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Advice For Living In Mexico

28 May

What advice do you have for those planning to move to or travel in Mexico? I penned “Retiring To Mexico Is It In Your Stars?” and reposted in July 2016. It has been my most popular blog. It’s worth taking a look back and see if things have changed in four years of life on the Costa Maya.

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Lisa making friends everywhere.

Learn Spanish – Our Spanish has improved tremendously in four years. But not without lots of work. Lisa had zero prior Spanish. Her first words were highway signs as we drove south from Texas. Today she understands almost everything. She will miss words but understand the basic conversation. She also speaks passable Spanish. Lisa is not afraid to make mistakes and will try to converse in all situations. People love her for her willingness and she continues to grow in confidence. We both use the Ap Duolingo. Mexican friends are the best.

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After an hour conversation, a shop owner in Ticul shares local history and gives great discounts!

I had passable Spanish upon arrival. I was worthless on the phone. Understanding was my weakness. I now too understand most conversations. I no longer avoid making phone appointments. I feel confident and am continually improving.

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An international group of friends celebrating our marriage in July 2014.

So yes, LEARN SPANISH. Don’t avoid it no matter how uncomfortable.

Start Preparing Today – I did a lot of research before we took off for Mexico. Many people want to get on Facebook and simply ask questions. It’s lazy and does not prepare you for the strong independent life you will need to lead. If you are planning on living in a gated community with only English speaking immigrants and hiring bilingual help, you will miss much of the beauty that is Mexico. No strong opinions here.

Come Happy – I stand fast with this suggestion. There is so much here that delights, the people, the culture, and the natural beauty. However, like life, the same things that delight will dismay if you take them personally or impose your own standards. The relaxed living means things don’t get done in a timely fashion. The use of plastic is through the roof and recycling cannot begin to keep up. Much of the natural beauty may be littered in trash.

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There was so much trash floating in the water of this little village, it was hard to be here.

Words are incomplete to describe our chosen life and country. It is painful to see the distrust and animosity between the US and Mexico. We are like sibling who’ve had a falling out and haven’t spoken in years for an infraction we can no longer remember. So sad. We will continue to be ambassadors. Please ask questions and suggestion topics.

DOS TORTAS

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California Dreamin

22 Nov

After driving three thousand miles across Mexico and up the Baja to Northern California for the birth of our grandson, the Tortas say, “never again” that is of course until the return trip.

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First phase of our trip.

The ferry from Mazatlan to La Paz was not the seventeen hour trip advertised on the website. It was more like twenty-four hours. Geesh.

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Arriving in La Paz on the Sea of Cortez

The ferry ride was an adventure to say the least and the drive up the Baja was as breath taking as any I’ve seen, purple mountains, winding cavernous roads, forests of cactus, huge boulders and ocean vistas.

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Stopping for a little walk and to admire the view.

We arrived in Bakersfield to pack up Lisa’s mom (Everyday Courage). Our grandson, Maxwell Michael Toth was born November 19th, clocking in at 7 lb. 8 oz. and 24″. We are two happy grandmas.

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Grandma Lisa and a less than 24 hour old Max.

We’ll hang out here for awhile before heading south. The goal is to be home by Christmas. We miss our puppy who is growing like a weed, but there’s nothing like grandchildren.

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Gratitude Gratitude Gratitude

1 Mar

Looking at the world through the lense of a blog makes for an interesting experience. The Tortas are visiting Austin, Texas, home to family and friends and our former life. There’s been a mountain of loving connections, tasks completed and lessons learned.

Taking selfies with Sophia age one.

Taking selfies with Sophia age one.

Hunter age three with Grandma Lisa.

Hunter age three with Grandma Lisa.

There was a great sunrise out first morning in town. We were on our way to an early appointment at the Veteran’s Administration Clinic. The VA has checked Lisa’s health from head to toe. She will have new glasses and the continued support she needs to stay healthy.

Heading toward the VA Clinic on highway 71.

Heading toward the VA Clinic on highway 71.

A walk along Lady Bird Lake provides a view of downtown Austin. This was the warmest day we had during our stay. Note to self: come back when it’s not so cold!

View from the newly extended hike and bike trail.

View from the newly extended hike and bike trail.

While visiting Austin, I celebrated my birthday. We had a small gathering of friends at a local restaurant that had a swing band playing on a weeknight. After all, Austin is the live music capital of the world. No small claim.

The Lucky Strikes

The Lucky Strikes

We are blessed to be staying with family members Steven and Terry. There are two pictures on the shelf in their home that make me smile and bring back sweet memories.

Our backyard commitment ceremony in 1999.

Our backyard commitment ceremony in 1999.

The same backyard in 2012 for my 60th birthday.

