Archive | March, 2017

Immigration to Mexico

28 Mar

seal-of-mexicoIn keeping with my pledge to learn what I can about immigration to the countries we are visiting, in case family and friends wish, or are forced, to leave Trumpland, I have been greatly aided in Mexico by the fact that we’re staying in an ex-pat community. The Lake Chapala Society here in Ajijic has an immigration officer in the office every week to answer ex-pat’s questions!  She has sheets printed out with all the details of acquiring both temporary and permanent residency. The requirements are by far the easiest to fulfill of all the places we have visited so far.

First of all, it is possible to stay in Mexico on a tourist visa for 180 days. It is then possible to cross back into the U.S., stay for a few days, and come back again for another 6 months. As I understand it, one can even purchase property here while visiting on a tourist visa. If one wants to stay for more than 6 months, or is planning to move here permanently, it is better to apply for either a Temporary Residency or a Permanent Residency. Both require application via a Mexican consulate in one’s home country; the nice woman advising us at the Society said with a bit of embarrassment that each consulate has different interpretations of the requirements, and has discretion to change what is required to apply. But generally, the required documents and qualifications are as follows:

residencyreqs_mexico_mar28

The notes on the sheet are mine, and have to do with application fees, which range from 5300 pesos ($278) for a 1-year temporary residency visa, to about 9300 pesos (about $490) for a 3-year visa. The proof of income figures are encouraging:  32,000 pesos–the monthly amount required to qualify for a temporary residency–is about $1700, and means that one must prove that one has that amount coming in every month for the last 6 months. For a permanent residency visa, that figure is about $2,000/month. To my amazement, according to the immigration agent, a temporary residency visa entitles you to work in the country, and to have access to Mexican health care. The only glitch for couples is that each spouse must apply separately and show proof of that income. But the agent explained that should one spouse not have the required income, arrangements will be made once the other spouse has qualified.

Bottom line:  if you have any assets at all, it’s pretty easy to move here and gain residency status. No wonder there are so many ex-pats here that own properties! The only other advice that this lovely immigration agent made involved cars. It is apparently more complicated to bring your own car here than to buy one in Mexico and insure it.

More information can be found at https://www.mexperience.com/lifestyle/living-in-mexico/visas-and-immigration/

¡Viva Mexico!

Nearly Everything You Need in Ajijic

28 Mar

[In frustration at not finding much easily available information–such as maps, bus schedules, or even directories of places to eat and shop–George has been accumulating all these bits and pieces while we’ve been in Ajijic. Most of what is written here is G’s work, and includes his interpretation of how things work in this little ex-pat town in Mexico–ee.]

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Where is the stuff that we’ve needed since coming to Ajicic?

Water.

The next time you talk to a Republican who opposes government funding for private services like schools and public transit, agree and describe how Mexico does water supply.  The city pumps filtered water to your house.  You are expected to treat it against pathogens — elaborate filters and ultraviolet lights.  Just think of the investment opportunity from selling these to every household in the U.S.!

When the home-treated water comes out of your faucet, it’s probably okay to use it to boil potatoes or pasta, shower or brush your teeth.  You probably want to get bottled water for drinking water.  To eat veggies (including sliced oranges and lemons), soak them in a basin of water with 4 or 5 drops of iodine solution for 5 minutes.  Between the iodine and the water, you will get rid of the organic and chemical fertilizers. Drain, don’t rinse.  The better restaurants have their own water treatment and will treat their veggies.

In short, get locally delivered bottled water in 5 gallon jugs. Where we rent, we get two 5-gallon bottles delievered for about 40 pesos (about $2.00). Prefer bottled water and sodas at your eateries.  As long as your house has a filtration system, don’t worry over much about your water.

Food.

Street vendors.  We’ve bought quarts of quality locally grown blueberries  and raspberries, and bunches of asparagus from vendors on the street, I hope for competitive prices. Why and how blueberries are being grown here now is a good question, but they’re very good, and the raspberries are sublime.  We have not been brave enough to eat from the cooked foods at stalls at the markets, but in most cases, especially around here, that food should be fine.

