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Watch this Video from the Expats in Ajijic

Watch this Video from the Expats in Ajijic

Ajijic, Jalisco is a beautiful small town on the edge of gigantic Lake Chapala.  Along with the communities of Chapala and Jocotepec, they are called, collectively Lakeside.  Click here for a video made to show what it’s like to retire in the area.


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The New Kings of Mariachi are all Women

The New Kings of Mariachi are all Women

Flor de Toloache now has a Latin Grammy–nominated album to their name and performs at venues around the world. They’re made up of a diverse, rotating cast of members, with roots in regions including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Australia, Colombia, Germany, Italy and the United States. This multiplicity is abundantly evident in the music itself, which evolved past traditional mariachi to include original songs and covers, textured with influences from genres like salsa, Latin jazz, pop, cumbia, hip-hop and soul.

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The Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara

The Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara

Mexico Cooks! writes a new post about Mexico every Saturday, you really shouldn’t miss reading it…. this week’s is a wonderful history and tour of the Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara. Check it out!

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Learn more about Mexico with Mezcal

Learn more about Mexico with Mezcal


We love mezcal and think you ought to give it a try.  Or at least read about this favorite liquor of Mexico in the NY Times article Go Deeper Into Mexico with Mezcal. 

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Retire to Mexico

Retire to Mexico

Thinking about retiring in México? Perhaps the Lake Chapala area would be a good place to start.

If you are looking for a retirement destination abroad that is easy on the wallet, and still reasonably close to the U.S. or Canada, then Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico is worth considering. The largest North American retirement community in the world, Lake Chapala is a thousand miles due south of Phoenix, Arizona, and would be a great starting point for learning about retiring in a foreign country. Read more…

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Skater Elvis Stojko on life in México

Skater Elvis Stojko on life in México

Skater Elvis Stojko retired from skating to live the good life in sunny Ajijic, México. The Toronto Sun profiled him recently, and we think you’ll enjoy reading about his new life in México.

A quote from the article:

“But that’s a sore point with Stojko, the fact that people outside of Mexico seem to have a perception that the entire country is dangerous and that there’s crime lurking behind every corner.

He insists that is overblown and that, other than in a few areas, it’s just as safe or dangerous as some places in the U.S”.

Read the Toronto Sun’s Stojko jumps from the spotlight.

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A family visits México for the first time

A family visits México for the first time

We’ve just discovered the blog The Changelog as the family recently visited México for the first time. If you’ve been wondering about whether a trip to México is right for your family, you’ll enjoy these posts:

Mexico Part 1: Genesis and Travel

Mexico Part 2: Lodging and Family

Mexico Part 3: Shopping

There may be more posts to come after Part 3, but even the three posts above will give you a great feeling for enjoying México with your family.

The author has advised me that there WILL be a couple more posts, and that all of them will be grouped together here.

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Simply Puerto Vallarta – A Grass Roots Campaign

Simply Puerto Vallarta – A Grass Roots Campaign

A grass roots movement has begun. Simply Puerto Vallarta is a complete multi-media video campaign created by small business owners promoting their city, Puerto Vallarta.

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Video journalist, Laura Gelezunas of Video Diva Productions launched “Simply Puerto Vallarta”, a multi-media travel campaign designed to highlight the richness and diversity of Mexico’s premier coastal tourist town.

“Mexico’s reputation seems to run to the extremes,” says Laura Gelezunas, explaining the idea behind the project. “The good news keeps coming but it is not making the splash it should. That’s why we needed a grassroots campaign.”

In the September/October 2010 issue of AARP magazine, Puerto Vallarta is listed as the best place to retire abroad, and U.S. News & World Report Travel section ranked Puerto Vallarta as the number one vacation destination in Mexico during 2010.

“The small, local businesses make Vallarta special,” explains Mariano Montes de Oca, Director of PV Pulse Media. “It’s this human aspect to our city and our culture that is reflected in the warmth and hospitality of this place. The challenge is to provide the people with a voice, and Simply Puerto Vallarta is that voice.”

Simply Puerto Vallarta is a video campaign that will include the small-business owners in the promotion of their town. Unlike traditional PR efforts, Simply Puerto Vallarta was designed to put the media message back into the hands of those it most affects – area residents. The stories show what is going on in the city.

“This is a way for us to be a part of an effort expressing how and why Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful and growing city, plus it is a safe destination,” says Simply Puerto Vallarta sponsor Gelsey Fadul of Hotel Playa del Sol. “I’ve seen it bloom throughout the years and it just really hurts me to see how the TV and internet news outlets are basically hurting us as a place to visit or live.”

“It is an innovative campaign which reaches out to the international community via the internet”, says sponsor Juan Rojas Gonzalez of El Palomar Restaurant. “It seems like it will be a new opportunity and it’s going to be good to share all the great things Puerto Vallarta has to offer.” This campaign started in October 2010 and will end in February 2011. Look for the next series of videos to be released in mid-February 2011.

