Have you ever considered retiring in Mexico? Have you wondered about daily living in a foreign country where you don't speak the language? What about hotels, hospitals, doctors, restaurants, banks, real estate and cultural activities? This is a diary of my daily life in Lake Chapala and other areas of Mexico. I don't speak Spanish. I am a single retired woman. I hope this blog will give you an idea of what to expect if you decide to make the move.
The two photos above are two of the murals on the wall at Tony's Restaurant in San Antonio. I think there was a third panel but I don't have it. Maybe there were only two. I wasn't paying that much attention to the walls. I was more interested in the music.
The adventures of Anita and Patricia. Another marathon music day. We started out in Chapala and ended up in the evening at Tony's. I told Anita that these many hours of listening to live music have changed my consciousness, burned out all the negative energy inside of me.
I spent most of my day in my yard. Two friends dropped by. One friend had recently returned from her trip to the States. I asked how she felt about the States. She said that she was glad to be back in Mexico. She said, I don't know how to explain it but there is more freedom in Mexico.
I understand what she means. I always feel more freedom in Mexico. I remember a Mexican woman saying to me, I am a Mexican. I can do whatever I want! I don't remember what I had asked of her, probably to turn down her loud music.
My friend said that she was shocked to find out that she had to pay eight thousand dollars in taxes because she took money a year and a half early out of her IRA fund to pay off a house that she had sold at a loss. She has a very strong sense of morality so she paid the difference in the cost of the house instead of walking away from it. This is how the American government encourages people to be honest and do the right thing........
My friend Anita and I spent nine hours straight listening to music today. We started out listening to a man playing a keyboard at the Hotel Real de Chapala. Then the Mariachis played. They played some songs for me about leaving and returning home again. Home to my friends and Mexico. I cried. It was the accumulation of a couple of days of melancholy. We all went over to La Nueva Posada and they played for the crowd in the garden. After they left, a young man played the guitar and sang us love songs. It was going on into evening and we went to La Bodega to listen to a jazz band. The above photo is in the garden at La Nueva Posada. I am being serenaded by the Mariachi Band. My wrist is still in the brace. (I am wearing a black leather fanny pack that Anita gave me. I know it isn't stylish to wear a fanny pack but it keeps me from losing things, like money and keys. I have lost both when I carried a purse.) I am really enjoying the music and the attention. I don't feel invisible.
The above photo is the front of the Hotel de Chapala.
The two photos above are of the Yacht Club. It is next to the Hotel Real de Chapala. The next four photos are of the street I live on.
Last night I went to hear the Cuban band. They are still playing at Joe's Restaurant in Ajijic. I love their music. I love dancing to it but last night I was in a funk. I kept thinking, By this time next week I will be in the States. I would look around the room at all the happy faces and think, Next week these people will go on without me. They won't even remember me. I already felt invisible. I had detached.
I remember something my friend's sister, Barbara, told us when we were little girls. She was much older than we were and she was a glamorous singer. She lived in L.A. We were enthralled with her and we hung on her every word. I remember how jealous my mother always was when Barbara came to town to take away her daughter's affections for awhile. We lived in a small town in Central California and this town rarely experienced women like Barbara. Men and women stared at her. Children followed her. She was like the pied piper. Sometimes we would hold hands with her and dance down the street, singing. We created quite a stir.
But back to what I still remember about her philosphy. She said, Think of yourself as a hand that is thrust into a bucket of water. The water is your environment. Your hand takes up a lot of room when it is in the water but when you take it out, the water immediately fills in that space.
Right now I am experiencing myself as the hand that is slowly lifting out of the water. This leave taking is like practicing for dying; the final leaving. It puts everything in perspective and reorganizes my priorities. Suddenly an organized shelf and mopped floor don't seem very important. I am beginning to think, let's just get this over with and not go through any more evenings where I feel invisible. My family dies from quick heart attacks. That's the way to go. I don't want a long illness, lingering in bed for months. I don't want to be a burden on my loved ones.
This afternoon I am going to listen to the Mariachi Band at the Hotel Real De Chapala. Another leave taking. I am tempted to skip it. But would I chose to skip the joys of living just because I will die? No!!!! I am just going to accept this melancholic mood, enjoy the day as best as I can and try not to think of the leaving.
Doing the same thing all the time gives the impression that nothing will change but that is an illusion. Everything changes. Habits and routine can create a false sense of security. There is no security in the material world. We all leave it all when we die. So for today I choose to live and listen to the music.
