Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lake Chapala Society - Heart of the expat community

LCS is the heart--and nerve center--of  the Lake Chapala expat community.  As new arrivals in Ajijic, one of the very first steps Carole and I took was to join the Lake Chapala Society. Known locally as the LCS, this volunteer organization provides almost innumerable activities and services to both the expat and Mexican  communities.

Twenty-one English-speaking Lakeside residents  got together in 1955 to found the LCS as a "social, cultural, and benevolent society."  Almost 60 years later, the 3000+ member LCS is still fulfilling these purposes, and doing a great job in our opinion.  Membership  dues are relatively modest, considering the facilities and services offered. A single annual membership is $50.00 (US) and couples pay $80.00. There are other rates for short-timers and families of more than two.

English-language library is heavily patronized.  Access to English-language books, magazines, and other publications is very important to the expat community.  Composed mostly of Americans  and Canadians, the community also includes many Europeans fluent in English.  The LCS library now contains over 25,000 books and is organized along the lines of a north-of-the-border public library.  Set up in 1955, the library is now computerized and networked, so that a member can locate a book at a terminal, and volunteers can track those which are out.  One benefit of living in a large expat community is the very broad and deep set of available skills, including those of retired professional librarians who have organized and run the LCS library over the years.  Many members contribute books, some of them quite new, that they bring down  from up north. Other books are purchased with LCS funds.

Got your book? Here's a cool, quiet place to enjoy it.  Carole and I enjoy dropping into the LCS on sunny mornings (which means just about any day) to sit in one of the several patio areas.  This patio is one of our favorite spots where we can seek solitude or beckon passing friends to spend a little time socializing.

Fishpond forms a quiet centerpiece in one of the LCS's busiest areas.  Surrounded by the coffee bar, the library, the office, and various other activities, this lovely fishpond lends a quiet, cool counterpoint to all the activities.  Water Lilies such as the one above are native to various areas of Mexico.

Rosa "holds the fort" at the coffee bar.  Although Rosa speaks some English, I always urge her to speak to me in Spanish because I need the practice.  She seems glad to oblige, and always has a smile for me.  The coffee bar concession is run by the Secret Garden Restaurant and Bakery, located near the Ajijic Plaza. Peter, the owner of Secret Garden, makes sure that the LCS coffee bar is well stocked with fresh baked cookies, muffins, and other pastries suitable for dunking in the excellent coffee served.  With a good book, a cuppa "joe" and a banana muffin, we are all set to enjoy an hour or two at our favorite patio table. 

Lake god oversees the coffee bar area. A mural by Jose Francisco Rojas Miramontes titled "El fiel amigo de toda vida" (The faithful, long life friend) graces the wall behind the coffee bar. The mural extends several feet on either side of the picture above, and celebrates the role the Lake plays in life around its shores.  The artist is part of a family of artists who grew up in the period when the art community began blossoming in Ajijic.  LCS has long played a key role in the Mexican community, by offering free art classes to local children, as well as free training in English and computer skills for adults, and providing a Spanish language library to the community.  LCS also supports various non-profit community organizations including those for battered women and children, orphanages, the Mexican Red Cross, and has raised many thousands of dollars in goods and cash to help when local disasters have occured.   

Swimming through the greenery.  Seeming to swim through underwater vegetation, this metal fish sculpture is one of many small treasures one discovers while venturing into the winding green passages of the large and colorful LCS gardens.

Video rental library is also quite extensive.  Both VHS and DVD are available to rent and several thousand are contained  in this English-language rental library.  Rental fees are modest, about 70 cents (US) for VHS and about $1.00 (US) for DVD.  Since there is a constant traffic of expats between Lakeside and the US and Canada, recently released movies are often available soon after then hit video stores up north. A staff of dedicated volunteers makes sure that the video rental office runs smoothly.

Stone monk broods in cool leafy glade.  I always enjoy a simple wander through the garden paths, never knowing what new treasure I will happen upon. 

The LCS bulletin board is information central.  Members list apartments for rent, houses for sale, services and goods offered and sought, impending events in the community, and much more at the main bulletin board next to the library.  This is probably the single best source of reasonably priced rental property in the area.  Carole and I found our current rental home on this board.  A stop to peruse the board is a regular habit of ours.  Across from the board is an information booth staffed by volunteers which provides another key source. 

Rrrrribbbittt!  Many strange and wonderful critters can be found lurking about the paths through the gardens.  Wildly colorful ceramics such as this can be found in various parts of Mexico, especially Guanajuato whose inhabitants  are jokingly known as las Ranas (the frogs).

