Tag Archives: Lake Chapala

Innocents in Mexico, Chapter 22

Santa Clara del Cobra Hand-Raised Pots

Innocents in Mexico

Chapter 22

As much fun as we’d had in San Miguel, it felt good to be off on another adventure and to have the means of our own locomotion again.  Bearcat, surprisingly, did not scoot back to his former position under the air mattress, but perched atop it and even occasionally hopped gracefully into my lap in the passenger seat, gazing out in wonder at the scenery whizzing by more quickly when viewed through the side window and more comprehendingly out of the front.

In true Bob fashion, we dallied little in our 3-hour trip from San Miguel to Patzcuaro. We Whizzed by Morelia. Whichever town we decided to settle in, it would be close enough so we could always easily return to see it at a later time.  We were hoping to accomplish this trip in  four days at most, and if we found an area we were more interested in than San Miguel, we could return to pick up the books and tools and remaining clothes we’d left in San Miguel and return to look for a possible rental. 

We found a lovely old hotel in the heart of Patzcuaro to serve as our base during our  initial exploration.  The town was authentic with few modern buildings or businesses to dispel the illusion that we had gone back in time. The art and the people were wonderful and the lake was a definite plus point in Bob’s mind, but it quickly occurred to us that in terms of terrain, this was not so different from the mountainous redwood forest that we’d lived in in Boulder Creek. We spent the day investigating the wonders of the town, had our first taste of atole—a delicious drink made from finely ground cooked masa (corn flour) and agreed that although it wasn’t ideal as our next place to live, that this was a place we definitely would came back to for a visit.  We had been told that the area that the monarch butterflies migrated to each year was very close by and it, too, was on our list of future explorations. 

We had heard of some of the artisan villages clustered around Patzcuaro.  Santa Clara del Cobre was a definite hit with Bob, as it was with me. It was a town consisting almost entirely of coppersmiths and the sound of hand-hammering filled the town.  A small-scale silversmith and coppersmith myself, I was amazed at the lack of modern tools—a bellows and coal fire being used in place of acetylene torches to anneal the metal, and three men with heavy metal mallets pounding the huge pot into shape in sequence after another man had moved it with huge tongs from the fire to the anvil. 

With my birthday coming up in a few weeks, Bob succumbed to his usual tactic of finding something he himself loved and when I, too, admired it, diverted me to another room while he bought it for me and secreted it in the nearby van.  In this case it was an amazing very large copper jar which lay horizontally with its opening  on the side.  Then, to be totally fair about the matter, when I found a pot I liked equally well, he encouraged me to buy it. In spite of the fact that he hadn’t been as sneaky as he thought he’d been and I knew perfectly well that he’d bought the other big pot, I played dumb and thus we became the owners of two of Santa Clara’s totally hand-forged pots created before modern intervention arrived with acetylene and propane torches. One can never have enough Santa del Cobre copper, as I have further demonstrated over the past 22 years.

We visited Capula, the town famous for its Catrinas, and managed to depart Catrinaless and also resisted the huge stone sculptures  that line the road leading into  Tzintzuntzan, although I did buy a few straw decorations for my Christmas tree, which I decorated each year with ornaments from every place I’d traveled throughout my life, as well as beloved saved ornaments from the Christmas trees of my youth.

We returned to enjoy music in the plaza across from our hotel which flowed in through the open windows of the restaurant we had chosen, then made an early night of it, packed up the next day and headed for Ajijic. We did not even stop in Uruapan, renowned for Its remarkable large park filled with water features, vowing to visit it during future adventures.

Ajijc is located next to Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico, which is ringed by formerly volcanic mountains.  As we drove toward the city of Chapala, a small sign pointed to a cutoff to Ajijc and we swerved onto it, driving by a veritable mountain of garbage that was the town dump (happily now vanished, after the lease to use the land was withdrawn by the local ejido—the governing body of land held communally by the indigenous population.)

As we came around a bend and down the slope of the mountains that surround Lake Chapala, we suddenly saw the whole of it spread out before us.  Just one volcano, 80 miles away, is still active, and we could see the tip of it peeking over the shoulder of Mount Garcia, the largest and closest mountain in view across the lake. One of the most active volcanoes in North America, it gave off a slight puff of smoke just as we caught our first sight of the lake. “Oh Yeah, Jude!” Bob exclaimed. “I don’t want to move to San Miguel. I want to live here.” Thus it was was that we settled down to supposedly look for a rental in one of the little towns that stretched along the north shore of the lake.

But what Bob actually said as we sat in chairs in the first rental agency we came across was, “We may be looking for a rental, but do you have any houses for sale?”  The rental agent’s eyes lit up as she agreed that yes, she’d be happy to show us both rentals and houses for sale. Although I was still sure I didn’t actually want to buy a house in Mexico, Bob was expressing such joy at the prospect that I went along with him.  It would be fun to view some of the beautiful houses that we had already viewed from the outside in our drives around town.  What was our price limit? Bob gave the price of the first house he’d  found in San Miguel—$80,000.  But somehow, nothing in that price range quite caught our fancy, although we had seen a few rentals that we had liked.  We thanked the rental agent and said we’d be thinking about it, and consoled ourselves with a lovely meal and margaritas in the Ajiic Plaza Jardin Restaurant.  

Then fate intervened as we sat discussing the houses we’d seen and debated the issue of where we’d settle. We had already found a house we liked enough to rent for eighteen months in San Miguel. The fact that we hadn’t found one in our price range in Ajijic, coupled with the fact that I was still adamant that we weren’t buying a second house anywhere, let alone in Mexico, seemed to be directing us toward choosing San Miguel, but Bob convinced me we should spend one more day in Ajjic and environs just driving around looking at houses.  So it was that the next day, early afternoon, we wound up in a fraccionamiento (housing district) in the mountains above the village of San Juan Cosala, a few kilometers west of Ajijic.  The sign said, “Raquet Club,” which sounded to me like the least likely place I’d ever want to live, but as our van climbed the incline toward the top of the lowest mountain, we wove sideways from east to west along streets filled will lovely houses, all different with lush bougainvillea, palm trees, hibiscus and flowering trees of numerous varieties.  It was high above the lake with gorgeous views of the entire lake and Mount Garcia rising above it. 

We drove back and forth for a good 45 minutes before the van came to a screeching halt before the most beautiful house I had ever seen.  It was a pale mottled yellow and white in an L shape with two colossal rust-colored domes covering most of the two wings of the L.  The corners were all rounded without a sharp angle in the entire house.  It stood at the top of a steeply angled lot and the walls around it undulated down the mountainside like a series of falls smoothed out by flowing water.  The entire house looked like it had been sculpted by an artist’s hands.  If Bob were to ever design a house, I thought, it would look like this.

“Let’s see if it’s for sale!” he said.

“There’s no For Sale sign, Bob,” I said.

“I think it’s for sale, he insisted, climbing out of the van. He was now peering through the bars of the doors of an open-sided garage that stood a level above the house spread out below.”Doesn’t that look like a paper with specs on it by the door down there? Call out. See if anyone comes out!”

Embarrassed, I held my tongue, but just then, a man came out of the door. I don’t think he had yet seen us, but Bob seized the initiative and called down to him, asking if the house was for sale. 

“Si,” said the man, coming up to the garage and pressing a button which opened the garage gates.  With the same motion, he reached into a cabinet to withdraw a string of triangular flags similar to those at a used car lot and fastened them to nails at either side of the garage.  “Come in.”

We entered the garage, walked down four steps and into a courtyard of paving stones, then in through sliding glass doors into a large terra-cotta room, the other side of which was all glass sliding doors. Spread out below was a view of the entire lake.

“Oh yeah, Jude! Let’s buy it!!!” were the first words out of Bob’s mouth, and his enthusiasm remained uncurbed as we walked through a kitchen which featured  Yucatan-marble counters and a ceiling covered in tiles. There were two downstairs bedrooms and two bathrooms completely tiled in white marble with the same rose-colored marble tile on the countertops  as that in the kitchen. The brick domes were fabulous—one over the master bedroom and the other over the entire living room/dining room. In the middle of the living room dome was a three-foot wide domed skylight that filled the entire room with light.

Outside the living room was a bamboo-covered terrace with a pool and hot tub filled with naturally heated hot mineral water from the volcano!!!  Small palm trees dotted the yard, along with canna lilies and bougainvillea. Virginia Creepers covered the bamboo roof of the terrace and the large pillars that supported it.

The second floor casita consisted of a large bedroom with its own bathroom, two terraces and the best views of the entire house.

On the sheet of paper Bob had noticed with his keen eye was the price of the house–$180,000 U.S.  It had just been reduced from a price of $220,000. Bob’s face fell. Well over his $80,000 budget.  The gardener, who had been paid to live in this lovely house (albeit without furniture or appliances ) for three years, looked relieved when he saw the likelihood that we were not potential purchasers. Clearly, he had exhausted little effort in trying to sell it, as was evidenced by the absence of signs or flags when we first arrived.

We later discovered that the people who had built our dream house had lived in Guadalajara but she had parents in the Raquet Club and although the younger couple had built the house thinking they’d live there, it was so much more comfortable just visiting her parents on weekends, that they had never moved in. The pool line had a leak they’d been unable to discover, even though they’d dug up half the patio trying to find it and as a result, the pool emptied within hours of being filled. Designed by a very famous architect, Miguel Valverde, who was a personal friend, nonetheless the work of furnishing it and solving its pool problem plus the fact that it was rumored that the lake was fast drying up and would be empty within 5 years had caused them to put the house up for sale and when it did not sell, to reduce the price.

We both loved this house, but we had a house in the states and no immediate prospects for selling it. And so we turned our backs on it, drove back down the mountain and back to our little motel room. Once again, we consoled ourselves with a delicious meal—this time in the garden of the Nueva Posada—the only real hotel in town, although there seemed to be numerous b&b’s and cottage-type accommodations. I settled into my margarita and Bob into his Coke as we surveyed the menu. Once we’d made our choices, we began reviewing our past few days­­—the houses and apartments we’d seen, how much we loved the  lake and, ultimately, “the” house in the Raquet Club. Bob’s dream house, and I had to admit I was very taken with it as well.

We were back-and-forthing it over San Miguel vs. Lake Chapala when an attractive red-haired lady at the next table pulled her chair around a bit to better face us and said, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear you. Are you looking for a house here?”

We explained our situation, sharing a bit of personal information about what we were doing here.  What had we done in the states? We were artists and writers. What were we looking for? What was our present house in the States like? Were we presently working with a real estate agent? No, we had been looking but had told her we were suspending our efforts for the time being. We didn’t know what we were going to do.  We needed to be back in the States in two weeks for my mother’s memorial and needed to go back to San Miguel to either pick up our stuff or to sign the lease for an 18-month rental.

Could we spare a few extra days, she asked? We exchanged glances. What did she have in mind? If we could take the time, she would be glad to show us a number of houses she knew we’d love—in every price range from $80,000 up, but first she wanted to do two things.  First, she wanted us to move from our little motel-type accommodation to the Nueva Posada, and secondly, she wanted to introduce us to some people who lived here—artists and writers and musicians that she thought we would have lots in common with. Her name was Lucy and yes, she was a real estate agent. We liked her. We shook hands on it and went with her to the desk to book a room.

For the next three days, Lucy showed us house after house, priced from $80,000 to $500,000 and we loved every one.  She introduced us to her friends—all of whom we felt an affinity with. They told us about the local little theater—founded 36 years ago by the man who played Jimmy Stewart’s younger brother in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  And about the local writer’s group with a similar long history. She introduced us to the fascinating history of Neil James  and the cultural center that had grown up around a home that she eventually left to become the Lake Chapala Society—a wonderful addition to the community. And it happened.  We felt at home.

