Desfiles -parades- in Mexican history, culture and life
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- Everyone loves a parade, and it seems that applies double to Mexico because there are so many of them. Actually many other countries have as many or more parades than Mexico and some have bigger parades, like the 12- kilometer-long Hanover Schützenfest that takes place in Hanover every year. But, if you live in Mexico it seems like there are parades for everything. There are, and there are reasons for that. Parades are embedded in Mexico’s history and Napoleon had something to do with it.
The first parade in the independent country of Mexico was on September 27, 1821 in front of Agustín de Iturbide and his Trigarante Army. That tradition continued as a way to celebrate Mexico’s freedom and strength, although years later Porfirio Díaz changed the date to what is now known as the Commemorative Military Parade on September 16, which was inaugurated in 1910 by a parade of 5000 soldiers marching to cheering crowds. Since then, military parades are held in Mexico City every year, some of which last approximately four to six hours and feature about 25 thousand people plus horses, military equipment and bands.
That first parade was modeled on the parades staged by Napoleon III, who believed that parades were the best propaganda tools at his disposal. He knew parades can be used to honor the living and the dead, show off the training of the troops, display the power of the civil and military authorities, intimidate foreign powers, and provide people with entertainment at the same time. This tradition has fixed parades in Mexican life but parades have spread far beyond historical dates and patriotic celebrations. Today even patriotic parades feature participation by schools, athletes, floats, charros, dancers, and unions and in many cases military groups are no longer included.
Today parades in Mexico celebrate religious holidays, civic holidays, and just plain occasions for fun. Religious-themed parades, especially the Passion of Christ, are major religious events, as is Carnavál, the Fat Tuesday blowout before the beginning of Lent.
One of the most celebrated and most colorful parades in Mexico is the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. Last year there were actually two parades, one on October 27 and the main parade on the Grand Day of the Parade, November 2, which drew 2 million people and 10 million TV viewers to see its giant puppets, dozens floats, costumed dancers and bands. The Grand Parade was so large last year – 6 kilometers long – that it was divided into four thematic segments which were linked together in a narrative called “A gift of songs and flowers from Mexico to the world.”
In towns and villages throughout Mexico, Easter Week is the scene of religious parades, or processions. Via Crucis is one of the most important procession throughout Mexico and takes place in Ajijic in the afternoon of Good Friday, winding through the town streets after the trial of Jesus in the atrium of Church San Andrés. On Palm Sunday, towns and villages cover streets with alfalfa or hay for huge Palm Sunday processions featuring hundreds or thousands of people carrying palm fronds, statues of Christ on a donkey hoisted on men’s shoulders, and priests, bishops and worshipers in robes. In Ajijic, Hidalgo Street is covered with fresh alfalfa from the church to Seís Esquinas for the Pam Sunday procession in the evening.
Locally in Lakeside, other religious processions include the Virgin of Zapopan in July in Chapala, the Day of the Charro parade in September, the feasts of the patronesses of the Lakeside towns in September and October which include Aztec dancer processions, the Feast of the Virgin of the Rosary in Ajijic in September, Revolution Day in November, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe in December, and other smaller parades and processions based in specific neighborhoods. There are also spontaneous or unofficial parades, especially around The Day of the Dead, like the Catrina Parade in Ajijic by local horsewomen.
An important aspect of the parades in Mexican life is that they are not events staged for tourists, although tourists often flock to them. But in reality, they have serious historical, political and religious meaning. Some are sponsored by businesses which have floats in the parades, but the objective is to commemorate an occasion or a saint or a hero, not to entertain visitors. However, they teach much to visitors about the history and priorities of the Mexican people and as such are a entertaining ways to learn about Mexican culture.
Ex-pat debate on the Cyclopista Project
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- I am a cyclist, or at least I was until I moved to Ajijic last year. I was in bike clubs in Northern and Southern California and rode 25 – 40 miles every weekend. We were always on paved roads, sometimes in Point Reyes National Seashore or Mount Tamalpais State Park, and often along the LA beaches. Fun rides, although the hills were pretty rough.
