Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big Mexico: Ajijic and Lake Chapala

Note to future self: Just because you've been in a place a couple of times, don't think for a second that you know what you're doing there.

Guadalajara, 3:00am, arrived at the bus station with at least 2 hours to wait until buses started running. I was told the only place to catch a bus to Ajijic and Lake Chapala is the old bus station. Oh, I know that place. It's where I caught the bus to Patzcuaro a couple of years ago, and where I came back to fly out. I know that old bus station! It's just a hop away from Tlaquepaque. 

I was told the buses to the old bus station would say Central Viejo, but after waiting for an hour outside in the dark watching bus after bus pass, I hopped on one that said Tlaquepaque. I knew I could take a taxi from there and get to the bus station in a few minutes.....piece of cake. 


The bus driver told me to get off the bus in the middle of some dark street that didn't look at all familiar. That way....he pointed.....the Zocalo. Really? With my suitcase on wheels, and two other bags stacked on top, I rolled off down the bumpy street in the early dark. The streets were deserted, not even roosters crowing. A few windows were lit but mostly it was just really really dark. Since nobody was around, it wasn't particularly scary, but still......

At the end of the long street I saw a familiar sight off to the right, the towers of the two churches. Sure enough the Zocalo was down that direction. A woman street-sweeper was there cleaning up the detritus from the usual Sunday night massive party. She told me to go to the taxi stand. Wow, I remembered where it was!! The taxi driver said it would be $100p to go to the old bus station. What? It was only $20p last time. He looked surprised. No, the bus station is a long ways he said. The old bus station is in the center of Guadalajara. The other is the NEW bus station, but not the BIG new bus station. Yes, that new one is close, the old one is far. 

So, to save myself time and pesos, I ended up spending more of both. 

I have no idea what the landscape from Guad to Lake Chapala looked like because I was asleep the minute the bus pulled out of the station, and didn't wake up till it pulled into Chapala. Still groggy I called my friend Mickey. She said "I have a problem. My house is full of drunks and I can't get my car out, somebody is parked behind me. You'll have to wait a few hours." No way was I hanging around any more bus stations.  I took a cab. 

There had been a party the night before and two guys stayed over rather than drive home. One was in the guest room's bed when I dropped off my bags. I thanked Mickey for the "bienvenidos present"!

Mickey's wonderful house!

Her place is really nice, a large patio/garden where she can also park the car inside the locked gate. A large avocado shades the car, but it's not a good idea to park under it, rock hard avocados occasionally decide to drop.

It's a furnished place, but tastefully decorated with a kitchen any cook would die for, a rare find in Mexico I've discovered, where cooking is an afterthought for home builders. She and I drank coffee and visited for a few hours till her other guests woke up. 

We drove into Chapala to look around. At the "beach" along the lake, vendors sell liquid refreshments. Mickey's boyfriend bought me a "Vampire", almost a quart of red fruity drink that he said had tequila in it. It tasted like it had about six different juices, but no tequila. It was hot so I drank a lot of it right away. After a few minutes, I couldn't figure out why my body kept listing off to one side. 

Lake Chapala in the evening

We stopped at their favorite lunch spot, a little place on the main road through town with outside seating, that specialized in tortas ahogadas, drowned sandwiches. She and I split a shredded beef torta and got a shrimp torta to go. Each of our halves came in their own metal bowl, drowning in a hot tomato-y soup, and served with a large spoon. It was fantastic. The soup was the perfect compliment to the meat and the bread soaked it up so it was easy to cut with a spoon. The next morning, we had the shrimp version for breakfast. Its sauce was totally different, but just as complimentary. Oh my. I can see why she loves living in Ajijic.

I have two friends, Brigitte and Bob, who have a winter home in San Cristobal, and one in Ajijic. Mickey had taken me to her hair dresser for one of the better cuts in my life, and it was only one block from the address Brigitte gave me. So the next morning, I hiked over to see their house and have some excellent coffee under the palapa next to the pool. And what a gorgeous place it is!! They purchased the house about twelve years ago and spent a lot of money remodeling, incorporating an open porch into a dining room, putting in the pool, planting (now large) shade trees, adding a couple of rooms, and completely replacing bathrooms and the kitchen. Brigitte is an avid patron of the arts. She commissioned a freestanding "pantry" with a mural on the front that, well, you have to see the picture to get the full force of it. 

Brigitte's painted pantry. So well done you don't see the knobs to the doors.

We spent some time discussing security issues in Ajijic and Chapala. Apparently the area is no longer the most idyllic paradise for ex-pats. All of their neighbors have been robbed when they were gone and have subsequently put in alarm systems. But in general it is a typical small town with some drug addiction and drug dealer problems. A teenager was recently murdered but no arrests have been made yet. And may not, as the prime suspects are known to be part of a cartel. Mexico really struggles with the side-effects of North America's passion for cocaine and marijuana. 

The Palapa and pool (and Frodo)

Mickey and I have a mutual friend who lives in Australia, we all went to high school together. Jill introduced both of us to one of her friends who lives in Chapala, Stephanie, who in turn invited us to a little party at her place. The house she and her husband purchased sat on barren land with a great view of the lake and mountains. When the house next door came up for sale, they bought it as well, then later on, more vacant land down hill. It developed into a ranchito, with barns, dogs, peacocks, and donkeys, a preserve for the local flora, and the most beautiful garden with orange trees, a pond, petrified wood benches, and a gazebo with a wet bar for entertaining. One of Stephanie's friends owns one of the four donkeys and told me the mask it was wearing was because of an allergy to grass that made it's eyes water. The mask looked like fine mosquito netting and fit around the donkey's face. (A donkey allergic to grass?) She also applies some kind of medicine to its haunches. I thought to myself, what a lucky donkey to be this lady's pet. I doubt if a Mexican farmer would worry if his donkey had watery eyes, he certainly wouldn't put medicine on its ass!!
This is a nasty little fruit, called the Bishop's Cajones.
Decoration only, totally useless.

The party was delightful. The cook was an award winning chile chef, and a well-known classical guitarist with a PhD in music, of Chinese decent, who teaches at a university in Canada. Most of the other guests had equally interesting pedigrees, and were in Chapala for the annual music festival. We had a great time, and I wish there had been more opportunity to visit and get to know Stephanie. 

Typical street in Ajijic in the early morning

The pool!

Brigitte's living room
Brigitte in her kitchen

Mickey's wonderful outdoor living room

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