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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Colors of Mexico Inspire Me

 Today I realized I've neglected my blog since February, when we were in Ajijic the first time. We returned in Sept, but I didn't write even though I took pictures and wanted to do a Colors of Mexico blog.
 We stayed in a neighborhood on the east side of town called La Floresta, which was lovely large private homes. We were in a casita, small apartment, above a home there. The one-bedroom apartment was perfect for us and in walking distance of good restaurants and the Wed. market.
 Best of all, I managed to walk on those awful cobbled streets without hurting myself this time. In January, my toe missed a small curb and I fell, not realizing I'd broken my foot for 2 months. I've joked that in Sept, I was so cautious, I never looked up when walking and burned the back of my neck! But the truth is, I often stopped and shot photos because the colors of Mexico are the most vibrant and beautiful. I think they inspire my art:

A house from the neighborhood--even in an upscale area, houses can have great colors. 

A favorite from a walk--house had every color imaginable on it. Somehow it works here.

I started ice-dyeing silk and other natural fibers about a year ago.
Color color color...

Friday, February 3, 2017

Restaurant & Cemetery Art

Ajijic is a very artsy community, which is obvious because so many of the outer walls are painted and every restaurant displays beautiful murals and framed works. Some are for sale, but most are personal collections.  
 I showed the outside where we had lunch at Yves...with the pool (with 3 fountains in it) and the burros. We returned for breakfast, which was very good. I hate omelettes but ordered a spinach, mushroom, and cheese one and liked it so much, came back for another the next day.
Yves has many white burro paintings inside and out, plus more framed pieces on all the walls.
We sat outside the second to the last day after hearing it was raining at home and would be for 6 days. Thought we'd better enjoy this weather while we can.

 Don Pedro's, which has few customers and great food. I posted pictures of my pasta dinner and made people drool. We've been telling everyone about them so they'll have more business. The staff here recommended another place for our first night that was pretty, but the food wasn't nearly as good. Don Pedro's had these huge murals on the walls...the hands are above the doorway. Amazing.
                                                      Empanada and pasta at Don Pedro.

 This is also a local establishment right around the corner from the hotel called Armando's. The staff didn't seem to know they exist, which is odd. They don't make it a habit of knowing much. This giant mural is on the wall in one of the dining rooms. They have many small rooms, which could mean this was once someone's house.
 They're known for preparing flambĂ© in the center area where everyone can watch. I ordered mustard steak, similar to steak Diane and we shared peach flambĂ© for dessert, both prepared almost table-side.

 One of the main attractions that comes up for Ajijic is their cemetery. We caught the bus in front of it, so spent some time walking around and through to see why. It's very impressive--well-tended and each grave is marked with huge displays. Very few had fresh flowers, but it looks like people do keep their loved one's area decorated.

We both look like the walking wounded at this point--my foot and finger still hurt and are swollen, my skinned knee is still open and hurting, Matthew's face is swollen from the dental work, but that's normal for what he had done and the dentist says everything looks great...BUT he has a wheeze and something going on with his upper respiratory system, so hopefully we'll both feel better at home tomorrow.
Yeah, we always say how we love to travel, yet every trip has some kind of trial. I've written a pretty scathing review of our hotel for Tripadvisor because so many earlier reviews fooled us.  I think I'll post it here as well as a reminder.

 I feel sorry for the hotel staff because they must field daily complaints. We are well-traveled and generally can roll with the punches, but we were moved into 4 different rooms due to a series of problems. The first one we landed in was downstairs, which was not only dark but smelled moldy. We didn’t last more than a few minutes, returned to reception and asked to move. They gave us the key to the one directly above us, so we moved our luggage ourselves. That room was brighter and didn’t smell, so we stayed 4 nights.  The rooms are  not actually ready to use when you arrive, as the pilot lights for the water heaters and stove are not lit and you have to call reception to do that after discovering there is no hot water; the sizes and efficiency of the heaters also vary greatly. The refrigerators also are not on and won’t turn on unless you locate and flip the correct circuit breaker, or else call staff again. There is no room heat though it does get into the low 40s F at night.
We were at the end of the complex near the street (though we couldn’t see it because the complex is walled all around). At night, usually around 2 am, dogs started barking and one in particular, sounded as if he was right outside our door. Barking lasted much of the night, and even though I wore ear plugs, it still woke me.
After 4 sleepless nights, we finally decided we had to move rooms. Alfonso moved us to a room that is in the middle of the complex, down several flights of stairs to the lowest level. Although it was dark, it felt quiet and protected from the outside world of barking dogs. My husband’s dental surgery was that afternoon, so I returned to the room and after spending about 30 minutes there, realized this also had a moldy smell and before my headache got any worse, I asked to move to our fourth room. This room was on same level as reception, down a few doors from our first one, but somewhat quieter. We can still hear the worst of the dogs, but it’s not as loud. 
I have mentioned the barking to people at reception and the handyman, and none have responded with any comment. I think management has trained them not to remark. They were very accommodating about moving us and making calls for taxis or reservations and the like. 
The ‘bones’ of Danza del Sol are good—nice-sized rooms, kitchens, interesting floor plans, though some are very dark because there aren’t outside windows. However, everything is dated or limited in some way. The kitchens have the bare basics with plastic dishes and often dirty pots and glasses. This is almost understandable since no soap is provided and not even a kitchen towel. We bought paper towels so we’d have something to use for cleaning, drying, napkins…
After talking to other guests, I am wondering if many of the rooms are uninhabitable. We have all been circulating through the same set of rooms.
I think if they got a major overhaul here, it could be a great place, but right now, it’s just sad. Typically in Mexico, the outside of a place looks run-down and beaten up, but the inside can be pristine and lush. At Hotel Danza del Sol, it’s just the opposite.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ajijic Street & Restaurant Art

 Today we caught the bus the short ride to see the lake and walk the malecon by Lake Chapala. It's 70 miles long and 7 miles wide (no, duh, we didn't walk the length). We've been warned not to eat anything from there, although the locals can, and not to swim in it either. But it is beautiful to see.  I've been noticing that every restaurant we've been to has lovely artwork on the walls. Some are for sale, but much is property of the restaurants. The streets too have murals everywhere, and I couldn't resist taking photos of a few on our walk. 
  We read about Tabarka, a Spanish tapas place that had been in our hotel neighborhood and moved 3 weeks ago. We tried to find it last night, but it was gone, so happily got there for lunch today. We met an x-pat from San Francisco who frequents Tabarka who's lived in Ajijic for 5 years. We also met their resident chicken who came with the location for the restaurant. She visits tables and begs food, so Davide, the owner, hands out rice to give her so the customers don't give him bread, which Matthew did before we heard it wasn't good for her. The place is filled with colorful art and has a beautiful outside eating area.

 We had a delicious warm shrimp salad followed by black paella.
We will return to Tabarka, either on this trip or one of our next ones. Great food. Matthew asked for hot sauce and the owner, sitting nearby, heard and  asked if he'd like either grilled chilis or a tomato and chili combo, so he had his chef make him a chili and tomato sauce from scratch to go with the paella. Such service...and no bottled sauce. The locals are wonderfully friendly and welcoming...and no f'ing wall is ever mentioned. 
 We walked the malecon along the lake...a really wonderful place to spend time. Many families having picnics and enjoying the area.

The view from the pier

This is a giant bowl or pit for bike riders. Behind it is a skate board ramp and park.

My own video made me laugh...because I obviously couldn't see due to the bright sunlight, so the beginning went a little awry.

We walked along the malecon to the end, which put is about 2-3 blocks from our hotel, so walked the rest of the way. If my foot hadn't been injured, we would have walked there by now. Today if felt a little better, plus the view was distracting enough and more importantly, the malecon is flat and straight with no stone paths, so it was easier. 
In case you don't get Facebook, here's my morning shot:

Who knew my foot would match my polish on this trip?

Saturday, January 28, 2017


 I hate cobblestone streets. I've always hated them...the first time in the 80's watching Parisian women in high heels walk naturally across them as I gingerly made my way in my sensible shoes. I've never understood how to maneuver them gracefully.
 That being said...

 Here we are in Ajijic, Mexico for the first of 3 trips in the next year for Matthew's extensive (and far less expensive) dental work. The town is supposed to be charming, though we got in around 6 pm yesterday so couldn't see much. We walked to the closest restaurant the hotel told us about for dinner around 7:30, and what I noticed were the cobblestone streets and broken sidewalks that ended abruptly. It's's always like this, especially when we first arrive. It takes a little getting used to--the streets often look like crap, but once inside the walls of La Mision
 a beautiful decor greeted us....tables surrounding a dropped stage area where 2 men played stringed instruments and piano. People here must eat early (after all, it is a well-known retirement area for x-pats) because about 3-4 tables were full, but by the time our first course arrived, we were the only ones left. We didn't feel rushed at all , however.
 I ordered the soup of the day, creamy zucchini, and Matthew had the Aztec soup where the crispy ingredients were in the bowl, then they poured the hot tomato-based broth over it. Both were pretty good. Main courses--me the ahi covered with huitlacoche with mashed sweet potato and M with pork chop and mashed potato were good, but nothing we had had much depth of flavor.

 Today was Matthew's dental appointment where he'd find out the treatment plan. He knew he needed at least 2 implants and an initial bone graft. First, we had breakfast at the Hotel Danza del Sol, where we have a one-bedroom villa with kitchen and living room. It's spacious, but in typical Mexican fashion, we have to get used to either asking for what we need or living without. We changed rooms immediately because we were downstairs and it was a very dark place. They had us go upstairs, so now we have high ceilings and more light during the day. These are the most interesting buildings...we have a large living room with 2 soft, sunken couches and a private patio outside that is walled on 3 sides. Very private.  A good sized dining room next to the kitchen and down the hall, our very large bedroom with 2 closets, one of which is a walk-in with a safe, and the bathroom. The way it's configured, it has high windows across from the dining room and kitchen most can't see out of or into and regular windows in the bedroom that look out on the courtyard below (their 'private patio') and across from the frosted windows in our living room. It's all very private, but mostly interior windows so you can't see what's going on outside the villa. It could definitely use updating and it would be an awesome place. Well, except we're way at the end of the huge complex, which is good in theory, but the neighborhood dogs barked all night and kept us up. Can we ever travel and actually sleep?
 We decided to walk a block up from us to buy coffee for our apartment and when on that street, explore the end of the block where we found a lovely French breakfast bistro and other restaurants down the street. We wandered over to the bistro to take a look, carefully making our way over the cobblestones (you knew I'd get back to them), and I missed seeing that a curb started small and got larger and tripped on the smallest part ... and fell right over onto the ground.
 Crap...again? didn't I trip on our last big trip too? Of course, it was in full view of everyone eating outside and one woman came over to see if I was okay. She said she had a broken elbow and knew a good orthopedic if I needed one. Hope not....  My knee was skinned (fortunately I carry bandaids), my right hand hurt like hell, and the worst was my left foot. I think I landed on the side of it and it's very bruised. I can't figure out how I landed on my right hand and left foot and skinned my right knee...guess it's good my head didn't get involved in the crash.
 As I hobbled back down the block we decided to stop for lunch at Yves, a recommended spot with gorgeous outdoor seating around a pool and fountain. Food was good, but not fabulous, but the best was key lime pie and the homemade Bailey's Irish Cream he said he's been making for 35 years. He's quite an interesting man. I was trying to figure out how to get the Bailey's home, but think we'll bring our own container that can be sealed well next time we come.
 In the middle of lunch, two adorable white burros were led into the back yard. When we met Yves after lunch, I asked him about the burros. He brought me into the room where they have a lovely salad bar set up in bowls on L-shaped tables and showed me pictures of Pedro Loco, a local character. Peter/Pedro moved to Ajijic and changed his name to Crazy Pedro, though he was anything but crazy. He had been a lawyer and loved to mess with people's minds. He bought a brown burro and said he didn't want a car, so he rode the burro to his local haunts while dressed as a Mexican cowboy in leathers and sombrero. Later, he got a brown burro and changed his image to a hippy, dressing accordingly. When he got the last burro, a pure white one, he found she couldn't ride her, so he had a cart on wheels built so he could have her drive him to his haunts, which included local bars.  About a year before he died, he asked Yves to take care of her, which he did. She also had had a baby, but Pedro's handyman sold her when he wasn't around, and he could never find her again. Yves found her a year ago and brought her back to his mama, so now he takes care of both.
A must-have beginning to any trip to Mexico