I am not good at making transitions. I know how quickly and easily things can happen. Lives can be changed forever in an instant. One slip and a wrist is fractured. One minute of carelessness and a purse is stolen. Passports get misplaced. Airplanes can be missed. My imagination can't begin to conjure up all the things that can happen to change a well planned out trip.
This area swells with Americans and Canadians in the winter. Now is the time when most of them go north. We all have to deal with our individual transitions. Maybe it is easier for others than it is for me. I am such a worrier. I want to anticipate everything that can go wrong so I can keep it from happening. This trait causes me many sleepless nights before leaving a place.
I worry about what is in store for me back in the States. I worry about the state of the economy, insurances, the condition of my house, my friends and their problems and all the possible demands that are going to engulf me when I get back. Will I be healthy enough to come back? I am already missing my life here and I haven't even left yet. I have said this before; I am a terrible traveler.
I have always been a worrier. One of the first memories I have is sitting on the floor next to my mother while she is standing at the ironing board, ironing one of my dresses and worrying about outgrowing my clothes. I asked her, When I grow bigger and outgrow my clothes how can I get to the store to get new ones if I have nothing to wear? I will be naked... My mother thought that was funny. I remember in grade school my father threatening me. He would say, I am not going to LET you go to college if you don't stop worrying so much about your homework......
Worrying is a terrible affliction. I know the most obvious answer to these worries is faith. I need to quit trying to control the flow of my life and have faith that a higher power is in charge. I have experienced it many times. Chance meetings that I know were predetermined; coincidences that meant too much not to have been arranged by a power higher than myself.
I know this in my heart but my mind keeps me up nights worrying and trying to make sure all goes well. Am I forgetting to pack something I will need once I arrive at my new destination? Will I oversleep? Did I forget to say good bye to someone important to me? Do I owe anyone favors or money? Is there any unfinished business here? How will Chico, the dog who sleeps with me, get along when I am gone? Will he be loved enough? Will my place still be available when I return? Will my friends here want to spend time with me again or will they have replaced me with others? Will people stop reading my blog?
One of the biggest worries is the fear that I will get so caught up in the next environment and all the problems or good things that I won't make it back here again..... I am happy here. I have been happy for six months. I want to remember it. I hope this blog will help me remember and help me to have whatever strength it takes for me to come back. I don't know how the Snow Birds do this year after year. As soon as my place sells in the States I am going to settle down here. That may be a long time from now. I am going to try not to worry about it.
I had breakfast at a small but great restaurant right across the street from the Lake Chapala Society. It takes awhile to get the food but it is delicious. Great home made hash browns, the best I have found in this area. Food is inexpensive and that is always a plus to me.
The above photos are of the entrance to the lake Chapala Society and of the first pond. There are two ponds.
Would you risk your life for your dog? Over the week end the lake was extremely choppy. I thought it seemed more like the ocean than a lake. I read this morning in the paper that a forty four year old American man drowned at the pier in Ajijic, trying to save his dog's life. He had been throwing the dog a stick and he saw the dog struggling in the water. He jumped in to save the dog and he drowned. He had half his life ahead of him and he lost it for the love of his dog.
It seems such a waste of a life. Tragic. Yet I know if I were in the same situation I would have done the same thing. We love our animals. I bet many of you would have done that too... Foolish, but what love isn't foolish???
I saw my doctor yesterday, Dr. Gomez. He did my knee surgery three months ago in Guadalajara; the surgery that cost me two thousand dollars. My friend in the States had the same surgery at the same time but it cost thirty thousand dollars there.
Dr. Gomez comes up to Ajijic and works out of Dr. Leon's office once a week. Both Doctors are top notch in my book. I would live here just for the excellent medical care from them. If you want to reach Dr Gomez, here is his contact information Tel: (045) 333 170 6144 Office tel: (33) 36 16 90 05 E mail address: email@example.com
Both doctors are very caring with their patients. At Christmas time the office was filled with gifts from thankful patients. I feel so lucky to have these men taking care of my health. It gives me a sense of security that I don't have in the States because I have no medical insurance.
This is my borrowed dog, Chico. He belongs to my landlord but he sleeps with me. He always finds the most comfortable spot in my house. Do you think he has enough pillows? Makes me think of the Princess and the Pea fairy tale. I am going to miss him when I go to the States.
I don't know much about the subject of housesitting but I will tell you some things I have learned the hard way.
