The foreign population at Lake Chapala grows by leaps and bounds every year at this time. February is the highest of the high winter season.
No one really knows how many foreigners live and visit Lakeside, but a good guess is that there are somewhere around 7,000-8,000 of us living here full time and another 10,000 who visit sometime during the year for varying lengths of time.
Some folks are saying that not as many snowbirds as usual have arrived for the winter, but frankly, just from looking at grocery store parking lots, cruising local streets and trying to claim a seat in church on Sunday, I can't tell much difference.
While local businesses and service providers eagerly await the return of the winter residents, the growing pains of our little Lakeside villages are apparent.
It isn't just the combination of full-time foreigners and winter folks that is causing the congestion on local streets — every weekend we see an invasion of the "Guad Squad" (Guadalajarans out for a weekend or a day at the lake).
Then there is the vast number of villagers who are now driving cars we’re at a point where we all need to remember our manners and share the space on the roads, in the stores, churches and sidewalks. After all, Ajijic is the town where one misplaced car can mean a traffic jam.
Here’s something to help us through the rest of the Winter -- it’s a list of Snowbird Season Survival tips adapted from Robert Fulgram's book Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Learn to Share - Parking places, park benches, restaurant seats, and the attention of clerks and waiters. We all need patience to enjoy the winter season.
Play Fair - We are the visitors in Mexico and we need to adjust and learn to play the game here according to the rules and traditions that have worked well for 500 years.
This isn't back home, and it's not going to be…thank goodness.
Don't Hit People – Don't even hit the cars parked in the yellow-curbed, restricted spots on all of the village corners this time of year — even when you can't turn the corner onto your own street — even when cars block your driveway — not even you really, really want to.
Clean Up Your Own Mess – While many local residents don't speak English, they still understand most of what is said. Don't make assumptions about other people that put you into a very embarrassing situations.
Behave well – Have fun on your vacation; take your behavior cues from the year-round residents and Mexicans. Don't push to the front of lines, refuse to yield the right of way, talk louder when your English isn't understood, push others out of the way or affect an attitude of special entitlement.
Don't Take Things That Aren't Yours – Not even someone's pride or peace or joy or dignity or enjoyment.
Flush –But not the paper. You may be able in some places, but when the problem is tree roots in old, small drain pipes, the smallest amount of paper could block the WC, creating an embarrassing problem for you.
Warm Cookies And Cold Milk Are Good – So are lots of delicious snacks and foods in Mexico that are unfamiliar to you — be adventurous and try the new treats -- they may become your favorites.
Live A Balanced Life – Enjoy this rare opportunity to live in a really culturally diversified community. Learn a little Spanish; participate in some of the local traditions and customs. There is a Mexican proverb, "Cada cabeza es un mundo." (Every head is a world). Things are different here from back home. Don't judge all you see by the comparisons in your own head or the way it is back home. Remember: It's not right, not wrong, just different.
Take A Nap Every Afternoon – Adjusting to life walking up hills at 5200 feet above sea level makes an afternoon nap a welcome break. Other altitude tips—drink more water, walk slowly, walk on the shady side of the street, take it easy with alcohol, and use sunscreen.
When You Go Out Into The World, Watch Out For Traffic –The only solution to the traffic problems very different style of our little world is stay cool-headed, patient, remember your defensive driving, and be cooperative. Take turns--let one of the cars waiting to get onto the highway in ahead of you. Remember—we don't have to punch a time clock. If it takes a few extra minutes to get to our destination, it's ok. We aren't trying to make a living to feed our families.
Hold Hands and Stick Together! – For those of us lucky enough to be living in the sunshine of glorious Lake Chapala, let's learn a lesson from our Mexican neighbors and treat everyone politely, warmly, and with courtesy. Smile at each other and have a pleasant winter.