More Changes in Chapala

There are several indicators that Fall has arrived in Chapala. One is that the rainy season ends. Another, that the pelicans return to the lake. Yet another is that repair and construction projects go into high gear.

This Fall there are a number of projects.

First, the main drag, the carretera, is under repair. Admittedly, it’s a bumpy ride. Over the years, the heavy traffic through the town has left the carratera a wavy undulating surface rather than a smooth flat surface.

It’s not paved; it’s not being paved. Instead, the carretera is bricked.

It’s being repaired block by block, involving an army of workers, moving earth and smoothing, bulldozing and flattening. And then, the bricks are being laid by hand. It’s quite a process.

Along with the carretera being repaired, there are a number of building projects along the carretera. Excavating into the hill and taking out old decaying buildings and rebuilding. One project will be a number of apartments. The others? I’m not sure. We will see.

Not only is repair work happening, street artists are out decorating stairs and walls.

And the main carretera that runs along the lake is being repaved. At least we think it’s going to be. Right now the only work we see is the installation of a bike path. We’ll see.

Finally, the pelicans are returning! How glorious!

On the Trail of the Taco Chronicles, Part 2

Prior to our visit to our stay in Morelia on our first Taco Chronicles run (which you can read about here), we went to find La Casa de Blanca, the owner of which appeared prominently in the series.

Turns out the restaurant is in one of Mexico’s fabled Pueblos Magicos, so we thought we’d get a twofer–seeing the pueblo and having a wonderful meal. It was not to be.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Tzintzuntzan, nestled on the shore of a grand lake, Lago do Patzcuaro.

And true to its title, Tzintzuntzan lived up to its appellation. Driving in, it just felt magical.

First, we stopped at the malecon which could pass as a big rest area in the U.S. A few boats dotted the lakefront which was covered with shrubs. No beach here. Notice below the proverbial dog, lazing by the lake. So far, every town and city we’ve visited in Mexico sports lots and lots of dogs, just hanging out.

Every angel must get its wings and here at last, Bonita got hers!

We drove through the town, letting Google Maps guide us to the restaurant. At last we parked in front of the town’s mercado and went across the street to our destination.

But alas, the restaurant wasn’t serving, so we went away disappointed.

Despite that, the mercado and our exploration of the town proved most delightful.

The mercado, it turns out, features brightly and brilliantly colored Christmas decorations as well as many other local works of arts and crafts.

The main attraction however is the Monastery of San Francisco, founded in the sixteenth century. 

Typically, both towns and cities in Mexico have a square, an el centro, which is anchored by a cathedral. Here in Tzintzuntzan however, not so. We were wondering where to local cathedral was and, as we had read about the monastery, where it was as well.

One of the merchants pointed us toward a wall at the back of the mercado. We headed that way and walking past dozens and dozens of vendors hawking all kinds of merchandise and art, we passed through a gate in a wall into a garden of tranquility that is the monastery.

A truly lovely and almost otherworldly place, it features three cathedrals. I could go on and on here, yet, I’ll go by the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with a montage of the stately place.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. (And come visit!)



On the Trail of The Taco Chronicles Part 1

I hope you’re been introduced to the wonderful Netflix series, The Taco Chronicles.  If you haven’t and you at all like food (and Mexico), you’re in for a treat.

The Taco Chronicles are six half-hour explorations of the various types of tacos found in Mexico. Yes, it’s food porn. I salivated watching it. At the same time, I learned a lot about Mexico, its history, its tradition, its food, and its people.

We watched it and our neighbors watched it and immediately we began looking at the map to see whether it was feasible to visit some or all of the places chronicled in the series.

Turned out that several of the locations were definitely drivable. The State of Michoacan, the State of Hildago, and Mexico City.

We planned out a trip to Michoacan, where there are several Chronicles locations.

It’s a beautiful four-hour drive to the city of Morelia. All the entire drive is on toll road, very well maintained and relatively uncrowded.

Michoacan is a beautiful topography, quite different from Jalisco where we live. Mountain after mountain with lush valleys filled with crops.

We totally loved the scenery. (That’s broccoli growing in the picture just above, for as far as the eye can see…………….)

Yet, we were on a mission: to check out and experience the Taco Chronicle locations.

First up, was Carnitas Don Raul.

Now, without spoiling The Taco Chronicles, the main ingredient of carnitas from Michoacan is pork long simmered in its own fat, often cooked in large copper vats. (An amazing process–watch the show)

Carnitas Don Raul is a restaurant with sit-down service. Sparkling clean. We knew we were in the right place when we walked through the front door to see an employee artfully carving meat.

The food was absolutely mouth-watering, everything we expected and even more. The food is the star here. Mounds of moist melt-in-your-mouth, bursting with flavor pork.

Yes there are accompaniments, mostly veggies with vinegar to cut some of the “sweetness” of the meat.

