Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Enfermo!

If the number of bathroom visits exceeds the number of hours in a day; if your stomach is distended so the shorts, which were too loose yesterday, cannot be buttoned; if it takes five minutes of sitting on the bed to work up the energy to look for your sandals and another five minutes to gather the stamina to slip into them; and if you feel ravenous but the thought of eating makes you nauseous -- then you probably have amoebic dysentery.

The day before we were to leave for San Miguel de Allende, I decided, after brunch with friends, to lie down for the afternoon.  I didn't feel quite right and thought a mild intestinal problem would be cured by a long siesta. 

That's what I told myself anyway. We had non-refundable bus tickets and a non-refundable accommodation reservation for the next day in San Miguel de Allende, so I needed to buck up and get better. Fast.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Expatriate Refuge

Imagine a 25-mile wide lake dominating the landscape like an inland sea with quaint Mexican villages clustering on its shores and velvety green mountains circling it all in an embrace.  Add an almost-perfect climate, where air conditioning and heating are unnecessary, and a low cost of living, and you can see why the Lake Chapala area is one of the most popular retirement destinations
in the world.
                 One of the LCS Pools
Still, as welcoming as the geography, climate and people are, expatriates crave the amenities they left behind.  The Lake Chapala Society, known locally as LCS, is here to answer that need.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Real Estate and Rentals

Would you like a two-bedroom, one and a half bath furnished apartment that includes electricity and maid service just three blocks from a lake for $300 US?  Then Ajijic or Chapala, Mexico, might be the place for you.

Here are some ads I noticed last week on the Lake Chapala Society (More about this organization above.) bulletin board.

There's a one bedroom casita with a fireplace, screened porch, garden and gardener that's within walking distance to shopping for $450 US.

Or how about a furnished one-bedroom casita with two terraces, DSL Internet, electric, incredible views, and a pool just one block from the plaza for $500 US?

If you simply want to try a short-term rental before making a commitment, you can lease-- until October--this upper Ajijic house with two bedrooms, two baths, a patio and garden, maid, phone, and Internet service for $500 US.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Hummer War Continues

David and I were out for dinner with friends last night and forgot to refill the hummingbird feeder until this morning
.        The Green Guard tries to fend off all comers.
     Guess he can't see the hummer on the other side of the feeder.
                        Success at last!  
                      Mine.  All mine!
        The Green Guard is eventually overwhelmed by sheer numbers....

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Month in Mexico - What $100 Buys in San Miguel de Allende

Created in town, these San Miguel sandals are designed to cushion your walk over cobblestone streets and sidewalks.

The article below  appeared in Thursday's Budget Travel e-mail newsletter.
What $100 Buys in...San Miguel de Allende
Mexico's colonial time capsule abounds with surprisingly cosmopolitan keepsakes.
Caroline Patience
July/August 2010 issue
Tuesday, June 22, 2010; 
$34 Bracelet
There's no shortage of beaded jewelry in San Miguel's many souvenir shops, but for something more unique, seek out Olga Prieto's understated, matte-brass bangles, stocked in a well-curated boutique just off the Jardín Allende. Once Ambient Store, Cuna de Allende 11-12,
$1 Place mat
Of the city's four major markets, the Mercado de Artesanías is the hub for authentic, affordable gifts like hand-cut tin ornaments, artisanal vanilla extract, and these bright, woven-palm place mats. Mercado de Artesanías, between Calle Colegio and Calle Loreto.
$32 Coasters (set of six)
Mexico City transplant Jaime Goded was among the first modern artists to set up shop here 25 years ago. Now he shows off his latest work—vibrant wooden coasters, jigsaw puzzles, and cabinets—at his studio in a converted textile factory. Galería Goded, Calzada de la Aurora, 011-52/415-154-4075.
$5 Bag
Those who happen upon the Zona Centro Mexican Oil Cloth Store face a truly difficult decision: Snap up one of the dozens of ready-made totes, or browse the 100 fabric options and have a custom tablecloth, bag, or luggage tag stitched up within two days. Mexican Oil Cloth Store, Calle Loreto 17, 011-52/415-152-6964.
$2 Pot holder
This handmade cotton hot pad is the perfect whimsical, yet practical, partner for a traditional Guadalajaran earthenware pot. Both are sold in the 65-year-old Artes de México, San Miguel's oldest shop. Artes de México, Calzada de la Aurora 47, 011-52/415-152-0764.
$24 Cookbook
Each of this volume's 190 homegrown recipes (such as caldito San Miguel, a spicy chicken-and-chipotle soup) are from an area chef, a resident, or a repeat visitor—many of whom come here for cooking classes. Sweet bonus: All proceeds go to fund Feed the Hungry's local antipoverty efforts.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Month in Mexico - Sounds of San Miguel de Allende