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There are No Secrets Here!

There are No Secrets Here!

Steven Roll at Travelojos posted today after a recent visit to Puerto Vallarta. A legal editor for a Washington, D.C.-area publishing company, Steven enjoys learning about all things Mexican and Latin American, including fascinating sites, interesting cultural aspects, and great food. Here’s what he had to say:

As the only diners on the roof top terrace of the small hill-top restaurant in Mexico, my family almost had the place to ourselves. The sole exception was the Mexican couple who owned the place and lived there. But after the woman’s second or third trip up the steep stairway from the kitchen to attend to us, I began to feel like she was a Mexican aunt I never knew about.

After we finished our meal and listened to our son and daughter’s banter, the woman gave us a tour of her kitchen and showed us some black and white pictures of what the town looked like in the 1960s.

The $35 tab for our meal and drinks seemed like it was from the 1960s too. Read More…

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The Vee Oh Cee

The Vee Oh Cee

I cannot watch the news. It only takes minimal exposure before I want to curl up in a ball on the floor. For instance, I keep hearing that Mexico is on the Verge of Collapse, and also that it is a Failed State. This is scary stuff. I’m not sure what happens when a country that has survived for a thousand years collapses. What is left behind?

I admit that it makes me anxious, and more so since I recently watched a harrowing special about the Dust Bowl on the History Channel. Was I to understand that having the earth denuded of it’s topsoil, drought, livestock keeling over dead, a historic depression, 25% unemployment, and plagues of freaking millipedes had not put America on the Verge-of-Collapse, but Mexico is permanently perched there? This means that somehow the country that I’ve chosen to live in has to be a third world hell worse off than Dust Bowl Oklahoma. My anxiety has turned to skepticism.

It turns out that The Fund for Peace has a grading system called the Index of Failed States. When a state is failing, it doesn’t mean that there will be some kind of supernova as it collapses in on itself, as I vaguely thought. It’s less like a star burning out and more like failing math in your sophomore year. Instead of A-F, it goes from Green (sustainable) to Red (Alert). In between are Cream (Moderate) and Yellow (Warning), and believe me, the whole world lives somewhere in the cream and yellow zone, including America and Mexico. It’s clear that you can’t be rock and roll and be in the Green…only countries like Luxembourg and Sweden are green. And Canada.

It didn’t require much of a time investment before I began to feel like I’d been had by the the Talking Heads and their catastrophe rhetoric. Again. If you don’t straighten up, says the Fund for Peace, you’re going to fail. Just like my parents used to say! But in the hands of newcasters with hour after hour to fill, it becomes something very different.

Believe me when I tell you that I’m content to leave politics to the people that give a damn. If it doesn’t involve rhinestone appliques or reality television, I’m not interested. When I am forced to listen to the news, I usually feel only a vague sense of horror, like a teenager hopelessly eavesdropping while grown-ups ruin her life. So I didn’t set out to become an expert on this kind of stuff, and in fact, I haven’t.

But I can report that the Verge of Collapse turns out to be a very wide place, a regular esplanade, if you will. I have learned that the standards for being a Failed State are low, and almost any accounting error or severe storm will qualify you. A government only has to come up short in one of many varied criteria, and economy is one of those, so to my surprise, the USA is in fact sharing the Verge of Collapse with her neighbor to the South! Also crowded onto the Verge are Argentina, Venezuela and Israel, and of course, Russia and China.

Thanks to the Internet, God bless it, even if the Fund for Peace gives you a passing grade, it’s pretty easy to find someone who thinks you’re a Failed State. As an example, I thought that England would be safe, serenely hunkered down somewhere with a gin rickey watching the sun set on those of us who were roosted on The VOC, but nope, Britain is in danger of bankruptcy, which certainly gets you an F. New England, too, because the Atlantic Codfish is, you guessed it, on the Verge of Collapse.

The exception is Canada. I mentioned my findings to the ladies who lunch, noting that Canada seemed to be safe from the VOC. “Oh, we’ve been bankrupt for years.” our Canadian bff drawled. “The healthcare system, you know.” I can’t find anything to substantiate her position though, and she’s the same woman that thinks W was an excellent king.

I’m pleased to report that Mexico can be a Failed State and on the Verge of Collapse and still be a damn fine place to live. Drug wars are bad and so is flu, but this sunny nation has never been free of violence or illness or poverty or even millipedes, and people have always fallen in love and settled in Mexico in spite of it. I don’t know what drives the relentless barrage of media that addresses only one aspect of this country of contrasts. It seems like bullying, petty and mean. The fact is, bad in Mexico exists, and it can be pretty bad… but, what the hell, Mexico’s good is so much better.

