Ajijic

Party in the Streets

Wow! Last night there was a party in Ajijic. It’s a party that happens once a year celebrating the town’s patron saint, San Andres. Raul, a waiter in a restaurant, asked me if I was going. I wasn’t planning on it, but on his suggestion, I wandered on up to the plaza to check it out.

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The plaza was alive, teaming with people. Vendors, I had never seen before set up shop around the plaza. Almost every kind of Mexican snack food was available hot dogs hamburgers, tacos, tamales, peanuts, garbanzos, cut up fruits and cooked vegetable, cookies, cakes, ice cream, beer, soda, tequila.

The noise was deafening. Amusement rides blocked Calle Colon, and loud speakers boomed carnival music. Bands played on a big stage and on every corner, as well as in the restaurants –  mariachis, bandas, and even folk musicians. After I left, I know there would be firecrackers in the church courtyard. No Mexican fiesta would be complete without them!

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Moms and dads held their children’s hands, carried babies, and pushed strollers. Lovers also held hands and danced to the music. The restaurants and food stands were full, and hundred just sat and walked around socializing.

When I first arrived in Ajijic two years ago, I lived within walking distance of the plaza. I attended my first San Andres and wrote about it here. Although I couldn’t capture the sound, which is half the experience of being there, I took a few photos to share.

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The Changes Snowbirds Never See

It’s May in Ajijic. Most of the snowbirds have left for the summer, and many full-timers are escaping the warm weather by visiting friends and family in more temperate climes.

The snowbirds don’t all arrive and leave at the same time. The influx starts in November and builds to a crescendo after Christmas. I remember my first year here, walking into Ajijic’s plaza. It was teaming with northerners, many holding street maps and trying to figure out where to go. The Mexican presence seemed to diminish.

Likewise, the snowbirds start leaving in small numbers at the end of February, peaking around April first. Some stay around until May or longer. While they’re here, just like any “resort” area they inject a healthy amount of money into the economy, and contribute to countless charities that help the locals year-round. They spur the advent of numerous theater productions, concerts, and entertainment from up north which makes life more interesting.

However, snowbirds also contribute to traffic problems, long waiting times at restaurants and supermarket lines, and over-crowded dance floors.

Last year, I travelled to Boston, to take care of some business in early May. I missed the changes that are now taking place in this area. When several thousand people leave a small town, you can see and feel the changes. There’s a more relaxed atmosphere that makes most of the things you do easier, except maybe if you have to deal with the government bureaucracy. That never changes.

My feelings are mixed about the snowbird exodus from the Lakeside area. On the one hand, I enjoy having fewer people around. There’s more time for, and in some ways it’s easier, to build friendships. On the other hand, I miss many of the people I befriended over the winter. In a way, it’s sad when they leave – even though you know you’ll see many of them again next winter.

Summer in Ajijic reminds me of a time, many years ago, when I lived three blocks from Harvard Square in Massachusetts. Every mid-May, the Boston area experiences a mass migration, as tens of thousands of college students and graduates leave town. Harvard Square, for a few months was left to the locals and the tourists. Life was easier. Then, in mid-August, just like the swallows returning to Ajijic, the area bulges with young people, and frenetic activity.

So, for the snowbirds that have already headed home, and have never experienced life in Ajijic at this time of year, I’ve compiled a list of the things that change when you’re gone.

  1. Everyone left here breathes a collective sigh of relief and looks forward to calmer summer months
  2. Some of your favorite restaurants go on vacation and close for extended periods of time.
  3. Sadly some of your favorite restaurants and businesses close their doors forever
  4. New restaurants and businesses open and eagerly await your return
  5. You don’t need a reservation, most of the time, at most restaurants
  6. You can actually dance at Adelita’s
  7. The swallows return, have their babies, make a mess, and leave
  8. Rainbirds (Cicadas) hatch and spend a month driving us crazy with their insanely eerie wailing (See my blog post from last year)
  9. It gets really hot in the afternoons (try 90+F)
  10. Dust from the dry streets is everywhere until rainy season starts
  11. There are a lot fewer traffic jams
  12. You can actually move at the Ajijic Wednesday Tianguis
  13. Starting in June, it rains a lot (mostly late afternoon or evening)
  14. The trees on the mountainsides turn green
  15. Calle Colon often becomes a rushing river when it rains
  16. You find out where all the leaks are in your house
  17. There are fewer fundraisers
  18. The Mexicans return to the plaza (not just the Guadalajan’s on the weekend)
  19. Come about September, we look forward to your return, and the fun and craziness you bring.

