lake Chapala & Ajijic 2006 road trip
For those of you following my little adventure, better known as "Brown's off in the ditch again" - here is the latest from Mexico. I made this trip for two reasons, to confirm what I already thought I knew - that I was going to move down to Lake Chapala, MX around first of year, and mainly to take the noise levels down a couple of notches from friends and family who all think I'm nuts for considering this. I figured if I go down and come back smiling they'll accept - it right? - well, not totally, but here's the story.
I headed down on the 7th and did pretty well, being out of the habit of traveling and especially international, it was a "trip". The flights were uneventful but as we approached Guadalajara (GDL) the steward handed out visa forms for our FMT's. I filled the first one and then the first tope (speed bump) appeared, the second form was totally in Spanish? - so I asked the steward, who was Mexican, and he waved his hands saying something about, don't worry, it depends on who's working, usually they don't even need it! - really? - this should be exciting. The incoming Customs is pretty much a cattle car operation. So, when I got to the guy he took my passport and form and asked for another form, one the steward hadn't given us. Ok, fill it out, get it stamped, get my bag and find Ron, the guy who was picking me up.
Ajijic is about 35 miles south of GDL and a nice drive, and Ron was a great tour guide. The hotel is at the end of Donato Gurerra street next to the lake. The streets are very narrow and made of cobblestones, and occasionally a cobble "boulder" with appropriate potholes interspersed. This is NOT the place for my Lincoln, although I did see one down there. The hotel is only a few years old, but built to be a quintessential small Mexican hotel. I got the best room of all, #305 on the 3rd floor corner, so I looked at the lake and the town and best of all I overlooked La Tasca restaurant across the street which has lots of live music which was absolutely great. I hauled my bags up to the room; elevator? cu? es ?e? - no.
This area is a mile high and so moderate they don't put heating or AC systems in houses, basically it's an indoor/outdoor living place. So, the hotel lobby and "hallways" or galleries are open to the outside, birds come, birds go - as birds are known to do. The 3rd floor where my room was opened onto the roof or mirador which had lots of plants and flowers and chairs and tables. It turned out that this was where I could connect to the wireless Internet, the signal in my room wasn't strong enough, or I could go to the 2nd floor computer room.
PS: all the pics are reduced from
original size, click on them to enlarge, but if you want even larger, let
me know the number and I'll send it, I'm using
http://360west.com/images/P0003516.JPG for my desktop, I think it's my
favorite of all the pics, it's "me" - different from all around me, always
have been, always will be - and people are surprised I'm moving to MX?
Sunday night seems to be a party
night, although Sept 16th is they're July 4th and they party all month,
but Sunday afternoon the cars and kids began gathering along the lakeshore
below the hotel over to the old pier which is about 3-4 blocks. At about 7
I decided to take a walk and by that time there were probably 150 cars and
maybe 500 Mexicans with every other car playing a radio/CD etc. with doors
and trunk open at max volume. I put on my best Texas swagger and walked
down among them like I belonged and never felt the least bit out of place,
other than being about 3 times as old as some or most of them. People I
met said they never worried about walking the streets at night. Now, like
any place, take your brains with you, but this sure wasn't a problem.
Here's a funny out of sequence
side story: The guy who drove me to the airport was named Carlos Zotos. As
we were driving I asked him Carlos, does it snow here? - no. Carlos, does
it hail here? - no. Carlos, do you have tornados here? - no. Carlos, do
you have earthquakes here? - no. Carlos, do you have hurricanes here? - no. I
said, Carlos, this is the most boring weather place I've ever seen - he
laughed, then said that about 2 1/2 hours away was a volcano where you can
eat at a restaurant and watch it shoot up smoke and fire etc. - I said I'd
I used the last of my "free" airline miles from traveling years past and at the time I thought it was pretty easy to get a seat (usually they make you beg) on the days I wanted. Later I realized I was flying back on 911 which might have made a difference. But, nothing happened of course and who would hijack a plane from GDL to Houston - except Evil Martinez? However, getting back through Customs in Houston was my final task. First of all at GDL they put you on a bus and haul you out to the plane (it was a small one) and when we got to Houston the same white bus with the same driver was there to meet us - how did they do that? - anyway, get on the bus, they hauled us to what appears to be a new Customs terminal at Continental, it's huge. We had to walk at least half a mile - seriously, and some of it was uphill, although compared to cobblestone it was smooth, but I digress. I was feeling sorry for people with kids etc, then you start the gauntlet; you're herded through the first filter, give them your Customs declaration (1 tee shirt) and then a fair hike over and downstairs to the next filter, the dreaded security check - take off the shoes, put them in a tray, take the laptop out of the case and put it in a tray, then the case goes with the shoes and then you shuffle with 300 other stocking feeted people through the magic arch - if it beeps, you get turned into a frog - or something.
