Monday, November 24, 2008

Ajijic, Mexico...Home Sweet Home (half the year)!!

We arrived in Ajijic on Friday afternoon, and had fun trying to locate our rental agency (oops! We forgot to look up the address before we left Tepic)! Eventually, with the help of some local businesses, we tracked them down. The rental agent that we had been in contact with, Jorge from Hernandez Realty (pronounced Hore-Hey), speaks Engish well, and quickly took us over to our rental house. We had seen a few photos of the house online, but it was a real mystery what the bathrooms and extra bedrooms would look like. It was a pleasant surprise when we discovered the house is much bigger than we imagined.

They advertise it as 3 bedrooms, plus a "den".
Can you imagine our surprise when we discovered that they LIED to us?!!! it's a good lie. It turns out our rental is a a 4 bedroom house!! However, most retirees that are visiting the area don't want to overpay for a house that is larger than they by calling it a 3 bedroom home, it sounds more appealing to the general market here! There is one bedroom downstairs with twin beds, and we use the large closet simply for storage. Otherwise, we don't open that bedroom at all (okay, besides putting Ella in time out...). There is also a nice full bathroom downstairs with the a great full tub, and glass sliding doors to use it as a shower.
Upstairs there are 2 bedrooms with queen beds, and the "den" has a daybed. There is a master bathroom (which is ENORMOUS) with a large double sink and a huge standing shower (have I mentioned that all of the showers we've seen in Mexico are HUGE? You could fit a whole family in them! Maybe that's the idea...but I don't want to think about that...). For reasons explained below, we swapped the Den and Master furniture. So, the Master now has a day bed, and is essentially a very large dressing room/walk-in-closet for us. Two pretty quilts my Mom made us.
Love the red one on top, and the Green one is a warm favorite...

The downstairs has a nice full kitchen with every kitchen accessory I needed (besides the crock pot I purchased, and LARGE frying pan for cooking up all of my stir-fry. I would also really love to find a cheap non-rusty can opener. I have 3 in Skagway! Argh!)
The living room where we spend most of our time (the blinds on the left reveal a very large windowed entrance to our private back yard. When we got here, we actually swapped the couches with the ones in the front entrance.
The formal dining room we very rarely use. Our house is fully gated-in. There is a front locked gate that we manually open, pull the car in, and park it at night. There is another gate at the door, and built-in grates on every window. Our backyard is walled-in for great privacy! As you drive/walk through the streets in Mexico, you'll find that most communities are completely walled-in to the point where you can't see the houses. You have no idea if the home is a run-down "rustic" Mexican shack, or a fancy Americano home.
The street we live on...right off of the Carretera

I get the feeling that houses aren't locked up out of "fear" here, but more out of a sense of "prevention." It is as if everyone acknowledges that there could be a theft problem if they didn't lock up their house (petty theft is one of the few crimes around here), so they build everything to be private and secure...and it's therefore not much of a problem. Jared calls our house "the fortress" that we must lock up before bed! We moved our van contents inside the house, and packed the kids back up to go to the local grocery store.

We had seen a small grocery store on the main street in town, and went to it first. Wow! The prices were TERRIBLE! I would say "Skagway, Alaska" prices, or worse (definitely some things were worse!). Not exactly what we expected for Mexico. (We learned the next day that we went to the "expensive" store that caters to high-paying Americanos, and there are several cheaper places in town. Lesson learned).
We arrived on October 31st, "Day of the Dead" in Mexico. ' (See 2 posts ago for a more detailed description of the Holiday) It was quite a noisy evening, and we immediately learned that the windows in our house don't block out noise. Jared referred to the loud music playing outside (which seemed to be coming from the bathroom) as the "Party in our Bathroom". This lively Mexican music was coupled with loud fireworks (more like bottle rockets), and it gave us a quick taste of the largest pollution problem in Mexico (we lovingly call it "noise pollution")!

Our master bedroom has a double door entrance out to a large deck on the side of the house that faces the Carretera Poniente, the major street running through town. Although we are slightly offset from the major street, we might as well be right on it. We didn't think much of it during the day, and at night. But by 6am, our hair was standing straight up as the traffic picked up. WOW! What noise! Probably every 10 minutes or so a large tour-type bus drove down the street, throwing on their "jake breaks" (VERY noisy, if you know what those are...and we're quite familiar with those from Skagway!), and we were practically crying through our laughing.
This wasn't going to work. So, within 2 days, we had managed to move our entire master bedroom to the "den" on the other side of the house, where we no longer hear the traffic. Whew. The girls still share a room on the noisy side of the house, but they don't seem to mind.

