Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tlaquepaque: Guadalajara's showcase for arts and crafts

Dancin' in the rain (on a sunny day). This metal sculpture graces one of Tlaquepaque's pedestrian-only streets near El Centro. One can find many whimsical pieces of art while strolling the lovely automobile-free avenues near the central plaza. Carole and I visited Tlaquepaque (pronounced "Tla-Keh-Pa-Keh") on a couple of different occasions, once with Charter Club Tours, and about a year later by car with a couple of friends. The photos in this posting come from both adventures. Many of the beautiful arts and crafts on display in Tlaquepaque's many stores and galleries were actually made elsewhere, often in Tonala, a neighboring community full of artisans and their workshops. To see some of the Tonala artisans at work, click here.

San Pedro church steeples tower over El Centro's plaza. San Pedro (St. Peter) is the patron saint of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, the formal name of this suburb of southeastern Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque was an indigenous center of arts and crafts when the Spanish arrived in 1530. The Nahuatl name of the town reflects this heritage: "men who make clay utensils with their hands." Spanish conquistador Nunio de Guzman took over the village of Tlaquepaque at about the same time as he bloodlessly (unusual for him) conquered the small neighboring kingdom of Tonallan, which became the town of Tonala. After three abortive attempts to found a new Spanish city named Guadalajara in sites as far away as Zacatecas, it finally came into being about 7 miles northeast of present day Tlaquepaque. Both Tlaquepaque and Tonala maintained their separate identities until they were finally overwhelmed by modern-day Guadalajara's explosive growth. To locate Tlaquepaque within Guadalajara, click here.

Dome of San Pedro church shows classical influences. Tlaquepaque won a place in the history of Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain when two of the revolutionary leaders, Augustin de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero, hammered out the Plan of Iguala in one of the mansions of Tlaquepaque's El Centro. The Plan, also called the "Plan of the Three Guarantees", became the basis for the peace treaty with Spain which ended the War of Independence. The three guarantees included maintaining the dominance of Roman Catholicism over all things religious, independence, and social equality of all classes. The plan created a constitutional monarchy with Iturbide as Emperor. Although the Spanish Viceroy signed the agreement, in the end both the government back in Spain and the first Mexican Congress disavowed the agreement and Iturbide's reign as Mexican Emperor was short. The other key figure, Vicente Guerrero, had better fortune, later becoming President of Mexico under a republican form of government.

Brick and flagstones replaced asphalt on three key streets around El Centro. The local goverment wisely decided to ban cars from this area and open it to strolling shoppers, street vendors, and musicians. Thus, Tlaquepaque became a major attraction for tourists. Many of the great old 19th century mansions that line the streets have become galleries, shops, and restaurants with outdoor tables. For a map of this section of Tlaquepaque, click here.

Monument in the Plaza commemorates many fine local artisans. In front of the monument, you can see several examples of fine pottery created in the area. In order to discourage thieves, the pots are filled with cement. The Plaza itself is beautifully arranged, with tall palm trees and other lush greenery, as well as the usual fountains, statues, and artwork.

Pottery is not the only form of craftsmanship practiced here. While wandering the side streets, we happened across this beautifully carved wooden door on a corner house. Local Indians were highly skilled in many crafts when the Spanish arrived. Recognizing this, the Spanish rulers set them to work decorating religious buildings and, somewhat later, private homes.

Hungry crocodile speculates on the possibility of dinner passing below him. I have always enjoyed the humor and whimsey of Mexican art. Inside the door above I found numerous other pieces of metal sculpture in various stages of completion. The woman by the door didn't seem to appreciate her narrow escape. Another charming feature of Mexican art is the combination of colors one would never expect to work well together. Somehow, in Mexico, they do.

Come and get it! In another corner of the Plaza, I found this jolly figure dancing and cavorting as he tried to attract attention to the farmacia (pharmacy) behind him. Mexico is full of various forms of highly entertaining street theatre.

Another brass dancer swirls her skirts. She was created by the same sculptor who made the umbrella dancer in the first picture. One interesting aspect of the artwork here is that one can often find the artist at work right in the street and see a creation like this in progress.

Yet another dancer, live this time. This lovely young woman was stationed by the front door of one of the restaurants which line the pedestrian-only streets. We caught each other's eyes at the same time and she graciously spread her skirts so I could take the photo above. I was reminded of the lovely large birds along the shores of Lake Chapala which have similarly spread their beautiful wings to allow for an eye-catching photo.

