Tuesday, September 1, 2009

AJIJIC, JALISCO, MEXICO-AUG/SEPT 2009

"The first known inhabitants of Ajijic were probably nomadic indigenous tribes, drawn to the area by the abundant fish. The Spanish arrived in 1523 or 1524 and found a village named AXIXIC, 'The place where water splashes.' They built a church that was finished in 1539. Tourism started in the late 19th century. Ajijic became an artist colony in the 1940s and attracted artists of many disciplines as well as some 'Hollywood' types. Prosperity, fueled by retiring 'baby boomers' is in full swing. New businesses flourish side by side with well established ones for the benefit and enjoyment of the entire area. Hotels, restaurants and galleries cater to international tourists and ex-patriots as well as style-savvy Mexicans. All come to enjoy the great climate, beautiful sunsets and friendly inhabitants."("Ajijic Centro", brochure, author unknown)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 Our flight from Chicago, through Dallas to Guadalajara was uneventful. It took more time to ride the bus from the plane to the terminal than it did to clear customs, and in Mexico to get the "green light" is a good thing! Our taxi got us to our house in Ajijic by late afternoon and it was such fun to turn the key and settle in. Paty, the housekeeper, had it sparkling clear and it felt good to be there. Once unpacked and having scoped out the house and yard, we felt the effects of airlines' no-food policy and took a walk to the grocery to stock up on some food for breakfast. Against our better judgement, just due to our state of tiredness, we ate at the closest restaurant to the grocery, Alejandro's. Once I sent my Sopa Azteca back to be warmed (in the micro), it was really good. I ordered two enchiladas and guacamole, not realizing the enchiladas came with rice and guac. It was way too much, but oh well, there are always "doggie" bags. We trudged homeward and just had a quiet evening of relaxation. I have a feeling that "relaxation" is going to be the keyword for our two weeks here. Before it got too late we checked in with Sheila, our friend and partner in the home ownership, and she greeted us warmly. Our pre-arranged plans include lunch with her tomorrow.

Thursday: We slept until 9:00 and that is real unusual for Alan! Sheila once owned a yarn shop here, until she retired and now she just holds a weekly get together which she calls "Yarns." On my way I stopped by "Donas Donuts" to stock up before;they ran out of my favorites. Mexicans, in my opinion, our not know for having good desserts, but this "gringo" favorite makes truly delicious and authentic American-style donuts. On to Sheila's where I was greeted with open arms by her and happy jumps from Katie, the pooch.

"Yarns" was quite enjoyable and Sheila had told them in her weekly email letter that the "Crochetqueen" was going to be dropping by. I had met some of the particpants before and there was a delightful few others who are avid crocheters. this is a change from the group of mostly knitters who used to attend when Sheila held "Yarns" on Wednesdays. I finished up a little dress with granny square for my American Girl doll and brought a brooch I began to create in wire-crochet when I was here in Ajijic this past January for "Show and Tell."


Deb, who lives in El Chante, a sort of rural outpost of housing on the edge of Ajijic was there and it was good to see her again. She loves to make shawls nand was wearing a lovely one of black and white ribbon. The discussion of El Chante reminded Sheila of a hotel and restaurant there which she suggested we try. She described the food as just "okay" but said the view of Lake Chapala would far outweigh any food disappointments. Always ready for an adventure and willing to try new restaurants, of course, we said sure.

Not only was it a lovely setting and great view, we found the food to be wonderful. In fact the presentation of our plates could give (brother-in-law) a run for its money! We enjoyed a leisurely time catching up with Sheila and the news of Ajijic since our last visit in January.


We really like the Mexican custom of having lunch as a heavier meal at 2 or 3 PM and then something light like soup in the evening. tonight our leftovers from last night were just right.

Friday: We were awakened today by the sound of Paty coming in the front gate at 9:10 AM! She comes to cleaned M-W-F year 'round. As I sit on the patio drinking coffee, crocheting or eating, I marvel at the plant life in our garden. I also marvel at the "disorganization" and intermningling of plants and vines and flowers. It is very "Mexican" but still it messes with my sense of order. I started with the pots on the patio and cleaned out dead stems, added a little dirt to some and gave them a good watering. Paty has kept them alive and they grow like weeds; she just doesn't pay much attention to the concept of pruning! So, I did quite a bit of prning back the leggy vines and I feel much better when I admire all the greenery that surrounds me!

