A Sneak Preview of the June Issue

by Judy King 31. May 2010 07:40

Tomorrow is June 1 and the new issue of Living at Lake Chapala will be released. BUT…we can’t wait…here is a sneak preview  -- it’s part of the new “From the Editor” Column – it always has a rundown of the month’s articles

Did you know that you can always read “From the Editor” (whether you are a subscriber or not)? Just go to http://www.mexico-insights.com and then select the “From the Editor” column from the current issue.

A Giant Park, a Visit to Cuenca, Admiring Colima and Vacations in Mexico
Our Living at Lake Chapala writers have been working hard for you this month. Wait til you see this line up of articles by this well-traveled group. Leading off the adventures, Herbert Piekow, who has been living in Guadalajara for a few months while immersed in a Spanish course, returns with a new view of another feature of that wonderful city.

In our June Feature Article, Herbert takes us on a guided tour of Parque Agua Azul. I'm not sure what I want to visit first, the butterfly house, the bird environment, the paleontology museum or the orchid house (more than 400 in bloom). Such a dilemma Herbert has presented for us.

Which sounds like more fun to you, a few hours in an enclosure full of beautiful orchids or one that is filled with butterflies? You can do both just a short distance apart in Guadalajara's Parque Agua Azul.

Next, head right to our People, Places and Things column and vicariously enjoy a month in Cuenca, Ecuador. A recent national article ranked Ajijic and Cuenca at the top of the "Best Retirement Places You've Never Heard Of." How sweet is this, our friend Georgina Russell spent the winter experiencing life in Ecuador, and she gives you a peek, including costs of living there in this article.

Jim Cook is back in this issue's Out and About column. This month he's sharing with you his journey to the nearby city (and volcano) — Colima. You'll discover the wide range of attractions that area has to offer in this piece which is studded with Jim's always great photos.

You met the delightful Carolena Torres in our last issue's story about her trip around Lake Chapala. This month, in our Getting Here piece, she shares with you some of the adventures that highlight the 22 years of vacations she and her husband, Joe, have enjoyed in Mexico.

Lakeside's Coffee Expert, A Favorite B&B, and Mexico's Wedding Traditions
Even though we keep telling you that the most interesting people end up moving to Lakeside, our writing team members keep interviewing fascinating folks we've met but didn't know their pre-Lake Chapala experiences. In this issue Dianne Kocer is interviewing her good friend and coffee gourmand Kevin Knox. We think you'll recognize the names of some of the coffee and tea selling companies he's worked for!

(Left:) We're guessing that our favorite Ajijic coffee shop looks a little different from those Lakeside's coffee guru Kevin Knox developed — but he's loving the organic Mexican coffee. (Right:) Do you know about the mastodon skeleton that was found on the then dry east end of Lake Chapala a few years ago? Herbert visited Lakeside's favorite pre-historic specimen in a Guadalajara park.

Next up, Harriet returns to Villa Eucaliptos to have breakfast with Ralph Moniz, the innkeeper who helped Harriet and her husband Paul settle on the shores of Mexico's largest natural lake (along with a bunch of other folks!) Take a look at this great friendly inn for your next trip to Lakeside, or as a place to house your overflow guests.

Then, Judy has accumulated a set of wedding customs and traditions. You'll learn some of the superstitions (don't give the bride pearls) and understand what's expected if you are asked to be the madrina de tequila or de rama (the godmother of the tequila or of the bouquet).

Arranging for Medical Procedures, King of the BBQ, Meatball Soups in Every Culture

Karen Blue is back! She recently discovered a pair of new services available here at Lake Chapala who are arranging medical procedures for area residents or visitors who have private US or Mexican health coverage. Read all about SurgeryHost and MDabroad in our Health and Safety column.

Ah, we're winding up this issue with a pair of food columns. Wait till you see the great looking ribs our BBQ Scott Richards has prepared for you as he explains how to throw the meat on your Mexican grill and save a heap of money — here's one tip: use carbón not pricey imported charcoal briquettes!

Then Judy and Lorraine are in the Mexican Kitchen making a dish in the style of several familiar cultures. Meatball soup is a home cooked comfort food in Mexico where it has a touch of chile and a bit of mint. Judy remembers her mother's meatball soup served over a bed of rice and garnished with fresh parsley and Lorraine recalls her grandmother's Italian meatball soup with cannelloni beans! We've included a simple recipe for the Mexican version that we know you are going to love.

