TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… Mexico’ Category

changing rental cars in Mexico

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

                        

I reserved our car in Ajijic, Mexico, with Budget car rental, rather than one of the local operators, specifically because I felt more comfortable being able to talk to someone if there was a problem or a question. But it didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

The original car rental was from March 14 to March 24, 10 days. Then we decided to go to Puerto Vallarta for two days. I could park the car at the Guadalajara airport (~ $50.00 USD) or return the car and get a new rental upon our return to Guadalajara.

I called Budget’s international reservations number in the US (using Skype) to find out how much I would save, if anything, by splitting the rental into two, for 5 days and 3 days, rather than the original 10 days.

Unfortunately, Budget could not give me the answer. “We can’t get into your open contract.” Very frustrating. The Budget person was polite and apologetic, but not helpful.

“You’ll have to call the Budget counter at the Guadalajara airport,” she concluded.

“They speak Spanish, and I don’t,” I said.

“I’m very sorry,” she said.

I tried to call the Budget counter at the airport but I didn’t get through, so I don’t know if I would have found an English-speaking agent, but I doubt it. In any case, I had to solve the problem myself.

First, I reserved a car for the 3 days after our return from Puerto Vallarta. Now I knew that price. NOTE: You can always cancel a car reservation without penalty.

Then I entered dates for a 5 day rental, to learn what the charge would be, although I did not actually make that rental reservation. Adding the two rentals together, there was a savings of another $50.00. No parking, less car rental, $100.00 savings.

When I returned the car to Budget prior to our flight to Puerto Vallarta, the charge was exactly what the web site had calculated for a 5 day rental. We picked up the new car (which turned out to be the same car), upon our return.

Now, why couldn’t Budget, on the phone, have done the same calculations I did on their web site?

This small incident points out how important the internet is to the way we travel. You plan in advance, but you can also modify your arrangements as your plans change.

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Ajijic, Mexico

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

On our first venture into Ajijic, just finding the old town proves more difficult than expected. We drive along the main street, the Carretera, but see no signs of the charming shopping streets we are expecting. Several miles down the road, we make a u-turn, which is very difficult because going off the roadway involves rocks, steep inclines, and danger from oncoming cars which do not stop.

Anyway, we return and Pat suggests that the old town is off to our right, between the Carretera and the lake which we know is down there somewhere. We turn off at a street which has no street sign, which is typical, and the road is immediately steep down and narrow. A pile of construction dirt fills part of the available roadway, and a truck is coming the other way. We can barely pass. “Ajijic?” I ask, pointing. He nods. We drive on, see nothing that we expected, reach the lake, which seems polluted.

Finally, we see a street sign which we can match to our map. We drive a few more blocks, find a parking space – we hope it’s a parking space – and emerge onto the cobblestones. The streets are dusty and too often littered with trash. We find a few nice shops, mainly selling women’s clothes.

We wander into the town square, near the cathedral, and find an outdoor restaurant. All of the customers are Norteamericanos (American or Canadian), and the menu is in English as well as Spanish. We have an excellent breakfast, eggs over, French toast, coffee, tea and juice, for 70 pesos (less than $7.00) for both of us.

There’s a bank on the corner (BBVA Bancomer) with an ATM. It gives me 2000 pesos, and I’m relieved. An earlier try at an ATM in a store did not work at all, and many stores and restaurants, and gas stations we later learn, take only pesos – no credit cards and no USD.

We returned to the old town several more times, and our impressions didn’t change. There is a great contrast between the town, and the vibrant life that has been fashioned by the 5,000 Americans and Canadians who live there.

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shopping in Tlaquepaque (Guadalajara)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

Tlaquepaque is a section of Guadalajara where old buildings have been restored to accommodate a wide variety of excellent shops featuring Mexican clothes, pottery, linens, and other goods.

The drive from Ajijic takes us past the airport. The signage, which until now has been quite limited, is actually quite good at getting us to Tlaquepaque. We follow the avenue C. Ninos Heroes on our map, turn at Juarez, and, since it is early in the morning, easily find a convenient parking space. I put pesos in the meter for 4 hours parking, I think for less than $1.00 US.

It’s not yet 10:00 am, and the shops are not open. We wander, take photos of the churches and charming old buildings. Pat studies the list of shops in an excellent brochure, which is available everywhere including the Guadalajara airport, and lists the stores she is interested in. I circle the keyed store numbers on the map, and as soon as they open, we begin. The main shopping streets are pedestrian only.

Our first purchase is three beautiful scarves, one for Pat and two as gifts. Our main quest, however, is brightly colored Mexican serving bowls and plates. We explore several shops, then find what we want. We buy 5 beautiful serving dishes for $60.00 US. They wrap them well and put them in a box with a carry string, which we put in the car trunk.

We have an excellent lunch, our best meal in Mexico, with guacamole that compares well with our favorite at Rosa Mexicano in New York.

