Straddling the new year, soon taking the plunge, and out with the old one.
Time to catch up with my blog posts. I finished my first week in Mexico this winter. It is always different each time, but never exactly what I anticipated. This time it was quite busy from the first day on. My transit went great and no problems this time with the requirements for bringing a cat. The direct flight to PV of five hours was full, mostly with retired people, snow birds. It shocks me every time when it smacks me in the face I am part of the silver wave.
I stayed one night with my best friends, wintering over in PV to give Mimi a break. This time I took it easy for the last leg from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara to my casa in the village by the lake on the next day. I booked a flight, instead of a long bus ride. It lasted all in all 4 hours: fifty minutes in the air, plus time going through the check-in and security, and the cab ride to my place. 10 am to the airport, home in Ajijic at 2 pm.
My plan was to possibly make a trip somewhere else in Mexico while I am in the Chapala area, so only booked one way. I didn’t want to be tied down to a return date. As it happens, more people travel with their pets nowadays. Each plane is only allowed to book 2 pets in the cabin and I knew that all direct flights end in early April. That was too early for me last year. That time, I booked a flight home to Canada around March for departure in May. I had to fly through Calgary, with an extra 2 hours tagged onto the flight. Not so nice for Mimi, stuck in her cage without drink and a bathroom.
I was going to improve on that this time around. As I was booking my flight home yesterday—I thought this was early—I found out that there’s a reason why people book return flights all in one shot on the same day: predictability. All pet spaces for all of April and most of March on direct flights were taken. So, I will have to come home this time really early: in the second week of March. I learned my lesson now: don’t be doing things differently. There’s a reason why people become sheep. Next time I’ll be in the herd.
My first day in my village was a day in which I had to do something I didn’t look forward to: attend a prayer service for a friend who unexpectedly passed away a few days earlier and had already been buried. I had to attend, because it is respectful to the survivors, and it is expected. I wanted to go, as the family has been very generous and friendly, and welcoming to this gringa. At a previous funeral, I had observed that the casket wasn’t closed until the very last minute at the panteon—the cemetery, where the family says goodbye with a last kiss or touch, as the casket sits on a cement pedestal before the lid is screwed shut and taken to the site. The friends have already dug the hole the night before, or in early morning.
The Mexican custom is to bury people immediately after an all-night wake the next day, or the day after. Then nine days of prayers—novenasat the home of the departed take place in the late afternoons, where the neighbours, family and friends take part in, and afterwards eat a bite at the deceased home. It is custom for the guests/mourners to bring flowers, food, or/and money to help with the costs. It was good that when I arrived, the prayers were already in progress. People were occupying the chairs, set out in the street along the sidewalk. Most seats were occupied, and many more people sat inside the little casa. The lady closest to the door gestured for me to go inside to meet the bereaved spouse in the middle of the prayers. With a hug and my lo siento—I’m so sorry—we met and I handed over my tokens of support. Nothing else needed to be said. I went outside and sat through the prayers on a chair. I am one of those people who tears up involuntarily at funerals and memorials, so also this time. I find it shocking and cannot easily comprehend that someone is not there anymore. The event of death is incomprehensible. One day here, next day gone. We usually live our lives as if life is endless.
A handmade sign on the wall announced a church service would take place on Sunday in the temple of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and everyone was invited to accompany the family in it. It struck me that all people at the novenawere serious, but also matter-of-fact. This is the difference with my usual world. Death is an uncommon social thing in our North American lives and is kept away from us. Here in Mexico, death is a part of life and can be seen everywhere. Although the grief is just as sorrowful, it is socially allowed to talk and to grief openly with extended prescribed times for mourning. It is keeping the family very busy, with evidence of wide support from the community. The effect as I see it, is more acceptance and going through the shock at a death of a loved one, and less resulting trauma.
At the end of the novena I slipped away. I hadn’t had anything to eat besides breakfast that day and was very hungry. I went into town to eat at a simple place without walls where I had never been before. Two tables were occupied: a few Mexican young people, and one other gringa. I had a delicious hamburger and a beer. I fell in bed and was asleep in no time, my Mimi next to me on the pillows.
The next day I got in touch with my other resident friends. My social life had started. At a shared dinner I was offering my condolences to another mutual friend for an unexpected death of a loved one: to a mother of my age who lost her son. We could talk about it and again, the heaviness that death seems to have in Canada, was absent here.
The nights are cool right now and the average temperature is around 15 degrees. Without heating in the house, you really need a good blanket on your bed. As soon as the sun shines in the morning, it warms up and by eleven is it balmy and twenty-two degrees. The cucarachas are absent and the house is clean and dust free. Mimi remembers where she last saw a cucaracha (more than a year ago) and sits in front of the wardrobe. Disappointed, she leaves after a while.
Properties are selling now. The realtor I saw today together with a friend said that everyone is buying, Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans. Values are up too. I had an evaluation from the realtor today, but decided it is not the right time yet to say goodbye to my casa. I first must leave my tourist status behind, or else I will pay a hefty capital gains tax to the Mexican government. He gave me some good advice and number of a contractor to call to address a minor problem with the rain water seeping between my wall and the neighbour’s wall, causing dampness inside at some spots. One shelf of my kitchen cabinets has a termite colony. I ripped out the shelf and got rid of the wood. Just to be sure, I also contracted an exterminator to drill holes to underground where termite colonies build their nest.
I didn’t witness it, but a local youth sitting on the stone bench next to the Virgin across my home pointed out to me that there was a problem somewhere with the roof, but I couldn’t understand him. Later that day, I noticed my internet wasn’t working. I went outside and the cable lay on the cobblestones in the street. One of those damned large trucks must have snagged it. I managed to explain to the non-English speaking service person of the Telmex help centre what the problem was and he got me an English-speaking service person on the phone. Three days to fix it. Indeed, it was fixed on the third day.
Netflix is a welcome entertainment for me at night. I saw a few great movies. The one for anyone to see who travels to Mexico, is the latest movie of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, currently in the theatres in Mexico, but already on Netflix: Roma. It will break your heart. Although it depicts an earlier generation, the class differences are still relevant and exist in the present time. You’ll recognize it, once you saw the movie.
Another movie I saw on Netflix was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Why is it that movies about the Nazi atrocities fare so well when narrated from the point of view of a (German) child? The movie made its point with a sledgehammer.
Sun is up at 7 and so am I, as Mimi wakes me up. Sundown is at 6 pm. Most social activities were in the daytime, although may end after dark. I went to a movie today in the local theatre: Aquaman. A bit short on story and character development, but somebody went to town on costume and set designs. I am not sure how movie theatres can survive: only at the most four other people besides us attending. It was in English with Spanish subtitles.
It takes about a week before I feel at home again. Things change in town, with more restaurants popping up, others closed. More deaths fell in the city from gang activity, and policemen were targeted in the next town over. We will see how the new president AMLO fares with the promise to deal with the “troubles”. It seems that ever more gringos flood the town. The hills and protected natural areas are now in development, unless the voices of the locals and their supporters can stop it. Also here, tourism and migration from gringos to Mexico threatens the Mexican way of life and the environment. I try to fit in with my neighbourhood and am grateful for my neighbours, friends and the roof over my head in this sunny, beautiful town. Wishing you well in the new year.
La montana es mi casa. The mountain is my home.
This exhibition (on the plaza in Ajijic) offers a connection with the concerns of the people of Ajijic with conservation of their mountains and its environment. The threat against them and their life is real.