A visit to Gringo-landia

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 86

We caught the local bus on the corner next to our house, just by flagging it down.. Our destination was Ajijic, about 20 miles away. It is located on the central part of the lake, and is the home of many Americans and Canadians, as well as a few Europeans. The ride took an hour+ as it stopped every few minutes to pick up someone or to drop someone off. The bus was like an old school bus. There was a sign saying “no smoking” but the driver was puffing away. We got off and found the Lake Chapala Society. It is an association that offers the expats who live here resources, like exercise classes, field trips, Spanish lessons, legal advice, presentations, and movies. There are English libraries, DVD library, and a coffee shop. It is a collection of buildings in a lovely park-like setting.

I did an hour of line-dancing. I didn’t know the dances, but figured them out fairly easily due to my classes at Retama Village.

We decided to join the Society for a month. I will be able to do line-dancing, and perhaps a Spanish brush-up class. A lady from the class gave us a ride to Wal-Mart in Ajijic. I HATE Wal-Marts in the USA, but here it is like a luxury shop. There were lots of choices of food and wine. About 75% of the shoppers were English-speaking. Unfortunately, I observed several “ugly Americans” rudely shouting their orders in English, angry that the locals only speak Spanish. We took the bus home at about 1:45. Bad timing. It is when many of the shops close and schools get out, so the bus was jam-packed.

DINNER: Shrimp on the grill with onions and garlic. Side was Mexican rice, as well as nopales (cactus) strips that I had bought from a lady selling them on the street.

Getting more Mexican orientation

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny and 85 high

Normally, our dog Frida wakes us up with a kiss while we are still sleeping. (George loves this…NOT) This morning, due to the change to Daylight Savings Time, we woke up before Frida!

After some gardening, we walked to a really nice restaurant to meet some new friends.

On our way, down the main street of our town, these horses were strolling. No one seemed very surprised about this.

Both our dog and this restaurant are named Frida after the famous artist Frida Kahlo.

The restaurant is also an inn..

It is very beautiful. We sat outside and ate some very good (and big) chef salads.

This little guy begged at our table…

We met up with a couple there who live here full-time now, having retired here from California. They had contacted us through a gringo Facebook page. After lunch together, they took us into town and showed us the best places for various types of shopping. We stopped at the pork store, beef store, chicken store, veg store, fruit store, and cheese store. Fun! We bought a bunch of fruit and veg to stock up. They took us to their house, located in a development on the outskirts of town, and invited me to go line-dancing with them tomorrow.

Back home, George created some artsy decor. When the tree guys had been working on the palm trees the other day, a huge seed pod fell down. George turned it into a serving tray for fruit and veg..

We caught the local bus back into town. We can get on and off quite close to our house. It will be very convenient.

DINNER: Asian stir-fry with lots of vegetables and some more of the leftover rotisserie chicken. (This is meal #meal for from the one chicken we bought).

Mexican Sunday

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: 85 and sunny (as usual)

We have one English channel on TV, and it is not very good, so we rely on the internet. We were able to pull up “CBS Sunday Morning” which is one of our favorite shows.

Slow, chill day….reading and doing things on computer.

When it cooled off around 5:00, we (along with the rest of the town, it seemed) walked down to the Malecon (lakeside boardwalk). How different from our last visit! When we were here before, on a weekday morning, we were about the only ones here. Today, all of Jocotepec and half of Guadalajara was here!

Families were picnicking, couples smooching, and kids were flying kites. Some families had a little drink party while fishing with their cane poles, and Coke bottle floaters….

Shops had popped up everywhere, selling lots of food, drink, and souvenirs. We walked along the waterfront with our dog Frida. She was SO excited with all the people, smells, and other dogs.

Mini-restaurants popped up overnight, crowded with large families.

