The following article offers a fascinating look at life in the Lake Chapala area as viewed from the perspective of Lily Barker, age 24, who grew up in the area and now lives in Canada.
The Netflix original ‘Grace and Frankie’ is a slice of life, comedy-drama hit show about two aging women whose husbands announce they are leaving them to be gay together. Despite the tragedy and challenges, they become better people, find their joie de vivre, and discover within themselves not just strength and courage, but youth and an energy they may have forgotten about.
A Typical Day in Lake Chapala
This show reminds me a lot of the little retirement community I grew up in, just south of Lake Chapala. I was surrounded by wise, funky and eccentric elders, and I witnessed first-hand what retirement could be. I saw how they took it as an opportunity to try new things, to start that garden on their roof and go dancing every other night. Women let their hair grow long and gray, men wear colorful clothes, and everyone is living their best life. The sense of community is palpable, as everyone you pass on the street will say good morning, and if they know you, they’ll ask you about your family. Time is taken advantage of here, you wake up when the roosters tell you to, and after having your morning coffee you walk down to the malecon to buy a pastry, take in the beautiful lake view, and revel in the new day. You go grocery shopping for fresh meat and produce in the plaza and stop by your local florist to pick up a bouquet. An errand that normally takes 30 minutes could take at least two hours, because at every turn you’ll run into someone who wants to chat with you. No one is in a hurry and most family stores are closed from 2-4 p.m. to take a siesta and spend time with their kids who just got home from school.
Growing Up in Lake Chapala
Being a kid growing up in this environment gave me several unique advantages and experiences, such as my ability to have a real conversation with anyone of any age. I am able to connect and share stories with elderly strangers, young children and those my age. When growing up with role models who are 50+ years older than you, it’s easy to understand that conversation is the same regardless of age, the intention has to be there along with the willingness to listen and connect. I’ve met a few north americans my age who don’t know how to talk to their grandparents beyond the superficial nonsense, who don’t understand the point of intentional conversation, and some who are downright afraid of old people. This creates an uncomfortable relationship with the elderly, and fear of aging in young people.
Connecting With the Elders
I am so grateful that my first experiences working were under the guidance of adults much older than myself. They wisdom combined with experience and patience to teach me how to be a good employee. They encouraged me to be kind, creative and willing to help. I had to be their energy, and understood that and eagerly took on jobs that were more physically taxing.
I met a lady who taught young Mexican kids how to make beaded bracelets, but she only spoke English and some broken Spanish, so I offered to translate for her if she would teach me how to make jewelry. I was 12 at the time, and she taught me all of the foundations of making beaded, high quality jewelry, gave me all of the materials needed, and then sold the pieces I made in a boutique and gave me a portion of the sales. These sales allowed me to save up enough money to buy several tickets to Canada. This is an opportunity that in retrospect I am so grateful for. She gave me not just the skill to make jewelry, but the chance to sell my pieces, learn the correlation between hard work and money, and then through that money the experience of traveling without burdening my parents financially. She did the same for the Mexican kids she taught, who were often from very poor families, and she gave them the materials and taught them how to make bracelets which she sold and gave them the profit, allowing these children to bring some money home to their parents. Kate Schomp is an incredibly generous, kind and patient woman who I am so admiring of. She is one of the many role models I had growing up who taught me the value of helping those who need it in any way you can, but truly by “teaching them how to fish”.
Many older people see each birthday as a bane instead of a blessing, but that’s not what I witnessed growing up. When you leave your home, your family, your city and your culture to move to a small town in Mexico to retire, you hit a reset on your life and your perspective on everything. It’s an opportunity to learn new things, such as the language or how to cook authentic Mexican food. It’s living to the fullest in the simplest way. You do the things that bring you joy, and you don’t do what doesn’t.
-If you want to work then you start a little breakfast cafe or a 60’s themed burger joint with vinyls as plates and a giant Elvis Presley cut out.
-If you want to act or participate in theatre you join the local Lakeside Community Theatre and you do just that. If you always wanted to learn how to make pottery, you take classes.
-If you find yourself driving 4-6 hours to the beach every weekend, you invest in a beach house to share with your friends.
I know this sounds like I’m just rattling off things we all have the opportunity to do regardless of where we live or how old we are, but the difference is the support in the lakeside area. You are constantly encouraged to try new things, and to go outside your comfort zone. You’ll meet people who are like-minded and who will introduce you to their friends, and soon you’ll have a solid esupport system. I attribute this to two factors:
- People who have left everything they had and everything they made through their youth to choose a different life have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being friendly, open, curious and positive.
- If you live here, that’s already one major thing you have in common, and it’s a topic that invites questions and the opportunity to connect on other topics.
Is Lakeside Right for You?
However, Lake Chapala isn’t for everyone. You have to have a certain respect for the Mexican culture and language to be able to be comfortable in the environment. You don’t have to speak Spanish to be able to get around, but you’re respected more if you do try to learn the language and Mexicans will help by speaking slowly and correcting you where they can. There are cobblestone streets with potholes everywhere that simply aren’t going to go away. There are children covered in dirt running down the sidewalk chasing each other. There are beggars, buskers, and a massive obvious disparity between the rich and the poor.
Mexicans love to party, celebrate, dance, drink and smoke and they will host a party for any and every occasion. This can be really fun and amazing, and is a great opportunity to learn how to dance with strangers, and drink terrible beer made palatable through the introduction of lime or hot sauce, or both. There are frequent rounds of cohetes (homemade rockets) that are fired into the air and will will jolt you every time. If you or your pets are put off by loud music, fireworks and shouting, then you might find yourself investing in a very loud sleep machine and high quality ear plugs or you may choose to live further from the Ajijic plaza.
If you are put-off by the retirement community aspect, then let me be the first to tell you that’s unnecessary. As a kid growing up with young parents in this area, I witnessed their vital involvement with the community. They were active, well known and well loved. They found their niche where they could help with their interests and experiences (see 50 Things to Do at Lake Chapala), and they raised their children as white minorities in a Spanish speaking country. They worked hard, made many friends, learned the language, and gained a massive support system. Even now, my mother, despite living in Tennessee, works with Focus on Mexico and flies down often to do her work. And my father, my grandparents and my uncles never left. They call it home, and the lakeside area is better off for it.
I am young and recently married, but already I have plans to move back to Lakeside. It may be labelled as a retirement community, but I see it as a different way of life; a simple, genuine and full-of-love lifestyle. I can’t wait to go back, to not worry about winter weather, to listen to stories and the wisdom given to me by my neighbors, and to raise my children in an environment where they have to learn another language, be respectful of everyone regardless of age or economic status, and understand the vital necessity of taking a nap, or a siesta in the middle of the day.
If you’re ready to take a deeper dive into the possibilities of spending the next phase of your life at Lakeside, consider signing up for one of our upcoming seminars, and give yourself the gift of exploring what your Mexican life could look like.
Wish I’d been this smart and wrote this well when I was 24!
Katheryn A Ward says
I live in Delaware, retired and after much research decided on the Lake Chapala area. Drove to Washington, DC this morning and luckily had brought all the documentation needed to get my temporary permanent visa, all done in less than one hour. They were very nice at the Consulate. Your article makes me sure that I am making the right choice. Gracias
michael nuschke says
Good job, congrats! Glad it went smoothly for you.
Let us know if we can help with any other parts of your move!
Chuck Bolotin says
I really enjoyed Lily Barker’s article. It is so refreshing to see Lakeside from a different perspective, and from a woman who has wisdom well beyond her years. Great job, Lily. Thanks for sharing your perspectives.