International Chili Cook-off was being held and rooms had been grabbed
up early, I suppose. (We went to the Cook-off a couple days later and
especially enjoyed the horses and showmanship of the Charro Society that
performed there. They were a group of local riders decked out in their
sombreros and ornate saddles and tack. They were joined by a ten year old
Canadian girl who proudly carried a Canadian flag on her horse.)
There are no
genuine hotels in Ajijic. There are bed and breakfasts, each with no more
than eight to ten rooms. I am glad that we did “get” to stay at Italo’s
though. Senior Italo is a very hospitable host, and if you like brandy
or rum in your morning coffee, he will fix you right up. I personally don’t,
but he kept offering. We got a good taste of local color. And, I got used
to the church bells the second night. They even seemed to help me sleep;
some of the best sleep I’ve had in years.
I met Senior Italo, two of his daughters and an older lady from the United
States who lived in the Hotel. I spoke to a group that appeared to be retirees
who had stayed there for the night. They were taking off on another leg
of their motorcycle tour of Mexico. They said they planned to ride about
a hundred miles before stopping for breakfast.
me how hungry I was. We got ready and found our way to the plaza, an ever-present
fixture of any Mexican village. (Oh, one word of advice while walking
around, especially in the mornings: watch where you step. The resident
dog population likes to leave little “surprises” on the sidewalks.)
It was a beautiful place, with palm trees, a nice pavilion in the middle,
lush, green grass, beautiful flowers, and oh, several dogs lying under
the trees as if they owned the place. There was an elderly gardener on
his knees, pruning some bushes and picking up small pieces of trash from
the ground. There was a sign there that said, in Spanish of course, that
it was a place for relaxation and reflection. It fit the bill perfectly.
was cool, and the air was brisk. I could fill my lungs a little more deeply
it than I could at home. Possibly I had to, to get my usual dose of oxygen.
At about five to six thousand feet elevation, the air was just a little
rarified. My sinuses were beginning to flare up a bit, and the skin on
my arms was feeling very dry.
I asked a couple
sitting on a park bench, who appeared to be English-speakers, where a good
place to eat was. They pointed about fifty feet away, and said, “That’s
a great place to eat.” I said “Thanks”, and we walked over and took
a seat. Most in restaurants and stores in Ajijic are generally open to
the sidewalk, meaning the entire front of the building opens up instead
of simply having doors. There is no need for air conditioning of any type,
so people there live an indoor-outdoor lifestyle.
was very good, by any standard. We ordered a fresh fruit plate, hotcakes
and a western omelette, along with fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit
juices, and chocolate milk, called “chocomilk” by the locals. The
hotcakes were perfect; fluffy, a little crispy but very tender. The omelette
was the absolute best I have ever had, and I’ve tried them before in five
star hotel dining rooms. They just couldn’t compare. The grapefruit juice
I had tasted so sweet and wonderful. I could tell it had been squeezed
just seconds before I drank it.
all this going on about the restaurant, for the life of me I can’t remember
its name. We ate virtually every meal there for a week. I can tell you
this though: It is on the south side of the plaza (the south side is
toward the lake). The prices were unbelievably low. Breakfast for three,
not skimping on anything, was less than ten U.S. dollars. Lunch and dinner
were just as good, with dishes ranging from hamburgers, Aztec soup, enchiladas
and tacos to roasted chicken, rice and beans. The shrimp was also very
fresh and good, especially the “camarones diablados.”
the rest of Ajijic. It is easy to walk around town, but watch your step
in the cobble stone streets. They are made of round rocks that look like
a type of river rock. The streets are very old, and I suppose they require
no real maintenance. There are sidewalks throughout town, and on the carreteria,
or main highway, there are even bicycle lanes alongside the highway for
toward the lake, which is only about four-blocks from the plaza, there
are many real estate offices, art galleries, convenience stores etc. At
the edge of the lake is a public park with a large fire pit and grills
which are used by the local residents on the weekends for picnics. There
is a somewhat foul odor at the edge of the lake, owing mostly to the fact
that water plants have almost taken over the lake, and it is somewhat swampy
there. I read in a local newspaper that the Mexican government is starting
a major project to get rid of the plants. The view is incredible though.
Looking across the lake you will see the large volcanic mountain on the
southern side. The outlines of crops on the farmland can also be seen.
At night village lights dot the horizon across the lake.
About ten miles
west of Ajijic is the Town of San Juan Cosala. A real estate agent who
I spoke with pronounced it San Juan coleslaw, but I’m sure that’s not correct.
It’s about a seventy cent bus ride on a comfortable, clean, Mercedes Benz
bus, there are hot springs, or “aguas termals”. There are several
public swimming pools and spas there. We went to the Balneareo Hotel.
It cost about ten dollars for adults and five dollars for children to get
in for the day. Inside there was a huge pool, which was filled several
times a day with the hot spring water. There were water slides, and a diving
board. There was also a hot spring spa with ”Fresh” thermal water which
was about one hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit. There are several snack
bars scattered around, and private, locked changing rooms to store your
valuables in while you swim. We had a great time there, with the exception
of the sunburn my son and I unknowingly acquired. The air was cool in comparison
to the water, so be careful, and wear sun block, if you are a fair complected
gringo like me.
