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Living in Mexico from A to Z: Part One

Karen Blue

These next two columns will share some dubious gems of wisdom, organized alphabetically. My editor (are you listening, David?), limits the number of words for each column, so you'll have to wait until next month for the M-Z section.

A - Avocados, Art and AA

It's avocado season and my neighbor's huge tree extends generously over my back of yard. The birds and I share what's dropped into my garden. The thin-skinned avocados are as big as grapefruits and the best I've ever tasted. No wonder Mexico is famous for its guacamole.

Ajijic is a city filled with artists, galleries, events and classes. This afternoon, for instance, there's a special showing of art and photography from India and Napal at the Daniel Palma gallery, followed by an Indian dinner and sitar concert.

English speaking chapters of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon are available in Ajijic.

B - Bazaars, Books and Beauty Shops

There are several consignment shops and weekly street markets in the area. In addition, Chapala, Jocotepec and Guadalajara have daily indoor markets.

Ajijic has the largest English library outside of Canada and the U.S. (I'm told). In addition, Portalibros is a used bookstore in Ajijic and Sandy's in Guadalajara sells new English books, magazines and newspapers. I dream about a Barnes and Noble or Borders opening here one day.

There are many beauty shops to choose from. Pedicures and manicures range from $2.50 to $5.00. A haircut and blow dry costs $4.00 to $5.00. My last permanent cost $15.00. In addition to normal beauty treatments, Yoli's offers facials and massages.

C - Churches, Computers and Crafts

Although Mexico is primarily a catholic country, at the lakeside you can find churches for almost every denomination, including new age practioners.

Ah computers--the bane of my existence. Sam's has Compaq Presarios, and the newest IBM and HP models. Prices are slightly higher than in the U.S., but not enough to hassle bringing in your own. Laptops, specialized boards and English software are harder to come by. We have local Internet access at $39 per month for 100 hours and TelMex promises to bring in an unlimited service within the month. Support is another thing. Think back to what was available seven years ago and you've got it. My computer was in the shop for three weeks and they couldn't fix my printer or microphone glitches. I took it home, and with the help of the Internet, fixed them myself (she says snapping her suspender straps.)

I miss Michael's craft store. With persistence, you can find most craft supplies in Guadalajara, but specialty items are often available only through catalogs or visiting friends. I'm making beautiful gourd vases and ornaments now (from the last edition of Sunset Magazine). Gourds that would cost $25 in California are only $3.00 here, so there are some advantages.

D - Driving, Dentists and Dogs

I've mentioned driving in Guadalajara before--it's not for the timid. But once mastered, you don't feel so confined. Start driving with someone who knows the city. Clip a fifty-peso bill to your driver's license, so if you get stopped, the officer can discriminately remove the fifty and bid you a safe trip.

We have excellent dentists here. A cleaning costs $10-$15. My son will be coming to Mexico for major dental work and will save enough to cover his flight and then some. Besides, he'll have his mother close by. (He's almost thirty, and he'll kill me if he reads this!) Make sure you get recommendations; there are also some rip-off artists.

I have two poodles. Groomers come to my house monthly to wash and clip them. The cost is $10 for both of them. As with dentists and doctors, contractors and realtors, there are many good vets and a few to avoid. If I sound like a broken record, I am. This is buyer-beware country.

E - Electricity and Elephants

Continuous electricity is something many of us take for granted. It's not so here. Flashlights and candles are staples. Some neighborhoods have more difficulty than others. I'm continually hiring electricians to replace poorly installed fixtures and occasionally to fix or replace a water pump. When my electricity is out, I have no water, so it tends to be a bigger problem for me. My electric bill runs about $40 per month. That's a lot more than the $10 my realtor promised me, but que sera, sera. It's also imperative, because of the electricty surges and brown-outs, to protect expensive electrical equipment with regulators (about $39). I wish someone would have told me that when I first moved here.

Elephants--okay, I'm stretching here, but we get this delightful little low-tech, one-ring circus about twice a year. My favorite act is when young children from the audience stand in the ring with carrots in their mouth so the tall giraffes can scoop them out with their monstrous black tongues.

F - Fitness, Finances and Food

We have several gyms here and various classes are offered in yoga, tai chi and self-defense. Walking is a favorite for many, with the Hash House Harriers providing a group experience every Saturday morning.

There are several local banks and investment opportunities. Here's how I do it. I keep my money in a U.S. bank and have three month's worth of living expenses wired to Lloyds each quarter. I have Lloyds automatically transfer money into my Serfin checking account each month. I have a debit card and checking account at Serfin. Lloyd's is paying 33% interest right now. Not bad, huh? But keep in mind the devaluing peso. I also use a debit card from my American bank at ATM's throughout Mexico. Several executives from American investment companies come to this area three or four times a year to serve their expatriate clients.

