The Gringos we speak
with all say the same thing to us. Sure, physically, one can drive around Lake Chapala in a single day, and it's what most Expats prefer doing. But as you
know, that's not our style. We travel slowly, finding the devil in the details,
or more accurately, stumbling across a local nunnery and asking about a room to
their wide-eyed surprise. We also searched for what Lonely Planet
calls 'taco enlightenment' at a modest taco stall in Mazamitla named Rica
Birria. There was an unexpected evening wedding complete with fireworks and
dazzling Latinas at Zamora's stunning Catedral Inconclusa, a free
colorful regional Mexican dance concert at Teatro Obrero, an impromptu tour of
El Presidente's office in Zamora, and a fascinating stop
at the world-known hat factory in Sahuayo.
How can all of that be done in only a
Anxious to hit the road, we
took the 9:00 am bus out of the Chapala Central bus station heading East. Our
first stop, was a small lakeside Pueblo named Mezcala with close to nothing going on.
Our itinerary was
to overnight in Poncitlan, catch a bus the next morning to go
through Ocotlan, through La Barca then stay in Zamora a couple of
nights. From Zamora, we'd go through Jiquilpan and on to Sahuayo for another
2 nights' stay.
Then from Sahuayo
it's off to
the mountain chalet town of Mazamitla for two nights, then on back
through the tiny towns lining the lake and returning into Chapala once again.
Our bus to
Poncitlan didn't leave until
2:30 pm, so we had plenty of time to walk around Mezcala, meet some locals and eat
plaza and church. We spent most of the early morning on wrought iron
benches sitting in the shade, listening to the assortment of music
offered by the local CD salesmen. The wide variety spanned The Beach
Boys, The Doors, and local Mexican romantic ballads.
fresh jugo de naranja squeezed to order by a native Mezcalan.
Yes, it's a
stress-filled life as you can see. We are 'guarding' the luggage as
the boys walk around town, then it will be our turn to discover
Mezcala's charms. Meanwhile, I am practicing my Spanish con mi
Maestra y amiga, Martha.
A couple of
blocks down from our seats on the Plaza, is peaceful Lake Chapala.
Lago de Chapala is Mexico's largest natural lake and lies 28 miles
south of Guadalajara, surrounded by mountains. It is approximately
12 miles wide and 50 miles long.
Chapala became a
well-known resort destination after president Porfirio Diaz
vacationed in the town every year from 1904 to 1909. The water
levels of the lake itself fluctuate due to Guadalajara and Mexico
City's water needs and the off-again, on-again droughts. But, the
climate in the area is nearly perfect.
Isla de Mezcala
(in the center of the photo)
is one of the draws of the area. Here in Mezcala, we cannot think of another. There
is a defunct prison on the island itself, which rumor has it, is
being turned into a bed and breakfast. Of course, we don't know which year or
which decade the project will be finished.
A quick snack and
we are off to Poncitlan. Tacos and Quesadillas are mainstays of
Mexican cuisine and you will see taco stands everywhere throughout
the country. There really is nothing quite like the flavor of fresh
corn tortillas side-by-side with melted queso or warmed meat
five hours in uncomplicated Mezcala, we would have been happy to
ride donkeys to get out of
the small town, so this transport was more than adequate.
This was probably
a 3rd class bus, at least one level up from what's known as a
Hanging out the
bus window along a bumpy, unpaved road, this photo captures Lake Chapala. Isla de Mezcal is in
the center and the mountains on the southern shore can also be seen.
balcony at the Hotel Plaza Poncitlan provided a reasonable view of their
Plaza. Apparently we stayed in the only hotel in Poncitlan.
It's hard for us to imagine that a town of this size has only one
place to stay, but that information was verified by many locals.
We arrived here
in the early afternoon, and there was a teacher's convention
scheduled in town. Of the 5 rooms available to guests, we took the
last two. Several others were still under construction. 140 Pesos bought us very clean rooms with cable TV and a shared
bathroom and shower down the hall.
Here's a map of
Poncitlan showing The Rio Santiago, which feeds Lake Chapala, running through the town.
We asked ourselves... 'there's only one hotel?' Amazing, but
true. Of course, maybe Poncitlan just isn't your thriving tourist
One exciting night in Poncitlan wore Akaisha out,
and here she is snoozing in comfort on
our way to Ocotlan where we will transfer to La Barca, then make our
Zamora, our next stop. Reclining seats with
pleasant views make for an easy way to travel in Mexico.
Zamora's Hotel Ana Isabel,
located a couple of blocks off the main Plaza, was a great find. 300
Pesos for a double room, hot showers, with Wifi internet included as well as Hector
the Protector at the front desk. The colorful poster tacked onto the
desk is advertising an Italian Opera at the Teatro Obrero.