The next day we were invited to go shopping with a friend, Michelle, as she told us the in's and out's of what is or isn't available at the Sorriano Mercado grocery store. How did we meet this friend? Well, when doing our research to move down here, Jared did a search for "LDS church Ajijic". Low and behold a blog pulled up from a girl who moved to Ajijic from Utah with her husband and 2 kids. She subsequently had a 3rd baby down here, and lived here for about 2 years before moving to Malaysia. We got in contact with her, and she answered many questions (as did her blog), and she also put us in touch with Michelle, a wonderful woman that moved here from the US with her husband and now 3 boys (her youngest is about the same age as Ella).
Michelle lives in the Raquet Club where her and her husband built a BEAUTIFUL house on the hillside (overlooking the lake with a view that is hard to beat). They moved down here for what they thought would be 6 months, and within 3 months they bought property, and settled down permanently. They have been here 4 years, now!

The Raquet Club is a fairly prestigious subdivision that has tennis courts, as well as a large thermal heated pool, and a nice clubhouse. They have many events such as monthly potlucks, daily water aerobic classes, etc. It is a fair drive from Ajijic, however, so we decided not to rent in that area for fear of spending too much time in our car (and not outside) this winter!

On Sunday we attended the ward at the LDS church in Ajijic. It is a small building (much larger than Skagway's, however) and it boasts a small ward. Apparently they had very high attendance that particular day, and they said they were thrilled to see 58 people in attendance! There are 200 "members" in the area, but so many are inactive, supposedly due to transportation issues. The ward membership has a mix of both Mexican locals and American retirees.

For Sacrament meeting, everyone meets together and whoever is asked to speak has their talk translated (sentence-by-sentence) into the other language, so that everyone can enjoy what is being shared. Next, Sunday school is divided into an English-speaking class, and a Spanish-speaking class. Then, we divide for Relief Society and Priesthood classes, which meet combined with Spanish/English speakers for announcements, and then split up into Spanish/English classes. The ward manages very well, despite most English-speakers' inability to speak Spanish, and most Spanish-speakers' inability to speak English. It's a funny little dance...but it works out!
There is a VERY VERY small Primary (smaller than Skagway...and that's hard to imagine considering Skagway had 7!), and there are English and Spanish speaking children. Glad I'm not the Primary President!

We immediately met another young couple in the ward (okay, the
only other young couple) that has moved down here from Utah to experience something new for 1 year. The Reed family is just our style, and they invited us over for dinner later that week. They have 4 children, one of them is a girl Ella's age! Wohooo!

