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A View of Migration from the Other Side of the “Wall”

This one’s a tough one for me to write. That because it’s going to seem like it borders on the political.  And I’m totally an agnostic when it comes to politics. I don’t want to hear about it; I don’t care about it; I find it very annoying.

The story I’m about to tell is more of what I would call a human story. I just feel that it needs to be told.

Saturday I walked over to the mercado and the sidewalk market here in Chapala to get some of my favorite salsa.  I asked the vendor at the booth beside me the price of some of her items. She had trouble understanding  my less-than-stellar Spanish and I was having trouble understanding her.

A young man standing nearby stepped in to help. Obviously Mexican and with very good English skills. After I’d completed the transaction, he and I started talking.

Turns out that he’s from the States. Some twenty-five years ago he emigrated illegally to hopefully find a better life. And he did. After a series of stops and locations, he ended up in one of the “square” states where he built a life. Found steady work as a skilled laborer; married an American; had three children.

And he recently decided that the time had come for him to become a legal immigrant. So he began the process. And part of that process is that he had to return to his country of origin in order for the process to go forward.

That was almost two years ago, and he is still waiting for any answer.

So here’s a man who came clean. A family man. A contributor to the American economy. And he’s exiled from his life and his family.

Could he have been simply telling me a story? Sure. I don’t think so. No apparent reason comes to mind for him to do so. I can’t help him in any case.

Now, I’m not saying any of this for political reasons. I’m simply listening to this man and also remembering stories from other friends of mine who tried to enter the U.S. legally and how cumbersome and burdensome and long the process was and is.

It gave me pause to think about this from “the other side”.

 

A Calm Week in Chapala

Greetings from Chapala!

We’re so enjoying warm days and slightly cooler evenings and nights.

Chapala is back to “normal” after the festivities of Carnaval. Life simply goes on.

Our neighbors and I took a walk in the park across the street from us. On occasion I just need to sit down for a few minutes. So I sat on one of those children’s merry-go-rounds. This one made of good solid steel. Of course I twirled myself a little. Soon, three young Mexican girls stood watching me and they decided to give me a ride. So on they jumped and proceeded to send us all spinning around and around. Delightful!

One the lake front at the malecon, life goes on as usual.

Many plants are blooming with the advent of warmer weather.

The malecon is kept clean and tidy. It’s pretty typical to see workers pruning and caring for the plants, watering them, and doing general cleaning and repair.

And, of course, the birds are plentiful. Now, I’m not a birder. I don’t really care what the birds are named or how many different types I have seen. I’ll leave that to others who have a passion for such things.

I do, however, just love seeing various birds enjoying the malecon. A few are loners. Others, like the pelicans or the gulls, tend to flock together. It’s a beautiful dance and one that I love observing almost every day.

We so appreciate living here in Chapala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnaval Finale in Chapala 2019

Carnaval is winding to a dramatic and climatic ending this coming Tuesday. Yet it seems as if this weekend has been the big blow off.

Somewhere nearby a party went on until 5:30 in the morning, with very loud music. I could hear it in the bedroom and I’m pretty hard of hearing. Roused from a slumber, I stumbled into the living room and saw that I had left the sliding window open. Promptly shutting it, I was able to dull the noise to at least a sleeping level for me.

Our neighbor got to listen all night however.

Such is Carnaval.

Still, it’s great fun.

Chapala is swarming with visitors. And, of course, the locals are all out too. Its one huge party: on the square; on the malecon; and in the park across the street from us, which, this year, is Carnaval Central for Chapala.

Families are out with food and drink and enjoying to the fullest the few remaining days and the last weekend before the beginning of Lent.

The usually quiet street is jammed.

And the entrance fee for the park has gone from a lowly five pesos (twenty cents U.S.)  to thirty-five pesos (a dollar and seventy-five cents).

Still, the park is rocking and rolling.

All the usually quiet and grassy pathways are now crowded with vendors, mostly food yet a few product providers as well. Booze too. It’s legal here. And, not to be left out, a paraphernalia shop where the proprietor was puffing away on a beefy doobie. It’s legal here too, although the government has yet to determine the rules. (Mexican courts recently struck down the marijuana ban.)