Female musicians have begun to break into Mexico's mariachi tradition. Mariachi bands began in the 19th Century in Jalisco State. Up until the 1940s, Mexico's macho traditions allowed only men into this musical form. In recent years, young women have begun to form all-female mariachi bands. The novelty has gained them a wide audience. Inside the restaurant whose entrance was guarded by the orange-skirted damsel, we found this mariachi band playing for the lunch crowd. They were quite good, and very lively.

Another eye-catching door greeter. Once again, Mexican artistic whimsey produces a startling character. This rather jaunty and jovial fellow caught my eye--and my lens--as I walked by the jewelry store where he was lounging. He is most likely a paper mache creation of one of the Tonala workshops.

Another friendly Mexican, of the animal persuasion. As we strolled the area around the Plaza, we were accosted by a man who introduced us to his green, scaly friend, and then talked us into a photograph for $20 pesos (about $1.50 USD). It was a pretty good scam, and made for a memorable picture. The iguana apparently wanted to crawl right up my arm in order to hiss sweet nothings into my ear. While iguanas are completely harmless, I was dubious of his advances, as you can see. Iguanas are native to Mexico, primarily in the southern area, but also in the Pacific Coast swamps and lagoons.

Iguanas were not the only friendly folks we met. While recovering from my close encounter with the iguana, we ran into this group of Mexican teenagers. Seeing my camera, they immediately wanted me to take their picture. Kids being kids, they had a good time vamping it up while I took the shot.

Santiago stands over severed heads of Spain's enemies. Santiago (St. James) is the warrior saint revered by the Spanish for assisting their reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors in the late 15th Century. When the Spanish invaded Mexico in the early 16th Century, they again called upon him for help. Legend has it that Santiago appeared several times to overawe the Indians and gain Spanish victories. He is nearly always portrayed brandishing a sword.

Don Quixote as "the Thinker". It took a while for me to realize that this abstract metal statue, in the famous posture of Auguste Rodin's sculpture, "The Thinker," was actually a representation of Miguel de Cervantes' character Don Quixote. Cervantes was a contemporary of Spain's conquest and early rule of Mexico. He and his famous character Don Quixote are very popular in today's Mexico. The city of Guanajuato conducts the annual Cervantino Festival to celebrate him.

Large urns grace the entrance of a pottery shop. These urns are partially painted, and partially decorated with intricate mosaics. They are quite large, standing perhaps 4 feet tall, and 2 feet wide at the widest parts. Works like this take a long time to create and are fairly expensive. A wide variety of pottery styles are created and sold in Tlaquepaque.

An unusual fountain burbles at one end of the pedestrian-only walkway. In Mexican plazas, I am used to finding traditional fountains, but I found this one intriguingly different. In addition to the water spraying up from the main fountain in the middle, there are several others surrounding it and still more spraying from the small nodules around the circumference. One thing is sure, it is rare to find a Mexican plaza without a fountain, whatever the style.

"C'mon, you can do it!" A little girl encourages her reluctant puppy to pose for the nice gringo with the camera. The puppy was somewhat less than enthusiastic at the prospect. This dog seems well cared-for and probably has a nice future with its family. As a dog-lover, I am sometimes distressed by Mexico's neglect of its innumerable street dogs. One the other hand, I am willing to admit that the US culture, where I originate, is rather nutty in our over-indulgence of our pets upon whom we lavish billions of dollars while millions of human children in the US go without health care or adequate nutrition.

A huge portrait of Fred Kahlo broods over the pedestrian walkway. Freda Kahlo, or just "Freda" as she is widely known, was the wife of Diego Rivera, one of Mexico's foremost muralists. Freda was a great artist in her own right, but her work has often been overshadowed by the flamboyant and highly political work of her husband. Freda painted many self-portraits, and this appears to be a copy of one. It hung from the second story of one of the buildings along the walkway, about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide.

This concludes my posting on San Pedro Tlaquepaque. I hope you will be encouraged to visit this little jewel of a town if you are staying in the Guadalajara area. It is definitely worth at least a day's ramble. If you'd like to make a comment or ask a question, you can either use the comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question, please also leave your email so that I can answer.

