Saturday, March 20, 2010

The South Side of Lake Chapala

Well, you never know what's going to pop up around here. I found this flier advertising a concert by William Faulkner! Although the famous author is long dead, Sr. Faulkner is apparently a Mexican harpist who can command almost $20 a pop for his concerts here at lakeside. I imagine he charges less in other venues.

We will be returning to Maine again this summer, but flying, not driving this year. We will be staying in a condo in Kennebunk owned by Marc and Beth Ayotte, friends of ours from our Unitarian Universalist church in Auburn. We have found some excellent house sitters form Colorado, who will be staying at our home when we leave, and watching Chuy for us.

We have some friends from Kennebunk who are staying here for the winter, Jean and Ron. They are staying at a B&B helping the owner, Cathy, also from Maine, manage the place. Last Sunday, we went with Ron and Jean around the lake to check some of the villages on the south side, where few gringos live and the villages are unspoiled. The people here live as they have for generations, often depending on fishing for their livelihood. So we took off, driving west through Jocotepec, through the huge raspberry fields, first arriving at the small village of San Cristobal. Most Mexican villages are pretty similar, with a church, a central plaza, and many tiendas, or shops, filling the surrounding streets. Here are some photos of San Cristobal (Note the man mending his fishing net in the bottom, left photo):

The main attraction for us was the small fishing village of Petatan, about 60 miles from Ajijic, just over the border in the State of Michoacan. This little village is particularly known for the small fish,
charals which are roasted and sold in small stands in Chapala. People buy large numbers of the small fish and chomp them down. They are very popular with the Guadalajarans who come to visit the lake in large numbers on weekends and holidays. Here is a shot of how they dry the fish to prepare them for sale:

But, for us, the biggest attraction of the village was the gathering of white pelicans who gather in large numbers.This is no coincidence, since several fish factories in Petatan regularly throw their fish scraps back into the lake, and the Pelicans have figured this out. So whereas we see a few pelicans near Chapala, there are literally thousands which congregate on the south side of the lake. They will be leaving soon for their summer habitat in Canada, so we needed to get over there to see them soon.

We made two special friends while we were there, Lupita and Emma. These young girls know that the gringos who show up occasionally love to see the pelicans feed, and we were no exception. So when they saw us, they came running out with buckets of fish scraps and asked us if we wanted to see them feed the fish. They put on quite a show, and we gave them each a 10 peso tip, which they had likely been hoping for.

Petatan is a lovely little village, although clearly with more poverty than we see on the north side of the lake. After viewing the pelicans, we were walking around the village, and Jean was looking for a bathroom. When she stopped to ask a woman where she could find one, the woman, without hesitation, took her by the hand and led her into her house to use
her bathroom. Typical Mexican hospitality again. Here are some photos of the village:

So, it was a fun trip. We will be sad to see Jean and Ron depart next week, but we plan to see them this summer in Maine. Here are photos of us at the end of a long day. Note the village of Petatan is actually on a picturesque peninsula visible over my left shoulder.

Our daughter, Cassie, who never made it here for Christmas because of the snow in Boston, will arrive later today for a long-deserved Mexican holiday. We are very excited about her arrival, and I will be posting photos of her in my next entry.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reunion With Good Maine Friends

When you give up your former life, sell your house, rid yourself of a lifetime of possessions and move south-of-the-border to a land which many Americans consider primitive, dangerous, and hot, your friends and family, although they may still love you, may think you've lost your mind. Many people say they will come and visit you, but, for a variety of good reasons, many do not. A few do.

Well, we just had a wonderful visit from our friends Doug Moore and Kathy Vezina. Pixie and I were friends with Doug and Kathy because we were all in a wonderful "Gourmet Dinner Club" back in Maine with them and two other couples, Marlene Groman and Elliott Levy, and Betty and Gene Fuller. We would plan dinners at each of our homes, around an ethnic theme, and we'd all share in the preparation. This went on for several years, until Marlene and Elliott moved to South Carolina and Pixie and I moved to Mexico. Last summer, in Maine, we were planning a reunion, but my medical problems foiled the plan. We saw everyone, but separately. We were delighted when Doug and Kathy decided to come visit us in our Mexican home.

Kathy and Marlene are horse officianados. We were able to take Kathy and Doug to a "horse dancing" event here in Ajijic last weekend. The horses are trained to dance to the music. Here are a couple of photos:

We went into Guadalajara to visit the colonial district, saw the cathedral and the beautiful central plazas, and ended the day with a visit to the Mercado Liberdad, reportedly the largest market of its kind in Latin America. We enjoyed some wonderful, authentic Mexican dishes and various restaurants and relaxed around the house. Kathy came with me when I taught my English class and participated along with my two students. She accompanied me to the writers' group on Friday and was pleased with some of the readings that day. All in all, we had a relaxing and interesting time, and we very much appreciated their visit.

One of the reasons our visit with kathy and Doug was so delightful was that the unseasonably cool, wet weather has now ended. We generally do get some cool weather in December and January, but the cold, humid air was particularly uncomfortable this year and lasted into February. Remember, the houses here are made of cement and they are drafty. So, when it's 50 degrees outside, it's 50 degrees inside your house as well. Normally we don't get that much of this weather, but this year we certainly did. Global climate change?

Now, back to the Geo-Mexico book, see if you can answer these questions:

1. Where does Mexico rank in GDP in world economies? (Hint: the US and China are number 1 and 2).

2. How does Mexico rank in number of foreign tourists? (France, Spain and the US are numbers 1, 2, and 3)

3. What are the three most populous cities in Mexico?

4. How does Mexico rank in terms of crime?

5. What percentage of Mexicans are Roman Catholic?

6. What is the literacy rate in Mexico?

Here are the answers, according to the Geo-Mexico book. Some of these answers may surprise you.

1. Mexico ranks eleventh in total GDP, just below Russia, France, Brazil and Italy, and just above Spain, Canada, and South Korea.

2. Mexico ranks 10th in number of tourists, just below Germany, Ukrane, and Turkey, and just above Malaysia, Austria, and Russia.

3. Mexico City (almost 20 million), Guadalajara (4.36 million), and Monterrey (3.98 million). But Monterrey is expected to exceed Guadalajara in population by 2030.

4. Mexico has a lower crime rate per 1000 people than (in order): US (86), UK (82), South Africa (80), Canada (77), South Korea (32), Russia (20), or Japan (19). Mexico's crime rate is 14 per 1000 people. This is surprising considering the media focus on drug-related crime in Mexico.

5. Eighty-eight percent are Catholic, down from 96% in 1970.

6. Ninety one percent of all Mexicans are literate, but only 67.3% of indigenous people are able to read.

One last photo. The white pelicans are here in force at Lake Chapala but, like the Monarchs, will soon depart for Canada. Here is a wonderful photo, provided by Susan and Steve Barr, of the pelicans flocking on the south side of the lake as fisherman throw their scraps into the lake for them:

One final note, several people have expressed concern about my health since my problems last summer. I am pleased to report that I am feeling fine with no serious after-effects from my head injury, other than my loss of smell and some hearing loss in my right ear. My blood clotting problem is being addressed nicely by my Coumadin anti coagulation therapy. However, Pixie reports that I still don't listen as well as I should, I play the television too loud, and I am as absent-minded as ever!