The same backyard in 2012 celebrating my 60th birthday.

Time is flying by as we prepare to wend our way home to Bacalar. All I can say is gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, for a city that opens its arms to welcome us, family and friends who make time in their busy schedule and comfy homes, and everyone at the VA who went out of their way to adjust appointments and meet our every need. I am also grateful for the amazing life we have chosen in Bacalar. Life is very, very good.

A breakfast stop at Mother's Cafe. Great vegetarian/vegan restaurant and an Austin treasure.

A breakfast stop at Mother’s Cafe. Great vegetarian/vegan restaurant and an Austin treasure.

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Eating Organic in Mexico – An Adventure of a Different Kind

22 Feb

The Tortas are on vacation. Please enjoy a previous post.

A large part of moving to Mexico for me was driven by the memory of roaming local mercados brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables. In 1975, as a college student in Mexico, I gorged on whatever was in season, especially relishing avocados and tropical fruits not found in my native New Jersey.

As with everything inthe world, times have changed, and in 2014, asking a merchant in the Bacalar market where their produce is from often results in a blank stare. For this reason, I have thought often of the organic farmer’s market left behind in Austin, Texas. I willingly paid higher prices, which included the privilege of meeting the farmers who grew and brought their culinary wonders to my neighborhood.

On Saturday, the Tortas were excited to take a road-trip to a local organic farm that we’d heard about. After driving 40 km or about 25 miles, we came to what’s otherwise known as Kilometro Cinco (five).

An easy-to-miss wooden roadside stand fronts an amazing farm owned and operated by a husband-wife team. All work is done manually. There is no roto tiller pulled behind a tractor. The rich earth in this soil poor area is the result of twenty years of composted chicken manure. It is obvious that these folks work hard, love what they do and have a green thumb that I can only dream of. We followed them to their fields and were in awe of the crops that were harvested before our eyes. It doesn’t get any fresher than this. There was eggplant, cabbage, kohlrabi, two kinds of espinaca (spinach), red and green lettuce, arugula, chard, bok choy, basil, Serrano peppers, dandelions and probably more that I’m forgetting. It was a Spanish lesson as well. I will have green smoothies for days. Kilometro Cinco is a treasure and well worth the trip. Our huge basket of veggies, farm eggs and oranges cost about $10US. I’m in heaven and no longer dreaming of farmer’s markets.

Rows of lettuce and peppers.

Rows of lettuce and peppers.

Growing in the jungle.

Growing in the jungle.

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Harvesting as we go.

Harvesting as we go.

Though For The Day

Though For The Day

Taxes and the Retired Expatriate

15 Feb

Let me start by saying that Lisa is in charge of taxes. She tells me what to do and I do it as we prepare for a trip to the States and a visit with our accountant. This week I found myself in a familiar place, stressing about money. It happens every time we fly to the States which involves airplane tickets,  car rental, eating out and the laundry-list of purchases that we intend to bring back. My stomach knots, my head spins and I don’t sleep well. It’s not fun for Lisa and certainly not fun for me.

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Trumpet Vine at Casita Carolina

This morning I was doing my tax assignment, gathering my W-2 and investment balances. The fog lifted and I came to the conclusion that I DO NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT MONEY! Stop it, cut it out, quit!

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Blooming aloe on the patio. The bees love it.

As a partnership of two women, we have never made the big bucks. I have a small State of Texas retirement, social security and a portion of a former spouse’s retirement. What I did right was save a portion of every paycheck as soon as I made any money. I maxed out my IRA’s for years. Even though friends and fellow employees poked fun at my taking the bus, bringing my lunch, and general modest living.

Orchids on Cozumel Island

Orchids on Cozumel Island

This morning I did the math. I gave myself thirty more years on the planet, subtracted what we’ve put aside to build the house, and added in my retirement checks and voila. I’m fine. We’re fine. I have nothing to worry about.

Petaluma, CA last summer.

Petaluma, CA last summer.

It really has nothing to do with money, but my frame of mind. Remembering to be grateful, throw in all the people who love me and I really never have to be afraid about anything, ever. Relax, breath.
DOS TORTAS

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Sometimes the Hardest Things Are the Most Wonderful

8 Feb

Who knew a week of watercolor painting could be so exhausting? Was it fun? Hell yes! Did I learn a lot? Most definitely.

16th Annual Watercolor Workshop.

16th Annual Watercolor Workshop.

But probably the biggest gift was a chance to immerse myself in a group of women artists for a week. They were my cheerleaders when I felt discouraged. Every evening we gathered with our day’s work for critique. We were vulnerable, sharing our process and self-doubt. How often does that happen? Their suggestions for added color here and more definition there, made my paintings pop and kept me grounded.

