The modern mountaintop

MY HOMETOWN has a new hospital, a large, snazzy spot just two blocks from the main plaza. It’s called the Bora Medical Center (yes, in English*) and Hospital.

The website, like the medical center itself, is still not completed, but both are up and running, open for some business if not all. That will come later, they say.

This is the second significant private medical facility to arrive here, the other being the far humbler but still quite good Clínica Pátzcuaro, as some call it.

When you grow old, medical facilities rise in importance.

When I moved here almost two decades ago, there were two small government hospitals and a few clinics. I would not have voluntarily spent one night in any of them.

Before moving south of the border, I frequented bookstores in Houston, sitting and thumbing through all the “Retire in Mexico” books available. Most did not even mention my current mountaintop pueblo, and those that did didn’t have much good to say about the place, mostly that it got real cold in winter, which it does.

I wish that would keep more Gringos away, but it ain’t working.

When I arrived, there was only one internet provider. Now there are various. What passes as a ring road, called the Libramiento, was a potholed four-laner. Now it’s a smooth six-laner. There were no traffic lights anywhere. Now there are quite a few, all on the Libramiento.

We did have a movie theater that was hidden on the edge of the central market downtown. It was an old, dingy place with two screens and mildewed seats. One showed X-rated movies, and the other showed mainstream fare that had debuted months earlier in the nearby state capital. That theater shuttered years ago.

A huge lot on the Libramiento is currently being leveled. Reliable scuttlebutt says a movie complex will be built and a Domino’s pizza too. Twenty years ago, there were no Gringo-style convenience stores. Now we have lots, a Mexican chain called Oxxo.

When the first Oxxo arrived, many in the Gringo community were outraged. It conflicted with the “authentic” look of the town, they whined. Mexico ignored them, and good for that. Oxxos are very convenient. You can even pay bills and send money about anywhere via an Oxxo cashier. I wish they had ATMs, however.

Two decades back, there were no chain supermarkets. Now we have two. One is the Walmart-owned Bodega Aurrerá, and the other is the Mexican chain Soriana.

I want a Costco and a full-fledged Walmart. A Best Buy too.

We had no department stores till a few years ago when the Coppel chain constructed a large, two-level store across the street from the Bodega Aurrerá.

Mexico now has its own Amazon, which debuted about five years back. It’s just as good and efficient as the branch above the Rio Bravo. It even sells Alexa.

Speaking of Gringos, when I arrived on the mountaintop, there were about 40. Now there are 10 times that number or more, and newbies arrive every year. I wish we could funnel them all to San Miguel de Allende. It’s warmer there, and they’ll be happier. You don’t even have to learn a word of Spanish in San Miguel. Everyone speaks English.

* * * *

* This is a bit disturbing. When the natives speak English to you, it usually means you’re gonna be charged more.

32 thoughts on “The modern mountaintop

  1. Yes, like everywhere else in this country, things have changed dramatically. There was a watershed moment a few years before your arrival that started the ball rolling.

    The signing of the TLC really brought big changes. And you are seeing one of the results of those changes with the big increase of foreigners moving to your town (and the country in general). The improvement of goods and services is like night and day. When it might take two weeks to get a call through to NOB plus paying an exorbitant rate is unimaginable today. Our phone line, that we through sure luck acquired in 1977, cost the equivalent of $1,000 USD and those were 1977 dollars.

    A root canal was a more pleasant experience than dealing with any government bureauocracy.

    So while you enjoy those now readily available services and steamed Brussels sprouts, those same luxuries contributed mightily to the Gringo invasion you’re not as happy about, make for a lifestyle much more attractive and comfortable for the newbies.

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    1. Gerard, P.S.: I lived in Puerto Rico for 18 months in the early 1970s, so all this sounds familiar. Must be a Latino thing. Actually, it is a Latino thing. I wonder if it has improved in Puerto Rico.

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  2. When we were there in 2016 we often commented that it was a place we would like to live. Were I younger and we didn’t have lots of grandkids, there is a good chance we would have ended up there. Never SMA. In fact, your ville was the only one that we would have considered.

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    1. Señor Johnson: It’s a good place. But what makes it bearable, since both my wife and myself are big-city sorts at heart, is the relative closeness of the capital city.

      By the way, your comment went to moderation, I suspect, due to your changing the way you wrote your name, probably just the inclusion of the middle initial. Any change at all will do it.

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  3. Gringolanda exists on the other side of the mountain from me. All the creature comforts of NOB, and they still bitch. Any type of cuisine one would desire and the same with the bar scene. Chapala itself isn’t too bad yet. I just might join you in your mountaintop village or the outlying area soon.