Now, at this point there are experts and rank amateurs all mixed together, so it's a crap shoot. Me, I'm watching and doing the dance as best I can and head into the metal detector and BZZZ - no, not metal, the guy there needs the boarding pass that I left it in the case which is now being irradiated in the Xray machine - so, I went from potential expert in the eyes of those around - to rank amateur in a heartbeat.
Next I'm hiking down through this huge place and a guy says "did you have a bag sir?" - sure, but it's checked to Austin - BZZZ again, it's been unloaded and it has gone, or has to go; unclear at that point, through Customs as well, so back to the carousel and retrieve it and then through another filter, this guy wants the form they stamped at the first stop, can't get out of here without it. A bit further a lady is collecting bags and looking at destination tags and - - - you guessed it, she wants to see the boarding pass and takes the bag. Now, at this point it's obvious to the least astute among us that the boarding pass is the most precious thing you own at this point in your life, without it you ain't squat, so, now, I'm on the road again (might be a song in there).
I had assumed I'd have time to eat in Houston - wrong again, now I'm hiking like crazy to make the Austin connection.
I burst out of the Customs terminal - finally - to find myself in terminal E - I need C-36 and the time is getting short, so I'm moving at max warp through E, to terminal C - what happened to D? - don't know, don't care, through C to the central hub, left and out almost to the end of C at gate 36 as indicated in large print on my precious boarding pass, and I'm on time for boarding.
Now, seriously at this point I would estimate I've walked close to a mile as fast as the old legs go, an older person, or one with kids, would be out of luck, they'd never have made it. But, I'm in good shape even after gosh only knows how many miles on the cobblestones of MX. I look up and it says Birmingham - BIRMINGHAM? - yes, the lady sees my look and says "where to?" - Austin please - "oh, that's changed to C-44" - which is back at the entrance to C where I had just passed - another half mile back - now time is really getting short, so hike hike hike and finally I'm there. So, you finally get on the plane, sit for 30 minutes, you push back and taxi for 25 minutes (I timed it) you fly for 29 minutes (the pilot says so) you taxi another 10 minutes (I timed it) and - - - gee, you're in Austin already. Fortunately good friends George and Karen met me, I'm not sure I'd have made it to my car and home otherwise.
Oh, forgot to mention back at GDL, I checked in and the security screening was a 15 year old kid with spiked hair wearing a plastic glove on his right hand running it down through the suitcase. You could have had a bazooka in there and he would never have found it. Also, his partner who looked much older, maybe 16 looked at my laptop case and, with about as much English as I have Spanish, asked "liquid?" on about the third try I got it and said "no" - he didn't bother to open to confirm.
Now, only having been on the
lower level so far I didn't know if there would be a place to get anything
to eat or drink at the gate, so I checked Burger King, yes, a Whooper,
drink and fries was over $70 - there we go again, and Starbucks, I opted
for a coke. Then when I got upstairs to the International level it was
huge and beautiful, nicer than our Austin airport to be sure and we spent
$175M building it in '99, but I digress, marble floors, shops, restaurants
and boutiques. So, I stopped in Chili's and had one last libation.
Folks, this is NOT the MX we hear about on the news, or from years past, it's not Lake Travis Texas, it's not Lakeway, it's a different place and culture, but so was living near New Orleans in the 60's. If a place has the basic infrastructures, is safe, has a good climate, healthcare etc., then it's what you make of it, and everyone I met without exception was friendly, gracious, accommodating, healthy, happy and loved living there.
Depending on what I find either short term or long term in the way of a Casa or Casita - or Villa, there will be a place for guests at mi casa, y'all come on down (oh, that's something else positive, they don't hate Texans).
Steve & Max the Gato
Main Lake Chapala Page