Watch a Circus

Carrie had been looking for a circus to go to & happened to read about one in Ajijic, 25 minutes away from our house, on an online forum for the area.  They don’t do traditional advertising as we might think of it; it’s mostly by word of mouth.  They asked us at the end of the show if we could please tell people the circus is in town.  Carrie read that last year when it was in town they hired a small airplane to fly around with a loudspeaker to announce the circus, which wouldn’t surprise me because they love loudspeakers here.  In fact, as I’m writing this I hear the local store blasting out what food they’re going to have on sale tomorrow.  It’s 8 PM and we’re a mile away from the store.

The circus wasn’t at all what I imagined, but it was really fun!  Here’s the rundown.  There were no animals.  Mexico outlawed using animals in circus acts (which has led to a problem of what to do with elephants & tigers that are expensive to feed and the circus no longer wants them).  Three camels were moved from the performance arts to the marketing department and stood tied-up out front (that’s still legal evidently).  It was about $23 total for the three of us to sit in the cheap seats; for $6 more we could have sat 10 rows closer, and thank goodness we didn’t do that.  The speakers, like most places playing music in Mexico, were LOUD.  The capacity of the bleachers was at least 1,000 people I’d estimate; Carrie counted 47 of us in the audience.  They are doing two shows a day at 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM for a couple weeks.  From what it looked like when we were leaving, there was going to be an audience of maybe 15 people at the 8:30 show (see the line pictured below).

Unfortunately no pictures or video were allowed of the performances, so you’ll have to use your imaginations.  There were Cirque du Soleil-style acts with people dancing in the air on rings, flying around on giant red ribbons hanging from the ceiling, and swinging around on ropes.  There were no nets and it made me nervous to watch.  There was a juggler & a magician.  Everyone’s talent was top-notch, I was pretty impressed.  Here’s a big difference from the US:  some of the same people did multiple things throughout the show.  Two brothers did the following: take our tickets at the entrance, play trumpets (really well), sing, do comic clown acts throughout, do Olympic-style trampoline jumping, sell cotton candy and light toys during intermission, and last, but certainly not least, ride dirt bikes around in a metal sphere of death (see picture below).  These guys were incredibly talented, athletic, and well-rehearsed, just like all the other performers.  It broke my heart a bit to see the place almost empty, although they even laughed at that.  At one point they were trying to get everyone to make noise and they shined the spotlight on a completely empty section and told them to make more noise.

Carrie and I were way more entertained than iola was.  Our favorite part: knife throwing!  First a professional knife thrower came out with two girls and he threw knives around them with unbelievable accuracy, even while spinning on a big wheel contraption.  But that part made us wince.  After the pro got finished one of the clown brothers came out and tried throwing the knives; they’d just bounce off the wood backboard, part of his shtick.  He came and picked out an American guy from the audience, tied him to the knife throwing board so he couldn’t move, and blindfolded him.  So he’d countdown to the knife throw & would hand the knife to an assistant who would just stab the knife into the board nearby the guy’s head, for example, without actually throwing it, but the guy didn’t know that of course.  So they’d un-blindfold him and he’d cringe at where the knife had stuck.  At one point the poor American guy said in Spanish, “No más!” and the clown replied, “Sí, más!”, and this went on and on.  They finally put a balloon between his legs and the clown took out a huge machete-like knife to pop it.  I’ve never heard Carrie laugh so much, it was music to my ears.

Wow, enough of my rambling, I must be trying to make up for my lack of guts to break the rules and capture the moments!  Enjoy what pictures we did get.

Note iola’s “party hat”.  It was Carrie & iola’s craft project that day and iola wanted to wear it everywhere.  It was a good venue for it!  We suggested leaving it in the car and she exclaimed, “Party hat with!”







The brothers rode dirt bikes around in this sphere at ridiculous speeds.  Remember the scene in the Simpson’s movie where Homer wins a truck by doing this?




Celebrate a Tropical Holiday Season

Dale Carnegie said a man cares more about his toothache than a famine in China.  Well, for me it’s hard to understand a snow storm up north when it’s so consistently beautiful here.  Warm, but not too hot.  Cool at night for great sleeping.  I can really see why lots of gringo’s are here.

It’s fun to see how a gorgeous place like this, with lots of palm trees, celebrates the holidays.  Here’s a taste.













Chapala’s nativity scene contains way more animals than I ever remember seeing in a nativity scene.  Rabbits, squirrels, deer, elephants, horses, etc.  It looks like someone went and stole all the yard ornaments they could find from a retired person’s front lawn…minus the elephant and horse maybe.




