Visiting one of Mexico’s Magic Towns

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 90

Today was a special treat. Hal and Jerry, the landlords of the house where we are housesitting, graciously invited us on a road trip. We can get to most places by bus, but today’s destination was not one of them.

We are on the northwest side of Lake Chapala. The entire north side of the lake is quite developed, some areas more gringo-ized than others. The south side, however, is still farmland and little towns. Driscoll Raspberry Company and other big fruit industries fill the landscape.

We left the perimeter of the lake and went away from the lake, south, and up the mountain. Here at Lake Chapala we are at about 5000 feet; today we drove up to an alpine town at 7000+ feet. The geography really changed to forest and tree farms (avocados).

Our destination was Mazamitla, one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos”. There are about 35 of these towns scattered across the country. They are towns that have distinct character, like unique architeture, art, cuisine, and overall ambience. Mexico is trying to show tourists that it offers more than just beaches for tourism. Towns have to meet certain standards (including not much modernization) to attain this status.

Mazamitla did not disappoint.

A lot of the buildings date back from the 1500s, and many have old adobe sticking out of their crumbling walls.

The white paint on top with the red on the bottom is a distinct feature here. Also, lots of wood beams…

The main plaza with its beautiful church is the heart of the old town.

We strolled down the streets, and found a nice restaurant in a courtyard for lunch

The old wooden doors have so much character….

Back down the mountain to the house and to Frida. We lounged by the pool and did some shopping.

Wednesday is Labor Day. It is a big deal. Firecrackers have been going off at all hours of the day, in preparation of the holiday, and church bells start up at 6:30 AM. Tomorrow George leaves for the US and we wanted to go out to eat. Almost everything was closed.. We finally found a pizza place “Pizza Come” (Eat Pizza) and picked up a pizza to go.

While we were waiting for the pizza, we hung out at this open-air bar with some nice young men.

DINNER: The pizza wasn’t too bad, especially after I doctored it up with sauteed mushrooms and onions, and sprinkled on some basil from a plant in the back yard.

Lunch with a view

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 90

I took Frida for her daily walk to the malecon. She is a rescue dog, and must have been abused when she was on the street. She gets really skittish around loud motorcycles and cars, and with aggressive dogs. I take a walking stick to ward off street dogs.

Ray and Rose, the housesitters who are taking over our assignment when we finish, came over to the house for some orientation. They have a car and we all decided to try out a restaurant on a hill overlooking Lake Chapala.

What a great decision! It was really special!!!

We snagged a table overlooking the lake. The size of the lake makes you think you are on some exotic island.

There was a beautiful breeze, and we took our time, slowly ordering, savoring the food, chatting over drinks, and overall just enjoying the experience.

George and I split a bass filet in a Veracruz sauce. Ray ordered some fish fritters for all of us to share.

On our way home, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some ice cream which is famous from Jocotepec. I passed, as I was too full, but others really enjoyed theirs.

DINNER: I was still full to even think about food, but George was game for more. He warmed up his leftover T-bone from his birthday dinner on the grill.

Moving Day

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 90

We awoke at about 6:00 AM to fireworks. We can’t figure out if it is a special holiday, or people just celebrating the weekend.

Today is moving day. A guy is coming this afternoon to pick up the homeowners’ stuff to take to the USA. So, this morning, we took all the boxes out to the patio in preparation of his arrival.

We walked downtown to buy some prescriptions (without prescriptions) from a discount pharmacy. In Mexico, you can buy just about anything without a prescription. When we travel for long periods, sometimes we run out of our meds (before we can get a shipment sent to wherever we are at the time) , so it is nice to have a few extra on hand. On our way home, a pickup-full of goats passed us on its way to a birreria (goat stew restaurant).

The driver came in the afternoon and we helped him load up. He must do this a lot, as he seemed very experienced. He loaded everything in the SUV without any problems.

He plans to leave tomorrow at 4:00 AM, arriving at the border around 2:00 PM, then see how long it takes to get through the border. We wish him good luck!

We went out to Frida’s Restaurant nearby for dinner with the landlords who were here for the van loading. We shared a delicious Asian salad with grilled shrimp.

After dinner, we sat on the patio at home listening to what is called the Rain Bird. It is an insect like a cicada with the most unusual, distinct, (and loud) sound. They say that once you hear it, it means that that the rainy season will start in 6 weeks. With the sounds we have heard the last 2 evenings, that means the rains should start mid-June, which is pretty much on schedule.

Pampering the Birthday Boy

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 90

Today is George’s 74th birthday. His newest idea is to tell people that he is 82, so they will say how good he looks!

He started the day with a big plate of blueberry pancakes.

While he pampered himself with stretching and yoga, I took Frida down to the malecon for her daily walk. Sheer happiness, as always.

Then, we walked to downtown where he was in search of a manicure and hair cut. The only manicurist we found said she was booked for the day. The barber shops all seemed to be closed. We found a beauty salon, and I asked the guy if he would cut George’s hair, and he said yes. Here is the “before” look….

And here is the “after” shot…A cut and shave for $4.

The barber told George he looks good for his age. In Spanish, the literal translation is something like “well-preserved”. So, I told the barber that the beer is a good preservation method.

Then, we mosied to the Jocotepec square and joined some gringos for a coffee. He splurged with some homemade blueberry ice cream.

Lunch was his favorite – a BLT – at home on the patio.

A quiet afternoon, with a siesta when it was the hottest.

Then, we walked back downtown to a nice steak house.

The restaurant is in a courtyard with antique decorations.

The owner’s little girl played next to our table.

George ordered a T-bone and said it was excellent. I had a platter of guacamole tacos. Everything was great, but just too much food!

As we walked home at about 8:00, everyone else was strolling back to the square for a Friday night soiree.

He topped the day with a slice of birthay flan. A nice day for the birthday boy!

Birthday flan

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: (I sound like a broken record): Sunny. High 86

Lilia, our maid, arrived with George’s birthday flan that she had made at her home. (I had secretly asked for her to make George one, at the recommendation of our homeowner). His actual birthday is tomorrow, but she doesn’t come on Fridays.

This is the flan pan she uses.

She told me that it isn’t hard to make. Condensed milk, eggs, and I’m not sure what else. (Notice her nails…..)

We caught an early bus to Ajijic so I could attend a line-dancing class. This cowboy was sharing the bus stop with us…

After the class, we walked into Ajijic to meet a guy who is a cousin of our homeowners. He had some of their mail that we will pack up for them. A Californian, he has lived here 4 years and loves it. We talked so much that he joined us for lunch at a nice restaurant.

In the evening, a couple came over for sangria and chips & salsa. He is Californian; she is Mexican. They are building a small RV park just a few blocks from our house. Super nice people.

DINNER: Asian fried rice using last of rotisserie chicken and lots of veg. Dessert – flan, of course!

Enjoying Birria (no, not Beer-ia)

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: Hot, High 88

Today’s highlight was checking out the neighborhood birrieria with Rose and Ray, the housesitters that are going to take over when we are finished here.

Before beer-loving readers get excited about this, a clarification. Birria is a stew made either from goat or beef. A birrieria is a restaurant that features birria. Jocotepec supposedly has the best birria in Mexico. Some say the best in the world. And, this particular restaurant is supposed to be the best. Its name, El Tartamudo, means The Stutterer, who was the original owner, and also a bullfighter.

No menu. The waiter told us that there were 3 kinds to choose from – ribs, spine, and something else I did not catch. All goat. We ordered a rib stew; Rose and Ray a mixed.

To eat it, you spread some of the meat and juice (very very tasty), along with some diced onions and lime juice, all on a warm corn tortilla.

I’ve spoken to other Gringos who scrunched up their noses when I asked about birria, but we really liked it. If we have time while we are here, we will go again.

We walked back home with Rose and Ray, and oriented them a bit to the house.

After a quiet afternoon, we walked Frida to the malecon.

DINNER: Since it is still hot, I thought a cool dinner would be nice. I made a salad with leftover smoked, rice, steamed asparagus, all over lettuce.

BOOK: I finished the book our book club is reviewing at our next meeting – “The Code Girls” by Liza Mundy. It is a true story of the work a group of strong women did to break secret codes during WWII. 8 out of 10, I would say.

Cucarachas and other Mexican critters

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico

WEATHER: HOT. Sunny 90+

Everyone (not just gringos) is complaining about the heat. It didn’t cool off during the night as it usually does.

As we stood waiting for the bus, we chatted with a Mexican neighbor. He was born here, lived in Texas and California for 35 years, then returned here to retire “for a better qualify of life”. That surprises most Americans, I think (to have the choice between USA and Mexico, and to choose Mexico). I guess the same thing can be said for the hundreds of Americans and Canadians who have become permanent residents here, around Lake Chapala.

While we were waiting for the bus, the neighbor proudly showed us his unusual night-blooming cactus.

We took the bus to Ajijic where I did my line-dancing class. We were all sweating a lot, even though we dance in a shaded pavilion. While I was dancing, George took photos of the gardens. Beautiful…

We sat in the shady park-like setting while I cooled off. Then, we hiked about a mile to the west side of Ajijic to our favorite brewpub. It is an interesting walk – first through Gringoland, then through Mexican sidestreets, and then arriving at a plaza with an upscale Mexican restaurant, a French bakery/bistro, and this American-style brewpub.

We shared their Tueday special – fish and chips, which were nicely done. I tried not to think that the fish probably was tilapia caught from the nearby polluted Lake Chapala.

Then, bus ride back home. I tried to read, but in the heat of the afternoon, my eyelids would’t stay open and I napped, too.

Mexican “critters” are a way of life here. On our first day here, we spotted a scorpion. A friend was bitten by one hiding in his bath towel, biting him as he was drying off from a shower. Ouch! We have to carefully shake out our shoes before putting them on.

And then, there are brown recluse spiders. We saw one of those in the house, too. We know 2 people who have serious health issues resulting from their bites.

And then there are cucarachas, my favorite…..NOT! I just hate these things, but they are everywhere – dead and alive.

It finally started to cool off in the evening, and we enjoyed a drink, then dinner, on the patio.

DINNER: Using leftover rotisserie chicken, I made a chicken parmesan dish. Side was salad with some tasty tomatoes we found.

Scenes around our Mexican town

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 90. Brutal sunshine

Every morning as I sip my coffee, I peruse the emails I receive from Trusted Housesitters, the website we use to find our assignments. I receive 2 emails per day with new opportunities. Today one from Tahiti caught my eye. It had only been posted 4 hours, but already had 50+ applicants. I applied anyway….who knows?

I took Frida by myself to the malecon (lakefront boardwalk) while George got ready for the day. I picked up a stick to protect Frida from any male admirerers. We did fine.

When we returned, George decided to give her a bath. She seemed to like it – probably cooled her off.

We walked downtown to do some shopping. Since we are at such a high elevation (5000+ feet), the sun beats down brutally. It was so intense while we were walking that my skin was stinging.

As we walk downtown, we see different scenes each day. This house is growing a lot of flowers on its roof.

These ladies are selling some sort of bean snack. They look like soybeans, but are bigger. Sometimes they boil them; othertimes they eat them raw.

Beautiful trees are everywhere. The jacaranda are ending their blooms, and others are starting up.

Artists do nice murals. This building is a wall of skulls….

We stopped to buy a rotisserie chicken for dinner.

Back home, we were boiling, so George made a smoothie out of the mamey fruit we had leftover from breakfast. He added fresh mango and pineapple, yogurt, and…..tequila. It turned out really well. Tasted like a pina colada.