Hasta luego! Jim

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The South Shore on a brilliant winter's day

Great White Egret eyes the water hungrily at the fishing village of Petatan. A few days before Christmas, Carole and I took our Oregon friends Mike and Dawn on a tour of some of the sites of Lake Chapala's South Shore. The day was gorgeous, brilliant with sunshine but cool with winter breezes. The haze which sometimes hangs over the Lake in the winter was largely absent, leaving the view crystal clear. Every fold and angle of the North Shore mountains, many miles across the Lake, was sharply defined. First we visited the small fishing village of Petatan, about 90 minutes around the Lake's shore from Ajijic between Tizapan el Alto and Cojumatlan de Regules.

Petatan's White Pelicans mill about, waiting for fish scraps from the cleaning shed. Petatan is famous for the multitude of pelicans which gather around the tip of the small peninsula every winter. I have previously posted pictures and lots more information about Petatan and these large intelligent creatures. The pelicans migrate from as far away as southern Canada. On the day shown above, we arrived early while the fishermen were still out with their nets. Only one fish cleaning shed was operating by the water's edge. The three young women at the table smiled shyly and nodded when I asked if I could take pictures. I selected this photo from many I took because I particularly like the way the sunlight sparkles off the water in front of the pelicans. Unlike their usual carefully arranged convoy formation while swimming, these birds were milling about in every direction, excited by the tidbits occasionally tossed out by the busy women.

Large wings spread, a pelican prepares to take flight from his rocky perch. The White Pelicans' personalities change dramatically depending on whether they are flying, swimming, or perching. In the air, they create a dramatic, graceful, and somewhat prehistoric appearance as they glide for long distances just above the water. In the water, they form long lines, two or three birds across and sometimes hundreds of birds in length. The lines snake in "s" curves across the water as they maneuver like naval convoys. It is only on land that their comical side emerges. Many birds will attempt to perch on the same tiny outcrop. Disputes break out, with much flapping of huge black-tipped wings. When their attention is drawn, all of the long yellow beaks will turn at once toward the subject of interest.

Snowy Egret examines the contents of a beached boat. The Snowy Egret is a smaller cousin of the Great White, and I have featured both species in previous postings. When I first observed egrets along the shore, I assumed the smaller Snowy was the female mate of the Great White, or perhaps an immature offspring. Upon further investigation, I discovered that they are separate species. The obvious differences, other than size, can be found in the beaks and feet. The Great White's beak is yellow while the Snowy's is dark. The Snowy, in turn has yellow feet, as seen above, while the Great White's are an elegant black. What confused me originally was that the two can often be seen fishing together in close proximity, as if they were mates.

Parrochia de San Francisco de Asis, in Tizapan. A parrochia is the central, or headquarters church, in a community. It may service several smaller churches in the area. Tizapan's parrochia was decorated with streamers for Christmas when we arrived. A special Mass was under way inside, so I refrained from photos of the beautiful interior. Tizapan is a small, clean, bustling city of almost 14,000 people, founded in 1529 near a village of Chichimeca Indians. The present Parrochia de San Francisco is relatively new, having been built in stages between 1836 and 1905. On a previous visit we stopped by the wonderful ruins of the Hacienda San Francisco, on the extreme western outskirts of Tizapan. The hacienda operated for almost 500 years, but was broken up during the 1910-1917 Revolution.

Keeping an eye on things. As I approached from a distance, I noticed something strange about this unpainted statue in front of the church entrance. Although the rest of the statue was completely unadorned, the sculptor (I presume it was him) had placed startling blue-glass eyes in the head. The eyes create a weird, sort of space-alien feel about the piece. The person portrayed is D. Abundio Anaya "Gran Protector de Nuestra Parrochia" (Great Protector of our parish church). Tizapan was a center of Catholic resistance to reforms instituted by the Revolutionary Government in the 1920's. Radical Catholic activists started an armed revolt called the Cristero War which lasted from 1926-1929. Thousands were killed on both sides throughout Mexico and the struggle was particularly intense in Jalisco State where Tizapan is located.

View from the Parrochia, down Francisco Madero street. Looking through the gates of the church, you can see the crowded booths of the Christmas fiesta that was under way when we arrived. Booths lined the streets for several blocks in every direction, as mariachis played in the plaza and families picnicked and shopped at the little stands. You could buy anything from Christmas toys, to children's clothes, to fresh vegetables and newly killed chickens.

Palacio Municipal gleams in the bright sunlight. The Palacio faced the plaza, opposite the church, as is usual in Mexican towns. The municipal government is the equivalent to a county government in the US, and usually has the same name as the largest town in the municipality, in this case Tizapan. The young man in the foreground has almost certainly spent some time in the US, probably someplace like Los Angeles given his clothing. In small Mexican towns and cities it is very unusual to see a man wearing shorts or having a shaved head. These are north-of-the-border styles. He may be home visiting relatives for Christmas.