On Monday we walked Ella to her first day of preschool. The preschool is literally just across the street, and up around the corner! Perfect! She attends Kinder Tohui, a great bilingual preschool. Preschool can start when they're just toddlers, and then there are 3 levels of preschool after that (Kinder 1 for 3 year olds, Kinder 2 for 4 year olds, and Kinder 3 for 5 year olds). It is a "structured school," and "by no means a daycare," they say. We pay $2450 pesos per month (which is a pro-rated amount to include the monthly fee and large enrollment fee other parents pay at the beginning of the year). Preschool is Monday through Friday for about 5 hours. When the $2450 pesos came out of our bank account, it only amounted to $197.47, which is a pretty darn-good rate for 25 hours a week, I think.
All but one of Ella's classmates are Mexican, and don't speak English. Luckily, there is one other American girl that Ella can relate to (should she really be considered "American" if she was probably born here...and has lived here her entire life?), and she has ample opportunity to learn Spanish! Half the day is taught in English, and Spanish is spoken the other half. Theoretically they have a Spanish teacher, and an English teacher, but the English teacher up and left the they're sort of left high and dry right now. The Spanish teacher does speak some English, so they're managing until they find a replacement. The Mexican parents are very concerned about their children learning English, but it is just fine for us that Ella will have even more interaction in Spanish! :-) Tohui is VERY picky about making sure that their students can read/write and speak both English and Spanish before they enter 1st Grade. WOW! The school is privately walled-in, just as the homes are. To enter before school begins you must press an intercome button and introduce yourself, in which case they buzz you through (if you have the magic word...haha). Of course, when parents are expected to arrive the doors are open, and a teacher stands watch at the gate to greet parents and children. Again, I get the impression it is more out of "prevention" than "fear" that the school operates in such a secure way. The classrooms all open up to a central courtyard where there are toys for the children, and an open-air kitchen. There is even a fancy computer lab, but I doubt they use it at Ella's age. All of the parents share in the responsibility of feeding the children lunch. Once a month each parent is assigned to a specific day and a menu, and they prepare the food and bring it to school. We don't have to pack lunch for Ella, and she gets a varied diet! Not a bad deal! Ella loved her first day at school! When we dropped off at Ella at school, we drove to Chapala (10 minutes East) and parked at Soriana's and walked across the street to the weekly Chapala Market. On the way in, we ran into a few retired couples who said "You're from Alaska!" (Acknowledging our license plate). They said, "This is the only place where you can see a license plate from Guatemala, Hawaii, and Alaska...all on the same day!" You see, the Lake Chapala area is VERY popular among retirees, particularly from the US and Canada. Anyhow, we walked into the market with these couples, and we went on our way, up and down the long open-air drag. We found plenty of affordable vendors selling fruit/veggies, clothing, DVDs/CDs (for $ know what quality they are...but we've been thoroughly enjoying them anyhow!), nuts, baby items, etc. I was blown away by one particular vendor that was selling anything liquid you could possibly want. Want to refill your empty Fructis Shampoo bottle? How about your Palmolive dish detergent bottle? It's probably a knockoff...but this is the place!
On Wednesday we took Ella to school, and took off for the Ajijic market, the outdoor market closest to us. It was completely different, and most vendors sold fruit/veggies (at a slightly higher price, I believe) and touristy-type souveniers (woven bags, traditional clothing, etc). Still very neat...just different! We also walked around the Ajijic Plaza, which is quite nice! On Thursday, we hit up yet ANOTHER market (everyone told us we had to go to all 3 to see which one we liked most)! We drove out to Jocotepec, about 20 minutes West of Ajijic. Jocotepec has a beautiful newly-done pier area, as well as a large Plaza with a fun old Chapel. The market wasn't in one long stretch, like the others...instead it had 2 rows, so it cut our walking time in half (which is nice when you're considering that fruit and veggies weigh a LOT!). It was our favorite market of all, with some GREAT produce prices, some good DVD vendors, and the easiest walking ground (paved, not cobblestone, like the others). We have been to this market 2 times now, and we've loved it! A stack of fruit and veggies like this cost us $100 pesos (approx $7 USD). Take a look at the loot: about a dozen avacados, a kilo each of strawberries, squash, carrots, limes, 4-5 heads of broccoli, and 2 large bunches of cilantro). If that's not success, I don't know what is!On the second day here we purchased a "Bonafont," a large water bottle of filtered water. After almost a week, it was time to refill. We can refill it at a store just down the street. Here we give them our bottle, they wash it clean with soap water, rinse it, fill it with new filtered water, seal the lid, and hand it back (all within a few minutes). It costs $10 Pesos. So, for less than $1 USD we now have a big bottle of filtered water (Hmm...I can't even buy a SMALL bottle of water in the US for that price)!On Friday we drove out to Chapala and walked along the pier. It is very nice, and they are in the process of fixing up more of the lake-side walking area. The path was actually smooth enough that we went for a short jog by the lake (most paths around here are cobblestone...and not stroller friendly)! How beautiful! In short, in one week we managed to do more, and get outside more than we probably accomplished in one WINTER in Washington State. Not bad...


The Thomson Fam said...

so fun! the sun looks good on you guys!

Greg and Lara said...

Your house is beautiful! I still say it's going to be hard to go back to a trailer after living there. It's so huge! And those veggies are amazing. I can't believe you got them all for $7. Glad you finally found Ajijic (pronounced Ah-jick-jick)! I've been wondering when you would finally arrive to your hometown on your blog since I've been talking to you about it for weeks now!

leadatortilla said...

I'm wondering if you'll want to go back to Alaska! This sounds so FABULOUS - just learn a language and live in paradise. Why not. You're creative and I think you could find a new career to keep you both there!! Loved all the pictures! Love them, love them!

What A Dish! said...

Love those fruits and veggies- I'm jealous of the avocados and strawberries right now. ;) How long will you be in Mexico?