Huele de Noche: The Fragrant White Night Flowers

by Judy King 22. September 2010 18:41

jesus2 075 I planned of creating a special garden of all the scented white blooming plants from the time I realized plants like jasmine, gardenia, frangipani, and orange blossoms all thrive here at Lakeside. Several years ago I purchased a house, and when the construction workers finished making their messes and just before the rains began, I started designing gardens and buying plants to sink into the rich earth.

As I hauled car load after car load home from the nursery, I remembered a quip from a former associate.  "Landscaping is easy," he said with a grin. "Just stand in the middle of your yard and throw money!"

(Left:) Datura features giant bell-shaped blooms. These are double, two bells in each flower. You may know it better as Giant Loco Weed or Giant Jimson.

For years, my friend José had waxed eloquently about his favorite Mexican plant with white flowers and a romantic fragrance. he called it huele de noche (scent of the night). With a name like that, I was hooked.

Within days I had planted the wonderfully lacy, frothy, viney type of jasmine the guy at the nursery promised was  huele de noche. But when José and his wife Marta stopped by, he admired the scent of the plant, shook his head and said, "It's good, but it's not huele de noche."

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(Above:) At left is Queen of the Nile – it isn’t fragrant, but between that name and the giant balls of white flowers, it earned a place in my garden. In center is the common vine-style jasmine. You’ll find clouds of small leaves and deliciously scented tiny flowers billowing over Lakeside walls. (Right:) Gardenias – those fragile flowers of prom corsage fame bloom in area gardens.

I caught a whiff of a wonderful fragrance as I walked through a friend’s gate. I zeroed in on a shrub with glossy green leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers. Because my friend didn't know the name of the plant, I cut off a sprig to take to the nursery. The nursery’s owner examined the sprig and nodded her head definitively. Brushing dirt from her gloves, said, "It's a shrub type of jasmín (jasmine). My workers call iit huele noche."

"Great," I was smiling from ear to ear. That's just what I'm looking for." Ready to carry the plant to the car, I overheard one of the workers showing a plant to a pair of shoppers. He pointed out the tiny white rose-like blooms and described the slow growth of the plant, the Grand Duke Jasmine. Then I heard the lady shopper exclaim as she smelled the flowers, "Ah, it's huele de noche, just like in my grandmother's garden. Of course I bought one of those, too. 

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(Above at left, this shrub jasmine has miniature star-shaped flowers that bloom in clusters – they small wonderful on the night breeze. At right is the regal gran duque (Grand Duke) jasmine. Each of the blossoms on this slower growing plant looks like a tiny full-blown white rose. The scent is incredibly beautiful – the best of all, in my opinion.)

When José and Marta stopped by to sip a little tequila and admire the progress in the garden, they stooped to inhale the scent of the new plants. "Lovely, simply lovely," he said. "They have such wonderful fragrances, and they are good, but they're just not huele de noche."

Each time I purchased a fragrant white flowering plant I was more convinced I'd found the "real" huele de noche. Once I learned to translate the phrase more correctly as "scent of the night", I came to accept that each of these plants is the “real” one. After all, each certainly had a wonderful fragrance that was more pronounced after dark.

I planted three other sweet-smelling jasmine plants near the carport so I'd catch the scent as soon as I got out of the car. On a visit to a local nursery, the middle-aged owner showed me an upright shrub that she claimed was the ancestor to today's gardenias and is called sombra de la montaña (shade on the mountain). She smiled when she clasped her dirt-caked hands across her rounded belly and said with a nod, "my mother always called her huele de noche." I bought three sombras and planted then at the end of the sidewalk. 

The next two plants I found were both in the jasmine family, with star-shaped white flowers. Both had glossy green leaves that resembled those of the gardenia, and both had a delightful fragrance.

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(Above:) These two jasmine plants bear fragrant white star-shaped flowers. (Left:) These tiny flowers have just five petals. (Right:) On this plant the larger stars have nine longer, thinner, curving petals.

I planted three of each in triangle formations at the back of each side garden. An older gentleman at a nursery assured me that one of them was the real huele de noche, but he just couldn't quite remember which was which. Still, I'd enjoy having both, he knew that for sure. Then he added, "Be sure to leave plenty of space for them to grow. Huele de noche is a big plant."

