Monday, June 30, 2008

Our First Visitors - Mike and Orly Shaker

Our good friends Mike Shaker (owner of Chicago's Monk's Pub) and his wife Orly, came for a short but sweet 3-day weekend visit, arriving this past Thurs. 6/26 and left on Sun. 6/29. Their visit was a whirlwhind of touring, eating, and drinking.

As soon as we picked them up at Guadalajara Int'l Airport, the tour began in our own Lake Chapala area. We showed them downtown Chapala and its beach, and then traveled further in our direction to our favorite neighboring town of Ajijic. Walked through the main square and the main restaurant/shop/gallery area, and on to the wharf. Of course, Mike & Orly were more than ready for their first Margaritas, so we stopped at the touristy bar at the end of the Wharf. Finally, we headed for our home in Jocotepec, where Bob mixed up his welcome drinks of Rum Punch made with orange juice, mango juice, grapefruit juice, fresh squeezed lime juice, and fresh pineapple along with Barcardi's special anejo Rum. Then dinner.

Next day, the tour was to the famous town of TEQUILA. We hadn't been there yet, and had especially saved the tour for Mike & Orly's planned visit. Tequila is not too far from Guadalajara, only approx. 35miles NW. Walked around the town a little bit, had a delicious lunch of fresh made Tacos (steak, chorizo, pork, and tongue) along with all the toppings. Then it was on to the guided tour at the oldest and most well-known distillery -- Jose Cuervo, of course. They made us all wear silly hair bonnets for 'sanitation'. Quite an interesting tour, showing us the entire process from raw Aguave hearts through initial fermentation, first and second distillation, and the owner's private cellar with 150-200 year old rare jars of tequila (no we didn't get to taste those!). But, we were given small tastes of the 1800 Reserves etc., and then the tour ended with a frozen Marguarita.

Their final day, we took them into the heart of Guadalajara, in particular to the upscale shopping district of Tlaquepaque, which they enjoyed a lot (and, bought their fill of gifts to take home). Went for Lunch at a fabulous garden view restaurant, where we all tried a unique appetizer of charcoal grilled bone marrow (see Pic. of Mike with the bones). It was delicious (but, of course not very healthy -- extremely high in cholesterol). We also had Red Snapper in a red hot sauce, veal Birria stew, and fajitas -- along with some of the best frozen Margaritas any of us had ever tasted (with tamarind fruit juice added).

Our final evening, we went to our favorite restaurant in Ajijic called "The Tango", where they serve up some really fantastic steaks - marinated, tender, huge portions, for unbelievably reasonable prices. Naturally, good time was had by all. Finished our long day with a final nightcap toast at home, of a 1988 French Sauternes that Bob had been cellaring/saving for more than 15 years -- and, thanks to a blessing from the Gods, it had aged well and not spoiled. Tasted like honey!

Sorry to see them go, but it was a wonderful visit. Mike & Orly are a pleasure to have as guests -- albeit, if they stayed much longer they might have killed us from exhaustion. Too much good food, good drink, and fun for us 'old retirees'! (LOL)

Sunday, June 22, 2008


For a wholly different "Mexico", we drove approximately 1.5 hours south of from our rental home in Jocotepec to the town of Tapalpa, built on the slopes of the Sierra Talpalpa mountains at an elevation of 2060 mts./6780 ft. above sea level. The central area of the town is architecturally designed as a little Alpine Village, and the town is surrounded by Pine Forests. We stayed overnight at a cute little Hotel "Maty" right off the central square, where all the rooms include their own working wood-burning fireplace, and the feel is really like being in the Alps.

Upon our arrival, after walking around the central town, we found a small cafe "Fonda", which served one of local speciality dishes -- a so-called Tamale that was actually made out of Chard (rather than the usual corn meal), and then topped with some cream and a wonderful verde sauce. Unique and delicious (and healthy to boot!).

After our mid-day lunch, we headed out of town a short distance (approx. 5km) to see a local favorite attraction called Las Piedrotas or "the big Rocks". These giant rock formations sprout up like 'mushrooms' in the middle of nowhere providing for an interesting landscape. We noticed that there were two sets of cables strung between two sets of the large rocks, and were told these were "Zip Lines". Unfortunately, we didn't get to try it as they are only in use on weekends and we came mid-week.

The next morning after a wonderful overnight stay, we headed out to the premier local attraction: El Salto del Nogal. This is the highest Waterfall in our State of Jalisco, cascading a spectacular 344ft in two stages into a pool at the bottom of the gorge. It really was an adventure just to get there. First, you had to drive on dirt/gravel roads through the countryside for about 45mins. from the main highway outside town, with little signage to guide you. We just kept asking directions to make sure we were going in right direction. Eventually, with lots of luck and assistance if you get to the right spot at the end of the road, there is basically nothing there but a dirt turn-around and some cleared space to allow for some parking. When we got there, there was no other vehicles or anybody in site. Guide books said there used to be a restaurant (probably a tent) at the top where you park, but no longer -- nothing. After parking, you then must hike the rest of the way on foot. You can hear the falls, but you can't see them at all from there. The Hike is approximately 2miles, down into the gorge. Only when you get to the very bottom, can you see the Falls -- first the bottom part, and then a little further you are able to see the top portion and get to the pool at the bottom. Although the hiking trail is nicely laid out in flat stones (like a cobblestone street), it is still not for the faint of heart or those not in good physical condition. While hiking down is exercise enough, remember when you're down viewing the waterfall (and picknicking or whatever), then you have to climb back up (and, its a LONG way up - to the top of the canyon is about 2000 feet up!). But, along the way there are also caves to see, called the "monasterios", where they say the Cristero Guerilla fighters once hid out. But, as you should see from the pictures, the hike was well worthwhile. The Waterfall and views were truly spectacular; and, best of all we had it all to ourselves for close to half and hour, before a group of 4 teens came along behind us.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


It is with deepest sadness that we record that our beloved cat Tony, passed away on Monday morning June 9, 2008. Since we have chosen not to have ‘human’ children, we have always considered him our "furry son" and often simply called him "our baby". Tony was our loving companion and an inextricable part of our family for 14 years. We have mourned his loss as we would mourn the loss of any other close member of our immediate family. Although 14 years of age is considered by many to be an advanced age for a feline, until his recent and sudden ill-health this past month, he always seemed to us to be young and vibrant, with many years of life left to lead. That, of course, makes his passing that much more difficult for us to accept. We’re still not quite sure exactly what the cause was, and unfortunately we may never know for sure. The exact details of his recent downward spiral are set forth in our last posting, and we really don’t have much to add. One saving grace is that he did not appear to be in any pain throughout the period of his recent ill-health. We only wish it would have been possible to somehow prevent or reverse whatever it was. But despite our best efforts ….

Anyone and everyone who had ever seen Tony, always complimented how cute (handsome) he was. The color, texture, fullness and sheen of his fur was amazing, and we always said he looked like a little gray bobcat. Or, more amusing, we believed he might be attractive to the Raccoons that used to frequently visit our former Fox Lake roof and bedroom windows late at night. Kind of thought it might be a "Peppy Le Pew" sort of situation (remember the cartoon of the skunk in love with the cat?). But beyond his physical appearance, Tony’s intelligence and personality were truly one of a kind. He really did seem to understand a good deal of human language and learned things very quickly. Somewhat rare/unique for a cat, he was certainly not "aloof", and instead always wanted to be with us in whatever room we might be in, and lay or sit alongside us, on us, or between our legs, whether we were sitting in a chair, lying on a couch, or in bed. Even when it came to feeding, when we were at home, he would almost never eat unless we personally accompanied him to his bowl. While sometimes a little annoying it was also endearing.

Since he was front-declawed we considered him to be an "indoor kitty, with outdoor privileges", allowing him some limited outdoor time in our various yards usually only on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But he loved his outdoor time, and despite being front-declawed never got "into trouble" as far as fighting with any other cats. In our last apartment before moving out of the country, we didn’t have a yard to let him out, so instead we would bring him to local parks. And to our own as well as every observer’s amazement, Tony would actually walk with us off his leash following behind 10-20ft or so, and enjoying a walk with us through the park.

Regrettably Tony will not be able to share the joys with us on our continuing world journey. We had intended and hoped that he might have that opportunity for at least a few more years. But he will certainly always be there in our hearts, We are consoled by the belief that he had a good life with us … albeit prematurely ended.

Tony, we both loved you a lot; you will be sorely missed and never forgotten.