A spot for quiet contemplation.  Facing a cool green lawn, and shaded by a thick jungle canopy, this wrought-iron bench can easily seduce a garden wanderer into stopping  for a few minutes and sometimes more.

Another fish pond greets those who pass to the south side of the gardens. The southern portion of the facility contains various areas used for meetings, clubs, and classes. The fish pond in this area is a favorite of children who visit LCS since it teems with fish which seem equally curious about the visitors. Something about quiet bodies of water seems to calm the mind and soothe the spirit.

A face in the foliage.  I was attracted and charmed by the vignette formed by this bust set amongst the foliage at the base of a  large tree. This is one of my favorite photos of the garden because I think it captures my feelings about the place.

Gazebo serves multiple functions. Some of the activities held in this open air gazebo, or kiosco as the Mexicans would call it, include Spanish classes, line dancing, and philosophical seminars. The LCS official history mentions some sort of controversy about the decision to build the gazebo, but that seems long past and these days the structure is used and appreciated by all.

Ideal for cards, chess, or whatever.  This area, under the shade of a tiled porch, attracts morning coffee drinkers and board game players.  The tables, the tops of which are surfaced by beautiful and unique mosaic work, were donated by individual members to the LCS.

Still another odd creature peers out of the jungle garden.  A further example of the vivid ceramic work one finds all over the area.  

Stairway to heaven.  This wrought iron stairway leads upward to...nothing.  Just another example of the whimsical humor expressed by local artists. It does provide a great place for the local climbing plants to cling.

Wrought iron rabbit darts through the garden plants.  The artist caught the frantic movement of this metal rabbit as it flees an imaginary predator

A tribute to the Lake.  Local Mexican artist Jesus Lopez Vega painted this wonderful mural on the wall just outside the entrance of the LCS on the street leading to the Lake. Lopez Vega often uses animals and ancient symbols to illustrate his work.  The small objects under the turtle figure are clay vessels often found on the Lake shore when the water  is low. In ancient times they were used to collect blood from body piercings, along with other sacred substances. The vessels were then thrown into the Lake as an offering to the gods.  When I visited his studio, Lopez Vega allowed me to handle some of the vessels he had collected. Holding these delicate 500+ year-old objects in my hand gave me a feeling of connection to those ancient times.

Fish whirl and swirl under the surface of an LCS fish pond.  The fish live in their own little world, parallel to ours, but not really connected.  Looking up at us through the wavering surface of the water above them, they may wonder at the odd spectacle unfolding above.

This completes my posting on the Lake Chapala Society.  If you visit Ajijic, it would really be worth a visit even just to sip a cup of coffee beside a fishpond and enjoy the sun as it lifts the chill off another beautiful morning.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Jim,
    Since moving here five years ago, I have been a regular volunteer in the office of LCS. Therefore, I was familiar with all of your photos, but you gave me a totally new appreciation of the history behind many of the wonderful artifacts which grace our grounds.
    Thanks so much for all the positive comments on this wonderful organization which is truly one of a kind.
    Jane

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  2. Hey Jim,

    I love the blog...you're photos are really great. It would be great to see you as a member of our new community at www.insidemex.com. The magazine has just launched it's brand new website, and you may be interested to see what we write about, as well as join our community.

    I do hope things keep goig well for you in Lake Chapala,

    Regards,

    Simon Burgess
    www.insidemex.com

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  3. Jim, your lovely pictures reminded me of my visit to LCS a few years ago. I'm aching to go back.

    Vikki

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  4. Hi Jim. I have a family of four (12 year daughter / 9 year old son) wishing to come there first time from Feb.20 - Aug.15 or May 15 - Aug.15. What is the best way to go about finding a place to rent or even house sit that is not too expensive? Can a person put a Looking for Apartment or Home Sit ad on the society board? My email address is Job910@hotmail.com
    Thanks for any suggestions you have,
    Richard

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  5. Thank you Jim and Carole for your lovely photos and words of this area.
    A friend just moved into his deceased mother's home and told me he joined the Lake Chapala Society and I was so surprised to find so much information.
    Now I have a good idea of the Society and the area.
    Rainbows and Lakes,
    Artist Suzanne

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  6. Jim,
    My wife and I are seriously considering early retirement to Lake Chapala. We would like to visit in Dec. 2012 or Jan.2013 for a week or so. Two referrals please....a reasonable accomodation near activities, food and the lake AND a short visit with someone that can advise on the different permanent living communities that have lake views and access. Hope to hear back from you soon. Thank you for your kind response......geoffbrown41@yahoo.com Geoff Brown

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  7. Jim,I am a recent widow and wish to leave the rat race behind and retire now at age 62. Will I find new friends my age in Ajijic? Thanks, francophile1952@gmail.com

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If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim