Chapala, Mexico is a small colonial town of about
people, forty-five kilometers south of Guadalajara. Located, 20* 17’
north of the Equator, and 1549 meters in elevation, annual temperatures
remain between 5* to 28*C. The temperate climate, and its proximity to
Guadalajara International Airport, makes Chapala a favorite amongst
expatriates, mostly US and Canadian.
The largest lake in Mexico is here,
Lake Chapala, providing numerous
boating and sightseeing activities. On weekends, the
waterfront is bursting with colorful choices, including many street vendors, restaurants
and live music.
Church in downtown Chapala
People watching is one of my favorite pastimes, as many
wealthy Mexicans come to
Chapala from Guadalajara. The ladies are dressed
to the “nines”, being escorted arm in arm by their man.
The town is over five hundred years old, with the plaza and
church the focal points of the main square. The Plaza is a mecca of food
stalls and restaurants that operate daily. Fresh whole roasted chickens
can be seen slowly turning on their spits as well as carnitas, tacos, and
freshly made ice cream. Carnitas is similar to a pot roast, except that it
is made from pork, slowly cooked until the meat falls from the bone. It is
a local delight, which is added to tomatoes, onions and chilies for a main
course. The ice cream is freshly made with coconut, strawberries, or vanilla, and is a
must treat in the afternoon.
Carnitas piled high
In the center of the Plaza, a large gazebo provides a stage
for local musicians and young lovers well into the night. On any given
day, you can sit at the Plaza and sooner or later you will see many of
your friends doing their shopping, running errands, or looking for you!
Off the Plaza on the main street is the financial district with banks,
money exchange houses, real-estate offices, and travel agencies. Also, the
municipal offices are found here, located in the historic El Nido Hotel.
Continuing on the main street, upscale restaurants and bars
can be found. Further on, within walking distance of the Plaza, are seafood
restaurants, where generous amounts of margaritas are supplied with your
food order. Smoked marlin tacos, seafood cocktails, and shrimp dishes anyway
you want them prepared, are only a few of the choices.
Behind the plaza, to the East, is mostly residential, and
well worth a walking tour. In fact, soon you will arrive at the entrance
to Cristiania Park, a definite must see. If you’re
tennis player, this
is the place to be. With their six well-maintained courts, it is easy to
find a game at any level of play. Two sand pit volleyball courts, a
football field, basketball court, and pool make up only a small portion of
this large park. Families pack the park on weekends, utilizing the many
bar-b-que areas and recreational activities for the kids.
Chapala leaves me wondering if this is what Paris might have been like in the 1920’s.
In the 1990's the number of telephones was limited, and people gathered on corners, in doorways, or just
about anywhere to catch up on local gossip or politics.
These days, cellular phones are common place
as is internet. Chapala has moved into the future!
The friendliness of the locals is refreshing, as everyone,
young or old, will say good morning, afternoon, or evening in passing.
Small children playing and blocking a sidewalk quickly respond with
courtesy and politeness when asked if you may pass through them.
Churros, a local favorite sweet
Nightlife once again brings people out into the streets, strolling
through the Plaza, or on their way to some predetermined destination. With
the banks and shops closed, there are few cars on the streets, as walking
is the preferred transportation.
Around nine-thirty or ten p.m. the
restaurants, fill up with locals mostly in search of pozole...
Pozole, or what I call a Mexican bouillabaisse, (no offense, France) is
served in a bowl, with shredded pork, cabbage, onions, hominy, and chicken
stock. After finishing off the meal, I'm back outside for a stroll, and I buy a
churro, a type of a sweet donut.
The men’s bars with saloon-style swinging doors and
suggestive pictures are alive and well, with local characters drinking and
singing to a solo guitarist. I can almost picture Hemingway ordering a fundador or tequila and discussing the day’s events.
In between songs or when the conversations have quieted, often times
you can hear the sounds of horses’ shoes, clopping down on the
cobblestone streets reminding yourself exactly where you are…..Chapala,