An abuelo teases his nietos in this small family vignette. The grandfather on the bench was having fun with his grandchildren. Notice that he and all the men on the bench wear long pants and cowboy hats, the dominant style in this community. Abuelos are deeply respected in the Mexican community, and families, although usually quite large, tend to be very close.

Mismaloya, another fishing town, affords a magnificent view. We stopped for lunch in Mismaloya, located on a steep hillside overlooking the Lake between Tizapan and Tuxcueca. In the picture above, you are looking northwest towards Ajijic and Chapala directly across the Lake. Highway 15, which rims the South Shore, runs above the town. Just off the highway is the Mirador del Marinero (Sailor's Lookout) restaurant. This is one of my favorite spots to eat along the South Shore, both for its food and its spectacular 180 degree view.

Looking northeast from the Mirador del Marinero restaurant, toward Mezcala. What might be first taken for floating lirio, or water hyacinth, is actually lake grass. This photo shows how shallow the Lake is, out to a considerable distance. At the center-right, you can see a fisherman's boat, coming in with his afternoon catch. At this point, Lake Chapala is probably about 12 miles wide.

And now for lunch! I ordered Mojarra al mojo de ajo. I knew al mojo de ajo meant seasoned with garlic, and that it was some kind of fish, but I wasn't prepared to get the whole thing, fins, eyeballs and all! The fish were gutted (fortunately), slashed several times along each side, and then thrown on the grill. It was actually quite tasty, if a little bony. I avoided the gaze of my finny repast. In addition to the main course, this restaurant serves up an astonishing amount of food as appetizers, including chips, salsa, sliced jicama, roasted and seasoned potatoes, and a cup of hot, spicy soup. No one need walk away hungry from the Mirador del Marinero.

This concludes my posting on our South Shore visit. I greatly enjoy hearing from people, so if you'd like to respond, you can either leave a comment in the section below or email me directly. You are also more than welcome to forward a link to my blog to anyone you'd like.
If you leave a comment below with a question, please include your email so that I can respond.

Feliz Navidad! Jim

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Life and moods of Lake Chapala - Part 2

Evening sun glimmers over the darkening waters of Lake Chapala. The Lake's water level rises and falls over time. In the photo above, taken in the summer of 2008 from the Ajijic pier, the water is high, but not at flood stage. The long retaining wall of Amistad Park is visible in the upper right of the photo. This is probably the optimum level of the Lake, and the shore is at its prettiest. In this posting, we'll look at some of the changes that have occurred in just the last 2 1/2 years we have lived in Ajijic on Lake Chapala. In the last section below, I included some photos expressing some of the different moods of the Lake.

Dry land fronts Amistad Park in an earlier year. When we arrived in 2007, I took this photo of the same area of the Lake at a much lower level. In the early 2000s, the Lake was even lower than this picture shows. At that time, one could walk as much as a mile out from the current Lake shore without ever getting wet feet. There were fears at that time that the Lake might be reaching a point of no return. A burgeoning Mexican environmental movement roused a public outcry. Mexican officials at the local, state, and federal level recognized the economic losses that would accompany the loss of the Lake and began to take action. Lake Chapala is fed by the Lerma River and the water exits through the Santiago River. Both rivers are located at the extreme eastern end of the Lake. Over many years, the Lerma has been sapped of its upstream water for agricultural purposes. It has also been the recipient of large amounts of industrial pollutants from factories along its course, as well as the runoff of agricultural chemicals. The public uproar forced government action to allow more water to reach the Lake, although it is not clear whether pollutants have significantly decreased.

Amistad Park, pre-flood. This photo captures the quiet loveliness of Amistad Park prior to the flood of 2008. This area was one of my favorites along the shore. The park was kept immaculately clean by local attendants. Large shade trees created a cool refuge for warm days along the shore. Families with children picnicked on the grass. Then the water rose.

Amistad Park, flooded. In the span of a few days, the water level suddenly rose. Brown water filled the park, killing some of the old shade trees. What had apparently happened was an excessive release of upstream water from far-away dams. I have never determined who made the decision, but clearly there was a breakdown in communication. Local governments around the Lake had spent considerable money to plant gardens and improve the Lake's shore. All that was wiped out by the flood. The Chapala city government (Ajijic' parent jurisdiction) has since rebuilt the park and added an attractive malecon walkway where the Amistad Park retaining wall once ran along the Lake. Unfortunately, in the process, they cut down many of the wonderful old shade trees, and uprooted the grassy areas. Perhaps at some point they will finish their interminable project, but in the meantime, the feel of the old park is gone forever.

