Delivering the Mail

It’s one of the wonders of the world that the mail gets delivered in Mexico. I’m always amazed when a letter, usually a bill, arrives in my buzon, mailbox. How it found its way is one of those logistical secrets that postmasters, the world over, must keep to themselves.

The problems involved with delivering the mail to the right address aren’t particular to Mexico. Vacationers to third world countries, and even places like Italy, frequently arrive home before their air-mailed postcards – even if the sender takes a slow boat from China.

Out of sequence house numbers complicate the delivery of mail

Out of sequence house numbers complicate the delivery of mail

There was a small problem for many expats in Mexico last fall when the Mexican government decided to sit on thousands of letters mailed from the U.S. containing checks, bills, important papers, and who knows what else. Was it a protest? Donald Trump hadn’t even declared his candidacy yet.

I’m regularly treated to letters mailed to a Chapala address 5 miles down the road. I think some clerk somewhere in the system, slipped it into my mailman’s parcel as a test, or maybe a joke, to see if he could deliver it to the correct address. Well, the guy on my route was having none of it. He knows that if he doesn’t recognize the recipient, he just stuffs it in the gringo’s mailbox.

The first time this happened, I circled the address and put it back into the mailbox so it was sticking out. This is what I’d do in the states so the letter carrier would see it and hopefully correct the situation.

The problem here is that there’s very little mail. Even when I lived in Ajijic, my landlady got very little mail, and most of it was addressed to the wrong address anyway. The only mail I get that’s addressed correctly is the Telmex bill. They know how to get paid.

So, when I stuffed the misaddressed envelope back into the box, it sat there for almost two weeks. I’m sure the mailman was confused because he never picked it up. Instead, some enterprising kid in the neighborhood ripped it up, and did what I guiltily couldn’t do – send it to the big dead letter trash heap in the sky.

The post office in Ajijic with mail delivery motorcycles parked outside

The post office in Ajijic with mail delivery motorcycles parked outside

The next time it happened, I decided to take the letter to the post office. I pointed out the mistake, hoping the clerk would be able to rectify the situation. He looked at me disbelievingly, shrugging his shoulders. I knew he was thinking, “What do you want me to do with it?” And, then he threw it in a box – obviously the dead letter trash heap.

Now, you may have noticed that I’ve been referring to the PC incorrect term “mailman.” I guess technically and appropriately they are “letter carriers.” But here in Mexico, all the ones I’ve seen are young men. They zip around town on motorcycles with little boxes on the back that look a lot like the delivery cycles from Domino’s Pizza or Pollo Feliz. They’d never work for the crusty old-timers who delivered the mail in my old home town. And they wouldn’t do well in the snow either. They would, however, save gas.

Considering the state of the street numbering system here, I do have to give the mailmen a lot of credit. It wasn’t designed with any rationality. You see one block on a street might be numbered 201-250 and the next block 18-42. Or even better, two houses next to each other with numbers sometimes hundreds of numbers apart. The photo above was the inspiration for this blog post. As I sat in the car waiting for a friend to pick up her dog at the groomer (#31 on the left), I noticed the neighbors on either side had numbers in the eighties.

When someone builds a house here or subdivides a property they must refer to a random number generator or maybe a pair of dice or maybe an astrological chart to get a house number.

This numbers game makes it a challenge when you’re invited to someone’s house for the first time. Before I had my car here, I remember walking up and down a street for a half hour looking for a house in Riberas. As I approached the end of a block, I would think I was getting close, only to find that the numbers changed dramatically on the next block.

All this confusion must provide amusement for the locals, and an occasional interesting surprise in the mailbox.

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?

25 Reasons NOT to Retire to Lake Chapala

Just as I was about to post this, CNBC reported, “A recent online poll of more than 2,000 adults by TransferWise, a peer-to-peer money transfer service based in the United Kingdom, revealed that 35 percent of American-born residents and emigrants would considering leaving the United States to live in another country.”

Please don’t come to the Lake Chapala region. If you believe what you read and hear in the U.S. media, why would anyone want to retire in Mexico anyway…especially the area around Lake Chapala.

You see, the Lake Chapala region is a secret that’s been hidden from most Americans and Canadians.

Lake Chapala from Jocotepec with Mt. Garcia

Lake Chapala from Jocotepec with Mt. Garcia

Us expats here today like it that way. If too many of you Gringos and Canadians come down here, you might spoil it for the rest of us.

