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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 gmail.com. Tell him Roberto sent you!

Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer in Chapala

As if there was ever any doubt, summer is here in Chapala.

The first giveaway is that the weeds are back populating the lake. They come and go from the shoreline along the malecon, so on any given day when I walk there, I may see blue water or a sea of green. Don’t like the weeds? Well, they’ll be gone when the wind shifts.

Too, in the summer, the lake can give us all kinds of looks. Partly, of course, because it’s the rainy season as well and “weather” forms around the lake. Yet, can be breathtaking.

And I’ve noticed too an abundance of horses. Now, to be sure, this is not just a summer occurrence. Horses are here all year round. Still, it seems that there are just more of them in the summer.

As usual, there’s Wilbur (Palomino) and Carole (the Chestnut Mare). I call’em Wilbur and Carole in homage to the two humans we were closed to Mr. Ed on my favorite 60s Sunday night television.

Too, you’ll see horses and riders plodding up and down the cobblestone streets here at almost any time of day. Where they come from I’ve not yet been able to discern. I haven’t seen a stable or a riding business, so I assume for the present that their owners/caregivers are simply taking them out for a ride.

You’ll see horses too on the lakeshore. Check out this young man riding with an infant. Hey, where’s the safety seat for the young’un? And the helmet? Oops, of yeah, this is Mexico, where personal responsibility is still adhered to and the nanny state hasn’t taken over everything.

Note too the couple in the background, making out on the beach. This is very common. Lots of couples hang out on the malecon, watching the submarine races.

Out in front of city hall, a different set of horses recently appeared. They seem to come out in the morning and by evening are gone. Then, boom, they pop up again on a random day in the future. Walking in el centro one Monday evening, there they were.

Finally, sometimes, you’ll just see horses wandering around town, as if they’re looking for a hotel or something. More likely scrounging some chow.

Late in the Spring, the skateboard park by the malecon was given a fresh paint of white paint. Local artists often take this as a fresh canvas and overnight up pops some fresh street art.

Over near fisherman’s pier, the old wood pole that was used by the flying natives (see this link for an explanation) and has subsequently been replaced by a metal pole, is now a direction pointer.

As always, the malecon is jammed on a Sunday. Everyone seems to be out enjoying the vibes. Come join us!

 

A Day Trip to Tapalpa Part 2

Hola!

We only spent the day in Tapalpa, yet knew almost instantly that we wanted to come back for a longer visit.

Our final stop for this trip was at what I just had to call the Stonehenge of Mexico. Of course, it’s not. Yet, it does have a supernatural element to it. Large rocks, boulders, seemingly plopped down in the middle of a field, albeit a somewhat hilly one.

And it’s a very popular place to visit for the locals. We didn’t see any other gringos here either.

While it appears that most people walk amongst the rocks, exploring and enjoying, some ride horses through the property.

And, if you’re feeling really brave, you can opt to ride the lone donkey.

There’s a zipline set-up here too. Joyously, very simple. You sign a simple form (in Spanish–presumably you are signing your life away just as you would with the reams of paper you would have for ziplining in the U.S. or Canada). You climb up to the starting point, don your harnesses, climb stairs to the starting point, get hooked on and away you go!

The most fun part of this visit for me was taking pictures of all the people taking pictures. There’s something in the air at this place that just makes people want to go vogue and strike a pose!

And finally, as we were headed back to the car, we saw this little Mexican fellow.

Yes indeed, Mexico’s contribution to the world of dogs.

We hope you’ve gotten a little taste of the delights of Tapalpa here. Come on down and check it out for yourselves. And be sure to stop by Chapala when you do!

A Day Trip to a Pueblo Magico: Tapalpa

Mexico has an internal tourist program called Pueblos Magicos: Magical Towns. These are towns that have a special appeal, with tourist attractions (usually historical and cultural attractions). (You’ll need a translator  from Spanish to English with your browser for the website if you are not fluent in written Spanish.)

The magical towns all get a plaque commemorating their achievement!

Tapalpa, according to Google Maps, is some two hours drive from Chapala both south and west of the lake. The drive was a beauty. After a drive west toward Tequila (yes, land of Jose Cuervo), another toll road routed us south in a deep valley, with mountains rising cliff-like on both sides and some serious mud flats, at least during rainy season, in the valley. Finally, we turned west again headed straight toward one of the mountains. Winding our way, switchbacks and all, we went up and over the mountain and finally descended into a valley to Tapalpa.

The Pueblo Magico site had suggested that a somewhat ruined structure of a church from the 1600s and the cisterns that are part of the local water supply were the must-see first items on the agenda.

Only one problem: Google Maps couldn’t find either and we didn’t really know the right way to ask.

But the street headed into town took us right past the town center, so we finally parked and hiked our way back to the square.

You can see from the photos here that the town is somewhat architecturally themed. Some might even say it’s magical.

 

Here we encountered not one, not two, but three churches, all clustered together and two of which seemed to be connected.

