Thursday, May 28, 2015

XX. Es Que No Todos Brisas en las Palmas

It's Not All Breezes in the Palms

Bit of a breeze today, after last night's rain--the first cooling
since we've been here. The beginning of the rainy season is 
predicted by the clicking call of the "rainbirds", a form of 
cicada, that as it builds in frequency becomes a brief high-
pitched throb. They've been much quieter since the deluge.
As text and pictures have illustrated, our little town of Ajijic is a beautiful, fascinating place, but it hasn't all been cervezas, guacamole and brisas en las palmas this past semana. For one thing, for these two soggy Seattleites, the high sun and 90 degree weather definitely explain the rationale behind siesta time, or at least time to stay inside under the ceiling fan, or—if needs must—travel next to the wall in the shade, on the narrow sidewalks. May is the hottest month here, we keep telling ourselves.

For another thing, there’s the nine-day-and-counting delay in delivery of our boxes from Pay-Through-the-Nose Shipping.

This has sent me into a frenzy of activity—a whirlwind of emails and phone calls to local, national and international customer "service" reps of DHL (let them be named and cursed), and to the US consulate in Guadalajara and the Mexican consulate in Seattle. The sticking point seems to be a heretofore unknown requirement—perhaps dreamed up by Yessica, our DHL customs agent—that the boxes be returned to the US so their list of contents can be given a seal of approval by a Mexican consulate there before they can be shipped back here. WTF!

LESSON: Even though this is a work still in progress—or more accurately, stagnation—if we had it do do over again, I'd forego shipping in favor of buying more big old suitcases and schlepping them through baggage claim and customs, checking first to see what the airline limitations and excess baggage fees would be. The word is that taking your belongings through customs personally, whether driving or flying, seems to raise fewer flags than shipping.

Screen shot of the main piece in our
quest to exchange our temporary
residence visa for a card
A further bureaucratic test awaits us as we move further along the process of replacing—within 30 days of our arrival—the temporary resident visas with temporary resident cards. I began that task yesterday with a visit to the immigration office in nearby Chapala to get the list of hoops through which we need to be prepared to jump—subject, of course, to revision without notice. Cynicism aside, this first experience was reassuring—the representative was patient, spoke perfect English, and wrote down all the requirements carefully. 

Still one more thing, though: for almost as much as we recently deconstructed our life in the States, we are constructing a life here in Mexico. This means answering such simple questions as how to set up (all instructions in Spanish, of course) the answering machine, printer (another Arggh), internet connection, DVD hooked up to TV, etc. Also—where and when to take out our garbage (on the corner, in the morning—so the dogs won’t get into it overnight—any day of the week except Domingo, and forget about recycling), and how to get those big garrafones of water delivered, since we don’t quite trust the water purification system installed in our complex.
Portogarrafón with our just delivered agua.
Getting this delivery was quite a triumph,
with the bonus of our friendly delivery guy,

Like most USAmericans we're used to grocery shopping experiences that are one-stop affairs with wide aisles, bright lights, air conditioning, copious signage and vast quantities of goods. Here—not so much. There are two small, less-than-more full service grocery stores within pretty easy walking distance, so long as there are not too many bags to carry home down picturesque but not-too-well paved sidewalks interrupted by cobbled streets. Of course there’s the language challenge again, and some things, like kalamata olives and orzo, have been hard to find (OK, cultural chauvinism acknowledged). This situation has led us to the heretofore-avoided heresy of going to the local Walmart.

For my culinary spouse, in addition to the shopping gauntlet, both the high altitude and the unfamiliar food products, as well as a new—even if well-appointed—kitchen, have made food preparation a trial, and not the joy she is used to. 

