A Redmond writer appears to have a sleeper hit on his hands.
Bill Dahl’s new book, “Lake Chapala: Beneath the Surface” has been the top new release in Amazon’s senior travel category since shortly after it was released in paperback and Kindle formats Jan. 21. The book, which warns about potential drawbacks of a popular Mexican retirement destination, has also been climbing the list of best sellers in the category, reaching No. 3 on Jan. 29.
“Of course, I was delightfully surprised,” said Dahl, 64. “And the really great thing is, I didn’t go to Mexico with the intention of writing a book.”
The book is the culmination of six months of work for Dahl, he said. It began when he went to the Lake Chapala area of the state of Jalisco with his wife, Jacki, in August 2018. Jacki, the college and career center coordinator at Redmond High, and Bill love other cultures and had spent hundreds of hours over two years looking at places to retire.
They were encouraged to check out Lake Chapala by Latino friends they knew from their time in Southern California, where they lived before moving to Redmond in 2006.
“They encouraged us to go down and explore that place, because there’s a ton of Americans and Canadians who already live there,” Bill Dahl said.
They stayed for two weeks and found the vegetation of the area, which features a high elevation and mild year-round climate, to be “hypnotic.”
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Dahl said.
A skeptical look
Dahl began writing about the area for what would become his 155-page book (including a bibliography) after that first visit, but his writing output would increase after a return visit.
While they loved the area on the first trip, Bill became more skeptical when he returned by himself in late October. He took part in a seminar with a 40-person group of people looking to retire from the United States, Canada and elsewhere. The conference let people know about issues like customs, healthcare and transportation that they would have to deal with should they move to Lake Chapala.
While there, Dahl said he noticed a couple things. No one was swimming in the lake, even though it was 78 degrees outside. And no one took part in other recreation, like water skiing or riding Jet Skis.
“I noticed Mexican fisherman spraying pesticides on the water lilies, which is an invasive species that inhabits the lake,” he said.
Also getting Dahl’s attention was a sign in his hotel warning guests not to drink the tap water, he said.
In addition, the prices for housing and restaurant food had increased in the few months since his last visit, which Dahl said is likely a result of the increasing number of retirees heading south.
He was also frustrated by poor internet and cell phone connectivity in the area.
“I couldn’t even take a picture on my phone and send it back to my wife here in Redmond,” Dahl said.
The observations were a contrast to the positive narrative Dahl had heard from others. It led him to interview dozens of people who either lived near Lake Chapala or had considered living there, as well as other experts like college professors, public health and environmental officials and advocacy groups.
The book’s message of government corruption and overwhelmed infrastructure appears to have hit a nerve with many, based on sales and the responses Dahl has received, he said.
“There’s a huge industry built around attracting United States and Canadian Baby Boomers to consider retiring in Mexico,” Dahl said. “On the internet, 95 percent of the content is all positive. There is very little public awareness about the issues that concerned me.”
The researchers Dahl talked to told him of public health hazards with the lake, which provides drinking water to a large area, as well as issues like a city being unable to afford electricity for its wastewater treatment plant, he said.
Sometimes to his wife’s consternation, Dahl was able to get the book turned around quickly by working on it for up to 14 hours a day for six months, he said.
Dahl said the book is not Mexico bashing.
“We adore Mexico,” he said. “We just couldn’t, based on the results of our research, consider the Lake Chapala area. There are health concerns, and there are challenges that ongoing exponential growth make even more complicated.”
As he wrote the book, Dahl would post the completed chapters on his website (the book portions were taken down after it was published). He said the response he received from those who saw it was overwhelming.
“I was getting 1,000 readers a day on my website reading the material,” he said. “It just went viral.”
Dahl hit a nerve with readers, he said. He’s heard from hundreds of people.
“Somebody was willing to do the heavy lifting and do the research into the unanswered questions that people considering that area have,” he said.
Among the responses Dahl received about his book was from Evan Ellis-Raymer, a North Carolina man who had been considering moving to Lake Chapala for two years. In a message to Dahl, Ellis-Raymer wrote that he recently overcame cancer, and he has concerns about how possible food contamination and external conditions in the area could impact him.
“Not only the health issues your book addresses, but the failed infrastructure and inability to rectify the many negative conditions easily,” he wrote. “We are taking a little more time to explore other areas. Your book is very timely and we appreciate it.”
Jim Storm, a New York engineer, who, like Dahl, attended a “Focus on Mexico” seminar about Lake Chapala, wrote that he was “horrified” about what Dahl revealed.
“The problem is correctable, as Bill points out. However, my view is that more than government agencies and committees will be needed,” Storm wrote. “Taxation will need to increase to support the infrastructure improvements. And, if property owners think that they can pass these costs onto ex-pats then the story can only end in a decline of Lakeside.”
Others who live in the Lake Chapala area wrote Dahl about their concerns of the strained infrastructure and what they view as lack of planning for improvements.
A different view
Former Redmond resident Miles Hutchins, who moved in 2017 to an area on Lake Chapala between the municipalities of Chapala and Ajijic, admits that the wireless internet at his home is troublesome at times and that he had to buy a water purifier so they don’t have to boil water to drink. He, unlike many residents, doesn’t have to put used toilet paper in the waste basket because he has a large enough septic tank. And the cobblestone streets can get dusty.
But Lake Chapala does have its advantages, Hutchins told the Spokesman via email after he was contacted on the subject.
“My perception is that U.S. wants less government, but more services,” wrote Hutchins, who writes a regular column for the Spokesman. “Similar here, at least for ex-pats. That is quite a conundrum both places! Has a bit to do with the aversion to paying taxes, I think. Speaking of which, property taxes here are about a tenth of what they are in Deschutes County. Electricity is pretty reliable and low cost. Several thousand U.S. and Canadian, and others, have retired here for many years. And be aware, this is inland and not a beach tourist spot. It is an integrated community that gets along pretty darn well.”
“Lake Chapala: Beneath the Surface” is not the first book written by Dahl, who retired after a career in financial services. In 2011, he penned “The Porpoise Diving Life: Picking Up Where Purpose Driven Peters Out — Reality for the Rest of Us,” a takeoff on the bestselling Christian book “The Purpose Driven Life” by pastor Rick Warren. Whereas Warren’s book takes the reader through 40 chapters on consecutive days, Dahl picks up at Day 41 and continues through Day 80.
“I enjoyed (Warren’s) book, but my life didn’t match up to that,” Dahl said.
That book led to Dahl being invited to speak at conventions and write for publication around the world, he said.
In 2013, Dahl published “Earth Interrupted,” a novel that was inspired by his black lab Reggie.
Reggie was also the inspiration for a children’s book he wrote and took the pictures for called “Reading with Reggie.”
Dahl has been working on his next book for two years, save for an interruption for the Lake Chapala project. Dahl said the book, which he hopes to release by the end of the year, is a cultural economics book that uses the 2008 Great Recession as its focus.
Dahl is able to self-publish his books using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
He also reviews pre-released books and manuscripts for New York publishers, proofreading and offering his own ideas before they are released.
Dahl has more than 600 books in the library of his Redmond home, each organized by subject.
As for where he will spend his retirement, Dahl is keeping his options open.
“My wife and I decided we’d like to spend some of our retirement years in other cultures and that includes Mexico,” he said. “It does not include the Lake Chapala area.”
— Reporter: 541-548-2186, firstname.lastname@example.org