| Hello Mr. Franz,
First, allow me to compliment you on your incredible book, Peoples Guide to Mexico. We have really enjoyed reading it and consider it a valuable resource tool. After reading your book, it is obvious that you are a true expert on expatriate living in Mexico.
From that vantage point, it comes as a minor surprise that you live in Ajijic. But, I respect your perspective on living in Mexico, so my question is: In your opinion, is the Lakeside area the best locale for expatriates who are not averse to immersion in an authentic Mexican cultural experience?
Like several other sharp-eyed People's Guide readers, you've posed "the sixty-four dollar question" about our current residency in Ajijic.
The fact is, there's no easy answer to just why Lorena and I have been living here in Ajijic as long as we have -- over a year now, and no end in immediate sight. We obviously haven't made this clear to our readers, but we first came to Ajijic/Chapala because of our research for a book on living and retiring in Mexico, not because we recommend or prefer this place over San Miguel, Oaxaca or wherever. We initially came for a month or two, but our plans were suddenly complicated by our compadre Steve's illness and death last summer, as well as other less traumatic factors.
For example, after several months on the road, we accepted that our VW van was just too small to carry our traveling offices from one place to another. After we'd rented a house and taken a few deep breaths, we realized that in addition to being comfortable, Ajijic is nicely situated as a base for side trips around Mexico. Why not "settle down" for a while, we asked ourselves, and make it a temporary headquarters?
Having said that, I have to admit that we've enjoyed our stay far more than we expected to, and for several reasons. To begin with, as a native of the Pacific Northwest, I find that the climate here is even better than advertised. Seldom too hot, and rarely too cold; it comes as close to "perfect" as I've ever experienced. I'm a serious hiker, and it is a very, very rare day when it is too warm, too wet, or otherwise too unsettled to walk the lakeshore or explore the mountains behind the village.
We also appreciate Ajijic's friendly people and village character, even if it is a noisy, and sometimes very busy village. In contrast, the "artist colony" atmosphere we once loved in San Miguel de Allende has been submerged to a great degree in tremendous growth, traffic and crowding. San Miguel is really a small city, and its population has grown by several hundred percent since we first lived there in the early Seventies. If we live there again, it will have to be in one of the quieter, outlying neighborhoods, if not well into the countryside. (We are country types at heart.)
Your email also raises one of the issues I'll address in detail in this next book: the pros/cons of complete immersion in a genuine Mexican cultural experience. Briefly, in more than 30 years of travel and living in Mexico, I've met relatively few gringos who could adapt comfortably, at least for any length of time, to a full-on "immersion" situation. It's a great idea, but one that for many reasons tends to gradually wear thin in actual practice.
This is one of the primary reasons I strongly advise people to rent and to travel around Mexico as much as possible before making a serious landing. And, without doubt, this is also why so many gringos congregate in expatriate enclaves such as San Miguel, Ajijic, Oaxaca, and to some degree, Morelia. In general terms, the most successful gringos transplant themselves to situations where they can enjoy the best of both cultures -- access to English speaking friends and activities, balanced with good measures of Mexican friends and culture. Your personal contacts with Mexicans and local culture will also change now and then, depending on your Spanish, interests, etc.
Turning again to Ajijic... With affluent gringos making up almost one quarter of the population, Mexicans and working foreigners cater to these gringos with a variety of services you won't easily find elsewhere. Compared to most other places we've lived in Mexico, it is much easier to cope with home maintenance, shopping, health care and all the other "must do" chores of daily life.
So... to get back to your basic question, "is the Lakeside area the best locale for expatriates who are not averse to immersion in an authentic Mexican cultural experience?"
In conclusion, my answer will have to be authentically Mexican.... "perhaps! ... it all depends."
Thanks for asking -- I hope this helps.