Some musicians were even serenading a couple…

On our way home, we spotted this beautiful tree. It is a jacaranda tree. Right now it is at its peak. Lucky us – cherry blossom time while we were in Seattle; jacarandas here in Mexico

As we walked home along the street, we observed lots of tail-gaiting parties from people’s cars and pickups. Small groups were drinking tequila and beer, and munching on bags of chips with bottles of hot sauce. All having a great time!

DINNER: Our homeowner had kindly left some eggplant parmesan for us. I served that over pasta. Side was a salad with avocado and tomato slices.

BOOK: I thought I would start sharing book reviews as I finish up ones as we travel. I’ve discovered that many people are interested in finding good reads. Today, I finished “Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah.. I would rate it 8 out of 10. Our book club in Texas had read another of her books “The Great Alone”. In her books, the author does a very good job pulling the reader into the time and location of the book. For this one, it was Seattle, which was particularly interesting since we were just there. The “Great Alone” takes place in brutally cold, rugged Alaska, and she did an excellent job making the reader understand the environment. Parts of the book dragged a bit, but the ending was great and emotional, as demonstrated by a very large pile of wet tissues in front of me.

Lots of Highpoints…Trees and Culture

LOCATION: Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 80

We walked to the town center, about 6 blocks from our house.

We had heard that some gringos meet daily for coffee there in a coffee shop without a name “next to the Telcel store.” We found it easily and joined a group who live here permanently.

It was fun meeting with them and we learned a few tidbits about getting around. The square is quite pretty.

There are a lot of makeshift food stalls with yummy smells.

We want to check out this culture center one day.

On our way home, in an unsupervised moment, George stopped at a vegetable/fruit stand to buy tomatoes and tomatilllos. He joined me about 3 blocks down the street. Suddenly, a young man came running down the street to us, waving George’s money clip with ALL our money. He had left it at the fruit stand and this boy found it. He asked us to check to make sure it was all there. Wow! What a high!

Speaking of highs, back home some workers arrived to work on the palm trees in our backyard. He quickly climbed a tree to assess the damage from a beetle killing trees in the area.

He sprayed and trimmed a lot of fronds. Who says Mexicans are lazy? He and his partner worked hard for several hours. The final job was to cut down one palm that had completely died.

Our backyard was a war zone for awhile. When they finished, they cleaned it all up.

The two Canadians we had met the other day came over for margaritas and chips/guacamole. They are getting ready to return home after 6 months here in their RVs. We all went out for wood-fired pizzas for dinner.

A busy day, with a lot of highs!

A walk to the waterfront

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 80

Today’s outing was to El Malecón (The Boardwalk) along Lake Chapala. Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest natural lake, and our village is on its west end. Every city/town in Mexico that is on water (lake or ocean or bay) has a boardwalk along which people stroll, especially on weekends.

We took Frida there for a walk.

We saw fishermen bringing in their catch – tilapia – which is the same fish we had seen (unrefrigerated) at the market yesterday.

The boardwalk area is quite large.

We saw a lot of exotic birds, some quite large

Yesterday, we had met two Canadians in town who told us that they are here for 6 months staying in their RVs. One is from Manitoba; one is from Vancouver Island. I can’t imagine driving all that way! On our way home from the lake, we stopped by the RV park where they are staying. It is still under construction, but very nice.

We walked by huge greenhouses owned by Driscoll’s (the major exporter of raspberries). The raspberries we eat in the US and Canada are grown right next door to us!

DINNER: Italian-style chicken and pasta. I sautéed up some of the leftover rotisserie chicken along with onions, garlic, and poblano peppers, then added tomato sauce and pasta. Voilà! I topped it off with some basil from a plant that we are reviving.

Market Day

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: 85 high; sunny

Evenings and mornings are delightfully cool. As soon as we got up, we opened up the house for the fresh air. Breakfast outside on the patio.

Thursday is market day, so we headed there. We walked past lots of little shops and sidewalk tables set up for impromptu food stalls.

Fruit and veg are really nice and inexpensive. Some of the pricies – 5 avocados for $1; 3 oranges for $.50; liter of raspberries $.50.