More shopping yields a handful of brightly colored napkins and place mats, which is always one of Pat’s goals.

We find our way out of Guadalajara without difficulty and head back to Ajijic, about 50 kilometers away.

We return to Guadalajara a few days later to explore other areas of the city, but find nothing as charming or as productive from a shopping viewpoint as Tlaquepaque.

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* expatriates in Ajijic – the Lake Chapala Society

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

Approximately 5,000 Americans and Canadians live in the Lake Chapala region, of which Ajijic is the center, and they have created a remarkable ex-patriot community for themselves, built around the Lake Chapala Society.

The LCS is located on a beautiful property on 16 de Septembre, donated to the society some years before by Neill James. It features lovely gardens, a 35,000 volume English library, meeting rooms, and a lively coffee and muffin center. Lots of friendly people, some meeting informally, others planning trips or events, looking for books. Founded 50 years ago, the LCS is the social center of a friendly and lively ex-pat life.

In addition to the LCS, the expatriates have provided a broad support system for themselves and for visitors. Teresa Kendrick’s Insider’s Guide to Lake Chapala & Ajijic is invaluable, and there is also an excellent restaurant guide.

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lunch with our home exchange partner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

Usually, in a home exchange, you don’t get to meet your exchange partner. But this is a non-simultaneous exchange, so Anne was there to greet us to her home, and a few days later, we have lunch with Anne and her friend Bill.

Anne has suggested Pedro’s Gourmet restaurant in the midst of old-town Ajijic. We arrive first, and Pedro, who turns out to be Peter, seats us.

Anne and Bill arrive. Our conversation includes a review of the Home Exchange Instructions for Guests (in Collioure) which I gave to Anne the day we arrived. She has questions, which I try to answer.

The logistics of getting from Ajijic to Collioure are not simple. We discuss options, but do not reach conclusions. I offer to help more as their plans develop.

Peter comes by, and tells us he is singing in a concert next Friday, our last night in Ajijic. We buy tickets (150 pesos each), as do Anne and Bill, so we will see them again. Bill picks up the tab for lunch, over my objections.

ps. the concert was excellent, and a wonderful way to spend our last night in Ajijic. There were 60 voices in the chorus, all local, supported by an orchestra of local high school students. It was great.

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Guadalajara airport

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

This is a small and welcoming place. Upon first arrival, we go to the designated luggage carousel and wait. Soon a representative arrives, asks us where we came from, and tells us that the luggage has been switched to another carousel. A little thing, but nice, done with a caring and professional attitude, appreciated. Good first impression.

The airport has a Starbucks, a small English book section, the usual array of duty free shops, and comfortable seating. It is like many second tier airports in Europe, which are so very preferable to the inhospitable, inefficient places most major airports have become.

When we return several days later for our trip to Puerto Vallarta, the airport is bustling at 7:00 am, so unlike the Miami terminal where we began our trip at a similar hour.

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* Casa Amorita in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 12, 2007

Having decided in the middle of our trip to Ajijic to go to Puerto Vallarta for two days, and to fly rather than drive, we needed air reservations and a place to stay. I made the air reservations on Expedia, and printed the confirmation e-ticket. No problem, as long as you are able to access the internet.

We wanted to stay in old town Puerto Vallarta, so we could walk around and would not need a car. We searched for hotels without finding much to our liking. A search for “Puerto Vallarta B&B” on Google was more productive.

We quickly found Pamela Lanier’s Bed and Breakfast Guide (http://www.lanierbb.com/), which we had used before. It is an excellent resource, with 45,000 listings all over the world. In Puerto Vallarta, our choice from Pamela’s list was Casa Amorita.We called (Skype again), spoke to the owner Rita Love (get it – Rita Love – Amorita), and booked our two night stay. Later, we saw a mention in the Lonely Planet Guide that said Casa Amorita was an exceptional gem, and we couldn’t agree more.

We arrived by taxi from the airport, following the explicit taxi directions Rita had emailed to us. Rita built Casa Amorita from scratch about 10 years ago, working with a local architect to design the place to her specifications.

It is a marvelous place. The first floor includes the swimming pool, sitting areas inside and on the deck, two eating areas for the wonderful breakfasts, and the kitchen.There are four guest rooms on the second floor.

Since we had booked at the last minute, we got the one room without a view of the sea.But what a romantic room it was. Rita had recently redecorated this room (some finishing touches still to come). The bed is large and comfortable, and the bathroom features a large shower with a curved masonry wall.

But the main feature are the billowing curtains. There’s a vertical translucent curtain covering the open space to the small balcony, and above the balcony, in the same material, a semi-circular drop curtain. The effect is a very romantic harem atmosphere.

Since there are few guests, you meet them all. We met a young couple from Portland, and it turned out that she was a classmate of my son Jon at the Haas Business School at Berkeley, where they both got MBAs. Another family was from Minnesota, and two women from the DC area replaced the Portland couple on the second day.

