Memories of days gone by

Eronga
Town of Erongaricuaro.

NINETEEN YEARS ago, I received the first and last visit from family members above the Rio Bravo. My mother and sister. I picked them up one evening at the Guadalajara airport and, as we drove to a downtown hotel, my sister asked:

Are most of the people who live here Mexican?

She was 59 at the time and had never been to a foreign country. It was her first and last trip outside the United States. She’s 78 now and, I imagine, will never leave her homeland again. She prefers the craziness of California.

After one night in the Guadalajara hotel, we took a bus to the neighboring state’s capital where I was renting a house. A couple of days later, we boarded another bus to the mountaintop town where I live now and stayed in a hotel for four nights.

We were tourists.

And during that time on the mountaintop — before I moved here, mind you — we took a taxi to a small town on the edge of our large lake, a town with the mouthful of a name Erongaricuaro, also known simply as Eronga because it’s easier to say.

We walked around a bit, but it began to rain, so we returned to the main plaza to catch another cab, but no cab was to be found. We sat on a bench and waited … and waited … and waited. No cab appeared. It was about to get dark.

A chicken bus pulled up, one of those ancient, smoke-belching, retired school buses that were common in these parts back then. They have since disappeared, replaced by smaller, nicer, more modern forms of local transportation.

We climbed aboard the chicken bus and returned to our hotel on the mountaintop.

Two days later, we went back to the state capital for another night, and then we bused to Guadalajara again for their flight back to Atlanta. Neither ever returned, but they did come that once. My daughter has yet to visit.

Yesterday afternoon, we drove to Eronga, parked the Honda on the small plaza, bought ice cream and sat on a plaza bench, the same steel bench on which I sat with my sister and mother 19 years ago. Facing across the street, I snapped the above photo.

I think about the visit of my mother and sister every time I sit on the plaza of Erongaricuaro, which I do now and then because it’s not that far from the Hacienda. But on that late, rainy afternoon 19 years ago, it seemed to the three of us that we were in the middle of nowhere. And then there was that ride on the chicken bus.

My mother is long dead. My sister lives, I think, in Arcata, California, and my daughter lives in Athens, Georgia. I have no other Gringo relatives.

But I’ll always have Eronga.

Swearing off San Miguel

YEARS AGO a friend said we were in a rut, that the two of us rarely did anything different and new. He was correct.

He was referring to travel, but the accusation likely was accurate in other life activities. I attribute it mostly to age. I used to enjoy travel far more than I do now.

I wonder if I’m becoming as big a fuddy-duddy as was my father all his life. He thought if you’ve seen one city you’ve seen them all. He didn’t want to go anywhere. Of course, that’s ridiculous. There’s a huge difference, for instance, between Houston and nearby New Orleans and even San Antonio, Texas.

I’ve never been to Omaha, but I bet it’s quite a switch from San Francisco.

I was sitting in the central plaza of Mérida years ago, or was it Puebla? I recall looking around and thinking that I could be sitting in the plaza of any Mexican colonial city. Why did I blow airfare and hotel costs to come here?

Colonial Mexican cities are indeed quite similar.

But I have decided to branch out a bit, travel-wise. Not to do it more often, but to go to new places. Part of this change is the decision to never, ever visit the silly city of San Miguel de Allende again. Never, never, never.

It had become a habit, a pattern, on deciding to get off the mountaintop for a spell, to go either to Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast or to San Miguel de Allende. They are about the same distance from the Hacienda, but in opposite directions. We were in a rut. Didn’t really give much thought to other options.

With rare exceptions, when we travel we drive. We don’t fly. If memory serves, the last time we flew anywhere, it was to Mérida in 2013, just a year after we flew to Havana for our 10th anniversary. Both jaunts were on Interjet, a nice airline, by the way.

I’m not going to swear off Zihuatanejo because a beach is a beach, and it’s the nearest beach. We’ve gone to Zihua so often, however, that it’s getting a bit ho-hum.  And you’ll sweat your ass off. We haven’t been there in three years.

But we’re swearing off San Miguel. No more. Enough is enough. In spite of having some great restaurants, places you don’t easily find elsewhere in Mexico, it’s just a laughable town inhabited by some Mexicans and lots of goofy Gringos who parade around in funny clothing. It’s amusing at first, but that wears off.

I’m making a list of new places to visit. We’ll be driving, and they are either one day or two days away. We’ll spend one night en route for those two-day spots.