Locally we have several grocery stores. Super Lake and El Torito cater to the gringo population and you can find most of your familiar brands there. Obviously it costs more to buy imported goods. In addition, in Guadalajara there are Price Club, Sam's, Walmart's and MegaMercado. Weekly bus trips are available to that center. The local fruits and vegetables are delicious. We have two excellent fish stores and several meat markets. Staples can be bought inexpensively at the markets. Bakeries, tortillerias and mom and pop shops abound.

G - Gardening, Gas and Gasoline

I have a blue thumb. Everything green I touch dies--even my silk plants lose their leaves. Fortunately, I have a wonderful gardener and the first beautiful garden in my life. Things grow here like Jack's beanstalk. The problem is keeping them under control. There are many excellent nurseries. Gardeners earn about $1.50 per hour. My northern friends go orgasmic when they see the choices. There is a gardening club for the social gardener.

Gas and gasoline are different. The first supplies gas for your stove, water heater and possibly a gas dryer. Mine is on my roof. At first it was too close to the chimney and the gas company wouldn't fill it, so now it's moved. No one told me when the dial reached the red zone, to call the gas company and have it filled. I'm telling you now. Hopefully your tank won't be on the roof!

We have an "under-reconstruction" station in Ajijic. It's been that way for months, so we gas up our autos in Chapala, Jocotepec or on the way to and from Guadalajara. Hopefully, it will reopen soon. The gas is now available in both 87 and 89 octane. It costs slightly more than in California and the prices rise daily (or so it seems). Frequent changes of gas, oil and air filters are recommended.

H - Health, Hotels and Handicrafts

Health is very important and a very broad subject. Suffice it to say, we have options for holistic, homeopathic and traditional medical care. At the Lakeside, there are several emergency medical clinics. Serious accidents or health problems are treated at one of many fine hospitals in Guadalajara. The Lake Chapala Society provides free blood pressure, hearing and eye tests. Several excellent nursing and assisted care homes are available. Mexican's respect their elders and I believe the care here is superior to that of similar facilities in the States--not to mention, less expensive.

There are seven hotels lakeside, and a myriad of bed and breakfasts that range in price from $20 to $60 per night. During the high season (November through March) it is difficult to find accommodations, so early reservations are recommended.

Jalisco is home to some of the finest artisans in the world. We have the luxury of shopping for world-class pottery, glass and wrought iron products (to name a few) at prices a fraction of what they would cost in the states. Artisans can custom make products from a photograph. Trips to Tonala and Tlaquepaque are not to be missed for those who have brought an extra suitcase.

I - Immigration and Insurance

Other places on Mexico Connect cover the options for immigration ( visit this Page). An FM3 is the most common tourist visa and is valid for one year. With it you can bring in your household goods and automobile duty free. Check your local Mexican consulate for specific requirements in your area because they vary from office to office.

Insurance is another broad topic. Most of us don't carry home insurance. Brick and cement doesn't burn and very little damage has been done to homes in this area because of natural disasters over the years. Anyone bringing an auto to Mexico with American plates should contact Lewis and Lewis for car insurance (213-655-6830). It costs me less than $200 a year to insure my 93 Mazda MX6, including liability and full replacement value. That's considerably less than the other options.

J - Jobs and Jewelry

Yes, jobs are available here, but you must have a license to work. The majority of gringos work in real estate, construction, food service, export and personal services such as acupressure and computer support. There are many volunteer opportunities with worthy organizations such the ACA program for self sufficiency, Daughters of the American Revolution, Humane Society, School for the Deaf, Red Cross and various orphanages.

This is silver heaven. Although Taxco is the silver capital of Mexico, the silversmiths throughout Mexico are superb. Wholesale silver shops near Guadalajara's centro offer an extensive selection of beautiful silverware and silver jewelry at a fraction of the cost you'd pay elsewhere.

K - Kayaking and Kangaroos

We don't have any and I couldn't think of any other K words.

L - Lake Chapala, Land and Licorice

The lake, Mexico's largest, and a source of concern for most of Jalisco, is the highest it's been since I moved to Ajijic, thanks to the heaviest rainy season we've had in over 100 years. El Nino and his sister have devastated other parts of Mexico, but here at the lakeside, we've only benefited. Rarely are there boats on the lake because of its many shallow parts, and swimming is not advised because of the polution; nevertheless, Lago de Chapala is beautiful and majestic. I envy those who have a view of it from their homes.

Land prices have skyrocketed during the past two years. One parcel I was looking at rose from an asking price of 50 pesos per square meter to 200 pesos in only two months. Most of the land is bought up by developers, subdivided and sold as construction lots. View lots have climbed as high as $50,000 in some developments. Many baby boomers are coming here to purchase in anticipation of their retirement. Rentals are at a premium.

And, finally, I am happy to report the arrival of red licorice at Price Club. I still need to import the black licorice, though. Imagine my chagrin when I first got here. I saw a store with a sign "Vinos and Licores." I salivated. My two favorites -- wine and licorice. Wrong. What the store sold were wines and liquors.

Published or Updated on: November 1, 1998 by Karen Blue © 1998
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