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  4. Living in the capital city does have its perks, even if you do tend to stick to your own side of town, plying a trail from Costco to Walmart Altozano, only going to Superama on special occasions. Take this morning, for example. As I do every Saturday, I headed off to the organic market, the one up at Paseo Altozano. As I have my usual coffee and avocado toast at Daily Pick, the other Saturday regulars acknowledge me, and a few passersby walk up the step to give me the abrazo and beso. The vendors know me by name. I realize that, save for a German man who attends the mercado only to buy bread, I am the only gringo there. The same will happen on alternate Saturday at La Ruta Natural, where again I am nearly always the sole gringo. Once in a while, not so much recently, there would be a gringa who would order some steamed vegetables to go, and she would make some lame remark to me like “Oh, so you dyed your hair for Christmas,” which struck me as so much a non sequitor that I could barely respond with “Oh, it’s a bloody shame that you were unable to grow a brain and gain some manners for any day of the week.” I found that person so irritating that it was all I could do to keep myself from slapping some sense into her, but that wouldn’t be polite.

    Yesterday, I went to Patzcuaro, and I didn’t speak to a single Mexican, save an exchange with a waiter who wanted to speak the English. Today, I didn’t speak a word of English. A city of my own, but a life light years away from Patzcuaro. I do not anticipate seeing another English-speaker until my regular Monday morning coffee with a German friend. And then it may be days all over again before witnessing another native English-speaker. I just don’t give it a second thought.

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    1. Ms. Shoes: Since Germans are not Gringos, I’d say you were the only Gringa there.

      I’m glad you did not slap any sense into anyone because it would do no good, and you might have been arrested.

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  5. Hmm … you don’t want Gringos at your mountaintop, but you want Costco, Walmart, and Best Buy there? Sounds like Mexican/Gringo wants North of the Border conveniences?

    Aren’t you glad I’m back? 🙂

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  6. Felipe: All towns and cities are growing. Rural life is dying off due to mechanization and people not wanting to live on the farm.

    Even on my island province of about 160,000 souls, about 130,000 live in two centres. The area I live in has four towns, lots of farms and a population of about 3,600.

    I remember a Coppel store there when I was a resident, but it was mostly a place with samples that you could order. I considered grocery shopping an educational and entertaining pastime, so I went to the market almost daily, and the small downtown supermarkets about twice a week. Big boxes take the fun out of it.

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    1. When you’re on holiday or here just temporarily, the mercado and quaint little tiendas are rather charming, but when you live here full-time, not dependent upon the largesse of John Frum, big box stores make life much easier. After a while, the limited inventory of the mercado and abarrotes becomes rather dull. We bask in the availability of almond flour, quinoa, Skechers, 100% cotton, high thread count sheets, and crispy seaweed crackers from Costco.

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    2. Kris: You’re thinking of a small Coppel right downtown. It’s still there, but a far bigger one — department store size — has been constructed elsewhere. It’s no Walmart, but it’s not bad.

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      1. Felipe: I must admit that I miss the availability of a Costco. We don’t have one here. We have to pay $48 to get across the bridge to get to one, so savings would be minimal. Farmer’s markets here typically end at noon, and are only open on Saturday. I tend to shop when I want to, so I don’t get to them. Life is hard.

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          1. We have been mulling over the idea of going somewhere else for years. When we try to balance the upside with the downside, we stay here. Just like you not living in Morelia rather than going there weekly. I don’t think I could live in a city again.

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            1. Kris: Were we not virtually nailed to the ground here, we would move. But living in a big beautiful home we designed and oversaw being built from the ground up, literally, plus being a tad long in the tooth keeps us here. Well, me. My wife would leave in a heartbeat.

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                1. Gerard: Probably Morelia, which has improved 100 percent since I lived there for eight months in 2000. I also like Querétaro, but we have too many relatives there. I live near too many relatives now, and I don’t want to make that worse. All that damn kissing and hugging. I would also love to live in Puebla, probably more than anywhere, but the proximity of Popo would make me nervous. I saw a Pompeii documentary on Netflix a couple of years ago, and it did not paint a pretty picture of living anywhere near an active volcano, and Puebla is closer to it than Mexico City is. So those are my top three, Morelia, Querétaro and Puebla. Mexico City and Guadalajara are way too big and nasty.

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  7. You know, you’re not exactly doing your part to minimize gringo migration, what with your breathless tales of new hospitals, better roads, convenience stores, and soon-to-be movie theatres. Perhaps you’d do better to focus on crazy people, corruption, and violence.

    But I think you’re somewhat torn between wanting to avoid gringos and encouraging them.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where there are tons of chain stores of every stripe, but only one, pitiful museum that’s a late judge’s house.

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    1. Kim: You have a point. I guess I should zip it with the improvements we’re seeing here.

      As for being torn between not wanting more Gringos and encouraging them. No way, José. I’m not torn at all, not even a little bit. We already have more than we need. Send ’em to San Miguel, I say!

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      1. You know, after I wrote that comment, it occurred to me that you are probably single-handedly the main source of information for Gringos about Pátzcuaro. Right? It’s not exactly a place that gets endless coverage in the U.S. or Canadian media. Sure, there’s probably the odd story about Day of the Dead. But otherwise you’re it.

        So all those extra Gringos might well be your own doing. It’s something to consider.

        Saludos,

        KG

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        1. Kim: This has occurred to me. While I do not praise my mountaintop town much these days, with the old blog (Tales of Zapata, 2005-2011), I did, a lot! Who knows? I may have myself to blame to a great extent. Shame on me!

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