How Ajijic & Lake Chapala is Like the Aunt You Always Wanted

Jet Metier in Ajijic next to sign for Thai restaurantWouldn’t it have been nice if, when you were growing up, you had an aunt who was always there when you needed her, who understood you, who always seemed to know what you needed and gave it to you, but who didn’t ask for anything in return?  The one who, if you got into an argument with your parents, you could go to?  Who would not be judgmental, and would help to make everything right? Putting aside the lopsidedness of such a relationship, we came to view Ajijic as that aunt.
It started with a rather practical need.  We had packed our big, white van with as much “stuff” as humanly possible, and this stuff was heavy, which, as we drove through the mountain passes from Puerto Vallarta to the Lake Chapala area, caused the brakes to wear down to the point that every time we approached a tope (speed bump), the van made a screeching sound loud enough to cause even nearby cows to cast a disapproving glare.  Besides being noisy and a bit embarrassing, it was clear that we needed new brakes, and soon.
This, of course, presented a problem.  We were less than 24 hours in a new area in a foreign country, while being in need of an honest, competent mechanic, quickly.  How easy would that be?  Well, it turned out that Auntie Ajijic and the local expats were more than able to smooth the way for us.
Big white van at Felipe Morales Autocheck in Lake Chapala, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingWithin the period of 3 hours, when we were visiting our friend Mark O’Neill in his new home in Ajijic, I casually asked Mark’s neighbor, Kenny Riemer if he knew a mechanic who fit the bill.  Into his home went Kenny, and re-appeared with a business card.  Less than an hour later, I was screeching into the shop of Felipe Morales of AutoCheck, who, it turned out, had lived in the US and had returned to Mexico because he found it to be a better place to raise his two girls.
Felipe is like a male version of that aunt I described.  He listened to all my problems, and told me calmly that he would take care of it the next day.  Here are the issues I presented to Felipe, along with the resolution to each one a day later, after Felipe worked on our van:
  • When we were in Northern California, a mechanic told me I needed major work on the brakes that would cost $1,200, plus more if he ran into anything difficult.  Luckily, I decided to wait.  Since then, as you might have guessed from the screeching sound, there was a new complication in that I needed the rotors turned, which would have to be done off-site, because the brakes were so large that Felipe didn’t have the equipment to do it at his shop.  Felipe drove to get the rotors turned in a nearby town, replaced the brakes, and told me he had no idea what the Northern California mechanic / crook was talking about.
Receipt from AutoCheck, Lake Chapala, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
  • Our “check engine light” kept coming on and we couldn’t completely fill the gas tank, because the gas pump would click off prematurely.  I had been told in California that our van needed a $350 part and the labor to replace it, for about $450 total.  Felipe found a loose tube and charged me 150 pesos (about US $8) to fix it.
  • A Midas shop in Tucson had changed the oil on the van.  Felipe let me know that they only put in half of the oil our van needed and I had paid for, so when Felipe changed the oil, he put in the rest.
  • Felipe’s shop was about a half an hour drive from our first house rental in the area, in Jocotepec, so it would be a challenge for me to take a bus or taxi to pick up our van after Felipe had worked on it for the better part of a day.  “No problem”, Felipe said.  Felipe and his daughter would deliver my van back to me, at no charge.
Total amount paid to Felipe to solve all our car problems: 2,640 pesos, or about $140, compared to more than $1,700 in the US, and with free delivery and lots of pleasant conversation thrown in.  I felt more than $1,500 happier, and much more relaxed.  Thank you, Felipe, and thank you, Auntie!
Chuck Bolotin at tiendita in Ajijic – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
For several years, I had some sewing that needed to be done.  The reason I never did it is that it always seemed like such a bother: find a place that did sewing, get in the car, find a place to park, drop it off, come back in a few days, etc.  Well, I was in Ajijic now and with my Auntie, so those inconveniences were a thing of the past.  Here’s how.
I casually asked the owner of the tiendita about a block from our rental home if she knew of anyone who could do some sewing.  Of course, she did.  (In Mexico, it seems like pretty much everyone knows someone who can accomplish whatever you need… and most of them seem to be relatives.)  The storekeeper was the only one in her store at that time and couldn’t leave, so she gave me directions in Spanish that I understood well enough to know that the place I should go was to the right and close, but that was about it.
Ajijic Seamstresses – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingSo out and to the right I went, searching for a store that looked like a place where sewing was done.
