Another day in Paradise (Lake Chapala)
During our early days of adventure
The pretty patio in front of the club house was a perfect place for an impromptu party
The fishing pier is the main place of activity in Chapala
Everywhere the flowers were so colourful and lush.
Santa used to visit the park each Christmas morning.
Fishing boats and touring boats dot the lake at the pier.
One of the many bake fund raisers we had at PAL's
John and I were so new to the RV lifestyle when we ventured into Mexico. We knew little but didnít care, this was our trip of a lifetime. Every day one more exciting adventure surfaced. Our military training taught us the need to plan for every possibility. As a result we knew exact details of our route south and stops planned along the way. Once we decided to winter in Mexico, we studied each page of the North American campground directories for places to camp.
When we saw
the advertisement for PAL Trailer Park in Lake Chapala with satellite TV
on site we knew we had to be there for the Super Bowl was looming on the
a great choice of stopping spot, the outstanding climate was perfect for
a patio party to end all parties.
Some good usually surfaces at each destination; without the lure
of seeing the Super Bowl in Mexico we may never have stumbled on one of
this most beautiful piece of paradise called Lake Chapala (Lago de
Chapala). We fell in love with this metropolis and for the next seven
years we returned again and again to enjoy her hospitality. The park
nestled across from a tiny village of San Antonio and a little yellow or
red bus transported residents and visitors alike to the nearby old
community of Ajijic (A-hee-heek) in one direction and to the picturesque
cosmopolitan lakeside city of Lake Chapala in the other.
We had no tow car that trip so this bus service was much
John and I were completely taken back with the numerous flowers,
especially the Bougainvillea, growing everywhere. Our visit was shortly
after Christmas and numerous huge five-foot high plants of giant
Poinsettia blossoms were still in bloom.
The day we arrived in Chapala we took a wrong turn (not an
uncommon occurrence in Mexico) and drove under an incredible canopy of
trees covering the highway towards Ajijic. In every nook and corner of
this entire area the plant life was so lush and such intense green. We
were intrigued and amazed at what we saw during our 10-day tour en route
to Chapala, but this area captivated us like few others. The incredible
vista with the mountains on one side and the lake on the other left us
speechless. Although nights were cool for sleeping, warm sunny days with
a clear dry climate made us realize why one author titled his book about
Chapala, "Paradise Found". Eighteen years later and we still
remember the thrill of that first extended stop at PAL Trailer Park, the
beauty we found on that trip remains as perfect today.
PAL Trailer Park in itself was equally extraordinary. The 106
grassy, tiered sites complete with cement patios separated by large
trees, fruit trees, intense greenery and colourful floral bushes
provided everyone with privacy plus a picturesque view of the lake. The
unique clubhouse overlooking a large aesthetic pool/Bar-B-Q area under
the shade of the Guamuchil tree in the centre of the park was simply
inspirational. One more high point of this park is the washrooms were
spotless and always adorned with bouquets of fresh cut flowers.
The park had no regular schedule of events but over the winter we
celebrated with impromptu dances, sportsfests, dinners, games and so
much more. During our early stops Santa even came to visit on horseback
Christmas morning while we were decorating the clubhouse. In those days
the management provided the turkey, dressing and gravy while campers
contributed the meal. The
overall friendly camaraderie of all the Canadian and American RVers
provided such a wonderful atmosphere over the winter. Everyone was made
to feel welcome and encouraged to join in whether they were there for a
week or for the season.
Since we had no tow car that first trip, kind neighbours
volunteered to take us on a tour. These
RVers had been coming to Chapala for years and knew all the out of the
way places. We toured one
of several area golf courses, drove high on a cliff past some unusual
very costly residences with an unsurpassed lake view, visited several
other hideaways along the lake including their friends expansive villa
located behind a high wall. These German friends raised horses and had
also lived in Lake Chapala for years. Horseback riding along the lake or
in the mountains is a very popular pastime.
Our next stop was the Danza del Sol for lunch at poolside. This
hotel complex has an extremely unique design. Many residents live among
these sculptured gardens in opulent Mexican villas for
the entire winter. Our
friend was proud to say her son was the
architect of this unusual and
Last stop for that day was to view the lakeside pool and
recreation area of Hotel Real de Chapala. An equally impressive complex,
once again overflowing with a kaleidoscope of fragrant flowers. All this
flora beauty also attracted an abundance of butterflies and bird life
everywhere we went.
