A Brief Introduction for our Visitors and Friends Riberas del Pilar, Mexico

The community locally referred to as “Lakeside” is located in Mexico’s central highlands, about 1700 kilometers (870 miles) south of the U.S. border and about one hour south of Guadalajara, the country’s second-largest city. Lakeside is comprised of fifteen villages that surround Mexico’s largest lake, Lake Chapala, which is roughly 55 miles (88.5 km) long and 15 miles (24 km) wide.

Since the 1800s the region has attracted world travelers and speculators who have been keen to develop the Lake’s potential as a resort area. However, until the 1960s, the area remained quiet, beautiful and relatively undeveloped. Many well-to-do Guadalajara families maintained vacation homes with lakeside frontage. In the 1980s Americans, Canadians and Europeans looking for a place to retire began discovering the area in larger numbers. Today, Lakeside, with its string of small villages on the north shore, is home to the largest community of expatriates living outside the U.S. and Canada and to artists, musicians, writers and retirees from all over the world. Some 6,000 non-Mexicans live permanently along the North shore of the Lake; another 6,000 visitors come from Canada, the U. S. and other parts of the world during the months November through April to their own vacation homes. This blend of people has created an international community.

The mountains surrounding Lake Chapala help create an exceptionally mild climate – the world’s best, some say! At 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in altitude, the area is noted for its semi-tropical climate with low humidity. The year-round average temperature is 68ºF (20ºC), with a distinct cool season in which temperatures average 54ºF (12ºC), a distinct warm season when temperatures can reach a high in the mid 90s but offer a variance of 5º less in the comfort of the shade and definite drop of temperature in the evenings. There is a wonderful summer rainy season in which an annual average of 34 inches (.95 meters) of rain falls. This may be one of the best times to visit as the rains come in the middle of the night or early in the day, clear out by noon, and leave the sky a crystal clear, wonderful hue of blue and produce mountains covered with vibrant shades of green.

The focus of newcomers in the last decade has been the village of Ajijic situated between the municipal seat of Chapala to the east and the municipality of Jocotepec on the west. In the last five years substantial development has widened that focus to other areas on the North shore.  PointsettiasParishioners at St. Andrew’s live in the various villages that are located on a narrow strip of land nestled between the lake and the low mountain range. Villages with names such as Riberas del Pilar, where the church is located, San Antonio Tlayacapán, San Nicholas, Chula Vista, Ajijic, San Juan Cosalá and points west are all part of what is referred to as Lakeside.

On the surface, the Lakeside villages are like many others in Mexico. They all have the characteristic cobblestone streets, Spanish-tiled roofs and relaxed atmosphere. A closer look, however, reveals several distinct differences.

 Village WeaverThe area offers many modern conveniences. Excellent medical facilities, well-stocked supermarkets, cable and satellite TV, Internet cafes, ATM banking, an efficient bus system, two outstanding golf courses, numerous art galleries, English-language newspapers and a three-screen movie theatre complex exist side-by-side with traditional Mexican ways. The community supports several fraternal and civic organizations such as Rotary, Shriners and The Lake Chapala Society, a 3500 member organization of expatriates from all over the world. Lakeside features a small, but wonderful community theater and numerous concerts presented by musical interest groups such as Los Cantantes del Lago, ¡Viva! and MAS. Several members of our congregation participate in these activities and many are held at St. Andrew’s. There are also numerous local events such as the Christmas Posadas, Mardi Gras parades, the Day of the Dead celebration and other area specific religious festivals. Additionally, there are traditional mariachi events, classical musical and dance offerings, the famous Ballet Folklorico and other performances that travel here from Guadalajara.

Lakeside’s proximity to an international airport and metropolitan Guadalajara factor in its popularity. Only an hour away is a metropolis that offers all the cultural events, shopping, fine dining and other amenities that a city of over 5 million residents can provide as well as one of the world’s best medical communities. You will find stores that include familiar names – Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Costco, Sears and Home Depot. Also represented are popular U.S. restaurant chains such as Burger King, Outback Steak House, Domino’s Pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In past years publicity on the Lakeside area often touted the low cost of living available to visitors and residents. However, in recent years, with the dramatic influx of foreigners and the stronger value of the peso, prices have risen. One can certainly still live better for less here, but some costs such as real estate, gasoline, internet service and imported products are now comparable to those in some parts of the U.S. and Canada. Even so, the average cost of living is much less than in most parts of the U.S.

The area has many attractions and comforts and yet it is not a place where everyone can live happily. It is not the same as “back home.” This is Old Mexico. It is not a resort area, and that must be kept in mind. Living in Mexico requires an openness to differences and a willingness to change. There are many differences. The language, customs and the attitude toward time are just a few of them. Time is measured differently and newcomers quickly learn that mañana merely means anytime in the future – possibly tomorrow, but NOT today. One must remember that although Mexico is progressing rapidly, it is still a developing country.

A small middle class, a different political system and a legal code based on Roman law means that the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly and that many services are lacking or non-existent. Property taxes are very low, but that also means that there is little money for public works. Do not expect streets to be kept clean or roads to be in good repair. At first glance you may find the cobblestone streets quaint and picturesque, however, they are difficult to walk on (our elderly often trip and fall) and jarring to drive over. There is also some litter along the roadways and throughout the area, although recently there are some programs being put into place to begin to address this problem. Water sometimes needs to be rationed in certain areas during the dry season. You will not find the same efficiency in business transactions nor standards of hygiene as you expect in your home country.

However, many foreigners have adapted to their new home and have brought many benefits to their neighbors. In return they have become the fortunate beneficiaries of a warm, courteous, fun-loving, hard-working people whose reverence toward life and family have enriched all who have come to know them. Family life is tightly bound to religious, cultural and historical events and rites of passage.

We live comfortably side by side with our Mexican neighbors. The Mexican people are very warm and caring. They can also be shy and will not be the first to greet you, but once you address them you will be rewarded with a smile and a formal greeting: Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes or Buenas Noches. The primary language is Spanish, but with so many people from the U.S. and Canada in residence, the area abounds with English speaking shopkeepers, waiters, doctors, churches, social organizations and business people. Nevertheless, any attempt to speak Spanish is always appreciated, andCatarina a warm smile goes a long way in breaking down cultural boundaries.

Foreigners have been drawn to the area because of its picturesque beauty, low crime and lower cost of living. Yes, the climate is mild and the area is picturesque but most important is the winning qualities of her citizens. When you visit you will be welcomed by the Mexican and English speaking communities alike: ¡Bienvenidos a México!

From Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic: The Insider’s Guide, second edition; by Teresa A. Kendrick; www.chapalaguide.com.

Other excellent resources about Mexico and the Lake Chapala area include:

bullet Head for Mexico – The Renegade Guide by Don Adams: www.headformexico.com

bullet Western Mexico – A Travelers Treasury by Tony Burton: www.sombrerobooks.com

bullet Mexico Insights by Judy King: www.mexico-insights.com

bullet Chapala.com: www.chapala.com

bullet MexConnect: www.mexconnect.com/mex_/chreares.html

bullet Lakeside: Your Best Online Directory: www.lakeside.com.mx

bullet Virtual Mexico: www.virtualmex.com/chapala.htm

bullet Chapala Weather: www.chapalaweather.net