I get a fair amount of mail asking what Mexico is really like, some of it worried about the drug wars. The wars exist, though so far with little effect on the expats here. I don't downplay the narcotraficantes, especially along the frontier, in Sinaloa, and the Sierra Madre. Murders are creeping in around Lake Chapala, though not murders of expats. As long as Americans want drugs and Mommy Washington doesn't want Americans to have them, the problem will probably continue. The drawbacks of living next to a voracious drug market with a school-marmish government are manifold. The only hope for Mexico is that the cartels will divide up the territory and live amicably. Until then, things will be iffy here. The following I hope will give an idea of other aspects of Mexico.
It is important to understand that there are at least two distinct Mexicos. In the primitive areas, largely meaning the mountains and canyons to the north, you find dirt floors, outdoor plumbing, low literacy, lots of cuernos de chivo – "goat horns," or AK 47s – and very real oppression of women. Don't go there. The book to read to understand this Mexico is God's Middle Finger. Then there is the Mexico of Guadalahjara, for example, sophisticated, often lovely, run-down, with first-rate bookstores and restaurants and agreeable people. You can get mugged in Guad, but the likelihood is less by far than in Washington.
Our region is the north shore of Lake Chapala, maybe forty-five minutes south of Guad. The principal towns from east to west are Chapala, Ajijic, and Jocotepec. Chapala is a small city really, delightful with a pretty waterfront; Ajijic is Mexico by Disney, and Joco, an actual Mexican town still. Ten years ago it was a quiet region with one stoplight. Now it is jammed with traffic, malls are everywhere, roads are badly inadequate, and huge tracts of ticky-tacky ugly-box housing spring up like poison mushrooms. It is no longer a place to come to on purpose. Most of the rest of Mexico is still Mexico.
Some links and stuff:
Web Board This is Chapala.com, a web board for gringos in the region of Lake Chapala. Bear in mind that it is run by a real-estate company, and censored for political correctness and anything that might not sell real estate. You can register and ask questions of local expats.
Then there are the multitudinous towns and small cities, Tapalpa, Mazamitla, Chapala, Ciudad Guzman, Merida. These have pretty plazas, gorgeous churches, and a thoroughly pleasant population. Vi and I wander these places without the least concern, and she knows the country since it is hers. I find the towns to be delightful. Mexican towns do not have the feel of having been stamped out by the dozen. Churches are all different since they weren't designed at corporate, and hotels tend to be equally distinctive and colorful. Mexico is not yet a mass consumerist society, though it is headed that way.
US Consulate, Guadalajara Rude, incompetent, generally useless, but perhaps suitable in a pinch. For what, I don't know.
Like American embassies and consulates everywhere, the consulate in Guad cowers behind bars and rentaguards and is terrified of practically everything. You can't take lipstick inside, for example, though to be truthful, I've never wanted to. The employees do not seem to like veterans and to have little in common with Mexicans. The ones I have met have been too white-wine-and-cheese for a country that is more Squirt-and-tequila. They are the whitest people imaginable in a brown country.