Now that's a good way to end things — with some barbeque and some great comfort food. It's a great issue, and we're sure you're going to enjoy it, from start to finish.

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

24 Cent Haircut in Paradise

by Judy King 29. May 2010 19:48

Jerry Hulse served as travel editor of the Los Angeles Times for 31 years. After his retirement in 1991, he resided part of the year on Kauai. He passed away in January 2002. He was among the most highly respected travel journalists of his generation.

Sunday, April 11, 1965
Ajijic, Mexico: We have found a new paradise: a town with 4,300 people and only a single telephone.

Not only that, in Ajijic, a haircut can be had for three pesos (24 cents), beer sells for 18 cents a bottle, golf lessons cost 80 cents, clip_image002horses rent for only 40 cents an hour, and the key to a home with two and three bedrooms comes to $40 a month, sometimes less. (One far-sighted Yank took a lease 10 years ago—at just $10 a month.)

Mexico Eden
The setting of this Eden is Lake Chapala, Mexico's biggest body of water, something like 60 miles of dew with a 14-mile breadth. All of it lies 400 miles west of Mexico City or 33 miles outside Guadalajara in the sunshine state of Jalisco. Besides its ridiculously low prices, Ajijic and the slightly bigger town of Chapala are blessed with year-round summer. The combination of cut rate costs and favorable weather is the draw that's attracting so many American retirees as well as tourists.

(Above: Here’s a scene of San Andres church from the intersection with Calle Colon. Note the flooded street. That sidewalk to the left is the plaza. Photo from the collection of Linda Samuels. )

Tequila Still
We have hung our sombrero at Posada Ajijic. (Once upon a time it was a tequila still.) Outside our door rivers of bougainvillea spill beneath coffee trees, banana trees, avocado and plum trees. Blasts of perfume rise up from rare tropical flowers. All this time a parrot named Joe chatters at guests both in English and Spanish. And when morning comes, coffee is ground fresh from the trees and guests pick their own fruit if they wish.

Posada Ajijic is run by an ex-Hollywood film and television producer, Sherman Harris, and his wife Jane, who seem dedicated to the idea of clip_image003spoiling their guests for any other life. A popular pastime involves nothing more strenuous than luxuriating in the sun beside the pool and gazing off at fishermen who spread their nets across the lake. Sometimes when ambition overtakes someone he buzzes off in an outboard for a picnic on Scorpion Island.

Should this sound tempting, $15 will get you meals as well as a roof for two with private bath, comfortable beds, and a fireplace for when nights get nippy. Singles (with meals) come to $10 and suites are $18. Finally, Mexicana Airlines will jet you to within an hour's drive of the gate in three hours from Los Angeles.

(Above Right: Forty years ago women walked on one side of the street and men on the other when they participated in religious processions. Photo collection of Linda Samuels)

Holds Court
Harris holds court each evening in his cantina. Previously he produced the Lone Ranger for movies and Lassie for television. And do you wanna know something? He doesn't miss Hollywood a flicker. (For $2 he will mail you his booklet telling how to retire in Ajijic.)

clip_image004Candles burn in his cantina and a wood fire warms guests who sip rum drinks while trying to forget the time for leaving may be only another tomorrow. They close their eyes and the room fills with the lament of three Mexican guitars, the melodies rising to the straw roof overhead.

In the summertime theatrical electrical storms send bolts of white fire crashing across the lake. And the rain, like the lightning, comes only at night so that the days are flawless and a person walking on the opposite shore is clearly visible. Sherm Harris allows how a place in New Zealand has climate equal to Ajijic—but why bother, he asks, when it's quicker, easier, and infinitely cheaper to visit his town?

(Above: Local women regularly laundered their family's clothing in Lake Chapala until the late 1970s. Photo collection of Linda Samuels)

The town is old and mysteriously quiet, and in the evening when the sun goes down and it gets chilly, the Mexicans sit on the sidewalks because they still hold the heat of the sun. Not far off the Pepsi-Cola king of Mexico, a Mexican himself, lives in a $250,000 mansion with stables and a guest house and two swimming pools, one for the servants.