One of the fascinating aspects of Mexican towns is the preservation and mixture of the old and the new. Rather than tearing down the old, it’s often preserved and repaired and then added to with more modern structures. Such is the case with the cathedrals in Tapalpa.

Here’s what I believe is the oldest church, the one from the 1600s. Although I can’t say for sure.

And the town was hopping, with an art festival and food and other vendors out on the street along with the obligatory dogs which roam freely in Mexican towns.

We did notice, finally, a motorized trolley that does tours of the town and a tourist office on the square.

Next week I’ll share the rest of the story of our time in Tapalpa.

Hint: we’re planning to go back to spend an entire weekend soon!

La Virgen de Zapopan Visits Chapala

Let’s have a parade!

Yesterday, Sunday, the Iconic Virgin of Zapopan came to Chapala on her now annual visit to us at lakeside.

In the 1950s, the lake had shrunk to the point where it seemed endangered by a long and devastating drought. Local Catholics prayed to the Holy Virgin Mary for relief from the severe conditions, with the local bishop promising that La Zapopana, as the Virgin of Zapopan is known here, would visit Chapala when the prayers were answered.

And they seemed to be.

The lake shrank again under similar conditions in the late 1990s and again La Zapopana was credited with a miracle recovery.

La Zapopana is the Virgin of Expectation whose intercession has been sought by Catholics in the Guadalajara area of over four centuries.

That’s a lot of prayer and a lot of faith.

The Virgin was welcomed to Chapala with a big parade, right down the main road of the city to the Cathedral.

The road was marked with a bed of wood chips of differing colors and grass laid to lead the way to the Cathedral.

Folks started gathering around 11AM and the parade started shortly thereafter.

 

And what a parade was. All sorts of groups in a plethora of dress, some native, some seeming Day of the Dead, some even seeming science fiction, and some, of course, marching band.

Lots of drumming and lots of music.

No floats. Very few vehicles. Mostly thousands and thousands of people celebrating the visit of the Virgin.

How wonderful and delightful.

I had an excellent spot to see the parade. And next to me were a couple, Millenials, who spoke no English. But we communicated perfectly, laughing and pointing and just having fun together. The young man told me by pointing that he was going to get some drinks and did I want any.

This is a usual experience in Mexico. People communing and breaking bread together.

It’s wonderful!

Below are a some short videos of various sections of the parade, culminating with the Virgin arriving (next to the last video). Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

To Everything, There Is a Season in Chapala

Rumor has it that Chapala was recognized long ago for the second best weather in the world by National Geographic. No one I know has been able to find the actual reference, yet some will inform you that the best weather in the world is to be found somewhere in central Africa. Not a likely expat location.

So I’ll stick with the banner that drivers encounter as they get to the top of the pass that leads steeply down to Chapala. It says “the best weather” (in Spanish).

Before we moved here, we did our homework. We checked out weather sites to try to figure out just how livable lakeside would be for us. We determined that it would be. But statistics on a page, average temperature, average rainfall, high and low temperatures and the like tell only a part of the story.

It’s the experience that counts.

For us, there are either two seasons here or three, depending on how you count.

The first, two seasons, is easy.

Season One:

Season Two:

Season One: Pelicans!!!

Seasons Two: No pelicans!

The pelicans arrive in late October and depart around Easter.

We love pelican season.

Yet, if weather is the determining factor in determining a season, we count three.

From late September into February, is the cool season. During the holidays, the temperature will drop down into the 60s and sometimes the 50s at night and warm up into the high 60s during the day.

Just wonderful.

From February on, the weather becomes progressively more hot and more dry. By the time May rolls around, the usual daytime temps will be in the mid to upper 80s. Nights will drop down into the low 70s. The hills surrounding the lake turn brown and it seems typical that forest fires will break out in this season. Very little rain.

Then from mid to late June, the rains will start coming from the West. Almost always at night. We’ll wake up to wet streets which will dry off by relatively early morning. The lake will rise. The temperatures will cool off at little to the high 70s to low 80s during the days and high 60s at night.

Wash, rinse and repeat.

Is it the best weather in the world?

Truthfully we don’t know. We haven’t explored the world (maybe in the next life–for now, we’re stayin’ right here!). But to us, the weather here is just perfect.

My Experience with TransferWise

One of the issues expats face is how to exchange US or Canadian dollars for local currency. Here in Mexico, and I suspect in many places, the primary means of doing so are ATMs.

However, ATMs are expensive. Not only do you pay a fee to use the ATM, the bank where you hold the account will also likely charge a fee for the transaction. Moreover, you get the price the ATM provider gives you for the exchange rate.

If you look up the exchange rate for the Mexico Peso to the US Dollar, you’ll see the spot price. But you won’t get that price at the ATM. Let’s say, for example, that the spot price is 20 pesos to 1 USD. The ATM might give you 19 pesos for 1 USD. So you pay a fee plus you pay an extra peso per dollar on the exchange rate. (This is just an example. The exchange rates at ATMs can and do vary considerably.)

So some expats look for alternative ways to transfer dollars held in the U.S. into pesos for use here in Mexico.

