Christmas and the New Year

Christmas and the New Year

Having never spent Christmas or New Year’s outside the US, I wondered if I would get homesick. I will say that I didn’t miss the constant societal push to shop, shop, shop, buy, buy, buy. I didn’t miss the plague of advertising. I didn’t miss the cold weather or the rain or snow.

Instead, I watched the live scenes of the “five mysteries” outside the church. I hung up a piñata my husband bought me. I saw all the families sitting outside their houses on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), eating, drinking, making merry and sitting around glowing bonfires. I gave some envelopes of pesos to the trash guys, the police, and the house cleaner. I had brunch with new friends on Christmas Day and cozy dinners with my husband. I saw a Christmas that seemed different than that NOB (North of Border) — one where no one was busy shopping and people got together to enjoy each other’s company.

I did, to some degree, feel homesick. I missed having a Pacific Northwest fir tree, decorated with ornaments from my parents and my life. I missed the days of baking I usually do — my mom’s recipes, mostly. I missed our house adorned with festive lights. I missed entertaining, having a Solstice party, having folks to dinner, and going to friends’ houses for get-togethers. I missed (really) good wine.

New Year’s was fabulous. We caught any early play reading at the Naked Stage, Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” Have you seen it or read the book? I recommend. After, we had a great pasta dinner with friends in their lovely century-old hacienda-style house. The Ajijic malecon then started up with music and we danced a gringo version of the cumbia on the concrete walkway along with tons of other people who were enjoying themselves. Midnight, the fireworks which blasted off from the pier to the sound of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

We walked home shortly after and saw a group in the Seis Esquinas plaza. Adults were hoisting piñatas on a rope over the tree limb and kids were taking turns whacking them with a decorated broomstick — rushing forth to claim the candies when the piñatas burst. At the corner near our house, a large family group was gathered at tables, with their bonfire, and were playing some kind of gift exchange game. From babies in arms to the elderly, everyone was having a blast commenting on who should give a gift to whom. I have no idea of the rules, but a good time was had by all and the gifts seemed to be accompanied by kisses.


Our neighborhood also evidently hosts Ajijic’s New Year’s Day parade, which started around 1:00 p.m.. Leading the parade was a local cowboy and his horse, following by “Wonder Woman” on her horse, a banner proclaiming the parade a gift to Donald Trump and a bigger-than-life-size Trump effigy being carried by guys dressed as Lucha Libre wrestlers. On Trump’s backside was a “hit me” sign and many gringos from the crowd happily obliged, greeted by cheers and laughter. Many of the parade floats were themes from the movie “Coco” (have you seen it? You must!). And there were bands. Bringing up the end were a host of folks dressed as expertly-painted loteria cards. Better than the Rose Parade, at least in my opinion!

But then again, I am biased, and am so loving the holidays and culture I am experiencing here in beautiful Jalisco.


Beach trip

A brief trip to the beach

Chilly weather here at Lake Chapala motivated us to take a 4-night trip to the beach. It was about a 4.5 hour drive to Barra de Navidad. The scenery included berry farms, sugar cane harvesting, huge dry lakes, mountains, volcanoes, and cities.

Stayed in Barra de Navidad and visited the other small beach towns of Melaque and La Manzanilla (not to be confused with Manzanillo, a big port city with huge container ships coming in and out). We enjoyed all three towns and decided that the best beach was La Manzanilla, flatter and calmer.

We visited the crocodile reserve in La Manzanilla too. It’s a self-guided tour on a wooden walkway, with some swinging bridges, over the swampy habitat. We got to see a small crocodile eating a bird, although he was obscured by the mangroves and the photo didn’t turn out. The man at the entrance gave us a safety speech — no running, pushing people, leaning over…and no swimming.

We took a boat tour out of Barra de Navidad — firsst, we went through the back bay which has houses on canals, a fancy hotel (Grand Bay Isla Navidad), golf course, a small town, and seafood restaurants. Then we went out into the big bay where we were fortunate enough to see a whale breaching very near our boat. How fortunate we were!

We ate some delicious food including ceviche, seafood cocktails, and fish tacos on the beach in Melaque and la Manzanilla, and excellent breakfasts at Bananas Restaurant (Barra). And a fancy dinner of molcajetes at Manglitos in Barra.

Just a little game of fireball

So we see a lot of fabulous, amazing things here in Mexico that we would not see in the US.  This was one of them.

In Ajijic, there was a festival to celebrate the culture of the native Purépecha people from the mountains of Michoacån.  We saw dancing and incredible crafts.  And then at dusk, a ceremony was conducted to honor the four directions and a game of fireball was played.  Evidently, in ancient times,  the game was used to train warriors.  And then later became used as a way to settle disputes.  We don’t fully understand the rules but watching it was pure magic.

