By Tom Eck
A splinter of daybreak morphed the formless images in the marina below. I sat there on my veranda, thinking about those languishing vessels- both grand and humble- as they nodded to me ever so slightly, acknowledging the fate of their owners’ inattention.
The Puerto Vallarta Marina is a charming place, almost magical, populated by a full spectrum of boats- from magnificent mega-yachts to aging pangas, barely large enough to accommodate the 2 or 3 men who pilot them to harvest the bounty of Banderas Bay in their ongoing struggle for survival. Ironically, the smaller, battered boats are used far more than the shiny, pristine yachts whose crews daily scrub and polish, as if cleaning up after an elegant on-board that party never was.
My wife, Betty and I had moved to PV from Ensenada in our ongoing search for a place in Mexico that would meet our desires for tranquility, good weather, friendly people and an active, but not frenetic, lifestyle. PV seemed to fit the bill.
I sipped my coffee, iced, as a necessary prelude to the warm day ahead.
“Honey, I think we can do better than this. It just doesn’t feel right.”
We had moved to the marina about a year before, enchanted by the village atmosphere of small shops and great restaurants fringing the docked boats. World class hospitals and galleria shopping were all within walking distance. Wal-Mart and Costco only a few miles. The more lively “Old Town” was just 10 minutes away by a 50 peso cab ride or a 7 peso bus ride. A sandy beach, across the street from our condo complex, waited for us. What’s not to like?
“I have to agree with you, Tom. I love watching the beautiful sunrises and those fantastic lightning storms from our veranda. Remember, when we first arrived last July, woke up to the thunder and lightning, and, when the rain stopped at 3:00 in the morning, we walked along the marina?
“But where is the community we thought was here? Everyone seems to be on vacation, including us; as if we are forcing ourselves to have fun. There are a lot of people here but no one is really home.”
Betty and I were on the same page. PV was a postcard paradise, but not a home. We needed to be where there was a real community of both expats and gente, who lived, who cared and belonged. And the summer months had become oppressive, not only with the heat and humidity, but a sense of abandonment engendered by those manywho had left for “home”. Even the ones who stayed, apologized for the town, as if ashamed of a less than perfect child.
There is soul to Ajijic. I could sense it as we entered the village on the tree-canopied carretera east of town. It can be seen in the brightly painted shops and homes, the cobblestone streets, alive with the activities of families, vendors and expats. It can be seen along the malecon, where people stroll, rather than push the limits of their endurance in a frantic quest for longevity. It can be seen in the massive flowered stone walls, sequestering unseen families and their lives, yet contorting around gnarling trees in deference to their priority as magnificent denizens of nature.
The substance of the village is defined in the art studios, retail shops and small restaurants hidden in beautiful gardens that were once-and perhaps still are- homes to those who now serve the food. But it can be seen best in the town square, the focal point of gatherings, chance meetings, of sharing experiences both present and past, reminisces of that which could never again be- or perhaps never was.
And there is a subdued form of pride. Not the kind of puffery that marks regionalistic flag-waving , but rather, a sense of satisfaction from knowing we are in a place on earth where nature greets its inhabitants with a smile, not a smirk. There is a sense of responsibility to the area for the bounty that is lakeside, and gratitude for having the good fortune to live here.
The community that is Ajijic is no more apparent than in the many groups helping themselves as they help others. The Lake Chapala Society, Cruz Roja, The Ajijic Writers’ Group and scores of other organizations are visible tributes to the culture of care and charity so many residents of Ajijic share. Most here know that they have nothing to prove and aren’t impressed with those who think that they do.
When we moved from PV to Ajijic, we immediately felt welcomed. Our writer friend, Mikel Miller, who introduced us to the village, helped us meet many wonderful people who share the common appreciation of those who are fortunate to call Ajijic home. Now, a daily walk to the plaza, and a seat at the Jardin restaurant promises communion with friends – both those we know and those we will meet for the first time– but not the last. We are home.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com