Spend One Hour on an Island

As one last hurrah before Grandpa Gary left, we visited the nearby town of Mezcala.  For 300 pesos (not quite $20 total, not per person) they’ll give you a boat ride out to Mezcala Island in Lake Chapala, wait for you for one hour, then deliver you back to the mainland.  The lake is big enough it feels like an ocean looking across it, especially when hazy.  It’s about a 20 minute ride to the island depending on the waves.  Six of us would have been fighting for two life jackets had they been necessary.  We declined to have a guide come with us but he came anyway.  He was a young guy, a “kid” would be a better word, but he was interested in history & architecture and knew all sorts of facts & dates related to the island, so I tipped him anyway despite having passed on his services.

The island played an interesting role in the war for Mexican independence from Spain.  The short story is that Mexican rebels fighting Spain fortified themselves on the island and held out for four years without being overtaken by the mighty Spanish forces.  Eventually Spain gave up and signed a treaty with them.  Here’s a more detailed account that’s worth a read:  The island was later used as a military fort (seen in pictures below, complete with a moat) and a prison.  The ruins you see in the pictures were part of the original fortification by the Mexican rebels fighting against Spain via their stronghold on the island.  Very interesting stuff and a great day.




It’s actually two islands; the bigger one from where I’m taking the picture from atop the fort, and the other little guy.







A black cat lives on the island and followed us around the whole time when he wasn’t hunting & eating lizards.







Here’s the guide answering my questions.






Lose Hearing while Fighting Bulls

Every Sunday we’ve been at the Chapala house we hear loud music coming from the town of San Nicolás starting at about 3:00 PM and continuing well into the night.  One Sunday afternoon we grew curious & walked down the road, through town, and found the source.  They have bull “fights” at the Plaza de Toros and about a 20 piece band assisted by a 20 piece speaker system provides accompaniment.  The music is loud at our house about a mile away and the speakers, as we now know, are facing the opposite direction!

We took Grandpa to this grand event last Sunday and had a grand ol’ time.  The music actually is pretty good, I’ll admit; the way it sounds in the video below doesn’t do it justice.  Most of the band members are young.  I find it very fun that seemingly a large portion of younger people here have music in their souls, whereas I get the impression in the US most young guys are too cool for playing a clarinet in a band.  Not these guys, and they rocked it!

As for the bull part of the event, I can’t really say, because I don’t know what the hell was going on.  It was much more like an American rodeo than a Spanish bull fight.  One immediately noticeable difference was the fate of the bull.  In Spain the bulls are killed by the fighter.  In Mexico they’re lassoed (with impressive skill) and rounded back into their pins to do it all again next week.  It’s not really a fight to begin with.  A bunch of guys go out on horses, many holding beers in their hands, and a bull is let out to chase them around.  The bulls appear to have almost grown bored of the whole thing and at times just stand there as if to say, “Really, this crap again?!”  Then once in awhile a young buck hops on a bull and tries to ride it using no hands, which from what we saw lasts no more than four seconds.  The whole event is very haphazard.  I think I could have just jumped in the ring for a bit and no one would have said a thing (many boys were jumping in and out of the ring at seemingly random times, and there’s nothing but a small chain as a guard rail).

Vendors walk around selling a whole variety of things.  We ate fire-roasted peanuts, a generous cup of mango slices, and another with papaya.  Delicious.  iola got m&m’s from a 12 year old vendor who was also selling cigarettes.  I suspected I got charged the “gringo price” for the m&m’s, but didn’t really care.  The kid made the sign of the cross with the bill I had just given him in his hand, not sure what to make of that.






Need a single cigarette? This kid has you covered.



As Carrie put it, “We know why that guy wears a hat.”




These rodeo clown guys were entertaining.  They danced to the music for good entertainment even when the bulls weren’t out.



Take a Spin with G-Pa, Part III

Next stop: Manzanillo.  On the way we stopped by Cuyutlán, our favorite little ocean town.  Carrie tried octopus and loved it.




We stayed at an oceanfront hotel on a peninsula overlooking Manzanillo Bay.  The views were captivating.  We spent our days swimming in pools and oceans.  Just like last time we were in Manzanillo, we weren’t ready to leave so we booked an extra night.  Hotels just keep amazing us.  We paid $75/night for a room with three beds, a kitchenette, a great made-to-order breakfast included and those incredible views.  Can’t beat it.



Shitty view.


