Category Archives: #Mexico

San Miguel de Allende

It is estimated that nearly one million expats live in Mexico, and the most popular places in order of total number of expats are the Lake Chapala area, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, Merida, Los Cabos, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, and Cancún. San Miguel de Allende has as many as 10,000 expats living here full-time or part-time in this municipal area of roughly 150,000 people. So, there are a lot of gringos in this area … and that’s not counting all the other gringos (like me) who pour into this area as tourists. I have never in my life seen so many trinket shops and stalls selling a lot of the crap that ends up in thrift stores all across America. To be fair, there are also a lot of vendors who are selling nicer Mexican products such as pewter pieces, pottery, leather goods, clothing, etc.

I own a lot in an over 55 community in Phoenix, and many of my fellow owners are snowbirds from the Midwest, Northwest, and Northern parts of the U.S. Not to over-generalize and be too stereotypical, but many of these retiree snowbirds look and dress alike. However, here in San Miguel de Allende there is an abundance of retired expats who don’t fit the mold, such as people wearing flowing and colorful clothing, long gray hair in pony tails, uncoventional piercings in various parts of the body, and tattoos … many tattoos. I guess that anyone who decides to live in another country is already living outside the box, so I am not surprised by the people I see. I almost feel not hip enough, and I even have a #1 buzz cut. Today I paid Sonja the barber 40 pesos plus a 10 peso tip (approximately $2.80) for a fresh new buzz cut, but maybe I should have asked her to cut some designs into my buzz to make me look more cool. Oh well, I will only be here another 2 weeks so maybe I can escape before my fellow expats think I’m a little nerdy.

I’ve only been here a week, so I should wait before I give this place my final assessment. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that I would pick this place to retire. The nearest airport is at least an hour away, and Mexico City’s airport is 3.5 hours away. The topography in this area is kind of boring and barren. Some things are a bargain (like my haircut), but many other things are not. Yeah, there are a lot of fancy restaurants that cater to expats and tourists, but you also pay U.S prices. The local golf course looks pretty nice, but green fees during the week are $60 and over $100 on the weekends. I walked by a newly remodeled 3 bedroom condo in the center of town today, and I persuaded the contruction dudes to let me look around inside; on the way out I saw the real estate posting on the window indicating that the price had been lowered to $550,000 … that’s U.S. dollars, not Mexican pesos. You can find all the yoga classes, massages, reiki, and various other pamperings that you desire, but again you are paying roughly what you’d pay in the U.S. One of my primary reasons for planning to live abroad is to significantly lower my cost of living (particularly health insurance), but I don’t think that is possible here in San Miguel de Allende. I do, however, plan to get me another $2.80 haircut before I leave town.

Life is Good

I’m sitting in a river, resting against a large smooth rock that slants away from the water. It’s as if I am sitting in nature’s recliner.

This morning I took a bus from Puerto Vallarta to Boca de Tomatlan, and then took a water taxi to a small isolated village named Quimixto. There are no roads that lead here.

The water taxi is like a small fishing boat that ferries people and supplies back and forth, three of us plus the driver were on this voyage.

After walking down a small cobblestone path through the village, the path ended at the river. I guess you could call it a river, maybe stream would be a better description. The stream is about 40 yards wide and about 2 feet deep at it’s deepest. You can easily wade through the stream from one bank to the other.

Plush green trees reach out from the banks across the water, the kind of trees that you would find in the jungles of Mexico. Indeed, panthers, boars, and other wild animals live in these parts. Mountains rise on both sides of the stream, evidently this stream was more like a river at some point and cut a path through the mountains.

Birds sit high in the trees, and then swoop down from their perch to land in the stream and snag fish and whatever else they eat for breakfast. They also burrow their beaks into the sand to find snacks.

Donkeys and horses also share this stream, wandering into it occasionally for a drink.

About 20 yards in front of me are 2 small pigs that are held in a makeshift pen made of plastic netting. Behind the pigs is a large rock wall, and the pen is completed shaded. A little while ago I was startled by splashing water over my shoulder, the owner of the pigs was wading across the stream to give them some breakfast.

I can hear a symphony of sounds, pigs snorting, horse whinnies, a donkey’s heaonky, all sorts of bird sounds such as squawking, chirping, hooting, and singing. And the sound of the water, there`s nothing quite like the sound of water flowing gently downstream cascading over rocks.

It`s about 9:00 A.M. and the sun is shining brightly overhead and warmly on my back. The temperature is pleasant now, but will rise to above 90 degrees today.

