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June 2011

Feature Article

Celebrating June with San Juan Cosalá

By Judy King

Each year in San Juan Cosalá, an enormous solemn procession honors St. John the Baptist on the final evening of the town's traditional nine-day celebration honoring their patron saint. The procession, one of the most awe-inspiring in this region of Mexico, features throngs of faithful pilgrims demonstrating their faith and devotion to the town's patron.

It's reassuring, comforting, even, in this modern time to note that people of all ages make this procession a priority. The participants range from newborn babies to the many of the towns bisabuelos (great-grandparents). Even more amazing is the number of teenagers who willingly show up to participate in this ancient custom — many walking with other members of their extended family.

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From the Editors

June 2011: The Month of Fiestas and Rains

June here at Lakeside is always a special time. The early days of the month are a waiting game as hopeful anticipation builds with the heat and the banks of darkening clouds each very warm evening. The growing desperate din of the "rainbirds" (our own form of cicadas or locusts) lets us know that the start of the eagerly awaited annual rainy season is near. After the heat of April and May, especially this year when the hot days have been hotter than usual, we're very ready for the cooler rainy season.

Coinciding with the start of the annual rainy season are two of our favorite Lakeside celebrations — the fiestas to honor the patron saints of San Antonio Tlayacapan and San Juan Cosalá.

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Keeper of the Flame: Libby Townsend and The Tarahumara Project

By James Tipton

For close to 25 years, Lakeside Community Awards have been presented to area residents who have contributed their time and talents to help others. Very recently, the prestigious Keeper of the Flame Award went to Libby Townsend for her tireless efforts to help the Tarahumara who live in primitive conditions, many in caves, in the beautiful but harsh climate of the Copper Canyon, in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Life expectancy there is only 45 years, and the infant mortality rate is a shocking 50%.

Libby runs the local office of The Guadalajara Reporter in Ajijic's Plaza Bugamvilias."But that," says Libby, "is only my day job — my real job is The Tarahumara Project."

Libby moved here with her family when she was 14 and she has now been in Mexico almost three decades…most of her life. She knows Mexico well and loves it deeply. She still has fond memories, though, of her early years in the moist and magnificent Pacific Northwest and of her summers with her beloved grandpa in Montana.

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Getting Here

We're Blowing our Own Horn!

By Judy King

Visitors, tourists, newcomers and prospective residents come to Lake Chapala from everywhere in the world, and represent almost every job or career you can imagine. They are as different, one from another, as any eclectic group of people could possibly be — until they start listing the information they most want to learn at the Thursday Living at Lake Chapala Newcomers Seminar.

On more than 450 Thursday mornings since the first seminar session in December 2001, I've looked into the faces of these new friends seated around the table and said, here's the list of topics most people want to explore; what are your priorities?

The truth is that we tell it like it is in these information-packed three-hour sessions.

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Mexican Kitchen

Mexico's Favorite Beverages: Agua Frescas

By Judy King

When we mention Mexico's favorite drinks, most folks think first of frosty margaritas in salt-rimmed glasses, long-necked bottles of Mexico's fine cervezas (beer) or neat shots of tequila.

Savvy travelers who have more Mexican food and drink experience under their belt are probably remembering atole (a warm corn-based drink), pulque (the fermented juice of the maguey plant), fragrant coffee produced in the mountains of Oaxaca or thick, cinnamon-laced hot chocolate, the Aztec's gift to the world.

While all of these beverages are served in restaurants and at home with a variety of Mexican dishes, nothing cools the fire of spicy chile, quenches thirst and refreshes the body and spirit on a hot day quite like homey agua frescas.

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Homes & Lodging

Just Like Family

By Elliott Joachim

Not too long ago I went to the airport to meet a client arriving from Toronto. She exited customs looking disheveled and sullen. Turns out that during her U.S. plane change, a friendly U.S. immigration official had tried to compliment her Canadian self by allowing as how Canadians "were practically American," a welcoming sentiment that stuck in her craw for the next 2000 miles.

I thought of this the last time I heard a lunching lady say her maid was just like family. Hah! I thought to myself. You might want to check with the maid on that, sister. It's possible that being part of your family may not be as high on the bucket list of local working folk as we preening imports like to imagine. I can tell you that my maid would put herself up for adoption if she thought there was even a chance of being absorbed into my dysfunctional family.

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Out & About

The Saddle Maker of Jocotepec

By Zofia Barisas

The Durans of Jocotepec have been making saddles for generations. The family's current saddle-making maestro (master) Onorio Duran was born in 1963; he was just eight when he started working with his father, Onorio (el grande), in the talabartería (saddle shop). Now his son, the latest Onorio (el chico), is learning the traditional art.

The father of the current maestro father died 19 years ago at age 57, so it is an aunt who keeps the family history and recalls that the family's association with saddles goes back much farther into history. She remembers family stories about Onorio's great-grandfather Doroteo Duran who was born in 1884. He and his brother Domingo worked in leather — one brother made saddles and the other made huaraches (sandals) and shoes.

To put that time into a historical context, Pancho Villa was seven years old at the time of Doroteo's birth. Emiliano Zapata was just five. The Mexican Revolution in which they fought was still 26 years away, far in the future. Just one year before Doroteo was born; Buffalo Bill Cody took his Wild West riding show on the road, exciting American crowds with fancy riding costumes, elaborate riding gear, and impressive riding stunts.

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Cost of Living

It's a Cash Society at Lake Chapala

By Judy King

Forget the credit cards, stop thinking in US or Canadian dollars, and put the checkbook in a safe place. Once you are here at Lake Chapala, you'll quickly need to get used to paying for nearly everything in cash — pesos that is. Once you get past the Mexican border towns, you'll find that the things you need and want to buy are priced in pesos and most businesses refuse credit cards, traveler's checks and dollars (either US or Canadian.) They just take pesos.

Payment for almost everything here at Lakeside — gasoline, groceries, restaurant meals, sundry purchases, and even telephone, gas and electric bills and your annual property taxes — is made in pesos.

Just like Alice said in Wonderland, it gets even curiouser and curiouser…. Many hotels and Bed and Breakfast Inns also only accept cash payments, and some of the ones that will take plastic offer a discount if you agree to pay in cash! Who knew?

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Soul of México

Milagros — For the Answers to Our Prayers

By Judy King

"Que milagro," say my Mexican friends when they experience a stroke of good luck, hear great news, or see a friend after a prolonged absence. The word milagro means miracle or surprise in Spanish; milagros can refer to small metal prayer figures —a remnant of an ancient aspect of Hispanic folk culture and of European custom in the 14th and 15th century.

For centuries in Mexico and other Latin American countries, tiny silvery and golden charms in the shape of hearts, arms and legs and farm animals have been fastened to the robes of saints and virgins in churches. The tiny amulets are symbols of hope and of gratitude and a visual reminder of the special problems that brought the faithful and the pilgrims to pray.

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Health & Safety

Sudden Incapacitation: Part of Life as Life Happens!

By Susan Reynolds

Living at Lakeside is great; there's a million fun and interesting things to do. There's so much going on that most people are trying to carve out more days to just enjoy being without so much doing.

While most of us are on the plus side of 50, we continue to reinvent ourselves in wonderful ways, keeping our lives full and interesting. However, as John Lennon wrote in the song, Beautiful Boy, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

When life includes sudden incapacitation, too many people have only gotten as far as the "To Do" list for what they want to happen and what needs to be done for either a short or longer-term incapacitation.

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People, Places & Things

Celebrating the Pitaya and Royalty in San Marcos

By Phyllis Rauch

I first noticed the strange, almost aggressive looking fruits in May 1977, on the Jocotepec village square. Multiple vendors were surrounded by baskets lined with fresh green alfalfa and filled with prickly, multi-hued balls. Perhaps I might simply have stopped to look and then have passed them by. However, Nacho Hernandez, one of the most enthusiastic men I know, was walking by my side.

"But Feeelez, you must try the pitayas," Nacho insisted. "You have never eaten anything like them. It is just like…like eating colors!" So it began. I tried, I tasted, I was converted forever.

I have now become a staunch aficionado (a fan). Not every pitaya connoisseur might agree with me, but I am also convinced that each differently hued pitaya (organ cactus fruit) has a different taste. Each time I purchase a couple of each color: fuchsia, deep red, yellow, and my own favorite, the rare, delicately flavored white.

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Upcoming Issue

July 2011: Summer Comes to Lakeside

Ah, July at Lake Chapala — one of the best months of the year! Which months are better? August and September, of course. The rainy season continues to rain mostly at night and the infusion of water perking up the mountainsides, gardens, lawns, and flowers. Cool nights, sunny afternoons, pleasant temperatures — what more could you want.

Perhaps you'd like to attend a typical Mexican fiesta — you're in luck, July 25 is the feast day of Santiago, St. James, and he is the patron of the nearby town of Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, known for their production of membrillos (quince) preserves and jams. Watch for more of this charming town on the mountain in July's Feature Article. Why do you suppose the Spanish named a town after the quince trees?

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