Over a year ago I got the bright idea of becoming a housesitter. My loving dog of thirteen years had died just before I was planning on bringing her with me to Mexico. It was extremely painful for me, as anyone who has ever loved an animal knows. I decided then to never have another animal. I don't want to go through the grieving again. Also, I love to travel and that is extremely difficult and expensive to do with a dog. The airlines have raised their prices and some charge as much for an animal to fly as for a person. And sometimes the animals don't make it alive to the end of the flight. It is hard on them. When I left my dog at home I always missed her and also I worried about if she was getting proper care. I knew she missed me, too. So I had a lot of guilt about leaving her home. Having an animal is kind of like having a child that never grows up.
When I came to the Lakeside area I talked with people about house and dogsitting. I met two people here who are professionals. They have been doing it for years. They both were helpful and gave me lots of advice. Sometimes, even now, I will e mail my friend and ask him about a job. He always gives me good advice but most of the time I don't take it and then regret it afterwards. He also passes along jobs to me. I appreciate that too. Sometimes I return the favor.
At first I was extremely idealistic. Oh boy, I thought, what a great job. I can live in beautiful homes for free and have animals to love too. I missed dogs in my life. It would be the perfect solution.
Now, one year later, I have other thoughts to add to the idealism. Yes, house and dog sitting is still a great way to go in my mind. But now I also have some experience and other considerations.
First consideration is about these online housesitting sites. Be very careful. I spent a lot of time reading through them. Of all the ads I saw online, not one offered to pay for your time. And many people even asked for a lot of free labor on top of the housesitting. I have seen ads where they want someone to run a Bed and Breakfast, clean it and take care of everything, all for no pay. I have seen ads where they want free labor to repair their places, build them or work on their farms. The demands seem endless. No pay.....
The other thing about the online sites is the cost of signing up. I know of one that now charges almost thirty dollars a year if you are a housesitter. Free if you need a housesitter. But there are about ten times more people wanting to housesit than there are places to sit. That gives the people wanting help a huge advantage.
I have found that most people who want a housesitter do not hire sight unseen. They want references from friends they trust. After all, they are leaving their houses and loved animals and they worry. I would worry too. I know a woman who left her house in the care of her sister's boyfriend and when she came home, he had stolen everything that wasn't too large to fit into his truck.
Another consideration is how much you value your life and your time. Sure it is great to live for free in a beautiful home but if the owners have burdened you with too much work, your life will quickly go downhill. I had one person ask me to do the gardening, cleaning, dog walking and paying all the bills. The pay was less than a hundred and fifty dollars a month. Between all the work I wouldn't have had any time to myself. I was blinded by the nice home. Later on I thought more about it and I realized that I wouldn't be happy in the job.
The going rate of pay here is fifteen dollars a day for one animal. Some housesitters charge twenty for one and then five dollars extra per animal after that. It costs twenty dollars per day per animal just to have them boarded out. Some people think that just because they have a beautiful home, the housesitter should be happy with no pay. Many people will do it for nothing. But keep in mind that once you take a job, you no longer have much freedom. I am big on freedom. If the job lasts for several months, then you can't go anywhere for that length of time. You have to walk the dogs twice a day and take them to the vet or the dog groomer. You are responsible for their lives. That can be a heavy burden. I think a job like that is also worth some pay.
I always fall in love with the animals and when I leave I miss them. I hadn't thought about that when I started this job. You can't just intrude on the lives of the owners after you leave. When the job is over, you leave the animals you have loved too.
Consider this: if the maid doesn't do her job, the owners most likely will blame you, the housesitter, for the place not being in tip top shape when they return. No matter that the job of cleaning was up to the maid. People here have very strong ties to their maids. You will most likely be the one who gets the flack even though the maid has taken many days off. The owner will keep the maid and fire you. No good reference there and references are everything in this business. Also, I have found that the housesitter is usually considered on the same social level as the rest of the hired help. You will most likely not even be treated as well as their maids and gardeners because you are only temporary. And don't expect to be invited to their social functions when they return. You are the hired help!
Some people are wonderful. They are generous and caring. Others will try to get as much as they can from you for as little as possible. Since I am not a very aggressive person, I don't stand up for myself enough in the initial negotiations. Maybe I am not cut out for the job. Or maybe I have let my idealism get in the way. I am learning.
Last consideration. The financial crisis is also here. Fewer people are taking trips and that means fewer housesitters are wanted. And then there are many housesitters who will do it for free. They maybe just need a place to stay. I have my own place. I am happy here too. I will only do jobs from now on that I really want. I may not have any other jobs but I will be happy. After all, even at the top pay, housesitting doesn't pay much. For me, it was a way to borrow dogs to love. You can see from the photo that I already have one borrowed dog. I hope these thoughts will be helpful to anyone considering a future in dog and housesitting.
