Friday, February 25, 2011

Finalimente, una Casa Nueva!

The good news: we have finally found a rental that we are happy with.  The bad news: we have to wait until April 1st to move in.  The new house is in a community called Villa Nova (veeya noba), not far from our original 2007 rental on Rio Zula, an the west end of Ajijic.  This home is in a small condo community of four houses sharing a common garden and pool/barbeque area.  The house is designed to look like a small Italian villa.  It is two stories with a living room, kitchen, dining area, computer nook, and full bath downstairs and two bedrooms and a bath upstairs.  This house is nicely furnished.  Although it is smaller than the house we owned in Ribaras, we can accommodate 4-6 dinner guests (more if we utilize the terrace), and the kitchen is a nice size with granite counter tops and a dishwasher.  There is a back terrace with storage and a washer dryer, and a small, private front terrace with an umbrella table.  The home comes with dishes, linens, etc.  The house has phone, high speed internet, and Canadian satellite TV.  We are especially happy, because the rent ($1000USD/month) includes electricity, phone, Internet, gas, gardener and maid.  All we have to pay is the TV, for $55 a month.  We pay the rental agent the rent and she takes care of all bills and we just call her if anything needs repair.  Stress-free living!  Alas, when we were looking at the property last week, I neglected to take photos.  But I’ll get them and post them as soon as I can.  Now, we just have to sort through all the stuff we’ve accumulated, now boxed up I our casita, and figure out what to bring and what to get rid of, because there is not a huge amount of storage space in this house.

Last week we had the opportunity to house sit for our friends Jeanne and Paul while they went to the beach.  Chuy got to spend the week with his buddy, Curly, and we got to live in their spacious, bright home surrounded by  a beautiful, mature garden.  The house and garden are so lovely, I’ve included some photos so you can see for yourself. 

Sad news this week was the rather unexpected death of a friend and writing colleague, Jim Collums.  Jim was a retired helicopter pilot from Mississippi and Georgia who was also a talented writer, tennis teacher, actor, and dancer.  He was trim, fit, and did not look older than 65, although he was 75.  He had lived here for about eleven years and was well-known for his activities here and he was a friend to many.  He developed a serious kidney infection a couple of weeks ago and, unfortunately, when he finally sought medical help, he was dehydrated and quite sick.  He was transported to a hospital in Guadalajara, and was put in intensive care with blood sepsis.  He hung on for a few days, had a kidney removed, but died last Wednesday.  Hundreds of people, including many of my friends in the writing community, attended a celebration of Jim’s life at a local restaurant-music venue where Jim liked to dance.  We heard many stories about Jim, enjoyed dancing to a wonderful band, then, at sunset, we walked along the lake to the pier, carrying balloons and candles, and had a few short readings as Jim’s ashes were scattered in the lake and we let the balloons go into the sky.  Jim would have appreciated the service.  It was very special.  Here are some photos.

Otherwise, it’s been quiet here as the days are getting warmer with blue skies and lots of sun.  All our winter friends are here, so the traffic is bad, and we’re having full crowds at our fellowship and at our learning seminars at the Lake Chapala society.  I am leading the service at our UU Fellowship on Sunday, and I will be speaking on “Aging and Spirituality.”  Pixie has been recovering from a bad case of bronchitis which has kept her home and resting the past week.  I am getting ready to have some dental work done, and we’re looking forward to moving in another five weeks!  There has been no more of the drug violence in Guadalajara as I reported in the last couple of posts, which is good news.  Life goes on…

Monday, February 14, 2011

Still Searching for Housing

Since returning from Maine, we have been enjoying warmer weather and have accelerated our search for a new rental.  Nothing to report yet, but we have realized that we won’t likely have anything before April 1.  There will be a number of good rentals becoming available by then.  One home, in particular, in an area called Villa Nova, is a house we seriously considered buying in 2007, but decided on the home in Riberas instead.  The home is now for rent and we will look at it on Wednesday. 

We have been looking mostly lately in what they call here fraccamientos, or communities which share some common space.  Pixie really would like to find a rental with access to a pool, and it’s much more economical to rent in an area which has a common pool space rather than rent a home with a private pool.  Private pools, of course, require chemicals, labor, and extra electricity costs.  So we’ve been looking in these communities.  Here are some random photos we’ve taken of some rentals we’ve looked at:

I will include photos of the house we finally select in a future post. 

We have had a couple of interesting cultural events this week.  For Valentine’s Day, I bought tickets for us to see the Russian State Ballet Company’s performance of Swan Lake.  The performance was here in Ajijic and, although a bit pricey (500 pesos, 40 USD) it was a bargain for such a performance.  I wasn’t sure if it would really live up to its expectations, but it was amazing.  The five principal dancers were all award-winning dancers from the premiere ballet school in Moscow,  and the choreographer was an emeritus dancer form the Bolshoi. We’ve seen a number of professional ballet performances, but none were close to this level of dance.  We were in the second row, which was spectacular.  I wish I had photos to share, but I forgot the camera. 

