Jan 19, 2018

Backtracking to Day One: Vacation from Hell

Since I haven’t been keeping up with this vacation, I thought I would try to start from Day 1 and try to recreate it from the beginning. It may not get finished but here’s a start anyway.

Saturday, January 6
We left Ajijic in the morning—not early but not late.  We had unloaded most of the things we had boxed up from the house and put them in the storage room by the garage at our own house.  James had evidently had Ricky clean it up and get it ready for us so we had plenty of room.  We were staying with a friend, Jan Braverman, who lives just a few blocks from us in Ajijic.  We left some things at her house that we didn’t want to store in the garage bodega (the Mexican word for storage room). We only packed with us the clothes we would need here, some food, Daisy’s stuff, etc.  

Beautiful day as always, especially this time of year.  Everyone there had been complaining about how cold it had been—chilly at night (as low as upper 40s) but warm in the daytime, 70s.
There’s a new bypass to the west and north that we picked up well south of the airport.  As you get well past Guadalajara, the highway turns more westerly and it’s a beautiful drive—mountains and green valleys.  We were high on the side of a mountain range and could see the town of Tequila below us.  One day we’re going to take a trip there.  Less than 3 hours or so, we began the road begins to climb steeply because that’s the only way to get over the Sierra Madre to get to the coast.  Then the steep descent to turn to the south on the road that bypasses all the villages on the west coast.  These used to be small, simple fishing villages, but as Puerto Vallarta developed to the north, that expansion helped turned the villages into cheaper and less tourist-jazzy than PV.  We got to San Pancho (real name San Francisco) in about 4 ½ hours.

Once we got to San Pancho, very small, there’s one main street that leads directly to the beach on the ocean.  We remembered that but remarked on how many more shops and restaurants than from 9 years ago.  Turning north, parallel to the ocean, we took the road that leads up and up to get to the bluffs higher above.  The road hasn’t changed at all.  It’s about 2 ½ miles on a windy, twisty dirt road—passable for two cars in some places but not all.  Along this road as you rise above the town are properties of varying sizes, but you can’t see them since they’re all situated on the west side, that overlooks the ocean.  With Susan’s directions and our dim memory of before, we managed to find the villas again.

The road actually ends there at the top, then there’s a very narrow road that twists down the western slope.  Along this smaller road (which is a small community of half a dozen properties), you’re surrounded by the jungle with coconut and date palms, tall trees similar to rubber trees, and very thick undergrowth.  At the end of the road (again) are the villas.  There’s a wide parking area, a two-story building with a garage and storage/laundry room below and one of the palapas above on the second floor.  From this vantage, you can hear the ocean but can’t see it.  A brick path of steps and walkways leads down to the two other palapa villas and the large common area palapa.  Each of these are along the brick path through the jungle, dropping down one by one.  Ours, Iguana, is on the left with Sunflower (the large one) just below.  Along the west side of Sunflower are two decks, the pool, and the path continues to the third palapa, Mariposa, with the steps continuing down the steep slope to the small beach and huge rocks below, where the breakers smash in.

Picture (not from us) of what the bluffs look like, looking back from the ocean.

Our first impression was of shabbiness.  The outdoor furniture—well, it’s all outdoors—appeared to be the same furniture and cushions as when we were here before.  On the top deck, same level as the common area and kitchen, are white resin tables and chairs with very sad-looking cushions.  On the deck below, the infinity pool looked the same, sparkling and inviting.  (Whoever invented the idea of infinity pools was brilliant.) The edge of the pool fades into the vista of the Pacific.  But around the pool, again, were ugly white resin lounge chairs with faded cushions that were probably new in 2008.  Inside the main palapa, the kitchen looked pretty much the same, except the oven door is rusty and the small appliances in need of cleaning and/replacement.  The dining room table was surrounded by 6 chairs with faded seat cushions and chair backs whose veneer was visibly peeling—badly and so ugly.  We were pretty shocked at the condition.

Our palapa was the same, two double beds with mosquito netting but ok as far as comfort.  The bathroom similar with sink, toilet, and shower.  There are walls for privacy there but the top of the walls open into the high palapa roof.  Again, no real difference.
Time to fix dinner.  But first, I had to clean the surfaces in the kitchen, unplug the toaster and coffee maker to clean them thoroughly and wash whatever pans we were using.  The grill we had enjoyed so much before was ok (outdoors, after all), but the basket for fish or whatever was rusty and unusable.  There was wood for the grill but not mesquite as we had before.