I think it is strawberry season, so we will buy some next time. There were some items that we couldn’t figure out, even when I asked what they are called.

Lots of chicken being sold, but not too much refrigeration in sight…..

Ditto for fish and seafood. I don’t buy it if it just sitting out in the heat….

We did find a nice-looking meat store with the meat in a refrigerated case. We bought a pound of bacon and a rack of ribs for $3.

Back home, we played with Frida, and talked with the men still working on the swimming pool. We have a large fenced-in backyard so Frida can run around. The backyard has some exotic plants – papaya tree, macadamia nut tree, mandarin orange tree, mango tree, and lots of palms. Gardener George did some watering.

The bougainvillea are so pretty.

DINNER: George grilled the ribs on the outdoor grill, along with onions and peppers. Ate this with the tortillas from the rotisserie chicken place that the server insisted on giving us. We dined on the patio again, which will probably be our norm..

First day housesitting in Mexico

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny and hot (87)

We had another nice Mexican breakfast in our B&B in Tlaquepaque, and then called Uber to take us about 35 miles (1+ hour) to Jocotepec. The driver didn’t look at the destination until we got in the car. He was dumbfounded, and was reluctant to take us so far. A B&B employee convinced him to take us, and said he could probably get someone on the return trip. So, off we went!

After about a half hour, we arrived at the lake. Traffic began to crawl. It is full of tourists, some gringos and others Mexican. Lots of beach-type restaurants, shops, real estate offices. We continued through several towns until we hit the far western side of the lake, where Jocotepec is. It doesn’t appear to be touristy, like the other towns.

When we arrived at the house, things were a little chaotic. The maid was busy dusting and sweeping, the gardener was dealing with a palm tree whose top had fallen off during the night, and one of the landlord was trying to figure out why the pool water had turned green. After they cleared out, we explored the house. The homeowners have just recently moved here, so some things are still a work in progress. It is a large 2-story house with 3 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. There is a beautiful shaded patio where I think we will “live”.

We walked to the main square and found a tiny cafe for lunch. There was no menu and the cook just named a few things he could make for us. Cute!

Then, to the grocery store and fruit shop for supplies. We stopped at one of the many grilled chicken stands along the way and bought a cooked chicken for dinner. As the guy started bagging up the chicken, he asked whether we wanted rice, potato, peppers, tortillas, salad, and salsa with it. I kept saying “no”, but he said it was all included in one price. When I said “no gracias” to the tortillas, he just shook his head and gave them to us anyway.

The landlords came in the late afternoon to show us how to use the sprinkler, and checked out the pool again. They had been keeping Frida, our dog, until we could get here. Frida was ecstatic to return home! She seems like a very sweet dog, a rescue.

We checked out the huge backyard.

Then, we went up to the upstairs deck for margaritas.

This is the view from one side of the deck….

And this is the view from the side….

They say that this area has the “second best climate in the world”. The median temperature is 72. April and May are the two hottest months of the year, with highs like 85. It cools off a lot at night, so we don’t have A/C.

DINNER: George fixed the outdoor grill, and we charred the chicken that we had bought.

Beautiful Tlaquepaque

LOCATION: Tlaquepaque, near Guadalajara, Mexico

WEATHER: Hot – high 87 and sunny

We awoke to the chimes of church bells and exotic birds singing, then had a nice breakfast in the Mexican restaurant in our hotel. It is quite small – 6 beds. Obviously, it used to be a private home. We have a set of stairs in our room going to nowhere. There is a nice courtyard…

Off we went to explore the town.

We strolled around the church square and then the pedestrian streets. Tlaquepaque is the home of Mexican pottery, and there are stores galore. There are also beautiful antique shops and art galleries.

Many of the storefronts are very colorful.

There is a lot of artwork everywhere, especially sculptures.

And beautiful trees and flowers everywhere.

Needing a break (and a bathroom break for George), we stopped in a bar. I had a michelada (beer with tomato juice with a rim of salt and chile pepper).