We tell ourselves it’s early days yet, we’re just going through the initial, maybe even one-time processes, setting up systems, establishing routines, learning customs, etc., but we are sure looking forward to getting most of this stuff behind us so we can take some language courses, volunteer at the local food bank, go on some hikes, take in some fiestas, do a little traveling, partying, spend more time lazing in the plaza or lounging on the balcony. It will all come, verdad?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

XIX. Desde el Balcón, la Mañana del Martes

From the Balcony, Tuesday Morning

Doors of the Axixic gallery, with the disconcerting face of
La Mestiza next door. We have yet to figure out if the gallery
has regular hours, or if it's even ever open for business.
Sipping strong coffee, sitting on our balcony our fourth morning in Casa de Luz, we have begun to discern patterns among the more distinctive walkers on the sidewalk across the cobblestone street, in front of the gallery that rarely seems to open. 

The first we notice is a trio of mom with baby in carrier—the infant with the same knitted pink cap as yesterday—preceded by a young boy, perhaps kindergartener by the looks of him, studying a sheet of school work as they all walk east, as far as I can see, along Calle Constitución. Yesterday—Monday—the boy was all decked in white, pants neatly pressed; today, still well-turned out, the pants are black, the short-sleeved shirt red.

A few minutes earlier I had spotted a small, slender woman carefully dressed in an old-fashioned manner with her steel-gray hair pulled back, walking slowly from up toward Colón. Yesterday, she had made the same trip carrying a black plastic trash bag to the mound of basura waiting for pickup on the corner. Today, though, she crossed to our side of the street and turned north up Castellanos. A quarter hour later she returned, looked up at us and returned the smile of my sociable spouse. I had the binoculars to my face, trying to catch a glimpse of what I took to be a mourning dove in the hummingbird tree in the garden behind the gallery, so just caught the tail-end of this friendly gesture.

There are others we will come to know: a made-up and plump-breasted young woman whose ample haunches are tightly encased in black or, occasionally, leopard-skin tights, carrying a to-go cup of coffee as she hurries to work somewhere on Colón; the impossibly skinny man with the Indian face who braves the cobblestones in his bicycle, and is sometimes seen with a twenty pound bag of dog food slung over the handlebars...others to come.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

XVIII. La Primera Semana

Beautiful and exotic describes much we have seen the past week. This flower 
is of the aptly named Flamboyant Tree, Delonix regia, of which there are
several in the plaza and many along the malecon.
The First Week

My serene-but-curious spouse and I just returned from the plaza where Sunday night doings are in full swing, maybe even fuller swing than when I first posted from Mexico, a week ago. It’s been a very full semana, to say the least, and the most important achievement is us staying healthy, both physically and mentally. Oh, there have been moments, but all in all we’re more than OK.

Of course, the other huge accomplishment is renting our beautiful Casa de Luz, as described in my last post. We’ve spent the past two days since moving in by, first, boxing up all of the owners’ stuff that was in our way or that we didn’t want. We growled at their golf clubs left in our closet, and I carefully removed the offensively redundant “Owners Cabinet” labels from two locked cabinets.

"Owner's Cabinet"
label has been removed
from cabinets, top right,
in office/guest room
Next, my supremely well-organized wife found just the right place for all of our belongings—all, that is, that are not still being held hostage at customs. What remains is a very well-appointed and decorated living space that has begun to feel like our own. I hooked up our laptops, set the clocks to the right time, copied keys, picked up the laundry I had dropped off the previous day at the lavandería, and other similar manly tasks. And, of course, hiked over to El Torito Super Mercado for coffee, coffee filters and milk—a necessity.

Throughout our first couple of days, our personable rental agent, Eduardo, has been a solid, if somewhat elfin, presence: checking on the utilities, being a buffer from the owner, calling us to see if everything is alright, telling us when and how to leave out the garbage, how to order water delivery, etc. We like both him and the sweet, solicitous Alejandra, also of Roma Realty.

