five good, five bad (guadalajara version)

In anticipation of summer bidding and transfer season, here’s our contribution to the latest ‘five good, five bad” series by Foreign Service bloggers posted around the globe. You may remember our prior post about Cotonou. Now, here’s our take on Guadalajara.

The Good

1. Living is easy: The weather is pleasant year-round. Housing is good. Commute times are reasonable (20-30 minutes). Mexicans are pleasant and generally like Americans. There are Wal-Marts, Costcos, malls, etc., making it fairly simple to find just about anything you would need. Internet is fast. There are movie theaters, museums, a zoo and things to do galore. This isn’t America, but it’s in no way a hardship post. It’s got much of the culture you’d find in Mexico City, but the city is a more manageable size.

2. Good food is plentiful: Mexican food is of course delicious. I’m partial to fish tacos and street churros. But, there are also plenty of American chains and lots of international options. And there’s a pretty well developed foodie culture, meaning you can have a fancy meal for far less than you would in a major American city. Your palate won’t suffer here.

3. Household help is affordable: Despite having most of the comforts of America, household help is also very reasonable. You can employ a full-time nanny for $600-$800/month, for instance.

4. Travel is easy and cheap: There are direct flights to a number of major American cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Portland, to name just a few) and other international vacation spots at well (think Cabo, Cancun, Panama). If you’re willing to transfer once, you can fly just about anywhere. It’s also safe to drive to a number of weekend and day trip spots: Lake Chapala, the mountain town of Tapalpa, the lovely European-like city of Guanajuato and more.

5. Kids are king: This is seriously  the most kid-friendly place I think I’ve ever been. Even teenage boys and grandfatherly men coo at babies on the street. Most restaurants have play areas for kids and some even have on-site nannies. Kids aren’t seen as a nuisance when you’re out and about as they sometimes are in the U.S.

 The Not Quite as Good

1. Outdoor playground options aren’t quite up to snuff: Let me preface this by saying that in Benin, we would have been thrilled to have any one of the dozens and dozens of play options available to us here in Guadalajara. There are mall playgrounds. There are parks with bouncy castles and trampolines. There are amusement parks. There are Chuck E. Cheese like establishments. And there ARE outdoor playgrounds, it’s just that most seem leftover from the 1970s when metal structures with cement bases were for some reason the norm. I miss padded American playgrounds where my clumsy toddlers can run and fall without scraping themselves up too badly.

2. The beach is a little too far: When we bid on Guadalajara, I had visions of spending every weekend in Puerto Vallarta. Turns out it’s a good six-hour drive away. It’s really too far for a weekend trip; we haven’t yet been there. There are some other beach options a bit closer (Chacala, Manzanillo, Sayulita, etc.), but nothing closer than four hours away which is hard to do on a regular weekend with little kids. Not a real hardship, I know, but still a small gripe.

3. It’s hard to escape Americana: It’s a little too easy to live in an American bubble here, hanging out at the pool in your neighborhood, shopping at Wal-Mart, going out to dinner at Outback. Mexican culture is out there, and it’s completely our own fault when we don’t take advantage of it, but sometimes I wish so many temptations didn’t exist.

4. It’s hard to break into Mexican social circles: Our experience, and that of pretty much everyone else we know, has been that while our Mexican neighbors are friendly and will say hello as we pass them on the street, and sometimes stop to chat for a bit, they won’t invite us over for dinner; they have no interest in a closer friendship. Mexicans, at least in Guadalajara, spend weekends with extended family and friends they’ve had since childhood. Seeing as how our two countries are already so close, we’re not novelties as Americans; they’re not really that interested in investing time in people who will be leaving after two or three years. That leaves us to socialize pretty much exclusively with other expats. That’s not entirely bad either. It’s pretty cool that Flynn’s BFF is from Japan. But still, we wish we had more Mexican friends.

5. The lack of seasons: Of course, we knew this going in. I’m really stretching to come up with cons here — can you tell? Guadalajara is seriously a great post! But, we do really miss fall and winter. Guadalajara cools down enough that you’ll wear long sleeves and jeans for a bit, but you’ll never break out a winter coat. You’ll never see snow.

