Home Expat Blogs Folks Who Don’t Adapt Well to Living at Lake Chapala

Folks Who Don’t Adapt Well to Living at Lake Chapala

Castellanos street in Ajijic
Credit: AlejandroLinaresGarcia | Wikimedia Commons

If there’s a single personality trait that marks folks who don’t adapt well to living at Lake Chapala, it’s probably the latent (or overt) need to change and control. It’s an interesting phenomenon. People move here because they are enchanted with the old-world charm of the area. But by the time they’re settled, they are trying to organize committees, studies, groups, and programs to change almost everything—with assurances of inspections according to OSHA standards.

One early warning sign is a constant refrain outlining the problems of the area in sentences beginning with “Why don’t they,” as in ” “Why don’t they clean up the trash?” or ” “Why don’t they mow the roadsides?”

I sometimes think these folks would be thrilled if the villages were leveled and rebuilt to look like those “genuine, old-style” resort areas north of the border. With Disneyland and Dollywood as patterns, these 400-year-old towns could become bougainvillea-draped old mission-style enclaves. False adobe-like building facades would hide a series of malls, senior centers and discount chain stores.

Imagine…it would look like romantic old Mexico on the outside, but behind the façade would be gringolandia, complete with garbage disposals and trash compactors.

If the litany of foreigner discontent was distilled into the top 10 newcomer complaints, the most frequent complaint for changing Mexico to suit visitors would certainly be: “Why don’t they pave these cobblestone streets?”

Of course, our area’s cobblestone streets weren’t installed for the health benefits detailed in an Oregon Research Institute study a few years back.

The study monitored healthy older subjects who walked 30 minutes a day on China’s ancient rounded river rock paths. In four months, they showed measurable improvements in balance and mobility, and significantly lower blood pressure. The study was interesting, but far more fascinating was the response of expats who thought this was the only positive aspect of Mexico’s cobblestone streets.

Here is a typical “late-night style” top 10 list of the positive aspects of cobblestone streets:

10. There is an unending supply of cobblestones. Due to ancient volcanoes, the earth is full of perfect cobblestones.

9. Cobblestone paving is inexpensive, only a hammer and sand are required for installation.

8. When a street needs repair, the stones are removed, stacked on the sidewalk and then replaced

7. Cobblestones slow water rushing downhill toward the lake during heavy rains. On level streets, water soaks into the soil between the rocks.

6. No petroleum products are used and when the street is replaced, there is no used asphalt to dump, which taints the soil.

5. Cobblestones automatically slow traffic, reducing the number and severity of accidents.

4. Unlike streets paved with asphalt, cobblestones don’t break up or develop potholes from heavy rain.

3. Cobblestones are not slick when wet.

2. Cobblestone streets keep property taxes low. Tied for the #1 best reason to leave cobblestone streets in place at Lakeside are:

1. They work.

1. It’s not about us.


  1. Great article and great list! As I have lived in downtown Puerto Vallarta for nearly 29 years AND on a cobblestone street, I may need to keep this handy!!

  2. Thank you for this post. However, I think you are maybe being a little unfair to both Mexicans and gringos in asserting only two extremes. There is certainly a middle ground between unkempt streets with no maintenance of greenery and rampant trash, and the artificiality of Disney or Las Vegas. There are many places in the world that fall into that moderate zone without losing their charm or historicity.

    Here in Mérida we also have serious trash problems, not to mention the ubiquitous deferred maintenance. But there are many Mexicans who themselves are appalled at the unconscionable littering that happens and who have initiated efforts to improve the situation; it isn’t just gringos. As for the deferred maintenance, one learns that it is largely the result of the harsh climate here and it is possible to see beyond it. Cobblestone streets are one of the reasons (along with the many hills and the altitude issues) why we did not move to the central highlands of Mexico, beautiful as they are, and as much as we like to visit there. For the sake of our knees and lungs, it just was not a good fit.

    Mexico has SO many options, but each comes with pluses and minuses. Here in Yucatán we have blistering sun and heat, but we have so many other things that compensate, and there are ways to design one’s life to accommodate the climate. Many people just don’t do adequate research before jumping into a move!

  3. I can’t agree with Keith more. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to clean up the streets of garbage and dog feces. Some change is good, especially those changes that add to the beauty and safety of a place.

    I was lucky enough to spend some time in Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende this last spring. Both places have their own charm. But there was a stark difference… The garbage situation is so much worse in Lake Chapala. You walk along that beautiful lake and the shores are littered with garbage. You have to dodge the piles of dog poop as you walk along the streets. It takes away from the beauty, and is really so unnecessary.

    It got me to thinking of our own situation here in the States and the anti-litter campaign that started in the 60s. It just takes some consciousness raising, and it’s a good thing. So, while I do believe that if you are going to live in a country you need to accept, and even rejoice in, the cultural norms of that country, it’s also OK to want to improve the area that you live in. As Keith said, I’m sure there are many local residents who would love a more clean environment. Just my two cents!

    • Elise,
      Thank you for your honest “two cents”. My husband and I are in the process of moving to the beautiful country of Mexico and my research is hours a day of heartfelt concern to make sure I honor the culture and at the same time honor the things important to us.

      My husband lived in Costa Rica for 5 years ( owning a small resort) and coming back to the states in 2005 and is more familiar with different cultures than I am.

      I was always taught that no matter your economic situation, the importance of keeping your environment clean. Not that I would impose my beliefs on the culture, but how can I give up something so important. It takes very little effort and while I would never expect anyone else to clean and pick up, I’m sure I may do just that. Is that wrong?

      Thanks for your reply, I honestly want to hear from you.

      From Atlanta, Georgia USA.
      T. Walsh

  4. Love Chapala and other parts of Mexico where I have been Depending on what day you visit the beach or Chapala or any part of Mexico it can be trashy. I really appreciate a youtube on a Japanese-Mexican who is like one of the leading producers of beach toys etc. in Mexico. He encourages Mexico to keep their beauty and strength but add picking up garbage as a self respect thing. In Japan he says you stop and pick up a scrap of paper because you see it. And a wallet left in the middle of town at noon will be there when the day is over because if it is not yours it is somebody’s. Honesty and cleanliness aren’t prevelant in much of Mexico, especially from the state my husband comes from. I quoted this Mexican/Japanese because his YouTube is in Spanish…then I realized many of you may understand Spanish. I can’t remember his name but if you want it I will look for it. Melisa McFie de lua facebook Chapala’s cobblestone is great for all the above reason the author states and it gives you a real work out. Have lived there up the hill for a month at a time and it gives you a real workout balancing and walking back up.

  5. It’s no that bad, and its not constant. I just came back from a 5 weeks in Ajjic and did not even notice.

  6. Hello Judy – I read your book and tried emailing Mr Grieve about the map that Bill Douglas made. However I didn’t get a reply. Can you help me get a copy?


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