Food, food, food!

And carnaval games.

And, of course, cotton candy. Take a look at the size you can get there. (I didn’t.)

There’s a area for bands to play and a hot air balloon where you can take a tethered ride.

What a town!

Carnaval in Chapala 2019

It’s Carnaval time in Chapala and the town is geared up.

There are decorations popping up.

And proclamations.

And, of course, there was a parade.

Friday evening the square started to fill in around 7PM. That was the published time of the parade. In Chapala, as in Mexico, as in much of the rest of the world, the obsession with adherence to time is much more spongy than in the U.S.

It starts when it starts.

In the meanwhile, have a seat on a bench and chit-chat with the gathering folks and engage in that popular sport of people watching.

Carnaval is an especially ripe time to do so. Folks in costume. Performers. Artists. Lovers. It’s all here.

Carnaval here is not like the celebration we’ve seen from Rio (at least we don’t think so; we’ve never been to Rio though). Here, it seems more laid back; less flamboyant, more homey, more family.

And the parade seemed to emphasize those aspects. Of course, there was some glitz (what would a parade be without any?).

Everybody, it seems, turns out for the parade. Check out our neighbors. Grandma, parents, toddlers and even infants. Everyone seeming to have a good time.

So, on with the parade. Enjoy.

Walking back home, we caught a rare glimpse of the Chapala sign at the malecon relatively quiet.

Home sweet home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ChiliFest in Chapala

It’s getting warmer here in Chapala. The malecon is swarming with families and vendors. Folks are swimming in the lake. Everyone, it seems, is getting ready for Carnaval, the raucous festival that precedes Lent.

Indeed, while the locals anticipate Lent, the gringos have a festival of their own here at Lakeside called the Mexican National Chili Cookoff. Now celebrating its 41st year of supporting local charities focused on children, seniors and healthcare.

Chilifest in my name for it; otherwise it’s a mouthful.

The cookoff is held at Tobolandia, a water theme park that holds a prime piece of local real estate at the corner where Walmart anchors one side; the local mall another, Domino’s and some other retailers yet a third and Tobolandia.

Truthfully I was never sure until this weekend that Tobolandia was actually a functioning park. It’s set kind of back off the highway and clearly a water themed park,  yet despite passing it dozens if not hundreds of times it never seemed to be a happening place.

Well, it was this weekend. For it is the site of the Chili Cookoff. And, interestingly enough, the park itself was open and a few locals were taking advantage of the sunny warmth to enjoy the water delights there.

 

Chilifest it turns out in set toward the back of the park in a lovely wooded area with an open space for a stage and food court.

However, that’s the puzzle of Chilifest.

During the year I had heard from my neighbors about the Cookoff, that it boasted vendors and artisans, many with unique and beautiful works on display and for sale.

Yet, I didn’t hear anything about chili.

Of course, when I hear chili cookoff, I anticipate tables and grills and guys and gals in festive aprons grilling meats and stirring vats of bubbling chilis with competing ingredients and varying degrees of spicy heat.

Not here. I hunted and hunted for some sign of chili. I found a food court, kinda like you’d expect at any fair in the U.S. Then, asking around I was directed to a tent where indeed the chili cookoff was in full swing.

While, as you can see from the photos above, there was a long line of folks waiting to taste the chilis in the contest, to my best discernment, there seemed to be three contestants.

The main purpose of chilifest is indeed the display of arts and crafts from the cream of the crop of local and not-so-local artisans and craftspeople. All kinds of jewelry, clothes, leatherworks, painting, handcrafted knives (some total beauties there) and all kinds of goodies. Truly spectacular. Truly beautiful.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Scouts of Mexico. Glad to know that the Scouts are thriving here. All the best to you from an Eagle Scout of many years.

 

 

 

 

Where Malls Are Alive and Well

Long-time readers of this blog know that we visit Guadalajara fairly frequently. Mostly to attend concert events, the orchestra, the opera, and good old fashioned (and new fashioned) rock and roll. And to do more serious shopping.

