Category Archives: Travel

Keep your eyes open: things you see in the AM in Ajijic

I am not an early riser by nature. However, here, I am always rewarded if I get up relatively early to exercise on the malecon. I see so many wonderful people and things. I am afraid the US will seem impossibly and unpleasantly sterile when we return there.

This week, I noticed:

— The man with a wheelbarrow full of ice and fish, hollering “Hay pescado! Pescado fresco!” (There’s fish, fresh fish.) He’ll clean them for you on a board that he carries on the wheelbarrow with the fish.

— Freshly painted polictical slogans, the overspray still dotting white on the sidewalks. All the signs in our nieghborhood seem to be for the Morena party — “Morena, La Esperanza de México.” (The hope of Mexico.) Elections are in July. Note to self: learn about the political parties.

— Two horses (with riders) hauling ass down the street, so fast that people were gathering their kids up onto the sidewalk and coming out of shops to look.

— Dogs. Mostly out by themselves or with canine buddies, going about their dog business. Sturdy German Shepherds, skittery chihuahuas, wagging yellow Labs fresh from a swim, handsome pit bulls, dirty little poodles. Today, I passed a woman on the sidewalk who was followed by a tiny brown chihuahua in a pink sweater. I must have startled her, the pink sweater pup, as she stood still, creating an impasse on the narrow sidewalk until her person called her.

— Men going to work, mostly carpooling in pick-up trucks. They are dressed for construction, in jeans and boots, and carrying water bottles, lunch containers and backpacks.

— Men not going to work, sitting in a small group in the soccer field or fishermen’s lot. They can look a little rough around the edges and are sometimes having a raucous discussion, perhaps under the influence of last night’s libations. Still, a smile and “buenos dias” is always greeted with a friendly response: “adios,” “buenos dias, “good day” or “good morning.”

— Kids running in their pajamas to/from little stores to get an item needed for breakfast, perhaps eggs in a plastic sack, a jug of milk or a stack of tortillas.

— Women setting up their food stalls in the street, kneading a big plastic tub of masa for tortillas or heating up a grill.

— A noise that sounded like a boat motor coming from the fruit and veggie store. A juicer, of course! Note to self: bring a little cash for fresh carrot juice.

— Flowers of all colors and scents, including the fragrant vines across the street from our house.

— White pelicans, egrets, herons, doves and parrots.

— A new mural at the skatepark on the malecon, a study in black, white and grey replacing the colorful stylized eagle that had been there.

— Lake Chapala!


Unrelated: a fall, Luche Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

Unrelated items: a fall, Lucha Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

We’ve just returned from our annual Yelapa visit. For those who don’t know Yelapa, and my love of it, I suggest you search my blog for prior posts. We played in the International Croquet Tournament, but alas did not win. Like croquet? Want to play it in a beautiful tropical place on a jungle-y course? You can join in next year, February 10-14. The more, the merrier.

Living in Mexico this year made our trip different, as we didn’t return home to the US and the cold, but to our snug rental in sunny, colorful Ajijic. Still, I find Yelapa incomparable. The lack of cars makes it different than other beach towns we have enjoyed. Even though there is more building here every year, the location and the fact that the place is an indigenous community keeps it small — there will be no Hiltons, Señor Frogs, no time shares or 20-story condo buildings. I enjoyed sleeping on an open-air porch and listening to the surf at night. And the frogs! The nights when I heard the chorus frogs from the river, those were special.

We were invited to dinner at some friends’ house and several people told their “why Yelapa” stories. They all have one thing in common, “I got off the boat (haha, everyone gets here by boat),” and most then continue with something like “and knew this was where I wanted to be,” or “and I felt like I was home.”

Gracias Yelapa; nos vemos en el proximo año!


And now, on to the topic of feeling old. A week before we visited Yelapa, I fell. I had attended Zumba class on the malecon in Ajijic and was jogging home through a field, on a dirt path, when my toe hit a rock. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled in the Superman pose on the hard, rocky ground. (Did I mention it was hard and rocky?) Knees, elbow, hands, thigh, lots of scrapes and bruises. My stainless steel water bottle tumbled onto the rocks, making a huge clang that woke up the dogs who live in that field. They came barking at me, which motived me to haul my sorry ass up quickly. I hurt, I felt miserably old, and I limped home where my husband fussed over me and cleaned my wounds. I spent the day with ice and ibuprofen. I’m happy to report (I think) no lasting injuries, although my left knee still isn’t quite right.