Tiny groceries are on every neighborhood street.  They are often dark and somewhat forbidding.  I’ve bought milk and fresh cilantro from nice people at Tienamos, just down the way from us on Revolucion. Often you will see a simple table set out in front of a house, with a few things, like drinks or chips, for sale.

There are three regular grocery stores in the area frequented by the ex-pats:

Torito, on the Carretera at Revolución a bit east of the town proper, offers pretty much what every modest grocery store in the U.S. does.  Some fruit and vegetables, beer, wine and spirits, a butcher (I’ve bought chicken wings to boil for broth, but prefer Tony’s as a butcher, see below), and all sorts of normally needed goods. Excellent local coffee, both whole bean and ground, can be found here, too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuper Lake, in San Antonio a few kilometers east of Ajijic, caters to the U.S. and Canadian residents.  It’s the ex-pat market par excellence.  Clabber Girl baking powder, Schar digestive biscuits, McCann steel cut oat meal, Wasa Brot, bottled herbs, proper mayo and mustard, cilantro, wine, yogurt. One pays through the nose for the privilege of having these items available: a box of granola that would cost $2.50 at home costs almost $5 here. It’s also best to check the use-by dates as well.

Soriana Híper is a comprehensive grocery store in Chapala, just north of the city center, with good prices and a good variety of products. And if you would rather shop in a Mexican supermercado than succumb to WalMart or Costco–both of which are in easy distance from Ajijic–Soriana is the one to go to.

Fish mongers and butchers.

Las Playas Fish shop, next door to SuperLake, closed Sat. after 3:00, open Sun. morning.   Good fish, filleted to order, bones and heads for broth, lots of frozen shrimp.

Pescaderia Pacifico. Fish market in West Ajijic.  Again, good fish, filleted to order, bones and heads for broth, frozen shrimp.

Carnicería Tony’s.  Butcher next door to SuperLake on Carretera.  Really nice pork loins and beef.  The intelligent and well-spoken butcher (who speaks perfect English) is a gem and the young woman cashier is a quick wit if she shows it.  Note, in most shops you order and get your food from the provider and take it to a cashier to pay for it.

Bread.  Hmmm.  There’s reputed to be a good French bakery in west Ajijic.  I’ll try to check.  That said, I have found pretty good multi-grain loaves at SuperLake. [Found THE bread shop:  Panadería Escandinavia, in the mall across the Carretera from the Wal-Mart. Excellent Nordic-style loaves, and good sandwiches as well.–ee]

Helados Bök.  A terrific goat’s milk ice cream shop on the west side of the Plaza.  We’ve been able to order goat’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt there, too, but you may have to wait a few days to get it, while the owner pasteurizes the milk and sets the yogurt! (Note, too, that although the shop name includes an umlaut, the real German word for goat is BOCK!)

El Granero.  South side of Carretera just west of Javier Mina.  What a nice herb and grain shop!  Excellent quality, and pleasant people, too.

Open air markets, called Tianguis locally, are held weekly:

Monday:  Chapala, near the Soriana just north of downtown.  Lots of stuff!

Tuesday: West Ajijic, in La Huerta Hall starting not a minute before 10:00am.  Everything’s supposed to  be organic, quite a lot of homemade foods, as well as good fruit and vegetables. Entirely geared toward the ex-pat market, you would see more Mexicans at any market in California than you will see here.

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Organic Market, La Huerta, Ajijic.

Wednesday: Ajijic, on Revolución south of the highway.  Trinkets and clothes above, vegetables, fish (filleted open air for you!), and meat farther south. A very happy place!

Thursday:  Jocotopec.  We haven’t been there yet, but it is said to be extensive and right on the Carretera, filling the road.

Housing.

We’re staying in a house at the corner of Prof. Lázaro Cárdenas and Revolución, about 2 km ENE of the Ajijic’s town center for about $1,200 a month.  Our friend Leslie says that for long stays the price break is about $700 per month to get a nice rental; she has a two-story, beautifully appointed house at that price.  We’ve seen a very presentable house near us–with all the mod cons and a garden–for $950 per month.

My suggestion is to rent something short term while waiting for something long term available through a local real estate agent.  Our experience has been limited to Michael Rosenblum, a thoroughly pleasant ex-pat at Fenix Real Estate.  Once you relax here, it’s easy to buy quality real estate for surprisingly modest prices. (See Erika’s upcoming blog on immigration procedures!)