And that is why, after a three-night stay in Ajijic, we headed back to San Miguel to pick up the art supplies and books and other belongings we had left there, broke Steve’s heart by telling him that we had decided not to rent his house,  and came back to Ajijic to stow  what worldly goods we had brought to Mexico in the local storage facility as we once again joined Lucy in our quest for our next home.

Author’s note: Phew, I made it!!! I had to entirely write this chapter today and wouldn’t you know it–wifi was out for most of the day. So frustrating. It finally came back on about an hour before midnight so I rushed to finish and post and edit.  If you found lots of mistakes, you probably read before I finished editing as I was determined to get it up before midnight.  Now I need to get tomorrow’s chapter up before midnight tomorrow. What is this penance for, do you suppose??? Keep reading, please. Some big surprises in store. For me, too, as I haven’t written them yet.  

Sunset on the Malecon with Zoe

Wherever we go, Zoe attracts admirers. Here are some of her selfies from last week.These little boys followed us for a long time, playing with her as they walked, eventually picking her up for more prolonged play. They were adorable. Her aunties took turns carrying her or walking her on the leash. 

Monday Night on the Malecon, Oct 18, 2021


Click on photos to enlarge and to read captions.

Lirio, (Water Hyacinth) FOTD, at 5:55:55 A.M., Sept 18, 2021

Click on photos to enlarge.

For the past year, I have frequently looked at the clock at 1:11 or 5:55 or checked out views and found them at 444. This repetition of numbers happens countless times a day to the point where it has become eerie. But this is the first time it has gone to six digits! Here is proof:

Don’t know what it means.  I also realized yesterday that today would be the 20th anniversary of my husband Bob’s death, so Bob, these lirio flowers are for you!

The lake is filling up with lirio (water hyacinth) again. They’ve had to dredge or poison it a number of times since I moved here 20 years ago as in time it inhibits the passage of fishing boats and numerous people have drowned because they got trapped underneath it. Just last year a man drowned when he went into the water to reclaim a ball his children had mistakenly kicked into the water. Sad.  

Bob, too, lies in this lake as when he died, his kids all came down and one of his sons took the remainder of Bob’s ashes out in his kayak that he had hoped to use in this lake. Sadly, he died before we could move down so I brought his ashes down in the toe of his kayak lashed to the top of our van.  R.I.P. Bob. 

For Cee’s FOTD

Written in Stone (For The Sunday Whirl, 506)


These are some of the ancient tiny jars used for sacrificial blood offerings that washed up on the shores of the lake during the period when it shrank to 1/4 of its former size. 

Written in Stone

The rain came as an onslaught after years of drought,
splashing on the cobbles and washing pebbles out.
Cleaning out the gutters, pouring down the hill,
until those who’d prayed for rain declared they’d had their fill.
As it came down in torrents, first welcome and benign,
at first the people welcomed it. Saw it as a sign
that they’d been forgiven for ways they had maligned
Michicihualli, whose shrinking banks were lined
with sacrificial offerings—atonement for the sin
of years of people living there that they had thrown in
to feed the spirit of the lake and ask for what they wished for—
water for their crops and the silver fish they fished for.

But for years they had forgotten the history of the lake:
how grandfathers had slit their ears, blood sacrifice to make,
collected the drops in a jar and dropped it in the water,
to give it as an offering to its guardian daughter,
to thank her for her providence and calm potential ire
that made the lake reach heavenward in a colossal gyre.
To try to still the water and end its angry churn,
one-by-one they brought their gifts, her blessings to return.

But these practices had ended in this modern age
as the people let traditions slide and failed to set the stage
to present her with the symbols that by rights she’d earned.
So in retaliation, perhaps the lady spurned.
Split the heavens open and the rain poured down,
washing boulders from the mountains down into the town.
Walls and buildings leveled, cobblestones stripped bare,
stones piled up in piles high into the air.