Conversation at both of our breakfasts was outstanding, including the interchange of recommendations for restaurants and activities. The first day we had excellent omelets, and the second day apple streudel, fresh fruit and granola.Rita has prepared an annotated map, which locates the restaurants she recommends. Both she and her young staff are attentive and helpful, and always pleasant.

Now the best part. Pat and I are readers, and the outside deck at Casa Amorita ranks at the very top of places to sit and read, especially in the early morning and the late afternoon, when the light from the sun sets the sea ablaze.

We sat on very comfortable recliners, looking over the blue water in the pool, conscious of the Mexican architecture in our own and the neighboring buildings, the cathedral rising majestically to our left, the sea in front of us, and the mountains beyond. Occasionally, we interrupted our reading reverie to take a dip in the delicious pool and relax on the comfortable pads Rita provides.

There are two caveats. Casa Amorita is on a hill overlooking the ocean, and the views are indeed glorious. But if you can’t or don’t want to climb the approximately 100 steps from the main street to your second floor room, this is not the place for you. We are quite used to the steps at our Collioure home, and it was not a problem for us (aged 66 and 65 respectively).

The second caveat is the bells from the cathedral, which ring, sometimes loudly and sometimes not, every 15 minutes day and night. At night, the bells were noticed before we fell asleep, but were not so intrusive as to awaken us during the night.In our opinion, the pluses significantly outweigh the caveats.

Casa Amorita is a wonderful spot from which to enjoy Puerto Vallarta, and, if you’re like us, to enjoy for its own ambience as one of the best places to read a book that you can ever imagine. 

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from Key West to our home exchange in Ajijic, Mexico

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 12, 2007

We’re excited to be traveling. It’s almost 3 months since December when we got back from New York. We love Key West, but we always have a travel bug.

Packing is a snap. Delta allows us to check two 50 pound suitcases each. For a 10 day trip, we each take one suitcase. Mine weighs 39 pounds, Pat’s 38. We pack a heavier than necessary carryon. On the return trip, we’ll switch books to the checked bags.

We drive to Miami, where we are anticipating dinner with our friends Ron and Eileen.

Eileen wants books. Eight hardcover and 24 paperback copies of The Heretic. Plus one copy of A Good Conviction. With everything else on her plate, I think she’s going to be my publicity agent. Maybe when we get back, she’ll have booked me on Letterman.

As always, the conversation is non-stop and full of laughs.

The next morning, we get to the airport before any Delta employees. Why do they tell you to be there two hours before the flight if they’re not going to meet you? Once Delta arrives, check-in and boarding go smoothly.

We had taken the early flight so that all our driving would be in daylight. The roads are not the best, and the drivers are horrible, switching lanes unpredictably. As we leave the airport, see no signs to Chapala (later, on our second trip, we confirm that there were none) and take the road in the wrong direction, north to Guadalajara instead of south to Chapala. For several miles, there are no exits and no turnarounds, but eventually, I find an exit which leads to a loop and the right direction.

The trip from the airport to Chapala takes about 35 minutes. We could have turned off a few miles before Chapala, but the signage was again abysmal, and the map was unclear, so we end up in the town of Chapala when our actual destination is Ajijic. A group of musicians waiting in a parking lot sets us on the correct path.

Our initial impressions are of a very poor country. This is accentuated by the fact that we are months away from the rainy season and everything is dry and dusty.

We are in Ajijic on a home exchange, and we have traded our 300 square foot apartment in Collioure for a truly extraordinary residence. We are met by Anne. This is a non-simultaneous exchange – she will go to Collioure in May – so she is staying with a friend in Ajijic while we’re in her house.

We estimate the home is more than 2000 square feet. The design and the Mexican architectural details are just superb. In the living room, there are columns and arches, like a Moorish palace. All of the cabinetry and the doors are of the highest quality. There are colored tile floors throughout. Outside, the grounds are spectacular.

The gardener, three times per week, and the maid will continue during our stay.

As we often do after a day of  travel, we go right to sleep.

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Mexico in March

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 10, 2007

We’ve just arranged a non-simultaneous exchange with a woman who lives in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico. We’ll go there in March, and she’ll go to Collioure in May, before we arrive. Pat has been tracking the Lake Chapala area for some time. It’s one of the largest ex-pat communities for Americans and Canadians. We’ll fly to Guadalajara and drive (30 minutes) from there. Ann, our exchange partner, called today, all excited about Collioure. Unlike a simultaneous exchange, where of course you don’t meet, Ann will be staying with a friend when we are at her place, and we’re making plans to meet. Pat tells her that we’ll bring our “Instructions for Guests” and the key to our Collioure apartment. This will be the only vacation travel we do from Key West this year.

Posted in ... 2007, ... Mexico, home exchange | 3 Comments »