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Mexico: House Guests

One of our favorite house guests just went home. Fred liked his first look at Mexico. He carried away vivid impressions. Because he pitched for our undefeated Little League team 40 years ago and is never to be forgotten, food, lodging and sight-seeing were almost free. Fred offered pesos. Good guests do.

We do not operate an all-inclusive five-star resort. We do not live in a gated gringo enclave. Our home is in a genuine Mexican village, suburban Jocotepec, west end of Lake Chapala in the exciting state of Jalisco. Our street is bumpy and emits dust. We have no central heat or air conditioning. We do offer spectacular sunrises over the lake and a great view of Mount Garcia.

We are pleased to report there is no steady flow of guests.

Children, grandchildren and other relatives cycle through at their and our convenience. Close friends and next-door neighbors from East Tennessee have come and gone, one or two or three each winter, and another now and then when we return for the rainy season.

There is no waiting line but Sarah does keep a calendar. We learned a lot about hosting when we lived in Washington, D.C. A house at a potential vacation destination is risky business. It is doubly dangerous if there are authentic tourist attractions — the White House, historic monuments, Capital Hill, the Smithsonian and George Washington's Mount Vernon.

I'm telling you how it is. If you admit to having a guest room with private bath, somebody will occupy them. You can draw a crowd. Based on comprehensive research, it appears Jocotepec is not exactly the same as Washington. As real estate agents proclaim, location, location, location.

All guests seem to enjoy food. Fred learned about Sarah's cooking when he was growing up and can't imagine how it improved. He left no Mexico fruit in his breakfast bowl, no crumbs from his bedtime snack. He was bold in restaurants — barbecued ribs, fish and shrimp grilled in garlic butter, hamburgers with fries, Southern fried chicken, you get the idea.

He was puzzled by the noise. Street music past midnight. Big boom fireworks and church bells at strange hours. Barking dogs. Neighborhood parades with marching band. Very early trash pickup. Children's soccer by the one streetlight. I do believe he made a souvenir list of loudspeakers — gas delivery truck, priest promoting church services, vegetable and pastry salesmen, junk metal acquisitions and something that sounded like political propaganda.

Fred was intrigued by the fisherman who went door to door with his catch in a wheelbarrow. There was no audible announcement but customers appeared.
We try to tailor tours to fit guests.

In Ajijic, we peek in at Lake Chapala Society grounds and tell the story of Neill James' generosity. We ease through the art district and encourage window-shopping at boutiques. The plaza corner where sculptor Estele Hidalgo turned an old tree stump into a miracle requires more serious study.

In Chapala, we point out the renovated railway station. At the Braniff House, we toss in a historic tidbit, that Capt. Albert Braniff, founder of Braniff Airlines, purchased the home in 1908. We now pause to enjoy Jesus overlooking the harbor from the man-made island. This is a conversation piece. Are church and state joined at the hip or heart? We always promote Jose's restaurant off the plaza. Special people get to go there to be amazed that the menu includes Alaskan salmon grilled in a wine sauce. How about that!

There is a pecking order among royalty. Some guests are introduced to the coastal fishing village of Barra de Navidad, to Bananas for sunset dinner overlooking the Pacific. Degree of interest determines whether we go to Guadalajara for culture or the other direction to Mazamitla, nestled on a pine mountain. Shops and houses with overhanging balconies generate images of Swiss villages. We like Mazamitla and tri-fajitas at La Troje restaurant, across from the Pemex gas stop. Guests study the many travel posters on display. Most boys and some old men check out girlie art over the bar.

We always go town to town on the south side of Lake Chapala, pointing out the family furniture industry in San Pedro Tesistan and a thousand white pelicans that winter around Petatlan. A nonchalant wave at that beautiful sight causes most guests to overestimate our knowledge and intelligence. "Hmmmmm, seems seven are missing today. They are probably off somewhere on a fishing trip."

Even those of us who don't drink enjoy Tequila, the town. We talk about fields of agave, the growing, chopping, hauling, smashing and processing, how almost everybody is somehow involved with distilling, packaging, delivery or sales of tequila, the drink. It feeds families and funds government and the church.

There was a time, when we were younger and had firmer shock absorbers, that we took guests 17 kilometers up the bumpy hill, to the rim of the long-ago Tequila volcano, for a spectacular view of what God and time created down below. Now, we just point.

On the toll road to Colima, past dry lakes and Guzman City, we also point to remarkable bridges over deep ravines. Fred didn't realize Mexico had such interesting engineers.
We go to Comala for a better view of Volcán de Fuego de Colima. Fred thought the photo op from Montes Azules was several notches up from the mixed grill. Chewy. In cooperation with global warming anguish, the volcano was smoking gently, quietly, only an occasional puff. No lava. No ash. Fred chuckled. No need to phone Al Gore.

Observations about house guests: Some have old-fashioned manners and bring gifts for Sarah; most don't scatter clothes for the maid to pick up; some insist on paying for a fair share of restaurant meals; most ask before using our phone to call home. There are no arguments about TV programming. If major sports events are on, I win. It is guests' choice for all other shows.

So far, there have been no issues about length of stay. We always laugh and help visitors discover the cute, little card sign in the guest suite: First week free, second week open for discussion, third week $1,100, U.S. or
Marvin West
Hotel Neuvo Posado
On the shores of lake Chapala, Mexico

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