The Mexican version of 7-11 is called Oxxo. This is a
previous iteration--usually flagged as an abarrotes--a type 
of convenience store found every couple of blocks.
We have begun exploring the neighborhood, seeing the sights, and finding tiendas that meet our needs. Many visits have been paid to the local vino y licores store, more for bottled water than the harder stuff. I’ve picked up some aguacates, piñas, tomates, papayas, etc. as my handy spouse has begun easing into meal preparation. We are both tired of eating out.

I had a surprisingly hard time yesterday finding some bread. The local panadería was out, and apologized for that fact. Nowhere else around the plaza had any, and I didn’t want to wait, nor did I feel I could count on, the woman who sometimes sells from the trunk of her car at Colón and Hidalgo. I had seen a bakery just down the block but it sold only dulces. The friendly owner, however, welcomed me to the neighborhood and directed me to a grocery store on the highway, or carretera.
Not something we've seen on our
suburban Seattle streets.

I enjoyed all these peregrinations about the pueblo—the new and foreign sights, trying to make sense of the strangeness and if that was not possible, just appreciating it. I treasured— and hope I will continue to value—each interaction as a chance to create or reciprocate a friendly feeling.

And back home, here at Constitucion 23C, we have reveled in our mornings and evenings on the balcony, with coffee or wine respectively, as we look out over this new land we are beginning to inhabit.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

XVII. Casa de Luz

House of Light

Our Casa de Luz has a balcony overlooking Calle Constitución,
right on the parade route. We imagine morning coffee taken
here as we watch the street come to life.
GRACIAS A DIOS!  Today we sign the lease for the dwelling where we will live for the next year. Tomorrow we move in! In Roma Realty’s online listing it has the bland name of “Smith”, referring to its gringo owner back stateside, or maybe province-side since he might well be Canadian. We're re-naming it Casa de Luz—House of Light.

It has every one of the most important things on last summer’s original wish list: 

La Mestiza is one of two colorful art
galleries directly across the street. 
Location—a block and a half from both the plaza in one direction, and ex-pat’s resource center and gardens in the other. Two blocks from the beautiful lakeside malecón. Check! And it’s on the parade route so we can look down from our balcony (Check!), with an active (but not too) and varied street life. Double check!

Lots of Light—big, arched windows with finely crafted steel window panes fill most of one wall in
Looking into the main room from streetside balcony door
the great room, facing the morning sun. French doors of the same style open north and south onto balconies. Big glass bricks for skylight in the office. Check! Screens for mosquito season. Check again! 

The right size—not too big and not too little, with an extra bathroom and room for guests (!) and office in addition to the usual complement. Check!

Attractive interior and furnishings—It looks great—Smith has good taste! Or, at least, we share the same taste. Check!  (And there are no weird smells)

Good water pressure—we’re talking about showers we can live with, and since our funky—but it has a good garden—hotel is woefully lacking in this regard, I made sure to test Smith. Check!

Workable kitchen came well-equipped; another counter is
off to the right for coffeemaker and food processor. I
can wash dishes and watch the street action.
Workable kitchen—A big check here. The classic U-shape with all the mod-cons, plentiful cupboards and tiled counter. New combo washer/dryer in the corner and its own little french door to the front balcony. Double check!!

Anyway, the important thing is that as soon as we walked in past the winding garden path, sculptures and wall mural, we knew it was right. 

Eduardo, our friendly rental agent, has been dealing the past couple of days with the money-grubbing Smith who wanted more than the original listing price (?!). There was a hairy period there while we waited through negotiations, ending with a little give and a little take. We’re still within budget of 1/4 of our monthly income for the rent plus utilities.

LESSON: We made a list of what we wanted, what our budget was, and we stuck to it. We followed the rental market for nearly a year online and developed lines of communication with several rental agents, so we knew what was available. We came to realize, however, that no deal was going down until we had our sandals on the ground.

