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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.

 

 

 

 

Hot Fun in the Chapala Summertime

It’s been quite a week here.

Oh, nothing big, nothing earth-shattering has happened.

Life goes on. La vida calma, here in Chapala.

So, what has happened?

The hummingbirds are back!

When we set up in our new home in Chapala back in December of 2017, one of the first things we noticed was the delightful presence of hummingbirds in our backyard. A half-dozen or so. Along with a number of other bigger birds and we’ve got a menagerie back there.

Yet, the hummingbirds seem to be the center of it all.

We put up a feeder. Every week or so we’d need to refill it. We got to see hummingbirds out our floor-to-ceiling back windows and they were fed. Yet, then last year about this time, suddenly there were a lot more hummingbirds back there. Rather than once a week refilling the feeder, it was once a day, or more!

And the same has happened this year.

Typically, we’d see one hummingbird, maybe two, at the feeder at a time. Now, we find a full circle of them there. Sometimes as many as six at a time.

Sometimes while we were making the sugar water that goes in the feeder, we’d wash the feeder and leave it on our outside table.

And we’d have surprise guests at the table!

As we’ve mentioned in the past, hardly a week goes by without some sort of festival or celebration. This week was not different. Over the weekend the Chapala malecon hosted a small yet appealing and charming art festival.

And a boon for me! My favorite salsa lady was in attendance so I got to restock my supply here. Easy-peasy.

This is life here in Chapala.

Yes, there was more music this week. At the train station, the Thursday night piano recitals continued with a magnificent rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #17 along with some other pieces by Mozart and Debussy.

Alas, the jazz concert scheduled for Friday night was cancelled. However, this week we have another recital and a premium guitar concert Friday night.

Summer is just wonderful here (as is Fall, Winter and Spring)!

Until next week, be well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harpfest in Chapala

I’d heard about Harpfest for several months. Hints of it; allusions to it. Nothing specific, just that it was coming.

I don’t know about you, but Harpfest conjured up images of angels sitting on clouds, or, at the very least, musicians in well-dressed black garb playing lovely big stringed instruments.

Well, no. This is Mexico and music, like many things, happens in its own way here. And a delightful way it is.

Harpfest happened last Wednesday, starting at 1PM and ending, well, I don’t know when. I had to leave for another commitment late in the afternoon. The site was the Centro Cultural Gonzalez Gallo, otherwise lovingly known as the old train station.

While I was there though, I was treated to a wide array of music. Mostly bands, some with what appeared to be harps; others not.

Some of the harps do resemble what many gringos have been exposed to in the U.S. and Canada. However, the body of the instrument here is often hollow, so it resonates, like a guitar. Other harps here resemble steel guitars and are played with the instrument lying flat and is plucked from above. Here is a brief intro to the history of harps in Latin American and in Mexico.

There was a big crowd for this event. As big as any I have seen in Chapala. And interestingly enough, mostly locals with a smattering of gringos. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the procession of acts across the stage. No one’s spirits were dampened by the surprise rain in the mid-afternoon. Everyone crowded together under the tent and the music went one.

Below I offer a few videos of some of the music. I apologize for the quality of the video. It’s just from my phone. One of these days, I’ll upgrade. For now, I hope you enjoy them and maybe, just maybe, they inspire you to visit.

This was the seventh annual Harpfest. So mark your calendars for next year!

 

Hot Hot Hot in Chapala

Yup, it’s the “hot” season here in Chapala. The temp has been known to nip to 90F on occasion this time of year.

Everything sorta slows down a little. One gains an appreciation of a siesta.

Mostly, though the season is notable because it’s dry. We’ve noted the forest fires burning around both Chapala and Guadalajara.

The landscape is scattered with brown in and among  the perennially green plants here in the high desert.

The lake is at its low point of the year (so far).

Everyone is waiting for the rainy season to bring some cool rain.

Friday morning I took my usual walk along the malecon, soaking in the ambiance and the vibe of the summer lake. Then, there in front of me, a new sight.

Now there are sometimes tents alongside the malecon. Yet this was the first time I’d seen the malecon blocked by tents. Hmmmmmmm, what’s going on?

Turns out, a festival!

An environmental festival, promoting the health of the lake and the health of the community.