Our plans included meeting Sheila at 5:00 PM to go to an art opening at Dos Lunas art gallery. We left a bit ahead of time to go to our favorite coffee roasting/ coffee bar to stock up on some good robust "french roast" coffee from Chiapas. We don't have a car in Ajijic and we walk everywhere. We left a little too late and our walk took longer than we expected, so we had to pass on having cake and coffee along with the purchase of our coffee beans.

The art gallery was lovely and all the art was displayed in a most inviting way. We enjoyed a glass of wine and cheese and crackers while we admired the inspiring work on display. Paola, a very saavy marketer, who owns the book store/art shop, Di Paola, next door extended her hours and benefited from us along with many others spilling over from the art gallery to her shop. She is an Italian photographer and has created her own book of scens from Ajijic. It is beautifully done and she said she would autograph one if I bought it, but I had already purchased another version last January while here that I treasure.

We had hoped to go to the movies as we had seen on Thursday that "Public Enemies" was playing. Nicole had told us she heard it was a long and boring movie, but we wanted to see it because Ryan's cousin worked on the movie as a lighting technician and even befriended Johnny Depp while he spent a lot of time filling in as his driver as well! Sheila warned us ;that shows change on Friday, so we weren't totally disappointed that indeed we could no longer see our first choice of movie. So onward to home we trudged.

Saturday:
Our experience has been that the village of Chapala is a lively place on the weekends. We decided to take the bus there today because Sundays are traditionally "family days" and it would be quite chaotic. It was a bit disappointing in that we found the market to be smaller than we had remembered and it seemed to be barely starting at noon. Most likely this is another sign of the hard economic times hitting every where. Nevertheless, we wondered around and enjoyed the boardwalk and I succeeded in finding a darling little pair of sandals for "Pippy" (our granddaughter who is due in November. We went to a restaurant we remembered on the square for lunch and relaxed a bit before taking the bus back home. A short version of our dear dog Sandy hung around us while we ate and refused to make eye contact with me. Even though he appeared to be a street dog, he was cute, and knew enough that it is impolite to beg from diners in the restaurants.

We jumped on a bus that said "Ajijic" (I swear) but it turned out to be a wild goose ride up into the hills to some very small and poor pueblitos. Once back in Chapala, the guys onh the bus were kind enough to tell us that we needed to catch the bus on a different corner. No problemo!

Once back home, I used an easy to make soup from a packet and added some "umph" with a chicken leg and some veggies. this paired with some toasted bread and swiss cheese completed our gustatory needs for the day!

Sunday:I had seen advertised in the Lake Chapala Review that La Bella Vida was having an exhibit, "Art with Plants." What a great Sunday activity; so about 11:00 we headed there.
It's an absolutely beautiful shop/house and just loaded with elegant plants that are artflly displayed along with other handcrafts. We took it all in but didn't see anything we just had to have. Prices were geared toward gringos too!

From there we decided to go to the newly refurbished Ajijic boardwalk and stroll. Sunday is family day, but but due to the gentle spitting rain, it kept people away. No worries' we enjoyed our stroll to the very end where there are tennis courts. Unfortunately, they are still covered with mud from last season's heavy rains. It's that typical Mexican habit of not quite finishing a job well done! When we reached "Six Corners" we had probably walked three miles by now. It was time to head up to the highway and get something to drink before heading back home.



While we were near "Pollo Fiesta" we decided we might as well buy it while we had the chance. For $7.50 we got a whole rotisserie chicken, rice and salad plus hot sauce. As we continued on, we decided to stop at "Joe's" which has to be a chain from either Guadalajara or some beach town. everyone there speaks good English and the food is reliably good. We decided on a cold diet coke and some queso fundido as well a guacamole to tide us over so we could finish our long walk!








Monday: The day went by without us leaving for anything. Around two pm we decided to take our daily walk through the neighborhood. This trip I am photographing doors which here are colorful and varied. My plan is to create a photo book, "The Doors of Ajijic." After a nice pasadito through Upper La Floresta (our development) we continued down the main highway to "Miky" which we must patronize each visit for their delicious "Americano" desserts and robust coffee. Dessert (carrot cake and blueberry cheesecake) and coffee at 3Pm is ideal and a great Mexican custom!