P1270125You will find that the town is divided first between areas above and below the Carretera (the Carretera is the main highway, and very busy and dangerous to cross).  North of the highway is seriously up hill along quite cumbersome cobblestone streets.  Our street, in Upper Ajijic, is the only paved street in the entire town–that is, paved with smooth, walkable tiles, rather than chunky, volcanic-rock cobblestones. West of the town center are many prosperous properties, some in gated associations, still on cobblestone streets.

Locks, etc.

Household security is quite like that in Europe — lots of locks, bars on windows, and keys.  Screens, windows, screen doors, garages, gates, back doors, front doors, they are all locked even when you are in the adjoining room.

That said, we have never felt the least bit endangered.  We walk through sections of town where poor people live and don’t have the heightened street sense that comes on walks past rougher apartment buildings in Pasadena.  On the other hand, I am careful not to show off my money or cards, pocketing both before leaving the ATM.  We close the first floor curtains and stash the computers in a kitchen drawer before leaving the house.  Like sensible tourists everywhere, we take only the money and credit cards we expect to need on our forays and always leave our passport at home.

Stuff.

Money.  Currently the peso is almost 20 to the dollar, so to figure a cost, divide by two and drop a decimal, e.g., 120 pesos: divide by two=60, drop a decimal=$6.00.  It’s not exact, but close enough to convince you that things are surprisingly inexpensive.  ATMs are numerous, but always ask for a receipt just in case the machine charges your account but doesn’t give you the money.  If it happens, just call the number on the back of the card.  You will be one of a number of people to whom this has happened. Sometimes the ATMS run out of money, too, and many of the ATMS in grocery stores are broken or eat your card without giving you money.  And be aware: very few places here take credit cards! We haven’t even tried. Some of the more touristy places will take a card, but as far as we can tell, the place runs on a cash economy.

Post office.  North side of  the Carretera just past J. Encarnacion Rosas. As you can see, it’s a hole in the wall, and word is mail will take anywhere from three weeks to two months to get where it’s supposed to go. Most ex-pats here use services such as IShop Mail, which actually mails things via a Laredo, Texas, address. Prices are a bit high, but these are the only reliable ways to get and send mail. postcardtotrump_ajijic

Super Farmacia.  Pharmacy.  Carretera and J. Encarnacion Rosas.  Celebrex, over the counter 10 for 280 pesos (ca. $1.40 each). (See Erika’s blog post on Mexico and meds)

Total Body Care.   Ocampo and Benito Juarez, t. 766 33 79.  World-class massage, acupuncture, pedicure & manicure, and the like. Very reasonable prices,e. g., full-body deep-tissue massage costs about 400 pesos, or $20.

Diane Pearl. Colon and Constitucion.  Folk arts. Some books about the Chapala region are also available here.

Creaciones del Lago.  A women’s embroidery cooperative.  Ramon Corona above 16 de Septiembre, cattycorner from LCS.  Four women sell their stitchery-decorated blouses and other finery. Lovely, inexpensive products from very pleasant women.  They will do custom work too.  The blouses and textiles are hand woven for them.

bookshopsign_ajijicEl Perrito Sabio Librería/Bookstore.  On Colon across from the Plaza.  Modest selection in Spanish and English, run by a well-informed gentleman named Ricardo with two small dogs. The ONLY bookshop in town.

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Leather.  Excellent handmade leather goods for unbelievably affordable prices at the tiny shop on the Carretera called Marcelino (Carr. Oriente #8). Marcelino himself sits there at his sewing machine and can make anything you ask for, be it coat, jacket, or bag.  We got these three items for under $70. leathergoods_ajijic_apr11

Travel.

Taxi.  Plaza (766 0674) and Gasoliera (766 1663).  The two plus kilometers from the city center to our rental costs 50 pesos.

Chapala Buses.  You can catch them at stops along the Carretera and the drivers can make change for reasonable denominations.  The buses are always clean, have fairly comfortable seats, and are heavily used. You can catch a “Directo” from here to Guadalajara, for about $2.50/trip, and 45 minutes into Guadalajara’s old bus station.

