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A Trip to Mexico City

Last weekend Bonita and I took our first “long” trip in Mexico. On Saturday, we boarded a Volaris flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City.

We had considered driving. It’s about a four and half to six hour trip, depending on where in Mexico City one is going. We’re very glad we didn’t. Negotiating Mexico City seems nightmarish, at least to this gringo and geezer. So we let Uber do the driving.

We had booked into an AirBnB offering. Turned out to be a delight. Right in the heart of Condesa, one of Mexico City’s historical wealthy districts. Our lodging was in a beautiful home owned and operated by a delightful lady who fussed over us and made us feel totally at home.

And we were only a few short blocks of a walk away from the venue where we attended a concert Sunday night.

Our impressions of Mexico City are just too expansive to cover in one blog post, so I’ll keep this one focused on one subject. Our bus tour of Mexico City during the day Sunday that came to a spectacular climax at the Zocalo, or central square.

I’m guessing you’ve seen lots of pictures of this historical area and of course, we’re going to show you a few here.

It’s almost impossible to describe the grandeur of this location. It is the largest urban square in the world of its type and even saying that belittles the jaw-dropping depth and breadth of the place. Hopefully a picture is worth a thousand words.

Mexico’s Independence Day had recently passed and the remnants of the celebration still festooned the plaza.

The square was mobbed with people and yet, many thousands more could comfortably fit.

And it wouldn’t be Mexico if there wasn’t a cathedral. So, we leave you for the present with this.

 

Back in Chapala…..Again

We’re back in Chapala once again. After returning last week from a trip to Houston, we needed to return to Houston for more medical treatment for Bonita. This time we planned on six days.

All seemed to go well and having flown to Houston from Guadalajara last Wednesday (a week ago), we headed to the airport to return on Monday morning. Alas, when we got there, one of the passports was missing. We remembered having placed it in a drawer in the hotel room and calling the hotel, discovered that, yes, it was there.

A rush Uber trip back to the hotel and back to the airport and we missed the flight. No other flights that we were willing to spring for (and very few directs) until Wednesday. So we spent two more days in Houston.

Certainly we were ready to return to Mexico.

It’s been almost a year since we made the move to Mexico. Yet the rush we felt returning here was “home at last”. Mexico just feels homey for us.

Arriving back on Wednesday afternoon at the Guadalajara airport, we were reminded once again of the friendliness and caring we so often observe among the Mexicans.

Our flight was on Volaris, which we liken to the Peoples’ Express of Mexico (for those who remember that airline from the eighties in the U.S.). Pretty bare-bones yet delightful. On almost all the Volaris flights we’ve taken into Guadalajara, the flight terminates on the tarmac rather than a jet-way. Not sure why, but they do. So you exit onto stairs and board a bus to take you back to the terminal.

There was a small army of personnel there to help with disembarkation. We were on the last bus, so we waited while those who needed wheelchairs were de-planed. Everyone was patient, simply waiting. And everyone was treated with respect and helped if they needed help. Just the way things seem to be done here in Mexico.

Once home in Chapala, we got to once again take our evening walk on the malecon by the lake and note the modest changes. The main road running along the malecon was closed down for another festival. Rides and stalls and food and music. Mexicans just love their parties. All family affairs, to be sure. And this one seemed religious in nature, as the cathedral was open and lit up with lots of people inside and out front.

The calming effect of familiar turf and the sheer beauty of the Lake and the city of Chapala felt all new again yet with the familiarity of home.

Wonderful to be back…..again.

Still, we have some more travel upcoming. This weekend to Mexico City for a concert and then a trip to Nuevo Laredo and Laredo to apply for our temporale visa and to re-register the car. We’ll keep you posted.

Back in Chapala–Whew!

We’re back in Chapala for a few days after a lengthy visit to the States for Bonita’s medical care.

It’s great to be back.

In some ways, we had a nice visit to the States. Great to have an unlimited choice of first-run movies. Excellent Chinese food. Shopping, in English! And, the familiarity of it all.

