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Another day in Paradise (Lake Chapala)

During our early days of adventure

 

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The pretty patio in front of the club house was a perfect place for an impromptu party

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The fishing pier is the main place of activity in Chapala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Everywhere the flowers were so colourful and lush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Santa used to visit the park each Christmas morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fishing boats and touring boats dot the lake at the pier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the many bake fund raisers we had at PAL's

 

 


The months (1986-'93) we spent in Lago de Chapala were some of our most enjoyable RV adventures.  PAL Campground has changed over the years.  Many permanent casitas (RV style houses) occupy places that were RV sites during the early days. However Lake Chapala continues to be a wonderful fascinating place.  It is also home for many Canadians and Americans who enjoy the fantastic y3ear round perfect climate. 

                       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. 

NOTE: Many Mexican RV park listings in International directories are frequently very outdated. Campground change, some close, but quite often the listings remain as they were years ago. However several updated publications listing campgrounds are in print. The most current one is Travelers Guide to Mexican Camping by Mike and Terri Church. (see our RV WebLink page for order information).

                  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 25th.  What 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 appreciated.  

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                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.  

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                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 awesome edifice.

                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 stall.

                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 regular intervals.

                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.  

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                As in most communities, Chapala has it's share of  festivals.  Remember 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.

                Don't 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.  

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                 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.

Side 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.

 

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