But not as rough as cobblestones. So, when the cyclopista project started I thought: “Great, something I had wanted in LA for years. Hooray for Chapala for getting ahead of the curve”. I should have remembered my three things to take to Mexico – patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor.
Before buying a new bike, I decided to get a sense of what the bicycling community and the general Ex-pat community think about the cyclopista project with a survey of online posts and informal conversations. The results are decidedly mixed. Many say it has depressed business, others say it is making the Carretera more dangerous. People complained about narrowed lanes and that there are now no breakdown lanes heading West. What will we do in case of an emergency on the West-bound lanes of the Carretera? At least two drivers have shown us – the went over the new concrete barriers.
One post referred to the small businesses along Hidalgo in Chapala, quoting an owner who has lost 80% of her business to the project. The impact of the combined paving and cyclopista project on the hospital in Ajijic has also been mentioned – is it open for emergencies? Can ambulances even get to it, people asked?
In general, many Ex-pats praise the administration for undertaking a significant improvement for bike safety and an effort to reduce traffic, but they also blame it for beginning the project without proper planning, consultation with the communities affected, and without a plan to alleviate the danger and impact on business during construction. They also fault the administration for not supervising the project so that mistakes -like tearing out improperly positioned concrete and the current mysterious jackhammering of the already smooth surface of the cyclopista in La Floresta– routinely happen. People also grumbled that street lights are not going in as the barriers are installed so drivers have to drive in the dark.
So, a lot of people are unhappy. Is anyone happy?
Well yes. Cyclists in general feel that providing a smooth, protected lane will and is already giving riders a break from the bike-oblivious driving all around us, not to mention the cobblestones. Many in the bike community worry though, that without enforcement of laws protecting them, the cyclopista will be a marginal safety improvement or a disaster waiting to happen, as one rider put it, because cars routinely cut across it, buses use it to stop, motorbikes and ATVs treat it like a race track. Others point out that if the cyclopista is actually finished and the safety problems ironed out, it should increase bike use in Lakeside and hopefully reduce car traffic on the Carretera. Most posts are not optimistic that the project will be completed as planned and that there will be any bike safety enforcement.
However, at least one Ex-pat cyclist is very happy to see the cyclopista and posted, “Kudos to the organization &/or persons responsible for the significant bike safety upgrade along the Cyclopista from its start just east of the Hole-in-one/Sunshine Restaurant and …. towards the Libermiento.” The post goes on to say that maybe the cyclopista can interrupt the free-drive- zone of people trying to turn right on to the Libramiento with other cars coming and going from Walmart and the parking lot. That would be an accomplishment!
So, the Ex-pat and some of the Mexican community is frustrated by the cyclopista project, skeptical that it will be completed as planned and that laws protecting cyclists will be enforced, but happy there is some political willingness to reduce traffic and increase safety. Whether or not the cyclopista will accomplish these goals is certainly being debated.
My Fair Lady opens this Friday at Lakeside Little Theater
Eliza Doolittle and the ensemble in My Fair Lady at the LLT.
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- Lerner and Lowe’s famed musical My Fair Lady opens Friday night, Feb. 21, 2020, at the Lakeside Little Theater and is already sold out. The run has been extended to March 4 to accommodate the demand for tickets.
Winner of Best Musical Award in 1957, it is a comedic romantic tale that illuminates class divisions in turn of the last century London and the cluelessness of the male ego. Directed by Dave McIntosh with music direction by Ann Swenson and choreography by Alexis Hoff and Mary Neill, it features a cast of three dozen dancers, singers and actors.
With sumptuous costumes and a set evocative of London in 1917, the LLT production stars Michala Swanson as Eliza Doolittle, Brian Fuqua as Henry Higgins, Rob Stupple as Alfred Doolittle, and Mark Heaton as Colonel Pickering. Presented with permission of Tams-Widmark, the production was generously underwritten by Jeff & Connie Pecsar. The Lakeside Little Theater is Mexico’s oldest English-language theater and has been in operation since 1965.