At this point we were very disappointed and embarrassed because we had friends arriving the next day.  We took notes, made a list, and got ready for bed.  And that’s when I discovered the mildew-smelling pillows. I. Hate. The. Smell. Of. Mildew. But we set up Daisy’s kennel to block the open entrance to the palapa and went to bed.  We were not happy campers.  And by the way, some people may remember how much I hate camping.

Nevertheless, we had little choice.  The closest real hotel that takes pets is the Westin in Nueva Vallarta, about an hour away.  So we went to sleep with the glorious sound of the surf breaking below.
So far, only a couple of positive things: the incredible view and the sound of the waves about 150 ft below.

To be continued.

Oct 19, 2017

Mexico City looking back

Obviously I didn't blog at all during our visit there because I just couldn't seem to find the time during the visit.  Often I blog in my head while we're doing things but end up too tired to follow through right away.  So I'll try to go back and recreate.

Monday night, October 9

Major pre-trip anxiety as usual.  Couldn't figure out what to pack.  The weather forecast showed exactly the same temperatures as Ajijic with highs in the low 70s, lows in the mid-50s. So I packed clothes just like I wear here mostly--skorts (I know-very uncool--but much better for old ladies in public than shorts and just as comfortable) and T-shirts.I did throw in a couple of pairs of jeans and black leggings, but no long sleeved tops.  I included a black cardigan and a white one because I thought it might get cool at night and a couple of non-wrinkle dresses to wear out to dinner.

Actuality: Turns out that temperatures don't take into consideration the wind tunnel effect on streets with high buildings, canyon-like.  And the other breezes, especially on cloudy days at nearly 7500 ft.  So, as usual, I had packed way too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right things.  We ended up wearing jeans, long pants almost every day, and I layered t-shirts with the cardigans and a scarf or two--just like everybody else in the city.  Bob hadn't packed even a light jacket, so the day after we arrived, we went in search of a sweater for him.  We often seem to do that for him: a sweater in San Francisco on July 4, 1976, a lightweight green jacket in Germany in July 1997, etc.

(Note: hardly anybody calls Mexico City by that name.  Most Mexicans call it DF (pronounced "de efe") for Distrito Federal--kind of like DC for District of Columbia.  But we kept seeing signs all over the city like this

So it turns out that last year, el presidente (no not THAT one) changed the status of the city somehow.  The explanation is here but not important enough for me to explain...or care about.  My point here is that from here on I'll be referring to the city as CDMX rather spelling out the whole thing. (It stands for Ciudad Mexico, in case you didn't figure it out.)


Our flight wasn't until 1:30 so we were in no rush to get out, and Francisco was picking us up plenty early at 11:00 in one of his fleet of cars, a sedan this time.  500 pesos to the airport, a mere 30 minutes in the middle of the day, and Francisco seems to have this uncanny ability to avoid all the potholes between here and the airport.  Not surprising since he makes the trips so often.

Easy flight--less than 90 minutes, just enough time for the drink cart to run down the aisle once and we were there.  In the terminal, you buy a ticket for a taxi at stands that look like car rental counters.  Outside, we were greeted by a man in a dark suit who escorted us to a taxi and delivered us to the back seat while the driver put our luggage in the bag.  It was a sunny day, very bright, lots of traffic, of course, and we were rubber necking out both sides of the taxi. Such high buildings! Such country bumpkins!

Arriving at our apartment building, Juarez 52, we discovered a multi-story building (16 floors, with wrap-around corner glass on the east and north.   This is a very good picture from the internet, much better than we could have gotten.  Count up 14 floors and you can see our apartment. Or count down three from the top.

I think I may have said it before but from the moment you walk into the apartment, it's absolutely breathtaking.  To the right as you walk in, is the kitchen--bright, white, ultra-modern, brand new appliances.  The oven still had the cardboard packing inside it. (And, we didn't remove it because all we used the kitchen for was to make coffee and keep a few things in the fridge--refrigerador--a Spanish word that just will not come tripping easily off my tongue, despite practice.  All along the east wall (to the right) and the north (straight ahead) are windows.  And they glide open to the freshest breeze, but it did make Bob nervous when I leaned out to take pictures.  I just can't describe how mesmerizing the view was.

Directly below us, looking through the north window is Parque Alameda, the oldest park in Mexico, begun by the colonial government in 1529.  (Keep in mind that the Spanish conquered the city in 1521, two years after their arrival. They wasted no time in putting their mark on everything Aztecan.)  I have pictures from the apartment but haven't downloaded them from my phone yet.  I believe this picture shows the park with our building on the left a little bit more than halfway down.