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My 6 Favorite Posts and More

I’ve been writing this blog for a year. In the past year, I’ve posted 50 times. This post, my 51st, is taking a short break from my road trip series to share my favorites. I’ll re-commence my road trip on Tuesday.

First, I want to thank all the people who found my postings worthy enough to gain your “followship,” as well as all those who have left comments. I’m not the most timely responder, and will need to do a better job in the coming year. And, I appreciate any and everyone who has taken the time to stop by and read what I have to say.

There’s are some great posts buried in the archives, and If you are newcomer and are enjoying “Retired ‘n’ Single Blog,” you might never discover some of my favorites from ‘way back when. Here are the six I had the most fun writing (in no particular order):

Of Spiders, Dogs, and other Pets
Everybody who reads this post has a good chuckle before they’re finished. It prompted my ex-wife to comment that she thought I was losing my mind. Epilogue: Fred was so overtaken by his fame and loss of anonymity that he just left town one day never to be seen again.

Cat Woman
The Cat Woman is still up to her old tricks. Since it gets dark earlier, you can’t see her. But you can hear the sprinkle of Kitty Kibble as it lands on the roof, and a bevy of feasting felines scrambles for their dinner.

Up or Down?: Ruminating on Toilet Seats
Either you love this one or you hate it. Regardless, and despite risking alienation of the fairer sex, I had a good time writing it.

How to Launder Money
All in good fun! You can’t help but thinking what some spy at the IRS thought when the agency’s Web crawlers found this tongue-in-cheek “how-to” post.

25 Reasons Not to Retire to Lake Chapala
There are so many reasons why Lake Chapala is a great place to live. This blog post looks at 25 of them from the viewpoint of the glass being half-full. Bah humbug!

How I Survived the “Blizzard of 2015”
I had a lot of fun poking fun at the “hardships” up north in Boston. And this January storm was just the beginning! Reality struck home when I returned north 6 weeks later and reported my findings in “Changes in Latitudes…”

The blog post with the most views is a recent one, “Road Trip 1: Am I Crazy.” It was the first post after a long hiatus. I didn’t realize there was such a pent-up demand. I might have to take more long breaks to get my readership up!

It seems like a lot of people like when I post about food. Mexico is a very interesting place to discover amazing foods. If you’re adventurous, there are all sorts of tempting discoveries hidden in the shops, markets, and little restaurants here. As someone who likes to “play” in the kitchen, I’ve also shared some of my experiments, including recipes. Here are some food posts you might like:

⇒  Dinner from the Dredges of the Refrigerator (recipe included)
⇒  When the World Gives you Mushrooms (recipe included)
⇒  Beer and Tomato Juice
⇒  Feet, Ears, Skin – Tostadas Revisited
⇒  Wednesday Lunch – Tacos at The Tianguis (still my favorite Wednesday lunch)
⇒  Tostadas: Taming the Mess

Please let me know which of my posts were your favorites?

Puppies: Chick Magnet or Social Crutch

There’s something about a puppy. They’re cute. They’re cuddly. There’s something about a puppy that women love. They can’t resist running up to them, bending down and petting them.

“Can I hold it,” they implore.

The enterprising guy can see opportunity in this phenomenon. It answers the question that stumps so many Lake Chapala males: “How do you meet women around this place?”

Hey guys, the fastest way to meet a woman is to get a puppy! Simply put it on a leash, and go for a walk. It’s sort of like going fishing. The leash is the line and the puppy is the bait.

It doesn’t matter where you go. Cruise the Malecon. Mornings are puppy feeding time as women take their own dogs for a walk there. What better way to get a conversation started than to sport a four-legged friend?

Or maybe you just want to take your puppy out for a cup of java on the plaza. An endless stream of women will stop by to coo over man’s best friend. Try walking down Revolucion on a Wednesday. There are too many people to be able to walk your little one. It’ll get stepped on. Instead, put your bundle of joy in your arms with the rest of your bundles, and it’s sure to catch the eye of some eligible (and ineligible) honeys walking in the opposite direction.

There’s only one drawback to this strategy. It works so well, it might become a social crutch. Think about it, if you don’t meet Ms. Right in first several months, you might need a second puppy, and then a third.

I guarantee you’ll meet a lot of women, but if success eludes you, you might want look somewhere else for the reasons why. Try brushing your teeth, putting on deodorant, retiring that beat-up tee-shirt, and learning a few social niceties. After all, you’re a caring, sensitive, socially conscious person trying to help the (canine) homeless population…albeit with some bennies on the side. What woman wouldn’t love you if you cleaned up your act?

Dulce2You know, there are scores of dogs awaiting adoption at Lakeside with fresh litters being born every day. This puppy preoccupation gave me an idea for the perfect fundraiser for all the Lakeside animal shelters. And the timing couldn’t be better. Hundreds of single guys and gals are about to descend on Lakeside to escape the northern winter…and possibly find companionship of the two and four legged varieties.

Why not Rent-a Puppy? For a tidy sum, you could almost guarantee a guy he’ll meet women. Why not include a handy guide: The 10 best places to attract women with your “chick magnet.”

Who knows? The guy might score a two-fer: A new girl friend, and…if he becomes attached to the bait, a new puppy. And the animal shelter will also score a two-fer: a rental fee, and an adoption fee.

Wow! What a way to make so many people happy.

So…go hug a puppy today…and if the person at the other end of the leash is half as cute as his four-legged companion, show him you appreciate what a big heart he has and how supportive he is of animal rescue, and give him a BIG hug too!

Playing with Fire at a Paper Balloon Festival

One thing I’ve learned since being here is that Mexicans love a party. And if fire and fireworks are involved, it’s all the more fun. So, what better way is there to spend a Saturday afternoon than to watch Mexicans (and Gringos too) send incendiary devices high into the sky.

I wrote about Mexican pyrotechnics in a previous post.

Last Saturday was a “just for fun” paper balloon festival known simply as “Globos.” Teams and individuals, from teenagers to retirees, construct balloons of all shapes and sizes made from tissue paper.

As with regular hot air balloons, the paper ones require a heat source to fill them and lift them off the ground. I saw groups using everything from blow torches to kerosene pots to fill them.

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The next trick is to get and keep them aloft. That’s where the real challenge, fun, and danger comes in. The balloons I saw had a wire harness defining the opening at the bottom of the balloon with a place for the fuel. Once the balloon was filled, a rag, soaked in kerosene, was put in the harness, and a person with a cigarette lighter ignited it. When enough heat had accumulated inside, the balloon “might” then lift off.

You have to imagine a soccer field of people partying, and teams of balloonists wherever they could find the space to assemble their handiworks and launch them. Sometimes the balloons didn’t make it, rising 15-20 feet before they became engulfed in flames, dropping burning paper and flaming kerosene soaked rags into the scattering throngs below. Sometimes the balloons would reach several hundred feet before a gust of wind would knock them over and they’d catch on fire. The burning mass would fall…who knows where.

Balloons_12I sat watching this spectacle, sipping a beer, while young kids chased each other with cans of flammable spray foam.

I imagined this happening in my home town back in the states. They banned those spray cans because some enterprising teenagers figured out another use for them…and don’t mean sniffing them. In my town, the field would be roped off. People watching would be at least a quarter mile away, and the fire department would be there in full regalia…just in case. Oh yes, you’d have to be 18 or older to participate – maybe even 21

Come to think of it, my old home town might like a paper balloon festival. I would fit in with its Independence Day celebration. Someone convinced the Fire Chief that it’s a good idea to store several tons of explosives, called fireworks, in front of the high school – and set them off – with thousands of people watching. Maybe he can be convinced to let the townspeople launch kerosene filled balloons over the town.

After the fireworks celebration, of course.

Up on the Roof

One of the things I like best about the house I’m living in is the mirador. A mirador is a rooftop deck that lets you see beyond the walls that surround most Mexican homes.

My mirador is spectacular. I have a 360 degree view of the mountains to the north and the lake to the south. Lake Chapala spreads out before me from east to west.

And sometimes, I even get to watch Cat Woman feed her feline friends.

Often, in the evening, I’ll go “up on the roof” and watch the sun go down with a brilliant flourish, and the stars rise in the ensuing darkness. Sometimes distant lightning will illuminate the sky across the lake. The evening sounds of San Antonio fill the air around me. And almost always, I’m reminded of the following lyrics…

“When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space

On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there, the world below can’t bother me
Let me tell you now

When I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet
I get away from the hustling crowds
And all that rat race noise down in the street

On the roof’s the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof

At night, the stars put on a show for free
And, darling, you can share it all with me
I keep-a tellin’ you

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I found a paradise that’s trouble-proof
And if this world starts getting you down
There’s room enough for two up on the roof”

Thank you, Goffin Gerald and Carole King

Copyright: Screen Gems-emi Music Inc.