If someone gets a phone call in Ajijic, someone from the telephone office must run to get him. For there is only the one telephone. The telephone office is just down the street from the beauty shop, which operates out of the back of the butcher shop. Some claim there are bandidos in the hills of Ajijic. But they never come into town. Neither, on the other hand, do the townspeople go into the hills.

Bob Week, a retired painting contractor from Pasadena, will build a house for $3.50 a square foot on a lot selling for $3,000. He also raises vegetables which he trades for drinks in Sherm Harris's cantina.

In Ajijic and Chapala, one can live well on $300 a month, and that includes the hiring of a maid. Ken Anderson, a retired Army captain, built a two-bedroom home for $3,200; he plays golf, sells insurance and teaches English to the local high school students. He claims he's found his contentment.

Houses for Sale
Listed in the want-ad section of the Colony Reporter is this item: "Looking for a cozy, charming, comfortable private two-bedroom cottage, completely furnished? The Angel Flowers house has all this and more. Owner asking $8,000." Another reads: "Four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, drawing room, dining room, bar, dinette, study, servant quarters, front and back gardens, boiler, $22,000 cash."

Of late a restaurant called the Montecarlo is operating under the management of Cesar Balsa and guests dine, if they wish, under the umbrella shade of an Indian laurel. African tulips and a jacaranda bloom nearby, and soon Balsa will build an inn with 80 rooms and there will be a thermal well to supply 15 Roman baths.

But please, no telephones, amigo?

Editors' Note: We were quite amused to note that the concerns addressed in this 40-year-old article are the same ones that we all discuss today. Without question, Ajijic has changed over the decades and so have the prices, but there is something about the mindset of area residents that is wonderfully the same.

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

A Visitor’s View of Lake Chapala

by Judy King 28. May 2010 08:49

rosario 2004 009 A while back we received a letter from one of our Living at Lake Chapala subscribers with a list of the things he experienced and thoroughly enjoyed during his trip to Lake Chapala.

Here are the things Californian Charles Patton liked best on his first visit to our area.

"The Lakeside environment was enjoyable as a result of:

  • Strangers who were willing to engage me in pleasant conversation
  • Shopkeepers, bank tellers, taxi drivers, B&B personnel, and others who were actually considerate, generous, and polite
  • A noticeable absence of "mania" in the behavior of the general populous
  • Engaging a Mexican in conversation and sensing that the person was willing, and interested in communicating even though they may not have good command of the English language and in spite of the fact that I do not have good command of the Spanish language
  • Going out for a meal and lingering without feeling as if the operators of the restaurant wanted me to leave as quickly as possible so that they could seat another customer compounded by the enjoyment of good food at an extremely reasonable price
  • The absence of guilt when I would just hang out at LCS or the lake, or at a restaurant or take a nap. It was OK to rest; it was OK to savor the moment
  • Encountering other Americans and Canadians who were actually interested in having a friendly conversation and who were not consumed by materialism or evaluating others predicated on their material or financial standing
  • The presence of many artists whose works of art have their origins somewhere deep within their souls and spirits and who are so eager to share themselves with others be it for the purpose of commerce or simply the enjoyment derived from sharing their passion with another human being

"Guadalajara, on the other hand, seems to have all of the customary and usual attributes of a big city but then one does not have to spend a lot of time in Guadalajara -- other than for major shopping or occasional forays into various entertainment venues or visits to historical and cultural landmarks.

mkt-8-hamock"While I realize that Mexico is not a perfect country and that it is a country rife with poverty, and bureaucratic bungling, monopolies that can make life a little frustrating (especially for electricity or telephone service, etc.) and that recycling and waste management remain unexplored concepts, it is the culture, the people, the value system in place, the cost of living, and the natural beauty that makes the country so attractive.”

Thanks to Charles Patton for letting us share with you his views of Living at Lake Chapala. We think sometimes it's good for you to hear it what this area is like -- from someone who has just seen it with brand-new eyes.

Readers: We’d like you to share your views of what you have seen and how you feel, what you like or don’t like while visiting or living at Lake Chapala? Email me: judy@mexico-insights.com and tell us your story – we’ll be happy to share it with our world of Mexico Insights Blog readers.