There were a few displays on on the ecology of the lake as well as the plant life of the area. Mostly though, the festival featured two things: food and artisans!

The festival ran Friday through the weekend and all three days it was hopping. A good time seemed to be had by all.

And today, Monday, the malecon was back to normal. Barely a trace of the festival.

We came, we had a good time, we left. Life goes on.

How wonderful!

Police Encounters of the Chapala Kind

One observation tourists usually make very soon upon arriving in Mexico is the level of police presence.

We’re talking pretty heavily armed too. Heavy protective gear, automatic weapons (or semis–we don’t know the difference).

On each of the three trips to Laredo we’ve made in our time here, we’ve gone through checkpoints staffed both by police and by the Mexican military.

And we’re used to seeing police here in Chapala. Just like in the states, the boys in blue (and women too!).

There are three levels of police that we’ve observed: local, state and federal. Pretty much, they drive around in vehicles like this:

This is a state police vehicle (Jalisco being the state). Typically, two officers will be in the cab and three or four officers will ride in the back truck bed.

We’ve been pulled over twice now in the almost year and a half that we’ve been living in Mexico. Both times locally.  Both times, well, odd. Here’s our experiences.

Earlier this year we went to see Santana up in Guadalajara. The show started at nine p.m. and by the time we were headed home after the show it was around midnight.

We were driving down the main route (Rt. 23) toward Chapala, passing through the sprawl that populates the route.

I saw one of the local Chapala police trucks up ahead, just cruising along. It was going fairly slow, so I signaled by way into the passing lane and went by. Given the traffic we ended up passing each other a couple of times until finally we were ahead of the police vehicle when on come the lights.

Oh no. Not good. So I pull over off the road and wait. I didn’t even know what the police would ask me for. So I waited. Bonita and our neighbor (in the back seat) sat quietly. None of us were sure what the stop was for.

An officer appeared at my window. I opened it and the officer immediately said “buenas noches” (good evening) and I returned the salutation. He continued with “como estas” (how are you?) to which I replied “muy bien” (very well) and again I returned the salutation.

He didn’t ask for any papers. He took a good look inside the car, paying particular attention to the back seat.

His partner then appeared who seemed to speak some English and we chatted at bit.

They said “adios” (goodbye) and sent us on our way.

No papers; no warning; no violation.

The second encounter happened in Guadalajara. Bonnie and I were returning from the opera. We were driving down one of the main drags in Guad headed toward Rt. 23, when a cop on a motorcycle appeared beside us and motioned for me to pull over.

Oh no, not again, I thought.

We were on a very busy street with no shoulder. Fortunately, it did have a frontage road and I was finally able to pull over. The cop got in front of us and led the way to a safe stopping point.

He appeared at my window.

All business.

He asked for papers, without specifying which papers.

So Bonnie pawed through the glove box looking for the paperwork we’d received in Laredo. The permit for the car and the insurance.

We couldn’t find it. We both started freaking out just a little. Visions from bad movies of Mexican prisons danced in our heads.

But then, the cop was back at the window. He’d run our plates through his system and we came back clean (all of which was communicated by sign language a la charades) and he sent us on our way.

(Turns out the paperwork we were looking for was under the passenger seat of the car.)

So, those are our two police encounters. Just goes to show that such encounters don’t have to end in a horror story.

We’re feeling protected here in Chapala.

 

 

Mother’s Day in Chapala

Mother’s Day here in Mexico is celebrated on May 10 regardless of on which day of the week it falls.

And it is HUGE.

Remember way back when when Easter was a really big deal in the U.S. (and presumably in Canada too)?

I do. The ladies would get all gussied up, put on not just their Sunday best, but clothes for those extra-special occasions. And, an Easter bonnet. I loved it. All those hats bobbing around. A Jackson Pollack painting of color.

Well, that close to what you find here in Chapala on Mother’s Day.

And flowers. Flowers everywhere.

And celebrations.

Once upon a time I worked for AT&T in Long Distance (back when long distance was a big deal). Mother’s Day was the heaviest calling day of the year.

Well, Mother’s Day here in Mexico brings the whole family together. Live and in-person.

It didn’t seem that the restaurants were overly crowded.

Maybe everybody went here. Happy Mother’s Day with fun and games for the entire family.