Now, it’s off—like Don Quixote—to deal with our customs snafu, and see what lesson we can draw from that experience.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

XVI. ¡Ay, Caramba!

"Hoppy", whom we hope will bring us welcome emails. I
purchased him this morning on a trip across the plaza for
coffee. I assume he was made by the woebegone fellow
I bought himfrom for 20 pesos, about $1.50.
Bugger All!

Yesterday we were on top of the world. Today, not so much.

Yesterday we saw the sweet little casa that checked every box on our wish list. It was (is?) available, and our good-humored young rental agent says he went to bat for us with the owner. Now, about 30 hours later, the owner hasn’t got back to us about our offer for a long-term rental. So, we put our backup plan into effect and we wait.

Our fallback is not so bad at all. Good location and adequate in every other way. Except, it is only available until October. We’ll take it, if we can, on a monthly basis and hope Smith—Casa Mas Deliciosa’s owner—gets back to us with his approval in good time. We got in touch with backup's rental agent and she’ll show it to us tomorrow morning.

Our backup plan. We're meeting the agent tomorrow morning, and plan to
ask for a day to commit because of the possibility of Casa Mas Deliciosa.
Figure we’re batting about .400 so far, but this is where we hit a rough patch. 

We’d been expecting word about delivery—sometime today—of those two big boxes that we had shipped from Seattle. We had arranged for them to be stored here at our hotel until we could move. While I was in the shower, the front desk got a call for me from Pay-Through-The-Nose Shipping. It was bad news.

Yessica—PTTN’s custom agent in Guadalajara—informed me, after I had scrambled still wet into some clothes, that our boxes had arrived at GDL (as I had figured out by tracking online), but that the list of contents for each box did not have the requisite US Embassy stamp of approval. Say what? Needless to say, this was the first we had heard of this how-in-hell-do-we-get-that? requirement. 

Yessica also told me what PTTN could do, which was, free of charge, return our boxes to our address—where we no longer live!—in the States. Or any other address stateside we would choose. I didn’t choose and told her she would have to keep the boxes for at least a week until I could arrange something. 
Our new Nokia cellphone, muy borato
at $450MX, about $30US.

Yessica said she would call us on Monday, which presented a problem since we don’t have a local phone that might be available then. So, we girded our loins and dropped into the Telcel (Carlos Slim’s business) office just down the block and bought a muy borato cellphone to give us a local number.

Meanwhile, I posted a query on both of the local ex-pat’s webboards (previously cited) about what to do when you're on the horns of this dilemma, and am currently getting spotty advice. Perhaps a customs broker?

In all the meantimes, we’ve rested, mediated, prayed, and affirmed our love. What more can you do?

Monday, May 18, 2015

XV. Desde Antiguo Hogar de Nuevo

From Old Home to New

Awakening the morning of our flight at an impossibly early hour, we had a friendly shuttle driver from the soulless airport hotel to the terminal's passenger dropoff. We humped our luggage onto two $5 carts up to the Alaska counter where the first word was that AeroMexico would only accept one bag each instead of the two that were sitting heavily at our feet. That sweaty contretemps taken care of without explanation, our flight into Guadalajara was uneventful.

Inmigración at GDL was a breeze! Upon seeing our temporary residence visas the engaging agent exclaimed, “We’ve been waiting for you!” Customs—which we had been dreading with our several hundred pounds of stuff in six hefty bags or boxes—was not bad at all. There were plentiful, free baggage carts, and only one other flight was doing its duty. We got the random green light to go through without inspection, and our driver was waiting with one of those he-must-be-important signs announcing my name. 

The porters at GDL all wear uniforms that give them the prosperous and colorful appearance of a combination ranchero and mariachi. Ours was strong, friendly and had great teeth. He seemed pleased with my propina which was less than I paid to rent one baggage cart in the U S of A.

Our driver for the 40 miles (I’ve got to learn the metric equivalents) from the airport to our little village on the lake was not a talkative sort, but I did obtain some animation after I noticed him adjusting the little stuffed comic turtle on the dash. “Tortuga?” I questioned my translation. “Si,” he confirmed. “Cuál es su nombre?” “Tugy,” he answered with a smile; the turtle was his daughter’s.