I called my friends to come see the new garden additions. "Come and see!" I said. "Check out these star-flowering jasmines – one of them is really huele de noche."

I caught Marta throwing a funny little smile at her husband as he admired the new jasmine and the sombra de la montaña, but before he could make is now familiar proclamation Marta interrupted. "Heavens, José," quit torturing the poor woman and show her the gift you have for her garden.” 

José was smiling from ear to ear "Get ready to smell the scent of heaven." With a gesture broader than his smile, he indicated the thriving plants covered with lovely white flowers, he said, "See. Smell. Now that's good, that's really good, because it is huele de noche!"

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I began laughing and I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. I laughed until I could barely stand. Poor José looked at Marta and she looked back at José. I realized that they thought there was something wrong with the plants and tried desperately to recover from the laughter that was still making it difficult to breathe or speak.

"Thank you, my friends, Oh my goodness thank you. I'm so thrilled to finally have the “real” huele de noche for my garden, but it's … so...funny...." I paused, overcome with another burst of laughter.

A few minutes later we placed the plants at the kitchen door. As I regained my composure, I poured coffee and then taking the sugar from the cupboard and the milk from the refrigerator, I explained that I'd seen this fragrant plant before.

"When you first mentioned huele de noche, I knew I had to have it in my garden. Just the name, 'the fragrance of the night'—well, it just sounded so tropical, so Latin, so exotic, so romantic. "So, I began searching, and I've searched for over two years. I've found and bought wonderful exotic, tropical plants, but none of them was the right one... the true one. I wondered how huele de noche could be more special and exotic than the plants I'd found.

"Now, here it is. The plant of with the romantic scent for which I've been searching and it's,"...I giggled..."plain, old-fashioned honeysuckle, a plant I've known my whole life."

bushes 003"Is that bad?" Marta looked concerned.

"No," I took her hand, and said, "No, no, it's not bad. In fact it's just wonderful. I picked flowers from this vine when I was eight years old and visited Aunt Margaret the summer after she got married. The vines flourished on the dinner bell pole just outside the kitchen door.

"At Aunt Betty's house, it was climbing up the mailbox post. Great-Aunt Lulu grew it by the clothes line. Honeysuckle covered the fence in front of Mrs. Norman's house. She was my piano teacher.

"It was just everywhere I liked to go when I was growing up. I loved the smell and I couldn't understand when Grandma said it was too common and  kept trying to kill it out of her garden." I grinned as I remembered the vine stubbornly twining onto the lattice work of Grandma's front porch.

"It's a wonderful plant, and a wonderfully special scent. Now I'll also remember the two of you when I smell it."

When I moved from that house with the exotic, sweet smelling plants, I propagated pieces of several of the jasmines and planted them into pots to take with me. As I write, I can smell the scent of the star jasmine drifting through the window on the night air. In a few minutes, when I go outside on my way to the bedroom, I'll pick one flower from José and Marta's huele de noche to lay on my bedside table. Its scent always brings me memories from childhood, and reminds me of the love of good friends in both Mexico and the middle of the United States.

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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.

Queen of the Night

by Judy King 20. September 2010 18:41

Lorraine's flowers 017Queen of the Night
Even without a regal name, you'd know that the Queen of the Night, the night-blooming cereus, is the sovereign of this area's list of stunning, fragrant white flowers.

While all of the fragrant white night-blooming plants here are worthy of royal attention, Reina de la Noche (Queen of the Night) is certainly appropriately named. Few other plants in the world produce blooms that can compete with the style, form, scent, or drama of these fragrant, once-a-year giant white flowers.

Because each flower opens and closes in the dark of one night, few expatriates have witnessed the flowers on the sprawling, ordinary-looking plant that drapes over walls, rocks, or trees.

It takes a few seasons to learn the pattern of this plant's blooms. Be careful, you could miss the flowers entirely during your first year or two at Lake Chapala.

When you notice that one of the buds begins swelling, be sure to go back and check the plant every hour or so, all evening long. Sometime between eight p.m. and midnight, you'll be calling the entire family and part of the neighborhood to come watch the final hour when this huge bloom opens bit by bit, just like a Discovery Channel freeze-frame documentary film.

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(Above:) When the buds have swollen to this point, know the flower will open that very night.

