We have now been in Ajijic, Mexico for about 2 weeks of the 1 month we planned to be here. Ajijic is located just south of Guadalajara on the biggest natural lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala. Lake Chapala is famous for supposedly having the best weather in the world. It has seemed to be a comfortable 75 each day and the skies are usually a wonderful blue color. The beautiful weather has attracted an inordinate amount of American and Canadian expats, which tends to, at times, make Ajijic seem more of aNorth American enclave than Mexican. The signs on most of the stores and restaurants are in English as well as Spanish (sometimes only in English). Most of the locals seem to speak English, and at times, in many of the cafes and eateries, it is rare to hear any Spanish at all. While convenient, it seems to take away some of the charm of living in Mexico.
After our long drives before we arrived in our last homes of San Miguel de Allende and Merida, Mexico, our relatively short 5 hour drive from San Miguel to Ajijic seemed quite brief and fairly easy. As nothing in our travels is
as easy as it should be, we arrived in Ajijic and stopped at the Hotel Ajijic, located just off the main square, to pick up our keys to our new apartment. We were told that they had never heard of us and the apartment that was supposed to be ours was rented the day before to another couple for 6 months! After several phone calls it was decided that we were in the correct place and, in fact, had rented the apartment. We were told if we wouldn’t mind staying in the hotel for a while, they would have the other people move out and we could claim our new home. The hotel was simple and kind of plain but it would do for us for a short time. “Awhile” in Mexico can be quite some time, but luckily, as scheduled the next day we were given the keys to our new apartment.
We spent the first few days exploring the town. To be honest, it really doesn’t take more than a few hours to pretty much cover the main attractions of the town. There is a nice small square surrounded by restaurants and a community center, and a
small cobblestoned main street that leads down to the lakeside which has a modern park and malecon that runs the length of the beachfront from the pier to the skate park at the end of the park. Finding the main attractions is easiest by following any of the groups of Tilley-hatted Gringos that can be seen wandering seemingly aimlessly everywhere during the day.
The main street is lined with a nice assortment of small galleries, coffee shops and a few decent restaurants. The surrounding streets are a collage of small hotels, bars, colorful houses and simple apartments. The town is located between the lake and the surrounding towering mountains that line the lake on most sides. The lower sides of the hills are interspersed with gated communities and large houses that, for the most part, seem foreign owned. During the week the townseems to roll up its streets not long after dark, but on weekends the streets are busier with visitors from nearby Guadalajara.
We began our explorations of the area by driving to the nearby town of Chapala, which although slightly larger, is much the same as Ajijic, with a lakeside park and small pier. Launches leave
from the pier and take visitors to the nearby island in the center of the lake. We left the lakeside and drove on the decent highway towards the town of Ocotlan, which is also located on the lake. Instead of going all the way to Ocotlan, we detoured on a small road which lead us over the mountains and back to the lakeside and the several small fishing villages that line the north shore of the lake. The road became cobblestone again, which while uncomfortable, made us slow down and enjoy passing through the rural villages, where everyone seemed to be sitting on their porches or going about their chores and playing along the road. Everyone returned our waves and with the windows down we felt as though we had at last returned to Mexico.
On our first weekend we decided to make our way around the south side of the lake, and then continued into Jalisco States beautiful Zona de Montanas. The road took us further into the mountains until we reached the small village of Mazamitla. Mazamitla is a town of whitewashed houses that at first glance, reminds one of a town in Switzerland, more than Mexico.
Mazamitla has a nice town square with a beautiful church, which is of a design that is not at all common in Mexico. A few streets surrounding the square have nice shops, small hotels and a few simple restaurants. Lonely Planet made reference to Mazamitla having the best tacos in the entire world. We spent a short time searching for the specific restaurant, and when we were told it no longer exists, we were pleased when the local shopkeeper led us to her favorite place for tacosin the local Mercado. We ordered the Birria specialty, which is pretty much a bowl of spicy stewed meat (could be mutton, goat or sheep) that when combined with chopped onions, spicy salsa and lime juice and placed on a fresh grilled tortilla may have become our new favorite dish in Mexico. It helped that we were starving, but even if you were full, I think everyone should try Birria. We celebrated our delicious find by returning to the square and sampling a cone full of Cajeta, which is another specialty in this part of Mexico. Cajeta is similar to caramel but at times made with goats milk and, if possible, is even sweeter.
Can you spot the product placement?
On our second weekend, we decided to make a slightly longer trip to the town of Tequilawhich is located just north of Guadalajara. Tequila is obviously famous for its namesake liquor made from the blue agave cactus that seems to be growing everywhere in the surrounding valley. Tequila has been produced here for hundreds of years, even before the Spanish arrival in Mexico. We took a short walk around town and grabbed another specialty of the area, a Torta Ahogado, a spicy pork sandwich soaked in a special spicy sauce.
After lunch we headed to Mundo Cuervo, Jose Cuervo’s distillery headquarters and the biggest tour in town. While we enjoyed the gift shop and the nice courtyard, unfortunately the English language tour began too late for us to make it home before dark. Not really a problem since the Tequila Museum (Museo Tequila) is just across the street and has good displays of the history of Tequila and the many families who pioneered the distribution of Tequila worldwide. We also visited the Sauza family distillery, which had beautiful gardens and seemed possibly more authentic than Mundo Cuervo. After the brief tour of town, we headed into the surrounding
area where Agave fields seemed to stretch all the way to the mountains in the distance. Hard to imagine we had visited the famous town and never actually had a chance to partake in even tasting a delicious Margarita. Upon passing through the busy rush hour traffic of Guadalajara on the way home, perhaps it was lucky we hadn’t had the opportunity.
We are still busily confirming reservations for our further adventures. We should be booking a house this weekend and will begin looking up flights to our next destination on our journey. It seems that our plans of actually making this into a “world” tour are starting to shape up well.
We have enjoyed our time in Ajijic so far, even though it’s been a little slow lately and look forward to our last few weeks in Mexico. Until next time…..
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