Local.  7 or 8 pesos in the neighborhood of Chapala and Ajijic.  About 40 pesos to or from Guadalajara but takes nearly twice as long as the “Directo”, and stops at every possible “parada” along the way, so a 2-hour trip.

The Guadalajara Old Bus Central (Antigua Central Camionera, known locally as Central Viaje) is inconveniently located some distance from the city center, which means an 80 peso taxi ride into Centro Historico. The station is also pretty grotty.  We took a local back to Ajijic just to avoid having to wait an hour for the “Directo”.

Drivers.  They are easy to find by recommendation, but a bit pricey — 1,000 pesos (so $50) for a four hour trip to Tlaquepaque, the upscale craft neighborhood of Guadalajara.  Similar fares for drivers to Mazamitla, an architecturally interesting town about 1 1/2 hours from Ajijic on the other side of Lake Chapala, and slightly more to Teuchitlan (Guachimontones Pyramids) 2 1/2 hours away on the other side of Guadalajara.

Tour buses.  The big name in town is Charter Tours, http://charterclubtours.com/en/home/. Again, they seem kind of expensive — more than $100 U.S. for a day-long venture to the other side of Lake Chapala, and they require a certain number of people for the tour, so often cancel.

LCS buses.  The Lake Chapala Society sponsors inexpensive bus trips to favored destinations — Tonalá (handicrafts) and Tlaquepaque (artsy Guadalajara) about every three weeks, 350 pesos (450 pesos for non-members), depart 9:00 and return 5:00.

Golf cart rentals.  Because of the tortuous cobblestone streets and the steepness of the Upper Ajijic roads, many people rent golf carts to get up and down the hills.  Emiliano Zapata #52, corner of Encarnación Rosas, Upper Ajijic.  About 3,000 pesos per week.  Much reduced for longer rentals.

Autos.  Long time residents say it’s not as frightening as it looks, but it takes some getting used to.  Car rentals seem expensive because U.S. or Canadian insurance isn’t accepted here, so one has to purchase Mexican insurance.

Phones.

We were taken to the Telcel shop on the town side of the Carretera west of Juan Alvarez.  Sim card and 1 gig plan for about 500 pesos.  It is vastly preferable to purchase a Sim card and plan for your U.S. mobile rather than incur international roaming rates.  Sandra, the proprietor of this Telcel shop, is easy to speak with and generally instructed her associate regarding our needs.

To call US and Canada 001+area code+phone no.  Local land line, 7 digits. Local cell, 333+7 digit number.  Mexico long distance land line, 01+3 digit area code+7 digit local number.  Mexico long distance cell, 045+3 digit area code+7 digit phone number (Mexico City has 8 digit phone numbers).

Birds.

So many lovely birds!  Vermilion fly-catchers, kiskadees, lots of water birds. To my disappointment, LCS offers no bird watching groups, but we know they must exist here, because of this kind of video:

Dogs and horses.

The locals let their dogs bark and many allow them to run in the street.  They’ve never given me much notice, though the occasional dog confined to a porch will bark viciously. We find the attitude about dogs here the most dismaying aspect of Mexican small-town life.

There are horses all over the place here.  No horse carts or wagons though, only saddle horses, most often used for carrying five gallon water jugs.

If you know which street to walk down (hint: Encarnacion Rosas) on, you will often get to see a hen and some chicks foraging on the side of the street.

hen&chicks_ajijic_mar27

That about wraps up our practical info and George’s observations about life in Ajijic these past few weeks.  So after the chickens, we will end with two beautiful scenes right outside our door:

And a list of special characters to copy and paste:

À Â Ã Ä Å à á â ã ä å

Æ æ

Ç ç

È É Ê Ë è é ê ë

Ì Í Î Ï ì í î ï

ð

ñ

Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö ò ó ô õ ö

Ø ø

Ù Ú Û Ü ù ú ü

Ý ý

Þ þ

ß

÷

Lázaro Cárdenas

24 Mar

The house we’re renting here in Ajijic is located on the corner of Avenidas Lázaro Cárdenas and Revolución. You can imagine how pleased that makes me, especially when I learned that Cárdenas was the best, most committed, of the Mexican presidents to come out of the 1910 Revolution. When I learned that Cárdenas was responsible for nationalizing the oil industry in Mexico in the 1930s, kicking out the British and American fat cats, I couldn’t help but be amused by the photo above–with Cárdenas’s name juxtaposed with the name of one of the snazzy gated communities, filled with ex-pats of whom many are probably from the American and Canadian oil industries, across the street from our house. The other photo shows the street signs on our house.

