Love at First Sight - Marilyn and Peter Miller Discover the Real Mexico

Spring 2011 CSANews Issue 78  |  Posted date : May 06, 2011.Back to list

When you hear the word "Mexico," what comes to mind? White sand and crashing surf? Palm trees swaying in the wind? Mariachi bands? Drinks with colourful umbrellas in them? All of the above?

As charming as these images may be, there is another Mexico. One characterized by authentically friendly people, a plethora of recreational activities, fine "Goldilocks" weather (not too hot... not too cold) and a rich, engaging culture in which there is always something interesting around the next corner. This is the Mexico in which Marilyn Miller and her husband Peter spend their winters.

Specifically, you'll find the Millers in the picturesque town of Ajijic, about 45 minutes south of Guadalajara, along the shores of Lake Chapala. Just one of the many towns and villages located along the lake (collectively known as "Lakeshore" to English-speaking expats), Ajijic has become an increasingly popular destination for snowbirds over the past several years.

"We wanted a place where we could become part of the community and feel that we belonged," Marilyn Miller explains. "Where we could pursue our pastimes, meet people and learn about a new culture." Ajijic fit the bill perfectly. "It was love at first sight," Miller says. "Cobblestone streets, church bells, roosters crowing, flowers blooming, children playing. I could go on and on."

Fully 1,540 metres above sea level, the climate of Ajijic is considerably different from the country's tropical coasts. Daytime temperatures average about 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter, and rain – while not uncommon – primarily occurs in the evening or at night. Little wonder that the area is home to both snowbirds and "sunbirds," with pleasant temperatures and low humidity offering respite from both cold Canadian winters and hot, sticky American summers.

Despite the obvious attractions of the area, the Millers took their time in deciding to settle down in Ajijic. If anything, discovering the town was more a matter of luck than careful planning. "In 2002, I was on a leave of absence from my school district and a friend had recently inherited a small house in Ajijic," Miller reminisces. When her friend offered her use of the house for six weeks that winter, she and her husband jumped at the opportunity. After a winter spent exploring the area and its culture, meeting new people and taking Spanish lessons, the Millers knew that they were on to something. "We were reluctant to leave when our time was up," Miller says.

The next year, good fortune smiled on the Millers again; the same friend offered the house for another two months. "We were delighted," Miller says. "We drove down in late October and discovered that we still loved Ajijic." This time, though, the trip wasn't all about R&R: the Millers made time to go shopping for real estate. At the end of that sojourn, the couple bought a reasonably priced two-bedroom, two-bathroom house in a gated community within walking distance of the lake - the extra security gives the couple peace of mind, leaving the house unoccupied for six months of the year. The home's mirador (rooftop deck) offers a view of the lake, while the covered terrace in front of the house gives the Millers a place to sit back and watch the world go by.

It was a decision they have not come to regret. "Life in Mexico is amazing," Miller says. "The skies are blue, the air is clean and the stars bright. The Mexican people are warm, polite, helpful, hard working and seem to have a very positive outlook on life." As Miller explains, Ajijic's central location makes it a convenient home base for exploring the country. "There are many places around Lake Chapala that make for good day trips and many interesting and beautiful colonial cities within a few hours' drive that we have been exploring," she says. The town's Canadian Club also offers trips to different regions - Chiapas, Guatemala, Peru and Mexico City to name a few.

As Miller explains, Ajijic has small shops and boutiques that ensure most of life's necessities remain within easy reach. There are a number of well-qualified dentists, doctors, and other medical professionals who speak English fluently. A weekly tianguis (street market) offers fresh vegetables, seafood and handicrafts. "I love the tianguis," Miller admits.  "It's a place to bump into people, get caught up on local gossip, buy incredibly fresh produce and indulge my weekly winter habit - buying a very large bunch of flowers for less than $5.00."

Financially, being snowbirds has been a good move for the Millers. "We find where we live to be very affordable," Miller says. "Restaurants are reasonable and good. Household help - maids, gardeners, pool people, painters, plumbers, construction workers - are much, much less than in Canada and [they] do good work. Our standard of living is higher here and much cheaper.

That said, Miller believes being a snowbird is more of a personal journey than a financial one. "I think we have learned a lot about ourselves in the past few years," she muses. "We have a much deeper appreciation and respect of other cultures. We appreciate our health and the fact that we took the plunge and acted on our instincts. We've learned not to put things off."

Call it the best argument yet for being a snowbird.