It all started innocently enough: “Honey, what would you think about retiring outside the US?”
“Mexico, as in narcos-chopping-off-heads Mexico? Count me out.”
I would retreat for several days and try another approach:
“Dear, I found a place to retire with nearly perfect Spring-like weather year round!”
“Spring-like as in warm but not hot, not too humid? Where?”
“Lake Chapala. A bunch of Americans and Canadians already live there.”
“But where is it?”
“Umm, uhh, Mexico”
(Silence) “Seriously, what is it with you and Mexico?”
“I keep researching this place, and no matter what I look into, it comes up positive.”
And so it went. Judy conceded that I had convinced her that security was not an issue, based on the fact that I worked that issue for a living and had a good handle on it. I mentioned the low cost of living, and she asked what about health care? I told her about the good, US-trained and English-speaking doctors, and she wondered how we would get back to visit the grandkids. I showed her the reasonable airfare to/from Guadalajara International airport, which was only 40 minutes away from the lake; she countered with our lack of Spanish.
It was close to the time to shop more seriously for the vacation log cabin, so I tried one last gambit: I told Judy we shouldn’t buy the cabin until we settled the “where do we ultimately retire?” question. The Focus on Mexico site I mentioned had a week-long familiarization trip at a reasonable rate. They would put you up in a local hotel, give presentations about being an expat, and introduce you around the community. I asked Judy if she would go on such a trip; she agreed, if only to shut me up about Mexico. It was scheduled for January, 2012, so we could experience the so-called Spring weather for ourselves. I opined that if nothing else, it was a nice little vacation. Judy committed to go, and I agreed that if we both didn’t love it, Mexico was off the board.
We had an uneventful series of flights through Houston to Guad (as the expats call it), and were picked up by the Focus team and driven toward the Lake. As we drove down the highway, the Focus team leader pointed out of the van window and said “look, there is the lake.” Just off the side of the highway was a dumpy little lake that looked more like an overgrown drainage pond. As my blood pressure spiked, I heard the team leader burst out laughing saying that is was just a joke, the real lake was over the mountain. As we crested the mountain pass, a beautiful vista of a long, thin lake spread out in the valley beneath us. You could see a series of mountains which seemed to hem the lake in on all sides; the mountains make the lake look smaller, but it is really almost 15 miles wide and over 50 miles long. You can get a sense of the vista by looking at the header picture to my blog, which shows the view as one lands at the airport.
We arrived in the town of Ajijic (pronounced “Ah-Hee-HEEK”) and checked into the Real Chapala, our hotel for the stay. Ajijic is a picturesque little fishing village nestled on the north shore between the lake and the mountains. If it hadn’t been discovered and rediscovered by expat artists and US army veterans back in the 1930s-1960s, no one would have ever heard of it beyond Guadalajara. On one hand, the expats support art shops, nice restaurants, and a Walmart (no kidding). On the other hand, it’s a 10,000 person Mexican village where burros might be grazing in your backyard. Our first note of difference was the Focus team leader reminding us to use the large bottled water dispenser in out hotel room, even for teeth-brushing, since the hotel’s municipal water supply was not considered potable.
On Sunday, the Focus team took us on a tour of Guadalajara, and we got back in time for a nice little welcoming dinner where we got to know our colleagues in the program and the program staff. That evening was the first time we could catch our breath and just talk alone. I asked Judy to join me on a stroll through the cobblestone streets of La Floresta, the residential area surrounding the hotel. The weather had been clear and warm, almost 60 F, but now the sun was setting and it was dropping into the 50’s for the night.
As we walked, I prompted Judy what she thought so far. She said “I’m just not feeling it.” Half in jest, I responded: “What didn’t you like? Was it the inexpensive meals and drinks? The pleasant weather? The friendly people?” Judy shook her head, “ I just don’t feel a sense of community yet.” “Well, that’s fair,” I added, “but we’ve only been on the ground for 24 hours. Let’s see what the rest of the week brings.”