[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.]
Where is the stuff that we’ve needed since coming to Ajicic?
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.
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.
Super 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.
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.
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!)
You 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.
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.
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.
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.
El 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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È É Ê Ë è é ê ë
Ì Í Î Ï ì í î ï
Ò Ó Ô Õ Ö ò ó ô õ ö
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