Our server, Angel (pronounced with a hard “A” and more of a hard “K” than a “g”), watched over us and kept us supplied with whatever we needed.

Totally wonderful.

And the trip had just started!

Welcome to Mexico, or in the Land of Random Acts of Kindness

Lots going on here “down under” (at least “under” Texas and that now infamous border). Got some good posts lined up.

Yet today I want to relate a couple of experiences from this past weekend.

A friend of mine from Phoenix flew down to hang out here in Chapala for the early part of last week and then the two of us flew down to Mexico City. Mainly for some music–we went to see Muse (us and about 80,000 of our closest Mexican friends.) Wonderful show, I might add–the best I’ve seen in my life, and I don’t think that’s recency bias speaking.

That was Thursday night. On the rest of the weekend, we explored Mexico City.  On Thursday and Friday we used Uber to get us around town.

Then on Saturday we decided to try the Metro system, which features buses with specified traffic lanes and a modern subway.

We walked down to the nearest station and of course we needed tickets. No human interface though, just several machines that looked easy enough to negotiate. However, we just couldn’t do it. Our credit cards didn’t work; feeding in pesos didn’t work; and watching the locals use the machine didn’t seem to explain it either.

So we slunk down out of the way to decide what to do.

And began asking what we considered to be likely suspects if they spoke English.

Sure enough, one man offered to help. And did he ever. Up to the machine we went. He tried to get us tickets too, and couldn’t. But then out of his wallet he pulled a specialized transit card and asked how many trips we needed (at 5 pesos a trip). We gave him a 20 peso bill and he loaded the transit card with the money and gave us the card.

We were bowled over. Such a kind act.

Then, once we were downtown, we needed to switch from the bus to the subway.

And once again, a lovely young lady stepped in to help two, ummmm, mature gentlemen (???) negotiate buy a ticket and then actually using it. To boot, she guided us right to the correct platform and showed us exactly where to stand to get the train.

Another kind act by a seemingly random stranger.

When I asked my friend what were the highlights of the trip to Mexico City for him, he replied with those two acts of kindness without a moment’s hesitation.

We had seen Muse; we had seen one of Rodin’s sculptures of both the Thinker and the Four Gates of Hell. We had eaten some amazing food. We had taken in vibrant lively art and music. Yet, it was those two moments of human interaction that was the highlight for us both.

Independence Day in Mexico

September 16th is Mexico’s July 4th.

And it’s a big holiday here. Building are festooned with red, white and green banners and decorations. Flags are flying. Centros are spruced up.

On the day itself, Mexico turns out. The streets are crowded with families walking and eating and laughing and just having a good old time.

The malecon here is Chapala was packed.

On a nice warm day, ice cream (or helados) is a big seller and lots of vendors along the malecon are happy to supply it.

There’s also the Mexican version of three card monte. I got corralled into trying it out. It’s played on a board resembling the Chinese Checkers board I used to play as a kid. And I was given three marbles. I’m supposed to drop the marbles and wherever the marbles land, the points are added up. That total then is worth a certain number of points, or you can lose a number of points.

If you accumulate the requisite number of points, you have your choice of prizes. Flat-screen tvs, kitchen appliances and the like.

People are lined up for boat rides on the lake.

Everybody wants their picture taken with the Chapala sign.

And some families engage the floating bands of musicians to play for them.

It was just wonderful.

Yet the star of the day was definitely the greased pole. While I was walking down the malecon, I saw a pole being installed close to where the volcunaros practice. I wasn’t sure what it was. On my way back, a big crowd had gathere around the pole, from which now huge several very large plastic bags with goodies inside.

I asked one of the bystanders and found out that this was the Mexican equivalent of the proverbial greased pig chase. Whoever could climb the pole and could pull down the prizes got to keep them.

And oh what fun it was. The crowd cheered and several young men tried and failed. Then several of them banded together. And the magic happened. Enjoy the videos!

A Day Trip to Another Pueblo Magico: Mazamitla

We’re slowly making our way to the Pueblos Magicos of Mexico, at least some of the more local ones. Even so, the attractions of the selected towns seem so attractive, we’re looking ahead to visiting some that are further and further afield.

Yet, for now, we’re exploring those in our home state of Jalisco.

This weekend we visited Mazamitla. It’s been labeled as replicating a Swiss village.

We kinda missed that resemblance. It’s pretty, to be more, but in a traditional Mexican way.

Mazamitla is a drive around to the south shore of Lake Chapala. The road snakes along, sometimes seemingly right on the lake and at others, the lake is nowhere to be seen.

There are three striking qualities of the south shore.

The first is the close-up view of what at a distance appear to be greenhouses. They’re all over the slopes of the mountains that ring the lake. And, to be sure, they’re not really greenhouses. They’re not enclosed. They are heavy plastic on metal frames under which are grown a myriad of crops. What we saw appeared to be mostly tomatoes.