Caroline, Kim, Teresa

Caroline, Jo, Teresa

The work we produced was epic. It was painting-on-demand with no chance to walk away for a few days and let things percolate. We were on the clock with a showing on Saturday. As much as I hate it, magic happens under pressure.

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The community celebration on Saturday was a multi-cultural event with great music, delicious food, new and old friends and a chance to sell our work. The owner of Aluxes, the hotel where we painted on Wednesday bought almost all the fabulous paintings made of his hotel.

Aluxes Hotel and restaurant, Bacalar

Hotel Aluxes, Bacalar

No one broke even as we turned around and bought each others’ paintings. I may not have a house yet, but when I do, it will be full of memories and Rendezvous beauty.

There was a bidding war for this painting. I loved doing it.

There was a bidding war for this painting. I loved doing it.

Rendezvous entertainment.

Entertainment by Escenario Libre

Finding the words to wrap up the week’s workshop fails me. Painting was the medium for the connection, which if you think about it, is the truth about life in general. It’s always about loving each other first, is it not? From that base life can be really lived. What a fabulous lesson brought home by this wonderful experience and these lovely women.

Thank you all for leaping with me.

Thank you all for leaping with me.

The Artistry of Bacalar

25 Jan

San Miguel de Allende in northern Mexico is an artists’ haven. We stopped last year on our drive back to Bacalar from visiting family in Texas. There are artisan markets, galleries, beautifully landscaped architecture and well, sigh…I returned to our little town of Bacalar feeling depressed and longing for a more stimulating creative environment.

The street in San Miguel.

The street in San Miguel.

In the year since, I have discovered the amazing arts community that is Bacalar. It began when I opened my eyes.

Colibri

Colibri

This beautiful hummingbird and the blue deer that follows grace the wall of a house that is under construction. The colors are vibrant and my bicycle excursion up a new street uncovered them, much to my delight.

Venado Azul

Venado Azul

Down the street from our house, the newly named Frida Kahlo school for differently-abled children received a new mural outside its gate over the recent holiday vacation.

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My favorite mural is on a main street leading off the town square.

The sky begins on Laguna Bacalar.

The sky begins on Laguna Bacalar.

Even a little house that looks like it’s about to fall down provides the canvas for an artist’s expression.

The work covers part of the front door in its beautiful expression.

The work covers part of the front door in its beautiful display.

There are amateur murals, perhaps from a community project of years ago.

Note the crocodile in the foreground.

Note the crocodile in the foreground.

A recent state-wide celebration included the commission of this mural on the wall of the Bacalar Tourist Center.

Flying fish than can be seen when I'm out in my kayak.

Flying fish that can be seen while kayaking on the laguna.

Next week starts the annual Art Rendezvous at Casita Carolina. Local and visiting artists gather for five days and capture the sights – mercado, pyramids, palm trees and colorful residents. On Saturday next there is a community party and art sale. Everyone is invited to participate. I’ve decided to paint even though I haven’t picked up a brush since high school.

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With exceedingly low expectations of my artistic abilities I will join in and chronicle the fun. Clearly our community is far more artistic and creative than I previously saw. With such a beautiful environment, how could it not be.

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Follow up to last week’s blog  Los Perros of Bacalar –

I did not expect that blog followers would be willing to open their hearts and resources to the dogs and cats of Bacalar, silly me. This weekend there was a sterilization clinic with additional pictures on the Dos Tortas Facebook page. It is a public page that you can access without a FB account. If you wish to contribute please contact me for further information. A large bag of dog food costs $25US and the average cost to sterilize an animal is about $20. We have the offer of a permanent location and would like to have monthly clinics. There are start up equipment costs, but money goes far in Mexico.

Our visiting veterinarian and expat nurse extraordinaire Patty.

Our visiting veterinarian and expat nurse extraordinaire Patty.

DOS TORTAS

Los Perros of Bacalar

18 Jan

The dogs of Bacalar have been on my list of blog topics for awhile. They lounge in the streets barely aware of speeding taxis and zipping motos. When walking or riding our bikes, it is useful to carry a stick or pocket of stones. Bacalareños and expats alike either own dogs, are afraid of them or both, for good reason.

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In the defense of the perros is our friend Rojo. He takes collections of dog food, arranges sterilization clinics and maintains the bellies of a small herd of street dogs. With the support of many gringos he has taken the fight to the município and raised awareness. His facebook page, Perros Olvidados de Bacalar, the forgotten dogs of Bacalar, was created to provide a central message board.

Rojo the dog rescuer.

Rojo the dog whisperer.

While riding this week I was bum rushed by two dogs that hang out blocks from our house. I got scared, hit the brakes and went down. I got up bruised but determined to do something about this particular duo as I have seen them in action before.