Beginning in April, the first several flowers open on the Hylocereus undatus, which is better known in the United States as the night-blooming cereus. Early in the blooming season, one of the glorious flowers opens each night. If you are lucky enough to have a Queen of the Night in your garden, let your friends know that you'll call them in time to come see the flowers open on the night of the plant's annual grand finale.

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There's usually one magnificent night in late April or early May when a half dozen or more of the eight- to ten-inch white flowers come into full bloom. Most of us who have relocated to Lakeside are usually sound asleep long before midnight, but it's well worth the effort to join in a flower watch — you won’t see much the following morning -- soon after the first rays of morning sun, the flowers fold up and fade away.

Lorraine's flowers 041 (Left:) This plant produced 10 lemon-scented, eight-inch blooms on one memorable night

Break out a bottle of Champagne to toast a life that brings you to this moment, to this sight, and the lemony fragrance spreading through the neighborhood.

A larger tropical variety of the plant is found in the southern Mexico states of Oaxaca and Vera Cruz. Epiphyllum oxypetalum has many of the characteristics of Reina de la Noche.  An ordinary-looking plant, it is distinguished only by its long leaves during most of the year. It earns the title Dama de Noche (Lady of the Night) on the one night of the year when it bursts forth with 100 or more 10- to 14-inch blooms.


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.

Bicentennial Globos A Lot of Tri-Colored Hot Air

by Judy King 17. September 2010 08:07

cactusman Ajijic’s annual Regatta de Globos, held this past Saturday, is a favorite annual event,. This year’s 2010 Bicentennial event included a huge showing of the hand-made hot air balloons made from tissue paper and was studded with a special patriotic sequence and the announcer called for the tri-color balloons to be prepared to be launched together.

You can count on the Regatta being a casual, good natured and fun afternoon. It’s always held on the Saturday before Independence Day (September 16) in the main Ajijic soccer field.

For weeks before the exhibition, local teams of volunteers spend their evenings gluing sheets of tissue paper together in a variety of designs and shapes  to form the unlikely free-sailing vehicles.

At the soccer field, teams use a variety of heat sources, including small fires in  clay chimeneas to inflate the colorful balloons. Near the base of each globo, the creators install a simple device to keep the air in the balloon hot enough to encourage it to soar into the sky.

That donut-shaped, kerosene soaked ring of fire is suspended near the opening, and is the cause of the demise of many of these beautiful air-worthy crafts. As the balloons rise, they often encounter small pockets of air currents which cause the globo to tip, tilt, lean and roll.

This momentary instability brings groans of concern from the massed audience – they know what most often happens – it’s the agony of defeat as the fire source comes in contact with the balloon’s fragile inflammable side walls and the craft is destroyed in a poof of black smoke and a burst of flames.

 

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It takes a village to create and launch these behemoth hot air balloons. Above, at left, you can clearly see the individual sheets of tissue paper. We’ve noticed in recent years the additional layers of creativity and skill the teams have been developing  -- in both the pattern designs and the shape designs.

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There were a multitude of multi-colored globos during the annual Regatta – for this piece we’re  featuring the patriotically-themed balloons which were released together as Mexico’s National Anthem boomed from the public address system. The Eagle with a snake in his beak -- Mexico’s National Emblem – is featured – in gold on the balloon at left and center, above. At right, an innovative square balloon didn’t fare well on the launch pad. The damage from this flare was repaired – but when the team attempted to inflate the balloon later, it was totally incinerated before it ever left the ground.

 

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At left: Many of this year’s new designs reminded me of old-fashioned quilt squares. This balloon resembles a puffy pillow from this angle. Viewing at it from the bottom, you can see it in in the shape of a 5-pointed star. In center, the team directs a flow of hot air into an enormous red, white and green tube that carried a message high into the sky. One side proclaimed the Bicentennial. The other (at right) says, “Viva Mexico!”

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All, as in all forms of human endeavor, there’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Never is that more clearly demonstrated than in this favorite Ajijic activity. At left, an unusual mushroom tri-color muchroom soars into the sky while in center a wonderfully creative nopal cactus balloon is about to burst into mid-air flame. the crowd was pleased that the red, white and green double pyramid at right was one of the successes – it promotes the event and reads, “Regatta de Globos Viva Mexico!.”