Lirio chokes Chapala harbor waterfront (2007). Another recurrent problem at the Lake is the growth of lirio, or water hyacinth (eichhornia crassipes), an invasive species. Apparently, in the late 19th Century, hacienda owners on the east end of the Lake decided to introduce the lirio as a decorative plant in their fish ponds. Lacking any native check on its spread, the lirio grew explosively. Soon vast areas of the Lake were covered. Miles-long strings of the floating plant drifted with the winds. Lirio built up along the shoreline, extending out hundreds of yards. One study showed that 25 lirio plants could become, over a single season, 2 million separate plants covering 10,000 square meters of water surface. Ironically, the upstream agricultural runoff actually nourishes lirio, and the plant can absorb heavy metals from industrial pollution, making it too toxic for other uses. Breaking up the plants actually helps them propagate. By the late 1950s almost 20 percent of the Lake's surface was covered. One novel, if unsuccessful, strategy for combatting lirio was to import manatees (large water-dwelling mammals from Florida). Local Mexicans soon discovered that the huge animals were a fine source of protein, and the manatees quickly disappeared. Finally, authorities resorted to poison, which cleared out the lirio for a time, but posed other threats

Chapala waterfront, lirio free (2009). The photo above was taken in January of 2009. Workers raked the dead lirio up on shore and trucked it away, leaving the harbor pleasingly open. However, the lirio returned that summer and had to be cleaned out again. Many societies have learned, to their regret, that introducing non-native species can have a disastrous effect on a local environment with no natural defenses. I suspect that authorities in the Lake Chapala area will be dealing with lirio for a long time to come.

The changing moods of Lake Chapala

Cumulus clouds roil over the Lake, building up to a dramatic thunderstorm. During the summer rainy season, the skies can be dramatic. The weather can change quickly from blue sky and sunshine to dark, boiling masses of clouds, and back again to sunshine. Although winter is favored by many Lakeside residents, Carole and I like summer best.

A hole in the sky. Sometimes, on a dark, cloudy day, a blue hole will open in the clouds, allowing golden beams to shine down. After a time, the hole closes again, and the gloom returns.
Thunderstorm sweeps across the South Shore. The Lake is so large that different parts can have completely different weather at the same time. Even as close as five miles away, it may be raining while the sun shines brightly where we are. Summer thunderstorms are quite dramatic. Brilliant flashes of lightning and deafening drumrolls of thunder can continue for hours at a time. Sheets of rain come as a tremendous downpour, drowning out all other sounds. Fortunately, most of this happens late at night. Daytime storms are very rare. Still, the storms can have disastrous effects, forming rivers down steep cobblestone streets. Because the stones are held in place by dirt, they are often washed away, requiring regular repairs during the rainy season. In August 2007, a storm resulted in a trumba, or waterspout. These are like small tornados of water pulled up from the Lake surface. One such trumba dropped its load on the water-soaked slopes of the mountains overlooking San Juan Cosala, a small town just to the west of Ajijic. A huge mud slide came roaring down the arroyos of the mountain, destroying many homes and other property. Fortunately no one was killed, but many were injured and many Mexican families lost everything. I was proud that the expat community pitched in with money and other kinds of help in the relief effort. (Photo by Joel Gomez)

Summer thunderheads mix with the brilliant light of a sunset. It's always fun just to sit and watch the sky change from hour to hour and day to day. Sometimes, when I am doing some small routine task such as carrying out the garbage, I will stop and observe and wonder at the show unfolding before me.

Low cloudbank obscures the peak of Mt. Garcia on the South Shore. When this was taken, lirio still lined the North Shore. The leafless tree above now stands several yards from shore, in clear water. This tree usually attracted several large white egrets which liked to perch on the limbs. During a visit to the Lake while preparing this posting, I noticed that the tree has been cut down, another victim of "progress".

And now for something completely different. I had fun taking what was a rather boring photo, and adding some drama through the magic of digital photography and a computer photo program. I wanted to see what would happen when I pushed the color as far as I could. The result was an eerie, icy blue. I have never found a place for this photo before, although various others have admired it. This seemed like the right posting to use it. The dead trees in the picture above have also been removed, their skeletal arms no longer reaching for the sky.