I didn’t see one.
All I saw was a bunch of small homes / small businesses and nothing resembling any place where the holes in the pockets of my shorts could be mended and the buttons sewn on. After wandering around for a minute or so, I gave up and started to return home.  As I turned to go, I saw running towards me a woman I had never seen before, shouting in Spanish.  Evidently, she was speaking to me.  After explaining in Spanish where the seamstress was in pretty much the same way the owner of the tiendita had (that I also didn’t understand), she eventually realized that I wasn’t dense; I just didn’t understand Spanish.
Catching her breath, she motioned me to follow her.  In through an unmarked, non-descript doorway we went, past some pinball machines and into an interior courtyard.  To the right, inside a small home, was an older Mexican woman who was eating calmly, at least until she became startled at the approach of a large foreigner she had never seen before invading the quietude of her inner sanctum and breakfast. My new friend and guide (who’s name I didn’t even know) evidently explained to the woman what I needed.  The older woman put down her tortilla.  No problemo! I just had to show up the next day with the pants I wanted sewn, all Chuck Bolotin at Dr. George Podiatrist, Ajijic – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingabout 5 minutes walk from our home.  My only difficulty would be that I had to remember how to find it.
The next day, my new seamstress fixed three pairs of shorts that had languished unused for several years for lack of sewing, all for 20 pesos (about US $1.10) and close to no effort on my part.  Problem solved, and I felt like I had three new shorts.
Some other quick examples:
  • My feet had hurt me and I had some other foot issues on and off for more than a year.  With the high cost of healthcare in the US, I was reluctant to see a doctor.  Auntie Ajijic to the rescue!  Walk six minutes to the carretera (main road), and visit Dr. George, a modern chain of podiatrist offices.  After showing one of the podiatrists my feet, he said they could fix it with a one-hour visit.  Sheepishly, he said that, while the standard one-hour visit cost 250 pesos (about $13), I had a bit of a more complex problem, so it would unfortunately have to be 300 pesos (about $16).  After taking a beat to understand what he was saying (have a podiatrist fix my foot problems for about one tenth what it would cost in the US, all at a stroll’s walk from my home), I thanked the Lord and made the appointment.
  • Dr. Memo, the vet in Ajijic – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingOne of our dogs hurt her leg, so after asking around, I was referred to the local vet, Dr. Memo.  It was pouring rain, so I drove with my dog to the street where I was directed, to about where I was told was Dr. Memo’s office.  I couldn’t find it, so I asked the first man I saw on the side of the road if he knew where the office of Dr. Memo was.  “I’m Dr. Memo,” he said.  (Of course he was.  This was Ajijic.)  Dr. Memo showed me where to park next to his office, and immediately gave our dog a full examination.  I was back on the road and headed to our house 15 minutes later. 
  • After getting our day-to-day needs taken care of at a hilariously low cost, it was time for some splurging, which we Good at Mel's, in Ajijic – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingcould now easily afford.  Happily, Auntie Ajijic was ready.  An eight minute walk from our home was Total Body Care, a place that, if you bought a package, provided facials for about $16, as well as massages, manicures, and pedicures for similarly happy prices. We bought the package.
After a giddy week of getting pretty much all our immediate, seemingly intractable, some longstanding and what we thought would be expensive problems solved, it would be pleasant to have a nice brunch.  Auntie Ajijic was ready.
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  • At about 10 AM on Sunday morning, upon opening the front gate of our rental home, we walked across the street, Chuck Bolotin napping in Ajijic – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingand within one minute, were standing in front of the spread put out for Sunday buffet by the French chef Bernard, at Mel’s, the restaurant owned by Bernard and his wife, Francine. In front of us was a fabulous all- you- can- eat- buffet that included European / Mexican hybrid specialties, favorite French fare, omelets made to order, and a dessert table that had everything from tasty tarts to decadent chocolate cakes. Chairs and tables were arranged around the courtyard, by the pool, and inside.  The garden was fragrant and the food was delicious.  The cost: 130 pesos each (about $7). We ate so much that, after stumbling home (it was literally farther from our front gate to our front door than from our front gate to Bernard’s omelet stand), my wife Jet, our two dogs and I took a long, satisfying, anxiety-free snooze.
Napping in the middle of the day?  Don’t worry; Auntie Ajijic said it was okay.

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