Of course, this is just one family’s take after our first nine months. Take it for what it’s worth.

Let the bidding begin!

Posted in FS Life, Kids, Personal, Travel | Leave a comment

some thoughts on mexico city

I’ve been working in Mexico City for the past three weeks. To be honest, I’d never really thought much about Mexico City before. I never thought to vacation there because… who vacations there rather than Playa del Carmen? I’d never thought to live there because… I don’t know; I just didn’t. But now, it’s pretty much my dream post. I’d rather go to Mexico City than any of the big western European capitals. Really.

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Why? Well, there’s as much culture and development as in those places, but it’s all way more accessible. My morning bus ride cost less than 10 cents. A 15-minute taxi ride was about $3. Sure, you can go to high-end clothing stores or super fancy restaurants and spend what you’d spend in Madrid, all that exists in Mexico City too, but you don’t have to. And you can have full-time household help for the same price as in Guadalajara — with kids, that’s key.

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Guadalajara is a great post and a great place to live, but I came away from my stay in Mexico City thinking that Guadalajara is Atlanta to Mexico City’s NYC. Guadalajara is preppy. Mexico City is hipster. In Guadalajara, outdoor playgrounds are substandard because it’s just not much of an outdoor playground sort of culture. Mall playgrounds are way better because you get in your car and go to malls; that’s just what people do. The wealthy live in gated communities, whereas in Mexico City they live in brownstones or swanky apartments. People walk in Mexico City. There are sideway cafes to walk to. There’s also a thriving public transportation system and parks and playgrounds galore (better than most in the U.S., actually).

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Anyway, keep Mexico City in mind next time you bid. It really is a hidden gem. Or don’t. Actually, it’s awful. Definitely don’t bid on it. Then our odds of getting ourselves posted there will be better. :)

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Posted in Mexico, Travel, Welcome | 1 Comment

scenes from the europe of mexico

Nearly a month after our trip to Guanajuato, I still haven’t uploaded all of our photos. But it’s now or never, so here’s a taste of the place I can only describe as the closest to Europe you’re going to find in Mexico. Cobblestone streets. Quaint alleyways. Squares bustling with mariachi singers and outdoor diners. I’d honestly never heard of the place, so I was surprised to overhear so much American English being spoken around town. A hidden gem, no more. But not yet a tourist trap either. Go quick!

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Posted in FS Life, Mexico, Travel | Leave a comment

our mexican digs

We were leaving our first post when I realized I’d never gotten around to really decorating. We were kind of busy those years. I blame the baby in our house, and then one in my belly. I blame our long medevac and then the fact that my husband moved back stateside early. But still, I swore I’d never do that again. It’s important that a home feels like a home, especially in this lifestyle.

I did a passable job of accomplishing this during our stint in DC, in a house we bought, with furniture we bought, but now we’re at post once again, six months in actually, and have I gotten things set up in a way I’m happy with yet? Nope.

I kept waiting to share scenes from our home with you three loyal blog readers until I did consider the place finished, but finally I’ve accepted that this probably isn’t going to ever happen. So, without further ado, scenes from our somewhat homely home…

Welcome.
Welcome.

 

The entryway, again.
The entryway, again.

 

Living room.
Living room.

 

The play room.
The downstairs play room.
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Dining room.
The kitchen.
The kitchen.

 

Upstairs landing.

 

Flynn's room.
Flynn’s room.

 

More of Flynn's room.
More of Flynn’s room. 
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Master bedroom.

 

Master closet, which is actually even bigger than it appears.
Master closet, which is actually even bigger than it appears.
Master bathroom.
Master bathroom.
Mom's bedroom.
Mom’s bedroom.

 

Jonah's bedroom.
Jonah’s bedroom.

Not pictured: maid’s quarter, many bathrooms and small backyard. But you get the idea.

Posted in House, Mexico, Personal | 7 Comments

ode to the oxxo

A 7-11 like convenient store, Oxxos are ubiquitous in Mexico, or at least in Guadalajara. You can’t go two blocks without seeing one. I would know, because Flynn tells me. Some kids watch movies or sing songs to pass the time on car trips. Not my kid. He counts the Oxxos.

Why the Oxxo obsession?

Not surprisingly, because they’re everywhere, there’s an Oxxo between our house and Flynn’s school, and Flynn’s grandma lets him stop there many days to buy a small treat. So Flynn considers Oxxo to be just about the most magical place in the world. He’s even influenced his brother, who, at one and a half, says only a handful of words. But Oxxo is one of them.

Admittedly, even to adults, Oxxo is pretty great. It’s like a 7-11, but more. You can buy your cell phone and pay the bill there. You can get bus tickets. You don’t have to get out your car like a fool for your M&Ms and Coke Zero — you can just go through the drive through. Because, why not?

Long live the Oxxo.

Posted in food, FS Life, Kids, Mexico | 1 Comment

on the shores of lake chapala

We hit most of the major sites when Andy’s parents were in town for the holidays, including one that we haven’t included here  before: Chapala. The town, which combined with neighboring Ajijic is home to more American and Canadian expats than anywhere else in the world, features a lively boardwalk along the lake.

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Our visit was a fairly quick one, mostly focused on food. There was lunch.

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There was the mango on a stick snack that I managed to convince Flynn was a lollipop.

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IMG_4780And then, because you can’t not do it when in Chapala, Flynn tried some fried crickets.

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Verdict: “yucky.”

Posted in Mexico, Travel | 1 Comment

goodbye to a globetrotting beagle

163252_646071680014_3255071_nIt’s a sad and quiet day at our house.

Last night, unexpectedly, our 11-year-old beagle Abbey passed away. She joined our family six years ago, adopted from a shelter in Brooklyn before our Foreign Service life.

5066_576041216624_3682846_n We don’t know much about her life before us other than that it was not a completely happy one. She brought some neuroses along as a result, like jumping up for “Abbey hugs” and trying to guilt you out of walking out the door.

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She lived with us in our tiny apartment, hiding under our coffee table and howling most of the day while we were away at work, but by some miracle our neighbors never complained. She loved dog parks and chasing pigeons. She did not love the snow.

10391987_595793966954_7477666_nShe came along to DC and tolerated the addition of a baby to our clan.

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She helped out as a dirty diaper detector.

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She did not like the long plane ride to Benin, but once we got there she loved her huge yard filled with lizards. Much to her regret, she never did catch one.

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As her baby owner grew a little older she realized he could be of use, dropping food from his high chair and even helping take a birthday cake from the table.

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That baby owner was also not a bad playmate. And most importantly, he came with a dog loving nanny which meant Abbey never had to spend another day howling at home alone.

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That little boy grew to love Abbey so much that she inspired his Halloween costume two years later.

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Abbey came with our family back to DC, and then on to Mexico, and along the way welcomed a second little boy owner into the fold.

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And now, just after he learned to say her name, she’s gone.

We’re sad and in shock. We still instinctively hurry picking up keys or putting on shoes, trying to keep her barking at our departure to a minimum. Flynn still carries his snacks high in the air to try to keep her from getting them. We’re still vacuuming up dog hair. And there will be a beagle shaped hole in our bed tonight, and for many nights to come.

She was a handful, but we loved her.

Posted in Abbey Q. Howley, FS Life, Kids, Personal | 6 Comments

where in the world

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“Kazakhstan! That’s where Dad got me an egg surprise!”

Yep, our three year old is an expat kid. And a magnetic world puzzle map is my opinion the perfect expat kid present.

Eventually when I have time it’ll be hung on a wall. And when I have even more time I will put together some cutouts of the little faces of his little friends; I envision him placing them atop the various countries in which they’re scattered, and moving them as transfer seasons come and go.

For now, we just talk about his friends and where in the world they all are.  As we put together the puzzle, Flynn wonders if M and A get tired of eating bananas (Dominican Republic). He hopes his friend L has his own pony (Turkmenistan).  He thinks R and H are pretty lucky to be moving to the place with the big gorilla (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

And he wonders why Mexico is represented by a snake. He’s never seen a snake in Mexico.  Me neither, I tell him. What sort of picture would he recommend instead? “Maybe a pinata,” he says. “No, not a pinata. A churro.” I agree.

 

Posted in FS Life, Kids, Mexico, Toddler | 1 Comment