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 Perfect Dish For The Emperor

by Judy King 16. September 2010 15:40

Chiles with doll Mexico has a traditional Independence Day dish that is worthy of intense celebration. The Mexican flag colors of chiles en nogada (stuffed poblano chiles with walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds) make the entrée beautiful enough for fireworks and parades--but there's a lot more to this patriotically-colored entrée than meets the eye.

Not many dishes can equal the historic origin of chiles en nogada. Shortly after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico's new Emperor Agustín de Iturbide unexpectedly arrived in Puebla to celebrate his September 28 birthday and the feast day of his patron saint, San Agustín, in the convent which housed the Augustinian nuns.

Just imagine the flurry of excitement in the Santa Monica convent kitchen when the shocked nuns discovered that the Emperor -- the former general who had received Spain's surrender and based the draft of the constitution on his plans for equality and freedom of religion -- was coming to dinner. Driven by the patriotic fervor sweeping the republic and a tight budget, the good sisters scurried from garden to pantries combining the colors and textures of central Mexico's seasonal foods with complex spices to create a culinary masterpiece--a work of art which transformed the colors of the new flag into sensational tastes—a dish fit to honor the Emperor of Mexico.

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At dinner, the nuns presented platters of poblano chiles stuffed with picadillo (chopped meats, nuts, and fruits). The deep green chiles signified the flag's green stripe—the symbol of independence and hope.

A creamy white sauce made from freshly harvested nogales (walnuts) represented the unity, purity and honesty of the white center section of the flag and the garnish of red pomegranate seeds embodied the patriotism and the blood of Mexico's heroes in the flag's red band.

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Today September's favorite dish still often includes 30 or more ingredients. The carefully cooked and blended beef, pork and ham, onions, garlic and tomatoes, six or eight dried and fresh fruits mixed with a half dozen spices and herbs are stuffed into the mild chiles which, at room temperature, are topped with a sauce of blended nuts, cream, cheese, cinnamon and sherry, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. In the old days the dish could only be made when the prime ingredients, the just-mature walnuts, fresh pears, apples and papaya and red, ripe pomegranates were in season.

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Chef Lorraine Russo explains, "The very scarcity of this dish is part of its great attraction—along with the delicate balance of contrasting temperatures, flavors and textures. When you eat really good chiles en nogada, each bite is an endless surprise." She added another suggestion for fully appreciating this special Mexican dish.

"If you want to understand the glorious intrigue and remarkable effect of this dish, take another look at Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel—either the book or the movie. Chiles en nogadas play a vital role in the unforgettable wedding feast scene. The guests are so overwhelmed with waves of passion evoked by the beauty, taste, and essence of the chiles en nogada that they abruptly leave the celebration in a fever of urgent clandestine mating. There's no question, those nuns in Puebla knew their way around a kitchen. This is surely one of the most elegant and exciting of all Mexican entrees."

Maybe a legend adds an extra dollop of sazon (seasoning and flavors) to homemade Mexican holiday dishes—especially when the recipe has a historical setting, a backdrop of Colonial buildings, and is topped off with the intrigue of a surprise visit from the new country's Emperor.

Want to Know More About Mexico’s Emperor Agustín de Iturbide?

CM Mayo Don’t miss the opportunity to read C. M. Mayo’s book, The Last Prince of The Mexican Empire. It’s a fascinating story of how Mexico’s last emperors – Emperor Maximillian from Austria and his wife Empress Carlotta of Spain became the foster parents of Augustin de Iturbide’s grandson – to prepare him for Mexico’s throne. The very young rulers, both members of Europe’s famed Hapsburgs, came to Mexico’s throne in the mid-1850s when they were in their early 20s. To add another layer of interest and intrigue,  after the death of Carlotta’s mother, the young girl was raised by cousins – England’s Queen Victoria and her consort, Germany’s Prince Albert – still more Hapsburg relatives.

C.M. Mayo spends part of her year in San Miguel Allende.


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.

Mexico's Bicentennial Independence Celebrations

by Judy King 15. September 2010 10:27

Outabout7hidalgo The 16th of September of 1810 marked the beginning of Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain. While the United State's July 4 celebration is termed Independence Day, and Canada's July 1 celebration of unity is called Canada Day, Mexico's September celebrations are las fiestas patrias.

