Author Archives: czelazek

Limited Menu Travel

Vege-Pesca-Tarian Travel

I miss a lot of local culinary delights by not eating meat. I miss tiny storefronts with great deals on tacos. I miss the cool hamburger places. I miss the grills roasting chickens on the street. I miss the gyros stands. The authentic BBQ joints. Often, I (and my patient husband) have to walk further and look harder to find a place that has some kind of non-meat option. When tired and hungry, this isn’t always the best thing. And sometimes it leads to really limited food options. In Mexico, maybe that’s quesadillas. They are yummy but not the most healthy choice if you are travelling multiple days. Other places, it might mean a salad. No offense to salads, but to me, they are not a meal — unless they have a bunch of beans, cheese and/or nuts on them, which is not often the case when travelling.

Dang, sometimes I wish I liked meat so I could experience the small limited-menu restaurants and local specialties. Like Chiles Nogadas, for example. They originated in Puebla, Mexico, I understand. The owner of Tio Domingo, a restaurant near our house, was telling us about them. Poblano chiles, which he says they marinate in some kind of herb mixture. They are then stuffed with a combination of minced pork shoulder, some other meat I don’t remember, nuts, raisins, apples, bananas, and other things. They are cooked and covered with a creamy sauce made from almonds and walnuts. And topped with pomegranate seeds. Oh, how I wish someone would make me a vegetarian version of this. Or again, that I could stomach meat and could enjoy it!

On the other hand, sometimes I am delighted to find fun non-meat offerings. At the Clever Koi in Phoenix, for example, I had a fried chicken sandwich where the chicken was replaced with a fried (purple) cauliflower “steak.” It was topped with some kind of slaw and a wasabi dressing. Messy and delicious and …. fried cauliflower. Or, pictured in this post, beet risotto at La Mision in Ajijic.

My relatives said my vegetarian/occasional fish thing was a “fad” or “phase.” But almost 40 years later, it’s still going strong. And occasionally, that means I am tired and hungry, craving vegetables, eating quesadillas, but still feeling grateful to be fed.


Romeria in Guadalajara/Zapopan

Ave Maria

We Uber-ed from Ajijic up to Guadalajara on October 11 and checked into Hotel Morales. The hotel is in the historic center of the city and is classic and lovely. Courtyards with fountains, four stories of rooms, a pool, restaurant, and bar. Our room was very well-appointed with a spacious walk-in shower, lighted make-up mirror (!) and comfortable bed. We didn’t have much time to enjoy the hotel or explore on this trip, but the area around there is very walkable — lots of department stores, shoe shops, historic buildings, churches, and many, many stores with wedding and quincenera gowns. We look forward to returning!

We met up with some Oregon friends who became our tour guides. We had drinks at a nice bar overlooking a plaza and then saw the preparations for what we had travelled to Guadalajara for: la Romeria de la Vergin de Zapopan. The Romeria was to take place the next day, October 12, but some streets were condoned off the evening before and processions were headed to the cathedral for Mass. Many people with flags and long lines of men and women in religious order garb.

We had dinner at a restuarant called La Chata, very near to our hotel. We had good timing — the line looked hours long when we exited. The restaurant kitchen is in the front of the building, gleaming clean, filled with cooks (all female, it appeared, the night we were there) clothed head to toe in white, including white hoods over their hair. While we waited for a table, we got to see the cooks in action and check out the different types of food. I loved watching them! I was grateful to find an enchilada assortment that was all vegetarian (I will write another post about some of my struggles to eat well while travelling). It was might good, featuring enchiladas with beans, cheese, and (I think) panela (fresh cheese). My husband is a flan connoisseur and declared theirs very good.

We made it an early night as we wanted to see the beginning of the Romeria, which was reported to start at either 5:30 or 6:00. Either time is considered 0dark30 to me. We met in the lobby at 6:00 and joined the crowd at the cathedral. In a short time, the statue of the Virgin, in a glass or plastic case, was brought out and secured to a float covered with flowers. Another float and people with flags proceeded the Virgin and the procession began. We followed along, sometimes cutting down side streets to jump ahead and watch different parts of the procession. Walking through Guadalajara in the dark with about a million people (literally; they were expecting 1.5 million for the event) was a great experience, otherworldly.

