México


 Home Up On The Road Again

 

Mexico City is worth the trip if you've never been. A huge sprawling monster with 28 million people. Bursting with energy and as noisy and gritty as any other large Latin American city, except that here you can turn a corner and suddenly find yourself on a tree-lined street with elegant shops and restaurants (though I suspect that may only be true in the Distrito Federal).  And on Sunday you'll every local park filled with people just having a good time - music, food, drink and of  course - dancing in the street. (Good name for a song that.) 

Much to see of course, but one of the highlights has to be the Museo de Anthropologia which bears comparison with any museum we've seen anywhere in the world.  Frida Kahlo's house, the Diego Rivera museum and the pyramids at Teotihuacan are also at the top of the list.  And discovering that Mexican food is actually really interesting and bears little relation to the crap we had become accustomed to avoiding in other places - particularly the US.  Chiles Poblanos stuffed with meat and fruit, then covered in walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.  Green, white and red the colours of the Mexican flag - Chiles en Nogada.  That has to sound more appealing than refried beans!

But sometimes, the most memorable things about a place are not the great tourist attractions, nor the famous restaurants, but some little bar you find down an alley where you just happen to have a great time.  In Mexico City ours was Guamo Cafe a little fast food restaurant we went to on our first night - and every night when we were too exhausted after a days touristing to seek out anything more exotic.  I think we were probably the first gringos to ever eat there.  You need to speak Mexican to understand the menu, Spanish is not enough, there are just too many indigenous words and dishes that only exist here.  Though Tacos de Tripa doesn't need much translation, so isn't too tricky to avoid! 

 

 

 
  "What's Nopal?" we ask the waiter.  He's struggling.  Imagine someone asking you in a restaurant "What's a potato?" Then his eyes light up he disappears to the kitchen to return with ....................  A cactus leaf!  Right, we'll have one of those then.  In the end we gave up interrogation and just ordered.  None of the dishes was more than a couple of dollars and most of it was really good - even when we didn't know what it was.  A reminder that although they sometimes do seem to be synonymous - fast food doesn't have to mean bad food!  By the time our last visit arrived the owner was asking us to stay and offering us free drinks - and it wasn't just because by then we had tried the entire menu.  


 

But after a week as tourists, it's back to work.  We are due to arrive in Ajijic on 12 September for house sitting once again, with 3 cats.  I suppose after all our excellent experiences up until now, we were due something a little less good, to bring us down to earth.  It's not terrible, in fact the house and gardens are very pretty.  It just doesn't really work as a place to live as far as comfort is concerned.  (eg. we have better cooking/sleeping/everything facilities on the boat!) 

There is no room for the owner as well as us, so until Joyce flies out to Europe she is staying with friends and just coming to visit.   We move a single bed into the guest room with the single bed settee to create vaguely civilised, if split level, sleeping arrangements.  It is very many years since either of us has shared a hard single bed with another person and we can assure you that without copious amounts of booze, drugs and teenage hormones it's not to be recommended.   Split level is definitely an improvement!

 

 

The whole Guadalajara region is blessed with a near-perfect year round climate and that, combined with Mexico's relative cheapness and its proximity to the USA, has sucked in huge numbers of (mostly) American/Canadian retirees. There are also a significant number of luxury villas belonging to wealthy Mexicans which are visited just once or twice a year.  Nowhere is this migration more evident than in Ajijic - population c.12,000 vs. membership of the Lake Chapala Society (the gringo club) c.3,000.  A significant infrastructure has grown up to service this influx providing jobs and incomes for the local population, but with an equally inevitable upward pressure on property prices. A story repeated in very many locations around the world - Southern Spain, The Canaries, North Wales in the 80's??? The Rio Dulce springs to mind with the gated communities in Ajijic replacing the marinas there. There is though no VHF net, so at least if there are any Mexican Train Dominoes games we remain blissfully unaware of them.

Outside of the commercial relationship the two populations don't seem to have integrated significantly.  Most days, if you walk around the town square you will find the bars and restaurants busy, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that Mexicans rarely visit restaurants - except to work in them of course.  But go to the same square on a National holiday (it was Independence day this week) and you will find it bursting at the seams with locals with their music and their dancing and their horses (also dancing).   Hardly another gringo in sight!

Or be here for the Dia de los Muertos.  That sucks in plenty of tourists, but it's pretty clear that the locals are still doing it in spite of the tourists, not because of them.

Or make your way to the football pitch for the hot air balloon festival.  As a child your mother probably warned you that tissue paper and fire do not mix.  Well here they prove that they do.  Well sometimes.........................

 

   

Ajijic may not be on our list of places to return to, but Guanajuato certainly qualifies.  Every year they have the month long International Cervantino Arts Festival and we were lucky enough to be there for the final week.  Guanajuato is an old silver mining town high in the mountains which make it a spectacular location piled up on the hill side with roads/tunnels drilled through the rocks like Swiss cheese.  That said the locals tell us that, Cervantino apart it's a pretty sleepy destination and we can well believe that to be true.  It certainly fills up for the festival, but most of the tourists are either Mexicans or other Hispanics.  Great restaurants, great music in a unique location.  It should be on everyone's bucket list. 

Be warned though, that one odd anomaly of this "International" festival - ticketing handled by the equally "international" Ticketmaster - is that it is impossible to buy a ticket online without a Mexican credit card!  You can't even ask a friend to buy them for you, because you have to present the original credit card with identification when you collect the tickets.  Having a US or a European Ticketmaster account doesn't help either.  We asked the girl who managed the apartments where we would be staying if she could buy them for us.  Of course, she'd be delighted.  Sorted!  Well not quite - it took another week for Copelia to get back to us to say she,  A - didn't have any money to buy the tickets and B - didn't have a bank account/credit card, so we couldn't send her the money.  Of course she didn't!!  This is México and it's pretty much the same in every other Latin American country.  We should have thought of that!

Well we did finally find a way.  Some of the shows we had wanted to see were sold out, but I don't think that ultimately mattered at all.  We picked other events instead and we wouldn't have missed a single thing that we did actually see. 

 

One completely unexpected stress during our stay was Hurricane Patricia.  When we left Ajijic it was a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Tehuantepec which would head north off the west coast of Mexico and of no concern to us.  By the time we arrived in Guanajuato it had become forecast as the fastest developing and most powerful hurricane ever to hit the Pacific Seaboard and was heading straight for Ajijic.  We hadn't left the house prepared for a hurricane!  All the outside furniture, parasols, etc were standing around on the terraces just waiting to become missiles!  We couldn't contact anyone who had access and we couldn't even go back ourselves.  At the speed Patricia was travelling she would arrive before us and in any case, not withstanding our natural disinclination to head towards a hurricane, the coastal towns were being evacuated to Guadalajara, so we probably couldn't get there at all. 

All we could do was fret and we did, but in the event all passed without drama.  Patricia did indeed develop the highest wind speeds ever measured anywhere and it did crash into the coast as a category 5 hurricane, but enormously powerful though it was, it was tiny, with max winds only extending about 10km either side of the centre.  The area of devastation was largely uninhabited and thankfully did not include Ajijic.  Big sigh of relief - though I don't expect we'll ever leave a house again without wrapping up the parasols!

 

All the excitement over, it was time to begin packing.  On 1st November we would visit Guadalajara for a few days but then it would be back to New Orleans, with a new 6 month US visa in our passports, and time to get on the road again - another good name for a song!


 

On The Road Again

 

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Last updated 5th June 2017