After a quick two-and-a-half-hour flight, we breeze through customs in Guadalajara headed to Ajijic (AH-HEE-heek). I visited in late Spring but this time I have husband in tow. This is new territory…different from the touristy coastal areas of our past. I’ve not shared much about my trip. I’m curious to hear his thoughts on the area called Lakeside.
The Not So Scenic Drive
Glancing at my husband, I recognize a look of disbelief and shock. I wore the same expression two months earlier. So I know what is going through his mind…I also know what waits at the end of the 35 minute ride.
There’s nothing scenic about the drive. Scattered trash everywhere…broken down cars with their patient owners…wandering dogs scamper across four lanes of traffic. Numerous white crosses dot the median. Drivers navigate as if their lives depended on it. A free for all.
I ask, “What do you think?”
He quietly replies, “It’s not what I was expecting…at all.”
The road narrows to one lane each direction as we climb 5000 feet in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Dotted on the side of the road are beautifully maintained shrines and more white crosses. The lake will make its debut in a few minutes.
Turning left onto a side street, Jacaranda trees provide an enormous blooming canopy. Purple…everywhere. Pulling up to the Hotel Real de Chapala, my husband says, “This is incredible. Look at the view.”
Lake Chapala—The Magic Starts Here
The largest freshwater lake in Mexico…49 miles long,12 miles wide, lies nestled in a mountain valley. Small municipalities with their own characteristics dot the north shore of the lake. These former fishing villages share one characteristic…a divine climate. National Geographic calls it a “near perfect climate.”
With an average temperature of 75 degrees, April and May are the warmest months with the temperature rising to 90 degrees, cooling at night. The rainy season cools the temperature and turns the brown mountains to lush green. The breeze off the lake is very pleasant reminding me of Southern California.
Ajijic—A Very Young 487 Years Old
The Spaniards conquered and named Ajijic in 1531 although indigenous people lived in this area prior to the conquest. Their presence is still visible today in the colorful street art, festivals, and markets.
The Walk into Downtown Ajijic – The Village
The residential area, La Floresta, houses our hotel. Here you’ll find wide cobblestone boulevards, spacious sidewalks, and tall shady trees. The well-kept yards are filled with an abundance of colorful shrubs and flowers. The scent of jasmine fills the air.
Strolling along, I tell my husband, “The sidewalks are spacious here, but this changes the closer we get to town. At one point the sidewalk is nonexistent and we’ll be walking in the street. The cobblestones are uneven so watch your step.”
We pass a spacious, tree lined median, where cowboys tend their horses while waiting for customers. The price…a bargain at $4US an hour. We could ride into town and along the shoreline with a guide. While tempting, we continue our walk.
Massive, colorful, bougainvillea bushes spill over the fences forcing us off the sidewalk. We pass houses painted in colors not usually seen in the US. If you can imagine it, there’s a house that color…fuchsia, lavender, lime green. Reaching the main street, the lake lies left, the Carretera (Highway) right. We turn left with no discussion.
As we walk toward the lake, our taste buds are assaulted by delicious aromas wafting from open restaurant doors. I know the perfect place for lunch but first the lake.
The Malecon is an important part of Mexican life. Families and couples enjoy a leisurely stroll…at all hours. Benches for relaxing and interesting sculptures are scattered along the walkway. We stop to watch skateboarders perform tricks in the local skateboard park. They smile and wave when they see us stop. Walking a bit farther, hunger pangs loudly announce lunch time.
Lunch in Paradise – The Peacock Garden
Ajijic offers any type of cuisine imaginable…from the best Persian food I have tasted (a food truck) to authentic German…and everything in between. With such glorious weather, dining outside suits us.
In the middle of the village on Calle Colon, you’ll find a quiet oasis in The Peacock Garden. From the outside you would never guess a lush garden of eden is beyond the small muraled entry. Flowering bushes are everywhere…banana trees stand guard along the property line…peacocks roam freely. A large shady tree shields our table from the sun. The setting…perfect, right down to the sound of bubbling water from the stone fountains.
An Impressive Menu – Something for Everyone
The Peacock Garden has an impressive menu. Enchiladas with rice and a beer for my husband, a Monte Cristo sandwich and white wine for me.
Chatting we nibble on freshly made tortilla chips with salsa. I regret nibbling when our plates arrive. My sandwich was presented beautifully with sliced papaya on the side. Light, cooked to perfection, savory and sweet. My husband was surprised at the size of his dish. It was easily enough for two people. I had a bite, it was flavorful with the right amount of heat. We passed on dessert. The price for lunch including beverages was approximately $15US. A bargain.
The Plaza—The Heart of The Village
Long considered the heart of any Mexican town, you’ll find the plaza used as a meeting place, a spot to sit and people watch, and the site of village festivities. The plaza is stunning and busy. Couples dance to music provided by oudspeakers. Children run up the stairs of the ornate grandstand to get a better look at the hanging chandelier. They laugh and scatter when spotted. Restaurants and small shops flank the picture-perfect plaza.
The Wednesday Tianguis
If you are in town on Wednesday, take time to visit the tianguis (street) market which is frequented by locals and visitors. Located on Calle Revolution, you’ll see that cobblestones were removed and the center of the street was paved, making your shopping experience easier.
If you need fresh fish or chicken, this is your place. A pack of batteries…fresh fruit…a machete, you’ll find it here.
There is fierce competition between the food vendors and the aromas of their creations. Many vendors have tables under trees allowing you to sit and enjoy your meal.
Markets are family affairs. Children shyly attempted english with us while rearranging displays. They rewarded my inadequate Spanish with smiles and thumbs up. The tianguis starts 7-8am…rain or shine, ending in the early afternoon.
The Little Church
There are two historic churches in Ajijic. My favorite sits across from the plaza—The Little Church. Made of stone with a stone and iron fence, its age mirrors Ajijic. I asked a gentleman if services are still held there. He replied, “Yes, every Sunday. It is not a fancy church, but it is a church with heart.” Simple beauty.
A Friendly Village with Heart
After spending a week in Ajijic, my husband had a change of heart. You can’t judge a book by its cover or in this case…the ride from the airport.
The author Clifton Fadiman once said, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” The exception could be Ajijic.
The view of Ajijic was through rose tinted glasses. Ajijic, Chapala, San Antonio, San Juan Cosala….in fact the whole north shore has lost itself to Americans and Canadians who have destroyed the original Mexican charm. You might as well live in a suburb of Dallas….the weather is wonderful, the cost of living relatively low, but this isn’t Mexico anymore.