Happy crowds stroll, sit and gambol about the plaza every Sunday.
We capped a grueling travel day with the ending we were looking for. There was a happy crowd in the plaza across the street from our funky little hotel. Portable loudspeakers vied for musical primacy. Vendors sold all manner of food and trinkets. From several directions we heard the televised sound of an important soccer match, with accompanying cheers. Couples danced around the gazebo to Latin brass, kids gamboled happily about the garden; families, old folks, gringos and locals sat or strolled and chatted and ate. 

We had the local version of a Cubana sandwich (pulled pork on top of hamburger on top of a split hot dog wrapped in bacon squished between melted cheese on large Bimbo buns with the works), with cervezas and margaritas. Then it was back to our colorful but most-things-electrical-on-the-blink room to battle that too-tired-to-sleep feeling and the aftermath of over indulgence. Buenas noches y gracias a Dios!

Friday, May 15, 2015

XIV. Más? Sí, Hay Más.

More? Yes, There's More

All morning and into yesterday afternoon, was a time of noxious fumes and harsh chemical cleaners, hauling trash to the dumpster, and making new, more meaningful, piles of what we will keep. The main thing, though, was preparing for inspection by the crazy landlady.

We try to always leave our house or apartment cleaner than when we first moved in. But it seems to never quite be up to what we like to think of as our standards; there's always some little thing not completely scrubbed. 

Really sweet shipping guy, Steve
Everything, though, was pretty much spick and span when the fellow from Pay-Through-The-Nose Shipping arrived to hand truck two 75 pound boxes out the front door. See you in Mexico, kitchenware, linens and tools. 

Hard on his heels was a colleague from work who had come to remove our remaining furnishings, including the futon which did admirable duty for two nights as our bed. This saved us the hassle of sale or disposal, and she got some decent furniture for free. 

Only minutes after saying goodbye to our friend and former workmate, The Odd One arrived and we were pleased that the inspection went painlessly and we got a complete refund of our damage deposit.

Empty. Clean.
We were then pretty much left with only our increasingly manageable baggage for the plane. We laid everything out on the faux marble floor, and as each suitcase, bag, or box was provisionally packed, I’d hop on the scale, weigh myself, and then pick up the luggage and take the combined weight. We were aiming at 50 pounds max, after which the airlines tack on a hefty additional fee. With some exchanges from one bag or box to another, we made it. 

After last night in a local hotel, and one of the best complimentary breakfasts we’ve ever had, we went back to our truly nearly empty apartment and the experience reminded me of what it’s like when you break up with someone with whom you’ve long been intimate—you suddenly are on the other side of being as close as you can be.

All packed on the faux marble floor
So, there’s the emotional thing, and there’s also the exhaustion after yesterday’s adrenalin-fueled push to get out. Today we are having a hard time speaking coherently—as words try to form in our mouth, several different thoughts vie for primacy in our brain. That, and the over-thinking: “Let’s see, do we want to park here or there? If we park here we can get out more easily, but if we park there we don’t have as far to walk, but since you don't really have to get out at all, maybe we—blah blah blah?”

One more night in the local hotel, and tomorrow Sweet Second Daughter will arrive to follow us to Money Saver Mini-Storage where Eddie, the faithful Hyundai, will be parked for the nonce. Then onward for a final hotel stay near the airport whence we depart early Sunday morning.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

XIII. Casi en el Posado

Almost in the Past

No caption needed here.
Last night we slept half in the middle of our nearly empty living room's cool faux marble floor, on a futon. Our muslin-covered easy chair hunkered in the corner--the only other furniture in the room. A pile of boxes off to the side. Echoes. No curtains, bare walls on which a bar of streetlight slanted through the blinds of a different window.

