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May 2011

Feature Article

The Cristero War

By Herbert W. Piekow

There's no doubt that Mexico is a Catholic country. A recent census document reports that 76% of all Mexicans consider themselves Catholic and three quarters of those Catholics attend services at least once a week. Foreigners who settle at Lake Chapala notice the many celebrations of various patron saints and feast days; few realize that there was a period of violent anti-church sentiment in Mexico less than 100 years ago.

The Cristero War (sometimes called the Cristiada) was a three-year persecution of Catholic priests and teachers by the anti-Catholic government of the time. Officially, history books record that the rebellion began on January 2, 1927. Some of the problems began sooner. Former Mexican President Vincente Fox is quoted as saying, "After 1917, Mexico was lead by anti-Catholic Freemasons…."

Much of the world was in great turmoil during the early decades of the 1900s, and much of it centered on religion. The First World War changed how people thought and communicated and reacted to events on the other side of the world. The new Russia, formed after the Russian Revolution, persecuted people based on religious belief. Karl Marx wrote, "Religion is the opiate of the people…."

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From the Editors

May 2011: The Merry Month of May

Welcome to another issue of Living at Lake Chapala — and another selection of fascinating articles that give you readers a view of the history, traditions, facts, and assistance, and joy of living here on the shores of Mexico's largest natural lake.

The month of May is indeed merry in Mexico — we lead off the first 10 days with the observance of five holidays: Labor Day, The Day of the Holy Cross, Cinco del Mayo, American Mother's Day and Mexican Mother's Day. You'll find details about all of May's holidays and the associated celebrations, along with other May events in our "What's Happening" column printed this month, as usual on our magazine's front page at:

Our team of Living at Lake Chapala writers has been unearthing helpful information, area legends and historical facts that read like wild tales and tasty dishes to fill this issue. Here's a preview of what you'll find in this issue…we know you'll enjoy it all.

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Carless in Ajijic: How I Do It

By Micki Wendt

Quaint cobblestone villages in any country are simply designed for walking. In Europe, many cities as well as villages have car-free areas to help control air pollution, reduce traffic, and preserve the antique character of the central zones, which are certainly best enjoyed while meandering on foot, as is true here in Mexico.

If you have already visited Mexico, either short or long term, you might have noticed that things are different here, particularly in the cobblestone villages which were founded almost 500 years ago; before that there were no roads because there were no vehicles.

When the villages were tiny, people simply walked everywhere. The horses and burros came later with the arrival of the Spaniards. La carretera — the highway connecting the various Lakeside villages was a footpath until the paved surface was installed in the late 1950s. Car ownership has become increasingly common in the villages during the last couple of decades.

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Getting Here

My Arrival in Ajijic

By Patricia Hemingway

I arrive in Ajijic from the Guadalajara Airport, and before that Phoenix, and before that Oakland, all steps in my journey from the San Francisco East Bay. In the apartment on Zaragoza, which I have rented for a month, I eat my leftover half sandwich and turn in at 8 p.m. Of course I wake up at midnight with nothing to eat — my almond butter and organic apple were confiscated at the airport in California. I suggested to the agent that he eat the apple, rather than tossing it into the trash. He pulled back stiffly and shook his head. No telling what they thought might be hidden in the almond butter.

I planned my move to Ajijic for four months by reading everything about the Lakeside community that I could find on the internet. I knew I was coming to the right place; what I did not know was how to fit my life into three 55-pound suitcases.

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Mexican Kitchen

A Trio of Tropical Fruits

By Harriet Hart

I recently suffered a bout of indigestion severe enough to send me off to the doctor's office where I was advised to quit drinking coffee, tea, and all caffeinated beverages and to lay off some of my favourite spicy Mexican food.

It therefore came as a great relief to learn that tropical fruits are not only permitted on this regime, but that three in particular, the papaya, mango and pineapple, are actually recommended; they are that good for the digestion. A visit to the Wednesday street market in Ajijic was just what I needed — I left with my bolsa (bag) bulging with ripe Mexican fruit that will form a major part of my summer diet.

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Homes & Lodging

An Inn in the Making

By Carol L. Bowman

Since early February, several times a week I've walked passed a current major renovation project on Calle Guadalupe Victoria in Ajijic. The building looked faded and worn, but the bones of the structure enclosed significant square footage that I thought could be turned into something grand under the right watchful eye and skillful hands.

Each day, I saw the construction crew chiseling out second floor arched windows, laying what seems to be miles of bricks, and removing wheelbarrows of debris gutted from inside. The familiar sounds of workers singing and laughing made me smile.