In another interesting event, our UU Fellowship in partnership with the Jewish Congregation sponsored a simulated dialogue between Jewish scholar, Abraham Heschel, Paul Tillich the Protestant ecumenical theologian and Hans Kung, the controversial Catholic theologian. The three principal characters were played by Lakeside residents otto Rand, Bob Croog, and Don Edwards.  The three wrote the dialogue using actual words the three wrote.  The simulated dialogue was to have taken place in New York City in 1963 during the Vatican II Conference initiated by Pope John XXIII.  The three controversial clerics discussed such topics as the civil rights struggle of Martin Luther King Jr., the effort to bring religions together to work for social change, and the presidency of JFK.  Here is a photo of (from left) Rand, Croog, and Edwards:

I think I need to address, again, the issue of drug cartel violence in this area.  Several of you have expressed concern about this development and our safety.  It is certainly true that the drug-related violence has spread into Guadalajara.  Since my last post which  mentioned the road blockades, an attack was made on a bar frequented by young people in Guadalajara.  The perpetrators, sprayed the bar with gunfire and then threw a grenade into the bar before fleeing in  taxi.  The result was six dead and thirty some injuries.  This attack was covered in the US press.  Here is a link to a reuters article about this latest violence:

What I need to stress is that this violence has not spread to the Lake Chapala area.  Although there have been a few, isolated attacks on police officers here at lakeside, no Americans, Canadians, or innocent Mexicans have been attacked.  I think the situation is analogous to living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and avoiding driving into some areas of Detroit, or parts of many other US cities for that matter.  People here are avoiding driving into Guadalajara unnecessarily, especially at night, but people here do not feel unsafe.  We are obviously paying attention.  If things should escalate in a way that makes us feel unsafe, we could, and many likely would, leave and return to the US or Canada.  It is certainly not at that point now.  I will continue to update the situation on this blog.  When I started this in 2007, I promised to discuss both the benefits, and challenges, of living here, and I will continue to do this. 

Here’s a few more photos of life here today: 


Friday, February 4, 2011

Changing Housing Situation

After a snowy, cold trip north to Maine and Indiana, we are now back home in Ajijic, in our small Mexican casa (this is a photo of the little guy atop our roof), ready to crank up the search for more suitable digs.   However, as we have been meeting with rental agents this week, we have been discovering that the entire housing economy here has changed.

People are no longer buying houses in large numbers.  Perhaps this is because they cannot sell their homes in the US, or perhaps it is because they don’t want to make the long term commitment to home-ownership at this stage of their lives.  Whatever the reason, the bottom seems to be dropping out of the housing market here, both in terms of price and in terms of finding a buyer at all.  We were very lucky to sell our home so quickly in Riberas where, it seems, half the houses are for sale.  I spoke to a friend the other day at the outdoor market who was a neighbor of ours in Riberas, who has had his house on the market since last spring.  He was despairing that he hasn’t even had any one look at his house since November.  He mentioned that he is beginning to feel trapped here, since he is hoping to move back to Texas to be closer to his family.  On the other hand, for those looking to buy property here, bargains are easy to find.  Some people are desperate to sell and will accept low offers.  This is all much different than the situation we were in four short years ago, when we got here. 

The rental market has changed as well.  We have been able to look at very few rentals available before April.  We were hoping to be out of this place by March, but it’s increasingly looking as though we’ll be here longer.   More people are renting and not buying which puts more pressure on the rental market.  Plus, the winter people are here through March, so there just isn’t much out there now.  Even people who want to guarantee a rental for next winter are having problems; landlords are reluctant to have their houses vacant over the summer when they might be able to get long term rent income. 

Another concern which is becoming increasingly worrisome is the level of drug-related violence in this area.  Here at Lakeside, there have been several incidents during the last year, although all have been very targeted on law-enforcement officials or drug dealers themselves.  In Guadalajara, however, there have been a series of incidents where drug cartels have stopped buses and other vehicles with gunfire, escorted the passengers off the vehicles, and set the vehicles on fire.  The increasing violence in Guadalajara has caused the US Consulate to issue warnings for US citizens advising people to avoid making trips to Guadalajara at night, at least for now.  It is interesting how people are reacting to the reports of increased violence.  While many are concerned and paying attention to these reports, many I have spoken to deny the truth of these reports altogether.  I think there is a tendency of people to be in denial about any danger here because they don’t want to consider it.  The increase in violence is not affecting us here directly, but I think it would be foolish not to be concerned about Mexico’s apparent inability to control this violence.  It has definitely increased and occurred closer to home since we’ve been here.  For those of you considering relocating here, here is a link to a site which exists to keep people informed about the crime occurring here:

Nevertheless, life goes on.  Fred Harland and I are in the midst of conducting weekly learning seminars at the Lake Chapala Society.  Here is a photo of Fred and I last week, and one of me leading the session on world poverty. 

As we look at houses to rent, I’ll be bringing my camera to take some photos and sharing them on the blog.  It’s interesting to see the inside of these houses, and I think some of you might be interested on seeing these homes.   Not many photos this week, but I have a few more.

Here are  photos of Pixie working in the kitchen with Chuy keeping a lookout by the door to our terrace, in his little bed.  He likes being near us, whatever we’re doing.  

Here is one of Pixie with Marylin, her fellow ESL teacher for Mexican children at the orphanage: 

 I was glad to return to find that fresh figs were again in season.  Hard to find these in Maine!

And, finally, I can’t resist a few extra photos of our granddaughter, Isabelle: