About Me and Mexico
A Celebration of Mexico
I count myself among the lucky ones in this life, not least for the years that I lived in and roamed around Mexico. It wasn't awaysl bliss by any means, but my husband Kelly and I have a saying that we have "good bad luck." We mean that naturally we suffer bad luck sometimes, but it has a way of turning out well. This happened to us many times in Mexico, like the time Kelly fell off the roof of a house.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll tell you that story further down the page. I will also touch briefly on the turmoil in Mexico now. I hope that the tremendous love that I have for this country and its people will be well reflected here.
Photo credits: My husband Kelly Hart took this photo of me wearing a traditional Chichimeca dancing headdress, put on me by a warm-hearted Mexican dancer named Ana Hernandez. All photos on this lens were taken by Kelly or me.
We Roamed Around Mexico in Our Small RV - Here, goats graze near our rig in a campground in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.
We made two trips to Mexico in our Toyota Dolphin, partly for fun away from a cold Colorado winter, and partly to consider living in Mexico. We found that if we asked local people where it was safe to camp, we could boondock in a lot of interesting spots. We also used campgrounds when we found them, though a lot of our travel was off the beaten track for American RVs.
We experienced such deeply heartfelt connections with so many Mexicans that we went home to Colorado, sold our house, and headed back to Mexico. We thought we would live in a town we already liked -- Bernal, in the state of Queretaro -- but destiny put us in San Juan Cosala, in the Lake Chapala area not far from Guadalajara.
Living in Mexico - How Kelly Falling Off a Roof Changed Our Plans
In 2005, we sold our house in Colorado, put most of our stuff in storage, and hired someone to do the parts of our business that we couldn't do ourselves online... we have a small publishing company. We set up an internet satellite dish on the roof of our rig.
Then we and our dog headed south, planning to go back to the town of Bernal which we had liked so much. Some American friends of ours were staying by Lake Chapala for the purpose of adopting a Mexican baby. They already had her with them, while the legal work was underway, and so we went there and found a backyard to camp our RV in, right near where they were living. We thought we'd visit there a week or two before moving on.
Just for fun, one day Kelly and I decided to go look at an unfinished house that was for sale with a view of Lake Chapala. Kelly climbed up on the flat roof, a completely normal thing for him to do since he's done a lot of construction. He took some photos and set his camera aside, then clambered down. It wasn't far, as the house was on a hillside, so when he slipped and fell, it wasn't terribly far. But my heart sank as he lay on the ground, moaning "that was stupid." The realtor we were with called for an ambulance. We were astonished when a fire truck arrived first, but eventually we were on our way to the emergency clinic in the ambulance. And Kelly's camera was unhurt.
It turned out that Kelly had broken a rib. We were stuck in the Lake Chapala area. It would be a couple of months before Kelly could travel any distance without considerable pain.
During that time, we got to like the area. When we had a chance to buy a charming little cabin with lots of fruit trees and even a tiny swimming pool, for about eighty thousand dollars, we did it. That became our home, in the town of San Juan Cosala.
I blogged a lot about our life there. Here are links to a few of my stories.
- Two Women's Amusing Stories of Mexico 40 Years Ago
Glimpses into a simpler time, but women do like to look nice!
- Our Mexican Organic Vegetable Garden
About our gardening projects in our yard.
Video of the Ajijic Street Market
I shot this video one day as Kelly and I strolled the length of the Ajijic street market. Our town, San Juan Cosala, had its weekly market too, but it was much smaller. We got most of our veggies -- that is, the ones we didn't grow in our big organic garden -- in our town, and we often drove the ten minutes over to Ajijic for other things. Near the end of this, we are chatting with Blanca and Carlos whom we knew well because we bought our veggies from them in either town.
Ajijic is known as an artists' colony for expats, and it has a lot of charm. Quite a few of my American friends lived in it or even further along the shore of Lake Chapala.
This video captures the flavor of the area for me. I watched it again before adding it here and felt very nostalgic!
How Different Mexico Is from the US! - Centuries-old cultural traditions continue.
It took us a while to understand some aspects of Mexican life, and there are plenty of things we still don't get. But here are some things that are very different in Mexico.
- There is a casual attitude to safety that at times I found daunting and at other times refreshing. In traffic, I didn't like it! But it's there in many ways, and when we returned to the US things here seemed mighty uptight regarding safety. I suspect that the ubiquitous presence of the Virgin of the Guadalupe may be part of the reason for the Mexican attitude... it's a kind of acceptance of what may happen.
- Mexicans do not worry if the noise they make might disturb neighbors. By the same token, those neighbors don't seem to care. For example, when we were in campgrounds, a Mexican family might arrive at 2 AM, set up next to us when there were plenty of spots further away, and then build a campfire, cook a meal, and chat cheerfully till near dawn.
We also noticed this during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which is a big vacation week. Mexicans who owned vacation cabins near our home would come and party all night.
- The centuries of class distinctions between the Spaniards and the native peoples are still with us today and explain a lot. Now it's the rich and the poor. By default, we expats are among the rich, which was not a role I was comfortable in. What we citizens of the US and Canada see as shocking bribery, for example, is often just the way the skids have been greased for centuries.
It goes both ways. A taxi driver I once chatted with was genuinely shocked when I told him it was not the custom in the US to put a twenty-dollar bill under our driver's license when stopped by a cop.
- Mexico is a poorer country, and that is no surprise. But what did surprise me was how over time I came to see the ways people would disguise their poverty. For example, dressing nicely is important to everyone. You rarely see the grungy styles that are popular north of the border.
Another example of the poverty is that sometimes people do not have anything to eat. I had a friend who was a beggar and most days took the bus to the grocery store frequented by expats, where she would sit on the sidewalk for hours. One day I asked her if she had enough to eat, and she said yes, but only on the days she begged.
- Surrealism is a way of life in the Mexican culture!
Surrealism Is Alive and Well in Mexico - In Art, In Bureaucracy...
I added surrealism to the list above, and also I wanted to show this picture. A small part of Las Pozas of eccentric, rich Englishman Edward James, it captures a lot of how Mexico can feel. We had a great time exploring Las Pozas.
I'm not sure I want to remember the bureaucratic surrealism I encountered. Just look at those stairs going nowhere and you will get the idea.
Was I Afraid at Times? Of Course!
My husband is one of those people who is very rarely afraid. But I am not. In fact, I am pretty timid. I found the wonderful experiences in Mexico were worth a bit of suffering. Here is a blog post of mine where I spelled that out.
I spilled my guts there so I won't here!
- Living in Mexico as a Mythological Quest
It's been over three years since we began living in our house here, and I've often wavered...
Kelly's Earthbag Building Community Project - Expats and Mexicans Worked Together on This
Kelly is an expert on a method of construction called earthbag building, and towards the end of our time in San Juan Cosala, he spearheaded a project to build a small dome at a school near us. Expats, adult Mexicans, and some of the kids at the school worked together most Saturday mornings for months.
You can see more at his Flickr account. There are comments with the photos.
Do we speak Spanish? Yes, more or less.
Kelly had a good grounding in Spanish in high school, and he has a good accent. I picked up my Spanish as a child one summer in Mexico, as a young woman living in Spain for a year, and on various trips to Mexico I've made over the years. Frankly, I mangle the past tenses, forget the genders of nouns, and have a terrible accent, but I can communicate with Mexicans. They forgive my blunders easily.
Here is a blog post I did about learning Spanish.
- Pride, Perfectionism, and Learning Spanish
I have to admit I have my pride. I am not fond of sounding like an idiot -- in any language. I'm a perfectionist to a fault, too...
A Program I Like for Learning Spanish - Fluenz Spanish
There are a lot of programs that can help you learn Spanish. I reviewed a lot of them when we were in Mexico... I even started another website on how to learn Spanish. Anyway, I ended up really liking this one. I did know a lot of the basics but it was a good review and by the second module I was picking up quite a lot. It is now up to a five-module version, also available at Amazon.
