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Mexico Travel - Lake Chapala
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
ONE OF THE BEST EXCURSIONS FROM GUADALAJARA IS THAT to Lake Chapala by Way of the FALLS OF JUANACATLAN. The Santiago River, which is really an outlet of Lake Chapala, wanders through stretches of rolling country until suddenly it drops into an unexpected gorge, which marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon of Mexico, the same canyon, by the way, which you may have already seen from Barranca.
There is a dirt road to the falls from Guadalajara which is dusty in the dry season and muddy in the wet, so that it is much better to follow the main highway to kilometer 25 and turn left there for the falls. The falls are about 70 feet high and measure 5 feet from end to end. Of course, the volume of water varies with the season, and naturally the falls are at their best in the wet season. However, I have seen them at the end of the dry season, and there was still plenty of water left to make them a magnificent sight. Right on the edge of the falls there is a mesquite tree, surrounded by a wall, which marks the place where the Franciscan missionaries said their first mass on their way to Guadalajara. There is a good view from the balcony at the edge of the falls, from the upper balcony of the little restaurant beside the falls, or below, from the powerhouse. Just go down the steps and walk straight through. Although there are large signs saying "No Admission," nobody stopped me.
When you return to the main road for your drive to Lake Chapala, notice the hill on the right-hand side. This is believed to be an old Aztec pyramid, and an investigation is now going on to determine whether or not it is. Notice also the great number of irrigation dams all along the way.
In the little Indian town of IXTLAHUACAN, they make a famous quince wine. It is good, if you like it, but rather sweet, and more like a cordial.
After Ixtlahuacan you run on to an old road that is surprisingly well paved, engineered, and graded, and then, from the top of a pass, low for Mexico, you get your first view of Lake Chapala. `Here the road runs downhill into town, and just before you arrive there, you will see a rather imposing white building standing all by itself, apparently unoccupied. This is a railroad station which never had a railroad. At one time plans were made to build a railroad from Guadalajara to Chapala, and the white building is the station which they built at Chapala before the railroad got there. Then along came the development of the automobile, and a railroad from Guadalajara to Chapala was no longer necessary and consequently was never built.
CHAPALA is a charming town, the sort of place where you will want to linger indefinitely, doing nothing. The town is bdilt along the shore of LAKE CHAPALA, which is about 75 miles long and from 5 to 25 miles wide. The lake shores for miles in either direction at Chapala are lined with villas, parks, and, in the fashionable season, bathers. The best time for bathing is in the wintertime, which, by the way, the Guadalajaran calls summer. When someone from Guadalajara speaks of going to Lake Chapala for the summer, you can be perfectly sure that he means February and March. In our summertime, which is, of course, the wet season, the lake is likely to be a little muddy.
Since there are no outstanding churches to see in Chapala and nothing in particular of local interest to buy there, you can devote all your energies to having a good time.
Begin by tasting some of the delicious foods they prepare in Chapala. I think the best hotel in town is the Nido. Other moderately good ones are the Chapala and, on the lake, the Arzopalo. The latter has a beautiful location, but not quite so good a reputation for food or service as the Nido. While your lunch is cooking (and I hope you ordered pescado blanco, or white fish), you might go down to a little stand by the lake front and eat charales. These are tiny fish about the size of a minnow, almost transparent. They are served fried to a crisp with lime, a saucer of Michoacana sauce, apparently made entirely of pepper, and salt. The fish are dipped in the salt and eaten whole-heads, tails, and all-with the aid of the fingers. They are delicious, encourage a grand thirst, and are a correct accompaniment for beer or your pre-luncheon tequila.
Chapala is a haunt of the mariachis. These are strolling bands of players and singers who perform on the slightest provocation. While you are having lunch in the hotel, one of these men will very likely wander up to your table and ask if you would like some music. If you say, "Yes," an impromptu orchestra of anywhere from three to ten performers will quickly group itself around your table and play and sing until you tell them to stop. The usual fee to each musician is 25 centavos a song, or 50 centavos if you are feeling generous. Most of them sing and play exceptionally well, and their repertoire of local songs is delightful to hear.
After lunch, I suggest a stroll around town and a look at the beautiful private homes along the lake and in the town itself. Building is going on rapidly in the village of Chapala, in response to a local ordinance which strikes me as being a rather sensible one. To avoid having people buy land and hold it useless for a rise in value, the local ordinance requires that if you buy a piece of land, you must build a house on it inside of a year. There are also some exceedingly strict regulations as to the kind of house that you can build, and the result is that Chapala is fast becoming one of the loveliest little towns in Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter. There is a hill dominating the town with the streets running around at its foot, and on this hill the town has planted two thousand bougainvillaea. In about five years, when the bougainvillaea blossom, Chapala will be a rare sight.
Your stay in Chapala would not be complete without a LAUNCH RIDE on the lake. It is the only way in which you can see the lovely villas with their grounds extending to the water's edge and the best way to see the wild fowl for which this district is famous. Lake Chapala and the ponds of the surrounding country are among the few remaining haunts of the snowy egret, that exquisite wading bird which has become practically extinct in the United States. Of course, there are other kinds of water fowl-in fact, there are more kinds on Lake Chapala than I ever even heard of. The lake also teems with huge turtles, which are evidently quite harmless, for the bathers never seem to mind having them around.
If you have time, you might take a longer launch sail around the lake. There are good speedboats for rent at reasonable prices, although if you are going simply to see the villas and the lake shores near the village, you will probably be quite comfortable in one of the small launches with an outboard motor. At any rate, there are boats available to suit every size of party and every size of pocketbook.
There is a famous bathing establishment at Chapala, a sort of municipal bath, which you should walk through, not to see the bath itself, but to look at the lovely old building which houses it and the even lovelier gardens immediately behind it.
Chapala leaves a lasting impression on all tourists. For the rest of your life, whenever you reminisce about this village, you will think first of the beautiful flowers.