Why I chose Lake Chapala

So you’ll remember from my last post about Why I Chose Mexico that I had ruled out Baja.  But I still knew that I would be moving to Mexico is the foreseeable future and I needed to find a place where I could live comfortably.  Both physically comfortably and fiscally comfortably. 

When I returned to Petrified Forest iin September 2007, I started thinking about what it was I truly needed from the place to which I retired.  My trip to Baja had shown me that I would probably not be able to stand summers on the coast…any coast…of Mexico.  So that left the interior.  There was no way I was going to move into the desert, having done my time in Death Valley, California, and in Arizona.  So that ruled out all the northern states of Mexico. 

And I didn’t want to go too far south in Mexico, because that would place me too far from the US in case I needed to go back.  All right then, let’s start thinking about the central highlands of the country.  Mexico City (or Mexico D.F. as it’s known here) was out.  Too many people, too much pollution. 

So where else might I find a place with an international airport near by, less pollution, and, ideally, with a fairly large body of water?  I’ve always liked to live by the water.  In Chicago, I lived a block or two from Lake Michigan; in San Francisco and Hawaii, I was also on the water.  New Orleans had Lake Pontchatrain.  When I moved to Indiana, I found a town very close to a big lake and moved there (Bloomington near Lake Monroe).

Given these requirements, I started looking at maps of Mexico and discovered Lake Chapala, the largest natural lake in Mexico.  It’s about 50 miles long and 10 miles across.  And, lo and behold, there were towns there!  Towns that were primarily Mexican, were not tourist destinations, but that also had numerous gringos.  Guadalajara, with its international airport, was only 30 minutes to an hour away.  EUREKA! 

So in December of 2007, I used another week of my vacation time and flew to Guadalajara.  I rented a car at the airport and drove to the town of Chapala, about 25 minutes away, where I had rented a casita for a week.  As I came over the mountains from Guad and saw the lake sprawled out before me, I was, as the British would say, gobstruck. 

For the next seven days, I spent almost all my time driving around the villages on the north shore of the lake, looking for one that called my name.  I discovered that I loved Chapala (primarily a working-class town) and couldn’t relate to Ajijic (too artsy-fartsy for my taste).  San Juan Cosala gave me a bad vibe….rich gringos on the mountain side and poor Mexicans on the lakeside.  A revolution waiting to happen.

I liked Jocotepec on the western end of the lake, but there were few gringos and I knew for a fact that my little-remembered high school Spanish wouldn’t cut it there.  But I also knew that it was probably the place I could afford to live.  (Remember, now, I wouldn’t be getting my Social Security for a couple of years.)  So, putting financial considerations first, as folks born and raised in the United States are apt to do, I chose the western end of the lake, the municipality of Jocotepec.  And for once that turned out to be the absolutely right choice!

When I returned to Arizona after my trip, I continued doing research on the Lake Chapala area and discovered that it was frequently recommended as a retirement location because of the low cost of living and the “perfect” climate.  So that cinched it.  I was going to move to Lake Chapala, state of Jalisco, country of Mexico!  A month or so later, I gave my notice at work, announcing that my last day would be early in April of 2008.  My plan was to arrive at my new home on April 15.  Seemed very appropriate to me that on the day that income taxes in the US are due, I would be in another country!

And I was….and I still am after two years and eight months.  And I still love it here!

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About Barbara

in april of 2008, i moved from the united states to mexico. during my working days, i held lots and lots of jobs....almost all chosen because they were fun or interesting instead of how much they paid. when i started thinking about retirement (in my 40s), i realized that i would never be able to retire to a country where english was the native language. and although i had traveled to every state in the US -- and lived in lots of them -- i had never been outside the country with the exception of canada and mexico. and since you now know that i could never afford to retire in canada (even to the french-speaking area), mexico won by default.
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8 Responses to Why I chose Lake Chapala

  1. Jonnie says:

    And boy are we glad you chose this area!!!

  2. Barbara says:

    jojo: aw, shucks. i’m turning all red. oh, wait, i’m ALWAYS all red. (as one of my Navajo friends in arizona once said to me, “and they call US redskins????”) nonetheless, always nice to be wanted. (well, not always in the legal sense, but you know what i mean.)

  3. Jonna says:

    What to say? So many things running through my mind. First off, thank you for the comments on my blog, mainly because it got me looking for your blog and got me to your wonderful pictures of Tonalá. I really enjoyed your process of elimination on where to live, and I think you chose a great spot. We have friends in the area and during the 6 years that we traveled MX in our RV I was always testing places as a possible landing spot. When we decided to go back to a house, my 2 top cities included Guadalajara. It didn’t win but it is still one of my favorite cities in the Republic. We stopped every year in Ajijic to visit friends and thus I’ve spent time in Joco and all along the lake. It’s too cold for me in the winter but in many ways it reminds me of Santa Barbara where I grew up, they always said that was paradise. I am enjoying the Montana portions as well, we were there in the summers in the RV and it is a beautiful state. I can’t conceive of living in snow but it is fun to read about, like reading about people on the moon! I hope you all keep writing, I’m hooked.

    • Barbara says:

      for those of you who don’t know, jonna is one of the premier bloggers about life in mexico, specifically life as an expat in Yucatan. the link to her blog is on our blogroll (blah…blah…blah…ginger!). i highly recommend that you check it out.

      jonna, i know you’re not a huge fan of ajijic, and neither am i. not for me, as i mentioned, but so many people love it. my reaction to ajijic is probably best summed up by the question my son asked me when he came to visit last year and we were driving around in ajijic: “do any mexicans live in this town?” joco is SO different, however.

      really glad that you found us and that you are enjoying the blog! high praise indeed, mi amiga!

  4. Gigi says:

    Gee, I hadn’t known that you’d traveled to MX to check it out first. Good move. I too love the water…and so many other places near water are pricey!

    • Barbara says:

      gigi, remember that i knew not a single soul in mexico. it was pretty much imperative that i check it out. i know that most of my friends NOB consider me to be an adventuress, but somewhere deep inside me there’s a tiny rational thread that occasionally comes out! (i keep trying to whack it down with a shovel but i keep missing.)

  5. Karen says:

    Barbara,
    So nice to hear more of the background of your moving to Mexico. I love the photo, too, as it reminds me of many, many evenings celebrating sunsets outside the employee dorm at the Everglades (except for those mountains in your photo – definitely no mountains in the ‘Glades).

    • Barbara says:

      yeah, reminds me of flamingo too….except that there’s nobody out there on the shore drinking beer and shark fishing!

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