A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to the old dimensions.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ajijic, You Called Me Home
AJIJIC, JALISCO, MEXICO - When I headed to Ajijic for a visit I was not sure what to expect. From all I had read everyone loved it and it appeared that every retiree from around the globe was either checking out the village, packing up to move there or already had their feet on the ground. I was filled with anticipation to see just what all the commotion was about. I didn't want to get my hopes up, so I tried to keep my expectations under wraps.
We arrived to an old colonial mansion converted to hotel, La Nueva Posada, after dark and didn't get a good look at the town when we arrived, so after a good night's rest we headed for breakfast with anticipation of a day exploring Ajijic.
Breakfast tables were set in a lovely courtyard overlooking Lake Chapala. The lake was still and there was a haze that hung low near the water dissipating what would have been the distant shore. The morning was quiet and there was a stillness in the air. Even with the clicking of utensils on dishes and low conversation at other tables, I was taken by the quiet of the area. I felt at peace.
Venturing out for the day my friend, Pam, and I headed to the shore where we stood taking in the silence, the peace, the quiet. The water was still. We walked along the shore and began to notice the life that was all around us. Lakeside was coming to life.
There was a child running behind his family, free to explore the stones, the sticks and shoreline. Two dogs raced by, ultimately ending in rough and tumble play before dashing in the water after a stick that someone had thrown. We saw egrets, pelicans and a lot of black duck-like birds with white bills that we couldn't identify.
Once we arrived to the area where the malecon began, we turned right and headed for the main plaza a few blocks away.
Walking the cobblestone street, we passed buildings adorned with street art, and buildings painted all colors. It was a bold and bright representation of the culture of Mexico. We passed restaurants and bars preparing to open for business. Vendors were sitting in the shadow of colorful patio umbrellas on the street, selling their wares. The smoke and smell of food stalls preparing traditional foods wafted through the air. The town was open for business.
This seemed to be the main street in town with restaurants, bars, boutiques, gallery and shops of all kinds displaying their goods, one after the other, side by side, lining the street. There was an ice cream shop. We made note of that for later.
After walking a few blocks, we arrived to the main plaza, where locals, visitors and expats all come together to relax in the shade of the trees, enjoy a cappuccino at patio tables shaded by large umbrellas. The activity was palpable. Friends engaged in conversation, while others sat silently watching life on the plaza.
On one corner of the plaza sat a small, old, stone church guarded by a stone and wrought iron gate and fence. It was a quaint church on the square, unlike many other towns and cities in Mexico where the church on the main plaza is large and opulent. It was refreshing to see and seemed appropriate for this little traditional village on the lake.
Exhausted and thirsty from a long walk *wink, wink* we settled in at an outdoor table at the restaurant on the plaza. We decided that we needed to christen our visit with a margarita! I can honestly say that these margaritas were the best I had ever had. Smooth, without any bite, they went down, well, easy. We hung out for a couple of hours watching the activity in the plaza.
There was a friendliness by both the locals and expats alike. After a lengthy conversation with the server, which was quite a stretch for me based on my rusty Spanish, we turned and chatted with a couple from Arizona for a while. Overall, the day felt very welcoming.
Time to leave Margaritaville, we walked a block past a few vendors selling jewelry and other trinkets on tables and encountered a much larger church than sat on the square. We located the gate and entered the grounds.
The stonework construction of this church told its age. Stones of all shaped and sizes were stacked to create the walls, with mortar in between. This church, Parroquia San Andres Postol, was built around 1532. There were wooden confessionals built into the walls of the interior next to the pews. I walked up the aisle, halfway to the altar, and exited through an open door on the right. I was pleasantly surprised to have entered a lovely, private courtyard which I suspected was used for reflection and prayer.
Leaving the church grounds, directly across the street, we noticed a building covered in ceramic skulls. This terra cotta art installation was a reflection on life and death. Quite an impressive creative effort facing the church.
Later in the afternoon we headed back to the lake and the malecon. There was a grassy park where local families were enjoying the afternoon. The smells of food being grilled at covered stands filled the air. A vendor stood by his cart waiting patiently for someone to buy one of his many treats, bagged in bulk with a scoop.
I asked about the choices and decided on walnuts with a crunchy, sweet coating. He scooped out some and weighed it before handing me the sack. They did not disappoint.
We continued walking down the malecon, watching those who sat on the benches along the shore, people walking their dogs, families spending time together. There were a couple of children riding their bikes over the ramps of the skate park that was covered with bold, vivid street art. The malecon was filled with life.
The village proper of Ajijic is a traditional Mexican town with cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, dogs roaming free and locals living their lives. It felt safe and welcoming. The town is about 12 blocks by 6 blocks, not including the sprall. The town starts at the shore of Lake Chapala and continues to the main road that runs through the Lakeside area.
On the other side of the main road is the extension to the village with the onset of newer gated communities. I was a bit taken back by the apparent wealth behind tall walls and gates in contrast to Ajijic proper. All I could think was how the original little village of Ajijic must struggle to remain authentic to itself, a little lakeside village tucked away high in the sierra, now spreading like a middle-aged woman's waist, making me wonder of the long term health of both.
That being said, I loved Ajijic. It spoke to me.
As my friend and I stood on the shore and the sun turned the lake to liquid gold, she said to me, "This is where you should live."
Looking out over the water, I replied, "Yes...yes it is."
Ajijic, you have called me home.
The village of Ajijic on Lake Chapala in Jalisco, Mexico has become a favorite among expats from all over the world. Besides the beauty of Lake Chapala, the colorful buildings and street art all over town certainly add to the appeal.
Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico
Located about 45 miles south of Guadalajara, Ajijic sits on the north shore of Lake Chapala in an area affectionately called 'Lakeside'.
Population: Approx. 11,000
Expats: A good sized expat community, consisting of both full and part-time expats
Temperature: Average daytime 72 °F (22 °C).
Night time average 60 °F (15.5 °C).
Rainy season: June to October
Coolest months: December and January
Warmest month: May
Altitude: 5000 feet in Sierra Madres
Walkability: Easy, but watch the cobblestones and uneven sidewalks
Transportation: Bus, taxi
Driving time to Guadalajara: 60 minutes
Driving time to GDL airport: 40 minutes
Restaurants: Price range varies. Traditional and international.
Outdoor market: Wednesday.
Shameless Self Promotion
These Mexico and Ajijic designs and photos represent the colorful life and beauty of Ajijic, Lake Chapala, and Mexico. Available on totes, apparel, stationary, journals, scarves and much more!
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