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Looking for the Rabbit in the Moon

by Judy King 25. May 2010 20:40

Soul3-moon This week, like every month, it is the time of the Rabbit Moon. There’s a full moon on May 27 – the last several nights have been bright enough to cast shadows in my Ajijic garden.

Since the days of the ancients, when the residents of this great country have gazed at the moon, they’ve seen not the face of a grinning man – they’ve studied the profile form of a great rabbit.

Aztec legends of the creation of mythology’s second and fifth sun gods Nanahuatzin and Tecciztecatl relate how they became the sun and moon.

The story tells of the brave and noble sacrifice of Nanahuatzin during the creation of the fifth sun. Humble Nanahuatzin easily and willingly sacrificed himself in fire to become the new sun.

The wealthy Tecciztecatl, proud and ambitious, is consumed by fear until after hesitating four times, pride forces him to follow Nanahuatzin’s example by jumping into a vast pyre. Both rise as suns, but due to Tecciztecatl's cowardice, the gods felt that the moon should not be as bright as the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. Some versions of this story tell that Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself and so forever casts the shadow of a rabbit. across the night’s dimmer “sun."

Another version – with Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent

There’s another legend in Mexican folklore, one a little more akin to the legends and myths we know and recount. This story also evolves from pre-Hispanic legends, and it tells of a time when the great god of the Sun, the Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl lived on Earth as a man.

One time so long ago that no one is left to remember, he started on a difficult journey. After walking for a long time, he became hungry and tired.

With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then, a rabbit grazing nearby offered himself as food to save the God’s life.

Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit's noble offering, elevated the rabbit to the moon, then lowered him back to Earth, and told him, "You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all men and for all times." And so it was and so it has been.

rabbitThe Rabbit is in the moon for all men and all times

Indeed Mexico isn’t the only place where you’ll see a rabbit in the moon or hear the legend of the moon and the hare. The Chinese, Japanese, Maya, some residents of South American and Pacific Island cultures also see the famous hare. 

Here in Mexico the image is so common that there’s even a favorite saying about infrequent occurrences. Perhaps you think these things happen…once in a blue moon. In Mexico, It happens only once in a rabbit moon.

Apollo11’s Encounter with the Rabbit in the Moon

The moon rabbit was mentioned in the conversation between Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first moon landing. 

Houston advised the astronauts: “Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit.

“An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill for immortality from her husband.

“You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is only standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not recorded.

Apollo 11 Member Collins replied, “Okay, we'll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.”

Look up to the Rabbit Moon

We’re not promising you’ll se a Chinese bunny girl, but it you look closely, we think that forever more when you cast your eyes up to the full moon, you’ll see that Mexican Rabbit Moon.

Here are the upcoming full moon (Rabbit Moon) dates for the rest of 2010:

May 27, June 26, July 26, August 24, September 23, October 23, November 21, December 21

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Lake Chapala’s Modern Muralists III – Javier Zaragoza

by Judy King 24. May 2010 07:43

"I don't know how I did it. I think it was a miracle,” said Javier Zaragoza, talking about the six murals he painted in the Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos Church in 1961 at age 16.

“I really didn't know anything about art then. I didn't know about the principles of painting, or the techniques or the technology. I had studied modern art in San Miguel for 18 months, but these paintings weren't modern, and doing a mural is so different from just making a painting."

Javier laughed and said, "I painted all six of those murals in a few months with no equipment, instead of scaffolding, I put a board between two ladders, and I had a box of acrylic wall paints. I mixed my colors on the lids of the cans." He shook his head. "I think it was a miracle."

editormural1 "I hope you are prepared," he said to me when I interviewed him a few years ago. “If I start talking about Neill James, I might cry. I feel about that woman like I do my own mother."

I knew Javier was in one of the first art classes sponsored by Neill James, the American woman whose education and art instruction influenced so many of Ajijic's children – and created today’s village of artists and galleries.

“I'm prepared for whatever it takes to hear this story. How did a travel writer help the little son of an Ajijic fisherman become a graphic artist for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles?"

"When I was about six, I heard there was a library in Ajijic. I didn't know what that meant, but I heard they had free pencils and brushes, paint and paper. I couldn't wait to find out if it was true…what a great place that was for us."

