Blog

Mexico’s Independence Day 2020

September 16th is Mexico’s July 4th. Independence Day.

Beyond the nomenclature, the meaning and the story of the day is very different in Mexico than in the U.S.

I’d enjoyed two prior Independence Day celebrations here in Chapala. Both were very festive, with a party atmosphere and lots of noise. Fireworks, which are quite legal here, would start in the morning and run deep into the evening and every the next morning. It’s the one time of year I’m a little thankful that I’m hard of hearing. While some expats complain vociferously about the noise, I peacefully sleep though almost all of it.

However, given the pandemic, Independence Day was quite quiet here, literally.

But I did get a wake-up call about it.

My Spanish teacher introduced me to a long-standing tradition here in Mexico. That is, the Grito speech, by the President of Mexico.

On the night of September 15, the President appears on the balcony of the Presidential Palace at the Zocalo in Mexico City (the huge square) and replicates the speech of Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla, a priest who rallied Mexicans to throw off Spanish rule. You can read about the tradition here.

Grito in Spanish means shout. As my teacher explained, the speech was given in 1810 and the priest had to shout to be heard by a large crowd.

The 16th is now a holiday and the locals were out in numbers to celebrate.

The malecon was abuzz.

Kites were flying.

Kids were playing.

A beautiful day shown for us all.

Happy times in Chapala.

Entrepreneurs In Chapala

One of the most appealing aspects of living in Mexico is the ease of opening businesses. During my life in the U.S., I opened several businesses and although not particularly difficult, it did take a lot of paperwork and filing and reporting.

Here, you open your business. Yes, you do have to make sure you are charging the VAT (which must be quoted as part of the price of any product or service). And there are a few other rules and regulations, depending on the type of business in which you’re engaged. But for the most part, shop owners and entrepreneurs here uniformly tell me how easy it is to get going.

Interestingly enough, it often means a lot of businesses open and are soon gone. Under-capitalized, under-marketed, simply not appealing? Often, I’m not quite sure but in the almost three years I’ve been here I’ve seen a lot of them come and go.

So I was very pleased to observe and be part of the success of a restaurant in Ajijic called Vegan Town.

The co-owners are a young couple, Tulu (pronounced Sulu, as in the Star Trek character) and Eddie. Tulu is the daughter of Laura, who manages a vegan restaurant, Ol-Lin, in San Antonio (a neighborhood in Chapala). Sulu studied nutrition in university. I met Tulu while she worked at Ol-Lin.

She and Eddie branched out and opened a small restaurant on the west side of Ajijic. A tiny place with two tables. They survived during the current crisis doing deliveries. And recently they’ve relocated to a larger location and expanded their hours to include breakfast.

Note from their signage above that they’re open six days a week, for twelve hours a day. And it’s just the two of them, with a little help in the kitchen.

The new location is a home. They live in part of it and have the restaurant in most of it. The (thankfully) large kitchen is like a big home kitchen in the U.S. or Canada.

Tulu makes amazing food, and clearly it’s made with love. You don’t do a business like this with all the hours and all the work and not love it.

It’s wonderful to see a young couple launching into a new venture, serving their customers and generally making a little part of the world a better place.

Not to mention having outstanding food! Check out these pizzas and these delighted customers (my neighbors!).

 

 

A Mexican Tribute to Bonita

If you’ve read this blog for any time, you are aware that I walk along the malecon almost every day. I love the walk and the sheer beauty of the lake.

I live just one block from the lake.

Along the way, I pass a number of typical Mexican homes, one of which is owned by ex-pats that I’ve come to know over the past year. We’re friendly enough to chat a little and even pick up items for each other on our occasional trips to Costco in Guadalajara.

One day, passing by their property, I saw some men working on the sidewalk wall of their place. They were taking down and replacing some tiles and generally cleaning up.

I wasn’t quite sure what exactly they were doing, but a day or so later I passed by again and there was a tile frame around a bright white blank wall.

Something was afoot.

Then over the course of a few more days and weeks, I passed by several women who were slowly filling in the blank with more tiles, creating a large work of art, in a bright Mexican style.

One day, I stopped to talk with the ladies. They showed me various specific tiles and told me about the art and the pattern. They even invited me to donate a tile or something small to honor a loved one that would be added to the wall.

Now, that was a perfect invitation.

So I looked through some of Bonnie’s possessions for an appropriate item and I came across an earring that she had worn on and off during our time together. She always insisted on having earrings on whenever we went out, even if it was just around the block.

So I gave one of them to the ladies.

And sure enough, up it went in the wall.