Meditation and Story-Telling on a Sunday Morning

This past Sunday, I went to Open Circle at Lake Chapala Society.

I had been there many times before. Open Circle is like a non-church-goer’s alternative to church. Every week, a different speaker shares a topic with the audience. Sometimes it’s spiritual; sometimes it’s informative; sometimes it’s entertaining; and sometimes all three.

I went because a person I know was speaking. He is a professional story teller…really. How does one get a gig like that?

Story-telling is a big activity down here. People come from all over the world with greatly varied lives and experiences. And many times, when you talk with people, the lives they re-live in their “stories” seem to be a little…exaggerated. I’m sure that in some bar on the other side of town two Gringos are knocking down a few Coronas, and one of will claim that he used to be the Minister of Finance for Zimbabwe. And, I’m sure he’ll leave out the part that he had to flee from Zimbabwe because he was the Minister of Finance!

I’m also sure that some of the people I’ve engaged in tit-for-tat thought I was just as nutty as my stories seemed to be. But honestly, as nutty as some of my stories are, they’re all true!

So having engaged the Open Circle speaker several times over past several weeks, I had to test the veracity of his story telling claims. I also think he’s a nice guy, and why not support him?

When you go to Open Circle, there are rituals that starts every meeting. One of the rituals is an opening meditation led by a member of the community. On this occasion, a spiritual young woman gave the meditation. She was really into this close-your-eyes and connect with your inner being stuff, as so many of the meditation leaders are.

In so many ways, I’m a contrarian. I’m just not into that group-think stuff. Please don’t take offense if you are. So when the leader, whomever it might be, says to “close your eyes,” I can’t keep my eyes open enough.

So, as a good spiritual leader does, the woman asked the congregants to close their eyes, and then softly started to lead them into imagining that they were in some special place.

Contrarian me has a real problem with this whole thing.

I’m sitting in a beautiful garden (see the pictures below), in one of the most beautiful places on this planet (see the top photo), and someone is telling me to imagine I’m in a special place? Why do we need to shut our eyes and imagine it?

Open your eyes, people, and take the time to look around you. It’s not in some special recess of your head, mind, or body. It’s real.

Despite the distraction of the speaker’s voice, and instead of obsessing over my inner consciousness, I took the time to look at the world around me and the peace within it.

As I sat in my chair, I raised my head to see the Galeana flowers start to blossom in the tree above. A light wind from the lake gently moved the leaves on the tall trees across the street. Birds of all sizes and shapes flew around and sang their songs. I didn’t need a person telling me I should observe the whisper of leaves… and singing of the birds…and sense the smell of the flowers. All with my eyes wide open!

By the way, the following presentation was excellent. My story-telling friend passed the veracity test with flying colors and on all three counts, He entertained about 100 people with an informative and, at times, spiritual presentation.

Buses and Mala Suerte

One of the smaller buses in traffic on the carraterra

One of the smaller buses in traffic on the carratera

Don’t ever stand at a bus stop with me. I am mala suerte – bad luck. The local buses generally run about every 5-10 minutes…EXCEPT when I need one! Either the bus is pulling away when I arrive at the bus stop, or I wait a long time before another one shows up.

Believe me. I don’t plan it this way. But it seems that it always happens. This is particularly true if I have some place important to go or am late for an appointment. I’ll wait and wait and wait. I think the buses must sense this and purposely go slow, or their drivers are clairvoyant and like sticking it to the antsy Gringo.

The Mexicans with whom I stand appear to take it all in stride. They know the bus will show up ahorita – eventually. And because there hasn’t been one in awhile, it will be packed to the gills.

I’m getting better about lowering my expectations and my anxiety level too. That’s because every day I live here I shed a little bit of my North American attitude. Pretty soon you realize that the people with whom you’re having those important meetings and appointments are either Mexicans or others who have already adopted a Mexican attitude.

15 minutes late? No problema!

Someone once said: “Life is about showing up.” They never qualified it with today, manana, or ahorita. My ex-wife, who lived in India for awhile, says that for the Indians it could be “the next lifetime.”

small bus SA

Small bus approaching the bus stop outside my house. On my way to Ajijic,

There are basically 3 types of buses here, and you can pretty much get to anywhere you want to go without hassle. There are the fancy Chapala Plus buses that travel directly into Guadalajara about which I wrote in a previous blog post. Then there are the big local buses that also go to Guadalajara, making multiple stops along the way. Finally there are the smaller buses that run between Chapala and Jocotepec. They run along the carratera too, but make side-trips into the villages of San Antonio along the way. They’re usually not as well appointed as the bigger buses, and you get bounced around quite a bit on the village streets.

inside small bus

This interior is rather luxurious for a small bus,,,new plastic seats. What a pleasure!