While in Ajijic, I have been reading Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors:  A Portrait of the Mexicans, written in 1989. Riding was for many years the bureau chief of the New York Times’ Mexican office, in the days when American newspapers still had international bureaus.  While now a bit dated–and in our current political state, extremely depressing, since Riding just assumes that America in the 1980s is still the model of democracy to which all nations should aspire–the book gives the author’s insights into the Mexican character in enlightening and persuasive passages, if one would now perhaps consider them provocatively stereotypical. His grasp of Mexican political history is excellent, and he writes easily and with dispatch about the complexities of Mexican personalities and institutions that are so baffling to many Americans.

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Cardenas in the 1920s. Aurelio Escobar Castellanos Archives.

In Riding’s book I first came across references to Cárdenas (1895-1970) and his radical and astonishing reforms in the 1930s. A mestizo with Tarascan Indian blood, he came from the southern state of Michoacán; early on he aligned himself with the revolutionaries who came to political power in the 1920s, and fortunately for him, he chose the right ones to whom to give his loyalty. He became a well-respected military general under Plutarco Calles, dictatorial president and founder of the reigning political party, the  Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR). As Calles’ hand-picked successor to the presidency, Cárdenas was expected to toe the party line while Calles continued to maintain control, the usual situation in Mexican political life. Instead, as Riding writes, “…his style was not empty demagoguery, as Calles would soon discover.”

Eventually, in 1936, Cárdenas sent Calles into exile in the U.S. and began a conscious campaign of land reform, empowerment of the workers and peasants, and–most dramatically–the nationalization of the Mexican oil industry. He spent enormous amounts of time among the campesinos, often riding on horseback into the remotest of communities. He identified strongly with the peasants and workers, and personally lived a modest life, neither smoking nor drinking.

Among his other radical moves, Cárdenas:

–nationalized the railroads, and created a “workers’ administration” for its operations

–created the first Department of Indigenous Affairs, and remained committed to aiding the horrific conditions of Mexico’s Indian population, creating agrarian collectives, or egidos, that allowed for use of common lands–one of the original impetuses for the Revolution

–fought for women’s suffrage, although women did not get the vote in Mexico until 1953

–ended capital punishment, a statute that remains in place to this day

–supported the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, and welcomed more than 5,000 political Spanish refugees when the fascists took over Spain. He also gave Leon Trotsky refuge once Trotsky fell out of favor under Stalin’s regime. Trotsky said of Cárdenas, despite being far less leftist than he, that his government was the only honest one in the world (Trotsky, of course, was ice-axed to death by a Spanish Stalinist, in 1940 in Mexico City). A statue in Madrid and a street in Barcelona honor Cárdenas for these efforts against fascism.

–most amazingly, completely handed over the power of the presidency to his successor after his term ended, and after serving as Secretary of Defense during World War II, retired to his modest home on Lake Pátzcuaro, in his home state.

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Mural in Jiquilpan, Michoacan, showing Cardenas with campesinos.

He continued to fight for indigenous causes, and even served in the 1960s on the Russell Tribunal investigating war crimes in Vietnam. One of the only Mexican politicians not to become rich while president, Lázaro Cárdenas remains a revered figure in Mexican culture. Streets are named after him everywhere, including in this little town of Ajijic, now so beloved of the ex-pat community. I’m glad I became curious enough to want to know who this interesting person was for whom a street crossing one named Revolucion would be named.

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Cardenas in a collection of polychrome figurines of the Mexican presidents. Museo de las artes populares de Jalisco, Guadalajara.

Mexico & meds

23 Mar

medbill_ajijic_mar22

In keeping with my desire to clarify some commonly-held myths about Mexico, I want to share my experience with the pharmaceutical and medical facilities here, in arguably one of the most Americanized sectors of the country. First of all, let’s talk about the availability of prescription drugs over the counter–one of the most vaunted perks of visiting Mexico.