Hopefully you can see it here in this close-up. It’s the wooden patterned wheel and it now sits happily in this art near the lake in Chapala.

I think Bonnie would be pleased.

Rainy Season in Chapala 2020

We’re deep into the rainy season. Yes, we have had some rain during the early mornings and evenings several times so far. More likely are deeply impressive thunderstorms that roll across the lake from West to East during the nights.

The lake has risen five inches so far and we’ve got a couple of more months of rain. Nice!

We’ve got a lone sentry keeping watch on the lake. Every day I walk by and usually a bird is there, watching.

It’s also a pretty lazy time here too.

It appears too that the cats insist that I take some time off, leave the computer alone, and chill.

Good advice!

Nothing has changed covidwise here. We’re still in maskland. Gotta say, I do feel weird walking into a bank with a mask on. I also always want to put my hands in the air.

There’s no word yet when movies and sports and concerts might resume and under what conditions. Apparently, the government here is deciding how to re-open schools. Businesses remain open.

So it seems that we’re really in a holding pattern.

We’re okay and seem to be handling it all well.

Hopefully you are too.

All the best, Bob

 

 

 

Cleaning up in Chapala

One of the endearing aspects to life here in Mexico and in Chapala are the contrasts. At first glance, one might notice the litter, the poverty, the need. But the longer I’ve lived here, the more I’ve come to appreciate how hard the Mexicans work on maintaining their land, their homes, and their villages and cities.

I vividly recall some of the early morning trips to the airport when Bonnie had to travel to Houston for treatment. The flights really were at o’dark hundred. We’d drive through a very quiet Chapala with only the streetlights illuminating the surrounding.

This was especially surreal after the thunderstorms that happen overnight during the rainy season (happening now through September).

There would be a few people out–almost all of them street cleaners. Not the hulking noisy machines you see in the U.S.. These are men and women with large straw brooms sweeping the streets and sidewalks.

Often, while walking through town I encounter people out washing the exterior of their homes and the sidewalks. Every street has people who will wash your car while you visit or shop.

This week, the malecon and the adjacent beaches of the lake were being cleaned by a legion of washers. It’s usual to see a team of two with a power washer spraying down the malecon and scrubbing as needed. The plants are trimmed; trash removed; debris gathered up that’s washed ashore.

This effort was larger and very effective.

Kind of inspires me to do some house cleaning. I put in a message to my cleaning service to have Lupita, my expert house cleaner, visit this week!

 

Life Goes On in Chapala

Like the rest of the world, we’re still in the midst of the pandemic. Although businesses are open, theatres, music venues and sports events are not, with no change evident into the immediate future.

Still, life goes on.

When I visit the local mercado area to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, folks are out and about, many with masks. Masks are required in the shops and stores, although here it’s primarily a self-policed requirement.

I’m focused on being grateful for what I have and that’s enough.

The malecon is open, although relatively un-peopled except on weekends.

We’re having some simply spectacular days, clear and bright, warm and slightly breezy. Just delightful.

I’m grateful!

 

 

 

 

The Chapala Malecon Re-opens

Yeah! Time to do my happy dance!

Last Thursday, the malecon re-opened.

For months now, I’ve only really seen the lake for fleeting moments driving in and out of Chapala. Not long after the virus crisis began, the city closed the malecon and closed the city to all but residential and essential services traffic.

Now, Mexico is slowly re-opening.

It’s been tough on many Mexicans. This is still largely a land of independent shop owners and crafts and trades persons. A lot of families are dependent on their small shops to put food in their mouths.

Last month some of the shop owners along the malecon marched in protest of their continued closure while other shops in town (off the malecon) were allowed to re-open.

At last, they’re coming back.

And we get to see the beautiful lakeside again.

The timing also corresponds with the beginning of rainy season. Here in Chapala that generally means storms at night and clear sunny days. Still, on occasion, we do have a few overcast days and last Thursday was one of them.

Nevertheless, I took advantage of the opening to walk the malecon for the first time since late February.

As you can see, not many people were yet aware of the change. I only heard about it from my neighbor. I suspect that the city quietly made the decision and thus had a “soft” opening.

Not surprisingly, the lake has significantly decreased in volume. The shoreline has receded extensively. Six months ago, the pier in the photo above was almost under water. Now, dry land.

Over the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the malecon was busier and busier. Musicians were returning as were vendors and shop owners. The shop area is still separated from the main part of the malecon by a plastic fence you can see in some of the photos below, in part, I assume, to divert foot traffic to areas where city personnel can monitor the volume of visitors and see to social distancing and masking.