But we didn't come here to surf the
web or hang out in the hotel.
We didn't come
here for the food, although eating at the Pink Panther was
Here this woman
is preparing fresh corn tortillas from the masa in the blue bowl.
Making a ball with the cornmeal dough, she places it in the center of the
press and voila! A perfectly round tortilla for the grill.
And we didn't come
to hang out on the Plaza...
Zamora had the
feel of a 'mini
Classic buildings constructed with the pink colored stone from the
local quarry surrounded the square.
And we didn't
come to supplement
Here Billy is
making a few Pesos shining Dennis' shoes...
Nor did we come
for the private tour of Zamora's Mayor's office.
But Billy took
the opportunity to catch up on some business.
Surprisingly, we didn't even
come to Zamora for the lovely Latinas.
On the way to the
free dance concert at Teatro Obrero, we stumbled upon this
astonishing dream-fantasy night wedding which was quite the Gala.
There were fireworks in the area in front of the Cathedral and
friendly, upscale, decked-out ladies who traveled from all parts of Mexico to
see their friend get married.
We came here to
see this exquisite Cathedral built over 100 years ago.
was started a century ago and is still not finished, hence the name
It took a few
moments to light up the entire Cathedral, one section and layer at a
time. Most impressive. As you can see, the area in front of Catedral
Inconclusa is expansive. This is where the fireworks were going
off, making splashes of color in the sky. Visually, everything was
We were able to
enter the Cathedral both before the wedding that evening and again
the next day to see the remarkable construction from the inside.
With our souls
cleansed from such an inspiring experience, we are off to
Sahuayo the next morning passing picturesque countryside with
the wild flowers in bloom.
leisurely walk through Sahuayo, we heard singing and loud music coming from
across the street. Discovering this Cantina, we are back in the
Devil's playground, where a six piece Mariachi
Band was playing. What a terrific discovery!
Notice that there
are no women inside. Akaisha and Martha opted for having an ice
cream on the plaza, while Dennis and Billy joined the men for some
local male camaraderie.
modeling a hat in Sahuayo's world-known hat factory,
This factory can churn out hundreds, even thousands of sombreros in a day to fill orders coming from
all over the world!
This is Sahuayo's
peaceful plaza with the church in the background. This
church is also made from the local pink stone. In person, the
building has a cherubic elegance.
We're always in
search of the perfect taco, and these were amazingly flavorful. The
street food of Mexico is a culinary adventure worth indulging.
After two nights
we were off to the mountain town of Mazamitla.
channel showed that Hurricane Rick was due to slam into parts of
Mexico, so we weren't sure what kind of weather to expect, being
hundreds of miles from the coast.
At 7200 feet
elevation we arrived in Mazamitla where it was cold, damp, foggy and sometimes
rainy. What a switch in the weather! We'd had perfect days and
nights up until this time, so there was only one thing to do to warm
Go to one of the
local restaurants and order the molcajete.
from the oven, this type of Mexican stew filled the molcajete (a mortar made
from the volcanic stone in the area) to the brim with
beef, pork and cheese. On the side were frijoles, of course,
and lots of tortillas. At 95 Pesos, we were told this was a portion for one, but
it easily fed two of us.
sun broke out of the heavy weather the next morning.
Here you see that
church on the plaza has an alpine look, something straight out of
Germany or Austria. Mazamitla is a unique town in Mexico where the
use of wood for construction is visible.
Mazamitla is also known
for its fruit preserves, it's candies, caramel sauces and creamy
eggnog-like drinks called rompope. What a different take on
Mexico! You could easily think that you were in northern Europe!
The town itself
is clean and organized, with cobblestone streets and lots of wood
accents to the buildings.
Did we tell you
were looking for the perfect taco?
filled to the brim with steaming chunks of beef brisket that just
melted in your mouth!
Normally we pay 5
Pesos for a taco, and these were 8! Still they were worth the
Back on the road
towards Chapala, we are now in San Luis Soyatlan directly across from
the cities of Chapala and Ajijic.
The last little
bump of a hill on the right with the flat ground coming out of it is
Chapala proper. The next grouping of houses in the middle of
the photo is San Antonio with Ajijic off to the left. All of this as seen from across the lake.
Our trip is done!
And what a trip it was!
Here we take a photo break, wearing our hats from Sahuayo, sitting
in a lakeside park in San Luis Soyatlan. Chapala is about an hour and a half away
by bus. We tried to hire a boat and driver to take us across the
lake to Chapala for a different view and experience, but all of the
fisherman were out working. This side of the lake is not set up for
tourists the way Chapala is. Perhaps our questions got them
For the eight
days we traveled, all hotels, busses and food cost us an average of
$43 USD per day per couple.