After 24 hours in Jocotepec, I headed east along the north shore of Lake Chapala. Twenty five minutes later I was in Ajijic, a town with a name so fun to say, how could you not want to visit, A-He-Heek.
The pronunciation is still the same but originally the town name was spelled, Axixic. Which means “the place where the water springs forth” Derived from the Nauatl language that was spoken by the Aztec’s that thrived here before the Spaniards arrived. But that was five hundred years ago and things have changed. Now this town is one of the largest American and Canadian ex-pat communities in the world and after 24 hours here I understand why.
Ajijic is small, only about three miles long and sits right on the north shore of the giant Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. This colorful little town is just twenty-five minutes from a major international airport and an hour from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city.
So what does that mean? Let me spell it out for you. If you are an American living in Ajijic you get the benefits of coble stone roads in a laid back, slow paced Mexican town with good restaurants and friendly people and near perfect weather. If you want to swim in metropolitan culture, like plays, operas, museums and top notch restaurants, you’re only an hour away by car from Guadalajara. And a flight back to Tijuana takes just two hours and fifteen minutes. Which means it would take me longer to drive from Santa Barbara back to my home in San Diego than it would to get home from this beautiful little Mexican, lakeside town. And remember the American dollar still goes far here.
I reached out via email before I arrived and received a response from Michael Eager suggesting that I stay at his hotel, La Nueva Posada and late in the afternoon I arrived at this gem of a hotel and checked in. I was anxious to walk around and check out the town but first I took in the view from the balcony of my room and let me heart rate slow down even further.
My accommodation was perfect, second floor looking over the trees to the lake. The space was big, not some little European style room. This spot had a comfortable king sized bed with room to stretch out, flat screen TV, table and chairs, dresser and a nice big bathroom. Loved it, after five minutes I was already trying to figure out how to extend my stay.
I took an aimless walk out of the hotel and up the street to the plaza, about four blocks away in the center of town. I sat there for a few minutes and watched the world go by. It was Tuesday and things were pretty slow but that’s what I expected and what I wanted. After a brief walk around town it was easy to sum up Aijijic; boutique shops, art galleries, quaint restaurants, slow pace and lots of smiles.
I didn’t have an agenda and it felt great. I did want to talk to some locals though and get there take on this sought after retirement destination. So I poked my head into Lake Chapala Real Estate and organized a lunch/beer/margarita date with Thomas Hellyer, one of the agents working in the office.
I met up with Thomas at La Una Restaurant near the center of town and asked the questions that were burning in my mind. How did you end up here? Why did you end up here? What keeps you here?
In the interest of brevity and with the understanding of the short attention span of most blog readers, let me condense his answers. Thomas is from Oregon, he studied Spanish in Guadalajara, married a beautiful Mexican girl, moved back to Oregon and nine years later returned to Ajijic. Why? My thoughts exactly. Here’s the “WHY” Because the cost of living, the pace of village life with no freeways and he gets to spend time raising his three kids in a safe environment– actually spending time with them instead of trading all of his time for money to survive as we do in the USA. And here is the shocker that I heard more than once, “I feel like I have more freedom here,” he says. Meeting Thomas was great and although I already had a fondness for Mexico the meeting with he and his friends only made my convictions stronger. And let me go back to one more expense thing that many of you will appreciate. His last child was born C-Section. They were able to pick the hospital in Guadalajara, the doctor, the anesthesiologist and everything was top notch and went perfectly, the cost $2000 US dollars.
After lunch I spent some time exploring the Malecon down at the water’s edge. Interestingly every town along the north shore of Lake Chapala seems to have a really fun little skate park and no one in it. If you have kids into skateboarding and you are looking for a safe place for them to have a ball with out $100 admission fee to some ridiculous American theme park where you stand in lines most of the day, bring them to the north shore of Chapala.
I was able to walk back from the Malecon along the beach to my hotel. About a mile along a trail and the only traffic was two horses that graciously pulled over and let me pass. Rush hour in Ajijic was a breeze.
After a nice little siesta I woke up energized, got dressed and hit the town hard. I sprung out of the hotel lobby like a pent up coon hound just looking for excitement. Only problem was, it was Tuesday night in a sleepy little Mexican village and my ramped up energy slid back down to the village pace. I asked around for a good bar to visit and was pointed north, just across the main road.
El Bar Company is located on the main road and is pretty huge. I felt comfortable like I was back in San Diego at a big sports bar. Only three people in the bar and one of them was me. A guy sat at the main bar and chatted in English to the bartender. I found a spot at a big open window that looked out over the street and what do I spy with my eyes across the street, street tacos with a big crowd, must be good.
I finished my drink and strolled on over and powered down a few $.45US tacos, exchanged pleasantries with the people at the taco stand and wondered back through the dimly lit streets of Ajijic to my hotel room and fell peacefully asleep, fat and happy.
I knew eventually I would catch up with Mike Eager, the owner of la Nueva Posada and I did the next morning over coffee in the hotel restaurant. The restaurant at La Nueva Posada has an elegant, colonial style to it with really friendly service and great food. There are two seating areas, inside or on the patio shaded by the leaves and branches of a rubber tree with a view of Lake Chapala.
His parents were from Ontario, Canada and came to Ajijic for the first time 40 years ago on a “Second Honeymoon” and basically never left. His father Morley was an accomplished businessman and brought those skills along with his wife, Judy. Shortly after the couple arrived they took over management of La Posada (old Posada), one of the only hotels in town at the time. Years later as business expanded they built the New La Nueva Posada from the ground up. The two planted roots and the small lakeside town quickly became home. This Canadian couple literally put this small Mexican village on the radar for thousands of Americans and Canadians looking for an affordable place to vacation and retire.
Michael was eighteen years old when his parents moved to the area and now with 3 children of his own he is like the pleasant Godfather of the town. Everyone speaks highly of him and his demeanor shows through in the interactions with his employees and guests. As we talked people passed by, some with just a smile and a hello and others with a question which he always seem to take the time to answer thoroughly.
Our meeting came to an end and I walked away with that feeling that once again I had ended up in the right place at the right time talking to the right person. And although there was so much more I wanted to ask and see I had to pack and make my way back to San Diego.
A night’s stay in Ajijic was exactly what I expected it to be, perfect. Perhaps a longer stay would reveal something different but based on conversation with business owners and locals, I doubt it.
La Nueva posada has 19 suites on three levels with a small pool and facilities large enough to accommodate a really fun wedding or other gathering. A full hot breakfast is included in the price of your stay. The hotel is a hub in the community and is a meeting place for many of the groups like Ajijic Writers Club, Hash House Harriers, Airforce Association 904 Wing and many more.
Michael Eagar and his family have been helping Americans and Canadians buy property and acclimate to the area for 40 years. If you are interested in property in or around Ajijic contact Eager & Asociados
If you want more information on Ajijic real estate, talk to Thomas Hellyer at Lake Chapala Real Estate.
For more information and about the area, events, community programs or to connect with ex-pats check out The Lake Chapala Society
I highly recommend a meal at Restaurante La Una.