 

Oh what a joy it is to be back near the lake!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapala’s Renovated Mercado

In the midst of the coronavirus reaction, life goes on. Yes, that’s a cliche…but it happens to be true. By life goes on here, I specifically mean that projects and business continues, even a different and more leisurely pace.

One of the projects that’s been going on for months now in Chapala is the renovation of the town mercado (or marketplace). While the term mercado is used to refer to any market, especially outdoor markets that are often present weekly, each town in Mexico seems to have a town mercado. These mercados are housed in public buildings where space is rented to individual or family enterprises who provide all types of food.

There are butchers and vendors of beef, chicken, pork, lamb and fish. There are fruit and vegetable vendors. There are prepared food stands. There are flowers and tortillas and cheeses. All sorts of consumables.

Chapala’s mercardo was a dreary, worn-out looking building in very serious need of a facelift. I don’t know when it’s last update was but I would seriously guess sometime in the sixties. No joke. It was dark and dingy and it was a testament to the vendors that they survived and thrived in spite of the much less than inviting environment.

Several months ago, maybe even a year ago, funds were secured through the state of Jalisco and with contribution by the city to seriously renovate the mercado.

The building was closed and the vendors all moved outside to the little park area in front of the building on the main drag of the city.

For months it seemed as if nothing was really happening. And then a couple of weeks ago, voila, the renovated building was dedicated and opened.

What a change! Much more inviting and bright.Very glad to have a “new” mercado here in Chapala.

Chapala in Transition

Over the last few weeks, this sign has been popping up more and more often here at lakeside.

It’s actually a popular phrase being repurposed for COVID times. Literally translated, it means “no one thunders here”. It’s a catchphrase, used like “no child left behind” in the U.S.

Currently, it’s a designation or declaration to shop local, to support local businesses and shops or tiendas as they are known in Spanish.

Chapala and lakeside are in the process of re-opening, albeit slowly. Businesses and restaurants are back online so to speak. Larger venues, such as malls, movies, concerts and sports events, are still in the future (or at least I dearly hope they are).

The sign is a reminder to shop locally, to support the literally mom-and-pop (and often the kids and pets) that are the owner-operators.

There truly is a feeling of we take care of each other here. It’s a beautiful thing.

For readers outside of Mexico, you might be hearing horror stories about Mexico on the mass media. I’ve gotten a few concerned calls from friends asking if I’m okay and recounting the horrors of which they hear.

So, let me tell you want is reality here.

First, there are not piles of dead bodies in the streets. The healthcare system is working just fine thanks.

Second, the police are still on duty and behaving.

Third,  Mexico is certainly not a “failed state” as some have described it. At least not here.

And recall too that Chapala and lakeside are basically suburbs of Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico.

I look out my floor to ceiling windows at bright sunshine, puffy white clouds, a slight breeze, nice and warm, birds chirping and luscious green vegetation.

Part of the joy of living here is that I can easily avoid the mainstream media in the U.S. and its carousel of horrors. Yes, Mexico has news too, but I don’t yet speak enough Spanish to watch the news on television. And I stay away from all the news websites. My twitter feed gives me a nice cogent summary of anything I need to know.

Last, I’m say that I’ve heard from my primary care physician several times during the lockdown, inquiring about how I’m doing and staying in touch.

Just saying.

This is Mexico!

 

Easing Into The New Normal in Chapala?

Good news!

Or so it seems. We’re told that this area of Mexico, the state of Jalisco and the city of Guadalajara are to cautiously begin re-opening tomorrow, Monday, May 18.

It’s been an odd time.

Some places have been closed completely. Some restaurants have been and are take-out only; others offer limited sit-down service (meaning that despite looking closed, one can get seated and serviced, although the usual specials are not in preparation).

We’re taking a wait-and-see attitude, hoping that all continues well.

No malls, theatres, concert venues, sports arenas and churches are yet allowed to open.

My neighbor and I did venture to Costco last Friday. It was glum; not the hustle and bustle that Costco is (in)famous for. The lines for check-out, being cautiously policed by employees, were long and tiresome.

We did drop by an upscale mall nearly to visit Starbucks (need my cold brew!). There, several restaurants were booming.

So it’s unclear what is actually happening. We will see.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of amusements I ran across this week. One is quite a odd story and the other a humorous discussion of what life in Mexico can teach gringos. Very salient and it comes with an English translation! Enjoy.

https://nypost.com/2020/05/15/video-shows-mexican-man-in-cowboy-hat-lassoing-loose-tiger/

And: