Friday, July 31, 2009

The Talking Watch Caper August 2009

"You know what I want to do?" asked Peggy, over a Sunday breakfast with friends.

"What?" I asked.

"I want to give every blind person around the lake a Talking Watch in Spanish. Even if it doesn't matter what time it is to some of the elderly Mexican people, they will hear a voice every time they push the button and they will know someone cares about them!"
"I can help you do that." I said.

Peggy is an 89 year old American woman who has lived here in Jocotepec, off and on, for over 30 years. She raised her children here, returned to the states, remarried, traveled with her husband, then they returned to Jocotepec to live many years ago. She is a very dear person.

"I can't get around very well anymore, you do the leg work and I'll buy the watches." Said Peggy. "Deal!" I said.

The first thing we had to figure out was how many blind people there might be tucked away in back rooms and hovels in some of these little pueblos along the lake. Then, where we would buy the watches. As luck would have it, it turns out the watch vendor at the Thursday tianguis (farmers market) in Jocotepec carries them! Wow, how cool is that, we don't have to import them. Win win win.

Hector said "If you buy all the watches from me I'll give them to you for 40 pesos each."
I quickly calculated $3.00 US, can't do much better than that!
Now to find the blind people. . .

Since Diabetes is an epidemic here in Mexico, we figured there would be no shortage of blind people. We were right, unfortunately.

I called Jean Dresslar from the Lake Chapala Society Talking Books Program as well as DIF (which is an acronym for Mexico's health and family services program), Centro Salud (the Mexican government health clinic) and a few people I knew who were involved with the community and everyone began compiling lists of blind people by towns. We agreed to distribute the watches in Jocotepec and others volunteered to do it in Chapala, Ajijic, and the Lake Chapala south shore.

Armed with several pages of smudgy pencil written names and POSSIBLE addresses, the best part of this whole thing began.

Peggy, her son Rob, and I set out one day with a big bag of watches, instructions, and Hector's business cards. Hector promised to repair and change batteries in the watches as needed.
The first address was finally located - no easy feat in a country that doesn't necessarily use street addresses. Took several minutes and the help of the mechanic next door to gain entry and meet José. José said he thought we were the local priest who comes every day to give him communion or his sister who comes twice a week on the bus from Guadalajara with groceries.

The house was clean and most of the furniture had been piled on the couch in the living room, I guess to keep him from falling as he shuffles around with his cane in the darkness.
I explained what we were doing in his house and handed the watch over to him. He reached up and took Peggy's face between his hands and muttered "Gracias." All of our eyes welled up and we were on our way to the next recipient with full hearts.

Maria lived alone in a one room pile of rubble and rocks. She had another little indoor/outdoor room with a sink and some neighborhood kids were washing her clothes for her.
Maria has only one foot and lives on a rank and stained bare mattress with her humble belongings stacked neatly on the other half of the mattress. She was a doll. She was full of personality and gratitude when we put her watch on for her. When we were ready to leave, she asked over and over when we would be coming back to visit her again. I will do that.

Another Maria, who lives in a room just off an interior garden, in San Cristóbal on the south shore, had vision better than some of the others, but qualified for our gift in other ways. She was a peach and we spent the better part of the afternoon with her getting a blow by blow description of her beautiful garden. We have returned to visit her and Larry brought her cuttings and plants from his garden. She is delightful. Here she is proudly showing off her new watch.

The next recipient was a young man who I ran into on the street. He lives here in Joco and walks around town with one arm draped over the shoulder of his sister. His eyes are milky gray orbs. He told me he had been living in the US and became sick with a virus that ultimately took his vision. He was broke and alone in the US and unable to work. His family here in Jocotepec saved their pesos until they had enough to get up to CA and bring him home. That's how it is here, that's why I love it here.

There were many more recipients, too many to list. One guy I stopped on the street had a huge basket of homemade candies that he brought with him on the bus from Guadalajara and he was peddling them door to door. He was blind as a bat and his very, very pregnant wife led the way. I brought them over to my house and gave them a watch. They gave me candies.

There was an ancient lady, not far from my house, who was sweeping her entryway with a broom made from a bound cluster of reeds at the end of a stick. After I explained the watch and strapped it on her wrist, she looked up at me and said "What's the catch?"

In the end, between us all, we distributed 84 watches!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Safeway - Joco Style July 2009

Produce Prices In The Joco Mercado for July 29, 2009
Prices in pesos, prices by the kilo (2.2 lbs), and on this date we received
13.2 pesos to 1 US dollar. Do the math.

A couple of mornings a week I stroll the 5 short blocks from my house, exchanging pleasantries with my neighbors along the way, to el centro to do some food shopping. I like to start with fruits and vegetables at the daily mercado. Produce arrives to these stalls daily from Mercado Abastos (the giant wholesale produce center) in Guadalajara and is so fresh that most of it was picked the night before or that morning.

This is what part of the mercado looks like from above:

My favorite vendor is Sylvia.

My favorite butcher is Guillermo. I buy lean bacon thick cut to my preference and chicken-apple, chicken-mango sausage when he makes it.

My favorite chicken lady. Look how plump and yellow these chickens are, delicious too.
She grinds fresh, skinless, breast meat for 70 pesos/kilo.

Then on to the Oso Cremeria for turkey bacon, skim milk, sesame seed bagels,
and cheddar cheese. Saul does a great job of finding and carrying imported foods for us.
All I have to do is ask.

And to the Oso abarrote for some honey mustard and Caesar salad dressing.

A bag of bones for the dog.

And a bag of pan roasted peanuts in the shell for the walk home.

My shopping bags for today contained:

Ten -1/2 inch thick slices of bacon - 15 pesos or $1.13 US.
A kilo of ground skinless chicken breast 70 pesos/kilo or $2.65 US per lb.
2 - 1.5 liter salad dressings @ 44 pesos each 88 pesos or $6.66 US
dog bones 6 @ 1 peso each 6 pesos or $ .45 US
Oops, dog bones are only 6 for a peso or $ .10 US
peanuts 10 pesos 1/2 kilo10 pesos or $ .75 US
liter of skim milk 13.00 pesos or $ .98 US
1 papaya 6 pesos or $ .45 US
6 small bananas 6 pesos or $ .45 US
2 yellow potatoes 8 pesos or $ .60 US
large head of romaine lettuce 8 pesos or $ .60
6 STALKS of celery 5 pesos or $ .38
4 cucumbers 4 pesos or $ .30
6 carrots 5 pesos or $ .38

REVISED TOTAL: 195 pesos or $14.80 US

Uh Oh. This is not good. July 2009

I awoke this morning to an odd hacking noise that sounded like it was coming from the empty lot next door. I did what I usually do when I first detect the possibly of bad news - I ignored it.

Much later, after it started up again, I knew it was clearly coming from next door and it now sounded like someone was hacking away at my brick wall! I put on my most authoritative aloha shirt and marched right over there to see what was going on. After all, since I was the only one with the key to the gate, how could they have possibly gotten in? Wrong!

Not only were they in but 'they' were a team of men hacking and hewing the lot to shreds with their machetes.

"Qué tal, señor!" I hollered.
He kindly came and explained to me that they were working for the dueña (also MY dueña - who, for some reason, had neglected to remember to inform me of this) and they were clearing the land. I asked him if after they cleared the lot they would then cart the drying weeds elsewhere so the neighborhood hoodlums wouldn't be tempted to light it afire again this year and jeopardize my propane tank, house, and life again. That is when I heard the dreaded word "construcción".

"Whoa, construction?" I asked.

"Si, señora, he said, they are going to build".

"Una casa.

Oh well. What can you do. I've spent my whole life trying to stay one step ahead of the bulldozers. More on 'Progress' later.

Could be worse. . .Claire is fighting the municipality of Jocotepec who wants to put a bypass highway in above our village and turn her front yard into an on-ramp. Larry is enduring the construction of an Eventos party place next door. Other friends are going to be living about 400 feet from this new highway up on the hill where they've built their dream compound. Jonnie is fighting the Chapala municipality who has elected to turn their heads while a land grabber steals her lake-front beach property and turns it into a marina!

Could be worse. . .and most importantly. . .I can always move!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tia Lupitas July 2009

"BAAA AAARB!" "You ate it!" "I didn't get a chance to take a picture!"

"I was hungry!"

Photo donated from the private collection of Barb Hopkins

Viva Mexico Tia Lupita Porfirio Diaz #92 in SJC 333-156-2245

Barb and I had comida this afternoon at one of my favorite restaurants on the lake. Mmmm, maybe it's because it's owned by one of my favorite people at the lake, Agustín Vázquez.

Tia and Agustín

I had the incredible good luck of renting my first house from Agustín and having him as my property manager. We became friends as he helped me and my mom get adjusted to our new house and life here in Los Charales. He was a fountain of information, and not the kind you get in the Real Estate brochures, but the real deal. Agustín is a San Juan Cosalá homeboy, and I liked him instantly!

This is the kind of property manager he was. . .one day, while having a dinner party, I reached into the freezer for something and felt pain. Like hot. Nah, can't be, must have been cold. Reached back again, definitely hot! It's hot in the back of my freezer, behind the frozen peas? I pulled the stuff out and saw smoke, blackness, and a little flame . . . in the back of my freezer!

I called . . . who else . . . my property manager.
"OMG, I said, the freezer is on fire!"
Pull the plug, I'll be right over.

An hour later
Agustín and his brother arrived in a pick-up with another fridge in the back. They muscled that one in and the burnt one out.
'It'll be back in a few days, he said, use this one."
"Where did you get this," I asked.
"It's mine. M
y wife moved our food out and took it to my brothers house, you can use ours until this one is fixed," Agustín explained.
And off they went.
I was stunned.

Soon he started contracting and began building houses, then bigger and fancier houses, then monster houses. His life became more and more stressful as he worked hard in order to provide for his wife, three big and growing boys, and extended family. Then, predictably, he had a health issue and was told by his doctor to chill out. So, he looked around for something else to do.

Meanwhile, his tia Lupita, Maria Guadalupe Vásquez, had been faithfully owning and operating her 3 table fonda on Porfirio Diaz #92 in SJC for 25 years and supporting her extended family.
Agustín had an idea.

Using his building skills, and some money he had saved from building houses, poco a poco he built Tia Lupitas from a 3 table fonda into what it is now - a comfortable Mexican food restaurant with a good wait staff (remember those growing boys?), an experienced cook and kitchen staff, and Agustín working the door/ kitchen/ washing dishes or tending bar.

Sons top left: Mauricio and Miguel. Bottom left: Rodrigo and friend Martin

When the mountain above SJC came down a couple of years ago, Tia Lupita's was Grand Central Station churning out free meals for the people of the village all day and night. Agustín calculates that over the 10 days it took SJC to get back on it's feet they served between 25,000 and 30,000 meals to the people of San Juan, the firefighters, EMS personnel, police, the kids in school, and anyone else who wandered in hungry. All free!

It was an inspiring sight. People from all over brought donated food and Agustín picked up the tab for all the other expenses, incidentals and ingredients for the meals. Donations arrived in the back of every kind of vehicle you can imagine and became mountains of carrots, onions, potatoes, etc. in the restaurant for the prep people to climb over and around. The carneceria across from the restaurant sent bags of meat. Hordes of volunteers chopped. Tia coordinated it all by circulating among the chaos directing and deciding what would go into which casuela. Magic was produced.

The police came and meals were loaded in the back of their pick ups for transport to the school for the kids.

One hundred and fifty San Juan families lost everything they had that morning. Agustín was ready for them.

Today, Tia Lupita is a hub for bi-cultural people. Agustín's perfect English, humanitarian spirit, and incomparable hospitality has become a magnet for foreigners, Tapatio visitors, and local Mexicans. Often there is music and entertainment on the weekends. The walls are adorned with local art and an unbelievable mural by Isidro Xilonzóchitl covers an entire wall depicting SJC's earlier times.

Now that you've met Agustín and his wonderful family,
drop by for a good meal and some fine hospitality.

Closed Thursdays.

Left to right: Agustín's wife Antonia, Agustín, Tia, and Male

Monday, July 27, 2009

MT Update July 2009



Tomorrow I will be writing the first of a series of Favorites. Favorites will pop up from time to time in order to introduce you to some of the really great and interesting people, places, and things here in the 'hood. This time we will start with Favorite People. Tune back in to see who the first Favorite People turns out to be. Maybe it will be you. . .

Thank you again to the people who email and comment on the blog, it is much appreciated and you are a source of inspiration.

let me know if you have questions or something you'd like me to write about, I'm always on the hunt for good stories and will be happy to look into your suggestions. I'm open to all ideas, just leave a note in the comments section and I'll respond back.

Gracias y que le vaya bien.


Friday, July 24, 2009

¡ Viva Mexico! July 2009

You can't . . .

. . .make. . .

. . .this. . .

. . .stuff. . .

. . .up!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"WHOA. . .SOME STORM!" July 2009

When you are at a loss for something intelligent to say. . .let others speak for you.

This from our local forum on last night's storm:

- not a lot of rain but the wind tore every thing up........and kudoes to the electric co.....back up in 1/2 hour

- Lot of hail in Brisas de Chapala, high winds and lots of rain. Spectacular!!!!!!!!!

- Only a little rain in West Ajijic for about an hour. Very high winds as others suggested.

- Brief high winds, Lots of Rain, and electricity went out about 4 times - it would come on for about 10 or 15 minutes - and then off again - and back on about midnight - in riberas.

- It's amazing how much the weather varies from Joco to Chapala. I guess the only accurate measurement of rain is how much the lake fills up.

For the record - and as predicted in previous post - MT enjoyed:
  • Major wind
  • Followed by more major wind accompanied by a green aura
  • Followed by more major wind and loss of green aura
  • Followed by loss of TelMex internet/phone line
  • Followed by return of above
  • Followed by loss of complete CFE power
  • Followed by return of power but continued loss of internet/phone line
  • Followed by return of all power and internet/phone line
  • Followed by loss of Telecable TV - which is always my first bet for failure, I believe they use existing spider webs for conductivity
  • Followed by complete loss of power again
  • Followed by return of power but continued loss of internet/phone line AND Telecable TV
  • Followed by pulling of all plugs - again, see previous post
  • Followed by snoring and deep sleep. . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rainy Season - Jocotepec - July 2009


The mountains have become lush and green with patches of shady lavender in the folds. Thunder that can crack an adobe wall and blinding flashes of lightening confirm the rainy season has arrived. Wish it lasted all year!

In the morning, when I take the garbage out, the cobblestone streets that run from the mountain have become rivers. They wash mud and silt away from the cobbles creating more potholes and fissures in the road.

In some places along the highway, the roadside foliage is as high as my chin and does a nice job of concealing the basura.

Fields and fields of wildflowers of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Some recognizable, some not. At slightly higher elevations the wildflowers line both sides of the highway tall enough to not be able to see over from inside the car.

The myth that "it only rains at night" around here - is not a myth. Days are mostly sunny and blue sky, then when everyone is safely inside and night falls, work is done for the day, fun is done for the day, the storms begin. Designer Weather.

Fence posts have a way of turning into trees.

The cascadas are roaring in the mountains, last year we counted 11 just in the mountains along San Juan Cosalá. And, those were just the ones you could see from the highway. Hiking in the mountains is spectacular.

The mountain trails are under water.

The lake becomes fat and happy.


  • 1,000,000 leaf cutter ants will descend on your garden and STRIP IT BARE OVERNIGHT.
  • Baches (potholes) breed and little baby ones become big craters.
  • You can get a lightening strike and fry every sophisticated electronic piece of equipment in the house.
  • The power can go out for the whole weekend. . .
  • . . .and when it comes back on - it can return with such a surge that it will fry every sophisticated electronic piece of equipment in the house.
  • Dengue Fever
  • Malaria
  • Ticks
  • Green and moldy shoes - doesn't matter, we don't wear them anyway!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thanks! July 2009

To everyone who emailed and sent comments. I hope I can continue to entertain you.

Bear with me as I flatten the learning curve on this blogging thing. I promise to find out why there are - and endeavor to eliminate - mystery spaces, lost lines, screwy dates and times, spontaneous font changes, and way too much white space.


Friday, July 17, 2009

ROAD TRIP - San Jose de Gracias - Mazamitla - Valle de Juarez June 2009

The phone rang. . .
"Let's Go Somewhere!" Said Kathi.
"Yeah! Let's go! Where you wanna go?" I responded.
"I dunno."

"Where you wanna go?"
"I dunno."

"What direction?"
"I dunno."

"You guys are a pain in the butt!"

"Ok, meet Jonnie and me at the Pemex and we'll go pick Barb up."


It's not easy being the driver, and by default - Fun Captain for the day - but Kathi does it with such assurance and efficiency it's hard to want to take over that responsibility. She NEVER misses a tope, drives really well, will go and do ANYTHING (and that's huge!), has a nice car that is safe and doesn't use a lot of gas, speaks fluent Spanglish, and is really fun to hang out with. Today - once again - she was it.

The Cast of Characters.

Pvt Hopkins receiving orders from Sgt Major Hoffman at a clandestine location
deep in the Mexican highlands.

"Ok, lets head up toward Mazamitla and take all the dirt (reality check - MUD) roads we can find." FC said.
"Works for me." I said
"Works for me too." Said Jonnie
"Yeah, I'm in." Said Barb.

We piled out of Kathi's car at the first stop - Valle de Juarez.
Hey! I said it was a safe car. . .

Beautiful Valle plaza.

Fun Captain. Trying to ditch us again.
You can't take your eye off her for a second.

Pretty roses next to an ancient house.

Up to Mazamitla for lunch at the roadhouse La Troje.
Great food, handsome waiters, hunky pictures of hunky guys in the 'Ladies Room'. . .
what more could a girl ask for!

A photo is worth a thousand words. . .

Is this a papaya?
Looks like the jury is still out.

Next stop:
San José de Gracias.

Buddy Holly in his previous life.

What a beauty!

These primarily agricultural and ranching mountain villages are great shopping for cheeses, fresh fruit preserves, candies, honey, ponche (a deliciously rich homemade eggnog-like alcoholic drink),
fruit trees, and anything made of wood.

Pretty bag lady, with pretty braid!

I told you I was a geek. You can take the girl out of EMS
but you can never take the EMS out of the girl.

The End.