Yet, it felt wonderful to get back to Mexico. The atmosphere just instantly felt relaxed, chill, friendly. And the weather, back here in the low 70s/high 60s rather than the 90s and muggy in Texas.

So what are the differences?

The main one came on our departure going through the gauntlet of airport “security” in Houston. The line was short; the time elapsed long. Just the facts now. I emptied the entirety of my pockets–tissues, money (both paper and change), phone, everything. I took off my belt. I took off my shoes. So I’m holding up my pants and have to hold my hands over my head, like a perp in the whirl machine.

Somehow I flunked. So I was informed that I would have to be totally patted down (politely and thoroughly informed). And I was, and I do mean totally. With nothing, nothing but my pants and skivvies on me.

Nothing found, of course. But at least they foiled one old skinny man.

Then I learned that I had committed a cardinal sin: I didn’t take my laptop out of my backpack. So, everything had to be run through again.

Leaving Mexico on the trip out was a breeze. Luggage x-rayed, me checked (my ID, etc.) and through.

Seems that a major difference between Mexico and the States is that Mexico feels welcoming of travelers while the States are paranoid of everyone.

I know, I know. Bordering on political commentary here. Still, to us, it’s a huge difference.

We’re  very happy with our new home. Back in Chapala. Home.

Is Mexico Safe?

By far, this is the question we receive most frequently. From readers of this blog and from friends and family. Just how safe is Mexico to live in?

We believe this is a contextual question. Safe compared to what? Well, for many of those who ask, the question is posed in comparison to where they currently live. Do you live in the United States or Canada or Europe or Asia (or specific countries in those zones)?

You do? Okay. But do you really? Or do you really live in a fairly specific geographic location? A particular state, a particular city, or a particular town or rural area? We suspect it is the later. We know that for us it was.

For example, if you live in the U.S., when you heard about the recent shooter in Las Vegas attacking the country music festival, did you conclude that you were less safe where you live? (Unless, of course, you live in Las Vegas…..) Probably not. It happened elsewhere.

Prior to moving to Mexico, specifically Chapala, we lived in Arizona and then Wisconsin. Two pretty big states. We spent our days working and living in specific towns in those states. We shopped there; dined out there; went to the movies there; heard live entertainment there; attended social and cultural events there.

In short, we knew our way around; we understood, so to speak, the lay of the land. We knew, without even really thinking about it, where to go and when to go, and more importantly, where not to go and when not to go.

Unfortunately, in making the jump to Mexico, we had none of these markers, none of the familiarity that allowed us to be adept at avoiding areas and times that are unwise to visit.

So, what to do? Well, we educated ourselves (and we still do).

Before we arrived we were warned over and over not to drive in Mexico at night. In addition to the roads being very different from those in the States and the rules of the road quite different as well, it’s just not wise to be a gringo driving around at night.

Now that we’ve been here for almost a year, we do drive at night, but only locally and carefully. One adapts.

And we follow the local news. We have a pretty good idea now, based on conversations with other locals, where to go and where not to go. And since we operate by the dictum that discretion is the better part of valor, we generally follow the advice we hear.

You can certainly hear stories of what in the U.S. are called muggings.

In our experience, these seem to happen when people kind of lose their senses. For example we heard one woman complaining that she had been mugged right after visiting a local ATM. Oh no! Chapala is not safe??? Turns out that she went alone AND at night. Was that smart? Was that paying attention? We think not.

So is Mexico safe? It is if you make it so. Pay attention. Do your homework. Keep your nose clean. Listen and learn. Venture carefully.

Can “random” events happen? Certainly so. And we hasten to add, they can happen pretty much anywhere.

Just to put the entire question in perspective and in context, we took a look at what other parts of the world advise their citizens about traveling to the United States.

Here’s a recent article with twenty-five travel warnings about the U.S.

And here’s another.

Finally, we offer a helpful site called safearound.com. Here’s their pages about the U.S. and about Mexico. 

Yes, the U.S. ranks higher. We suggest taking a look at the listings of the safest countries. How safe would we feel about visiting some of the countries that seem pretty high up on the list? Several gave us pause. Just saying.

Having said all this, we have felt very safe here in Chapala. (Perhaps in part because there’s a police station right across the street!) Be smart and selective and knowledgeable. Just like you do in the U.S. or Canada or wherever you live.

 

 

The Malecon in Jocotepec

The area known as Lakeside comprises a series of communities that stretch across the northern side of Lake Chapala. The town of Chapala is about in the middle of the lakeshore. From Chapala going west to the “end” of the lake, you arrive at Jocotepec. To get there, you pass through Ajijic and other settlements crowded right along the lakeshore.

The mountains that separate lakeside from Guadalajara loom majestically on the north side of the lake.

Jocotepec sits at the northwestern end of the lake. It’s a bustling pueblo (town) with its own malecon, although the malecon can be a little tricky to find. The first time we drove to Jocotepec we missed it. The road along the lake curves right and there we are in the town, with all its lively street life, centro, and, of course, cathedrals.

Making a u-turn by circling a block, we finally spotted some signs for the malecon and made our way to a lovely little park nestled on the lake.

While the malecons in Chapala and Ajijic are in the heart of the commercial life of both towns, the malecon in Jocotepec is set apart from the town.

It’s a lively place to be sure, yet with a serenity all its own. There is a small mercado where one can buy street food and assorted goods, yet nowhere near as large as the mercados in either Chapala or Ajijic.

The malecon in Jocotepec is mostly a park. Well manicured, with open grassy fields, sidewalks along the lake, along with the malecon itself, and a large wooded area for picnicing. It’s festooned with art.

Families abound, as well as individuals lazing, reading, listening to music, enjoying the delightful weather year-round.

It’s hard to describe, at least for a writer of my “talent”, so I hope the pictures are indeed worth their thousand words.

The malecon in Jocotepec is a worthy day outing at lakeside. Don’t miss it when you come.

A Key Adventure in Mexico

Here’s a little story for you, fresh out of the wiles of daily life here in Mexico. We call it a key adventure.

Last Sunday our neighbors and ourselves took a shopping trip to Guadalajara, the capstone of which was a venture to one of the two Costcos there. Costco was rocking and rolling, just like it always seems to be when we visit. Packed to the gills. We circled the parking lot several times in search of a parking space until finally a Costco employee guided us into a space.

We thanked and tipped him and I slipped the key into my pocket.

Now, understand, when I say key I am referring to a fob that automatically opens and locks the doors with the press of a button and a button that “opens” the ignition key for insertion into the steering wheel. It’s a long slender piece of pot metal.

This fob was old, six years old to be sure. And the open/close buttons had long since worn out, so unlocking the car required that the key itself be used on the driver’s side door lock.

When we bought the car, we had an unpleasant encounter with the dealer, who only provided us with one fob and key. After some back and forth about providing us with a second set, the dealership chose to play hardball and said we’d have to pay $400 (U.S.) and wait a month or six weeks to get one from California. I called bullshit on this and invoked the name of an EVP at the dealership group’s headquarters. This brought action in our favor and the key was given to us, just as it should have been.

Back to Guad. We braved the crowds at Costco and sauntered back to the car. I pulled out the fob, only to discover that the actual key was missing. Gone. We assumed that somehow it had broken off. We searched the ground around and under the car and back toward the Costco entrance. Nothing. Finally, our neighbor suggested that maybe it had fallen in the car. Walking over the the passenger side I peered in and sure enough, the key was still in the ignition, broken off from the fob.

So, we grabbed a cab and did a round trip home and back with our other fob. Fortunately, the key extracted easily from the ignition and even though the battery had been draining while we were making the trip (3 hours total), the car started and we bought it home.

Now, what to do? Hunt down a Kia dealer here in Mexico and order a key for a U.S. plated vehicle? At what cost? $400 was the price six years ago. What is it now? And how long would it take?

Then Bonita suggested going down to the local key shop (yes, there’s a actual shop that specializes on all kinds of keys and locks) just down the street from us. She thought maybe they could attach a key handle to the existing key so it could be used, even without the fob attachment.

(The fob attachment had just disintegrated.)