A self-sustaining, all-volunteer not-for-profit organization, it offers theatre arts to Lakeside residents at its recently renovated 122-seat facility in San Antonio Tlayacapan. Tickets available at the box office for the extended run as long as they last.
Renowned Mexican singer Jaramar in intimate house concert in Ajijic
Jaramar Soto created a magical night of 15 songs in a unique, intimate concert
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- The renowned Mexican singer Jaramar Soto made a surprise appearance in Ajijic Friday night, at an intimate concert organized by singer-songwriter Yanin Saavedra at her home. Supported by her long-time accompanists Luis Javier Ochoa on guitar and Alejandro Fernández Figueroa on violin, the Latin Grammy-winning Jaramar treated the audience in Saavedra’s living room to 15 stunning songs, mostly composed by her.
Clad in a simple black lace dress, she swayed, sang, smiled and mesmerized the people on folding chairs only feet away from her with a voice that everyone in Jalisco knows and loves. From the mischievous “Máquina” to the soulful “Echar el Ancla”, she filled the house with music usually heard in grand theaters in Guadalajara, Mexico City or Los Angeles. In between songs, she told stories of the songs, her life, art and her dreams.
Jaramar, born in Mexico City but now based in Guadalajara. Is a singer, dancer, composer and visual artist who has recorded 15 solo albums, among them El hilo invisible (with el Cuarteto Latinoamericano, for which she won the 2016 Latin Grammy for Best Classical Music Album.
Her visit to Ajijic is the result of her friendship with Saavedra and her continuing desire to develop new projects and touch new audiences. Yanin Saavedra and her partner, bassist Gilberto Rios, produces a continuing series of intimate concerts bringing artists from around Mexico in genres, ranging from electric dream pop to folk to classical. Jaramar earlier appeared on the Ajijic-based radio program Music Sin Fronteras.
This weekend is the Studio Annual Art Walk in Ajijic
Redacción. – Each February, the Art Society of Ajijic offers an opportunity for local artists and craftspeople to let the public see and buy their work in a unique two-day event. Over the past eight years this event has grown beyond Ajijic and now includes surrounding towns. This weekend the Ajijic Society of the Arts’ 9th Annual Studio Art Walk will visit over 30 locations throughout Lakeside and art walkers will have the opportunity to meet close to 100 artists in mixed media, oils, acrylics, photography, sculpture, jewelry, handicrafts and more.
Some artists in the Art Walk will be displaying their work in their own studios, while others will be hosted by other artists, art collectors in their homes, or business such as restaurants, with some locations featuring several artists. A full-color. 50-peso catalogue of the artists serves as the ticket to Art Walk. The catalogue also includes a map of the Art Walk locations and photos of art on display. The Art Walk takes place Saturday, Feb. 22 and Sunday Feb 23 and runs from 10 am to 4 pm each day.
Funds raised will go to support the Lake Chapala Society’s (LCS) Children’s Art Program founded in 1954 by Neill James. The Program has helped thousands of Mexican children explore their creative talents and has produced many well-known local artists and has helped position Ajijic as a center for art. The legacy of this program can be seen in the lives and paintings of its many famous graduates whose murals now adorn public buildings and beautify villages in the area.
ASA Art Walk Catalogues are available at the Lake Chapala Society, the Art Connection in Centro Laguna Mall, Superlake Market, Diane Pearl Colecciones, Ken Gosh Galleries and the LCS Café.
ARTIST OF THE WEEK
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- The former Director General de Actividades of the Secretaría de Cultura of Jalisco, Santiago Baeza has a broad knowledge of art in Mexico and other parts of the world and it’s interplay with government, society and economics. He is a renowned abstract artist whose works are shown in New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Guadalajara and other major cities.