Mexico's war for freedom began several months earlier than planned when organizers realized that information had been leaked to the Spanish. Near midnight on September 15, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo, the parish priest of Dolores, Guanajuato, summoned the townspeople to the church and spoke passionately, urging the farmers to take up arms against Spain.

This cry for freedom, El Grito de Dolores, is re-enacted at 11 PM on September 15 in the town square of the towns and villages across the republic. While Hidalgo's speech was not recorded for posterity, a celebratory address of patriotism is presented by the President of Mexico, the governor of each state, and the highest ranking official of each pueblo.

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Custom and legend causes each speech to conclude with a series of cries for unity believed to include some of the thoughts that the Father of the Mexican independence uttered in his original grito and the people respond to each cry with a resounding VIVA!

Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe) 

Viva las Americas (Long Live the Americas)

Viva México! (Long Live Mexico)

The grito, dancing, and other activities on the night of September 15 are the prelude to Mexico's Independence Day. Based on publicity North of the Border, many North Americans assume that Mexico's independence celebration is the 5th of May. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of 4,000 Mexican soldiers over 8,000 of Napoleon III's best-trained French forces in the city of Puebla—in 1862. Although it was a triumphant victory for Mexican soldiers, the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, was waged 51 years after the last of the defeated Spanish forces left Mexico.

Following Hidalgo's cry for freedom, which was also a cry for the end of slavery and independence, the village priest led the townspeople from the small church waving a banner bearing the likeness of the country's patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe. By the end of the first month thousands of untrained but determined farmers and workers had taken up the fight.

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In Chapala and Ajijic the 16 de septiembre (16th of September) mid-morning parades feature the area's charros (working horsemen) who still ride under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Mexican flag. In the days of Spanish rule, only the wealthy, upper class landowners were allowed to ride horses—and of course their serf-like workers, who broke, trained and cared for the livestock. It was the skills of the charros who changed the balance of power during this and following wars.

honor-guard DCP_8640 Thousands of Lakeside school children are an important part of the celebration of their nation's freedom. Pristinely dressed in their school uniforms, they all march in parades in Chapala, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Ajijic, San Juan Cosalá and Jocotepec.

Children are featured participants in many of the activities on September 15 and 16. A time-honored tradition in Ajijic involves the organization of old-time games and contests for the kids. Beginning around 4 p.m. today, the games are held in the town plaza and include a greased pig contest in which the lucky boy who can catch and hold the pig can take his prize home to raise and fatten. Lard is used to coat a six meter (approximately 18 feet) high pole which is set up in the street near the plaza for the palo encebado (greased pole). Children try to shinny up the pole in order to claim donated prizes fastened at various heights and at the top. The attempts to win these contests can be hilarious and provide spectators an afternoon of old fashioned fun.

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Here is a rundown of usual times of local fiestas patrias activities today and tomorrow. Remember that Lakeside’s smaller towns – San Antonio Tlayacapan, San Juan Cosalá, El Chante and San Cristobal for example will be hosting their own grito ceremonies on Saturday night and parades on Sunday.

Date

Time

Place

Activity

September 15

4 p.m.

Ajijic Plaza

Contests

September 15

Dusk

Stage at on Ajijic and Jocotepec Plazas and near Chapala Malecon & municipal building

Entertainment, music, dance, presentation of queen and princesses

September 15

11 p.m.

Stage areas

Grito with fireworks following

September 15

Midnight

Town plazas and surrounding streets

Popular bands and dancing

September 16

9:30 or 10 a.m.

Jocotepec, Chapala and Ajijic

Parades ending at plazas

September 16

After parade

City plazas

Honors to Flag

September 16

Afternoon

Lienzo Charro rings in Ajijic, Jocotepec and Chapala

Charro events (rodeos)

September 16

Night

Plaza in Ajijic

War of Flowers -- Patrias Queen promenades in the plaza, as the people strew confetti and flowers

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One of the great disappointments during this and other Mexican holidays is the lack of foreigners participating in the events. All of the special activities of the fiestas patrias are great fun, colorful photo opportunities, and a way for us to demonstrate our unity with our Mexican neighbors.


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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