Looking out the windows just below us, we could see the memorial to Benito Juarez, father of the first Mexican revolution that finally succeeded in kicking out the Spanish. His memorial is a half-circle, or hemicyle, gleaming in white marble.

 Looking half a block farther, we could see the Palacio de Bellas Artes, incredibly gorgeous with a huge gold dome.

Beyond the palacio and farther down Juarez to the east, we could make out the tops of some of the official government buildings on the Zocalo, or Constitution Square.  And I almost forgot to include the Torre Latinoamerica directly east, only half a block away. Always lit up, no matter what time of day we could glance out and see exactly what time it was from the lights at the top. This picture shows the proximity of so many famous buildings right outside our windows.

So far, we've only made it to the apartment!  So we explored the apartment, took some pictures, soaked up the views, but then had to go out to find some stuff for breakfast--coffee,fruit, cereal and milk for Bob, bottles of water, etc.  With our handy Google map, we walked a few blocks to a supermarket, but once we were through shopping, we realized we had wandered too far to retrace our steps with our heavy bags.  So, we decided to try out Uber in CDMX, despite my misgivings about the morality of putting taxi drivers out of work, thus starving their families. :( 
 But within minutes, we had a ride back to the apartment--so easy.  (More about Uber in a later post)

Back at the apartment, we unloaded our meager groceries and went straight back out to investigate a couple of restaurants we'd passed on our walk to the supermercado.  We chose Gino's (Italian, obviously), surprisingly good.  We sat right under one of the ubiquitous TV's that are all over the city in almost every restaurant, listening and occasionally looking up to see which team had prompted the cry of GOOOOAAAALLLL!!!!!  I think it was Costa Rica and Panama, but I'm not sure I'm remembering well.

Anyway, good food, good wine, a short walk back to the apartment.  End of Day One in CDMX.  More tomorrow.

Sep 17, 2017

Mexico City

We're going!!!  For a week in October (10-17).  We have our plane tickets ($100 USD each RT) on Interjet

 and a pretty little apartment to stay in the historic district. VRBO 4117745ha.  

Wiki Mexico City   Because it's much too much to describe here! Because the city is so large and there's so much to see, I think we'll plan to stay nearby except for maybe a couple of day trips:

Much, much more.  Time to start planning

Mexico City

Why It’s Easier to Reinvent Yourself Living Abroad

I borrowed the title from Chuck Bolotin, a "retirement expert" (Hey, I think I'm working on that job title, too!), who founded Best Places in the World to Retire.  While some people to reinvent themselves in retirement or new places in very interesting ways, I don't feel the need to reinvent myself.  I'm pretty happy being myself, and life here is mostly a continuation of the life I've lived--with the exception of not being paid to work.

But, in one of the sections he refers to something that Bob and I have noticed, as well as other people: it's so easy to meet new people.  That's an aspect of moving here that I hadn't really focused on--although, looking back, I realize that it's been true since we first starting coming down here.  Bolotin writes this:

"The shock (and joy) of being around new people: Just as expats are in a new cultural and physical environment, they are also in a new social environment, within which they’re not bound by the grooved-in interpersonal kabuki dance they performed in the past.
Expats have told me how liberating it was to start fresh relationships. Describing their past, they told me about the growth-inhibiting triad of behaviors being heavily influenced by: 
  • what others expected of them,
  • others expecting them not to change and then 
  • their tending to conform to others’ expectations of not changing.

But as expats meet new people, they are free to create relationships intentionally to help become their best, reinvented selves."

Thinking back, I realize the times that were the easiest times for meeting people were school, growing up, and graduate school; other parents from the kids' activities; work; but most of all, when we lived overseas.  Part of that is being far away from previous friends and family, so you're forced to get out and make new friends if you're the least bit social.  Also, whatever activities you get engaged in, you meet new people doing the same ones with similar interests.  And meeting neighbors.  Here we live in a neighborhood with both expats and Mexicans, and while I can't say that we have actual friendships with our neighbors, we recognize each other, speak to each other, and know that we look out for each other.  

