Our latest adventure has brought us to central Mexico on the shores of Lake Chapala. This is Lori's first time to visit Mexico, and my second. I was here briefly as an exchange student in my teens. It's interesting to return and delve into the Mexican culture for a longer stay.
After a short 30 minute taxi ride ($26 w/tip) from the Guadalajara airport we disembarked in Ajijic. It's a beautiful lakeside town known for its artsy persona, lots of retired expats, and a myriad of international restaurants and activities to keep us busy.
As usual, we had previously booked a cheap little B&B right off the main plaza in the middle of town. For future reference, don't book near Plaza Ajijic during festival time, like we (unknowingly) did. The fireworks WILL keep you up at night.
The next day, we hit the ground running, looking for our next long term stay. Our criteria was that we needed a furnished one bedroom, one bath apartment that rented for under $400 per month. We also needed a month-to-month lease, rather than the usual six month or yearly lease that is the standard here. From what we researched we thought we would have a very difficult time finding someplace to meet these specifics. We knew we were arriving right in the beginning of high season, when all the Canadian and American snowbirds fly south for the winter. However, we remained hopeful as we began our search throughout town.
Tip: When looking for anything in a new town/country ask the locals! Every shop or restaurant we walked into we would smile, say hello in Spanish, and ask, "Do you know someone who is renting?" You would be very surprised at just how many people said "yes" or that they knew someone else who was willing to rent. If you choose to go to the local rental agencies or official real estate offices instead, you will probably pay "gringo" prices as well as an additional finder's fee.
We had a few leads from our initial inquiries and stopped by one recommended apartment building where we met an expat gentleman coming right out his front door. We asked him about his apartment and he invited us to come right on inside and have a look around! It was a nice place with a shared traditional Mexican courtyard for only $425 per month. It included WiFi, electricity, and water, but he had to purchase his own bottles of propane for the stove and his own drinking water as well. We took note of the apartment landlord's contact details and said we'd think about it. Then, the hunt continued.
Before arriving in Ajijic, we had put out some inquiries on a few Lake Chapala Facebook pages and got a response one morning from a local realtor named Carlos. He showed us a place that afternoon that was just too good for us to pass up. It was a traditional Mexican apartment, not a typical Western-style "gringo" villa that most expats choose. Those villas run at least twice the amount our self-imposed rental budget. Anyway, we preferred the idea of living more locally rather than being sequestered behind a gated community.
We really wanted to search for apartments in some of the other towns on the lake as well, but with it being the start of high season and places going at lightning speed, we didn't want to miss out altogether. We later found out that the place Carlos showed us hadn't been rented for over a year. Hmmmmm...we'd soon find out the reason for the long gap in renters.
We liked the place Carlos showed us immediately. Lori described it as "Mexican shabby chic", with the emphasis leaning slightly more toward shabby than chic. However, it was airy and the plethora of windows allowed in lots of sunlight and lake breezes. We also really loved the added bonus of having both mountain and lake views. It even came with a gardener! The final deciding factor was that the location was perfect, just a short walk away from the center of town, and near a bus stop if we needed to roam farther.
Upon closer inspection of the apartment, however, we soon discovered that there were a few things that needed attention before we could agree to sign off on a month's lease. The propane did not flow smoothly out of the stove like it would in the U.S. The flame was almost nonexistent, even on high, so boiling water or cooking took a bit longer. The cable TV was mostly in Spanish with only 5-6 English channels from which to choose and the channels with NFL games were snowy looking. And as of this writing, the internet is STILL in question. We need a whole new cable installed that will run from the apartment out to the street. Let's hope that this gets resolved sooner rather than later. We keep asking our landlord daily about the internet and every day he cheerfully says, "Oh sure! They will fix it today." We've heard this for two weeks straight now. New culture, new time table, we're guessing?
Our little apartment is in a local Mexican neighborhood, but overall we still feel pretty safe. There's a locked gate at the front of the apartments that only residents have access to. So far, there have been no problems (other than the roosters and dogs next door waking us up at 3 a.m.) but one always must remain vigilant when traveling anywhere in the world. We don't venture out on foot late at night and we don't carry lots of cash or wear flashy jewelry. I know we'll never "blend in" like the locals, but we also don't invite ourselves to be easy targets.
Our apartment was priced at $350 per month and that includes electricity, water, cable TV, WiFi, gardener, and propane. The only thing we have to pay for is our bottled drinking water, which costs us only $1 per five gallon bottle each week. Our landlord also agreed to our month-to-month lease stipulation, which is a rarity in Mexico.
We have now moved into our little place and have happily made it our temporary home. See the picture gallery below for a grand tour of our tiny abode.
Click on pictures below for captions and a larger image.