San Juan Cosala
is not much of a town, just a few hotels, some of them abandoned, along
the highway. The people at the balneareo, or swimming area, were almost
all Mexican. They were happy and friendly. Their ages ranged for one to
one hundred, and the centurions were playing just as actively as the children
in the warm mineral water. Maybe it was the fountain of youth.
A little farther
down the road from San Juan Cosala is the town of Jocotepec. This is a
rather large town with a truly unadulterated Mexican feel to it. Very few
foreigners could be seen there. The people seemed friendly. Children who
had just gotten out of school were riding scooters and ATVs through the
streets. There were many, many shops with what appeared to be good prices.
I was told that a lot of the expatriates go to Jocotepec for their weekly
shopping, as the prices are much better there for necessities. I checked
the price of a clean hotel. It was twenty dollars per day. The plaza
in Jocotepec, “Joco” as locals call it, was huge and very beautiful.
It had a botanical garden feel to it. I love Mexican plazas. They are the
place where everyone goes to meet one another or rest form walking around
town. Dates between young people usually take place there in the evenings,
so the whole village can chaperone.
If you are
interested in Real estate in the Lake Chapala area, forget what you may
have heard about cheap houses or land. I did a bit of research, visiting
almost every realtor in town. While very nice homes are somewhat more reasonably
priced than their north-of-the-border counterparts, the average home is
not inexpensive. The average two bedroom home in a mixed nationality neighborhood
was in the low one hundred thousands. There is also virtually no financing
available on homes. Renting, on the other hand is fairly reasonable. One
can rent a nice two bedroom home in Ajijic, near the plaza and within an
easy walk to all the necessities, for about $450.00 a month. You can rent
a 4 bedroom home with tennis courts, swimming pool, gardens servant /guest
quarters etc for $1,500.00 dollars per month. That’s an actual current
listing of a home that would sell for well over a million dollars if located
in the United States. So, if renting, you can live a much more luxuriant
lifestyle in the Chapala area than you could for the same amount of money
almost anywhere in the U.S. Household servants and gardeners work for about
one-dollar per hour. There are drawbacks though, such as litter along the
roadsides between communities, and the fact that the public water supply
is not potable or drinkable. It is very easy though to get into the habit
of drinking only bottled water, and many of the homes and businesses have
their own water treatment systems..
Ajijic, and LA Floresta were my two favorite areas if I had to pick a place
to live in the Chapala area. They are some the most expensive places around
the lake, but if you go there, you will see why. They are the most desirable
places as well.
have fears of crime in Mexico. If you go, I think those fears will quickly
dissolve. The town of Ajijic had a 1950’s air to it. Children walked, ran
and rode bicycles through the plazas and along the sidewalks. I heard only
one police siren during our weeklong stay. Try that in any United States
town. People walked everywhere and were extremely polite. When we rode
the public bus, every single child told the bus driver “muchas gracias”
or thank you upon exiting the bus. My children said that it seemed like
a Mexican version of a “Leave it to Beaver” town. It wasn’t quite… but
I would say
that almost half of the cars in Ajijic were from somewhere north of Mexico.
There were many U.S. license plates, along with quite a few from Ontario
and Quebec, Canada. My fears of driving down were somewhat abated after
seeing all of those who had obviously made it down without being car-jacked.
There is a
Lake Chapala Society, which we visited. It is located about a block from
the lake. It is run by some expatriates from the United States, who maintain
a beautiful, large botanical garden. There is also a loaner library, where
books and videos can be checked out. There is a bulletin board that’s handy
for looking for houses to rent, furniture to buy, pets that need homes
etc. They also have many daily activities going on, and a bustle of activity
throughout the day. When we were visiting, a scrabble tournament was about
to start, and I believe art lessons were being taught. The Lake Chapala
Society would be a great place to go if you feel homesick, for many “Norte
Americanos” congregated there. There was also a Canadian citizens’
center along the main highway in Ajijic.
found many reasons for wanting to return to Lake Chapala. The weather was
absolutely perfect, with the exception of the dry air that I wasn’t quite
used to. Temperatures were in the seventies during the day and the upper
fifties at night, just cold enough to need a blanket before morning. We
were there during February, which is in the dry season. The wet or rainy
season comes in early summer. During summer, plants grow and bloom like
crazy, and the mosquitoes are a little worse. They weren’t a problem at
all during our trip. There were a few “no-see-ums” biting, but not
enough to be bothersome.
Our time in
Ajijic ended way too soon. Although we spent many hours exploring (I
walked off about ten pounds), there were still many places to see,
stones left unturned and adventures left undone. As we met our very prompt
taxi early in the morning on the day of our departure, I knew I would want
to return someday soon. I almost wanted to just stay. If you are an optimistic
person who can tolerate a little adventure, perfect weather, friendly people,
and immersion in a different culture where time moves slower and people
are happier, then Lake Chapala may be a place you’d like to visit. You
might even want to stay, too.
J. Shawn Howard Click Here