In the last year and a half, I’ve made three trips to Lake Chapala, in Mexico, about fifty miles south of Guadalajara. The lake is roughly shaped like an elongated oval, about forty-five miles long, east to west, and around ten to fifteen miles wide. Just inside the tropical zone, it is at an elevation of 5,000 feet, surrounded by mountains. These conditions combine to form an almost perfect climate, with wintertime highs in the 70s and summer highs in the 80s. Lots of sunshine throughout the year— in the rainy season it rains mostly at night!
On the north shore, along the western part of the lake, nestled between the lake and the mountains, are a series of villages and towns that have become very popular with American and Canadian “snowbirds,” as well as a good many expats, who make their year-round homes here.
At the western end of the lake is the town of Jocotepec, touted as the “raspberry capital of the world,” it is at the heart of a very productive agricultural area. Moving eastward, we come to the villages of San Juan Cosala, Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Riberas del Pilar and the town of Chapala. The expats refer, collectively, to these settlements as “Lakeside.”
Ajijic is the epicenter of the gringo presence, where you will find restaurants, shops, art galleries and boutiques catering to the anglo trade; where you can get by without speaking Spanish. Anglo expats are also to be found in the other communities, but in a significantly smaller proportion to the native population.
never been to Mexico before, and not surprisingly, I noticed a lot of differences between how life is lived there and how it is in my home area of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Perhaps the most striking, immediately noticeable feature are the narrow cobblestone streets, where the houses and shops are built right to the edge of the narrow sidewalks. The concept of a “front yard” seems unknown (although behind the walls, invisible from the street, you may find courtyards and beautiful gardens). The sidewalks usually form a high curb at the edge of the street, and in some places can be rather irregular, tilted, broken or discontinuous. This situation can present a real challenge to people with mobility issues.
The concept of “stray dog” doesn’t seem to exist, either. There are plenty of dogs on the streets and none of them seem to have collars. It’s not clear if they have homes and are free to roam during the day, or if they are truly on their own. It seems likely that many of them “belong to the neighborhood,” since most (but, sadly, not all) of them appear to be healthy and well-fed.
I was impressed by the dogs’ ability to sleep soundly on busy sidewalks as pedestrians walked within inches of them. Even when merely dozing, perhaps with an eye open or raising a head momentarily, they’re consistently imperturbable, despite strangers stepping over and around them.