A walk on the mild side

My dear wife Judy normally posts pictures on FaceBook from our weekly hikes through lakeside, but I asked her to share the shots from our most recent walk with me so I could offer some commentary here. Yesterday we jaunted almost 16 miles with backpacks, and here are some of the more unusual sights we saw.

On our way into town, we ran across some local celebrities: Vino Blanco and Martini, two burros who live at Yves restaurant, out for a morning walk. They are the subject of numerous local artists, but were kind enough to let us play paparazzi and photograph them!

W crossed the plaza, which was preparing for day 3 of the festival of San Andres. More on that holiday in another post.

This is Albert, a local crooner at several restaurants. We had breakfast while listening to him.

If you look closely in the background, you’ll see a man mowing the very little grass he has in his yard.  In the foreground, he is being carefully supervised by his brace of ducks, which have found safety in a corner.



This dog was out-cold, sprawled across the walkway. When Judy got her camera out, he jumped up and gave her the stink-eye. He seemed to be saying, “Who was sleeping? Not me!” Speaking of dogs, I have no idea what this artistic sculpture (below) is supposed to mean. However, I do want to show it to my dog to explain one possible punishment next time he misbehaves!

This horse is corralled in a small area next to the lake where he happily munches the local fauna before getting a drink. The only thing keeping him in place is the lake and a seawall…so I wonder how he even got there!

Ever wonder what the roof looks like under terracotta tile? This one was concrete.

Various cactus plants have colonized their very own–and very difficult– piece of cliffside.

Remember these? This one still works!

Recycling business. I just liked their slogan: “Nobody weighs, nor pays like us!!” Notice also the religious icon in the left of the photo.

When we got to the Chapala malecon, we had to take a photo of the statue of Our Lady of Zapopan, flanked by two Méxica warriors.

This is the fisherman’s fountain in Chapala.

 And I just had to have a big Limonade before we turned around and headed home.

Happy Thanksgiving to all; I’ll have another post soon about what it’s like to experience holidays in another culture!

Feria Maestros del Arte

Last weekend we attended the 16th annual Feria, a festival where artists from across Mexico are invited to Chapala, our neighboring town and political seat, to demonstrate their wares. The effort was begun by expats, and is pulled off by over 200 volunteers, who set up the tents, organize and staff the event.  The invited artists stay with volunteers, and otherwise pay nothing for the opportunity. Crowds come from all over Jalisco and other Mexican states.

The key to the even is the authenticity and the expertise of the artists.  Whether they work in leather or stone, textiles or clay, jewelry or wall art, they are chosen because they represent local artistic traditions, done in a classical sense. No chance you’ll run into a “Made in China” label or a mass-market imitation. Each artist sets up a small display where they can sell their efforts, on the grounds of the yacht club in Chapala.  There is an entrance fee which defers the administrative costs. Here’s a triptych from inside the event:

What most amazed us was the craftsmanship of the work. The art pieces we encountered were obviously the work of tens to hundreds of hours of work, and lovingly completed by artists dedicated to their craft.

Two señoras and a Méxica warrior

We bought some figurines, to which we will add some ballast so they can serve as door stops. We find that the airflow is so good through the casa that our doors are constantly slamming shut with the breeze, unless we doorstop them. We found a nice small basket we needed for use at the parish, and a copper pot which serves as a container for our wooden spoons. Finally, w gave in to the calavera tradition and purchased a small, ornamental skull, which was just too attractive to pass up.

Copper pot…
and basket









My favorite has to be this calavera, which just screams “Mexico!”:

A trip to the dentist

I can’t imagine anything less blog-worthy than a trip to the dentist, but then again, dental care is yet another topic of interest to the prospective expat, and one where the advantages of expat life loom large.

Seems very familiar

By our experience, much of the dental care provided in Mexico is similar to that in the States. There are dentists with small private practices and dental clinics with multiple dentists and hygienists. You make an appointment, see your dentist, and pay when you leave. The Mexican dentists we encountered spoke English, as did most of the administrative staff. A dental exam was free, while a cleaning ran about 200 pesos ($11 USD).

We’ve been to two local dentists. One did the exam and cleaning together, at the other they were considered separate items (you had to schedule the cleaning, too). They both had the same equipment as we experienced north of the border: ultrasonic cleaning, whitening, composite fillings, modern pain management treatments. Judy went in for a crown, and they completed the entire installation in one day, as they had a 3D printer available to make the crowns in the clinic.

Some hi-tech gadget…
that creates the 3D image of the crown work


I went in for a series of small cavities/fillings. The only different technique I encountered with Doctor Rodrigo was a dental dam, which he used to isolate the teeth while working on them.  This was new to me, but when I researched it, I found it was a technique invented in the US … in 1864!

The quality of the dental work was the same as in the States; the big difference was the cost. Judy’s crown was $3900 MXP ($205 USD), while my fillings were $440 MXP ($23 USD) each.  You can see why some Americans who live close to the border go to Mexico for their dental care, and why some expats have kids or grandkids who come to visit and get braces, teeth whitening, etc.

NOB or here in Mexico, there is one thing all visits to the dentist have in common: pain! No one has solved that challenge, yet.

Dia de Muertos

Few things put the differences in culture between the United States and Mexico in such stark relief as the contrast between Halloween and the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos). Both have a lineage to the Christian practice of praying for the dead, which dates back to the earliest days of the Church, but have evolved in such different directions as to make them unrecognizable.

Halloween in the States has mostly lost its religious ties. It is a single evening, October 31st. When I was a child, it had already become primarily a children’s holiday involving simple costumes (got a sheet? you’re a ghost), candy (please no fruit!), and sometimes mild anti-social behavior (I swear I have no idea how those pumpkins got smashed, Dad). It remains a children’s holiday today, along with neighbors banding together to put on elaborate haunted house displays and even displaying Halloween lights. But now it is also an adult holiday with big parties and extreme costumes venturing from the risque to the offensive. Some have suggested that the original Halloween was a Christian rip-off of the Celtic Samhain celebration, a harvest/new year event on November 1st. While this is unlikely (the date for the Christian holy day came from Germany, not Ireland), it is uncanny how comfortable a pagan Celt would be out for a night of American Halloween.

Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead, has fully retained its original religious significance and developed its own festive spirit. I must admit that watching the festivities from the outside, I was struck by the unusual art, altars, and rituals. What’s with all the skeletons? Food for the dead? Candy skulls? It all seemed more Mexica (you know them as the Aztecs) than Christian.

While the Mexica peoples–like all ancient cultures–had festivals to honor the dead, most of what we see today is imported from the Spanish and then translated by modern Mexico to its own culture. The Spaniards introduced the Christian holy days for the departed to Mexico. November 1st is Dia de los Inocentes/Angelitos, dedicated to little children who have died; November 2nd is the Day of the Dead, where deceased family

An elaborate ofrenda

members are remembered and honored.  Families go to the Panteón (cemetery) and attend to the grave, sharing a meal of the loved one’s favorite snacks or leaving behind mementos of things they liked. Families will often also build an altar (ofrenda) at home or on their street with the same artifacts. Marigolds are often used as decoration. The notion is that the deceased come in spirit and visit with the living, enjoying those things they enjoyed in life.

The entire cemetery is decorated

Treats, photos, and a calavera

What about the skeletons? They do trace back to Mexica culture, and a general view of death as inevitable and something to mock, certainly not fear. Skeletons come in two sorts: calaveras and catrinas. Calaveras are fake skulls, often brightly painted or decorated, representing the dearly departed.  They can be edible–sugar and chocolate are popular–or made of durable materials like clay. In the 19th century, literary calaveras appeared; they are humorous poems about the living (especially the famous or politicians) reminding them they will one day be dead, like everyone else.

Another recent addition to the celebration started in the early 20th century. The famous Mexican lithographer José Guadalupe Posada made a print of a full length skeleton dressed in then-modern European finery, meant to mock wealthy Mexicans who put on airs. He called his skeleton the Calavera Catrina, and variations of his work have become synonymous with Dia de Muertos.

Catrinas of all types

So we heard no doorbells on Tuesday evening, but on Wednesday and Thursday we did see a procession to the Panteón, some altars, and many Mexicans fondly remembering their departed loved ones. In case you are wondering, the Mexicans we met welcomed us to take pictures, as they were quite proud of their efforts!

Feliz Dia de Muertos!