His sculptures reflect the urban nature of abstract art-simple, minimalist, honest. They range from small table-top objects to installations large enough to stand in (he encourages it). They interweave empty space with strong shapes and undulating forms, sometimes leading the eye in circles, sometimes deeper into the piece and sometimes out of it to turn around and see it from a different perspective. Walking through his outdoor studio, strewn with his children’s toys as well as with sculptures in various stages of construction for a major show later this year, he tells how his role in the government and politics and culture of Mexico has contributed to his focus on abstract art. “I love abstract art because it liberates me from the politics –I make art for the people to enjoy. When I do art, I give the people the opportunity to get out of this sick society, to leave the political behind”, he says thinking about the role of art in Mexico. While his forms are abstract and flow from a history of abstract art in Mexico that pre-dates the Spanish, he prefers that the viewer has to bring a personal meaning to each piece. ”All art has to tell a story, but my case is different; I have always separated my politics and my art. When I am working on a piece of art, it is mine, but when I finish it, it doesn’t belong to me.” This spirit carries over to his emphasis on art that is for people, not government commissioned. “Artists have to live from the market, and not from the government”, he says. It also contributes to his disdain for titles on his art. “I hate putting titles to my art. It is very difficult – I don’t like to box people in… I want the piece and the people to have that liberty.”
People in Ajijic can follow Santiago Baeza on Facebook, to find out when his new show will go up in Guadalajara and other cities.
Artist of the Week: Rigoberto Navaro
Rigoberto can be found on most Sunday mornings in the Ajijic plaza with his sculptures for sale.
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- Rigoberto is a young sculptor from Ajijic who works mostly in volcanic stone from local quarries and with the cantera stone from other parts of Latin America. He likes volcanic and cantera stone because it is ideal for the highly detailed carving and cutting that characterizes his work and the fact that it lasts for centuries. It also exhibits different colors which he considers in his work. “Almost all of my rocks are volcanic and the minerals in them can change the color so I am always looking at the color of the rock” he says of his process.
His carvings focus on mythical animals and human-animal forms as well as abstract shapes that often incorporate Aztec and other indigenous designs. “Animals are part of my imagination as are the traditions of Mexico. I think about the history of Mexico when I work, and about the gods of the early people. I am still learning about the many Aztec gods,” he says of his fantasy shapes.
His family is one of the Charro/Charrería leaders in Ajijic, as his grandfather founded the Ajijic Bullring and his sister, Erika Robledo, trains future female riders at the Escaramuza Pedigogica Las Portranquita Ajijic. But he decided to take another path. “ I like art. I like the charro and charrería of my grandfather and father and family but I just liked different things,” he says. But he actually trained as an engineer before turning to sculpture.
He sometimes sees the final sculpture in the rock, but usually it reveals itself as he cleans and examines the stone. He often sketches out what he is planning and explores photographs of animals and gods and designs first. “I draw a picture of what I am going to do to get the proportions right. Unlike clay or painting, you cannot add back in when you do sculpture,” he explains.
Rigoberto can be found on most Sunday mornings in the Ajijic plaza with his sculptures for sale. He will take commissions, but he won’t accept payment in advance – if you like what he does, you can pay for it, if not you don’t have to buy it. He also sells his sculptures in local galleries and as part of art collective shows at La Cocherrá Cultúra in Ajijic, including the Sangre Viva art festival Jan 31, and at events like the Mexican National Chili Cookoff this year at the Tobolandia Water Park. He can be reached through his Facebook page or at email@example.com.
A magical night of music and dance at Ajijic’s La Cochera Cultural
Maria Jose Valdez at La Cocherra Cultura.
Patrick O’Heffernan (Ajijic).- This weekend, the La Cochera Cultural gave the people of Lakeside a magical night of dance, music, and laughter. The event was Flamenco! with dancer María José Valdés, singer Julio de la Isla and guitarist Carlos Iván de León, assembled by producer Emilia Gálvez, who also danced and played the cajón. Valdés was a special treat for the Ajijic audience because, despite being renowned throughout Mexico, it was her first time dancing in Lakeside.
