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The Insider's Guide: Mexico's Lake Chapala and Ajijic

A Mexico book by Teresa A. Kendrick

Reviewed by Allan Cogan

There are two occasions when writing a book review is a particularly pleasant experience. One is when you hated the book and now you have the opportunity to punish the author for wasting your time and money. The other is when you really loved the book and you just want to say nice appreciative things about it. This - happily - is one of the latter occasions.

I'm filled with admiration and respect for The Insider's Guide. Its 368 pages are so complete and comprehensive and so well thought out and so well organized. Teresa Kendrick and her colleagues have done a wonderful job of providing and packaging a full authoritative range of information, not only for long and short-term residents of the Lake Chapala area but also for those many people who seem to be contemplating coming here either to live as permanent retiree-residents or as snowbirds. And - heaven knows! - going by all the indications there are more than enough of them here already.

Frankly, I believe this is a volume that should be in the hands of a lot of people who live here and particularly those who contemplate coming here to live. It would have been wonderful to have a guide like this available to us when my wife and I came here over a decade ago.

My review will essentially be a collection of lists with some comments added along the way. There are so many categories of information that are covered and lists are the only way to indicate the range of assistance provided in Ms. Kendrick's guide. Anyway - here goes.

The overall categories of coverage commence with general geographic and ecological scene setting, moving on to accommodations, rentals and real estate; food, drink and nightlife; money matters, shopping, arts and crafts; things to see and do; fiestas and local events; sightseeing; health care; personal services; shopping for basic goods and services; learning how to use ATMs in Spanish; coping with the language in general, excursions and car rentals, communications such as telephone services and internet connections; immigration information and much, much more. Along the way there are numerous tips and useful asides that go beyond the bald information in the various lists.

For example, here are a couple of tips that were new to me concerning the use of ATMs.

"Don't let strangers help you remove a 'stuck' ATM card that requires you to re-key your PIN number. It's a well-practiced scam, especially in Guadalajara, by con artists who have rigged the slot to temporarily jam the card. It's best to look for and use machines that ask you to swipe your card instead of inserting it."

And: "Don't use or answer your cellphone while in a Lakeside or Guadalajara bank. It's illegal. 'Rabbit hunters' once robbed customers carrying large withdrawals. A confederate inside the bank would observe customers receiving large payments and call a partner outside and describe the victims as they exited."

Another valuable inclusion is a chapter on cultural etiquette and behavior under the general heading of How to be a good visitor to the area. This also covers learning or at least coping with the Spanish language and understanding basic everyday expressions that are commonly used by almost everyone. The various places where you can get Spanish instruction are listed. At the same time The Guide provides lists throughout of Spanish expressions widely used when shopping, banking, dining out, picking up groceries, banking, visiting a gas station, dealing with household help, and so on.

In so far as accommodation is concerned there are more than 40 area hotels and bed-and- breakfast locations listed here, along with all the basic information on their facilities and how to reach them by phone or e-mail. And if you decide to stay longer, there are some twenty or so real estate companies operating in the Lakeside area. And should you ever decide to come and live here there are several moving and storage companies listed to help you make the move successfully.

More than 100 restaurants are listed providing everything from pizza to pozole, Austrian to Oriental cuisine, atole to waffles, fast snacks to full course comidas. Indeed, there's an enormous range of dining available every day of the week.

This, of course, isn't the type of book you read from cover to cover. Rather, it's a reference book. However, in order to review it I sat down and read, or at least "eye-balled" every page just to familiarize myself with exactly what was included. It was a salutary experience. The Guide is actually a portrait of this community. I came away from it with a new feeling for how absolutely unique a place this is. There are some 60,000 people in the general area - Mexicans, Americans, Canadians and others. To be reminded of the huge number of businesses, services, organizations, talented individuals, clubs, groups and skills that exist and thrive here was quite impressive. No matter what your interest is - ballroom dancing, tennis, bird watching, bridge, computers, keeping fit, handicrafts, art lessons, charitable projects, growing orchids, keeping pets and so on, you're sure to find fellow devotees somewhere in the community. There are lots of notice boards in various places, such as the Lake Chapala Society, which will lead you to people with similar interests.

We're well catered to with shopping, medical services, entertainments, social groups, lectures, discussion groups, musical events, fitness centers, computer support and all types of services. We have a weekly newspaper and two monthly magazines. We have the Little Theater and there are several published authors in our midst and people who can present learned dissertations on interesting topics. And I almost forgot - it's the home of the medium you're using right now… MexConnect.com. And, of course, let's not forget… The Guide originates here, too. Not bad for a community of 60,000. And if that's not enough, then there's Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city less than an hour's drive away.

Incidentally, on the subject of population, The Guide gives a couple of stats that were a bit of a surprise to me. For example, it states that half the total population at the Lakeside is under 20 years of age. I find that kind of an eye-opener in a community that has all those old folks everywhere you look. And, it would seem, we old folks number some 12,000. I always thought there were more of us.

Reading it as I did in its entirety I realized there are places I'd forgotten about that I must revisit soon - such as Tlaquepaque and Mazamitla along with a few dining places I'll have to try again. So The Guide will help get me out of a rut. And there are places I never knew about - like Driscoll's Berries near Jocotopec where you can buy blueberries, strawberries and raspberries from the local high-tech farms. And Petatán on the south side of the lake where 3,000 white pelicans come to winter and crowd the shores when the workers in the local fish processing plant dump crates of fish heads in the water. And I hear good things about one of the Argentine restaurants in the area. I'll check them out soon.

In my humble O: Teresa Kendrick and her cohorts should take a huge bow for what they have created here. I hope their Guide makes it to many of the area's bookshelves. It fully deserves to be a local bestseller.

The Insider's Guide, Mexico's Lake Chapala & Ajijic - Includes Jocotepec
By Teresa A. Kendrick
Expanded second edition. June 2005

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback

Published or Updated on: November 15, 2005 by Allan Cogan © 2005
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