16 Reasons to Learn Spanish
Here's a one-minute slide show I made. The 16 reasons are 16 of the many people I met in Mexico. Some of them became good friends, others I knew more briefly, but my heart is always full when I look at them!
Why We Left Mexico
Might We Ever Return to Live There?
I never stopped missing my good friends and my small town in Colorado. I did make new friends in Mexico, and now I miss them -- go figure! Anyway, after a few years it became clear to me that I didn't want to live there long term. Kelly felt like he could, but he also felt like he could return to Colorado too. He's more flexible than I am, I know it.
So we spent the summer of 2009 in Colorado, to see how it felt to be back. We both loved it. When we had a chance to buy a friend's house at an amazing price, we did. Then we went back to Mexico and managed to sell our house there. It was hard to give up the view and the pool you see in the picture! We came back to Colorado in the spring of 2010.
Mexico has become more violent than it was when we lived there between 2005 and 2010. I can't recommend the kind of casual roaming around remote areas that we did so much of. I'm not even completely comfortable recommending Mexico as a place for expats to live nowadays. Some of my American friends are still by Lake Chapala, still loving the people and the country despite its current travails. Others have left. I'm really grateful that Kelly and I had already decided to leave, for these personal reasons, before the violence reached our town as it has lately. Only a few nasty incidents have occurred, but that is how deliberate terrorism often works. It is between cartels that have to do with drugs but are also interested in money, power, and revenge against what other cartels have done.
I doubt I would ever live there again in the sense of having a home and all that, but I certainly do look forward to a happier era when we can vacation there for weeks or even months in a carefree way. Viva Mexico!
Two Online News Resources in English on Mexico
The first is an English-language newspaper in Guadalajara. I read it most weeks.
The second is a long article in the New Yorker on July 2, 2012, about the intricacies of government and crime. IT IS SICKENING, so only read it if you can handle really nasty stuff. But it does a very good job.
- Guadalajara Reporter
A really good online newspaper. You can read a lot of it for free, or all of it by subscribing. I check it every week.
- Crime, Drugs, and Politics in Guadalajara, Mexico : The New Yorker
On May 9th, Guadalajarans woke up to a new Zetas atrocity... THIS IS AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE BUT ONLY READ IT IF YOU HAVE A STRONG STOMACH.
How I Came to Write This Lens - It's Because of Rocketsquids
I recently became part of a free program taught by the Squidoo team. It's to help lensmasters who have already published at least one or two lenses -- but not yet as many as 25 -- to become better at creating lenses. This is the first one I did for the program. I wouldn't have written it without the assignment to write something about me, not so much as standard biography but something focused.
I poured my heart into this lens and it's paid off in touching a lot of people.
If you might like to do this, here are a couple of links:
This Lens Was Lens of the Day on June 14, 2012! - AND It Received a Purple Star... I'm Still in Shock
A few mornings ago, I received an email from the Squidoo team, telling me that this lens was Lens of the Day. I was totally thrilled. All day, as hundreds of people came to see the page, many of them wrote comments about Mexico that moved me deeply.
At the same time, the lens also recieved the Purple Star, which is, according the email from the Squidoo team about it, "awarded sporadically, when we come across editorial excellence, to our very favorite lenses on the site."
I'm still reflecting on what this means to me. It may change the direction of my writing, it may not. In any case, I love writing non-fiction with a personal touch. I've been doing it for many years, ever since my first book Living with Llamas came out, while we had a llama ranch.
I am very honored, and extremely pleased to be able to contribute my bit to the awareness of Mexico, not just its problems but also its joys. I've been very pleased that several Mexicans have told me they liked this lens.
Image credit: The drawings just above and just below here were done by an extraordinary Squidoo artist, Steve Thompson.The one above is from his lens Squidart, and the one below is from his lens Purple Star Art.
Please note that if you click through to Amazon.com from here and if you buy something, Squidoo and I may share a commission, at no cost to you. I appreciate the income, as it enables me to spend time doing writing like this.
I'd love to hear any comments or thoughts you have about Mexico and about this lens!