The magic materialized almost immediately as Morelia-based Carlos Iván de León kicked off the first song on his guitar and the tapatio singer Julio de la Isla’s vocals sailed over the guitar riffs and throughout the center. His voice was mournful, although Gálvez said later that the lyrics are not always as sad they sound, but because of the singing style and the differences between Spain’s Spanish and “Mexicano” they can be hard to understand even for Spanish speakers.
Foto 2 Visiting dancers from Spain dancing in hiking boots at La Cocherra Cultural.
Gálvez joined in on the cajón, her hands and fingers weaving a subtle percussion fabric with the vocals and guitar notes. Then the dance began. María José Valdés virtually attacked the dance floor, her body and her feet speaking a powerful language of angular poses, sharp motions and explosive contact with the wood beneath her feet. Known for her performances at the “Bailadores del Mundo” during the Flamenco Summers of Love of God 2019, the Aguascalientes resident displayed a technical perfection and the emotional depth that stunned the crowd. She swung her movements around the anguished vocals and aggressive guitar riffs of Carlos and Julio while Gálvez created a percussion backdrop on the cajón that molded itself to Valdez’s movements.
But there was more magic to come, there were two young dancers visiting from Spain who were there just to watch and enjoy, but Gálvez coaxed them onstage, despite the fact that the male dancer was wearing hiking boots and the young woman street shoes Footwear aside, they wowed the crowd not only with their exuberant and technically superb baile, but with laughter at their situation of clomping on the dance floor in hiking books and loving it.
Then Gálvez and María José Valdés joined them and the four danced together and in pairs in an improvisational round. Afterwards Galvez told us that dancing together with no practice was natural. “Flamenco is all over the world”, she said, “but there are structures within it we all understand and we get to improvise in the spaces in between the structures”. The audience did their own improvisation by alternating between clapping in time and shooting videos on their phones. The night ended with bows, laughter and phones full of once-in-a lifetime images.
Private tequila tour offers a personal not found on the bus
Patrick O’Heffernan. Ajijic (JAL).- “Tequila Tour” to most Lakeside residents means catching a bus at LCS or the statue at Las Flores and joining a dozen or more people on the drive to Tequila, where you walk through part of a large distiller like Herradura or Sauza. You actually don’t do a lot of touring; no exploration of agave fields and no careful description of each step of the process while weaving through tanks and pipes and barrels. You may have an opportunity to ask a question or two but the tour is not designed for personal attention because, after all, you are with a group.
The highlight of the tour is usually the tasting room where you get sample cups of the distiller’s brands, often from very entertaining bartenders who will give you some of the finer points of each type of tequila you are sampling. You then spend an hour strolling through the tourist center of the town of Tequila, maybe having lunch at one of the large restaurants, and browsing the stores. You might go into the church at the smaller plaza or walk through the Tequila Museum across the street from the Cuervo distillery. By the time most people get back on the bus for the hour and half ride back to Lakeside they are very happy, slightly poorer and somewhat more acquainted with the national drink of Mexico.
Another way of understanding tequila and meeting the people who make it is not as well-known, but it offers a totally different experience – personal tours that work with the smaller distillers who produce a very limited amounts of the most premium quality tequila. These are brands that have been in a family for generations and that never comprise quality for quantity. Their tequilas are not usually available outside of Tequila or known to people who are not mavens of Tequila Matchmaker.com.
Some of the small premium distillery families have longstanding relationships with private tour guides who can bring up to four people at a time to the meet with the distillery owner or family members, tour the agave fields, carefully go through the small distillery, tasting the raw and aging tequila liquids at each step, and then retire to the tasting room for almost unlimited rounds of different tequilas, paired with fruit and chocolate.
On such tour, run by Magnificent tours of Chapala, took place this past Tuesday to the La Alborada distillery in Tequila. It was led by the founder of the touring company, Juan Pablo Chavez, who has conducted tours worldwide. Before offering Tequila tours several years ago, he researched over 50 distilleries to determine which ones he wanted to bring people to; he chose three, one of which was the La Alborada distillery. He built a relationship with the family and worked out times and procedures to bring groups of 2 to 4 people to meet with the with owner’s son at the agave fields and then to the distillery and tasting room.