A couple of weeks ago, we were walking around the corner to Shari and Rob's house and we saw some little kids (about 8 or 9 years old) playing futbol in the street. (Of course, it's safe to play on most of the neighborhood streets because cars can't go fast enough to come upon you suddenly, and the sound of driving on cobblestone streets certainly gives plenty of warning to get out of the way.) Anyway, the kids were just standing around, not playing, so we asked them what was wrong. They told us, and pointed to their ball which had gone over the fence of the neighbors across the street.  We could see the ball resting against the iron gate on the top of the tile garage roof.  We know the people who live there, Steve and Nancy, so we went to ring their bell just as Steve opened the gate holding a long broom handle.  The kids had kicked the ball all the way over into their garden, and Steve tried to throw it back over but didn't get it far enough.  So between two aging gringo men, they managed to get the ball unlodged and back to the kids. While we were watching, I asked one of the kids, " Quien va ganando?" (Who's winning?)  With a quick grin, he pointed to himself and said, "Estamos!" (We are!)  Bob and Steve having completed their mission, we all said adios.  We went on our way and the kids went back to their game.

And the circle of friends widens all the time as new people move down or others return or we meet people through other friends and activities. For example, we met Gerald and Rosalind in June.  They had spent four months driving through Mexico from Arizona, I think.  They drove down the west coast as far as Acapulco, then across country to Oaxaca and Chiapas near the Guatemalan border, the Yucatan, Mexico City, San Miguel, and finally here where they've decided to stay.  They rented a beautiful apartment, very modern and Euro with a fantastic view of the lake and mountains.

We also met Bruce and Debi at a shabbat dinner.  They had lived in Atlanta (they met as students at FSU) for many years and decided it was time to retire and travel.  So they set off on a round-the-world trip for a year with just a couple of bags each.  They went all over Europe, Asia, and Central America.  They spent 6 weeks here and bought a house (!).  They'll be back in October.

So I really enjoy the variety of their experiences, personalities, and cultures. Life here is never boring.  Not that I was ever bored anywhere else.  I'd love to share it more though with old friends and family.

Thrill the World

Evidently some of you don't know about "Thrill the World," the world-wide tribute to Michael Jackson every year since 2006, I think.  The idea is that groups all over the world dress up as zombies and dance to the music of Thriller on the same designated day and the exact same time (see below), always near Halloween.

A friend of Jan Quarton's, Elliot Joachim, started the local dances here in Ajijic a few years ago and it's become very popular among both expats and Mexicans. And I think the money raised goes to International Red Cross.  Not sure about that.  Actually, I think each local event may choose its own charity. Wiki

Interesting maybe to some of you, Eugene, OR had the second highest number of participants in 2016, and apparently high numbers every year.  Hmmm.  Does that say anything about the people who live in Eugene?????

Also, we met more neighbors a couple of weeks ago, Cortlandt Jones and Brent (don't know his last name).  They live directly across the street from us, but they've been gone since the first of April, and we hadn't met them until a party last week.  They have a house in Asheville and just bought a condo in West Palm Beach and they also keep the rental here full time.  They're both super nice, and it turns out that Cortlandt is a professional dancer, mostly retired now.  He's also a personal fitness trainer when he's in Asheville. His career was mostly in LA in television, doing variety shows and in Vegas and other places--14 years in Ann-Marget's chorus.  But, what's relevant here is that he was one of the 12 core dancers in MJ's Thriller video.  It's hard to tell which one he is though because they're all in zombie make-up.  I'll ask him where his position was. This year he's choreographing the Thriller event in Ajijic.  He's the one in the yellow t-shirt.

Anyway, we do meet the most interesting people here. The four of us are going out to dinner next week. And, no, we're not dancing in Thriller, but we will be there to watch and take pictures.

Thrill Times

This year we will have two thrill times–everyone can participate in just one or both–October 28, 2017 at 10 AM GMT and 10 PM GMT.
Trying to get everyone around the world to get out of their graves at the same time is very difficult.  Some little kids just can’t do it and many adults have a very rough time.  We want as many people as possible to participate so this is how it can be done this year. Then we will all reconsider how it worked and decide what to do next year.
You can have your event at your choice of either time or you can participate at both times.

Viva Mexico!

Yesterday was El Dia de la Independencia, September 16.  It celebrates Mexico's own Declaration of Independence from Spain.  It started in Dolores (now Dolores Hidalgo) in 1810 when Miguel Hidalgo, leader of the revolutionaries, gathered everyone in the plaza and, standing on the steps of the church, issued EL Grito, the cry of independence.  That began their war of independence that didn't end until 1821.

