Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I. Rinconcito de Amor

Where the action is in Chapala on a Friday night
In the early summer about five months ago, we visited an ex-pat friend who was trying out life in the scattered gringo community at Lake Chapala in central Mexico. The lakeside town of Chapala, where she lives, is a lively and attractive place; it primarily caters to Mexicans coming down for a fun weekend from the large and nearby metropolis of Guadalajara. At one end of Chapala’s well-maintained malecon, or lakefront, there is a pier that goes out a hundred yards into the large, bird-filled, and often misty lake. 

The pier is popular with strollers, ambling out to its vista, and also the embarkation point for colorful boats that will take you to the ill-named Isla de las Alacranes, or Scorpion Island. The slogan formed in wrought-iron on the portal to the pier, though, is totally inspiring to romantics like us: “Chapala - El Rinconcito de Amor”; in English, according to Google Translate, it means, “Chapala - Little Corner of Love”. 

Ajijic boy running for a fountain just off the main plaza
We hadn’t expected to like the area, and the people, as much as we did, and we returned home to Seattle vowing to move to a little lakeside village just a few miles west of Chapala, with a strange name that sounds like a tittering laugh—ah-hee-HEEK—spelled Ajijic. 

We've booked a reconnaissance trip to Ajijic this coming winter.

In a kind of snobby way, we hadn’t originally thought we’d would like this village because of the large number of ex-pats centered around here. But our experience walking around the pueblo revealed what seemed to be an amiable mix of locals and gringos, and the gringos we met were that rare breed—people with whom we actually enjoyed spending time. 

Moving to Mexico isn’t a new idea for us. For nearly a decade we have been spending a week or more each winter in a little fishing village near Puerto Vallarta. As our retirement became a near reality, we began toying with the idea of a move. Last year, when I finally pulled the plug (as a side note, “retired” in Spanish is the happy-sounding jubilado), we were able to extend our customary vacation to take in the entire month of January. 

Sun rising over Yelapa's little bay, from our balcony
Our idyl there was relaxing almost beyond belief, but returning from weeks of warm days fishing with a local friend and lazing in the sun on the patio above the bay, to month after month of cold, wet, dreary, north-of-the-border weather was brutal.

It isn’t just the weather, of course, that’s encouraged such a big move as this. We love the vibrant culture and friendly people we’ve come to know over the past seven years. We had previously thought of moving to live full-time in Guanajuato or perhaps San Miguel de Allende—old colonial cities in the central highlands. We visited Guanajuato several years ago and found it beautiful—magical, even—but socially impenetrable. 

And San Miguel has come to seem a bit too caro—both expensive, and whatever else a fair number of people with serious money bring to a place. We’d planned to check it out this winter to find out whether it was artful, or just arty, but after my sensible wife said she thought Chapala—or Ajijic—would be a welcoming place to move…well, I’m totally in with that.

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