Your "mummy and daddy", Nancy & Bob

Thursday, June 5, 2008


After unpacking and scoping out our immediate surroundings including the local village, the first week or so was mainly devoted to ‘decompression". We needed to rest and unwind from the unbelievable pressures and hassles of the past few months and final days leading up to our international move and permanent departure from the metropolitan area (let alone Country!) that we have lived in for nearly our entire lives. So we slept in late, lounged around on the patio furniture on our deck overlooking the garden, and gradually regained our energy (and youth?).

Since, our first temporary home in Jocotepec does not have any Satellite or Cable TV, we have begun to read a lot of books. It’s really been too long for both of us; and, opens up a whole new realm that we have sorely missed. The home here is stocked with old books mostly paperbacks, including many bestseller novels. We’re both devouring same at the rate of a new novel every 2-3 days. To keep up with news and world events, we of course do have the Internet, and every morning at breakfast review the top news stories on the CNN Website.

The neighborhood where our first home is located is definitely authentic Mexican. No other "Gringos" in the immediate vicinity that we are aware of. We waive and say simple pleasantries in Spanish to our neighbors whenever we come and go, but beyond that unfortunately not much communication due to our extremely limited knowledge (so far) of the Spanish language … and, very few of the locals speak any English. But, this is what we were looking for … total immersion in the culture. I just wish we could press a button or take a pill, and be instantly fluent in Spanish. But, I think it’s going to be slow-going on that front. Looked into trying to join a Spanish Language Class, but so far it has not panned out in part because this is the ‘off season’ so few if any classes available; and, because we really won’t be here for long. But we are trying to use a computer software Spanish Language program to learn a little, and otherwise just slowly trying to pick up words and phrases as needed.

Speaking of the neighborhood and its ‘authenticity’, it really takes a bit of getting used to in terms of some of the customs. For one, the locals here don’t have a very good concept of just enjoying quiet peace and tranquility. That is to say, there are these small trucks/vans that drive around town all day and into the wee hours at night with loudspeakers blasting trying to hawk various things (i.e. drinking water jugs; propane gas; ice cream, you name it) or making all kinds of announcements or advertisements. In addition, every household seems to have at least one (if not more) very loud barking dogs, that go at it all night long; along with your fairly common Roosters crowing and occasional donkeys and goats. And, of course, there are the all-too-frequent Fireworks Displays and Aerial Bombs for the seemingly limitless holidays, festivals and other celebrations. We are actually starting to grow a little bit accustomed to all the racket, and do appreciate the ghusto for life that the Mexicans seem to have. Just don’t know where they get all that energy, especially if they never seem to get a good nights sleep?

As you will all see from the contemporaneous attachment of new Photographs, we have begun to venture out of our cacoon here and make some excursions into the surrounding areas, including the entire Lake Chapala area and villages and more importantly the huge City of Guadalajara. For those unfamiliar, Guadalajara is the 2nd largest City in Mexico with approximately 4 Million residents. Despite its large size, however, it has a comparatively low crime rate and is considered a great cultural center. The City is divided into 5 or 6 "Zonas"; and, you really need a good ½ day or more to get a flavor of each one. We’ve almost completed our "tour" of all the Zonas and central sites. We hope to go even further in the near future, and visit areas outside Guadalajara, beginning with the nearby town of Tequila (yup, the real thing); and, eventually spend a 2-3 day visit on the coast probably in Manzanilla which is approx. 4 hr drive.

For food, we are cooking in about half the time and eating out the other half. Contrary to the fears of many "Gringos", food here (even including so-called ‘street food" is generally safe with a few precautions. Never eat raw vegetables unless you are certain they have been thoroughly cleaned (or fruits which can be pealed); and, insofar as meats you just need to make sure it is freshly cooked and hot. Finally, of course, ALWAYS drink only bottled water. For home cooking, not unusually we tend towards pasta (which may include various meats, including ground beef or chorizo); but, we have also barbequed and/or stove grilled some steaks and pork chops, along with rice or potatoes, and whatever veggies we may be in the mood for. We even tried eating steamed cactus leaves, mixed with onions, garlic and cilantro. Not bad. Another eat-at-home option (but without the cooking), we have a local rotisserie chicken place (called "El Pechugan") which is really good; and, we get a whole roasted chicken combination including roasted potatoes, chilies, hot sauce and tortillas for about $5.00. It’s really delicious. Similarly, we have found some truly "local" restaurants that are really folks who have converted part of their homes into a public kitchen, for cooking such traditional specialities as Pazzole a delicious and filling hominy based soup (usually with your choice of meat, such as pork or chicken added) along with toppings of shredded cabbage, radishes, onions and chilies, for a mere $2-3 for a large meal-sized bowl. Another wonderful local find, which is really hidden (none of these places have signs, all word-of-mouth) is the local Tamale Lady who as the name implies, makes there wonderful Tamales filled with either Chicken or Pork that she cooks in a large Pressure Cooker.