My butt is in the stream, I’m leaning back against the rock, I have a rolled-up shirt for a pillow, a pad in my lap, and a pen in my hand.

Life is good.

I wish that I could pass away right here, and then be ushered into the loving presence of God forever. Is there something wrong with that wish?

Of course, when they got the news my wife would be sad, my family and friends would be sad, there would funeral arrangements to be made, a settling of my estate (“Do you want some of Keith`s tools? I will not need them.”), and maybe a big yard sale to liquidate the rest (I hope that there are bargains galore). But before too long, everyone would go on with their lives.

God alone knows the time and manner of our passing. So while we are alive, let’s leave something good behind.

A smile, a meal, a handshake, wise counsel, safety, shelter, a hug, financial assistance, expertise, companionship, instruction, a kiss, laughter, health, clean water, shade, words of encouragement, and whatever else we feel inspired by God to be and do.

Child Parents

The Bible teaches us not to give in order to be seen by others, that giving is best done in secret. For if you give to be seen by others, you have received your reward already … that is, your return is the adulation and reputation that others assign to you. However, God is all-knowing and everywhere-present, and when you give in secret, God is the one who will reward you.

On my bus ride to the orphanage today we stopped to allow a young couple with their baby to board. The mom started to sit next to me in the second row, but then a lady in the front row moved over so that the mom could sit next to her. The dad sat next to me, and fiddled with a baby bottle.

I was stunned at how young they were. I looked at the mom, then looked at the dad, glanced back at the mom, then glanced back at the dad. I did not want to stare, but I had never seen anything like it, and I was trying to get a read on their ages.

I would be surprised if they are teenagers yet.

12 years old! Parents! I can hardly believe it. Of course, I have no way of knowing their actual ages, but I am convinced that neither of them was 14, and when I considered 13 I thought to myself, “I really don`t think that they are even 13 years old.” I had no idea you could even spawn offspring at that age.

I still had money that my friends had given me to give away, and I had to act quickly because my exit was coming up. Mostly I had been giving away 10 peso coins, but I thought I should give this young couple one of the 20 peso bills in my wallet. And then I felt a pang in my heart, 20 pesos was not enough. So I pulled a second 20 peso bill out of my pocket, and thought that 40 pesos would be a nice surprise for them … yep, 40 pesos, that will be plenty … hmmm. My exit was in sight, and we were about to stop, but my heart was still panging. It became clear to me, 3 bills for 3 people – dad, mom, and baby – and I grabbed the third 20 peso bill I was carrying and tried to hand it to the dad who had stood up to let me out. At first he refused, but I insisted and he reluctantly accepted. I bounded off the bus and was gone.

Boy did that feel good!

But alas, 60 pesos is only about $5 measly U.S. dollars. I’m not sure why I was hesitating. If there is any consolation, 60 pesos is probably a fair amount to a 12 year old Mexican.

The Bible also talks about giving G-E-N-E-R-O-U-S-L-Y, and that is not an easy thing to do. But if we can become generous givers, the Bible indicates that the return grows at least proportionately. To paraphrase, “Give, and it shall be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, it will spill into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Who knows what that return might look like, but the return is a promise from God.

Puerto Vallarta

Airplanes, backpacks, bars, beer, bicycles, birds, black hair, blue, blue sky, breezes, bricks, brown skin, busses, cameras, cars, Catholics, cats, cell phones, cement, chairs, cheese, children, chocolate, cigars, clouds, cobblestone, Coca-Cola, coffee, computers, condos, construction, Corona, Costco, crosses, debris, dogs, drivers, exhaust fumes, fish, flowers, food, for rent signs, fruit, garbage, God, green, hats, honking, horns, ice cream, Jesus, jewelry, luggage, magazines, massages, motorcycles, mustaches, newspapers, Nissan, noises, odors, old, orange, orphans, palm trees, people, pesos, police, poor, purple, rain, rainbow, red, rental cars, restaurants, rich, rocks, rust, sand, sandals, shade, signs, shorts, skin, smoothies, snacks, Spanish, stone, stores, students, sun, sunglasses, sweat, swimsuits, tacos, talking, tans, taxis, tequila, tires, tools, tourists, Toyota, traffic, trash, trucks, t-shirts, turns, vendors, Virgin Mary, volunteers, waiting, walkers, water, waves, wind, yellow, young, zapatos.

Public Transportation in Mexico

I thought old town Puerto Vallarta woke up earlier in the morning, but when I headed out today at 6:45 A.M. the streets were still dark and not many people were out. I walked about 3 blocks until I found a street where 3 busses sat idling, and then approached the bus drivers standing on the corner. I uttered the magic word “Wal-Mart,” and one of the drivers pointed to his bus and said “Un momento” (one minute).