They certainly think they live here and someone is feeding them.

They certainly think they live here and someone is feeding them.

I canvassed the neighborhood but was told that the dogs have no owner. No one wants to take responsibility for this pair, for good reason. A friend paid $11,000 pesos this week, about $750us when a passing man called the police threatening to sue, claiming our friend’s weimaraner Lucy had bitten him (names have been changed to protect the presumed innocent). As anywhere, the case for settling “out of court” was made and a deal was struck.

The take away came from the old man who came by on his tricycle while I was knocking on doors. I see him frequently in the hood and noticed that the corner dogs mostly ignore him. My curiosity was peaked and I struck up a conversation. I told him that the dogs had attacked me and I was looking for their owner. He casually glanced at my leg looking for evidence of the crime. Finding none, he proceeded to gesture about the mythical dogs who live “over there” and attack and kill people. Seemingly there are always people, “over there” who have it worse, like the starving children in Africa, invoked by my parents to pressure me to eat my peas and carrots.

The lesson and our new mantra is, if you’re not dead, you have nothing to complain about. Try it this week; it sort of has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

DOS TORTAS

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A Literary Suggestion for the Mexico Bound

11 Jan

Bacalareños had a quiet Saturday night. The long holiday vacation is over with adults back to work and the children in school. The cool weather and rain had the perros curled up and quiet until the rooster alarm clock went off this morning. We cherish these mornings.

Rainy Sunday morning.

Rainy Sunday morning.

I’ve been hearing from readers about adventurous plans to travel or retire to Mexico. I thought you might enjoy a reading suggestion to pass the time until your trip.

On my night table is The Lacuna by Barbara Kinsolver.

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The main character tells of life growing up with his Mexican mother and his relationship with Frieda Kalo and Diego Rivera.

Artists of Mexico.

Artists of Mexico.

As a young adult he returns to seek out his US father and ends up living in Asheville, NC. of all places. My brother lives in Asheville and I’ve visited many times, however familiarity with the city is not a requirement to enjoy the book.

I found The Lacuna slow to engage but persisted after I saw it included among the coffee table collection at La Casa de los Venados in Valladolid. If the owners of this amazing art collection thought enough to place it front and center in a room where there are no accidents, I decided to give it a second go.

All things Mexico.

All things Mexico.

The largest private collection of Mexican folk art.

The largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world.

Our reclusive protagonist develops into a writer of Mexican ancient history and weaver of stories that capture the hearts of post WW I, communist fearing Americans. I cannot tell you the ending, as I am within pages of finishing myself. It feels much like the story of Dos Tortas, off to a slow start, but now within days of receiving our permission to build our retirement home. How perfect a life reflection. DOS TORTAS
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En Bacalar It’s El Parque (The Park)

28 Dec

In the colonial cities throughout much of Mexico, the town square is called the zócalo. The zócalo is located in the old center of the city and is a multi-purpose destination. On one side is usually the cathedral. Government buildings such as the governor’s palace or a museum flank another quadrant. Many are resplendent with portales, arched walkways with outdoor cafes to nosh and people watch. They are the place to see and be seen. I remember sitting on the zocalo in Oaxaca watching the teens circle, boys in one direction, girls in the other. The aunties on benches served as chaperones. Lord are those days gone forever! Welcome to our humble park.

The gazebo houses dance classes, tai chi, health fairs and games of tag.

The wonderful gazebo, in the center of the park houses dance classes, tai chi, health fairs and games of tag .

Bacalar’s town square is called el parque. On Friday night it is hopping. Families come to let the kids play, buy a treat and mingle with the tourists.
imageThe parque is also where children put on school presentations and holidays are celebrated.
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A walk around the outside of the park starts on the north where several small restaurants attract mostly tourists with regional cuisine and hamburgers.

Notice the bilingual sign.

Notice the bilingual sign. Bicycles provide transportation.

In the northeast corner is an office building devoted to tourism. It is newly painted with colorful murals.

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To the east is the pirate fort overlooking the Laguna. Young Guatemalan girls sell their wares in its shadow. These two wanted “three dollars” to take their picture. With lots of giggling, they got five pesos each.

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View from the fort and museum 

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On the southwest corner, local artists sell wonderful jewelry and wind chimes made from shells found in the laguna. I love to visit to see their latest creations. Shop here to take home that special keepsake.
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Continuing around the park you pass the ATMs and on to the municiple offices. It’s time to pay 2015 property taxes. If paid by the end of December there’s a 25% discount!
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I hope you enjoyed our little walk in the park. It’s our favorite place to hang out. Did I mention it has wifi? Love our little town.
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