The tour he developed and conducted Tuesday for two Lakeside residents and their two US-based guests began at 9:30 am and went by private car directly to the La Alborada agave field, after stops for photographs along the way. They were met by Juan Antonio Alvarez Rodriquez, son of the owner, who took them into the agave field. He explained how the each agave was planted and cared for, showing the roots and shoots of young plants. He explained the crop rotation system and the vegetables planted in the empty rows, and how plant material was composted in the tanks at the edgeof the field to create an organic pesticide that repelled the horned beetles can destroy an agave field. Antonio showed the group how the agave is harvested and the end product – the ”pineapple” – the root ball of the agave that is left when the leaves are trimmed off.
Antonio spent about an hour in the field with the two couples and then took them into the town of Tequila to the family’s small distillery where they were joined by another private tour group and taken on a detailed, stop by stop exploration of the distillation process, from the machine that crushed the pineapples, to the tanks containing fermenting liquids, to the aging barrels to the finishing barrels in the Cave. Antonio let everyone smell the fermenting liquids and at one point put drops in peoples hands so they could smell the agave flavors emerging.
After photos, selfies with Antonio and various pieces of equipment, the group walked across a small courtyard to the tasting room. Antonio and the other tour operator chose one of the tour group to work behind the bar with them, pouring and serving virtually unlimited samples of blanco, reposado, and anejo along with various flavored tequila syrups over ice. Glasses were raised between rounds in toasts to tequila, to Antonio, to the guest bartender.
Lunch followed at the Chulala restaurant, serenaded b y marachis, and an hour to explore the plaza, the gift shops and vendors, and the church. Before they left Tequila, JP took the group into the Tequila Mayor’s office to interpret the elaborate mural in the courtyard that depicts the history of Tequila. The ride back to Lakeside included a stop in Chapala where JP distributed small bottles of his own branded tequila.
There are a number of private tour operators who will assemble a custom tour for a small groups, and some of the family-owned premium distillers have relationships with more than one operator. The personal tours are more pricy than the large bus or van tours (but not the train), but guests report they are well worth it both in entertainment and in a deeper understanding of Mexico’s national drink.
Why renting and buying cost more in Lakeside
Photo: Patrick O’Heffernan
Patrick O’Heffernan. Ajijic (Jal).- A recent commenter on a local message board dedicated to housing prices posted that: “I have followed house prices in Ajijic for the last 6 years and in the last 2 years they have gone up 25 to 50 %.” This echoed statements from renters and homeowners who told us in random interviews that home prices and rents are skyrocketing in Ajijic. But the head of a major real estate agency that has been in Ajijic for almost two decades pointed out that home prices have risen about 20% in the past 10 years – less than 2% a year considering compounding.
So, what is the rent and housing situation in Lakeside? Laguna interviewed individuals, real estate brokers and a long-established property manager to find out. What we learned is that there is no question that housing costs are rising in Lakeside but that the reasons are complex . The increases differ in location and price range, they heavily impact the local Mexican population, and they are having some positive effects. Plus, they come after a steep fall in prices in 2008, making the recent increases seem more dramatic.
Marvin Golden of Lake Chapala Real Estate says prices may be leveling out now.
What we learned: Rentals
In 2015/ 2016 two-bedroom apartments in outer Ajijic that were priced at $500 a month are now $800, while one-and two-bedroom apartments in downtown Ajijic that used to be $700 are now being advertised at $900 to $1200 a month. The reasons for these rent increases go beyond simple supply and demand.
Veronica Martinez, who founded Roma property Management & Rentals in 2006, manages rentals from Jocotepec to Chapala with prices ranging from $200US per week to $2500US per month. She has seen the highs and lows over the years, but two years ago she noticed a sharply increased demand that was putting heavy pressure on rents.