Steep mountain slopes drop precipitously to the water. Most of the population around the Lake is concentrated on the North Shore between Jocotopec at the western tip to Chapala, about 15 miles to its east. The photo above was taken near Mezcala, east of Chapala, looking east. The shore is little populated here, because there is so little level land. A few small farms and fishing villages dot the North Shore for the next 30 milest.

Setting sun turns the Lake's surface a shimmering gold. We get wonderful sunsets here, almost every day. A fellow photographer once remarked to me that Ajijic photo contests should outlaw sunset entries, because beautiful photos are just too easy to take.

End of a quiet summer day. The sun has disappeared and light is fading, but there was just enough to catch the feeling of the last moments before dark.

I hope you have enjoyed my 2-part series on the life and moods of Lake Chapala. If you'd like to leave a comment, you can do so below, or email me directly. If you use the comments section below to ask a question, remember to leave your email so I can reply.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Life and moods of Lake Chapala - Part 1

A Snowy Egret broods on the prow of a fishing boat gently rocking at anchor. On a crystal clear January afternoon in Mezcala harbor I was mesmerized by the sparkling water. So was the beautiful white bird I was photographing. This photo is one of my favorites because it so perfectly captures the mood of the many sunny days we enjoy at Lake Chapala. I had long considered the possibility of a blog posting with a focus on the Lake itself, but I wondered if I had enough quality pictures to adequately tell its story. I not only wanted to convey information, but to capture the feeling of living at this place. I reviewed thousands of shots I had taken over the last three years, looking for just the right ones. A few of them I have used in other postings, but most I have never shown before now. I hope you enjoy this special two part series.

From the high ground, a vast expanse of blue

Looking southwest from high in the mountains of the North Shore. Below lie the western outskirts of Ajijic. In the distance are the mountains which rim the South Shore. Behind the rim mountains, under the clouds, the long blue Tapalpa Plateau stretches across the horizon. On top of that rolling plateau, the rocky, pine-clad landscape is very different from the lush semi-tropical country around Lake. Lake Chapala stretches out on an east-to-west plane, about 30 miles south of Guadalajara. It is the largest lake in Mexico, about 50 miles long, with a width of as much as 12 miles. Although broad, it is quite shallow, only about 30 feet maximum depth, with a mean depth of about 20 feet. In many places along the shore, one can walk out a long way into the water before reaching a depth over waist-high. To locate Lake Chapala in Mexico, check out this map.

Looking south over Ajijic's El Centro, Mt. Garcia looms across the lake. Unlike the previous photo, which was taken in the lush green of summer, the shot above was taken during the late winter, when the countryside assumes a rich brown coloration. The surface of Lake Chapala is almost exactly 5000 feet above sea level, and many of the mountains rimming it rise above 8000. Mt. Garcia, seen above, is the most visible landmark from the North Shore, topping out at just under 9000 feet. The wonderful year-round climate of the Lake is the result of its altitude, its huge size, and fact that it lies in a bowl surrounded by volcanic peaks and ridges. These factors help maintain a very moderate year-round temperature, along with low humidity. In fact, Lake Chapala is reputed to have the 2nd best climate in the world, yielding only to someplace in Kenya. Climate has always been very important to both Carole and I. Neither of us can abide the combination of high heat and humidity, nor are we much attracted to snow and bitter cold.

Looking southeast over the string of small villages that line the North Shore. These were each separate and distinct small pueblos at one time, and several were already ancient villages before the Spanish arrived. In the last few decades, they have grown together along the single highway that connects them on the Lake's North Shore. Although the Lake you have seen in these pictures may look large, it extends at least another 30 miles out of sight to the east. Lake Chapala has three seasons. June through October is the rainy season, with average temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-80s (F) during the days and 60s to 70s at night. Although we get some dramatic thunderstorms during the rainy season, nearly all the rain occurs at night. Days tend to be cool and cloudy in the morning and warm, sunny, and a little humid in the afternoons. Winter begins in November and runs through March. Temperatures are a little lower: 60s to 70s during the day and 50s-60s at night. But the days are glorious, crystal clear and sunny with cool breezes, free of humidity. In late March, it starts to warm up and the "hot season" begins, running from early April through mid-June. The hot season is quite dry, sometimes dusty, and temperatures can rise into the low 90s. Still, it is nothing like the summer in Southern California, Arizona, or Texas, with their baking-hot climate, or the thickly damp and humid heat of the US Mid-West or the South. In complaining about heat in Lake Chapala, we're all a little bit spoiled.