One hundred years of fury washed down in only minutes
reminded all the people of those forgotten tenets
of giving back when given, and finally they listened
cleaning up the garbage until the lakeshore glistened,
restoring all her beauty to calm her angry rancor,
and giving other offerings to honor and to thank her.

These are the prompt words for The Sunday Whirl, 506: pour, drought, history, still, symbol, sign, week, slide, end, rights, onslaught and people.

Michicihualli is the legendary lady who dwells within Lake Chapala, providing all the bounty necessary that the people who dwell here need to survive. When I moved to these mountains above the lake twenty years ago, the lake had shrunk to 1/4 of its former size and a few years later, weeks of downpours culminated in the waterspout which rose up from the lake and dumped water onto the mountainside above me that had already been super-saturated, causing a huge landslide that brought boulders the size of cars rushing down the mountain arroyos, through the fraccionamiento where I live, ripping up all the roads, destroying walls and buildings, then down through the town and into the lake. It is said that this was the most recent example of hundred-year storms that had ravaged the area before, but after massive restoration efforts as well as legislation that has restored more water flow into the lake from dams further upriver which had been holding back the waterflow, the lake came up to its former banks. Now, this year, it has again been diminished to 1/2 of its former size. Hopefully, the rainy season that we are just now entering will restore some of that water. HERE is a link to an article I wrote about the devastation during that huge avalanche. Luckily, I lived exactly in the middle between two of the arroyos that had the most damage and although the water came to within feet of my house and houses a block on either side of me were demolished, my house went undamaged.


We Lay Our Friend to Rest

Our friend Jay died recently, as I noted in an earlier post HERE. Today we laid his ashes to rest in Lake Chapala.

The birds were in attendance,
the night heron and snowy egret,
coots and pelicans.

And his friends—
some in the boat, others
gathered on the shore
along with children—those reassurances
that life goes on.

We lifted a glass
and recalled the day he returned the sacrificial ollitas* to the lake,
the words of children sealed in their depths,
giving the lake back what was once hers,
and as if she listened, she swelled her skirts anew,
reclaiming those shores she had long abandoned.

He was Mexican by choice if not by birth,
and we returned him to her,
strewing him between flowers that floated in strings like ribbons
behind the boat.

The ollitas arcing, spilling him home.
His friend spreading the rest of him on the water’s surface
like a blessing and a reassurance
that we are never lost to the world we are a part of.

The birds, who know this, watched
as he was reborn to water, hyacinth and air.

Under a falling sun, we watched him swell his being,
the beginning of that journey to every shore
of this lake that he once gave back to and now
has given his all to.

Rest in peace, dear friend, lover, father, uncle, brother.
We share you with the world.

*Chapala was founded in 1538. The town may have taken its name from Chapalac, one of its earliest Indian chiefs. Or perhaps it came from the Nahuatl “Chapatla,” the “place where pots abound,” referring to the primitive local practice of appeasing the gods by throwing pots, spotted with blood from earlobes, into Lake Chapala. These little pots, called “ollitas” have washed up to the shores from the lake, especially during the years when the lake receded greatly. Years ago, Jay did a project where he had school children write messages which he rolled into tight cylinders, waterproofed and placed in ollitas that friends had found along the lake or purchased from locals. They then took them out in a boat and returned them to the lake. We took the remaining  ollitas that we found in his house along with others contributed by friends and thought it was a fitting tribute to fill them with Jay’s ashes and return both him and the ollitas to the lake, along with the words sent to us by his friends and family.

Click on photos to enlarge.




All those natural places that soothe us with their peace,
their beauty and their silence offer us release
until some pugnacious tourist rips the scene apart,
instilling angst and turmoil where formerly was heart.


Word prompts for the day are pugnacious, tourist, natural and peace.