We visited the Ceramics Museum. It was free, and a lady escorted us around. Very well-done. It, too, used to be a private mansion.

Then, lunch. I had read that Guadalajara’s signature dish is the torta ahogado (drowned sandwich), so we went in search of one. We found them at a little hole-in-the-wall. It is a hard roll filled with pork and onions, then doused in a thin tomato sauce. We shared this huge one for about $1.75.

Back to the room for a little siesta. Back to another stroll of the town…George’s 6th sense found a microbrewery.
Their beers were pretty good.

Then, it was time to go to the main square for the daily mariachi band show. Called El Parian, it is purportedly “Mexico’s largest cantina”. It is a huge building with 16 different restaurants/bars surrounding a stage where mariachi bands play each afternoon and night. We watched the afternoon show. This lady invited me to sit next to her to listen to the musica. Really well-done.

We found another cute restaurant for dinner. We tried to get something small, but we failed. We shared a goblet of cold, creamy avocado soup (like gazpacho) and a meal of a dried beef specialty. Unusual, but really tasty. The waiter said the restaurant had been a private home, built about 200 years ago.

Lovin’ Mexico Already

LOCATION: Tlaquepaque, Mexico – a historic section of Guadalajara

WEATHER: Sunny and high 87

We had a two-hour flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City. The mountains look almost unreal outside the airport.

Then a 4-hour flight from Salt Lake City to Guadalajara. The airline was Aeromexico. We felt like we were in Mexico already, with flight attendants speaking Spanish, and tequila about our only drink selection!

Immigration and customs were easy-peezy….It only took about 5 minutes. We found the taxi stand, ATM, and off we went.

Tlaquepaque had been recommended to us by our homeowner here in Mexico as well as by another couple we had met who have a home in Lake Chapala. It is an historic section, with cobblestone streets, lots of cute shops, and traditional architecture.

We found a restaurant – Casa Luna – about a block from our hotel. It was very elegant.

It is touristy, but most of the tourists seem Mexican. I didn’t hear any English. We had marlin sopes – sopes are a kind of small taco. And, a molcajete (the traditional Mexican mortar and pestle) full of melted cheese and chorizo, served with tortillas. Mexico has changed since the last time we were here – George asked for a dark beer, and the waiter offered a craft beer made here in Guadalajara.

Our hotel is called the Hotel Rosa Morada – Pink Purple Hotel. It is very quaint.

Our room is very nice, with a canopy bed, beautiful bathroom, and courtyard. We will explore Tlaquepaque tomorrow, then head early to our housesitting assignment on Wednesday.

Last day in Seattle

LOCATION: Housesitting in Seattle, Washington

WEATHER: Like a broken record – Another spring day. Sunny.. 60s highs

We took Oscar for his final walk, this time around the nearby Olympic Sculpture Park. Beautiful views of the Sound and skyline.

We dropped Oscar back at the apartment, and took a mile+ hike to Lake Union. We were in search of a Goodwill thrift store. When I travel, I like to take clothes that are on their last leg. Then, I donate them upon departure. So today, I dropped off my winterish clothes – long pants, sweaters, etc that I won’t need in Mexico.

While we were in that area, we found a nice bistro for lunch. We shared a scrumptios lox and challah bread board.

Back home, we scurried around, tidying up. George ran the vacuum cleaner. Suddenly, I could not find Lucy, our cat. The apartment is small, but I could not find her anywhere. How could she have run away? I was really in panic mode. I looked in every nook and cranny. The homeowners were scheduled to arrive any minute. Oh no!!! Then, after the vacuum was off, I shook the cat treats bag and called her, and she magically appeared from under some clothes where she has a hidey-hole. Whew!

The homeowners returned. All is well. They were happy to reunite with Oscar and Lucy. We took the light rail out to the airport. We stayed at a pretty crappy motel, but it had good TV for Sunday night shows. We found a nice Thai restaurant where we had Dungeness crab.

Saying goodbye to Seattle and its beautiful views…..