Neighbors are Neighbors, Even in Paradise

My wife and I live in one of the most beautiful and temperate spots on the planet right now. As I write, birds whistle and warble back and forth to each other in the lush woods surrounding our tidy little rental in the lakeside town of Ajijic, on the Central Mexican Plateau. Those woods bloomed recently in billows of purple, red, and yellow blossoms, through which I can see, down below the main road and the lower section of the village, Lake Chapala and the gently sloped mountains on the other shore, spread out from horizon to horizon. The air is clear, and the sunlight bathing the scene seems to come from the air itself rather than from a star millions of miles away.

We know most of our neighbors up here on our street at least casually, even though we’ve only been here a few months. We walk almost everywhere we go in the village, and the neighbors are always out. The kids kick footballs and play cowboys up and down the cobblestones at all times of the day. On one side of us, the old lady next door spends most of the day sunning on her front stoop. On the other side, a young man spends most of the day applying putty and paint to cars he’s repairing.

Three tiendas—little grocery stores—are within a block or two, with more neighbors constantly coming and going. Twice a day the nearby school lets out, and the streets fill with children in uniforms and back packs full of books, rulers, pencils.

And several times a week, usually at night, one of our neighbors, somewhere in the several blocks surrounding us, burns trash.

I have no idea why…we get daily trash pickup in our neighborhood, and they will take anything you put out. Why anyone in our neighborhood would have to, or want to, burn their trash is a mystery to me. But when they do, my sinuses swell and my throat constricts and, because this mostly happens at night, my sleep is ruined.

Paradise is lost.

Well, I take that back. Paradise is not lost, because there is no such thing as unalloyed Paradise. In the real world, there is always a fly in the ointment, always a bit of sand in the butter, always mosquitos on the beach, always someone burning trash at midnight. That’s the nature of life.

The trick is to live in a place that fairly compensates you for the inevitable pokes and pricks and prods and bites. Because truly, there are some places on the planet where the beauty, the affordability, and the friendliness of the people can make the unavoidable annoyances of life so much easier to take.

For example, the fact that my wife and I can dine, and dine very well, in almost any restaurant in Ajijic for less than it costs us to cook at home compensates for a lot. It’s that affordable here. The near-perfect weather itself is fair compensation for a little midnight smokiness…this part of Mexico has one of the most temperate year-around climates on the planet…which again adds to the affordability, since we need neither heating nor air conditioning.

Ajijic’s lakeside malecón (promenade) is a place where families can stroll, picnic, and play in the sunshine while watching the fishing and tour boats go by. Look up “idyllic” in the dictionary, and there should be a picture next to it of families enjoying Ajijic’s lakefront esplanade on Sunday afternoon. You can forgive quite a bit for surroundings like that.

I don’t know exactly who my trash-burning neighbor is, but it’s likely that he or she greets me every time we pass on the cobblestone street. Our neighbors are without exception some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. You can’t pass anyone on the street here and not receive a cheery “Hola, buenos dias.” The sheer politeness is amazing.

Ajijic is one of those places where the benefits so vastly outweigh the annoyances that it seems petty and niggling even to mention them. My wife and I have been incredibly fortunate to live in and visit dozens of places like this over the years, and to live in one now.

When the rental we’re in right now is up, we may move to a different neighborhood away from my mysterious trash burning neighbor. But if we do or don’t, we will still be living in one of the most enjoyable places on earth. And it will be the smoke at midnight—or something much like it—that will remind us to be thankful.

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Comment (1)

  1. Hi Dan! We used to have that problem a lot here in Managua, Nicaragua too. Moving wouldn’t have helped much as it happened in all neighborhoods. A few years ago the government banned trash burning and penalized it with a fine. Since then, it’s much much better.

    You still see and smell the odd fire, but a lot less.

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