I know you’d rather stay where you are and worry about whether you’ll remain healthy enough to see your grandchildren graduate college…or whether you’ll have enough money saved to live out your years short of poverty…or how long you’ll be able to maintain that middle-class life style you’ve become accustomed to.

So, to make you feel better, I’ve compiled a list of the top 25 reasons NOT to retire to Lake Chapala (in no particular order):

  1. You’ll be getting enough from Social Security and your retirement plans to live in the lap of luxury for the rest of your life.
  2. You haven’t figured out yet that you need to down-size your lifestyle to survive retirement.
  3. You like living at a lower standing of living than you are used to.
  4. You like spending $10 dollars a person when you go out for breakfast; $50 for a steak, $10 for a glass of wine, or $6 for a beer at a restaurant.
  5. You like spending thousands of dollars for a tiny apartment in New York, Boston, or San Francisco.
  6. You like arguing about politics all of the time.
  7. You’re perfectly happy with the direction the U.S. is headed…economically, politically, culturally, educationally.
  8. You think it’s not right to hire house cleaners and gardeners at $4 an hour. You’d rather pay $60-$100 an hour, or
  9. You like shoveling snow, raking leaves, or cutting the grass.
  10. You like being used by your children as a babysitter, cook and house cleaner.
  11. grandma and grandchildYou’d rather pay your dentist $150 for a teeth cleaning and check-up rather than $20.
  12. You don’t like making new friends from around the world, and are happy with a shrinking social group that is slowly moving away.
  13. You like sitting at home watching TV rather than meeting new people every day and socializing with a group of friends, or.
  14. You’d rather be in bed at 9:00 pm instead of listening to live jazz or rock and dancing ‘til closing time.
  15. You like cloudy days, rainy or snowy winters, hurricanes in the autumn, or tornadoes in the spring.
  16. You don’t like kayaking, golf, hiking, tennis, bridge, the arts or culture, or doing whatever pleases you, outdoors or indoors…365 days a year.
  17. You don’t drink bottled water.
  18. $25 a month electric bills are too high, and you’d rather spend hundreds of dollars a month to heat and air-condition your house.
  19. Your real estate taxes have been going down every year, government services have been getting better, and there’s tons of money left over from your social security or pension check at the end of the month.
  20. You hate looking at beautiful flowers blooming all year long.
  21. Spending $4 to see first run movies is too much for your entertainment budget.
  22. You like to wait months to see a doctor for a routine appointment.
  23. You feel safe in places like New York, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis…or, for that matter, church or the movie theater.
  24. You don’t like waking up where the air is clean and the vistas are beautiful.
  25. You’re just plain scared to make changes to your life.

So don’t believe all those books about the wonderful life here, or the promotional websites all the realtors produce to entice you to buy a house. As the saying goes, “Life is Good” in the U.S. and Canada. So stay there for retirement…if you can afford to.

Wine and cheese time capping an exhausting day of reporting.

Wine and cheese time capping an exhausting day of reporting.

Life is Good image courtesy of Good News Network

Doing business (cards) in Mexico

The gringos here come from all over the U.S. and Canada with a few Europeans thrown into the mix. It’s kind of funny that the Asians haven’t really discovered this beautiful area…yet.

After people have been here for a while, many inevitably wind up getting business cards made up. If you get out of your house you’re always meeting new people. And, it’s easier to just give someone a card rather than try to remember your cell or telephone number. Down here, in the Lakeside area, it seems like everybody has a business card.

So, I decided that I needed a business card too because I’m meeting so many people and I really can’t remember my cell phone number. I asked my landlady where to get some printed up. She knows a lot of stuff like that. I don’t think VistaPrint delivers down here, and if they did, I’d probably be on my way home before the cards arrived.

She suggested I go over to Chapala to a place she uses and ask for Sr. Michel. Arriving around 2:00 pm, I was informed that he comes in at 4:00. I had already planned the information I wanted on my card and written it down. The girl in the shop, as best I could understand her, told me to leave the information. Sr. Michel would work on a design, and I should come back the following morning to approve.

“Don’t you have any designs I can choose from?” I asked.

“No, he will design something for you this evening.”

I’ve never done business like this, and frankly they’re trusting that this gringo who they’ve never seen before will come back. I wonder how many times Sr. Michel has slaved at the computer, only to have his creative genius stiffed.

So the next day I return, and lo and behold Sr. Michel is there! After he fires up his ancient computer, he shows me his handwork. “Not bad,” I think to myself.

“Cuanto es por 100,” I ask?

