Author Archives: czelazek

Sell it!

In case anyone wonders what we are up to….

We drove from Ajijic up to Eugene, OR, stopping in Texas for some recreation and visiting. (I will write a post about the trip.). LONG DRIVE that, once we return, I will never make again. The day after we arrived, we closed on the sale of our house. We are currently in Eugene, staying with a variety of amazing friends, borrowing trucks, selling things on Craigslist and preparing for a garage sale (next weekend!). It’s a crazy crazy time.

Maybe you want to buy some of our stuff? It’s all stuff we wanted for when we “came back to Oregon,” but of course, we are not coming back. Less is more, less is more.


House progress/heading North

Here are some new photos of our house construction. Coming right along! We are headed “up North” for a while to see family and friends, to sell our house, and to sell/move our belongings.

Can’t believe we haven’t been in the US for a whole year! It’s gone by fast!

We look forward to our return to Mexico in December or January!

Globos and goats

A few weekends ago, we attended the annual Ajijic Globos Regata and took a tour of a small goat farm.

Our first Globos event was fun. We met up with friends at the futbol field/stadium where the event (a tradition since 1951, evidently) is held. The stands were full, and groups were set up on the field — beer and food tents and various teams who were assembling and launching their globos. The globos are hot air balloons — smaller versions of the kind people ride around in. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some launch uneventfully and gracefully float for miles. Others crash and burn (or even ignite before launching!). That is when the excitement really begins — kids run toward the flaming globo pieces and stomp out the flames and some flaming parts hit the walls, canopies or even the power lines! HEADS UP, PEOPLE! This is excitement!


No flaming debris fell from the sky on our goat farm tour the next day. The small farm, Galo de Allende, is located near the tiny town of Mezcala.  We had a fabulous view of the lake. The goats are well taken care of by the young owners/cheese makers. They eat a diet of grass, moringa, and plum tree leaves and are curious and friendly creatures. We fed and petted them and a few intrepid volunteers tried their hands at milking. We ate goat yogurt and cheese and had an altogether lovely time.

Baby goat!

Are we returning to the States?

“When are you coming back?” has changed now to “Are you coming back?”

When we embarked on our year in Mexico, our idea was to experience all the seasons and explore a place for future snow-birding. Our other idea was to get out of the US for a while, but I will leave my political opinions for another time.

For some months, we kept saying, “Yes, we are staying for a year.” And one day my husband looked at me as we were sipping gin and tonics on the mirador, and he said, “Is there anything we DON’T like about living here?” We thought about it, and the answer was: no, there is nothing we don’t like.

After that, our discussions revolved around the logistics of finding a long-term rental, or whether we should buy a house here. We talked at length about whether to keep our house in Oregon as well and continue renting it out, or whether to sell it. We talked about how much time we would want to spend “up North” every year, and where we would want to spend it.

After all these discussions, after going to countless “open houses” and looking at houses with a realtor, I was finally persuaded to my husband’s idea of building a house. Given the hot real estate market here, we never saw anything in our price range that met our needs — walkable neighborhood, nice kitchen, small but nice outdoor space. We started looking at lots and talking to builders.

And on August 15, ground was broken for our new house. Two bedrooms, two baths, and a lap pool, in a central walkable neighborhood. We are excited.

I am sad to leave my friends, my garden, our neighborhood, and our wineries (!) in Oregon but being landlords long-term isn’t for us. Neither is owning a house that we only use a few months of the year — it’s not financially feasible and also seems like a waste of the planet’s limited resources. We will have our new home here in Ajijic and find temporary nests in Washington State when visit the US.

For those who asked “When are you coming back?”, the answer is: sometime in October. For those who asked, “Are you coming back?”, the answer: is not really, or at least not now!

Through the eyes of a foreigner

A visitor to Mexico recently asked why we chose to live here, what we like best about it.

Every day when I leave the house, I see something new, something I am not accustomed to, something that is interesting to me. An observant person can do that even in a place where they have lived for a lifetime. Here, the differences from my own culture are obvious even to a relatively unobservant and often distracted person such as myself.

I have been especially enjoying the moodiness of Lake Chapala. The lake looks different as storms come and go, and as the summer coating of weedy vegetation ebbs and flows, sometimes looking like a green field is extending into the lake a hundred meters. (Yes, I am learning to use meters, like most of the world does.) The other night, a car was parked near the lake with its lights shining on the undulating fields of lirio riding on the waves. WIth the yellowish tinge from the car’s headlights, the rise and fall of the lirio mesmerized me me like some kind of clever modern art installation.

The changing art at the skate park along the malecon! If there is one I don’t like, it will be gone in a few months as a new artist will paint it over. Alternatively, one I liked a lot (magical dogs, below) was recently painted over by a fish on a skateboard.

