away from the venue where we attended a concert Sunday night.

Our impressions of Mexico City are just too expansive to cover in one blog post, so I’ll keep this one focused on one subject. Our bus tour of Mexico City during the day Sunday that came to a spectacular climax at the Zocalo, or central square.

I’m guessing you’ve seen lots of pictures of this historical area and of course, we’re going to show you a few here.

It’s almost impossible to describe the grandeur of this location. It is the largest urban square in the world of its type and even saying that belittles the jaw-dropping depth and breadth of the place. Hopefully a picture is worth a thousand words.

Mexico’s Independence Day had recently passed and the remnants of the celebration still festooned the plaza.

The square was mobbed with people and yet, many thousands more could comfortably fit.

And it wouldn’t be Mexico if there wasn’t a cathedral. So, we leave you for the present with this.