  • the trickle of water fountains
  • the panpipe melody of the knife sharpener whistle
  • church bells
  • a band practicing every afternoon - from the sound of it, they need to practice 24 hours a day
  • barking dogs
  • church bells
  • boy running ahead of the garbage truck clanging a triangle to let everyone know it's trash time
  • roosters crowing
  • water truck man shouting "Agua"
  • church bells
  • vegetable trucks spouting a recorded litany of produce for sale
  • fireworks and rockets
  • church bells
  • loudspeaker voice shouting uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho as children gather for school
  • church bells
  But noise does not disturb this caballero's nonchalance.

    A Month in Mexico - Scenes from San Miguel de Allende Market

    Whether you want to buy your daughter a fancy dress, pick up a few herbs, or grab a bite for lunch--it's all here at the San Miguel de Allende weekly market.
                            Dresses on Display
                    Herbs for Healing or Seasoning
                        Don't these look tempting?
                         Take-Out Pork Rinds

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo

               Guanajuato from the El Pipila Viewpoint
    In the 18th century, the gods used a shoehorn to nestle Guanajuato (gwah-nah-WAH-toh) between mountains containing more silver than any place else in the world.  And today, these verdant hills, flower-bedecked streets, underground roads, leafy plazas, world-class museums, and prestigious university create a feast for the eyes and nourishment for the intellect. This UNESCO World Heritage city, where 60% of the slender streets are pedestrian only, invites you to amble slowly to savor the delights it offers.

    Antonio, our guide for the day, led David and me to the first treat, the Diego Rivera Museum.  Rivera, one of Mexico's most famous muralists and artist Frida Kahlo's lover, lived in a five-story house on Calle Pocitos for the first nine years of his life.  

                    Rivera's Dining Room
    The first floor of his home has been refurbished with antiques typical of the period.  The remaining floors contain approximately one hundred of Rivera's paintings, sketches and watercolors. 

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - San Miguel de Allende Centro

      Allende Museum Is Across the Street from the Jardin Bandstand
    David and I stood today in the bedroom where Ignacio Allende, a leader in Mexico's fight for independence from Spain, slept when he was a boy. Judging from the rest of the two-story mansion, Allende had a privileged background, but he eventually sacrificed everything, even his life, for freedom.

    As we explored this beautiful town today, we could understand Allende's motivation.  Of course there have been many changes in the past 200 years, but the artistry we saw at every turn must have been evident even then.

                Historic Hotel - Courtyard Restaurant
    Centuries-old churches dignify the cityscape, tolling their bells throughout the day so the Mexicans, few of whom have clocks or watches, know when it is time for work or prayer.  Frightening faces are carved into the ancient, fifty-foot high doors to scare away evil spirits.  

    Bellas Artes, housed in a former hacienda, serves as the cultural center for the community offering classes, concerts, and art exhibits.  Even walking the grounds is a treat because the central garden and fountain is a calm oasis in this bustling city.
               Reading on the Portico of the Biblioteca
    The Biblioteca Publica, a few blocks away from Bellas Artes, is maintained by the expatriate community and offers the largest collection of English books in Mexico.  Not only the library graces this former hacienda, as there are also rooms for computer classes, an auditorium for lectures and films, a gift shop, and a delightful atrium snack shop. The Biblioteca serves two necessary functions in San Miguel:  it serves as a resource for the expat community and also offers materials and tutoring to the Mexican children. 
                  Atrium Restaurant
    The heart of a city, though, lies in its people, and San Miguel de Allende is blessed with creative people.  At every turn, whether it is a humble shop or a plant lovingly tended to produce its best, the artistry is apparent.
          Even Sandwiches Are Beautifully Decorated in San Miguel! 
    We walked slowly today, taking photos every few steps.  This enchanting place invites you to linger, and we were happy to oblige.
    "the little lame balloon man whistles far and wee,,,"   - e.e. cummings

    Practicalities - 
    The Ignacio Allende Museum is on the jardin, just across from the Parroquia.  The first floor contains historical information while the second level is furnished as it might have been in Allende's time.  Admission is 37 pesos.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - We (almost) Become Movie Stars!

