When it came time for us to leave Barra de Navidad, we knew we wanted to head to the mountains of Mexico, and hopefully find a cooler climate. While we were in Barra, people we met, gave us suggestions of places to go, and things we should see. It turns out everyone was right! We decided to set our compass for Lake Chapala. On the north shore of Lake Chapala is the town of Ajijic (pronounced "Ah-hee-heek"), a very popular spot for expats because of it's year-round mild climate, natural beauty, numerous farmer's markets and excellent restaurant scene. (Pictured below: Wayne kicking up his feet for once at Lake Chapala)
Lake Chapala is Mexico's largest freshwater lake. It is approximately 12 miles across, 50 miles long, with an average depth of 15 feet, and a deepest point of 35 feet. The sediment from the surrounding mountains has caused the lake depth to decrease overtime, and has made the water murky and brown, however the lake is still absolutely beautiful.
It took us two days to get to Ajijic, with stops in many small mountain villages, and we spent the night next to a beautiful fishing lake where a local family shared with us their freshly-caught ceviche and we shared our beer. We arrived in Ajijic on a Sunday, and found the town very lively and the streets were filled with people. We parked the car in the first place we could find, and walked the town. We walked down to the "boardwalk" along the lake, and it was filled with families picnicking, music, food, and friendly people. At the end of the boardwalk there was a boat ramp and some some families fishing and hanging out right by the water. We asked if people were allowed to camp there, "Sure, Why not?" was the response. So we put the van in park and ended up spending more than 2 weeks there, with a great view that came free of charge. (Pictured below: Katie enjoying hammock time!)
In a coffee shop one morning, working on this very blog, we met a lovely couple spending two months in Ajijic. PeggyDawn and Robert had come from Florida to enjoy the mild climate, and enjoy the colors and flavors of Ajijic. We enjoyed conversations over coffee, and swapping stories of our experiences in Mexico thus far. We were invited to join them for dinner where they introduced us to two of their friends, Parke and Lee. Parke and Lee are also from Florida, however they were just getting their "permanente" status in Mexico, meaning they had a indefinite visa, unlike the 6 month visa we were issued, these two were looking forward to making Mexico home. We even had a 'permanente party' for them when their official papers were ready.
These four lovely people became our core group of friends with many a group dinner, great stories, and plenty of laughter. We explored the weekly markets together, listened to local musicians, and drank a lot of coffee. The friendship was so natural because we shared similar political and social views, which made our conversations both engaging and enlightening. Our new friends were also generous enough to offer us the use of their showers, which is priceless when you're living life on the road! These folks are the reason we decided to stay in Ajijic for as long as we did, and we enjoyed every chance we got to spend time with them. We can't wait to see everyone again!!! (Pictured below: Robert, PeggyDawn, Lee, Parke, Katie and Wayne, plus little Sandy)
We used Ajijic as a base camp to join the hiking club, have our teeth cleaned (can't pass up $11 teeth cleaning), and explore the area around Lake Chapala. Ajijic has a group of hikers that meets twice a week to enjoy and maintain the trails in the mountains around the lake. We met up with the group several times, as well as exploring a bit on our own. Many of the trails were through dense forest, with great views at the top.
Our favorite hike took us through a thick, jungle-like forest, that slowly thinned the higher we hiked, and finally gave way to a beautiful Oak forest, with the leaf-covered forest floor bursting with a dozen different mushroom varieties.
One fellow hiker, George, made one of the bushwhacking treks incredibly entertaining by providing hilarious banter which kept us laughing even when the bugs became intolerable. Later in our stay, George and his girlfriend Allison, invited us out for dinner, which was such a treat and we really appreciated getting to know more great people that have chosen to call Ajijic home.
Late one night while parked down by the lake, we had a knock at the door. We had just changed into our PJs and put on a movie, so this was quite unexpected. We opened the door to a stranger in the dark, who stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Victor, Jacob's dad!" We were relieved to know we weren't getting kicked out of our sweet camp-spot, but that this was instead the father of Wayne's friend from Boulder, CO. Jacob sent us a message the day before, knowing we were near Lake Chapala, to tell us that his parents have been living in Ajijic for years. We chatted, made plans to meet up, and one day Victor had us over for a nice lunch and good company.
There are two more couples we have to mention when talking about Ajijic; Norman and Janie, and Jerry and Laurie. One thing we shared in common with each of them was a love of travel and we had such a great time exchanging travel tales and tips. Both couples have made this town their home, and they were outgoing, friendly and welcomed us in to share a meal, a shower or a laundry machine.
The longer we stayed in Ajijic the more we liked it. Everywhere we went, we met expats and locals that could all agree, it was a great part of Mexico to live in and explore nearby areas. We felt lucky to have stumbled across such a perfect campsite, and tons of truly great, like-minded people, who have a sincere appreciation for this beautiful country. While briefly researching Lake Chapala, we had read some unflattering perspectives on the heavily-populated expat community, but we found ourselves pleasantly surprised by the overall kindness from everyone we met and and by the general enthusiasm for all the things here that Mexico has to offer.
About two hours away from Ajijic, on the other side of Lake Chapala is the beautiful mountain town of Mazamitla. A Bavarian-styled village, situated at 8200' and surrounded by pine tree forests, it came highly recommended from the people we met in Ajijic.
We found places to park and sleep just outside of town, we would return in the morning to enjoy breakfast and a warm atole (a thick sweetened, corn drink) at the market, and then a cup of coffee in the square where we decided the day's activities. To our surprise, it was in the town square that we ran into the same family from the fishing lake, who shared their ceviche, almost a month later and over 100 miles away from where we first met. We shared a laugh and took a group photo!
One of the popular tourist attractions in Mazamitla is the waterfall, Cascada El Salto. You can rent horses or ATVs to ride through the forested trail to the falls, or there is a hike, which was more of a easy walk through a beautiful neighborhood of cabins, that goes down to a brown waterfall. We enjoyed the hike there and back more than the destination. (Please excuse the photo, we haven't exactly mastered "the selfie" picture!)
While it may seem counter-intuitive, we next pointed our van North toward Guanajuato...