Here’s a place for retirees and snowbirds to seriously consider.
I previously extolled the charms of Morelia and wondered aloud why there weren’t more ex-pats living there. After continuing our tour of several colonial cities throughout Central Mexico I’m even more puzzled as to why Xalapa hasn’t become more of a permanent residence for Americans and Canadians. Of the six cities my wife and I visited – Morelia, Cholula, Puebla, Xalapa, Veracruz and Queretero – Xalapa is for us the hands-down winner. If we were ever to leave our Lakeside home for another destination in Mexico, that’s where it would be. And yet, after saying that, the fact is there are very few gringos living there. One person we met put the number of ex-pat retirees at around a dozen.
Okay – having said that – what’s so special about the place?
For a start it has a great climate, which is much more varied than the more westerly and more elevated cities like Morelia and Guadalajara. It’s more humid than those cities but much less so than Veracruz. It’s the place the folks from Vera Cruz escape to when the humidity gets too high. For example, there was a fine drizzle (known locally as a chipichipi) one night when we were there in February. But it’s this that keeps the place clean and green and the flowers growing so profusely. One of the nicknames for Xalapa is City of Flowers”. It’s also the jalapeño pepper capital of Mexico.
Xalapa or Jalapa (but always pronounced ha-LA-pa) is a couple of hours’ easy drive from Vera Cruz and is more subject to the Gulf of Mexico’s Caribbean-style weather than the elevated cities on the Pacific side of the country. It’s built on the slopes of a large tiered hill half way between the ocean and the mountains. Population is around 400,000. It’s the state capital, a well-known university town and the business center for the region’s coffee and fruit growers.
For anyone who chooses to live there, the shopping is excellent. Fresh produce is brought in from all around the area and the markets are simply wonderful. Modern shopping centers are available and, if you occasionally crave American style marketing, Wal-Mart, Price Club, Office Depot, Ace Hardware and other well-known stores can be found in Vera Cruz.
Among the “must see” tourist attractions is the Museum of Anthropology, a short taxi ride from El Centro. The museum is dedicated to the archaeology of Vera Cruz State. The building and the parklike setting were, to me, as attractive as the museum itself. It’s built on a slope and is open and light and airy, regardless of where you are in the building. As you follow the gentle slope you can visit various courtyards and galleries to inspect the exhibits of pottery, statues and murals. Some of the exhibits are even outside in the park surrounding the building.
The main pieces in the Museum are seven massive Olmec heads. The largest one is over eight feet high.
For me, uppermost on the list of Xalapa’s attractions is the city’s cultural scene. Concerts and theatrical events were advertised widely throughout El Centro. The city’s symphony orchestra, Orquesta Sinfonica de Xalapa, is considered by many to be Mexico’s finest. Also, the Universidad de Vera Cruz has a prominent music school where frequent free concerts are available. We were told, by the way, that tickets to the Symphony cost all of 20 pesos!
Our schedule did not allow us to stay for the next performance by the Symphony Orchestra. However, we did get an opportunity to see a wonderful concert in one of the city’s downtown churches. It consisted of a J. S. Bach mass and a tribute to composer Ray Noble sung by a marvellous 40-person choir from the University, accompanied by a ten-member chamber group. It was a thoroughly professional performance. The church was packed for the concert, which was free, and everyone had a good time.
That same evening we were walking back to our hotel and our host asked: Would you like to hear some jazz?” And a few minutes later we were in a smoky little den where a trio of guitar, bass and drums played some very creditable modern sounds while we sipped our beers.
For those who appreciate the visual arts there’s also the Diego Rivera Center which was inaugurated only a year ago to exhibit the master’s works.
One of the major surprises for us in Xalapa was the discovery that there are three quite sizeable lakes right in the heart of the city. Indeed, a short downhill walk from the spacious zocalo takes you Los Lagos where you can enjoy a pleasant stroll and look at some handsome houses along one side and University buildings on the other. I think it’s all one lake made to look like three by causeways and a bridge. A full circuit of the lakes covers about two miles, much of it tree-shaded.
If you want to relax after your walk Xalapa is in coffee producing country and there are any number of comfortable coffee houses throughout El Centro where you can revive yourself or even check your e-mail. Or simply walk up to the shady zocalo and relax and watch the people.
Early in the morning, by the way, the zocalo offers a wonderful view of the snow-capped 18,000 ft. volcano, Citlaltopetl. Atmospheric conditions have to be right, but if they are then the rising sun catches the snowy slopes just perfectly. It’s worth getting out of bed for. And don’t forget your camera.
There’s a cathedral. This one has the largest crucifix I’ve ever seen over an altar and a floor that actually slopes upwards to the altar. Across the road is the Governor’s Palace, famous for its murals.
In my article on Morelia I mentioned that, on our month long tour, we were learning with every passing day that Mexico is a really wonderful country. The climate is great, the people friendly and there’s more history, culture and variety than we ever imagined. Just one visit to Xalapa only underlines all of those convictions.
I speculated, too, that perhaps there were few ex-pat residents in Morelia because no one had taken the trouble to sell” the place, as happened in Guadalajara, thanks to the efforts of Fran and Judy Furton, and in the Lake Chapala area because of the work of the Canadian, Curt Hyman.
As it happens, Xalapa does have an American resident who is only too happy to sing the praises of what has become his home city. His name is Roy Dudley and he has lived there for 26 years, having gone originally as part of his B.A. studies in Spanish. He’s 48, married to a Mexican lady and has two children who are completely bilingual, as is Roy himself. He runs a photographic business, shooting all types of still and movie assignments from weddings to TV commercials.
Taking a walk around the city with Roy is quite an experience. We went on a short stroll through the markets with him and visited a chocolate factory and a liquor distillery. He knows everybody or at least gives that impression and is only too happy to tell you all about his town.
In fact, if you want to reach him with specific enquiries about Xalapa, he welcomes them. His e-mail and postal addresses are given below.
Having lived in Mexico for five years our impression was that Xalapa is a much less expensive place than the Lakeside area. Restaurant meals and articles in shops cost less than we were used to paying. I think it can be taken for granted that house prices will also be much less, too.