We bought iola an awesome pool floatie that lasted 10 minutes before the  plastic built-in seat holding her up broke.  It had a squeaker built in to its tail and we weren’t ready to give it up.  Pink duct tape to the rescue!  My first fix job lasted another 10 minutes only.  I got serious for my next fix and that lasted the rest of the time.  Note the increasing amount of duct tape.



iola was painting Grandpa’s toenails.  We thought they were just playing pretend until he walked over to us.  That’s a good buddy right there, although I think he thought it’d wash off easily.  I’ve been laughing ever since every time I see his feet.


iola commandeered my ice cream cone.  She had her own, then claimed mine.


We headed back to Chapala after a great week on the road.


Take a Spin with G-Pa, Part II

Next stop on our trip: Colima (capital city of the state of Colima).  We stayed at a great hotel located right on a city park next to a church & plaza area.  We were also just a short drive from some ruins (La Campana Ruins) leftover from pre-hispanic civilizations.  What an interesting place that was!  Did you know human sacrifices were common in these civilizations?





We were pleasantly surprised by a showcase of Mexican dance in the plaza by the hotel that night.


We did a side trip to the town of Comala, a short drive from Colima.  Comala is the fictional setting of the novel Pedro Páramo by Mexican author Juan Rulfo.  I took a class my senior year of college completely dedicated to Rulfo’s work, which was small.  He only wrote one novel and a collection of short stories called El Llano en Llamas (The Burning Plains).  Too bad I was mentally checked out of college by that point!  Otherwise I’d fill you in on some more details.  Here’s a statue instead.


The view of the volcano was great from the town.  It was blowing smoke off and on all day.  It’s amazing how quickly the plume dissipates when not blowing out.



The church was still decorated for the Virgen of Guadalupe.  They really admire that gal.


We stopped by a “magic zone” where you put your car in neutral and it rolls what appears to be uphill.  I thought I wouldn’t be fooled, but sure enough, it really did look like the car was rolling against gravity!  Of course a picture provides no proof of this so you’ll have to take my word for it.  Why the water bottle?  Professor Grandpa was doing some science experiments.


Grandpa Gary didn’t want to leave the hotel pool, so we promised him if we left Colima to go to the beach and he wasn’t pleased, we would return to Colima (it didn’t happen).


On the way out of town we stopped by a free zoo.


The only camel at this zoo causes cancer.


Here’s a tongue-twister for you: iola loves inanimate animals.

My favorite animals weren’t in cages.




Take a Spin with G-Pa, Part I

We’ve been having so much fun with Grandpa Gary I haven’t had time to blog.  I have taken approximately 300 pictures on my camera since the last time I blogged.

First, a note on my dad.  I’ve always known this but I gave it more thought during his visit:  my dad is one of the most laid-back, genuinely happy people I know.  He finds joy and pleasure in no matter what we do, and what a great way to live that is, because he’s always happy.  I’m sure I took it for granted growing up, but thinking back my dad was seemingly always happy.  It’s a great lesson for me to be like my dad and enjoy every moment we get to live.

After hanging around Chapala for a few days with Grandpa, we took off on a multi-city road trip for a week.  Before that, Carl Car needed prepared.  Since we’ve been scraping on every speed bump, it was time to do something about it.  The mechanic was plenty familiar with that problem.  $70 and four red spacer rings later Carl sat about an inch higher.

First stop: Mazamitla.  We enjoyed the quaint town so much last time we went we decided to show Grandpa.  This time they were celebrating the Virgen of Guadalupe with Catholic masses, parades, carnival rides, and lots of noise.  The impressively loud fireworks at all hours make you feel like you’re in a war zone.  It was rainy off and on for the couple days we were there, almost a blessing as to stop the fireworks for at least a bit.  We had a relaxing two days in the fun little town, despite iola’s nasty head cold.






Lure Grandpa South

Grandpa Gary decided to ditch the cold and visit us.  He is one of iola’s best friends, so that news was very welcomed.  We picked him up in Guadalajara & we combined the trip to the city with other errands.

First was the International Book Fair Carrie wanted to check out.  We imagined it being a sort of sleepy, casual event.  It was the opposite…long line to get in & a bit on the crowded side despite the gigantic venue.  It was really fun to experience & we got great new Spanish books for iola.




We once again stayed in a fantastic hotel in Guadalajara, probably the best Mexican hotel we’ve stayed in so far (and still well under $50).


We visited the midwives again.  Mamá y bebé are both doing well!