For eating out, as hinted previously, we have tried the street stands for Tacos which are usually served with grilled Cebollas (knob onions) and grilled Chilies on the side; and also usually include all kinds of toppings available in bowls on the counter or serving table out for you to add as you wish (shredded lettuce or cabbage, chopped tomatoes or pico de gallo mixture, sliced raddishes, chopped onions, and of course various red and green sauces). We have also found some decent restaurants (mostly in nearby towns, as Jocotepec is rather small), and have had various dishes including grilled fish, steak, as well as traditional Mexican fare such as Enchiladas, Chili Rellano, or the local speciality Birria which is a stew made with either beef, pork or the favorite Goat (yup, tried it and it was superb!).

Just for the record, we both only got a whee bit of the Mantezuma’s Revenge for a day during the first week we were here. But, otherwise, no problemo!

Insofar as meeting our everyday living needs, we are adapting fairly well. In the months/weeks before our move, we had arranged our financial affairs in preparation, by consolidating our investment accounts with [CONFIDENTIAL] one of the worlds’ largest Brokers; and, likewise consolidated our banking with [CONFIDENTIAL] (in Texas), again one of the largest in the world. Those accounts in turn are linked electronically, so we can readily make transfers between them. [CONFIDENTIAL] bank has a very good and easy to use on-line Banking site, which permits us to easily pay what few external bills we have, such as our credit cards, health insurance, auto insurance, etc. We can also make impromptu payments to anyone/any entity anywhere in the world, if we choose (e.g. rental/deposit payments to future temporary landlords). Most importantly, we have access to immediate cash via ATM’s anytime and anywhere. Here in Mexico that is, of course, quite important since almost all businesses here deal strictly in cash, except for the larger Grocery Stores or the most elite restaurants.

As you all know, communications have also been no problem at all thanks to modern technology … specifically the internet. Not only does it permit us to stay in contact by Email, but even more miraculously we are also able to take our USA Vonage Phone with us anywhere in the world. That enables us to make and receive telephone calls, as if we are in the USA (we have elected to now have a ‘permanent’ Dallas TX phone number consistent with our change of state residency … but, if we desired, we could have a phone number or a 2nd line in any area code in USA … or for that matter also in other countries). Also, if we choose, we can upgrade our Vonage Plan to include Worldwide or hemispheric coverage for purposes of our own out-going calls. As it is, under our basic plan "International Calls" to the most popular foreign cities/countries are extremely cheap (from 1c – 15c/min). But, the calls would be completely free and included in the wider coverage plans, if we elected. For now, haven’t found it necessary; but, if we begin to make frequent calls to non-USA numbers, we may later change the Plan. However, so far, our temp. residences have included their own local phones, so we can use their phone(s) to make calls to the local non-USA numbers. And thanks to Bob’s Angel of an Aunt in Dallas, we are able to receive any regular mail sent to Dallas, which she kindly reviews with us by phone and discards, forwards or Faxes as necessary.

We have found grocery shopping to be fairly consistent to USA standards, with only minor differences. We can usually find similar products (or even USA products) at most of the larger Grocery Stores. In most cases, meats appear to be very fresh and safe; and, indeed, the stores tend to go to the extreme in this regard as they require their employees to wear surgical masks when dealing with meats and other fresh foods (deli etc.). As far as costs, dissappointingly we have found so far not much different than what we paid in USA (but, perhaps that’s because we are presently located in a ‘wealthier’ area around Lake Chapala). On the plus side, gasoline appears to be cheaper here than in USA, and the price is standardized/uniform at all Gas Stations due to govt. controls. Probably cheaper not only because of the Govt. control, but also because I believe Mexico has a fair supply of its own Petroleum Reserves. As far as other shopping needs (not that we presently have many such needs), everything you could get in USA is available here; they even have Walmart. However, many items we take for granted are quite expensive here (e.g. Electronics, appliances, even BBQ Grills). Bottom line, insofar as cost-of-living, not quite the savings we had hoped for, except in a few select areas (e.g. gasoline, restaurants, and importantly health care --- doctors, labs, drugs are perhaps ¼-1/3 cost in USA with equivalent quality).