“100 Pesos,” he replies with a smile. That’s about US$8.00.

“Sold!” I say, and am told to come back tomorrow to pick them up. I’m probably the easiest gringo he’s ever worked with. If there were a catalog, I may not have chosen the design or colors, but I didn’t feel like commuting to Chapala for a week to get everything perfect for 100 cards.

Weekend in Chapala

Chapala is down the road a piece – about 7 miles or so. It’s the biggest town around, and is about twice the size of Ajijic. The more I see of Chapala, the more I like it. It has a very active main commercial street that leads down to a very pretty waterfront on the lake with a malecon that snakes west from the town center.


On the main street nearing the lake

On the main street nearing the lake

My landlady, invited me to go to a small Mexican restaurant there, El Zapote, the weekend of Dia del los Muertos. She claims El Zapote has some of the best Mexican food around. She should know. She’s a foodie who grew up in the area. The restaurant was filled with Mexican families, and Gringos alike. The Posole, a hearty soup, made with hominy and chicken was delicious and filling – It’ll be the perfect dish when the temperatures dip in January.

This past weekend, in Chapala, was the Feria Maestros del Arte. It’s an annual event that brings famous and rising artisans from all over Mexico to Chapala to show and sell their wares. Participation, by the artisans, is by invitation only. It draws a big crowd from the expat community and nearby Guadalajara. My landlady, Vivianne, hosted a jeweler from Oaxaca, and her neighbors, likewise, hosted artisans from a number of areas.

Francisco Gutierrez, Jeweler from Oaxaco - A man with a great sense of humor.

Francisco Gutierrez, Jeweler from Oaxaco – A man with a great sense of humor.

So, on Saturday, I plunked down my 9 pesos (US$.70) for the bus trip to Chapala. The bus stops up the street about a quarter mile. Not knowing where to get off, I departed at the bus station, and for my edification, checked out the cost of the express bus to Guadalajara (50 pesos or US$3.85) for a future adventure.

Chapala's main street with tree-lined island down the middle

Chapala’s main street with tree-lined island down the middle

The main street was alive with cars and people. However, it wasn’t as busy as it would be on Sunday – a family day. I wandered down the street to the malecon and the edge of the lake, and started to realize what a charmed place this area was. The lake stretched out in on either side.

View of Mt. Garcia across Lake Chapala from the Malecon

View of Mt. Garcia across Lake Chapala from the Malecon

To the east, the end of the lake was invisible over the horizon, distant mountains were shrouded in clouds. To the right, spits of land protruded into the lake. And, across the lake, rose Mt. Garcia and the Sierra Madre.

I strolled along the malecon to the east until I reached the Yacht Club where the Feria was being held.

There were about 80 artisans spread out under tents over the lawn. An all-woman mariachi band played near the lake. It was late for lunch, and my stomach was growling. So I made it for the food vendors, where I picked up some tacos and a beer. These were some of the best tacos, I’ve had since I’ve been here. And some of the hottest salsa I’ve had.

There were all sorts of crafts on display and for sale, from clothing and jewelry, to ceramics, metal and wood work, and everything in between. A lot of the things were the kinds of artesania you see in many of the upscale tourist shops. But that’s no surprise, since most of the artisans at the show are well-established and sell their wares all over Mexico.

I was especially taken with some of the unusual ceramics and the detailed painting on many. The detail work on much of the work of all kinds was mind boggling.

Walking back to catch the bus I ran across a wedding on horseback. This happy couple, busy orchestrating a photo shoot, was off to the reception. Talk about riding off into the sunset!

Horseback wedding - riding off into the sunset

Horseback wedding – riding off into the sunset

Saturday night Vivianne’s neighbors had a pot luck reception for the artisans they were hosting in a beautiful home worthy of an article in Architectural Digest. I tried to converse with several Mexicans, but with the present state of my Spanish it was tortured – even with a healthy dose of vino. I retreated to safety of the Gringos, and met some nice people.

The family that plays together...

The family that plays together…

I returned on Sunday because I wasn’t happy with some photos I’d taken. Sunday, the town was buzzing even more. It’s a family day, and families and tourists alike were taking advantage of the beautiful weather.

Chapala deserves further exploration. Because Mexicans make up a much larger percentage of the population, housing and other service tend to be a lot cheaper. Comparing prices in Ajijic and Chapala is like comparing prices and demographics in the South End of Boston and Dedham.

The weekend ended on a winning note at Tom’s Bar in Ajijic as the Patriots beat the Colts.