Thursday, 25 August 2016

Mexico - Greener than you might think

Chris going shopping

Funny old stuff in Mexico 

To get a Mexican driving license is really easy – You simply go to your local town hall and buy it. Then you learn to drive!!

In the first six months of 2016 the amount of gang related deaths in Mexico was estimated at 9,400 people. 

There is no national database for fingerprints in Mexico


Santa Maria Del Oro - A square, a church, some shops, bumpy roads, Mexicans, wandering dogs. That's it!. We are here to go to the large volcanic crater lake just outside the town and to do a workaway stint. The lake is not exceptional but certainly ranks in the pleasant category. There are fancy houses, a few cabins and shops around the Blue Flag standard water. People bathe and little boats ferry people from one side to the other. The key thing here though, is the eating. There are several restaurants all selling pretty much the same thing and all with decks butting up to and over the pale blue water. Its very nice and they all sell Michelados (The dark beer, clam juice, tomato juice, chilli, Maggi sauce and salt combo that I have come to love and Rachel has come to make strange faces at.)

It's a schlep along quiet roads and through overgrown footpaths from our Workaway place to the lake. So whenever we run out of anything - food, rum etc. It's 1.5 hours of walking up and over the lip of the crater and down to the lakeside where the shops are. Thank goodness we still have our Nepal legs.

The Workway is for a guy who has a few rooms that he rents out that are set in a truly beautiful garden. Palms, mangoes and colourful bushes and flowerbeds are dotted all over. Its all set among the heavily wooded hills that are draped with morning clouds and the only sounds that we hear are the lowing of cattle, the clip clop of horses and numerous calls of the many birds. We are living in an RV under a canopy and our tasks are to paint some railings on the roof terrace, Make up rooms after any guests, oil coat various wooden gates and build steps down a gully to small river.  It’s been surprisingly compelling building the dozen steps which we have made of rocks set in concrete. Its all very …. rustic.  (Estate state agent speak for badly built).

Agave plantation by La Laguna at Maria Del Oro
The weather is pleasant and the days pass quickly working on our own and chatting with a couple of American retirees – Mark and Patricia or wandering about the lanes or gardens.

Oh! A couple of final things. At night the garden comes alive with hundreds of fire flies and its like fairyland as you walk among the twinkly lights.

We have had wicked thunderstorms in the mountains here. Most nights there is a storm (in Spanish – ‘Tormentor’). These consist of virtually continuous lightning (every couple of seconds) and constant grumbling of thunder.  During one such storm heard an especially cloud clap of thunder, saw a flash and suddenly the air was filled with the smell of cordite from where the lightening hit the ground close by. Scary!

Funny old stuff in Mexico 2

Mexicans really love Mariachi music. You hear it everywhere. In shops, from houses, even booming from the cars of youths. It is rare to get through a meal in a restaurant without at least one Mariachi group asking if you want serenading. We were recently approached in the supermarket car park as we left laden with shopping bags. Is this really the place you want to be serenaded??? Apparently yes!!! The following day we saw two 25 year old guys, who had been in a shop to buy beer, standing with their six packs on the ground in front of them whilst 4 guitar and trumpet-wielding players, dressed in a matching white rhinestoned get up, sang jolly songs. Other people were quite oblivious to the scene and simply passed by with their trolleys – humming.

There is no national rail system in Mexico .

You don’t find chilli con carne anywhere here.

The good life

Ajijic is a small town set on the shores of Lake Chapala (the biggest lake in Mexico) and is home to 11,000 inhabitants and a further 10,000 snowbirds (seasonal residents) who flock there for 6 months of the year to escape the colder months in America and Canada. In the summer months the Gringos make up about 10% of the population but even in these reduced numbers they still dominate the restaurants. Filling nearly every available seat and spending their hard earned yankee dollar rich retirement funds. Life here is good for the permanent residents. The town is 1500 metres up so the climate is superb with pleasant summers and temperate winters. The views across the lake are peaceful and the surrounding hills are often draped with white clouds that seem reticent to encroach on the blue skies about the town.  It’s very pretty and apart from real estate (it’s been priced for Americans) it is cheap. 

It's not a touristy Pueblo Magico but, nonetheless, it is a picturesque place with traditionally styled buildings in vibrant colours. There are boutiques and art galleries, cafes, cobbled streets and swathes of bougainvillea hanging down from old crumbling walls. The town square is set with bandstand and surrounding benches on which the locals relax in the shade of numerous trees.

We are housesitting Senor Ramone. A large, black and extremely affectionate house cat who lives with Mags – his owner, who is currently in Portland, Oregon visiting family. The house is wonderfully designed with huge open plan living, eating and kitchen area that opens onto a large patio. 

Lovely wife in a lovely house
There is a small lush and very beautiful garden containing an enormous cactus, flower beds, decorative, blooming bushes and a magnificent cluster of Bird of Paradise plants which is frequently visited by a hyperactive humming bird. And best of all is that its all hidden away behind 8ft high walls to keep privacy in and baddies out.

Humming bird on the bird of paradise
Mags had warned us we might fall in love with the place and sure enough within 24 hours we had. Not just because of the location but the incredibly welcoming community. Within minutes of the previous house sitter leaving (a regular for several households in the town) we got a call from one of the neighbours asking if we were ok and if we wanted anything from a supermarket the following day. We did. And the following morning we were picked up and taken to one, then on a tour of the town and then to lunch. The generosity of the combined neighbours and close friends of Mags continued with a dinner party, drinks and then another dinner date. Socialising with this eclectic group of seventy somethings was a lesson in later life living. Their stories and life experiences enthralled us, their vitality surprised us and their humour and attitudes to everything kept us smiling the whole time.  Jim told us of the trials and tribulations of being the Drug Tzar and chief prosecutor for the state of Delaware, Linda, his wife, shocked us with tales of sex upon a trapeze, Connie, a still beautiful woman and talented artist talked of her artistic inspirations and Ted, her husband, of life as an air traffic controller and a robbery in which he was shot. Betty and Mike joked and good heartedly parried with one another verbally, whilst Gail led us through her lesbian experiences and three years of alcoholism. Lastly, upon her return came the excellent company of Mags. A woman still mourning the untimely death of her husband whom she plainly loved and revered. Mags, for all her carried sadness, was open and honest and still an entertaining and lovely woman. Possibly the most accomplished swearer I have ever met. In reference to a group of people - “Those fuckers are full of shit!” Just one of the phrases she was heard to utter in the two days we spent with her. In short, life for this Cocoon community is filled with art, alcohol, socializing, a bit of weed smoking and generally loving life. We raise our virtual glasses to them and were we 15 years older would gladly throw in our lot and join the ranks of the ageing and honest ex pats of Ajijic.

Rachel teaching Mags how to do an
impression of a preying mantis.
Plainly Mags needs to work on it.

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