Generally, our time for now is occupied by reading books, touring, trying to keep fit by some home exercises including jogging around the grounds with weight cuffs and using some dumbells we purchased at Walmart, cooking or dining out, and thanks ot the Internet occasionally viewing some of f some of our favorite TV Shows such as American Idol, Lost, Hells Kitchen and Top Chef); some limited study of Spanish on our Computer; and, of course, keeping up with our emails and this Blog. Bob also continues to receive some Arbitration cases (so far limited to document review cases) which he has been able to work on and actually earn some minor additional income.

Finally, on a sadder note, our ‘furry son’ Tony is presently not doing very well and we are seriously concerned he may not ‘make it’. While he has always had digestive difficulties since he was a kitten, we have always been able to manage him ok. But, approximately 2 weeks ago Tony lost interest completely in eating; despite our attempts to offer him every possible favorite food. Also, significant change in personality seeming to lose interest and focus in everything else too. After a few days, we took him to a recommended local Vet, who initially found Tony had a fever indicative of some kind of infection. They started him on IV fluids, nutriments, and some antibiotics. Next day, he no longer had the fever, and they continued with the IV treatment. Day after they thought he was well enough to take some blood for lab tests, and found he had ‘beginnings of renal failure’ … though VET didn’t seem overly concerned about that (i.e. did not appear to be the basis of his immediate problems). We surmised, and Vet agreed possible, that this could have been due to his lack of eating. Vet has stated a couple of times he thinks Tony might just be getting "senile"; though it’s difficult for us to accept his explanation given that sudden/acute nature of his problems and the fact that he has always been very smart. After a full week of everyday visits/treatments at the Vet, by last Friday he seemed to perk up a bit and really ‘wolfed’ down food after returned from the Vet and even seemed to be his old self.
Optimistically , we thought/hoped he had 'turned the corner'. But, unfortunately, by next morning he was back to not wanting to eat and lacking interest in everything. He is still drinking water, thank goodness, but eating very little and only if ‘forced’. Went back to Vet on Tues., and somehow they were able to get him to eat some Whiskers treats. We took him home, and tried giving him same, and again he ‘turned his nose up’. About the only thing Bob can get him to eat is Activa Yogurt (we thought it might help his tummy too). At least it’s some kind of nutriment … better than nothing. Naturally, we are both extremely devastated by this turn of events, and don’t want to have to face the worse possibilities. Praying and hoping he will ‘snap out of it’. But time not on our/his side right now. (Though, obviously he has lost quite a bit of weight from his prior ‘normal’, Vet said his weight did hold steady between last Friday, and when we returned to Vet on Tues. … so, apparently, even the little bit of food/yogurt whatever we have gotten him to eat is helping)

That’s our "Report" for the first month of our New Life Abroad.

Luv from South of the Border,
Bob & Nancy

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pictures from May 2008 - Jocotepec/Gaudalajara

1. These are some Pics. we took of our temp. home in Jocotepec, Mexico on the far eastern shore of Lake Chapala (which is 30mins. south of Guadalajara):

2. These Pics. are from Chapala -- the central/largest town on Lake Chapala:

3. These Pics. are from our first 'excursion' into the heart of the City of Gaudalajara (which for those unfamiliar is the 2nd largest city in Mexico -- population approx. 4mil). Pics are from the central historical area:

4. Bob & Nancy on the climb up the small mountain that backs our Jocotepec home and the view of the village and Lake Chapala:

5. Our Second Excursion into City of Guadalajara -- the part of the city known as Zona Tlaquepaque:

6. Third Excursion into Guadalajara - areas known as Zona Zopata and Zona Minerva:

7. Our Trip to the Gaudalajara ZOO (notice the Tigers enjoying a Little Afternoon Delight!):

8. Some Local fun around our own home village of Jocotepec -- the weekly market; a pic. of one of many religious festivities; and, a free evening musical/dance performance in the town square:

9. Ajijic town Square (neighboring town -- with many retired Americans) -- NOTE: Pic. of Bob is just after he got his first Mexican haircut "corte" (not too bad for $4.50):
google-site-verification: googlec9ad5f5fffb008da.html