Grandpa’s flight was running late so we had time to explore the city  before heading to the airport.  Carrie had been on a felt fabric hunt and finally found it in a crazy busy fabric store.  Buying our merchandise was an experience like no other.  First we had to find someone to cut the fabric pieces.  At one point after about color number five I told the employee, “and one of every color.”  She looked back at all the different colors with a stunned look until I told her it was a joke.  She gave us a paper ticket (but not our felt) that we had to take to a cash register.  We had to get a different ticket from a different department for the paint Carrie also wanted.  Once everything was paid for, we waited in one long line to show the paid receipt and pick up the fabric.  In another line we waited to pick up the paint.  I have no idea how this method saves money or prevents shoplifting, but I’m thankful it’s unlikely I’ll ever step foot in that store again.  Between the book fair and that store I had my share of crowds for a few months.  I will admit the results of Carrie’s felt quest made it all worth it (see below).



We ate at the world’s smallest restaurant (unofficial) before going to find Grandpa at the airport.



Grandpa’s here!  The amount of love between these two never gets old to see.

iola loves her new felt Christmas tree.





Free the Turtles

On the way back up to the hills from the coast, Carrie found yet another activity for us.  Once again at the end of a road where I was cursing the potholes and questioning if this side trip was really worth it, we arrived at the Tortugario, a sea turtle refuge.  And I should stop questioning my wife, as this was yet another really fun stop.  They keep huge sea turtles in pools, bury their eggs in sand, and then release the babies once born.  We were hoping to see the latter part the most but were about to leave without seeing babies when…

They asked if we’d like to release some turtles!  Newborn sea turtles combined with a two year old is a cocktail of adorableness.  iola threw her turtle instead of gently setting it down.  It survived, thankfully, else I’d have lingering guilt over my daughter murdering an endangered animal.





Leaving the turtles, we drove through Cuyutlán, a small fishing town.  Carrie was hungry so we explored the little town and found a pot of gold.  Lining the Pacific coast were dozens of restaurants with seating right on the beach.  We got a view of surfers while we waited for our food.  Carrie had delicious fish tacos and I ate garlic shrimp with a coco loco drink, straight out of the coconut.  The loco part was not native to the coconut.  This was one of the tastiest, most relaxing meals in my recent memory.  And oddly affordable.





You might not think too much of the middle, darker cloud unless you were looking for it.  It’s a volcano we passed going back into the mountains toward home.


These sunsets never get old.




Head to the Ocean

Gringos have no business being in Mexico for a month without having seen the Mexican coast.  We looked for the quickest driving distance to a beach and went there, which landed us in Manzanillo, on the Pacific coast.  We planned to stay here three nights but as I’m writing this we’ve now extended our stay for two more nights.


The climate in Manzanillo is surprisingly different than by Chapala up in the mountains at 5,000 feet.  Here it’s 90 degrees and sunny whereas by Chapala it’ll sometimes sneak into the 80’s but usually stays in the 70’s and no air conditioning is needed.

Our hotel on the beach sets us back $43/night including tax & resort fee.  If you’re looking for a five star resort this wouldn’t be your place, but we love it.  Our door is about six steps to the pool and the beach is 10 steps beyond that.  We hear the waves crashing while in bed.


Hurricane Patricia surprisingly seems to have spared this area.  It had been predicted to cause unprecedented damage.  The only sign we’ve seen of a hurricane is the missing panels of Plexiglas between the pool and the beach.  Our view is better than it would be otherwise so thank you, Patricia.  It seems like yesterday we were avoiding your rains.



We went to the hotel’s restaurant the first night and were surprised to discover it’s a Spanish restaurant.  Tortilla española & calamares a la romana hit the spot.  Although I’m a one trick pony as a chef, I will say I could show them a trick or two on making Spanish tortilla.  I’ll forgive them since we’re halfway around the world from Spain…and because their beachfront patio is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever eaten a meal.



Carrie invariably finds weird places for us to go.  Once we’ve arrived I’m thankful for Carrie’s exploratory nature 99% of the time, and I’m glad she’s not the type to just stay on the beach (metaphorically, although in this case literally.)  On the trips to get to these places, however, I’ll admit I’ve cursed the decision to go plenty of times.  Our most recent example is the Iguananario, an “Iguanarium”.  If it looks like there’s someone’s makeshift home right beside the place, it’s because there’s someone’s makeshift home right beside the place.


A horror movie could be made in this place.  They estimate they have around 500 iguanas, and they’re everywhere.  Above you in trees, beside you, below you.  No fences for these guys.  They also have cute raccoons, pigs, badgers, guinea pigs, roosters, & some other birds.  Quite the funny mix.  Very fun, I must say.




In case you haven’t heard the rumor, Mexicans love peppers.  I asked the waitress at our lunch stop yesterday if the salsa she brought to the table was spicy.  She said no.  She was a big liar.  Although from her perspective I imagine they were not, in fact, spicy.