So Tuesday I walked down to the shop and made the inquiry. One of the employees spoke some English so I explained the problem. He asked if I had the actual fob. Yes, I did, and went back home and got it.

He took it and said come back in an hour.

I did, and he presented me with a new fob, Kia equipment, with our key securely attached.

Cost? A whopping $40 U.S. (800 pesos).

And the added bonus is that now we can use that fob to lock and unlock the car.

Moreover, he presented me with the disassembled old fob. No funny business here. Just professional service, well and quickly done.

This is Mexico. Items get re-used here. Or repaired or fixed. It seems to be part of the entrepreneurial spirit that we encounter everywhere here. It’s a welcome relief.

Is Chapala Paradise?

Is Chapala paradise?

It depends.

But before we delve into this weighty question, I’d like to fill in a page from our prior post about Sundays on the malecon.

Meet Wilbur and Carol. These two stately caballos grace the malecon most days of the weeks. Sometimes only Wilbur is there; other times, only Carol. Sometimes both.

Wilbur and Carol are our names for the two horses, given that “Wilbur” looks a lot like the leading character from one of my childhood favorite television shows, Mr. Ed. But, of course, this cannot be Mr. Ed. Horses don’t live that long. So, they’re named (by me) for the two owners of Mr. Ed.

A handsome couple, don’t ya think???

Ah, yes, now onto the question of the day. Is Chapala paradise?

There’s been some discussion of this very question around these parts lately, with several definitive “no” answers being strongly asserted.

To our minds, it’s all a matter of perception. If we interpret the word “paradise” as perfection, such as in the Garden of Eden or Shangri-La, then the answer is clearly no. We concede.

Living in Chapala is indeed not living in perfection.

Yes, there are certainly “problems” here. And adjustments aplenty to be made from life in the U.S. or in Canada (or so our Canadian friends here tell us–we have not personal experience to rely on).

If adapting life to fit into a different culture, with “rules” of social and commercial exchange being markedly different from those of Mexico’s northern neighbors, will be a problem for anyone considering expatriation here, it WILL be a problem.

Driving is different; shopping is different; infrastructure is different; housing is different; language is different; history is different; law is different.

In short, if someone expatriates here thinking to re-create their life in the States or Canada, that someone is going to be sorely disappointed.

Yet, despite this, for us, Chapala is paradise.

Back to that matter of perspective. After careful consideration, much research, and an exploratory trip with much interaction with fellow expats already here, we chose to make the leap.

Has it been easy? No. Has it been difficult? No. Has it been different from our life in the States? Most definitely yes.

The factors that make this paradise for us are many: the climate (pretty much 60 to 80 year round); the cost of living; the culture of Mexico; the food; the sheer beauty of the terrain; the infrastructure (phone, internet);  the laid-back way of life; the friendliness of public interaction; the emphasis on people and relationships.

So yes, for us, Chapala is paradise. Is it the only one on this blue planet? Definitely not.

We suggest you find your own. Paradise is what you make it.

Here, we have Wilbur and Carol. And we’re happy. That’s quite enough.

All the best to you, Bob and Bonita

Sunday on the Chapala Malecon

No doubt about it: Sunday is the busiest day on the Chapala Malecon.

Almost every day we exit our apartment and walk a couple of blocks down to the Lake Chapala waterfront. Mondays, the malecon is relatively deserted. A few folks wonder there. Some sit and watch the lake. Lovers embrace. A handful of children play.

Then, as the week progresses, more and more activity comes too. And it all culminates on Sunday.

It’s so busy, in fact, that parking is blocked on one end of the malecon, which is normally crowded with vehicles.

Instead, vendors of various goodies proliferate. Dulces (sweets), bamboo mugs, beverages of all sorts, plasticos–toys, kites, animals and other bric-a-brac, and helados (flavored ice). Ice cream too!

With its numerous benches and grassy areas, families and friends hang out, listening to music, talking, playing.

Some fish:

Others take a cruise on the lake:

More walk out on the two large piers that extend from the malecon into the lake.