I went to the Farmacia here in Ajijic, to see if I could get my prescription of Celebrex filled. On my health plan in the States, I can now get the generic brand of this on my prescription plan for $20, for a full 60-day supply, or 30 cents per pill. If I insisted on the non-generic brand, it would cost about $150, or $2.75 per pill.  (Isn’t that crazy?) ANYWAY: at the Farmacia, I showed my prescription to the pharmacist.   They immediately gave me a box of “real” Celebrex–10 tablets for 280 pesos, which is about $14, or about $1.40 per tablet. So while it is true that you can get most prescription meds here over the counter easily, they are not necessarily cheap.  I could have asked for generic, perhaps, and it could be that being in such an Americanized place they ask higher prices than elsewhere, but I must say I was a little disappointed.

Now for the medical situation:  in my never-ending quest for better knee mobility with less pain, I have been getting hyaluronic injections (rooster combs!) for the last two years or so. I got them before we went to Europe last year, and this is also what I got in Barcelona last February (and there paid about $700 for 3 shots and 3 visits). In the States, my health insurance (Scan, or supplemental Medicare) does cover most of the cost–I think I have to pay about $75 for 3 injections, or some thing like that. But I can only get that done every six months, and as we are now on the road until June, and my six months is only up in April, I felt the need to see if I could get the shots here. We have been told that Guadalajara, and hence this region, has very good medical facilities, and very good doctors.  And indeed, my friend here knew just who to call: a young orthopedic surgeon who comes to Ajijic once a week to treat all the North Americans in town!  I sent him an email asking if he could provide Synvisc injections, and he personally called me to say he could, and told me to call the office to set up an appointment.  I saw him yesterday, he gave me a physical examination, asked all the right questions, and even recommended that I get only a one-injection course, and that the right knee wouldn’t really be helped by a Synvisc dose, since what was wrong with it is something other than what Synvisc treats (so better treatment than on my U.S. health plan!). All went well, he gave me the nearly painless injection himself, and wished me well.  The doctor speaks perfect English, has studied with major orthopedists in the States, and operates in the major hospital in Guadalajara, where many Canadian and American patients come for operations (he’s a shoulder specialist).

The bill, as you can see above, was 10,500 pesos–about $530! All of this must be paid in cash–cards are only used in Mexico in touristy places, as far as I can tell. We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they were more than willing to let us return with the rest of the payment later.  The doctor was willing to write a thorough report for my insurance needs–of course, I still have to have him sign the insurance company’s physician’s form, fingers crossed he will do this for me, and fingers crossed the insurance company will reimburse me for at least some of this amount.  So that’s my experience with the medical community:  again, these high prices may be because we’re in this American enclave, and I’m sure that those who come on “medical tourism” trips for operations in Guadalajara can indeed get major operations, done very well, for far less than it would cost them in the U.S. or in Canada. But for what I had done, I would say the prices are comparable to what one would have to pay at home.

I hope this clarifies some of the myths about healthcare here. It can be more expensive for non-natives than one had been led to believe.

Further impressions of Ajijic

16 Mar

One of the main reasons we like to stay for at least a month in all these places we visit is that it gives us enough time to accumulate experiences in the location so that we can weigh up the pros and cons, balancing the things we like with the things we don’t like.  Right now we are vacillating a lot between those pros and cons. Ajijic is so Americanized–well North Americanized, since the majority of the ex-pats are Canadian–that it is still a little unsettling for us that we hear more English, see more blondes, and shop in stores that are filled with products from “home.” Every week, Ajijic has an organic farmer’s market filled with supposedly organic products. We would have seen more Mexicans by far at the farmer’s market in Pasadena than we saw here, even as vendors. Mexicans wouldn’t be so spend-thrift as to pay the prices here in any case–about double what the same products would cost in the regular Mexican markets. Just my musings about the place. Is this really Mexico?

I can certainly understand why Americans, and especially Canadians, would find Ajijic to be paradise on earth: the weather is absolutely splendid, with lush vegetation, cooling breezes from Lake Chapala, and clear skies almost every day. Because it’s at such a high altitude, it never gets humid, either. To us, Southern Californians that we are, these benefits are not so overwhelming; it just reminds us very strongly of San Diego.