DINNER: Rotisserie chicken. We finished it off on the grill, which gives it a nice crunch. Side was grilled asparagus.

A big food day. Vampires for Easter?

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 85

It seems like we ate all day, and absolutely nothing was Easter-like. Breakfast was an adventure into trying mamey. It is an interesting fruit found in Central and South America. It tastes strangely like cooked, pumpkin pie filling.

I had bought the mamey yesterday at our favorite fruit/veg shop. (It is the one where the young clerk chased us down when George inadvertently left his money clip full of pesos there last week). I had told him I wanted a mamey to eat today, and he carefully found one that he said would be perfectly ready today.

It was just so-so. George is going to make a smoothie with the rest of it – with pineapple, yogurt, ice, and……tequila. We’ll let you know about how it turns out.

We also bought empanadas yesterday, and they too were a surprise. The inside filling was cooked and hardened evaporated milk. The dough was sprinkled with sugar.

Then, we walked downtown to see if anything was going on for Easter. The plaza was packed with shoppers and people just strolling around. We stopped at the coffee shop to see what the gringos were up to. Then, over to a local bar for a beer and complimentary spicey peanuts.

We joined the shoppers and bought shirts. Mine is from Chiapas, and George’s is from Oaxaca.

Back home to run around the yard with Frida and for lunch, smoked turkey tacos.

After napping (George) during the hot part of the day, we took the bus about 8 miles east of here to the “zona turistica”, a section of Lake Chapala chock full of lakeside restaurants.

There are guys standing in the road, beckoning drivers to stop at their place.

We picked one randomly, ensuring it had a nice view of the lake..

The most popular drink here is called Vampiros (Vampires). As its name suggests, it is kind of like a Bloody Mary, but with added citrus.

The waiter brought tons of complimentary snacks to accompany the Vampire….chips and guacamole, ceviche, and fried, tiny fish similar to sardines. I timidly ate the fish, hoping that it did not come from the polluted lake.

Then, back to the house where Frida was eagerly waiting for her dinner.

We watched a bit of TV via the internet, then walked 2 blocks to the main street where grilled chicken stalls line both sides of the street. One of the chicken places turns in to a pizza place at about 8;00 PM. We wanted to check it out. A pizza was just coming off the grill, so we bought 2 pieces. It was topped with sliced weiners, ham, and pepperoni. The server asked me if we wanted toppings….mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. We passed on those, but did pick up some jalapenos.

We brought the pizza back home. In the end, we were not that hungry, so just split one slice, and saved the second slice for breakfast tomorrow – our favorite breakfast is pizza with a fried egg on top.

Mexican Street Food

LOCATION: Housesitting in Jocotepec, Mexico

WEATHER: Sunny. High 86

We took Frida for another walk to the malecon (lakeside board walk). All it takes is for George to put on his baseball cap, and she goes beserk with happiness.

After the walk, George and I walked a short block to the tortilleria for tortillas. Most people buy huge amounts. I asked if I could just get 10 (even at that we probably can’t get through them all).

They were fresh off the assembly line – you can see the man putting the fresh masa (dough) into the feeder. The tortillas were nice and caliente (quite warm).

And cheap — big stack for $.50

Then, across the street to buy an empanada. Almost every country has some version of this little pie. I asked her what kind (thinking beef or pork) and she said they are filled with milk! We will try them for breakfast tomorrow……stay tuned.

Then a walk to downtown to buy some more groceries. Somethings were closed for Semana Santa (Holy Week), but these guys were busy painting.

We are trying to strengthen our constitutions to start eating street food as it looks and smells so good. Not yet though, for these tacos..

Or for these churros…

Back home for a late lunch followed by a siesta for George and Frida….she follows him everywhere in the house.

Then, back downtown to do some more shopping.. This cowboy was coming in to town for the evening…

DINNER: Hamburgers on the grill. Side were salad and elote (Mexican corn on the cob).