Having just begun this project, the list is short:

  1. Guadalajara. Oddly, we are a bit closer to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city, than we are to Mexico City. Yet we’ve been to Mexico City a thousand times, and I’ve not been to Guadalajara in 17 years, and just briefly then. My child bride and I have never been there together.
  2. Xilitla, San Luis Potosí. This idea came from one of The Moon‘s frequent visitors, Peggy Langdon. She went to Xilitla once, and I saw her mention of it on Facebook. There’s a place called Las Pozos in Xilitla. I want to see that.
  3. Zacatecas. I’ve been there just once, many years ago. It’s my wife’s favorite Mexican city, and she’s been to most of the biggies. She’s visited every state save one, Quintana Roo. She racked up those trips as a result of her 14 years working as a civil engineer for the federal highway department. She loves Zacatecas, and we can visit Aguascalientes at the same time. Trivia Department: Zacatecas is Mexico’s northernmost Colonial city.
  4. Tequila, Jalísco. This idea came from Steve Cotton who visited there recently. It looks like a fun place. This would be a two-day drive. We’d likely overnight in the Gringo-infested town of Ajijic or nearby. Ajijic, like the aforementioned San Miguel de Allende, is always good for eye-rolling.

That’s the entire list for now. I’m open to suggestions. New places would have to be within a two-day drive. My ideal one-day drive is six hours max. More than six hours turns a drive into an ordeal in my book.

Don’t suggest places that require planes. If I get on a plane, I’m going to Colombia, not to the other side of Mexico.

As for San Miguel, I wish you well, amigos. Try to get on without me. I won’t miss you, but thanks for the hilarity you’ve provided through the years.

The arrival

vista
The view that changed my life.

I’M FOND OF noting milestones.

I just missed an anniversary, but only by three days. My arrival here on the mountaintop on September 10, 2000. I was not entirely new to Mexico, but I was quite green.

I’d lived seven months at a lower altitude, 40 minutes away in the state capital. Four of those seven months had been dedicated to attending a language school because when I got off the plane in Guadalajara I didn’t speak Spanish.

I was a language ignoramus.

My decision to move from the state capital up here was made while sitting at a coffee shop and looking in the direction shown in the photo. I looked at that view and told myself, I’m gonna move here. And I did. Lickety-split.

My first challenge was to find a furnished place to rent. While my town now is chockablock with real-estate agencies and lots of furnished rentals, there was not even one real-estate agency in 2000. I knew no one here, and I had no idea where to start. I was alone, and my Spanish was dicey.

Someone online pointed me to an old Gringo named Gray who’d moved here after the Second World War.  He had married an indigenous woman, and they had multiplied.

Gray had some furnished rentals that catered mostly to the sparse Gringo crowd. I moved into a two-story house on a main drag with furniture that aspired to the junk heap.

The first thing I did was buy a new mattress and sheets. The second thing was to buy an equipal love seat and matching chair. The store here neglected to inform me that the set would be made in and shipped from Guadalajara.

I got it about four months later.

I lived in that rental for two-and-a-half years. My child bride was there the final year while we constructed the Hacienda.

It wasn’t a bad place if one didn’t cringe at the hordes of mice during the rainy season or the two times I found dead rats in the toilet. They had come up from below, and I flushed them back to where they came from.

And there was the matter of the house abutting a open sewer/creek that provided a notable fragrance during the dry months. And the lights went out a lot.

It was an interesting home along the lines of the Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times.

We were elated when we moved into the Hacienda in May of 2003. It’s been a great 17 years here at altitude. The changes are considerable. Plenty of rentals available now. With rats or without. Ten times the number of Gringos. Some people regard that positively. I’m not one of those people.

But I’m glad I sat at that coffee house that long-ago afternoon, gazing up the street. It was a decisive moment.

The photo’s from yesterday. It hasn’t changed much.

Just like home

SEVENTEEN YEARS ago when I packed my two bags and flew to Mexico alone to reinvent myself in late middle age, I arrived in a spectacularly strange world.

Many of the things I was accustomed to simply were not available down here, and most of those things were commercial. I am a fan of capitalism and the goodies it offers.

Flash forward from 2000 to 2017 and — oh, my — how things have changed. Just about anything you can buy above the Rio Bravo is now available Down Mejico Way.

There is even a Mexican version of Amazon.com even though I much prefer our homegrown MercadoLibre.

The list of Gringo chain stores in Mexico is too lengthy to repeat here, and it seems to grow longer each year.*

I was particularly delighted when Bed Bath & Beyond, one of my favorite stores when I lived up north, opened recently in the nearby state capital. I shop there often.

There are eight BB&Bs in Mexico. Six are in Mexico City or its environs. A seventh is in Cuernavaca, the not-too-distant Mexico City playground,  and the eighth is in our capital city, the only one relatively remote from Mexico City.

Why were we chosen over the considerably larger burgs of Guadalajara or Monterrey? God knows.

Mexico commercially improves on a daily basis. You can now get most of what is available to the Gringos up north. Plus, we have great tacos, fresh avocados and beautiful babes.

Best of both worlds.

* * * *

* Very incomplete list: Best Buy, Sears, Costco, Walmart, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chili’s, Sirloin Stockade, iHop, Home Depot, Office Depot, Office Max, KFC, DQ, Starbucks.

(Note: We don’t depend entirely on the Gringos for great shopping. For example, the Mexican chain El Palacio de Hierro — The Iron Palace — will knock your high-end socks off, especially the flagship store in Mexico City’s Polanco.)