Tuesday: I got a $10.00 haircut this morning at "Estetica Paty," recommended by Sheila. She got a little carried away with the clippers, but hey, hair grows! After that, I passed by Barbara's Bazaar where they were having their semi-annual sale to reduce inventory. I was disappointed that I didn't buy anything, but an interesting piece of framed Huichol art is calling to me. I may return for it if it survived the days of bargain shoppers!

I made a nice arroz con pollo with our rotisserie chicken and punched it up a bit with some extra veggies: camote, carrot and onion, lots of onion.

My plan for our late afternoon was for us to walk to Walmart for some things we need and grab a snack there. Yes, there is a Walmart in Ajijic. It's been there about two years and to me, a disappointing addition to the quaint ambience of tghe area, but "progress can't be stopped!!" We bought our sorely needed potholders and dish soap, but from there my plan was foiled. The only available snacks at Walmart are coffee and sweets. Sadly, we had to continue up the road to Tony's who probably makes the best tacos in town. Wanting to keep it light, I stuffed my self on chips and the fabulous sweet salsa that I've only found at Tony's. "Azteca" soup completed my meal and Alan had queso fundido con chorizo in several tortillas. Delish!!

When we got home it was time to settle in for an evening of tv and crochet. Through our Star dish system, we recieve the networks from either Detroit or Buffalo, as well as Canada.


Week Two: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 It is hard to believe that we have been here a week already! The pace is much slower and things take a lot longer to get done here, so that's maybe why it feels we have only been here a short while! Today is the "Tiangis" in Ajijic (weekly open-air market)We took the backpack and headed down there about 10 AM and it was already buzzing with activity. The sights and smells are colorful and bold and it is a lively mix of fresh fruit, vegetables, handcrafts, clothes and even re-cycled stuff.












I was on a mission because friend Linda had lost an earring which she purchased in the tiangis last January and she sent along the lonely one and ask me to find her the exact thing to replace the lost one. Here instructions were perfect and we found the jewelry lady way at the end of the street by making a bee-line straight down through the entire one-street market.

She was a lovely lady who practiced her English with us and encouraged me to buy a ring that I admired. A little bit of bargaining cinched the deal! Here in Mexico, bartering is customary and is considered a pleasant social exchange if kept light-hearted.









We kept a leisurely pace as we passed back through the market and ran into friends and bought our needs for the next few days: tomatoes, zucchini, cilantro and camote which is like a squash along with some local apples that I will use to make applesauce.

While at the opposite end of town, we stopped into a very special bakery which makes the best fruit turnovers. Our experience is that you have to be there early in the morning to get them, but we lucked out. The sign said, "Sweet breads at 8:30 and 12:30" and it was 12:45!! Bingo! We got some, but as it was he onlny had 1 strawberry oneleft, so we got 5 more in pineapple. Who cares-delicious! We also bought a loaf of Nopal bread. Nopal is a cactus and bread being made with it is a new one on us, but as the Mexican lady standing next to us said, "Live it up; try something new."

After doing a few more errands in town, we set off to find the restaurant "Ninette." which we've been to before and enjoyed. I remember passing it yesterday and saying to myself, Wednesday after market would be a good day to go there." The best policy is, "If you see it open, best go now!" Well, the mistake I made is not bringing along the address; we tried and tried and couldn't find it. Even some Gringos we asked hadn't even heard of it. As we came upon "Tango" and saw it open, we figured, "Why not?" As we were glancing at the hours sign, a guy walked by us and said, rhyme or reason with the stores of Ajijic; they all have different days that they close during the week. So, if you "You've found the best restaurant in Ajijic!" He's right; we've been there before a few times for dinner. My lunch of "chimichurri" on fabulous rolls, empanadas, hearts of palm salad was great and Alan had a the special: "Pipito" (steak sandwich ). Lunch is only $5.00 if eaten before 1:30. Most Mexicans don't start lunch until 3 PM, so we lucked out that we found it early!

