Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic:

The Insider’s Guide to the Northshore for International Travelers

By Teresa Kendrick

Review by Carl Franz
Printed in the Guadalajara Reporter

After decades of neglect, major publishers have finally begun to include titles on Mexico and Latin America in their guidebook catalogs. We’ll call this long overdue attention the “good news”. The not-so-good news is that the fierce competition between publishers to create new and more profitable guidebook series doesn’t necessarily benefit readers and travelers.

In their rush to stake out new guidebook territory, editors are often forced to cut corners and look for shortcuts. As a result, many popular guidebooks, especially those from a series, are based on the work of under-paid, work-for-hire writers. Stingy advances seldom cover actual travel costs, increasing the pressure on the writer/researcher to move quickly through their assigned territory. In this hurried, “drive-by” approach to guidebook production, previous knowledge of the country and language are not necessarily required.

A good example of this is the unsettling compliment my own book on Mexico received from a young, newly published guidebook author. In describing the preparations for her first-ever trip south of the border, she confided that she’d left the U.S. equipped with nothing but “a contract, a bus ticket, and a copy of “The People’s Guide To Mexico”. Another series-writer privately complained that his publisher unexpectedly switched his assignment from a popular Caribbean island to a book on New England! In addition to working on a low budget and to a very tight deadline, this author was truly a ‘stranger in a strange land’. He’d never before stepped foot in New England.

Fortunately, alternatives to mass-produced guidebooks can still be found from smaller presses and independent, self-published authors. Favorites from my own library include “Outdoors In Western Mexico” by John and Susy Pint, “Mexico City” by Andrew Coe, “A Handbook of Mexican Roadside Flora”, “Oaxaca Crafts and Sightseeing”, “Western Mexico” by Tony Burton, and many titles from Editorial Minutiae Mexicana. Though some have lost the struggle to stay in print, the quality of their author’s research and writing insures that these books retain lasting value to serious aficionados of Mexico.

Now, a small press in Ajijic has released an ambitious new guidebook to Chapala’s popular “Lakeside” that describes the region with the kind of care and attention to detail that larger-scale guidebooks simply can’t provide. “Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic: The Insider’s Guide to the Northshore for International Travelers” is quite a mouthful, but then so is this book. With contributions from experts in anthropology, natural history, language and culture, author and Ajijic resident Teresa Kendrick presents a description of Lake Chapala and its popular tourist and retirement communities that is broad in scope yet also quite detailed.

The book opens with an excellent regional overview by Dale Hoyt Palfrey and Tony Burton. This chapter gives the reader a thorough yet concise description of the region’s geography, aquatic life, ecological zones, and unusually benevolent climate. Plant lovers will appreciate a discussion of garden and mountain flora, accompanied by attractive thumbnail photographs.

In “How To Be A Good Visitor”, Carol Wheeler Esparza and others explain some of the finer, vital points of local cultural etiquette. In spite of its large “gringo” population, Lakeside is still thoroughly Mexican in character and customs. The authors rightfully emphasize the importance of paying respect to cultural differences, rather than simply grinding your teeth at them.

The book’s practical nature is evident in explanations of how to ride a local bus and hail a cab, how to use a Telmex phone booth, and what you can expect (and not expect) in terms of hotel accommodations and restaurant service. Can’t speak the language yet? A mini-Spanish primer offers everyday phrases and important, “need to know” vocabulary.

Further chapters describe Accommodations, Rentals and Real Estate, Food and Drink, Sightseeing, Sports and Fitness, and Getting Around. There’s a Calendar of Events, directions to hiking trails and hot springs, lists of radio and TV stations, video rental shops, and places of worship.

Ajijic is a well-known haven for artists, and Teresa Kendrick’s own background in design is apparent in the book’s expert coverage of popular art, galleries, boutiques, and artisan studios. If you’ve got restless out-of-town guests who are dying to “shop until you drop”, just open the book to Teresa’s shopping map and turn them loose. Her suggestions for where to find baskets, blown glass, ceramics, leather, paper, silver and other traditional artesania will keep everyone happy for days.

As you explore the pages of “Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic” it becomes obvious that Kendrick’s considerable “local knowledge”, and that of her contributors, gives this book an unusual degree of authority. (Open virtually any other guidebook on Mexico and you’ll be lucky to find more than a few pages — or paragraphs — devoted to the Chapala area.) In fact, there’s so much information here for both residents and short-term visitors, that I second another reviewer’s suggestion that you’ll need two copies of this book: one to keep in the car, the other for the use of guests or beside the telephone at home.

Lakeshore residents will find that beyond the book’s value as a guidebook, “Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic” is also an easily browsed directory of community organizations, businesses and phone numbers. Whether you’re looking for the name of that amazing purple tree, directions to the nearest bookstore, a dentist’s office, or a home pizza delivery, it’s all there, well-indexed and quickly accessible.

With over 200 professionally designed pages, numerous photographs, and a four color layout, “Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic” also breaks the “self-published” mold. From the the expertise of its authors to the quality of the paper and production, this remarkably comprehensive guidebook sets new standards for regional books on Mexico.

As a complement to their new guidebook, Mexico Travelers Information also publishes a four-color folding map of popular Lakeside communities. Adapted and enlarged from Tony Burton’s popular street map, the “Lake Chapala Maps” makes it easy to navigate among confusing street names and unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Teresa Kendrick’s coverage of Lake Chapala and Ajijic also extends to the internet: http://www.chapalaguide.com.