There are rides of the kiddies, that swirl and gesticulate and emit obnoxious squeals and sirens and sometimes even deafeningly loud music:

And then there’s the bands, roving groups of local musicians, who will give you a personal concert.

It’s a day to relax and enjoy, to feel the warm sun and the light breeze.

Surprisingly enough, what you won’t see are people swimming. Oh, a few here and there, most children splash around by the short. The water is certainly clean enough, yet it’s brackish near the shore and very shallow. In the photo above, for example, as far out as the barrier visible out in the lake, I’ve seen workers in the water, still visible from the waist up.

We don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s modesty. I’ve yet to see any women down by the lake wearing bikinis or even one-pieces. It’s quite rare to see any hombres (guys) wearing shorts, jeans and trousers are the order of the day. Maybe someday, someone will give me a plausible explanation.

But we don’t really need one. It’s quite enough to just enjoy the Chapala malecon and the natural beauty that surrounds us here in Chapala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Fest in Mexico

Last weekend our neighbors and I made the journey to Guadalajara to an event called Mushroom Fest.

Okay, as an old hippie (or more accurately hippie-wannabe), I had my fantasies. Alas, no, Carlos Castaneda wasn’t there.

Maybe my first clue should have been that the Fest was next to the U.S. Consulate.

Kidding aside, Mushroom Fest was fun. Lots of different mushrooms, of course.

We do eat a lot of mushrooms. They’re ready available here in Chapala. All year. Portabellos, criminies, oysters,  buttons. Not much else that I’ve seen. But at mushroom fest, we were treated to a symphony of varieties indigenous to Mexico.

Perhaps the most interesting finding, for us anyway, was the plethora of kits on offer for growing-your-own. A most helpful young man showed us plastic bags filled with somewhat ominous-looking detritus which you then spritz with water twice a day and voila, mushrooms will grow. Once harvested, more will grow in about another week, and so on, for a couple of months.

Any surprise that I have one in the laundry room right now? (Mushroom-growing apparently requires a somewhat moist and relatively dark environment.)

Plus, there were lots of delicious-looking foods on offer (most with mushrooms being a key ingredient) with savory aromas.

Even a food court at Mushroom Fest.

And a band.

On a visit to los banos, we discovered an intriguing sign in the hallway. So we’re headed back again in September. See you there???

Summer on the Chapala Malecon

The Chapala malecon is the focus of the city. Everyone gravitates there. To play, to sit, to smooch, to drink, to run, to skateboard, to bike. We walk its length (well, most of it) pretty much every day. It’s endlessly fascinating. And we get to observe the little changes that come with the seasons and the holidays and festivals and just the flow of life here in Mexico.

Last week, we briefly discussed the sudden appearance of water plants taking over the lakeshore over the past three weeks. Turns out the plants are water hyacinths, water lettuces and reeds. You can read more about the details here.

What’s new this week is a rigorous cleanup effort. Men with tools raking the plants onto the shore and a tractor busy piling the debris for disposal.

The malecon seems to be the pride of Chapala. Although we rarely encounter any clean-up efforts, it’s clear that the malecon in cleaned regularly. The abundant trash receptacles are cleared; the stones of the walkway are washed; streetlight bulbs are replaced.

One morning, Bonita had an early flight out of Guadalajara, well before dawn (typically dawn is around 7AM in the summer), and we drove through town on our way to the airport. Sure enough, an army of workers were out on the streets and sidewalks, sweeping and cleaning.

The Chapala sign is one of the most popular spots on the malecon. It’s at the intersection of the main boulevard of the city with the malecon and right across the street from the cathedral. Pretty much whenever we walk by the sign, there’s a line of people patiently waiting for their turn to have their picture taken or to take a picture.

Well-kempt trees create shade for sitting and picnicking and just hanging out. People take pictures, read books, and mostly socialize.

And there’s plenty of fun for the kids. Periodically carnival rides appear, replete with blinking lights and acerbic noises that clearly the kids love.

And there’s a skateboard park (there on the right in the photo above) for older children and teens.

 

Summer on the Chapala malecon. Delightful.