“About two or two and half years ago I noticed many more people were looking for rentals to Ajijic causing rent prices to rise,” she said. “ This was happening because a lot of people did not like the political situation in America and because the boomers have stopped working and are coming to Mexico – a lot of them.” She adds that the mix of people is now much more international – it is not just snowbirds from Canada and retirees from the US; people come from Europe and Asia now.
Martinez and other rental agents point to online rental services like AB&B as a significant force in rising rents. Some agents estimate that 20%-40% of rental bookings are now done through online services, making booking easier for prospective renters and expanding the market beyond the USA, Canada and Guadalajara to the world. They also increase the number of people who are willing to pay higher rents, pushing up rents and prices even more.
The increased demand has impacted rentals through the entire price range, but most heavily in the mid-range. Mid-range homes are in high demand by retired couples with good pensions who are looking for a relaxed life with the money and time for travel. They often opt for nice mid-range homes instead of large high rent homes to have more money for travel. Lower cost homes and apartments often rent out on a weekly or even daily basis through on-line agencies, reducing long term supply for families.
Travis Ashby of Chapala Realators says price spiked in 2017.
Impacts on local Mexicans
Rent increases heavily affect the native population. “The local Mexicans are most impacted, of course,” says Martinez, “they cannot find good local options in Ajijic and San Antonio, so they have to move to Jocotepec or Chapala or even Ixtlahuacán,” Martinez said sadly, noting that local Mexicans no longer live in a separate friend-and family-based lower cost rental economy. “Local Mexicans who own homes now rent them out to make money from the demand and they prefer to rent to people from the US or Canada more than to locals who may not have the funds,” she says. This means that local Mexicans are competing with Americans, Canadians, Europeans ad Asians as well as the Tapatios who come here for the better schools, less traffic, and the weather.
“I have seen many friends have to move out from Ajijic to Chapala because they can’t afford the rents. Even some cleaning ladies can afford to buy land in Chapala but can’t rent in Ajijic. The new generation who lived with their families – mother, father grandfather, brothers or sisters – have to leave Ajijic to be able to afford a house for their new families,” she adds. Since many of these new generation Mexican families work in Ajijic and Lakeside, this increases commute times and worsens traffic.
Jobs and wages
There is one positive side to the increased demand. All of the agents we talked to agreed that the influx of ex-pats and Tapatios has created jobs in Ajijic and Lakeside and increased income for the locals. Part of the job increase is in construction of new homes and apartments, which is booming in Lakeside. However, while the agents we interviewed agreed that new building creates jobs in construction and then later in services – housekeepers, drivers, plumbers, electricians, gardeners – none thought it would lower rents because there is so much pent-up demand.
What we learned: Home prices
Three years ago you could buy a nice 2-bedroom house for $150 to $200,000; now it will be at least $50,000 over $200,000 and the inventory at that price point has been depleted . Prospective buyers we have talked to say they have seen drastic home price increases in Lakeside, especially in Ajijic, over the past two years, as is evident in the windows of every broker in Lakeside. But in the long term, the price increases have not been dramatic – 20% in the past decade, according to Marvin Golden at Lake Chapala Real Estate, whose agency has been in Ajijic since 2007.
But this relatively moderate long term price increase hides a more dynamic history – in 2008 the recession in the US and worldwide virtually stopped home sales in the US and in Ajijic. People houses were underwater, their investments tanked, and they were not selling homes in the US nor buying homes in Mexico. That led to a steep drop in prices and an explosion of inventory in Lakeside that lasted until 2015. Between 2015 and 2018 the healthy economy and wave of retirements NOB caused demand to skyrocket in lakeside, especially in Ajijic. During this period, home sales in the Ajijic office of Lake Chapala Real Estate quadrupled, inventories shrank and prices rose sharply. Buyers who were relying on depression prices suddenly found themselves in a whole new market with rising prices.