We made it back home just minutes before Antonio arrived to continue his work on our outside fountain. We're hopefull that this time, after many unsuccessful attempts, we will have a working fountain. It's such a soothing sound to have in the middle of our yard right off the patio. A continuous slow leak has been the cause of the pump burning out afew times and our clients from time to time have not seemed to capture the concept of what happens when a pump contiues to run on an empty fountain! He sealed the leaky spot again and tomorrow is the big day to fill it with water and test the pump.

Kind of forgetting it was Wednesday, it was purely by luck that I flipped the channel to Fox and saw that "Glee" was on. I had even listed it on my daily planner becasue friend John's son is one of the writers and producers and he had told me that it would premiere on Sept. 2. Cute, light show but particularly enjoyable to me because both my girls were/are signers in high school and in the choirs and show choirs. Fond memories of high school/music silliness. I even Skyped the younger one , Bethany, and lo and behold as she was on her way to rehearse with her band but was taping the show to watch later!

It's Thursday again and I had to get to up early to get ready for "Yarns" Today it was another group of ladies, all lovely. The one Mexican lady who was tatting, marveled at the creativity around the table: cable sweater, knitted scarf, and my tapestry crochet conical bag (from a 70s book). I really made some headway on my project which is single crochet in fine linen. It's growing and I can see the end of the tunnel now!


After "Yarns" Sheila and I went across the street to the nursery and bought 12 little Mexican Heather plants for our house. They were only $1.20 per plant and they are so cute-little purple flowers.

I have 6 of the 12 planted and they will be like a short border in front of some of the other plants/hedges we already have. I'm excited about getting some sense of order in the landscape. I also did a lot of clipping on the Flame Vine to try and uncover the Star Jasmine plant, which I did. This plant sets off its fragrance every night after dark and Alan and I have been gettihng whiffs of it. I love that and sure didn't want the Flame Vine to choke it out.

I cooked us a nice lunch of steak, Lionese potatoes and green beans with tomatoes-simple but tasted good with an avocado, as well. That along with our yardwork was the extent of our day. Restful evening on tap! Tomorrow we are going to Guadalajara with Sheila and will spend most of our time in Tlaquepaque, a tourist area that just overflows with handcrafts. It's a favorite place and we always fit in a delicious lunch at one of the many traditional restaurants.

Friday: Sheila picked us up at 10:15 and we were in Tlaquepaque by a little after eleven and ready to browse and shop. Maybe it was a mistake to start at the most elegant and exciting shop in the village! "Del Corazon de la Tierra" is owned by a savvy family who also own the restaurant "Casa Fuerte" which we have eaten in before. We were greeted by the owner, Guillermo, and he immediately focused his eyes on my crocheted necklace which I had designed and admired it.




My dream is to live in a place just like this surrounded by the colorful and handmade indigenous art pieces that excite me so. The young man whose English is good was so hospitable to us and offered us a delicious cup of the coffee they sell from Chiapas. After enjoying the coffee, we wandered from room to room in the store feasting our eyes on every square inch of the eye candy (colorful textiles and other handcrafts). Guillermo approached us again, this time to show me a woven cloth with what he said was a crochet edging (it was macrame). I did later see some blouses with crocheted edges. He also showed us a book on baedwork published by Interweave Press and told us that one of the artists within had been to tlaquepaque and held bead classes in an art center there. It was obvious that Guillermo is very interested in networking and promoting handcrfafts and cross-marketing. You can see more of what he is about at www.delcorazondelatierra.com

From there we wandered from shop to shop and thoroughly enjoyed all we saw. At some point we were overstimulated with sights and colors and it was time for lunch. Many times these old homes, which were once beach homes for the ultra rich from Guadalajara, contain both artesania and restaurants. Such was the case in the one we chose to have lunch in. Good service and a great lunch, with dessert,
left us content and ready for our ride home, just ahead of the commuting crowd. We arrived back at our house really pretty tired and ready for a quiet evening.

Saturday: Although we are going to have guests for "tapas" this evening, we don't have to do much, so we enjoyed our morning with several cups of rich Chiapas coffee. We were surprised to find that it is now open 7 days a week out of necessity and half its former size due to economic conditions which are hittinhg here just like in the States. I always like to visit the resale shops wherever I go, so we headed to "Nachos Trash and Treasure." Believe it or not, our house does not have salt and pepper shakers, so I was extremely pleased to find a set on a little tray made in "Talavera-style" ceramic. I gladly stimulated Nacho's economy!conditions that are hitting here as well as in the states.