Every day, I see things that remind me that I am a foreigner and that I have a lot to learn. I tell visitors that I understand about half of what goes on around here. Sometimes this causes discomfort, but it’s good for me. It’s an exciting gift to be able to see and learn so much at this stage in life.

Virgin of Zapopan

Virgin of Zapopan

Last October, we spent a night in Guadalajara and got up before dawn to walk the romeria, a pilgrimage from the downtown Guadalajara cathedral to the one in Zapopan. The star of the show was the small Virgin of Zapopan icon. You can read about the romeria here.

Fast forward: July 8, she arrived in Chapala with much fanfare. She evidently visits Lake Chapala every summer to provide her blessings and prevent drought. (This is our rainy season here and we want and love the rain!)

Luckily, we didn’t have to get up early at all to see the Virgin de Z this time. Her procession started around 11 and we staked out a shady place to stand near the end, just before the malecon and church. For a minute, we thought, hey, is this a biker rally or a religious procession? Lots of motorcycle club folks in their leathers with shiny bikes are part of the entourage.

The procession was long, colorful and fabulous. Many bands and dancing troupes.

Highlights for me:

  • Small girls in Catholic school uniforms proudly (and with some difficulty) holding up large flags with the Virgin’s image on them.

  • Colorful Aztec dance troupes with sweaty guys wailing on mobile drums (I barely noticed the buff young guys dancing in little more than their underpants…really).
  • Beautiful young women on horses.
  • Drum and bugle bands in smart military-esque uniforms.

  • The powerful Virgin de Z mobile, decked out with tons of floral arrangements, the bishop (I think) riding along to wave at the crowd.

I am a fallen-away Catholic, but I feel the power of the VIrgin of Zapopan and the other saints and icons who are revered here. I love the old, deep traditions. And I love the Mexican culture that keeps these traditions alive.

Machu Picchu: world wonder or over-touristed?

Machu Picchu: world wonder or over-touristed?

How about both? Shortly after we decided to go, we read an internet article, something like, “10 Places NOT to travel to,” where they talked about places that have become over-touristed and that responsible travellers should avoid. Alas, we went anyway.

A friend told me about his visit to Machu Picchu in the 1970s: “I remember Machu Picchu as a very beautiful mystical place with clouds floating below in the canyon. We weren’t prepared with any special knowledge of the significance of various parts of the ruins. There were only four or five of us up there wandering around. I thought it would be a perfect venue for magic mushrooms but we didn’t have any. We were warned not to sleep on the ground up there because of the slim risk of sharing your sleeping bag with a small but deadly heat seeking snake. We walked down the hill to the river at and slept on a bamboo stave platform in a primitive hut, the hippie hotel.”

It’s quite a different experience in 2018. While I wish I could have visited decades ago, I’m still glad we went.

Yes, Cusco has a ton of tourist shops — travel agents, outfitters, trinket sales, llama and alpaca scarves and sweaters, restaurants and bars with hawkers out in front promising you a free drink. But Cusco has been a city since Inca times. There are ruins. There is lovely architecture. It’s a real city with a life of its own, although tourism plays a huge part. The city is growing up the surrounding mountains, with clear signs of ongoing construction and expansion.

Closer to Machu Picchu are the towns in the Sacred Valley. They too, seem like real towns with active plazas and lives of their town — albeit with a lot of tourist restaurants, hostels, hotels, and shops.

Closer still is Machu Picchu Town (changing its name from Aguascalientes, evidently), accessible only by train or hike. From my observation, this is a completely tourist-focused place. It appears to have sprung up and grown almost solely to service the zillion people who visit Machu Picchu. Hotel after hostel after hotel, tourist restaurants and bars (4 for 1 happy hour!), trinket stores. I may be wrong, but the town square, church and futbol field look like more recent additions, added to provide comfort for the workers who likely move there from elsewhere for jobs. Unlike Cusco, Ollayntaytambo and other Sacred Valley towns, it is not a place I would want to linger. It’s a place to have food, drink, sleep and showers before or after visiting the archaeological site.

Given the hordes of people cycling through the site, Machu Picchu was surprisingly uncrowded-seeming. They do an excellent job of managing the buses up to the site and it seems that not too many people are admitted at once. I have also heard there is a daily visitor limit now. We had a fine guided tour through the ruins and then hiked to the Inca Bridge on our own. Thoroughly enjoyed our visit!

A world wonder! The Inca people were fascinating and talented and what remains of their structures (those that weren’t looted by the Spanish to build churches or simply destroyed to oppress and conquer) are truly works of art. The stone work is like no other I’ve seen in my travels through Native American, Mexican, Greek, and Roman ruins — the huge boulders fitted perfectly to natural stone formations and to each other. Those stone masons were the real deal. And all of the Inca stuff that wasn’t destroyed by the Colonists has survived earthquake after earthquake while modern structures have crumbled.

Thank you, Peru!