 They're very sweet and graze on the property nearby. We passed the little one just hanging out on our way out. Yves obviously had great admiration and love for his old friend who died 4 years ago at only 69. Sounds like he lived and played hard and on his own terms.
 I mentioned the salad bar because I told him it looked great and we'd be back one day for salad, so he proceeded to show us some of the dishes he particularly is proud of, like his marinated mushrooms. He scooped some up and handed us the spoon to grab one with our fingers to try. We also tried the quince gel--both very good. But that's something you'd never see in the States...just grab a piece off the spoon and try it.
 Ah, life in Mexico...
 We returned to the hotel with ice bought along the way and I sat on our patio with two plastic bags filled with ice. Always bring extra ziplock bags on never knows when they'll be needed. My foot and hand are both very swollen, but I doubt anything is broken.
 I managed to put on a shoe for dinner because of course, I don't miss meals. We took a taxi downtown to Tango's, a highly recommended Argentinian restaurant. I know...more international foods here than anywhere except the Bay Area. I was hobbling, especially trying to get to the front of the hotel from our no longer a good thing we're at the far end of the property, which by the way, has many levels with steps and ramps from our room to the front. ugh
 Tango's is known for their beef, but we read reviews raving about the rack of lamb--large portions and very good. We opted to share everything rather than steam through too much food. We started with a hearts of palm salad, which was tasty, then the lamb. It came with a choice of sides, so we opted for fries and a side of asparagus, which was perfectly cooked. My friend Tori suggested via text I have tequila to help with the pain, so I took her advice and ordered the melon margarita, which wasn't huge, thankfully, and costs $3. Matthew had 2...

  Our dinner was very good...lamb cooked perfectly. We had  enough chops to share and glad we did, so decided to splurge on dessert. After all, I'm injured and he's about to have dental work. Matthew ordered the flan, which was a wedge and very good. I told the waiter I wanted the Alfajor because I had no idea what it is and everything else had been delicious. And I didn't ask for an explanation either, which cracked him up.

It's two layered dough cookies with a caramel and nut and cajata filling which also surrounded it.

I cut it ope to show the cookie insides. It's served warm and is delicious...and very sweet. I think the little blobs on the plate were the cajata, which is caramelized sugar.
Very cute place with paintings by several different artists on the walls and little lights everywhere. 

You can't really see this, but the columns are shaped like tree trunks.
 Our only glitch was the restaurant tried calling for a taxi, but they weren't responding, so we had to walk up the street a couple of blocks to the main square and hail one. None were visible for a long time. Matthew asked the policeman who was standing nearby if we were in the right place, and he said they come right by there all the time. Not sure how long we waited and waited, which normally would have been okay, but ... about that sore foot.
 Finally I see the policeman hailing down one for nice of him! Our driver told us the evenings are hard to get taxis because people have already reserved them ahead of time. He gave us his card so we can arrange rides when needed.
 So this became all about my "trips" on our trip, which I hope not to repeat. Matthew will have extensive bone graft and sinus lift surgery on Monday afternoon, so it's good we are staying until Friday. The dentist recommended 3 full recovery days. He'll be on antibiotics and pain meds for at least 2 of those days...and I've checked out where to find good soup to go for him. We will be returning in about 6 months and then again for the crowns in another 4-6 months. So if we can't get around too much this weekend, at least we know we'll be back again.