México… ish

And just like that, I’m in México – ish.

It had been a long day of flights. They began in Aruba, were paused in Panama City, Panama, where I immersed myself in the glory of urban Panamanian living for an evening at an Airbnb (I consider myself a local there now), and finalized in Guadalajara, where the plane bounced down irregularly without anyone else as noticeably concerned as I.

After a late-night taxi ride from Guadalajara to Ajijic that scared me more than the plane landing, I was hospitably greeted by my new B&B host and ushered into a comfy room that would be my home for an undetermined number of months past the first which I had pre-paid for. A fireplace, majestic wooden cupboards for my shorts and T-shirts, a pleasant, spacious desk for writing, and a pool and pool table in the courtyard outside. Yes. This will do nicely.

My first morning was spent navigating Ajijic’s cobblestone streets in search of a breakfast restaurant, without a cell phone for navigation. I quickly surmised that all these streets looked the same, but I would enjoy wandering them aimlessly without finding what I was seeking with great enthusiasm. Small dogs eyed me suspiciously as I passed, and sometimes passed a second time. Soon, my little friends, you will know me and smile as I pass, I thought to myself. Perhaps some doggy treats will expedite these relationships. Befriend the dogs in a neighborhood, and you will always be safe there. In truth, these are their streets, not ours.

After many blocks walked, circled back on repeatedly, and mentally noted for their specific amenities, I found myself in the center of the town. Multiple cafes encircled the centro that absorbs all newcomers and locals alike. Dogs played, children laughed, gringos practiced their Spanish (bless the patience of these restaurant staff); leatherworks, candy, jewelry and smiles were all sold by passing strangers as I took a seat at the empty table for ten I was going to sheepishly take for myself (there were no smaller tables).

The food arrived. I have been in thirteen countries in the last four years, and I can say without hesitation,  the average meal in a Mexican restaurant is leaps and bounds better than an average meal in any country I have been gracing (France is very, very close behind). Each mouthful has a flavor and an intention to please you just don’t find in an average restaurant elsewhere, certainly not in Canada, my origin country. Meals would now be a delight I will forever yearn for when my travels take me onwards.

By now, you’re probably wondering why I called this “México… ish.” This is not my first time in this proud nation. I have been wandering in and out of México since my youth. My usual haunts have been San José del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán, and Cancun, with a few forays deeper inland. The México I remember was crowded, full of a nonstop flow of drunken tourists bent on not remembering their two-week vacations, massive hotels that often threw me out when I told them “I just wanted to try your pool before booking here,” and a nonstop flow of goods and services being aggressively sold to me as I walked through the streets. This was not what I was seeing here in Ajijic. Could this actually be the México I was looking for all along? Of course it was.

For now, I will spend my time getting lost in your streets, Ajijic. I will befriend your dogs and annoy your wait staff as I practice my Spanish (gracias, amigos). I will look for the food the local Mexicans eat, chat with expats in the cafés, admire the glorious lake that grounds a town with its visual beauty, enthusiastically purchase leatherworks, candy, and other offerings from the local artisans, and I will promise not to tell my friends back in Canada where this gem of a real Mexican town can be found.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Michael Goodliffe
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