Evidently, the statue of the Virgin has a home base in the Zapopan Basilica but travels to other churches in Jalisco from June until October 12. The Romeria is her procession home. According to what I have read, the icon of the Virgin is a small corn-husk statue and is credited with many miracles. The total route was about 8 kilometers and ended near the Zapopan cathedral. Along with multitudes of priests, nuns, seminarians, etc., the procession had several bands and many groups of dancers in different types of indigenous dress. As it got light out, a variety of vendors set up along the route with a special type of bread (looked like of like challah with some red and green candied fruit on top), ice cream, sodas, Romeria calendars, leashes so you don’t lose your children, and other items.

We waited behind barricades near the entrance to the Basilica grounds. Over the loudspeakers, a man led the crowd in choruses of Ave Maria (Catholic friends, it’s a different melody from the one we grew up with in the US), cheers, and prayers. The Virgin came in on her float and was then transferred to another float that was hand-carried onto the grounds and (though we could not see this) into the Basilica. We attempted to go toward the Basilica after this, but it was too crowded so we headed back. In our hotel bar, however, we were able to see some of the Mass on TV.

Ave Maria, salve Maria!


Ajiijc plaza:

JWs spreading the word on the plaza. As far as we saw, they weren’t getting many customers.


Near our house:

Our street, looking toward lake:

Futbol field in the AM:

When I tell visitors to bring sturdy shoes, I mean it. Cobblestones!

Street scene.

Our entry-way.

Beets, thunderstorms, futbol

We have had big thunderstorms the last two nights. Our bedroom only has windows into an enclosed courtyard so we can’t see the storms too well. The lightening sure lights up all the skylights in the house, though!

Sundays, local teams play futbol at a field a few blocks from our house. We enjoy watching the matches. Some of the more entertaining play is during breaks when little kids are out honing their futbol skills. From the lakeside bleachers there is also a lovely view of the hills. Beer and food are sold and it’s a fun time.

And, no matter where I live, I’ve got to have my vegetables. Today, I made a salad with some very sweet beets we got at the farmer’s market. Beets, garlic, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar.

And another rooftop view.

Super Lake, meeting folks, lightening

Super Lake, meeting folks, lightening

Yesterday we made our first visit to “Super Lake,” a grocery store catering to ex-pats. I found the American-style brown sugar I hadn’t seen at the other stores we visited. And I was overwhelmed by the narrow aisles crammed with expensive imported goods. Need Bob’s Red Mill products? They’ve got you covered. Tillamook cheese, vegan mayonnaise, Irish steel cut oats, Pop Tarts, Red Rose tea, Gold Medal flour, Prego spaghetti sauce, every kind of cracker you could want. Anything you are craving from NOB (North of Border), they’ve got it if you’re willing to pay. The prices shocked me. I think the steel-cut oats were the equivalent of about $15 and the Red Rose tea (my usual go-to), about $8 a box. I won’t be buying any of that stuff, I can tell you that! I am happy with the Mexican brands of flour, oatmeal and tea sold at regular stores.

My husband completed his first home improvement project with the assitance of the landlord’s handyman and a very very very tall ladder. He installed a pulley (which he had brought with from Oregon) on the rooftop deck so we can raise and lower our laundry to be hung on the line, a bottle of wine, binoculars, snacks etc. Seeing him climb that ladder made me scared, but the basket system sure is nice.

Last night, we woke to a big lightening storm. It went on for quite some time. Maybe the next time, I will get up to the roof to watch it!

As we settle in and interact with other ex-pats, I observe that some move here with very little (or no) experience of Mexico — what it’s like, customs, legal rules, the language. Seemingly, they see a price tag for their lifestyle that is less than what they are paying, and decide to move. I believe this leads to an expectation (and then disappointment) that things, people, places will be the same as they are used to in the U.S., only for less money.

This country has so much to offer. I want to learn more of the history (hoping to find a child-level Mexican history book), more of the language, more the customs, more of the food, the religions, holidays, beliefs. I want to be respectful. I don’t expect locals to speak English and I greatly appreciate their patience with my Spanish. I don’t expect stores, restaurants, systems, foods to be the same as they are in the U.S. If I wanted things the same as in the U.S., I wouldn’t be here.