The next day we continued with a trip to the Libretad (free
market) in nearby Guadalajara (Guad), Now I have been to markets before
but never have I seen the likes of this one. I'm sure we perused
displays on at least five floors of covered but open air exhibits. This
place sold everything from fresh produce to a comprehensive meat market
including pig heads or chicken feet and then of course endless displays
of leather jackets, shoes,
purses, blankets, Mexican clothing, fabric, trinkets and, and, and.
There would never be enough time to see everything or to shop at every
This shopping trip
of Guad would not be complete without a
stop at one of the cities numerous expansive shopping malls and
at nearby Tonala for it's distinctive pottery. Most Chapala residents
visit one of these immense complex stores which stock a full supply of
clothing and lifestyle merchandise (similar to a Walmart Supercentre) at
Our friends tweaked our interest to shopping in Mexico and they
told us where all the local markets were. For instance most villages
hold regular one day markets. Everything from decadent ripe fresh fruits
and vegetables are for sale as is a range of items from hardware to
clothing to household items to limited craft items. Mexican villages
don't have a local KMart so the weekly one day market fills this void.
Chapala's market day is on Monday, Ajijic's day is Wednesday and
Jocotopec (20 Km west) hosts a mega mercado (market) on Thursday.
Tlaquepaque (T-lac-a-pack-i) near Guadalajara also has an immense market
on Wednesday and on Sunday. This one includes numerous crafts and it's
so large you probably won't cover it all in one day. Many glass blowing
masters open their shop doors in Tlaquepaque so tourists can watch the
experts at work.
If you are looking for more than market merchandise don't miss an
afternoon shop at Ajijic's out of the ordinary boutiques.
They sell unusual one of a kind items which make very attractive
gifts,. One shop even weaves the fabrics before they make their clothes
and yes, the fabric is also for sale.
Lake Chapala's downtown has a divided boulevard leading to an
expansive pier at the lake. A vast array of fishing boats adds to this
peaceful vista. Vendors
gather to display their wares here and in the nearby Mercado de
Artesanias (artistic market). Occasionally these vendors make their way
into the campground selling baskets and blankets which adds to the
flavour of Mexico.
As in most communities, Chapala has it's share of
no matter what the occasion, tourists are welcome to take part or to
just be a spectator. If volunteering is your thing, most festivals need
lots of help either 'hands on' during the festival or by participating
in fund raising projects. For instance, the ladies at PAL's hold a
co-operative bakeout in the park clubhouse to make goodies to sell at
the Annual International Chili Contest.
There are a number of similar opportunities to become involved
within the community.
The Little Chapel By The Lake (non denominational church) also
has a barrage of volunteer spots for their many undertakings.
One project John and I felt was especially worthwhile was
sponsoring a student to provide assistance so they could attend
University. Our student, Maria, graduated with a degree in Computer
Math. She and her family became very special friends during our winter
visits. Our association with Maria helped us learn Spanish and
understand some of Mexico's traditions. The trip John and I planned for
November 03 is no longer a reality. Guess we will have to wait to
to touch base with Maria and her family.
feel by wintering in Chapala you must give up something, this city has
every type of service available to it's residents and if by chance
something is missing Guadalajara is only down the road. Staying in touch
by phone has become much easier and less expensive too. A new style of
pay phones are located throughout Mexico. Some accept Visa, Master Card
and American Express as payment but all honour telephone calling cards.
Calling cards are the most popular way RVers pay for phone calls - about
50 cents a minute. Calls paid for at a 'long distance office'
will be much more costly, similar to an operator assisted call in the
USA and Canada. To reach an English speaking operator at AT&T
dial 95-800-462-4240, at MCI dial 95-800-674-7000 or at Canada
Direct dial 95-800-010-1990. Calls still aren't cheap but they are less
expensive if you use these numbers to call collect or by calling card.
Entertainment is on going in Chapala with monthly live
theratre performances in the Theatre behind the trailer park. Art shows,
Beer Gardens Mariachi Music and Folkloric Dancers help satisfy the
artistic nature of Chapala's visitors and locals alike. One more plus to
this region, a mountain range separates it from the smog of Guadalajara,
Mexico's second largest city. When the wind blows, the unclean air of
Guad passes over Chapala and dissipates further away. According to
Mexico's repeat RV visitors, the beauty we found on that first trip is
still as perfect today.
Bar to this story
Lake Chapala is in the centre of Mexico just south of Guadalajara. It's within two easy days drive from Texas and a bit longer from California and Arizona. Driving time is only 4-6 hours from Mexico City or from the coastal cities of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta. PAL Trailer Park phone #011-52-376-60040 or 011-52-376-61447. Don't wait, this is the time to explore a bit of paradise.