The second quality was the heights of the mountains on the south side. One of the tallest was shrouded with clouds on the sunny Saturday of our trip.

And third, the south side seems to be dominated by agriculture and by country living in Mexico. No lines of stores and restaurants. No big box stores, no, not even a Walmart. Instead, quaint villages and not gringos in sight.

To get to Mazamitla, we drove west to the end of the lake and then circled around to the east until we seemed to be directly across from Chapala. Then we turned south and make our way through a rolling mountain pass and finally into the pueblo.

Like every village centro we’ve visited on a Saturday, it was rockin’ and rollin’. We keep our eyes on the cathedral spires, knowing that the centro historico would be right there. Parking was at a premium; not by price, but by availability. We finally found our way into a private lot and set off to explore.

One item of particular note: there were Voladores, the flying natives that are prominent in many Mexican towns and cities. The costuming has been identical each time we’re encountered them. It was here too. However, we saw no pole for them to fly on.

Instead, there was an odd contraption the use of which was not immediately apparent. So we settled in to await the dance and the show and sure enough, the show in Mazamitla is different from any other we have seen.

(Sorry about the video quality! I’ll try to do better, I promise.)

We walked around a little, soaking in the sights and finally landed in a restaurant on the square for lunch. We shared a paradilla which pairs grilled sausage, beef and chicken, with cheese, onions, nopales and yummy little egg rolls.

All though the meal, a caged parrot kept its back turned to us.

And the dragons on the lamp kept watch as well.

A thoroughly enjoyable day here with the magic of Mexico!

Comida Chronicles of Chapala

Netflix recently unveiled a short series called The Taco Chronicles. Yep. All about tacos in Mexico.  We’ve been devouring it (pun intended!).

Mexico City is prominent in the series as are several states to our west. The state in which Chapala resides, Jalisco, is not featured in the series.

Still, Jalisco has its very own tradition of comida (Spanish for food and in Mexico, my Spanish teacher informs me, also refers specifically to lunch). The local specialty is goat, marinated and slow cooked til it is literally melt in your mouth. It’s served with a rich broth, beans, cheese, onions, and tortillas. Truly wonderful.

In several of our discussions of food, my Spanish teacher strongly suggested that I visit a Guadalajara establishment called Karne Garibaldi.  I checked it out on the web and made the trip. As Bonnie was in the States at the time, my intrepid neighbor made the trek with me.

We arrived around 2PM on a Saturday. The place was rocking and rolling. We got seated immediately but the place was pretty densely packed and full. (By the time we left there was a line out the front door.)

We managed to order with our limited Spanish and the wait staff limited English. And immediately we had food. Up first, a plate of tortilla chips and one of Karne Garibaldi’s signature dishes, frijoles con elote (beans with corn) and guacamole.

Yes, we do know that we’re supposed to present the pictures of the food in their splendid glory before they are tainted by munching and crunching. But we couldn’t resist. It looked so good, and, well, you’ll have to take our word for it, it was that good.

What we didn’t know was that the frijoles with corn and chips was the house staple. When we’d finish a plate, a wait staff member would pop by, take the empty and leave us a replacement. Don’t we just love restaurants???

Our order can very quickly as well. And I mean very quickly. Turns out that Karne Garibaldi holds a Guinness Book of World Records record for fastest service.

And all without sacrificing any quality for a sit-down restaurant.

We had karne in its own juices. Literally melt in your mouth.

One of the treasures of Jalisco. Hopefully The Taco Chronicles will spawn more programs about Mexican specialties. The food is indeed wonderful here.



New Housing in Chapala

We often get asked about housing in Chapala.

We rent; we do not own (yet).

Why, you ask? We want to get a great feel for the area before we make a long-term commitment. Some people, though, feel quite differently. There are a lot of stories of expats coming to visit lakeside, falling in love with it and buying a house immediately. Sometimes this works out; sometimes it doesn’t.

Our purpose here is not to wade into the middle of this (or any) controversy. We’re simply sharing our everyday experiences with you here in Chapala.

As long-time readers are aware, we frequent the train station for concerts and cultural events. Across the street from this beautiful building runs a high brick wall, squaring off what appears to be a big piece of property, although who really knew, given that the wall was quite high.

Then we started to hear rumors that a housing development would be built inside the walls. And sure enough, over time, a modern Mexican house rose up. Just one.

And then, the open house signage.

So my neighbor and I ventured to have a look.

Turns out that an entry with what appears will be a guard station has appeared on the side street off Gonzalez Gallo. We walked in to see an open piece of property with the one house constructed and a team of construction workers building a second right next door.

The salesman was with a couple, so we poked around exploring both the first and second floors. The first floor consists of a decent sized kitchen and breakfast nook, a living room and a bedroom with bath, although no shower.