    I've been waiting all my life to be discovered.  A crew for a TV drama in Wilmington, NC, rolled its equipment away five minutes after I walked down a scenic alley.  I've stood around when cameras rolled in New York, only to be asked to please get out of the way.  I was the only one who volunteered when a scouting crew showed up at the Lake Chapala Society one day many years ago.  They took my photo and phone number but never called.  But today, this morning around 10:00, I had my chance.

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - Sojourn in San Miguel de Allende

              The Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
    When I told David it would be better to take the bus to San Miguel de Allende instead of drive or fly, he asked how many chickens would be sharing the ride.  But the busses I had in mind were the luxurious ones, the ETN and Primera Plus lines, that crisscross the country in air conditioned splendor.
       Advertising the Comforts of a Pimera Plus Bus
    The Primera Plus station in Guadalajara resembles an airport lounge with restaurants and magazine vendors.  The busses themselves feature reclining seats, movies or music, spotless bathrooms, and huge windows to watch the picturesque roll by.  David decided he loved the seats because he finally had enough room for his 6'5" frame.

    We were handed a soda and a lunch as we boarded, but there was one disquieting note before we climbed the steps.  Unlike previous trips I'd taken, this time our bags were searched and the men were patted down. And as we pulled into San Miguel, we saw two men spread-eagled across a car as a dozen olive-garbed policemen searched pockets and tore apart their car.  Still, we tried to remember that drugs and violence were isolated and the same scenes happened in the United States.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - UNESCO World Heritage Sites

    David and I leave this morning for two UNESCO World Heritage Cities, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, and won't return til next Saturday.  If I don't get a chance to post while we're away, be sure to check back later because there will be much to tell you about these two enchanting places.

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    A Month in Meixo - The Census

    What do census questions reveal about a country?  

    In the United States, David and I answered seven simple question about our names, ages, and relationship, but the Mexican census workers, who rang the bell this morning, wanted to know much more.    

    How many rooms are in the house?  Any bedrooms?  Do we have a stove, refrigerator, running water, a television, a computer, a bathroom? There were at least twenty other questions on their five-page form we never got to answer because, when the census-taker realized we were not the permanent residents, the interview was abruptly ended.  

    In this beautiful land with its rich cultural history, exquisite art, and charming people, it is sad to realize that so many must not have the basic amenities we take for granted in the United States.

    A Month in Mexico - Art in Ajijic

    Mexico is a smorgasbord of craft delights, and each area has its specialty. Oaxaca is famous for its black pottery, formed from clay found in only two places in the world;  alebrijes, whimsically carved and painted figures; and its rugs, dyed from insect or vegetable material, and hand-loomed and woven by the Zapotec indigenous people. Patzcuaro is known for its embroidery and furniture, while nearby towns specialize in items crafted from straw.   In Leon, leather good stores line the streets while an hour's drive away, in San Miguel de Allende, the specialty is tin-work. Delores Hidalgo and Puebla's claim to fame is Talavera pottery.  

    Here in Ajijic, we are fortunate enough to have crafts from most of Mexico.  The stores lining calle Colon offer art from far-flung areas of the country while there are two places specializing in just one art form.

    The rug sellers from Oaxaca set up shop on the carretera, the main street running the length of the town.  Incredibly beautiful and intricate wool rugs, with patterns that have been used for centuries by these descendants of the Mayans, sway gently in the breeze. The prices are one-third to one-fourth the prices found in the Southwest United States.

    The Huichol, an indigenous people descended from the Aztecs and numbering only about 18,000, struggle to maintain their individuality despite the encroachment of civilization.  To augment their farming income so they can remain independent, they have established a few shops in Mexico and one of them is across from La Nueva Posada Restaurant and B&B. 

    The Huichol, whose rituals are based on the visionary state they achieve by using peyote, believe they establish a mystical union with the gods. Their visions and symbiotic union with nature is communicated in their art.  And, because their culture has no written language, their art depicts the Huichol's rituals, belief systems, and history.

    These gentle people string tiny beads on needles and then press the beads into a pine resin and beeswax base.  The amount of time required to painstakingly place these beads in intricate patterns to fashion deer, goats, coyotes, and jaguars boggles the mind; and it's even more astonishing to realize these treasures are available for 200-500 pesos a piece. 

    David and I feel lucky to be able to drive a few miles and see art from all over Mexico.  And the reasonable prices we pay for these treasures makes us even more grateful to be spending this month in Mexico.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - Violence!