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Living the Dangerous Life in Mexico

Living the Dangerous Life in Mexico

For background, I run a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the most popular posts lately have been in reference to fears of the “dangers” of traveling and living in Mexico.

I live in Puerto Vallarta permanently and have for three years. Before that I visited Vallarta many times and was a bit of of a snow bird, coming and going with the seasons. I have traveled in many parts of Mexico, as well as South East Asia, the US and Europe.

I’m not a normal tourist by any measure, and I frequent many parts of this town that most tourists would never consider visiting and, certainly, no tourist guide would ever recommend. I live in a barrio, of sorts, far from the gringo enclaves and condo developments. And I don’t blend: I’m an old gringo with red hair, blue eyes and freckles.

No Stinking BadgesThe American and Canadian media have been painting Mexico with a broad brush of danger and fear: Heads rolling into nightclubs, police being gunned down in their driveways, tourists being knifed in their condos, etc. Mexico is now being compared to Middle East war zones by US Pentagon spokesmen.

Supposedly, 6000 people have been killed in the “drug war” here last year (2008). I say “supposedly” because this figure discounts the people normally killed in those cosmopolitan areas and supposes that the cause and motives are the same in all of these deaths. It’s a lot of deaths.

  • I have had a friend here mugged at 3 am when he was walking home drunk from a night of partying. He was beaten and kicked when he didn’t let go of his camera bag.
  • I know of another person who challenged a burglar in his condo (there because the balcony door had been left open), and he was killed when the burglar picked up a kitchen knife to try to get away.
  • There is a report of a gay man who was given a “date rape” drug in a strip bar and then robbed and beaten. Details are sketchy on this instance, but you get the picture.
  • A transsexual was killed a year ago when she had an argument with a trick over payment (or so the street story goes…).
  • A young man was killed almost 2 years ago when he withdrew thousands of dollars from a bank and fought to keep it as he was being robbed.

These are all real stories and all horrible and all things that could happen anywhere. I know. I have lived in places, like Oakland, California, where life was described by everyone as a “war zone.”

The Usual BandidosTo some, this statement of perspective and universality is a deflection from the “dangers of Mexico” that are now being portrayed nightly on all major US and Canadian media outlets.

To others, this is the reality of anyone who has any life experience in any place in the world. I don’t believe that I left any major “crime” involving tourists out here in the last several years.

So why this media blitz about the “dangers” of Mexico? And, more importantly, why is any of this “sky is falling” propaganda rubbing off on Puerto Vallarta, which is definitely outside of any drug cartel battle grounds?

I don’t have a clue. The cynic in me says that it’s just a marketing ploy by the “buy at home” tourist industries of the North, but can big business really be that cold as to slander a whole nation to get a few more tourists to spend their extra $$ locally? I don’t think so, but I’m not one of those trying to get that tourist $$.

Should tourists be warned of the dangers here? Of course, but, then, they are already warned by any travel guide or travel agent in the world that they would talk to. The warnings are standard for any country:

  • Don’t display ostentatious wealth inappropriately
  • Don’t engage in illegal activity
  • Keep aware of your surroundings.

Many people on vacation try to make over the location of that vacation to fit an idealized version of their homes, often forgetting that their homes are no where near any imagined ideal. This tendency is the concept behind the walled, AI (All Inclusive) compounds being constructed in Nuevo Vallarta, it is the concept behind the tacky, white bread, Taco Bells of life.

Mexico isn’t Taco Bell.

Note: This article originally appeared here, and is reprinted with permission.

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There’s No Business…

There’s No Business…

Last evening I was lounging on one of the lacy wrought iron chairs that decorate the drinks patio at our local playhouse. The Lakeside Little Theatre is a community endeavor that’s been producing plays in English for 44 years, more than enough time to have been the beneficiary of some of our local Sunset Boulevard types, thespians who got their big break on the LLT stage. And then died. As a result, our little theatre is an oasis of opulence. Actresses often wear real fur and 1950s Balenciaga that’s been bequeathed to the wardrobe department, and the prop department is full of Bierdemeier antiques, with an art collection like Sotheby’s.

The chimes had been rung and the house manager, decked out in a sequin /palazzo pants number that would have been perfectly appropriate at the Kennedy Center, was shooing in the audience; gay couples in skin tight shirts, ancient widows in mink stoles being pushed by their Mexican attendants, the tanned and platinum haired gang from the view properties up on the hill, and the tourists who innocently earn their derision by showing up in shorts and Hawaiian shirts.

I had a bit of time to kill before heading backstage to help change the costume of the lead actress in our production of Kiss Me Kate, and I always like the patio in the evening. Some combination of its location on the side of the mountain and lighting makes the sky look purple, and when it’s clear and starry, to look up through the palm trees and bougainvillea and giant saguaro cactus into the dark orchid sky is impressively romantic.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had received yet another squawking call from a potential client who was watching the Glenn Beck show on the Fox News Channel and wanted some inside information on the escalating violence in Mexico. He was worried and thinking maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to retire down here after all, because according to Glenn Beck the country is imploding and the Mexican government is going to collapse within a year.