Soul3-mural"We were eight people in my family and we were poor, but we had plenty to eat because my father was a fisherman, and there were many fish in the lake in those days….Big fish." Javier's hands showed the size of a huge fish – perhaps four feet long.

  "You know, later when I was working in California and eating steak and chicken, I dreamed about the good food we had at home, the beans, tortillas and fish that were so fresh."

"In those days (the early 1950s) a construction worker made just $15 pesos per day, and life was hard, but this lady showed us how to earn and use money. Neill sold our pictures to her friends for Christmas cards. They would pay us one peso for each one. Some years I made $50 pesos, sometimes more. That was a lot of money for a boy of eight or ten years.

“When Neill James said that I had real talent, she enrolled me in the Art Institute in San Miguel Allende. I was 13, but had never been anywhere, and I sure didn't know what it would be like to live away from home. But she found a family for me to live with and when she told me she would pay and I could paint, I didn't have to think any more, and I couldn't wait to go."

Soul4-rain Soul5-michi

Above Left: In Javier’s Ajijic mural, Tlaloc, the God of Rain, with lightning shooting from the palms of his hands, creates a thunderstorm for Lake Chapala.   Right: Michi, the spirit of the Lake pours fish into the water.

After 18 months, Javier returned to Ajijic, to look work, but also to continue studying art in Guadalajara. Then at 18, Javier went to Los Angeles where he was sure he could pursue his dream of becoming a fine artist.

featurejavier1 For eight years, Javier painted in factories and sold paint in hardware stores; finally he was hired to paint billboards. It wasn’t the fine art career he had hoped for, but at least he was working in his field – until 1994 when computer art took over the billboard industry.

"The most negative times of my life have turned out to be my best opportunities. I went from being jobless in 1994 to a dream job with Warner Brothers -- until computers forced layoffs there in 1999.

“I had always planned to return to Ajijic when I was 62. I used to pray to God to let me live long enough to retire and get back to Ajijic…and then to let me have at least two more days, just so I could walk around and see my village.

"So, there I was, 55 years old, driving with my wife and all our belongings in a van, coming back to Ajijic. When we crossed the border, I was crying because I was finally free from commercial art, and free to live my dream of being a fine artist, and in the best of all, free to live in Ajijic.

Feature4-javierJavier Zaragosa has been back in his village of Ajijic now for 10 years more than the two days he prayed for. During those 10 years, he has painted nearly every day; as he told me, he waited 36 years for this and he’s not wasting a single minute. But, first, every morning he walks to the lake and launches his fishing boat. And just as did his father before him, he rows out into the still water and casts his net or sets his lines.

When he comes back in, he keeps some of the fish for his own table – the rest he gives to the other fishermen to sell. Then he goes for that walk around town, to see his village, enjoys breakfast with his wife and then…then he settles down to paint.

In the first years he produced lovely landscapes of Lake Chapala and portraits of the people he knows here. In the past few years, he’s taken on some enormous projects.

In addition to retouching and redefining the six murals in the Ixtlahuacan church, Javier has designed and painted massive public murals in Ajijic and Chapala. The Ajijic mural on the Delagado Office Building across the street from the plaza (see details above) depicts an ancient May celebration of the indigenous who lived in this area. He painted the faces of people around town into the scene – including some family members.

Then, when the new retaining wall across from the Coffee Tree in Chapala was built Javier stepped up to paint a series of panels portraying the history of Chapala – from Pre-Hispanic times to this new century. While this mural is wonderful viewed from a moving vehicle, be sure to stop, park and study each of the scenes. The detail is rich and enlightening.


"Everyone talks about how much talent there is in Ajijic, and there are lots of talented painters." Javier leaned forward. "But, do you want to know the real truth? I don't think Ajijic has more naturally talented people than Chapala, San Juan Cosalá or Jocotepec.

What Ajijic has is the continuing influence of Neill James. She encouraged us to start thinking about art and she helped some of us became artists. Now we are helping other kids to become artists, too. It is a way for us to repay her for the help she gave us."


Javier Zaragosa is thankful to have lived long enough to return to his town and his lake…but certainly no more thankful than the visitors and residents of Lake Chapala who will live with the richness of the gift of his talents for many years to come.

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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