The game played with a coconut that was lit on fire, starting position inside a circle of fire, using sticks similar to hockey sticks.  Yes, women play too, although evidently not usually in their ceremonial dresses.  And I will tell you we got out of the way when that fireball got whacked our way.

What can I say about Tequila?

What can I say about Tequila?

We spent two nights in Tequila, Jalisco, in November. Yes, Tequila is an actual town, not just a bottle you buy at the liquor store. Tequila is a “Pueblo Magico,” as designated by the Mexican government and I can see why. We found it beautiful and charming. It’s surrounding by mountains (including an active (I think) volcano). There are lots of historic buildings, it’s very clean, and main plaza is welcoming and fun.

We toured two tequila distilleries and they could not have been more different. Both tours showed us how the agave plants are harvested by jimadores using wicked-sharp tools called coas. Our first tour was at Sauza, chosen due to its proximity to our hotel and the availability of an English tour. We rolled in from Ajiijc exactly as the tour was starting at 1:00 and joined one other couple (a Canadian and Aussie) and our gracious capable tour guide. Make no mistake, Sauza is a giant producer, not your hand-made artisan liquor. When the agave “piñas” arrive, they are shredded and then cooked down, not roasted in the traditional way. The distillery is cleaner than clean and we enjoyed our visit, as well as a late lunch at their small restaurant. We noticed a bunch of white tents being set up and asked our guide about them. Evidently, the next day was going to be the employees’ kids’ Christmas party (an adults-only employee party is held on a different date). She told us Sauza was voted one of the best companies to work for in Mexico. To which I say, “Cheers!”

Cuervo Distillery has a huge complex called Mundo Cuervo. These are their crows at night.

The next day, we drove out to an hacienda to tour the Casa Herradura distillery. The hacienda dates back to the 1700 or 1800s (I’m not so good with dates after a tequila or two) and is a gorgeous walled compound with the original house (off limits to us tourists, still used by the family), the original distillery (more on that later), worker housing, and the current distillery and related buildings. Our tour guide was cute (hey, a woman can LOOK) and did an excellent job of explaining everything to us.

We saw the huge ovens where the piñas are stacked and roasted for (if I remember correctly), 20 hours. We got to try some slices of the roasted agave piña, yum, kind of like molasses. The roasted piñas are pressed and shredded and the juice is pumped into big open fermentation tanks. Unlike most places, Herradura uses wild yeast. For a homebrewer/beer geek like me, this was interesting! Who knew?! We toured the distillery (tequila is distilled three times) and then the barrel room. Reposado and anejo tequilas all spend time in American Oak barrels, a practice started by Herradura in the 1970s.

Harvesting the agave

Waiting to go into the oven for roasting

Alex explains the distilling process

One of the coolest places on the tour was, alas, forbidden to photograph: the original distillery from the 1700 or 1800s. Stone vats in the floor for the liquid, a big grinding stone that he been pulled by horses to crush the roasted piñas, and the electricity that was added via a steam engine in the early 1900s. This factory was used untilthe 1960s. I highly recommend this tour and seeing this for yourself!

Casa Herradura

A fun find in the town of Tequila was the La Cata tequila bar. They have about 200 bottles from which to choose and the bar staff can give you an advanced education about tequila — the producers, the flavors, the terroir. If you visit Tequila, I’d recommend one distillery tour to see the “workings” and then that you head for La Cata to sample and learn. The bar is one the second floor, the space is cute, and the bottles are sparkly.

What else do I recommend in Tequila? The Hotel Solar las Animas. First class everything and a refreshing roof-top pool. And restaurant El Jima where you can enjoy a molcajete (even if you’re not a meat eater).

View of Tequila’s lovely church from Hotel Solar de las Animas

Virgin of Guadalupe Day

We loved the Virgin of Guadalupe fiesta. We live a few blocks away from where the church honoring La Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is located, an area called Seis Esquinas (six corners). At the place where the streets come together to form the six corners is a tiny plaza with a big tree, a shrine for Nuestra Señora and some benches. The benches, shrine, and many of the surrounding shops got fresh coats of paint in the few days before the fiesta. The shrine was decorated with flowers and holiday lights. Altars could be found on the neighbor streets as well, outside of stores and homes, decorated lovingly with lights, candles, flowers, noche buena plants (poinsettias).

During the day, we saw food booths setting up on the street. (I was fortunate to hit up the dessert table for some tres leches cake before he sold out.) Late afternoon, a procession from the church went around town and then returned. The procession was led by small sharp-dressed children forming a drum and bugle corps and also featured: dancers; several pick-up truck floats featuring people acting out the first vision of Nuestra Señora to Juan Diego in 1531; the icon from the church carried on a bower of flowers; and a band — all of this followed by lots of folks. Guys rang the church bells and some of the procession members set off sky rockets, and the drum and bugle corps led the way into the church grounds. Mariachi bands took turns over course of the evening, serenading Nuestra Señora.