Veronica Martinez of Roma Property Management says high rents drive Mexican families out of Ajijict
Price increases are uneven and impact locals
Buyers have continued to stream into Lakeside as a result of pent-up demand, political uncertainty in the US, rising costs NOB, and the great weather and views. The demand is not just from NOB – Tapatios from Guadalajara are moving to Lakeside for better schools and weather and a trickle of Europeans and Asians. And high-speed internet like iLok allows people to live in Ajijic and work anywhere in the world.
As with rents, the price increases have been uneven, decreasing as you move away from Ajijic. “ What’s happened is that $150K to $250K used to be the sweet spot for home prices – you could get a two-bedroom house and quality features” said Golden, “ but that has gone up by $50K to $100K which is where the builders are building now.” He added that, “ In the last three years we have had a number of sales in $500K to $800K – before that we seldom saw sales over $500K.” Travis Ashby of Chapala Realtors noted that not only did political anger play a role in the wave of buyers in 2017, but skyrocketing health care costs in the US drove many people to look at Mexico and Ajijic.
Poor Mexicans are impacted because the prices increases now affect everyone, not just Ex-pats. Mexicans who own homes and want to cash out, can do so , but they have to move out of Ajijic to buy a new one, something many don’t want to do.
“There is a long tradition in Mexico of selling privately,” said Travis Ashby of Chapala Realtors. “There is a lot of word of mouth and selling to families. Mexicans have a different relationship to land and homes than in the US – they hold onto it more carefully .” He pointed out, however, that, “Mexican buyers who are higher educated are just as attuned to using the MLS and agents as people from the US.” Ashby noted that while Mexicans can often do private and interfamily sales, people from North of the border absolutely need an agent because laws, pricing, paperwork are much different here.
Chapala Realtors, where Ashby is based, has a somewhat different perspective on the real estate market in Lakeside. Although they have been open only a year, they cover virtually all of the lakeshore, although sales are predominantly in the Chapala Jocotepec corridor. There are many Mexican agents in the firm who deal with Mexican clients from Guadalajara and all over Mexico, giving them a slightly larger buyer population.
Competition from wealthy Guadalajarans and Mexicans from other parts of the country has become a factor in Lakeside, especially when they buy a second home for vacation or to rent out, taking a unit off the market. But according to Ashby, this competition is limited pretty much to the higher end homes and not to low priced homes bought and sold by locals. The result has been a slow movement of local Mexicans to Chapala or Jocotepec, mostly those who sell houses in Ajijic and buy and equal or larger house for less money in other areas.
Golden feels that Mexicans whose homes are worth $100k or less often operate in a friends and family market – they buy and sell homes through personal connections rather than competing in the larger market by listing publicly. Local Mexican homes over $100K, in his opinion have to go to the public listings to find buyers with cash since mortgages are expensive and difficult to obtain even for ex-pats.
People are still arriving in Ajijic who are misinformed about the housing market and are surprised at the rising prices. Golden rejects complaints that the real estate industry is overprices homes. “No, in fact newer houses with better materials and construction are available now at market prices. What is happening is that some agents overprice older homes with smaller rooms and lower ceilings, making them harder to sell, ”he said, adding that exchange rates have not been a significant factor, but can if it changes radically.
The building boom
Anyone who drives or walks around Ajijic and even San Antonio Tlayacapan or Chapala can see there is a building boom going one. While the construction adds to the housing inventory in the short term, mostly at the high end, its impacts are mixed. Construction delays, dirt piles, pressure on prices of materials and labor and overtaxing of infrastructure are current problems. Ashby pointed out that in there is also a long-term danger. “My fear is that when – not if – the economy slows down and the housing market goes upside down again, all the construction will stop and there will be unfinished buildings everywhere,” he said, “but since this is such a great place to live, demand will continue but not as much as the current pace of construction.”
The general consensus is that this won’t happen soon, that the demand will be steady, that the dramatic price and rental increases are moderating, but who knows what the future will bring, except rain, cohetes, and more traffic on the Carretera.