Upstairs, there are two more bedrooms, one a master and the other a guest, each with their own full baths. Also upstairs, a nice patio overlooking what will be the development.

As you can see from the photos, this property is not traditional Mexican. I guess you might call it Mexican modern.

Talking with the salesman, we learned that the development will contain some 28 houses, with a clubhouse and pool. Monthly maintenance fees are set at $800 pesos or about $40 U.S. at current exchange rates.

The property are in the general range of $170,000 to $200,000 U.S.

Our speculation is that the target market for these houses are weekending Guadalajarans. Most expats seem to prefer bungalows rather than multiple stories.

If you desire, you can learn more here.

Still, these appear to be the wave of the future here at lakeside.

Weed Invades Chapala!!!

No, not the wacky weed or Reefer Madness.

But it is an invasion!

Yes, it’s summer here and the weeds are blooming.

This has been an ongoing problem on Lake Chapala for quite a few years. Apparently at the end of the 19th century, this non-native water hyacinth was introduced to the lake as decoration.

Alas, residents around the lake have been battling them ever since.

It’s a summer phenomenon, part of the rainy season. The dams along the rivers that feed the lake are often opened to prevent flooding and this onslaught, along with the warm weather, the hyacinths (and several accompanying weeds) flourish.

Towns around the lake have tried raking the weeds out as they blow in to the lakeshore in a seemingly Sisyphean  effort to rid the lake of them.

This time of year, I never quite know what to expect on my daily walk on the malecon.

The lakeshore might be clear, with large “islands” of weed visible far out on the lake.

Or, it might seem like the lake disappeared overnight, replaced by a blanket of green.

Or, some days, there might be bright patches of green floating just off the lakeshore.

Ya just never know!

Something to look forward to.

Last, here’s a video of the boat operators who work despite the weed invasion. Enjoy.

Geezers Learning Spanish

One of the reasons I hear to move to the Chapala/lakeside area of Mexico is that you don’t have to learn the language to get by here.

This is true. You don’t have to.

However, doing so limits you to mainly interaction with other gringos and constantly feeling like a stranger in a strange land (how about that for a book title???).

Spanish really is not all that hard to learn. It’s quite rule-based and there are not all that many exceptions to the rules. And, I’ve found as I’ve studied more and more, that many English words were derived from Spanish, so there’s really lots of crossover. And yes, I do know that Spanish evolved out of Latin. Somehow, though, it seems a lot easier to learn than Latin and sounds a lot more pleasant, at least to these ears.

Before making the move to Mexico, I started trying to learn Spanish. There were and are lots of choices out there and I started with a classic: Pimsleur.

Pimsleur’s been around for a long time. You can subscribe to their service for about $15 US a month. You get 20 minute lessons, a nice length. And, they’re focused on practical learning. Mostly, however, for tourists. Which is not a bad thing. It’s always good to know how to say, where’s the bathroom? (donde esta el bano?).

However, when I got to Mexico I discovered that the natives here don’t follow the scripts. And even though I’d learned some phrases (a good thing!) and a number of Spanish words, I needed more.

Enter Duolingo. Duo’s an app for both iPhone and Android. It’s free. There’s a paid version which strips out the ads and fluff. I love it. The lessons are short, between 5 and 10 minutes each. And you can repeat them as often as you like. They’re subject focused. And they’re designed to teach Spanish as used in Latin America.

Somehow too I got introduced to Babbel, another phone app. I tried it for free and then ended up buying a subscription (there is no free version). Frankly, Babbel is disappointing. You’ll be learning Iberian Spanish, which is similar to, but different from Latin American Spanish in both conjugations and in pronunciation and in word usage.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the length of the lessons in Babbel. When the app speaks Spanish to you, it’s done at the same high speed you encounter on the street (a good thing?) but there’s no way to slow it down to really hear what’s being said. Duo has both street speed and a gringo speed.

I will not be renewing my subscription when it expires.

Some expats here have taken the Warren Hardy lessons that are promoted by International Living magazine. I don’t get a warm and fuzzy from their reactions.  It seems to work well for some; not for others.

So I’ve been bouncing along with Duo, making progress yet very slowly and hesitantly.

Then I found Manu.

Manu offered his services teaching Spanish on the Facebook group for expats here. Now I’d considered taking private lessons before but had not found the motivation to get off my butt and find a teacher. For some reason, I wrote him, he responded, and we ended up as teacher and student.

And I am so glad I did. There’s nothing like one-on-one learning. I can dig deep with questions. I learn nuances. I am learning Spanish as it’s spoken here in Mexico.

So, our experience is: study on your own AND find a local teacher. I think you’ll be quite pleased. And if you want to contact Manu, you can reach him at manudiza at Tell him Roberto sent you!