    When David and I first considered house sitting in Mexico for a month this summer, everyone we knew in the United States advised against it. There were government warnings, drug lords shooting it out in the streets, innocent people being slaughtered in rifle crossfire, and folks succumbing to the H1N1 flu.  Had we taken leave of our senses?  

    Our friends, for the most part, were too polite to ask those particular questions, but, believe me, we could tell from the horrified expressions on their faces that those were the questions they were thinking.  I confess that, after watching the nightly news and CNN reports, David and I had a few misgivings of our own.

    We've been in Ajijic for ten days now. Have we seen violence? Absolutely.  Have there been vicious attacks? On an hourly basis.  Are we afraid.  Certainly not.

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - Twisting the Kaleidoscope

                         Ajijic Plaza Bandstand
    David and I twisted the kaleidoscope today, strolling down Calle Colon, Ajijic's main street, and browsing the Chapala market.  Everywhere we went we ogled the brilliant colors and public art.  Mexico had a few surprises in store for us, too.

    On the way to the plaza, we discovered we could have our feet "detoxed."   We aren't sure what that means, but after traveling the dusty cobblestones, we think "detoxification" might not be a bad idea.  And, being the frugal travelers we are, we loved the idea of a two for one special!

    Still, dirty feet intact, we hustled on to see the church bordering one side of the plaza and the municipal building on the other side.  Mexico is wise in placing the police office and the church in a central location.  If you can't get the local gendarmes to help you, perhaps you can achieve divine intervention.

    We browsed the stores we came across; one craftswoman was kind enough to pose for me.  She had just come in from the country with a bundle of colorful carvings and clay figurines.  At every turn there were murals, rainbow colors, or a bit of whimsy decorating the walls.

    The next stop was the Chapala market where several blocks had been taken over by entrepreneurs selling everything from daisies to doo rags.  We walked every inch of the market, took a couple dozen pictures, bought a bunch of lillies and daisies for 25 pesos, and came home ready for another great Mexican tradition--the siesta.

    These flowers decorate a popular clothing shop.

    9 Tips for Finding a Reliable Vacation Rental |

    9 Tips for Finding a Reliable Vacation Rental |

    Christopher Elliott, ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine, shares his suggestions for finding the perfect vacation house or apartment rental.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - A Weekend in Ajijic

    Our Living Room
    David took all the photos in this article.

    David sat in the living room this morning reading while I hung up the laundry.  I think I had the better end of the deal as I got to stand in the garden and watch the hummingbirds attack the feeder.

    Path to the Laundry Lines
    Although we fill the feeders almost daily, the hummers have voracious appetites.  Then, too, we inadvertently fed bats the night before last.  They seem to like the sugar water as much as the birds.

    Even though it is difficult to force ourselves to leave this Garden of Eden,  we want to explore every inch of the village and last night seemed like a perfect time to visit what used to be my favorite restaurant, La Nueva Posada.  We drove through town, hopping on a Saturday night, and were surprised to find a parking spot near the restaurant.

    David was suitably impressed with the staircase that leads from the lobby of the restaurant to the B&B rooms.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    A Month in Mexico - Village Vignettes

    Do you remember the kaleidoscope you played with as a child?  You looked through one end of the tube and twisted the other end to see an ever-changing medley of glass particles that changed shape and color with every twist.  You rarely saw the same colors or patterns twice, but you were never disappointed with the picture.

    Mexico is that kaleidoscope.  At every turn there's a new scene that delights with vibrant color or enchants with novelty.  It's a whirling, occasionally unsettling, series of vignettes that startles you out of complacency and forces you to look at the world in a different way. Here are just a few of those scenes.

    One wall of the living room in the house David and I are "sitting" is glass overlooking the garden.  The house itself is very comfortable with graciously-sized rooms, two en suite bedrooms, and every amenity we could desire, but it is the garden that is the focal point.  This is where we watch the hummingbirds buzz the two feeders.  Where lavender orchids bloom against rough tree bark, plumeria (the flowers used in Hawaiian leis) line the slate path, and purple bougainvillea tumbles over the walls.  White and red roses cozy up to cactus, startling in their juxtaposition.  A bunch of bananas is almost ready for plucking.

    In the village, we visit the Lake Chapala Society, a complex of buildings and gardens catering to the needs of expatriates with Spanish classes, blood pressure and hearing checks, lectures, a film aficionados group, and video service, while a Mexican man outside in the cobblestone street peddles water jugs, shouting, "Agua," to one and all.