Shrine at Seis Esquinas

Statue approaches church

Float reenacting the appearance of the Virgin

Outside the church, toy and balloon (yes, balloons with the Virgin’s iconic image) vendors set up kiosks among the food and drink sellers. A truck arrived containing the parts and pieces of what would become the fireworks castillo and a team of men unloaded it and started to assemble it in the street. Finishing touches were put on a bandstand in a nearby intersection and someone climbed a ladder to hook the lights and band equipment into the power grid. An entrepreneur put up a “Baños 5 pesos” sign and started selling restroom access, for which we were grateful.

As it got dark, a band started in the plaza. The local mini-super set up a cooler outside to sell beer and bottles of tequila. A guy with a table and cooler near the bandstand sold cocktails made to order in plastic cups (I can vouch for the tequila and mineral water combo). On the plaza, a propane cooker heated up a large metal keg full of canela (cinnamon tea), which was served free of charge with bowls of sugar and a few bottles of booze for the recipient to use to customize his or her beverage. Given the night chill, the steamy canela hit the spot.

Fun band!

Canela on the plaza at Seis Esquinas

A man on a horse arrived wearing a poncho and boots with spurs and started the dancing. Soon, the plaza was filled and we were happy to join in. The band was great. Folks were handing out sparkly pompoms on sticks and the type of long balloons that clowns use to twist into animals. Very fun and festive indeed! The band quit, but shouts of “otra!” compelled them to do one more song — the Spanish version of “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s much more fun in Spanish!

The musicians on the bandstand were going strong by this point, the crowd thick, everyone eating, drinking, and making merry. These were younger guys, all dressed sharp in matching black skinny pants and jackets, playing more modern music than the cumbia and salsa we had enjoyed at the plaza. The fireworks team was still working on the castillo when we left about 12:30 a.m., long past our usual bedtime. We could hear the band and fireworks as we drifted to sleep. A big thank you to the Seis Esquinas neighbors for allowing these two foreigners to party with you! Party on!


Buy what you need — more learnings

am learning another way to buy things while living here in Mexico for a time. Given my desires toward minimalism, this is a good lesson.

In the US, it is clear that more is better, more is more, things are meant to be bought in great quantity and will make us happy. Of course, people with means spend frivolously in every country and culture, I am sure. But in the US, it’s the norm and despite the growing wealth inequality, more people have means than they do in Mexico or many other places.

In the US, there is the Cult of Costco. Stock up! Need olive oil? Buy a gallon. TP? 24 rolls. Paper towels? 12-pack. And of course you have a big house to store it in, don’t you? At least 1,500 square feet per person, right? You should have cabinets enough for all that stuff.

Here, I went in to the local stationer and asked for envelopes. The clerk came back with a box of envelopes, already open, and asked me how many I wanted. My husband went to buy some string to tie up plants, a large roll was produced and he was asked how much he wanted. Rope? Same thing. Need cold medicine? The clerk will cut the number of pills you want from the blister-pack behind the register. Need to wrap a holiday gift but don’t want to store rolls of wrapping paper? No worries, you can just buy one sheet of Christmas wrap. Groceries? Buy what you need. One stick of butter, a few eggs, a few potatoes. Flour or sugar? One kilo bags. Shopping doesn’t consist of cart-loads of groceries.

One thing that makes this work is walkability. When you can walk to stores readily, there is no need to stock up and make your house a storage unit. Grateful we live in a walkable neighborhood here in Mexico, and in Oregon too.

So I don’t have a box of envelopes sitting around that might seal themselves shut in the humid season before I get a chance to use them. Feels right. Feels smart.

Boom!! End of San Andres Fiestas

Boom! Final night (November 30)

Each night of the San Andres festival is sponsored by a different group. My understanding is that the group foots the bill for the bands and fireworks on their night. The last night was sponsored by “Hijos Ausentos,” the children who have left their wonderful homes here on Lake Chapala in order to earn more money up north (US and Canada). (I won’t make any comments about how simultaneously sad and happy this seems to me.)

The hijos austentos did it up big.

This last night featured a large group of traditional Mexican singers and then a big (16 people?) modern band with very sharp-dressed musicians. Most excellent music all around. The plaza was packed. Not uncommon are small groups of young folks with a bag of ice, a bottle of tequila, one of Squirt, and some plastic cups. A good time is had by all, I must say.

Procession on its way to the plaza

Camotes (sweet potatoes)

Special treats for sale


We were in the church-yard around 10 p.m. in anticipation of the fireworks. A big structure is built each day to hold the fireworks. Each section is lit off separately and the propulsion from the rockets spin the different designs around — a fish, a parrot, Donald Duck, the holy eucharist. I have no idea how they build this thing and make it work but it provides the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. After all these spinners are finished, the top is lit and spins around and then fireworks are sent up into the sky.



Notice the guy on the tower!!!




If you ever have a chance to visit Ajijic during the San Andres festival, do it. Really.