One such way is a service called TransferWise. It was recommended to me by several expats.

It may have worked for them; it didn’t for me.

Twice now I started the process, filled out their forms online, set up a transfer and was told it was in process. After several days and no communication from them (and the money not being received by our landlord), I tried to logon to check the status of the transfer.

Turns out my account was “deactivated.”

No explanation. No communication. Nothing.

The first time this happened, I emailed them and complained. Turns out they only needed more information about me. Which I then provided. They also apologized for not informing me and offered a free transfer.

Okay, I took them up on that and used them again. Or should I say, tried to.

Again, the transfer was set up. I received an email saying they had received the funds and were transferring them.

After that, silence.

And once again, when I went to check on the transfer, my account was deactivated.

No explanation. No communication. Nothing.

OK. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I’m done with TransferWise.

The service is needed; the value proposition is good. The fees are acceptable.

Their customer service is dreadful.

I did try to communicate all this to them; again, no response.

So, I’m off to the ATM. It may be expensive (or relatively so), but at least it works.

TransferWise doesn’t.

And the Bands Played On in Chapala

June closed with a torrent of music here in Chapala. It’s just been wonderful.

Back to our favorite venue here, the Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo.

On Thursday night we were delighted by the last in a series of recitals by students from the University of Guadalajara’s prestigious music department. The young lady who played did a variety of the usual suspects: Bach, Chopin and Beethoven. The Beethoven was delightful and remarkable.

We look forward to the next series of recitals for the University.

Then Friday night, we were treated to a jazz trio.

With jazz, I’m always a little bit leery. My experience with jazz has often been that of a group of musicians on the same stage, each of them playing a different tune.

I know jazz aficionados who love jazz as much as we love rock and roll and opera and classical music.

These young men definitely were on the same page though. The piano spotlighted; then the bass, and the drums. The selections were lively and fun and well, jazzy.

Then on Saturday night, we found our way to a concert that was highlighted in the Guadalajara Reporter (the local English language newspaper).

We saw the announcement of the concert a few weeks back and decided to give it a go. The performers were Jamara Soto and the Cuarteto Latinoamericano. The Cuarteto are winners of a Latin Grammy award. And to boot, the price was right. Free! Yes, a Grammy winning artist. Okay, we’re there for sure.

We did not, however, know where this theater was. Google Maps showed it as being somewhat North of lakeside and mostly East. About a half-hour from us.

We left early, just in case.

Glad we did.

Alas, driving never ceases to be an adventure in Mexico. We followed Google Maps as assiduously as possible but sometimes it and we don’t quite communicate. In this case, it wanted us to take a slight right and we ended up on a retorno and then a small town of narrow streets to navigate. Definitely a wrong turn.

Getting back on the highway, we were routed right back to the “slight right”. The only choice, other than the one mistake already taken, was a hard right on a barely perceivable road. We gulped and took it. And off into the country we went. We got some spectacular views of Guadalajara and the surrounding countryside before finally winding up in another small town where, thankfully, we arrived at the theatre.

It was a lovely little venue. Comfortable seats; well lit. Seating for maybe 400 to 500. And it mostly filled up.

We were the only gringos.

The quartet played an instrumental and then Jamara Soto joined them for plenty of Sephardic songs.

These were stunningly beautiful. Jamara was radiant and the quartet was both professional and feeling.

You can get a good taste of them here:

I watched a video on the making of the El Hilo Invisible CD. Alas, it was in Spanish and even with the literal translation from YouTube I didn’t get much.

My understanding is that the Sephardic musical tradition was born in a period of time in Spain when the country was ruled by the Moors and the Catholics and Jews formed an uneasy truce against their common enemy. The songs speak of these times, yet with a powerful spiritual overtone.

We’re so grateful we got this little adventure and found a musical treasure at the prize end.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the total cost for three nights of musical delight was $150 pesos (about $7.50 US) for the jazz trio? The recital and Jamara and the quartet were free.

Just sayin’.

Waiting for the Rain In Chapala

We’ve gotten a little taste over the last ten days. Several pretty big thunderstorms came in during the overnight and dumped some serious rain.

Of course, I didn’t hear it. Slept right through. Then going off to walk along the malecon, the large puddles were a dead giveaway.

Should start to be a regular event for the next couple of months, on into September.

The lake has lost volume.

In the Fall of last year, after the rainy season, the pier you see in the picture above was partially underwater. There was barely shoreline visible. But with lots of fires to fight, plus a considerable percentage of the Guadalajara water supply comes from Lake Chapala, the water level drops precipitously into the summer.

We all welcome the rainy season.

One of the themes we’re developed in this blog is that it’s the little things that make the big differences.

And another one locked into place last week.

For the past few months, workers have been laboring on the Jesus the fisherman’s pier.  They’re almost done and one of the finishing touches is a new Chapala sign to complement the original sign at the El Centro area of the malecon.

Here’s the progression of the new sign:

Chapalans have a high regard for their city and we would say, rightly so.