People and the Lake

Fishing boats float at anchor in Chapala's harbor on a sparkling winter day. Mt. Garcia is slightly obscured by a light haze over the Lake. Sometimes this haze gathers from dust kicked up by strong winds over the long dry lakes on the other side of the South Shore's mountains, along the base of the Tapalpa Plateau. While fishing is still an important part of the local economy, it has been eclipsed by agriculture, tourism and some light manufacturing and commercial activity, mainly centered on the populated western third of the North Shore. In fact, these boats are as likely to be used to transport tourists to Scorpion Island off Chapala's shore, as they are to harvest the Lake's depleted fisheries. The light-colored patches at the base of Mt. Garcia are plastic sheeting covering bean and berry crops of the large farms on the South Shore.

Ajijic's pier has had a rocky history. Seen from the waterfront of Amistad Park, the pier stretches into the shallows. Mexico law has tried to protect the Lake Chapala waterfront for public use. It forbids building private or commercial projects within a certain number of feet of the shoreline. Encroachments by private landowners, often with the connivance of local officials, regularly occur. They are just as regularly fought by people in the community, both Mexican and expat. Ever since the restaurant began construction along the public pier, questions have been raised about its legitimacy. Now a citizen's petition has initiated legal action against the owner of the restaurant. These things are always very murky, with charges (sometimes founded, sometimes not) of payoffs or special deals. I have mixed feelings about the restaurant. On the one hand, I don't want the law flouted and the Lake's shore taken over by commericial interests. On the other, the restaurant does provide a nice place to while away a hot afternoon meditating on the changing colors of the Lake.

On the end of Ajijic's pier, a lone fisherman tries his luck. This is a popular spot for the locals, and I have seen them pull out quite a number of fish over time. Tilapia and carp are the most likely products of this man's efforts. However, it is just as likely that his real goal is to enjoy the evening as the golden light fades and the sun drops behind the western mountains.

A gorgeous day for a ride along Ajijic's shore. A young boy exercises his horse along the shore line. Except when the water is high, one can walk for a considerable distance along the shore in Ajijic. Most of it looks pretty much like the stretch above, although a new malecon (built-up public waterfront) has been constructed for a couple of hundred yards to the west of the Ajijic pier. During a quiet walk along the shore, one can view Great White or Snowy Egrets wading the shallows with their long skinny legs, or performing intricate mating rituals. In winter, flotillas of majestic White Pelicans perform their naval maneuvers off shore. Sometimes, in the evening, a young man will wade waist-deep into the water and begin throwing and retrieving a large circular net, hoping to extract dinner from the murky waters. Similar activities have continued, uninterrupted, for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Enjoying the soft glow of a quiet evening. A young Mexican couple has found a new way to express mutual support. This railing used to run the length of Amistad Park, just above the water. Since a flood in the summer of 2008, all this has been replaced by the new malecon. As with the pier, I have mixed feelings. I really loved the old park with its huge old shade trees along the shore. The new malecon is attractive, however, and the locals seem to enjoy it.

Petatan, ground zero for White Pelicans. Petatan is a small fishing village on the South Shore. Here its point juts into the Lake like the long sharp prow of one its many fishing boats. Petatan was originally a volcanic cone which formed a small island a couple of hundred yards off the South Shore, about 1 1/2 hours drive from Ajijic. At least as of 1976, it was still an island, according to topographical map I saw in Chapala. Some time after then, a causeway was constructed connecting the island and its little village with the shore. Petatan has become locally famous because of the huge winter congregation of White Pelicans along its waterfront. They gather in hopes of feasting on fish parts discarded from the day's catch by local fishermen. In the photo above, you can see them in the distance, cruising around the point.

Two young fishermen prepare to try their luck off Petatan's waterfront. The net held by the boy on the right is the same type of circular, hand-thrown net I have seen used in Ajijic. Although young, both boys knew their business. One skillfully handled the boat, while the other cast the net. After a bit, they returned with a nice catch of tilapia. A bit further out, a squadron of pelicans cruises watchfully, hoping for a snack.