I never quite understood why there are different prices for the same trip on the different buses. But if I take one of the larger buses to go from San Antonio to Chapala, I pay 9 pesos. If I take a small bus, it’s 7 pesos. The seats may be cushioned in the larger bus (but not always) and usually plastic in the small buses (but not always). In a small bus, the driver usually wears a polo shirt (but not always) and the drivers of the larger buses where white buttoned-down shirts (I guess they appreciate that in Guadalajara). Go figure!

bus stop sign

The sign says: Bus Stop. Prohibited to put garbage here (it doesn’t stop anybody!)

I’m fortunate to have a parada – bus stop – right in front my house. The little buses rumble up the street after circumventing the plaza a block down the hill, and re-enter the carratera a block further up. With an aggressive driver, if you don’t take your seat quickly, you could find yourself tossed onto the lap of some unfortunate abuela and her bag of groceries.

All in all, however, the transportation system works pretty well here…for everyone but me and those poor souls who choose to stand next me waiting for the next bus.

Qué lo vaya bien!

Independence Day: Here and There

This is my first year as an expat. So, I wondered: how do U.S. citizens celebrate Independence Day here?

For the Mexicans, it’s just another work day, unless you’re employed at a restaurant hosting a special meal for July 4th celebrants. Then it’s a very busy work day.

Where I used to live, in Needham, Massachusetts, Independence Day was always special. It’s a real old-time 4th of July celebration. Band concerts and fireworks start things off on the evening of the 3rd. For a town of 30,000, an impressive 10,000+ turn out for a half-hour of fireworks which get better every year.

The 4th starts off with a road race, followed by an hour-long parade with enough fire engines from surrounding towns to wake people in Wellesley. There are marching bands from as close as Boston and far away as Connecticut. A flea market at the high school, a pie-eating contest, and children’s activities follow into the afternoon.

A good friend of mine, Martha, lives on the parade route. Every year friends and their kids gather to watch the parade, check out the flea market 2 blocks away, and sit around for hours eating hot dogs and hamburgers and all the trimmings.

Nothing so exciting happens here. However, there are several choices:

  1. Friends get together to have a quiet celebration. Fireworks are for Mexicans!
  2. The American Legion post in Chapala has a picnic with fried chicken.
  3. The Progressive Club and Democrats Abroad have a picnic with hot dogs and hamburgers for 200 pesos.
  4. The Conservative Club has a potluck with hot dogs and hamburgers for 50 pesos.
  5. Several restaurants serve special meals for us Gringos.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Since when did the 4th become political? Whatever happened to a good ole all-inclusive American 4th of July celebration?

I don’t want to offend any of my progressive or conservative friends, and I’m not sure what the conversation was about at their respected events. But, I wasn’t really interested in listening to progressives and Democrats trash George Bush and Donald Trump. Likewise, I wasn’t interested in hearing Conservatives trash Barak Obama and Donald Trump. I’m also tired of hearing about how the U.S. is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket by both sides (even though it is).

So, what did I do?

July_4 Menu

CocinArt July 4th Menu

I chose option 5, accompanied by a special person. We gorged ourselves on clam chowder, filet mignon, and three sides at a favorite restaurant (photo of the 160 peso, $10 US,  prix fixe menu is above). Believe me, it was much better than hot dogs and hamburgers.

Then we danced the night away at another restaurant.

While we are here as guests of the Mexican People, I think we Gringos have more freedom here, than we did in the states. But to tell you the truth, I really missed Needham’s July 4th celebration.

Let’s all be thankful for our independence as Americans…while we still have it.

Why foreign retirees are flocking to Mexico

One Wednesday evening, PBS News Hour was filming during our weekly Los Amigos get-together at the Nueva Posada Hotel. The hotel is beautifully situated right on the lake. Starting at about :43 minutes you’ll see a bunch of us enjoying our 2 for 1 drinks. Nice friendly international group, and a great way to spend a lovely evening.

I’m on my way to the Nueva Posada this evening. Hope it doesn’t rain!

The PBS segment aired on July 6, 2015. To view on the PBS site click here