Several people have e mailed me about when I leave Mexico and when I will return. My ticket out of here is on the 27th of March. Hopefully, everything will go as planned. I have no return ticket. I want to get back here ASAP. I will have to stay in the States at least six weeks. My place is subrented for at least that long. I don't know after that. I will play it by ear. What I mean to say is: I will live day by day and do what I want, when I want. I am a free woman. That feels great to say because most of my life I haven't been free. I had many obligations. We all do.
I have a reservation at a nice hotel by the airport in Guadalajara, Hotel Case Grande. It is within walking distance of the airport. My flight out of here on Alaska is always an early morning one. I am afraid I might miss the airplane if I stay up in Ajijic the night before the flight. I would have to leave Ajijic at four a.m. I am a worrier. If the taxi didn't show up I would be in big trouble. Also the road from Ajijic to Guadalajara is kind of dangerous in the dark. Animals sometimes get out on it and there can be bad accidents. I am taking my camera and computer. I will put online photos of the hotel.
I appreciate people being interested enough in my blog to write to me and to ask about my plans. I hope to write on it while I am in the States, if only to bitch and moan about being back there. My friend doesn't like to hear all those complaints. She said to me, Every time you come back from Mexico all you do is complain about the States..... Sorry, but I really miss Mexico when I am in the States and I can't help but compare the quality of life. Mexico always wins in my book.
I went into Chapala this morning for breakfast and to say good bye to Lupe. He is the waiter there and also my massage therapist. I took only one photo of him and it was too blurry to put on. I do have his photo on another post about the American Legion. If you need a massage, Lupe is the man. His phone number is: (376) 765 5672. I leave for the States at the end of next week so I am making my rounds to say good bye to people. I hate to leave here.
I hate to bring this up but it is all over the news; the drug wars here. Awful stuff is happening. It isn't going on in the Lakeside area, Thank God. But I have no inclination to travel around Mexico right now. It is hard to read about the disregard for human lives in these wars. My friend from the States is coming here next week with two of her women friends. She said they want to rent a car, drive to Mexico City and hike up a Pyramid. I said I thought that was a bad idea now.
I heard that Hillary Cllinton will be in Guadalajara for a visit soon. Maybe it has something to do with these wars. Please don't let these things scare you away from the Lake Chapala Area. I feel safer here than in any town I have visited in the States.
The first and last photos are of Tito serenading us in the garden at La Nueva Posada. He has a beautiful voice that has a two octive range. He says he got his voice from his mother and his father. The middle one is of Tito and Chito serenading us in the garden. You may have seen many of their other photos on my blog too. Always serenading us.....They both are members of the Mariachi Band that plays at the Real De Chapala Hotel on Sunday afternoons.
I asked my friend, How did we get so lucky? She said, This place is magical. The Huichol Gods must have looked down on us two lonely women and blessed us with this pleasure..... Thank you Huichol Gods......I feel beautiful and vital and young again. Nothing like love songs... Sure beats getting a face lift.
Pond at the Lake Chapala Society with the Koi swimming around and the three flags reflected in the water; American, Mexican and Canadian. I don't know why this photo is lopsided. But I like it anyway. Camera is about to die, like one of the fish in the water that I didn't notice until now...
The water lily in the pond is starting to bloom.
The flowers in the pond at the Lake Chapala Society are blooming now.
I finally got those blue flowers on the Jacaranda Tree. As you can see, the road is covered in blue flowers too.
Chito is one of the Mariachi Band members. He played the guitar for us in the garden at La Nueva Posada. Later on in the evening he played his handmade harp for a private party. Many people say that Chito is one of the finest musicians in this area. He also does beautiful carpentry. If you are interested in hiring him, here is his phone number: 376 76 54168.
Bar on the Jocotopec Plaza. Last photo is of the man who runs it. Nice man....
The church near the Plaza in Jocotopec.
The above photos are the Jocotopec Plaza. It is much larger than the Ajijic Plaza.
A coffee shop in the Jocotopec Plaza. Looks like the regulars, Americans and Canadians. These are about the only ones we saw all day in Jocotopec.
There are several Birrieria restaurants on the Plaza. That is goat's meat. Unfortunately I had just eaten breakfast so I wasn't hungry. I will have to save that meal for my next trip. It smelled good.
The above photo is of a man who ran a bar next to the Birrieria restaurant. He must be well known in Jocotopec because everyone seemed to know and like him. Even people in passing cars stopped to say hi to him. I liked him too. A very friendly and kind man.