I promised him I’d look into it, which I did. I stuck my head through the gate in the wall that separates our front garden from the street. As I expected, an old lady with her stockings falling down was inching up the street, carrying a string bag with some fruit in it. My dog was sprawled in the sun in the apron of my neighbors garage. A couple of chickens were lethargically pecking in the yard of Thomas. (Toh-mahs, we say. I used that weird word order “in the yard of Toh-mahs” to avoid the hissing sound of Thomas’s, not because I now speak English as if Spanish were my first language. Although I can’t lie, I do that, especially when talking to Mexicans. For no reason at all, I’ll catch myself saying something like “The juice, can it be that you will put him on the table?”, in the hope that speaking gibberish is somehow closer to Spanish than regular grammatical English) A trio of hummingbirds droned at the orange honeysuckle vine that crawled over and through his fence. The fence of Thomas.

At the bottom of our street, the lake glittered, and at the top, the mountains drifted gold and craggy. I noticed a gringo, easily identified as a visitor, getting what he thought was an art shot of the somnolent beauty of a Mexican village street. When he looked at it later, he would wonder why he had taken a picture of a trashy vacant lot full of broken glass and weeds. It happens all the time. I went back to the phone.

“Um, not too much in the way of violence, Hugh”, I said. “I think it’s probably still pretty safe to come. If you don’t get murdered in the cab on the way to the Houston Airport, I mean.”

When the time came, I went backstage where the volunteer players- mature cupcakes who were delighted with the opportunity to cavort around the stage in racy chorus girl outfits while singing “It’s Too Darn Hot” –were waiting to go on. The stage manager pushed through hissing into her headset, “Goddamit, I don’t want those little brats sprawling all over the furniture,” referring to the adorable adolescent prop girls who were dressed as court jesters and who were prevented by the act of respiration from remaining still enough between acts to satisfy her. Violet and I got into position to change the lead from her opening act cocktail dress into the full Smithsonian quality Elizabethan regalia she wears in Act 2. On stage, a Mexicana with a voice like a bell sang “Hanohther Hoapnin’, Hanohther Cho!”

My friend Violet and I often work together on these shows, although her commitment to the theatre runs deeper than mine. She’s been involved with it since it was just a scratchy blanket slung over a clothesline at the Chula Vista golf club. There is a rumor that “Steel Magnolias” will be staged again, as the ten year period between reprising shows is about to expire for the second time. If so, Violet has a fair shot at playing all three generations of female leads.

I fell under Violet’s spell in my early days in Mexico, when I met her at an open house. She has waist length red hair which she successfully anchors into messy updos by stabbing it with any random office supplies or kitchen utensils that happen to be around, and she wears raffish whorehouse outfits of eyelet and denim with cowboy boots, over which her concha belts , seed bracelets, turquoise, silver, coral and fetish necklaces rattle like marbles spilling on a tile floor. I overheard her suggest in her syrupy drawl that the house would have a better chance of selling if the closets didn’t smell like “twelve mahls of beat up ol’ wolf pussy”, a phrase that so impressed me I’ve been following her around ever since. She is a bit of an iconoclast, and her contempt for tourists, smokers, fat people, dumb people, Mexicans, homos, drunks, old people, Canadians, and other realtors has lent a puzzling mythical quality to her success as a real estate agent. My fascination with her is the reason I’ve ended up with some expertise in the goings on backstage of our community theatre.

She and I talk about the sudden spike in perceived violence here in Mexico, why the coverage up North has increased so much. It’s hard to know how to respond to clients who are freaking out about the news stories they see. When Bruno and I moved into our townhouse in the most banal suburb in Northern Virginia, practically the first thing that happened was some crazy Indian cab driver cut his wife into pieces and put them into a suitcase which was later found in the Food Lion dumpster. In the space of five years we endured 9/11 and the Beltway Sniper, and when my daughter went to Virginia Tech, she had to cope with the massacre of her classmates in her freshman year, a tragedy that makes narco gangs killing each other seem refreshingly symmetrical.

When I walk home from the theatre at night, exchanging greetings with the teenagers who neck in the doorways, waving at Alfonso who runs the taco stand, trying to identify the smell of the evening air–orange blossom? jasmine?–and even nodding at our local drug kingpin, an amiable moonfaced boy who wears plaid cholo shorts and white athletic socks pulled up so high they look like nurses stockings—well. I know that somewhere under our big purple sky there’s a gunfight going on.

But it’s not here.

Note: This entry was originally published here, on March 8th, 2009.

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