I feel lucky, as a middle-aged woman, not to have broken my wrist or ankle or hip. I feel old and vulnerable, and more committed than ever to exercising and staying fit.


A few weeks ago we joined a bus trip from Lake Chapala Society to see the Lucha Libre wrestling in Guadalajara. My complete knowledge of the sport was based on seeing Jack Black in the film “Nacho Libre” years ago. But it seemed like a fun experience to be had only in Mexico and so we signed up.

And it was fun! A stadium where beer and food vendors come to your seat is always a plus and the wrestling was a spectacle! Evidently we were there on “family night,” and heard it gets pretty raucous on other nights, with folks throwing things at the wrestlers. Kids and adults, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Lots of cheering the good guys and booing the bad. The wrestlers had interesting (and sometimes skimpy) costumes. My favorites were a sexy guy with “Black Sugar” emblazoned on the rear of his briefs and “Tigre,” a fellow with white-and black-striped mask/ears and briefs. Roar! There were single matches, and then some with teams of two or three. The guys were all athletic with their choreographed gymnastic throws, slams and falls. All of that must seriously hurt, even though it’s “fake.”

Our biggest adventure of the night came when the bus ran out of gas on the way home, about 4 miles from Ajijic, on a dark narrow stretch of road with no shoulder. Some fellow passengers called taxis, the fire department showed up to make sure no one whacked into the bus, and things worked out in the end.

Go do things. Enjoy life. And when you fall, get your sorry ass up before you get bitten by a dog.

Black Sugar

I’m a fan girl


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.


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.



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.


Pantry: today, so not prepared for the Armageddon

If the big Cascadia earthquake comes this week, we’re in a world of hurt. Of course, we would be in a nightmare anytime an earthquake came. But now, after having eaten or given away all of our pantry, we’d be in a particularly bad way. Usually we have a good quantity of dried beans, canned beans, rice, pasta, quinoa, barley, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, potatoes, onions, garlic, soy milk, home-canned tuna (and salsa and pickley things) olive oil, coconut oil, spices, oatmeal, flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips — pantry staples. Now, we are down to nuts, dregs of various vinegars, a few cans of beans we might in the next few days, some minimarshmallows and rice krispies (can you guess why?) and a box of crackers. The freezer went to the storage unit today so we have no help coming from there.

This winnowing down of our pantry has made me think a lot about how I cook and how I am potentially going to cook differently in another country/another climate.

Now, cooking usually goes something like this: what’s plentiful in the garden right now, and how can I center a dinner around it? Winter squash? Beets? Tomatoes? Kale? Cauliflower? Eggs? Grab it and then look into the pantry. Can I use my produce with rice or pasta or beans? Can I make it into a pizza? Can I roast it in the oven or make it into a soup or curry with a can of coconut milk?

Moving, we won’t have a garden. We won’t have our own chickens. There will be no dinner inspiration provided by something from the yard. We’ll have weekly produce markets (hooray) and stores. And it also seems like most things are in season all the time in Mexico. We will be able to eat the faw-away-from-Oregon foods (mostly fruits?) we don’t eat frequently here: bananas, pineapples, avocados, mangos, papayas, warm-from-the-factory corn tortillas, who knows what else? A new pallette/palate. I’m eager to experiment, to cook differently, to perhaps rethink the well-stocked pantry.

We’ll see.

In the meanwhile, we have no provisions for an emergency. Must be time to get out of here!


In a box to the left

Things are getting emptier at our place, including our chicken coop. Our four Buff Orpingtons went off to their new home and we are down to the last few of the home-layed eggs.

We have taken several Subaru-loads of items to our new storage unit. As I pack, I am thinking once again about “needs” and “wants.” What do I need to pack for a year in Mexico? How many T-shirts do I need? What kitchen stuff? Are most of those things that will sit in the storage unit for a year “wants” vs. “needs?” When we come back, will I wish we had gotten rid of more things or will I be happy to be reunited with the art we love, my winter coat, my few pair of impractical-for-cobblestones shoes, my colorful 1960s Pyrex bowls and our juicer?

I’m starting to have anxiety dreams about packing the car — what if the things we want to bring won’t fit? What will we jettison to the storage at the last minute? Not my running shoes, golf clubs, art suppies, or kitchen knives, I can tell you that.


Sorting, decision-making, boxing, moving.  Busy days here.

Soon, we will be driving … and then sitting on the plaza in Ajijic…where a person might see a great band of school-aged kids who can really play.IMG_1385