That said, who’s perfect? I will probably duck into Super Lake for brown sugar when I want to bake some cookies.

Settling in

Settling in

We made trips to the immigration office yesterday and today. Our Residente Temporal applications are now submitted and we wait to be summoned back for fingerprinting. The process required making copies of various things and printing out an online application. While the wait can be a little long (an hour) at the immigration office, the folks there are efficient, nice, and paitent. It’s advisable to bring a book as their few magazines are mostly from 2010 and 2011.

We met with our landlords yesterday and were pleased to discover that we are all Cubs fans. They lived in Chicago many years and two of their three children still live there. The landlords explained all the utilities etc. to us. My husband had already checked out the reverse osmosis/UV water filtration system and we were excited to confirm with them that the water is good to drink.

I was able to go to Zumba on the Malecon today before our immigration office visit. It was a very fun class and I look forward to returning; it’s held three mornings a week. My husband is going to try Tai Chi. We hope to finish our moving-in tasks soon so we can check out the golf opportunities, other classes, and activities.

After the immigration office, we stopped for a lunch of house-made pasta and then went to the Wednesday market and bought some fresh veggies and fish. Next week, we hope to hit the Tuesday organic market which is supposed to be very close to our house. I think we will eat well here.

It’s a mess but here are some pictures from our new place.

Arrived to our new home, etc.

Arrived to our new home etc.

No offense to Sonora and Sinaloa, but I think Nayarit and Jalisco are more beatiful. We drove from Tepic, a city we really enjoyed, to our destination of Ajijic. The State Department advises against travel to Nayarit, but we didn’t see any problems on the tollroad. I think we only made one stop for gas, where an older gentleman in a pick-up spoke to us in English and told us about his good-looking dog named “Lucky” who was great at catching jackrabbits.

Photo — Tepic — we are not the only ones with plastic bins on our car.

East of Mazatlan, we saw a bunch of roadside stands selling dried shrimp and shrimp tamales. Soon after, we drove along what appeared to be a large estuary. It looked like it had been dammed up in places where people had made shrimp fisheries.

The scenery was very jungly, clearly a much wetter area. We then climbed into a pine forest area, with lava fields, and then into Jalisco and its agave (think Tequila). Alas the tollroad bypassed the town of Tequila and we were on a mission to drive to our new home. Soon, we will have to explore the tequila tasting areas.

Guadalajara had lots of traffic, even on a Sunday. We followed the signs South toward the airport and Lake Chapala.

We arrived to Ajijic only to find there had been a miscommunication with the landlord. We were told to call her shortly before we arrived, which we did (about 2:15). We left a few messages and tried her house. I called the property manager office cell phone (their only day off, they were not happy) and they said one of the guys at the office told her we would be there at 9AM and she waited for hours. :-(. So we waited some more, went to dinner, and then parked by the house again (in a deluge). A gringa neighbor came out to ask if we were the new tenants. She had the landlord’s cell phone number — we called, and she (landlord) sent a friend with the keys. We were in at about 8:30PM. LONG hours of uncertainty, but we hauled our car-top stuff in out of the rain and were grateful to have a bed with clean sheets. We opened a bottle of wine we had brought and relaxed, looking around our new house, figuring out the light switches, seeing what was what.

We slept well to the sound of our courtyard fountain, a ceiling fan keeping us plenty cool. (Temps here, FYI, high close to 80, 50s at night.). This morning, we met our landlord (the male half of the couple) while sitting on our mirador (rooftop deck) with coffee and tea. He shouted over to us from their rooftop. We hope to meet his wife soon (she was at TaiChi when he stopped to talk to us).

Our mission today was picking up our rental contract at the property office, making a trip for provisions, laundry and unpacking. Somewhat accomplished. We had breakfast at a little place called David’s, picked up our paperwork, and then made a Walmart run. Got a laundry basket, garbage bags, cleaning stuff, hangers, TP, pantry staples, etc. On the way home, we stopped at some roadside places to get fruit — berries, watermelon, pineapple.

After some laundry and unpacking, we had a cold one on the mirador and I made dinner for the first time in our new kitchen — just pasta with olives, garlic, artichoke hearts, tomato and fresh spinach. A bottle of Capitello Chardonnay made it better.

Settling in. Tomorrow, immigration office and farmer’s market?