When you enter the bus you hand your pesos to the driver, there is no fancy coin machine that processes your bus fare. The driver stacks your coins neatly in the wooden box to their right.

The seats are hard plastic, which you really feel bouncing across the cobblestone streets of old town. And if you happen to hit a pothole while sitting in the back of the bus, it’s almost enough to knock a tooth filling out.

This bus is like most of the others in town, it is quite old and does not have any air conditioning. It comes to a screeching halt every time it stops, however I could tell by the sound of the engine, and by the way the driver moved smoothly through the gears, that this bus was well maintained.

I had assumed that this was one of the busses that would take a direct route from old town to Wal-Mart, but when he took off he drove through the tunnel and headed out into the burrows that surround the town. When I had boarded the bus there were 2 of us, but gradually we started picking up more passengers, so I moved over to the window seat. We kept stopping so that more and more people could get on. Then the driver asked those standing in the aisle to scrunch to the back of the bus, and more people got on. We were packed in there like sardines, the aisle was completely full all the way down to the last step with the door open. Then he stopped again and let still more people on … and I was the only gringo. When we finally got to the Wal-Mart I expected the bus to empty, but only a few people got off and then the bus started filling up again. I had to squeeze past my seat-mate, then squeeze down the aisle, and finally squeeze down the steps sideways until I popped out.

So here I was at the Wal-Mart, but I still did not know how to get to the orphanage. Bus maps are hard to read in Spanish, plus I am not at all familiar with this end of town. So I decided that the prudent thing to do was approach the taxi sitting there at the bus stop. I showed the driver the address of my destination, and asked “Cuanto cuesta?” (How much?). He said “50 pesos,” and I jumped in. I thought that was a pretty good deal, for about $4 he took me the rest of the way and dropped me off at the gate of the orphanage.

I arrived at the orphanage around 8:15 A.M., and walked up to the door, where I found a man standing and waiting to get in. I asked him, “Usted trabaja aqui? (Do you work here?). He said “Si,” and then said a bunch more that I did not understand. But he motioned to a door on the other side of the building and said something about “diez horas,” which I understood to mean that I should return at 10:00 A.M.

There is a wide alley, probably about 30 yards wide by 100 yards long, which leads from the street to the orphanage compound. And within that alley there is a makeshift “restaurant” (there are lots of those in PV), with a plastic canopy overhead and plastic chairs at card tables. I sat down and the chef immediately wiped off my table, and then placed several plastic bowls on the table before covering them with a towel. There’s no menu, but I figured out that we were having meat tacos for breakfast. A few other patrons showed up, and we waited together for the “carne” (meat) to cook. When she brought my meat taco to the table, she removed the towel that was covering the plastic bowls … each bowl had something different in it, pico de gallo, spicy carrots, marinated cucumbers, hot sauce, etc. All that for a mere 9 pesos (about 75 cents), so after I ate I gave her a 20 peso bill and said “gracias” before walking down the street to find something to do for the next hour and a half.

When I returned at 10:00 AM the door I expected to be open was still closed, and all the other doors were closed as well. I was a little surprised by that since many people in PV leave both their doors and windows open … you can be walking down the sidewalk in old town and practically be in the living room of some of the residents who are sitting just inside. I finally found a doorbell, and was greeted by a Spanish-speaking member of the kitchen staff. I could not pull any Spanish out of me that made sense to her, so I showed her a copy of the email I received from a specific person on staff. She recognized the name, and walked me through the kitchen and led me to Aurora.

When I entered the room, Aurora was surrounded by about 5 kids standing next to her looking over her shoulder. Another 5 were sitting at the table watching what she was writing on the pad, and about 10 more kids were sitting at tables working on their lessons. She said “Hola,” but did not remember that I had (1) corresponded with her, or (2) planned to be there that day. She asked me to wait for a bit (the second time that day I heard “un momento”), and so I just kind of milled around the room for awhile. Then the kitchen staff person brought me a phone and said something about “Hablas Ingles” (speak English), and I felt relieved to be able to explain why I was there. I spoke with a very nice lady who asked if I could return tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. and spend at least 2 hours visiting. I told her I would be happy to return.

Then I started the long journey back to old town, this time all the way by bus. When I finally got back to my room around Noon, I felt like I had been beat up. It was good for me to experience firsthand what many of the working class in PV experience on a daily basis, the daily commute on public transportation to support the tourism industry.