We then made our way to Walmart where we bought the needed avocados to supplement the two we had off our own trees to make guacamole for tonight. Judith and Sheila brouught some wonderful delicacies: goat cheese in a lettuce leaf with spicy peach sauce, pork short ribs in black bean sauce, shrimp skewers with veggies and another veggie plate in a vinagrette sauce. We thoroughly enjoyed the conversation; Judith is visiting from Mobile, Al. and the food on the patio until the sun went down enough that the flies became a bother!

Sunday: We had a rough night with rain and very heavy winds. We didn't realize that the power was knocked out until we arose at 9:00 AM! Thankfully, the power was restored by 9;15. Good thing we slept in, so we didn't have to wait long for coffee! We walked to Hotel Real de la Chapala and were there at 12:30 PM. Donna and Roy showed up at 1PM. We teased them that they are totally acclimated to the Mexican ways! We enjoyed a nice Sunday brunch poolside and the breezes off the lake were delightufl with scens of the mountains in the background. We had a good time catching up and then wlaked back home only to find that Alan had not brought the house keys! Rurh roh! So, our tummies full, we had to walk to the other end of town to Sheila's in the hopes she would be home so we could get the set of spare keys. Well. she wasn't home, but we aroused Judith who is renting next door and she kindly invited us in to wait on Sheila. It wasn't that long until Sheila returned from her walk with Katie. After a brief respite with the ladies, it was back across town we went. Lesson learned and big meal walked off!!

Monday: We stayed home all day and it was a busy day. We are getting the house painted and Antonio and his two sons started their work of scraping the bad areas. Paty was here doing her thing as well, so it was all abuzz around here. These are very trustworthy people and we didn't necessarily have to be here, but it was a cloudy kind of day and just felt right to be here taking it slow and easy.

I have plenty of crochet, cooking and tending to my transplants at a leisurley pace to keep me satisfied. Alan finished up his pruning work on the orange tree.

Choosing the paint color is kind of an "eyeball" thing. Antonio has color swatches, but not from the same company where he buys the paint. He is very patient though, if the color is not right and goes back to the store to adjust the shade if need be. Our idea is to have a lightish terra cotta with teal trim like the teal we have inside. The first-pass color was too pumpkin-like, so tomorrow, we will have him try again.

About 5:30, we thought we would take a walk to the pier and headed off only to decide that it was too cloudy out over the lake and that we wouldn't be able to see the sunset. So, we went back home and ate left overs in the hopes that tomorrow night will be better. We are getting some rain in the mountains as a result of the hurricanes off the west coast of Mexico, but not that much has actually fallen here.

Tuesday: Up and at 'em because I have an appointment at 11:30 to get a manicure ($10.00 including tip!) at Edith's. Alan wants to get a haircut as well, all in preparation for returning home tomorrow on a 3:00 PM flight. Antonio was here on schedule and busy at work. I still think the 2nd color is too much on the pumpkin side. He is very patient and once number two dries, we will decide if we need to try again.

I got an email today from niece, Liz, who has worked in cardiac rehab saying that "Nanny" is being stubborn about her exercise and is finding all kinds of excuses when Lynn wants her to come over and work out with the arm and leg weights. Liz believes that she should really be doing some out-patient rehab and wants me to check into this or call Lynn. So, right beofre we left for the manicure, I called Lynn on Skype and we were able to have a good conversation and make a game plan for when I am home on Thursday and can make a call to the doctor.

We passed by the plaza after finishing with the haircut and manicure andhad lunch at the Plaza Jardin restaurant. I had a wonderful chicken curry salad and Alan had a steak sandwich. We'll be fine with just finishing up some odds and ends in the refrigerator for dinner tonight and probably just go to the pier for a drink and botana (snack).











This time I went with Antonio to the paint store and looked at the actual color chips of the paint he will use! Once I started using the word "terra cotta", he was more atune to what I am thinking. It's on the wall now and we are waiting for it to dry to be sure, but I think "third times a charm!"