Tonight it will be more of the same. It's our last night at home--the next three we'll be spending in local hotels. We feel tense about what is coming up. Uncharacteristically crabby with each other.

Today, first daughter and I chatted and shared a final visit before the move, while Eddie, our Hyundai, was bled, cleaned, filled and lubed at the Grease Monkey in Ballard, the Seattle neighborhood where we used to live. Daughter and I hugged goodbye at her favorite coffee bar.

Two hundred years ago around here the natives lived in cedar longhouses and followed food you hunt and gather. Then the Swedes came to fish and build sawmills. Then we came here and grew up, and now we're moving to Mexico.

As I lie tonight under our familiar duvet on the unfamiliar futon, it registers in my mind that in just four nights we will be laying our heads on a pillow in Ajijic. My mind retreats from this thought--it is too much of a change to fathom.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

XII. ¡Dios mío!

My God!

Gallo de estaño (tin rooster, center right) has been charged with watching
over things here in the jam-packed 5'X10' storage locker.
Regarding the move today: Oy vey! At least it all fit!

Our next door neighbor, The Young Man, was a brick—shouldering 60 pound chests on his shoulder, and following my directions carefully. The well-planned maneuver went without a hitch...well, almost. The mattress, on its side, occupied more space—due to gravity—than it did when lying flat. This occasioned a little shuffling.

All these belongings, which were—until yesterday—the comfortable and comforting material of our life, will be stored in this anonymous steel locker for the next 12 months. We hope it all bides the time well.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

XI. No Más!

In the Staging Area: about one-third of everything we'll put in 
storage. This is nearly everything that will go on top of the 
chest, bookshelf, desk, and dresser. And that's about it!
No More!

We’re in the final final FINAL days of getting rid of, organizing, and packing, and we had a setback this past week when sweet suffering spouse endured a health problem and the side effects of some serious antibiotics. And then we lost our internet connection for nearly four days.

The question is: What will we take with us on the plane to Guadalajara? That trip is only eight--now, seven--days away, and the question is still up in the air. 

It will cost nearly $1000 to ship four boxes. That sticker shock led us to seek alternatives. 

We figure we can cut back to three big boxes, and we can check one or two of them as excess baggage on our flight. That would halve the cost. But that leads us to the question of how much hassle it would be for us to wrangle 4 or 5 pieces of luggage each (plus carry-on) through airports in two countries, plus customs. Add to that getting it all on and off the rides to and from the airports, the latter about 40 miles from GDL to Ajijic, in a foreign land.

My perfect desk: four sturdy
pieces with a work surface 
of 32"X54".
It can be done, but at what price to sanity? "Plan ahead, be scrupulous and relax," is the best advice I’ve been given, on one or another of El Rinconcito’s gringo webboards. We’ve been frequenting these online forums lately, asking questions as they come up, and getting mostly good counsel (Where to schedule reliable airport transportation? Luis y Francisco Miramontes, por seguro), along with the few inevitable busybody postings that allow bustylady2 and 66leadmetowater to spout off and show how much they know.

As far as today goes, my balls-to-the-wall wifey, who’s storming through the kitchen now—driving every unattached object before her—was just heard proclaiming, “If it’s not something we’re putting it in our mouths in the next five days, or using to fix something to put in our mouths—it’s history!”

I’m using the same sweep-like-the-hands-of-a-clock strategy in my office. Today is the day I dismantle my well-used Ikea desk. The office is no more; now officially, it's "The Staging Area".

UPDATE: Two days later, and TOMORROWS's the day The Young Man (our well-mannered, weightlifting next door neighbor) and I take bed, desks, chests, dresser and TV (plus all the boxes, totes and et ceteras pictured in the Staging Area, above)—take it all to the outer suburban Money-Saver Mini-Storage, where the moving truck comes free with the locker rental. This means that TODAY is the day for final bubble-wrapping and taping, staging, and prioritizing the truck packing. I've finished most of that; now I'm taking a wee beer break.