Guadalajara is a big city, the second largest in Mexico, with over 10 million residents. So pretty much whatever you need you can find there. Not that we need much. As geezers, we’re busy winding down rather than acquiring up. We can here with a carload and a roof rack of possessions and left behind only a small locker in Wisconsin.

Yet, sometimes it’s fun to exercise the shopping bug. And surprise of surprises, in the opposite of the U.S., malls are thriving here in Mexico, well, at least in Guadalajara.

In between taking in an opera and an evening with 80s goth rocker Peter Murphy, we visited a mall near one of the two Costcos in town. Pretty upscale, solidly upper middle class you might say.

And it was rockin’ and rolling’ on a Saturday night!

We spotted a few familiar stores, yet mostly new ones (to us). Lots of clothing shops and lots of lingerie stores. No Victoria’s Secret, brands that appear to be Mexico’s own.

And we had a few strange encounters, such as this Japan store. Yes, Japan.

The place was packed. A line twenty people deep waiting at the cash registers. There didn’t seem to be any special sale going on, nor was everybody buying the same item. Apparently shoppers at this mall really just love Japanese items. Here’s some of the selection:

Movies? Yes, certainly there are movies here. Even IMax.

And I saved the best for last. Yes, there is a food court here. And yes, there is a MacDonald’s in the food court. However, check out the sign here:

Next to the ice cream cone: leche 100% de vaca. Translation: 100% cow’s milk.

Now ya know!!!

 

 

 

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Calm Before the Storm: Chapala in January

February is a month of celebration in Chapala. Indeed, in all of Mexico. What Americans know as Mardi Gras is a ten day festival here, and there are other holidays and celebrations as well. Tomorrow, February 4, is Constitution Day here. (It’s always the first Monday of February.) On that day back in 1917, Mexico initiated its present constitution. Truly, a cause for celebration.

However, January has its own charms, quiet and relatively inconspicuous as they may be.

On the malecon, the pelicans can be observed gracing the waters of the lake. Some days there seem to be hundreds of them; other days, many fewer. Where do they do? What do they do? We don’t know. But we, like almost everyone in Chapala love and respect their presence. Some of the locals take it upon themselves to feed the pelicans with the remains of the catches of local fishermen.

Down the malecon a little ways, local artists have tripped out the skateboard arena with bright new paintings.

It’s cool evenings and warm days, ranging typically between 55 degrees (F) during sleeping hours and 70 or so during the day. Just lovely.

And this year we were graced with another concert by the Orquestra Tipica, a group of musicians we saw last year at the train station turned art museum and classrooms.

This concert happened at the Presidential Building in the heart of Chapala. A well-preserved building with a two to three hundred seat theatre with a stage.

This auditorium has a foyer for informal gatherings, graced with a number of music and art themed paintings.

The orchestra delighted the audience with renditions of Mexican favorites, many of which we recognized from cartoons and films we’d seen over the years. The orchestra is a mixed and motley group of locals and expats, youth and aged, with a particularly flamboyant and vivacious leader, a delightful and engaging gentleman.

We hope to see and hear them again soon. Enjoy these videos if you will.

 

Chapala or Bust: Our Ultimate Road Trip, Part 2

We were finally in Mexico!

(If you’re looking for how we got here, see the prior post here.)

Driving in Mexico can be sorely challenging.

First, there’s the newness of it. It’s just plain different here than in the States. Once we were out of Nogales and the commercial zone, there were no more strip malls, big-box stores, gaudy flashing signs. But there was an entirely new (to us) landscape. It’s really a challenge to keep the eyes on the road with all this newness coming at us at sixty miles per hour.

Second, the roads are different and until you get to know them pretty well, a careful eye is required.

We’ve articulated in other posts some of the issues with driving here in Mexico. You can find them here and here.

Suffice to say that the biggest challenge we faced immediately after crossing was how to ensure that we stayed on the toll roads. We had Google fired up; still just the sheer difference in layout of the highways here in Mexico requires special driving attention. At least it did for us.