Of course, there are great benefits to being in such an Americanized place:  The Lake Chapala Society offers all the cultural advantages of home, with a library, cafe, lectures, bus tours, musical performances, Spanish classes and information about medical facilities and access to all kinds of information and discounts that would be hard to find on one’s own. We have become members for one month (100 pesos–$5)!  Ajijic itself has only one tiny bookshop, no museums, and no cultural institutions to speak of. Tomorrow (our 43rd anniversary!) we will go to Guadalajara–35 miles away–for the first time, and may find that the city will provide a source of intellectual sustenance.

What this place has also made us realize, at least in our thoughts today: we are not ready for a retirement community! None of the Americans/Canadians here are under 50, and even 50 is quite young. I haven’t seen a single American young person or child. Without nearly perfect Spanish, we miss having a variety of ages and  access to Mexican families and students. Even with the language, it is difficult to imagine how we could easily have those experiences. I’m hoping that when we visit other parts of Mexico, we might see if those kinds of interactions are possible.

Here are the very real positives for us:  the costs of things!  George is now writing up a detailed list of “Stuff in Ajijic”, which he will (hopefully) post as a blog soon. As some of you may remember if you have been reading our blogs all along, we have started this round of travels for two reasons: first, in the decision to rent out our house again, our immediate reason was that we felt we had to be out of the country for this odious administration’s first 100 days, in hopes that we could escape the unbearable effects of the destruction of American democracy (we can’t) and find out possible places of refuge if and when family and friends needed to flee. We will indeed write up the steps needed to come to Mexico on a long-term basis, should it come to that.

postcardtotrump_ajijic

Sending my Dump Trump postcard to the White House on the Ides of March. Word is it will probably take two months to get there.

Our second reason is a more practical one: since we have both retired, we can no longer afford to live in our Californian home. We are consequently seeking out places that may be more affordable for us; I know we are not alone in this search. Since it is easy to rent out our house to Huntington scholars and others, we can cover those expenses while (hopefully) living elsewhere for less money. And for this reason, Mexico is indeed the winner so far: we can live much more cheaply here, and it’s only a three-hour flight to Denver to see our kids and other family.  So today, one week into our one-month stay, we are still tossing up all these factors. Still on the agenda, after Mexico, is another visit to Europe (which, let’s be honest, is where we really want to be!), some forays into small-town California, and even Taos, New Mexico.You can see, then, that we are adrift, still wandering gypsies who would really like to be settled.

Meanwhile, the sun shines, we have a construction site next door with pounding sledge hammers, the birds on the lake and surrounds are a delight, and the ATMs sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Finally, for those friends who want to know where my picture of cats is:  we have only seen one cat on the street, an adorable kitten who rushed right up to us in hopes of finding food. There are lots and lots of stray dogs on the streets of Ajijic, which may be why there are no cats!

kitty_ajijic_mar12

First impressions of Ajijic

11 Mar

horses@lazarocardenas_ajijic_mar10

The picture above is a perfect metaphor for our first impression of this lakeside town. The horses, from a corral just down the street from our rental, are brought up here to graze on the grass in front of the entirely gated community across the street from our house here in Ajijic.  The gated community could as easily be in Palos Verdes or San Diego. The place is a fascinating mix of Mexican rural/small town and North American (mostly Canadian) ex-pat community. In the morning, we see very proper, usually older, country-club English speakers walking their little dogs along the street. In the afternoon, young charros come and sing to herd the horses back to the corral, and later men in cowboy hats ride the same horses down the same street. We really like watching the seamlessness with which these two very different worlds coexist.

lakechapalafromajijic_mar10

Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake, is right down the street–the photo shows the view from our third floor balcony.  The lake is, alas, rather polluted, but the walk along the malecon–the boardwalk–is very pretty. Ajijic itself is small, filled with restaurants, boutiques, and charming street scenes. While the town, according to a big mural in Centro, was founded by the Aztecs in 1472, there are few colonial buildings here.

