Odd word, isn’t it? It’s used by some to describe people from other countries who become full time residents of Mexico.
We have friends who’re “Mex-Pats” and we recently flew down to their “home city” of Chapala in the State of Jalisco. Chapala is a two-and-a-half hour flight Southeast of Phoenix so we figure it to be about a thousand miles.
Chapala is a typical Mexican town. No high-rises like PuertoVallarta, Mexico City, Cancun or any other major spot. Tallest building we saw was a three-story home.
What we experienced in Chapala was about as close to the real Mexico as you can get these days. Very old with cobblestone streets to rattle your teeth. Cement and stone construction in nearly all buildings. Narrow streets with narrow sidewalks, very small commercial businesses and a central plaza near a Catholic Church built in 1749.
Anyone who talks about “lazy Mexicans” has never spent time in a real Mexican community. Everywhere we went - and I mean everywhere - people were working. From the larger businesses to the guy outside the church we attended who was selling many varieties of washed fresh fruit out of a cardboard box - everyone was busy. We saw no indications of homelessness, no panhandlers anywhere we went. And we went just about everywhere in Chapala.
We passed a street crew of about eight men digging out an old water line. Not three working and five watching. All were on picks and shovels because they don’t use backhoes or other heavy equipment. Many road repairs in the area were the same - done by hand.
Locals we encountered spoke little to no English. Even the desk clerk in our hotel and counter employees at the International airport in Guadalahara about 20 miles away. American money wasn’t accepted anywhere we went. Credit cards worked sometimes and sometimes they didn’t. Pesos were a necessity.
There were no “touristy” areas anywhere. Very small shops with goods mostly made in Mexico. No plate glass windows, no neon signs, no upscale fashions. We found small children of working mothers in several shops. All quiet, well-behaved, playing with small toys, reading a book or sleeping. Not one running underfoot.
The large central plaza was great for people-watching. Musicians, vendors both inside and out, no cars or other noises of civilization. Many choices of food and drink. And large trees everywhere for shade in the hot afternoons.
New commercial development was outside the city. No new car dealers. A couple of movie theaters, a Starbucks and a “Wal-Marche.” Bought Colgate toothpaste - writing on the tube in Spanish. Same with Coke or Budweiser. Very little to remind you of the states.
New construction in Chapala is either on small vacant ground which was never used or where older buildings had been removed. Our friends’ new home, in an older section, was one such. About 1,600 square feet, inner and outer walls solid concrete, a glass wall to an interior courtyard and a beautiful hand-laid convex brick ceiling over the entire living area. Less than $200-thousand.
Healthcare quality is good and available either through clinics, public or private hospitals. The public ones are free but crowded. The private ones charge but fees are much less than the states.
There’s a sizeable contingent of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans and other nationalities in Chapala. Moderate temperatures, laid-back Mexican lifestyle, very low cost-of-living, a feeling of being removed from what we call “civilization,” gracious locals who have gladly accepted their new “neighbors” - many enticing features.
But. There’s always a “but.”
Most homes in Chapala are surrounded by high concrete walls. Many topped with steel spikes, concertina wire or electric fencing. Some have guard dogs. Garage and outer compound doors of steel. Most homes and other buildings have large water storage tanks on the roof because of frequent outages. Local tap water, in some places, not safe to drink. Some homes have emergency generators. Security issues are ever-present.
Those cobblestone roads are everywhere so cars and other vehicles take a pounding. Mexican roads can leave something to be desired. Even major highways are often uneven with roller-coaster rides. For serious shopping, car-buying or major medical needs, it’s about an hour drive to Guadalahara.
On balance, we very much enjoyed our small-town Mexican experience. People were welcoming and gracious. The atmosphere was far-removed from the travel guides, time-share condos, high-rises, carefully-trimmed golf courses, fancy dining and other accouterments we hear about. Our host-friends were generous with their time and knowledge of the area. We felt we did get to see what the country is really like.
Ready to be a Mex-Pat? No. But, the experiences we had and the things we learned were eye-opening in many ways. We have a new appreciation for the country and its residents.
You oughta try the real Mexico sometime. Bueno!