Now every year, at 11:00 pm in every municipality, state, and of course in Mexico City, the leaders of those areas re-issue El Grito in commemoration.  We watched the fireworks Friday night from our bedroom terrace, but here's a drone video of the celebrations in the Ajijic plaza, just four blocks from us.

Pueblo Magico

The words of El Grito,

"Viva los héroes que nos dieron Patria , Viva Hidalgo, Viva Morelos, Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, Viva Aldama, Viva Matamoros, Viva Nuestra Independencia, Viva México, Viva México, Viva México."

This afternoon, we're going to walk down to the plaza to see the new art show and then watch the ladies' rebozo parade.  I just checked our old posts and found the post from September 11, 2007 when we went to the Muestra del Rebozos.  The link to other pictures doesn't work any more, but maybe I'll post some of those and some new ones later on.

Sep 4, 2017

Just another Monday

And Monday seems to be the slowest day of the week for us.  Maybe I can be disciplined enough to blog once a week.

We've had really rainy weather now for almost two weeks.  It is rainy season but that usually means wonderful, dramatic thunderstorms--almost always in the middle of the night or very early morning--and we wake up to bright sunny days with few if any clouds.  This rainy season has been very different.  It started off with high drama for a few evenings, but then things slowed down.  The forecast was for a drier rainy season this year, and that has pretty much proven true until the last couple of weeks, when we've had nonstop cloudy, rainy days.  It's always cool and pleasant during rainy season but this continued rainy, cloudy weather has kept the temps in the 60s some days.  We even turned on one of the gas fireplaces last week while we were reading.  Then we fell asleep over our Kindles because it was so toasty and warm.

Today, I prepped for my class Friday. I'm going to have two new observers who may decide to be teaching assistants for the class, so I want to make sure everybody has plenty to do.  Ros (Rosalind) is from England (by way of South Africa), and she and her husband have moved down here after driving all around Mexico for 4-5 months. It wasn't difficult for Gerald who just retired from Thomson Reuters as a GIS (huh?). "A geographic information system (GIS) is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data."  Coo!  I should have been one of those, except it didn't exist way back when.

Yesterday, we actually had a break in the weather with an absolutely perfect day.  Good thing because we had planned a lunch and game day for 8 of us.  What I had planned to be from about 1-5 actually didn't break up until nearly 8 when the light was beginning to fade. We learned a new word/phrase from Ros, who speaks Afrikaans from her days in South Africa.  She called yesterday  a leckker jol
Jol - Party/Piss-up/Rave
Lekker - Good/Excellent. 
An Afrikaans Phrase, usually meaning to go out and get trashed or going on a piss up!
"It was a leckker jol(I can't remember ANYTHING!)" 
"Thats gonna be a leckker jol!" 
It wasn't quite the "piss up" as described above--more like the "craic" Mel experienced in Ireland.
Saturday we got up and went to shul like good little Jews because the last time I missed (Bob was there), there were only 6 people.  So guilt got us out of bed and down the road to Riberas.  Afterward, we dashed to Walmart for some fresh veggies, to the Scandinavian bakery for yummy sourdough bread, and then to the deli (yes, we have a deli) for turkey, roast beef, and ham to have a make-your-own-sandwich lunch for yesterday.  Then we drove out to La Reserva to play bridge all afternoon with Helena and Jim and eat dinner at their house.
I'm working backwards in the week, trying to remember Friday.  Oh, I went to Jan's house and we had lunch and played Rummikub.  Friday night I think we stayed home.  Thursday I taught a class for a friend who's away in Mexico City, and then that evening we went to a fundraiser at Avocado Club (where we had brunch all together), yummy menu and jazz group from Guadalajara, who are really French and sang and played my favorite jazz manouche-style music.  And we danced. They're called Les Femmes de Serge. The woman in black at the microphone is blind.  Lovely voice. We're hoping to go see them again Guadalajara some time.
So, the sun is trying to come out but it's still mostly overcast.  Evidently, there's been a tropical storm sitting off the coast of Puerto Vallarta that has brought the rain, but we have no doubt the sun will come out again.
I'm going to go read some, and then we'll have more sandwiches for dinner.  We've found frozen GF baguettes at Superlake, so we buy more every time we're there to make sure he doesn't run out.  Tomorrow we're going to go to Tlaquepaque for the day with Shari and Rob.  Always love going there.  Such a pretty section of Guadalajara, with the brick pedestrian streets and beautiful shops and nice restaurants.
There's a little map in my head and I can see Susannah and John driving across the middle of the country right now.  Hope they're having fun.