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Out & About

The Patron Saint of Mexico's Migrant Workers

By Judy King

I hesitated at the entrance of the small stone chapel settled on the highest hill in the tiny village of Santa Ana de Guadalupe. Looking back down the main street, I realized that the settlement isn't even large enough to be called a village or town. At one time, it had been the community center of a working ranch — the Hacienda de Santa Ana de Guadalupe — tucked away in the rich farmland near Jalostotitlán in the highlands of Jalisco.

Today, Santa Ana still boasts fewer than 300 residents; the few businesses that line the only street aren't selling ranch supplies; they're filled with sodas, snacks, and religious souvenirs for the 250,000 guests who come each year to pay tribute to the area's favorite son.

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Cost of Living

Me…A Godparent…Now?

By Robin Lawrason

One of the perks we discovered after retiring at Lakeside in 1998 is the opportunity to easily become involved in many worthy charities and cultural organizations that help others of all ages. In the 13 years my partner, Jim, and I have lived in Ajijic, we have worked on a wide range of activities from the now defunct Ajijic International Film Festival, to Viva Musica, The Northern Lights Music Festival and a number of great children's charities.

We've served on governing boards of several of these groups, including Niños Incapacitados, a program to provide medical support for chronically ill children, The Lakeside School for the Deaf, and most recently, we've enjoyed becoming part of the group helping the amazing Love in Action Children's Shelter in Chapala.

Two years ago at an open house at the new campus of this children's center, we signed up for their Godparent's Program. That led Jim to a position on the board and I do public relations for the center.

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Soul of México

La Rusa's Gold Mine

By Jim Cook

There is gold in the Ajijic hills. Or, at the very least, there was in the early 20th Century, when Ajijic experienced a minor gold rush. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, a number of mines operated on the slopes and in the ravines of the steep mountains overlooking the north shore of Lake Chapala. The ruins of those mining operations still exist, and can be explored — if one knows where to look.

I first learned of these old mines while hiking the network of trails in the mountains that tower over Ajijic. Just west of Ajijic is a neighborhood known as Rancho del Oro (Ranch of the Gold). A trailhead begins at the end of a nearby street named De la Mina (from the mine). At first, I wasn't impressed by the nomenclature. Developers give grand names like "Ocean View" to streets 100 miles from saltwater.

A friend owns property in a neighborhood adjacent to Rancho del Oro. When I visited, he told me his property was once a gold milling operation. I chuckled at his story about the tennis court builders who spent as much time prospecting for gold among the old tailings as they did working on the court.

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Health & Safety

Ground Control to Major Tom

By Elliott Joachim

I received a question via my webpage. "Are there any legends, myths or tall tales associated with the area? I've heard that the lake is full of positive energy crystals, which may or may not have something to do with something else I hear often, which is that there's a high incidence of UFOs. Is it true?"

Of course it is! We are awash in magic, myths, and E.T.s around here. The north shore of Lake Chapala is a narrow strip of land between mountains to the north and a large body of water to the south. That adds up to a jackpot in Feng Shui.

Lake Chapala sings a siren song to people who want to astral project and rotate their chakras, who know the exact minute when the Earth is going to end according to the Mayan Calendar, and who use the word "energy" as a substitute for "personality," as in "Oh, I had to break up with him. He had such bad energy."

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People, Places & Things

Mexico Makes Her Own Music

By Judy Dykstra-Brown

Living in Mexico is like being in a place where at least one of your neighbors throws a party almost every night of the week. Is it noise? That depends on how you look at it!

A good example is the first week in May when there are celebrations for four major holidays. The week starts out with Dia del Niño, a celebration and plaza fiesta, sometimes a parade for the April 30th Day of the Child.

The next day, May 1, is a national observance of El Día del Trabajo (Labor Day). Now that Mexico is celebrating public holidays on Mondays, we're guessing that these celebrations will mingle, and bridge the weekend — creating a four-day holiday on the tail of a two-week government and school vacation for Easter.

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Upcoming Issue

June 2011: Celebrations and Surprises

June is a special month at Lakeside. In addition to the patron saint fiestas in the villages of San Juan Cosalá and San Antonio Tlayacapan, there's another fiesta in San Juan Evangelista, a village east of Chapala, a celebration of Father's Day and the patron saint celebration of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Tlaquepaque.

You know we can't avoid sharing fiestas, celebrations and events with you, especially when it means we can share information about the area and the way the villages came into being . When the June 2011 issue hits cyber space on the first day of the month, you'll want to look first for these stories.

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