And he didn't have to lie about the one that got away... This Petatan fisherman got very lucky with his net. He proudly showed off his catch, probably a tilapia, but larger than any I have ever seen brought out of the Lake. Both tilapia and carp are introduced species. Originally the Lake abounded with White Fish, a unique, and reportedly very tasty, species which is now extinct. At one time, the Lake produced 150 tons of White Fish each year, but it was a species unable compete against environmental degradation, pollution, and competition with the introduced species. Notice the fisherman's hat, which spells out "Los Angeles." The hat is no doubt an introduced species which has strongly competed against the traditional straw hats. Ironically, while expats here (including me) favor the straw hats, the locals often favor baseball caps with north-of-the-border slogans and logos.

Preparing the pelicans' lunch (at least from the pelicans' point of view). Labor is divided in traditional ways in Petatan. The men catch the fish, and the women clean them. During several visits, I have never seen this division violated. The women were amused that we wanted photos of what they must have considered a rather pedestrian task, but they consented with grins all around. Petatan is an extraordinarily friendly place. People walked up and introduced themselves and tried to make sure we were having a good time. One woman stopped our small party and insisted on giving each of us a hug. Another proudly showed off her small shrine dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe.

After the catch, work remains. We found this fellow carefully straightening and winding up his net. Although he looks rather grumpy, his expression was due to the brilliant sunshine. He was actually quite friendly and enjoyed having his picture taken with his small, very dirty dog snoozing at his feet. He has not given up the traditional style of hat for the more fashionable baseball cap.

Lakeside animals

Animals, as well as people, seem enjoy the Lake. There are many creatures which live beside, on, or under the Lake. Horse owners regularly turn their stock loose on the shore to graze and water themselves. I have often seen this calico colt and its mother wandering the grassy shore while munching on the fresh green shoots. Although there is a considerable amount of petty theft in the area, no one seems to keep a close eye on horses such as this one. Perhaps it is because everyone knows to whom it belongs, and a thief would have a hard time disposing of his ill-gotten gains.

From under the water, a bountiful catch. One of the species most common in the Lake is Charal. These small fish, about the size and appearance of sardines, are caught by the tens of thousands, although there have been reports of declining catches in recent years. Charales are a common "street food" around the Lake. They are deep fried whole, and served in shallow cardboard containers with fresh sliced lime and hot salsa. Due to concerns about pollution in the Lake, I have yet to try them, but the locals seem to enjoy them.

Snowy Egret and a seagull share a local fisherman's boat. I enjoyed playing with this photo, digitally adjusting the color and other features until it finally resembled a painting. It really didn't fit in the posting I was creating at the time, so I am glad I finally got to use it. Although birds like these are competitors for fish and other small creatures of the Lake, these two seem to have put aside their differences just to enjoy the quiet, sunny afternoon together.

Another critter enjoys himself, as only a dog can. Dogs of all shapes and sizes are a daily fact of life around the Lake. This labrador retriever joyfully plunged into the Lake again and again, as long as his master was willing to throw the empty plastic bottle. His appetite for retrieval finally outlasted the strength of his master's arm. The sheer joy of a water dog in his element is a wonder to behold. Humans are very fortunate if they manage to find as much pleasure in such simple activities.

Egrets and White Pelicans maintain an uneasy truce. Though they often share the same perching sites, there always seems to me to be sense of tension. Here, the crowd of pelicans, heading for their evening feast of fish scraps, finally overwhelms the patience of a shore dwelling Great White Egret. The egret flaps its broad wings as it leans into its takeoff.

Food fight at the Petatan shoreline! Gathering around a great heap of scraps, the flock squawks and flaps and jostles. Throwing its head back and spreading its wings, the pelican in the center prepares to swallow a tasty morsel. Others look on enviously, or search for an advantageous position.

Pelican arrival forms a good excuse for another fiesta. Petatan and other local towns in the area have found another good excuse for a fiesta with their annual Pelican Festival, timed for the annual in-migration of these great birds from the US and Canada. The Festival draws attention to their small towns, brings in tourists from Lake Chapala's North Shore and Guadalajara, and allows everybody to have a walloping good time. The Festival also highlights the environment and wildlife of the Lake and helps local efforts to clean up the Lake and protect it from encroachments.

This completes Part 1 of my two part series on Lake Chapala. I hope I was able to communicate the daily enjoyment I get from living next to this wonderful resource. In Part 2, I will cover the changes the Lake has experienced in recent years, and finish with a photo series of "mood shots" I think you will enjoy. Feed-back is always welcome, either through the comments section below or directly by email. If you leave a question in the comments section, please be sure you leave your email so I can reply.

Hasta luego! Jim