To the north of our place–we are in Upper Ajijic–are the mountains–Sierra de San Juan Cosala. Unlike many mountain ranges, we are finding these gentle hills to be embracing, protecting, and benevolent.

mountainsfromourhouse

rentsigninenglish_ajijic_mar10A sign of how overwhelmingly North American the place is:   almost all the signs are in English, including the For Rent signs! Our landlord for this wonderful three-story house with all the mod cons is from New York via Florida and has lived here 14 years. He’s the perfect landlord: here if we need him and not here if we don’t need him.  A very laid back place.

gb&leslie_ajijic_mar10

We have been well looked after by my dear Facebook friend Leslie, another American who has lived here for 12 years. She picked us up at the airport in Guadalajara, she brought us food, and has shown us the ropes in town. Today she is taking us into Chapala, the bigger town on the lake, where we will go to the markets and learn how to take the bus back to Ajijic.

Finally, in another sign of how ex-pat the place is, the grounds of The Lake Chapala Society is the prettiest place in town. One has to become a member to have access to libraries, lectures, classes, and bus tours to other parts of Mexico. The grounds include a pond, a pavilion, and lovely gardens.

There are more AA meetings here than you would find in a comparably sized American town, both in English and in Spanish!  I’m set!

Unfriending

5 Mar

Today I have unfriended a college friend from my Facebook page. She is a jolly, happy, fun-loving person who has a very nice life, with a kind husband, very involved in her Church, and with two children she adores and lots of cute grandchildren. She was so excited to find me on FB , and likes to share silly memes, and videos of cats.  I feel terrible about doing this, my conscience is bothering me, since on most fronts our harmless shares were quite fun.

So why did I unfriend her?  Because not only did she vote for Trump, she also began defending him. I had always assumed that she was just such a product of a patrician Republican upbringing that she blindly voted for him without really thinking about it much. I have repeatedly questioned her about how she could possibly think that this dangerously unhinged demagogue could do any good for anybody, and she has never given me any kind of response–just occasional comments about suffering under Obama and Pelosi (?!), no real evidence of a responsibly considered decision to support this man. Still, she hung on gamely through the morass of increasingly desperate and intemperate political shares that have overtaken my FB site, along with so many of us who are reeling in  terror at what this man and his minions plan to destroy in the next few months (we hope not for years). But recently she began to express sentiments defending Bannon–BANNON!–attacking other people on my site with passive-aggressive statements and comments unsupported by any evidence or factual documentation. She didn’t seem to be fazed by any criticism directed at her, a fact that astounded me, as other Facebook friends presented her with article after article presenting facts, to which she would only respond with opinion with no concrete explanation of why she held her beliefs. I and other friends sincerely asked her to explain her stances, to provide details that could exonerate the man, to no avail. Finally, I just couldn’t bear it anymore–that someone I know, that someone who is educated and considers herself a good Christian, could simply dismiss all evidence that this man and his small cabal are in no way old-fashioned Republicans or Christians, but who are out to destroy everything that I and so many others consider the basis of American democracy. I know I have other Facebook friends who probably voted for Trump but who just ignore those political shares that they don’t agree with for the sake of being able to see photos of my grandson and my considerable number of contributions to the page on art and baby otters. But she decided to wade in to political discussions in a defensively unconsidered way.

For better or worse, this is what Facebook and other social media sites have become: a platform for political alignments. And yes, many of us begin to insulate ourselves from other opinions by only having friends who share our world views, and yes, we may all be losing our sense of humor. I don’t think I have done this completely, but the current situation is, to my mind, so dire, so unprecedented, so dystopian, that I simply cannot bear to be reminded that many good, well-meaning people cannot see the perilous direction that their own actions–that is, voting for this man–are causing to take place. I have said this before: we are at a turning point as disastrous as Germany in 1933, when many good, well-meaning people also could not believe that such tragedies were in store, even for them.  There are those who would try to shame me for unfriending someone who feels that Facebook should be harmless and lighthearted, and I am truly saddened that the times require resistance and political activism rather than fun and frivolity. I will, of course, continue to put up my baby photos and comments on art and life, but Facebook is also the only platform I have to communicate common goals, and right now those goals involve saving the world as we know it from irreversible catastrophes. So sorry…..