And we had been forewarned not to drive at night, even on the toll roads. Some of these warnings are just fear-based. Yet, there is good reason to follow this rule. Toll roads can become regular roads without warning. It’s not necessary that you will pay a toll and then be off the toll road. Nope. A toll road can become a regular road and vice-versa with warning.

So? So what? A regular road can (and is very likely to) have speed bumps. Hard to see sometimes during the day; almost impossible at night. Plus pedestrians, bikes, and motorbikes.

We kept track of which major cities were coming up on our route and would then book a hotel online to spend the night.

We went through a number of cities.

You’ll find peddlers and vendors at many intersections. Guys (it’s always guys) will want to wash your windshield for you and will just start doing so unless you pretty aggressively say No. Doesn’t matter than your windshield was washed at the prior intersection. They’ll keep at it. And, for the most part, they will leave you alone if you wave them off.

Yes, we passed through areas of Mexico listed as danger zones on by the U.S. Department of State website. We had no problems.

Keep smart; be vigilant; be aware. We’re found that to be sufficient here in Mexico.

More from Grupoteriso

Happy weekend to you and yours.

Music, music, music. One of the many things we love about Mexico.

In an earlier blog we wrote about an encounter with a delightful band in Guadalajara. You can read that post here.

We subscribed to their YouTube feed and they have released another toe-tapper we thought we would share.

Hopefully we can find out how to learn where they are playing so we can see them again. If you find out, please let us know!

Enjoy:

 

 

Volaris, We Have A Problem (And We Love You Anyway)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posts to blog on a particularly annoying issue. In poking around among expats here in the Chapala area, we found that a number of expats have had similar experiences with our local airline, Volaris. Hopefully, Volaris will accept the challenge to fix these issues.

If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you already know we really like the low-cost Mexican airline, Volaris. Their prices are outstanding. And they’ve expanded their service to a lot of U.S. destinations.

For example, we travel a lot between Guadalajara and Houston. If we can travel toward the middle of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), we can get a fare of about $230 U.S. For a direct flight. The only other direct we’ve been able to find is typically over $500 U.S. And many flights from Guadalajara to Houston cost $300 or more and route through Mexican City with a ten, eleven or twelve hour travel time. Not very attractive.

Not only is the pricing on Volaris excellent, the service is excellent as well. We’ve always had four flight attendants on every flight; the planes are clean; the flight attendants actually help with boarding.

Bet you know what’s coming. There’s a big BUT here. Yes, there is.

Volaris strongly encourages passengers to check in online, or via their mobile app, or even via Facebook Messenger. Actually they charge you to check in at the airport.

So what’s the problem? Well, in our experience, and in the experience of at least a number of expats we know, sometimes you can check in online; sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can check in with the mobile app; sometimes you can’t. And, the same with Facebook Messenger.

When I say you can’t check in either online or via the mobile app, I mean that you fill in the information Volaris requests, verify it, and submit and you get back a message saying there’s been a problem and you can’t check in.

And waiting an hour or so doesn’t help. Nor does trying multiple times. If it doesn’t work the first time, it’s not going to.

Last week I had a flight scheduled and couldn’t check in online. And then I missed the flight because of horrendous lines at the Guad airport and the rigmarole of checking in and getting through security and dealing with immigration.

So I bought another ticket for a flight a couple of days later and, voila, I actually did get to check in via the mobile app.

However, for the return flight scheduled for today, I tried to check in on Sunday, and no. Couldn’t do it.

My brother-in-law poked around and discovered that the problem is definitely in the Information Technology (IT) settings that Volaris has instituted.

Volaris: this is totally fixable. So, please, please fix it!

I’ve tried to communicate with Volaris about this problem. Unfortunately, their contact channels are something else in dire need of upgrading.

So, here’s the oddity. Volaris has the operations side down. They’re really good at what I need an airline for. Thumbs up! The customer service side? Well, certainly not the worst I’ve ever encountered. That’s about as kind as I can be.

So, use them. We do, but we do so knowing the risks and the hassles that may, and are likely to be encountered.

And if you know anyone who knows anyone upstairs in Volaris, please have them read this blog page. I’d love to have these issues fixed.