The town of Chapala (more photos) sits on the north shore of Lake Chapala, less than a one hour drive from central Guadalajara. At an altitude of just under one mile, 1550 meters, Chapala has a milder climate with summer daytime temperatures in the mid-80’s. Local residents report that winter nights can get quite cool. Chapala and its nearby neighbor, Ajijic have attracted lots of retirees from Canada and the U.S.
We were able to obtain a reservation by phone at a hostel in Chapala just behind the main plaza but once we arrived we wanted to see what else was available. Valerie sat with our luggage on one of the benches in the main plaza while I walked along the nearby streets to see what I could find. I did find one alternative that looked OK but we would have to wait about an hour for the room to be cleaned. So I joined Valerie back at the bench to wait. Shortly, a Mexican man approached us and asked, in English, if we had found a place to stay. He said his son had a place to rent and that we should check it out. I went to meet his son who was in his sundries store nearby. He asked if we could wait for a little longer since he needed to get someone to watch his store. I returned to the bench and soon he came by in his vehicle and loaded us and our luggage into it. This is a two-story building that looks like a large house but is two separate apartments. We are in the upstairs apartment which is two bedrooms with a large kitchen and family room. It’s fully furnished including cable TV and is a short one block walk to the lake, 3 blocks to the main plaza and market. All for $25 per night, less than we would pay for a hotel room. The couple renting the downstairs apartment is from Canada and has lived in Chapala for 12 years. They, Rudy and Peggy have been very nice and helpful to us, even allowing us to use their Wi-Fi for internet access.
Right now the lake is very low since this is the end of the dry season. They expect the rains to begin very soon. Our first couple of days we had cloudy weather, a consequence of the tropical storm that was approaching the Pacific coast near Puerto Vallarta. But after that the weather was really nice.
We’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how much we’ve been enjoying the tacos here. They seem to be a regular part of the local diet and why not. First, they are ubiquitous. Food carts, stands at the markets, small non-name restaurants and in outdoor markets that spring up on certain days of the week in most towns. You only need to walk up and ask for tacos and specify the number. The standard serving is three per person. Just right for a mid-day snack/meal. Small, fresh tortillas with a little pile of meat that has been diced and warmed on the grill so it is a little crispy. Then you can apply your toppings of choice: fresh salsa, diced raw onions, chopped cilantro, lime and cooked beans. At about $1.50 for a plate of three, they’re just too good to pass up.
We’ve also tried a couple of the common drinks served from carts everywhere, tejuino and michelada. Tejuino is a fermented corn drink that is service with salt, lime, chili powder and ice. You can also have it “con nieve”, which literally means “with snow”. The “snow” is a sort of icy ice cream that they have on the cart in a metal pot sitting in ice that they stir occasionally, just like the old-fashioned crank ice cream makers. Michelada is beer with tomato juice, lime, salt, worchester, tabasco and chili powder. Quite refreshing and tasty.
We took a couple of side trips from Chapala. Ajijic is the better known of the lakeside communities for the US and Canadian ex-pat crowd. It has been infested with a bit more of the “Norte Americano” influence with its art galleries, boutiques and cafes. The preponderance of real estate offices that have their listings showcased along the sidewalk with the price denominated in US dollars would seem to speak to the influence of the gringos.
When we mentioned that we were interested in visiting the nearby town of Mazamitla, our downstairs Canadian neighbors offered to drive us there for a day trip. Located in the Zona de Montana just to the south of Lake Chapala, Mazamitla is in the mountains at about 7,250 feet giving it a noticeably cooler climate. The town has an interesting take on a Swiss alpine theme with many nice shops and restaurants. On the periphery of town you will find lots of tourist cabins with a resemblance to Swiss chalets. Quite interesting to find this in Mexico. It was a nice day trip and really nice of Rudy to drive us there.
Tomorrow we’ll be leaving Chapala, heading to Morelia. For that we will need to return to Guadalajara to connect to a bus for the 4 hour trip.